Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Villages of Great and Little Ouseburn—the Forgotten Stops on the Brontë Trail

By Finola Austin

If Yorkshire is known as “Brontë Country,” then Haworth, home of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, is the nation’s undisputed capital. It was here that celebrated Victorian novelists Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë lived out most of their short lives. It was here that they sat together around one table writing their acclaimed books, including Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Emily’s Wuthering Heights (also, 1847). But, while Brontë-driven tourism is now the lifeblood of the village, Haworth isn’t the only town with compelling links to literature’s most famous family.

Dedicated Brontë fans seeking to walk in the siblings’ footsteps may also visit the seaside town of Scarborough, where Anne died and was interred (she’s the only Brontë not buried in the family tomb in Haworth), and Thornton, birthplace of the sisters and their brother, Branwell. As far afield as Brussels, it was just announced that a square would be named for the “Soeurs Brontë” or “Zusters Brontëplein,” due to Charlotte and Emily’s links to the city.

But there’s another pair of Yorkshire villages that deserve to be included in the Brontë trail—Great and Little Ouseburn, near York.

Anne Brontë came to the area in 1840 when she was employed as a governess by the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall, a fine house just outside Little Ouseburn. Branwell followed less than three years later to become the Robinson son’s tutor. Anne and Branwell continued in the family’s employ until the summer of 1845, when their sojourn there ended in scandal. Branwell had apparently entered into a sexual affair with Mrs. Lydia Robinson, a woman eighteen years his senior. He returned to Haworth a broken man, and drowned his sorrows with alcohol and opium. By 1849, he, Anne, and Emily were all dead. Charlotte’s death would follow in 1855.

While Thorp Green Hall itself no longer survives, there are multiple places of interest to history buffs in search of Brontë lore in and around Great and Little Ouseburn. Here are a few:

Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate
It has been widely reported that Thorp Green Hall itself burned down in the late nineteenth century, although local historian Helier Hibbs challenged this assumption in 2007. Either way, the ‘new’ hall, known as Thorpe Underwood, was built in the early 1900s. This building is now home to a school—Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate. While the grounds look different than they did in the Brontës’ day (the school for instance filled in the stew pond a few years ago), walking from Little Ouseburn to the school via country lanes, you could be excused for thinking you were stepping back in time. 

Monk's House

Monk’s House
Branwell, unlike Anne, didn’t sleep in Thorp Green Hall, but in an outbuilding known as the “Monk’s House” (or, less often, the “Monk’s Lodge”). This beautiful Tudor home is now a private residence, adjacent to Queen Ethelburga’s and visible from the main road.

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Church, Little Ouseburn
The Robinsons’ local church will be familiar to some Brontë fans from a sketch of it made by Anne, although renovations made in the late nineteenth century altered the building. Those in search of Brontë history will also find several graves of interest. Edmund Robinson (Lydia’s husband) is buried here, along with his parents and sister. So too are Edmund Robinson, junior (known as Ned), who was Branwell’s pupil, and Georgiana Robinson, the youngest child of the house, who died while Anne lived at Thorp Green, prior to the Brontë brother’s arrival. The most distinctive feature of the churchyard, a beautiful mausoleum, houses the remains of the Thompson family—neighbors of the Robinsons. 

Dr Crosby's Obelisk

St Mary’s, Great Ouseburn
The church in Great Ouseburn is also worth visiting for its links to Brontë history. A tablet in the church and a towering obelisk in the graveyard both memorialize one Dr. John Crosby, who was said to have acted as go-between for Lydia and Branwell, following the latter’s dismissal. You’ll also see a plaque for Jane Robinson, Edmund’s aunt, who was instrumental in arranging his match with Lydia.


In Great Ouseburn, there is a red-brick house, now known as Rosehurst, which was built for and lived in by this same Dr. Crosby. The house remains a private residence.

Moat Hall

The Kirkby Hall Outbuildings and Moat Hall
The Robinsons’ neighbors, the Thompsons, were clearly influential. Their impact on the Ouseburns is clear just from the scale and grandeur of their mausoleum, but, unfortunately, Kirkby Hall, their palatial mansion, which Anne and Branwell would certainly have been familiar with, no longer exists. Some nineteenth-century outbuildings can still be seen on the farmland where the Hall once stood, and Moat Hall, another house owned by the family, is a home in Little Ouseburn.

While the Ouseburns, like Haworth, are in Yorkshire, anyone visiting both will be struck by the geographic differences between these areas. 

In her 1847 novel, Agnes Grey, which is thought to be at least partly based on her experiences at Thorp Green Hall, Anne Brontë writes, “The surrounding country itself was pleasant, as far as fertile fields, flourishing trees, quiet green lanes, and smiling hedges with wild-flowers scattered along their banks, could make it; but it was depressingly flat to one born and nurtured among the rugged hills of [Agnes’s hometown].” 

Adding Great and Little Ouseburn to the Brontë trail gives us a whole new perspective on the Brontës, away from industrial Haworth and its bleak moors. And visiting these villages will give you a chance to see the pieces of history that still surround us today, hinting at one of the most scandalous episodes in Brontë family history.


Finola Austin
, also known as the Secret Victorianist on her award-winning blog, is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the nineteenth century. She has two degrees from the University of Oxford, including a Master’s in Victorian literature. Brontë’s Mistress is her first novel and is available for order now. The book explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family. By day, Finola works in digital advertising. Find her online at http://www.finolaaustin.com/ or connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403

By Annie Whitehead

Last time, I explored the history of the medieval town of Shrewsbury. My visit there also included a walk round the site of a bloody battle which took place in 1403, between royal forces and rebellious nobility.

Just four years earlier, in 1399, Richard II was ousted as king of England by his ambitious cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who then became Henry IV. Usurpations haven’t happened all that often in English history, and Henry couldn’t have done it without help. Among those who assisted him were the powerful northern Marcher lords, the Percy family of Northumberland.

Still, even if you are the richest in the land, wars don’t come cheap. The Percys claimed that the king owed them £20,000 and they were also peeved that Scottish nobles who’d been captured at the battle of Homildon Hill in 1402 had not been ransomed. This meant, of course, that Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, was also being denied a source of income.

It was Percy’s son, also Henry but nicknamed ‘Hotspur’, who was instrumental in the battle of Shrewsbury. He had been given high office in Wales, where he’d been busy trying to bring the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndŵr to heel. But yet again, payment was withheld and Hotspur did a ‘u-turn’, entering into alliance with Glyndŵr and Edward Mortimer, a powerful Marcher lord. Their claims superficially rested on the financial injustices, but Henry IV saw this as a bid for his crown, and an attempt to replace him. Their proposed candidate for the throne was the earl of March, nephew of Mortimer.

The battle at Shrewsbury was fought on 21 July. Rebel troops had gathered in Cheshire, where Hotspur issued a proclamation which suggested that Henry IV was not king but merely ‘Henry of Lancaster’ and that Richard II was in fact still alive. The rebels marched south and Hotspur was accompanied by his uncle, Thomas Percy, 1st earl of Worcester and Archibald Douglas, 4th earl of Douglas.

Shrewsbury was garrisoned by the eldest son of the king, whose name was ‘Harry’ and who would go on to make a bit of a name for himself at Agincourt as Henry V. Here, though, he was not leading the battle. King Henry IV managed to intercept Hotspur before he could join forces with Glyndŵr. Henry got to Shrewsbury before Hotspur on 20th July and this left Hotspur stuck on the north side of the town, and with the king’s army and the River Severn between him and the Welsh.

The next morning, with no sign of Glyndŵr and with the king’s troops advancing from the town, there was nothing for it but to stand and fight. Several hours of parlaying preceded the fighting, but it could not stave off the inevitable. The picture below shows the suggested positions of the armies, with the Percys on the ridge and the king’s troops having to force their way up the slope. The fighting lasted until nightfall.

Estimates suggest that the king had at his command some 14,000 men while the rebels had 10,000.*

Both sides seem to have had difficulty in recognising coats of arms and there was a great deal of confusion during the battle. It was rumoured that Henry IV had died, but in fact the king was removed to safety. Nevertheless, royal casualties were heavy. The losses have not been calculated with certainty but to walk round the site is to get some idea of the scale of the fighting and, indeed, the numbers of casualties. Estimates are that the dead numbered around 1,600 on both sides, with at least 3,000 wounded subsequently dying from their injuries or killed by looters seeking booty.

The longbow played an important and decisive role in the fighting. The battle began with an archery onslaught, in which Hotspur’s Cheshire bowmen appeared superior and the English Chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, said that the royal troops fell “like leaves in Autumn, every one [arrow] struck a mortal man". ** Famously, the Prince of Wales was struck in the face by an arrow and it is incredible that he survived. The arrow sank into his cheek (the surgeon stated that it was the left, although I have seen debates in which people argue that he might have meant the left as he looked at it.) That the prince survived was down to the skills of his surgeon, John Bradmore, who later described in detail how he used a specially designed implement, using a sort of corkscrew motion, to extract the arrow-head and then treated the wound with honey and alcohol.

Prince Henry survived, and no doubt learned a great deal about the effectiveness of the longbow in battle, but the other leaders involved were not so lucky. Hotspur led a charge directly at the king and was surrounded and killed. Other rebel leaders survived, but not for long. Thomas Percy was tried and beheaded. The earl of Northumberland, Hotspur’s father, was not executed but was stripped of his office as Constable and of several castles, which were thenceforth to be controlled by royal officers.

Hotspur’s body, first buried at Whitchurch, was exhumed and put on display at Shrewsbury, and then was cut up, the parts being sent to various cities and his head sent to York and displayed at Micklegate Bar.

Battlefield Church was constructed on the orders of the king, to commemorate the fallen, and it has been suggested that it stands on ground where most of the fighting took place. There is an area of the churchyard which does look as if it might be the site of a mass grave, but archaeology has not confirmed this.

The church itself is no longer open to the public. It was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene as the battle took place on the eve of her saint's day. In 1410 the chapel was converted into a college of chaplains, where a master and five chaplains said daily mass for the dead. The existing church is the only chapel building to survive and in 1548 the college was closed. In 1982 the church was declared redundant.

There are two visitors’ points. The first is at the southern side of the battle area, and gives views across to the church and offers a walking trail. The area is still agricultural land and is easy to imagine the forces lined up, and to envisage where the fighting might have taken place. On the northern side of the site, the Battlefield 1403 complex houses an exhibition which gives information about the battle and a walk back down to the church. Slightly further north is a village called Upper Battlefield, suggesting to me that the fighting might have extended further still.

Top- from the south. Bottom - from the north

I was there on a sunny September day, and presumably it would have been warmer still in the month of July when the battle was fought. It all looks very bucolic now, but not for nothing did Edith Pargeter call this A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury.***

*The Annales Henrici Quarti offers the figure of 14,000 Royal troops, while Jean de Waurin, a medieval French chronicler, estimated 60,000. It seems that Henry's army was the larger, but in his Chronicle of England John Capgrave suggested that Hotspur had, "as is wrytyn, XIIII thousand men".

**The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham (1376-1422) by David Preest (Translator), James G. Clark (Translator)

*** Her novel about the battle, and the events leading up to it.

[All photos by and copyright of the author]

This is an Editor’s Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published October 1, 2019.

Annie Whitehead
studied History under the eminent Medievalist Ann Williams. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor for EHFA. She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, one of which was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society (HNS) Indie Book of the year 2016, and a full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines, including winning the New Writer Magazine Prose Competition. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017. She has recently been a judge for that same competition, and for the HNS Short Story Competition. Annie’s new book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, is published by Pen & Sword Books.

For more information, visit Annie's Website or her Author Page. Also connect with Annie through her Blog and Twitter (@AnnieWHistory)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Photo Tour of Hadrian's Wall

by Richard Denning

Over the weekend of 4th to 7th July I spent parts of four days touring Hadrian's Wall.The father of a friend is a custodian of the wall (his job is to, as best as possible, keep the wall in good repair). Thus equipped with our own tour guide half a dozen of us set off up the M6 from Birmingham.

The idea was to hit as many significant locations on the Wall as possible in the time we had along with the secondary objective of enjoying some decent real ale along the way!

Brief historical Background.

The Emperor Hadrian established the main borders of the Roman Empire. Although later Emperors would try expeditions outside these bounds the Empire more or less maintained the size and shape that he defined for three centuries. To defend the most northern edge of the empire from the barbarians outside he ordered the building of this wall in the year 122. It was manned more or less continuously through to the year 410. Today it is a World Heritage Site.

Anatomy of the Wall

The wall consisted of a twenty foot high, ten feet wide stone wall that was around 70 miles long and capped with a parapet and crenelations. Every mile was a minor Mile fort that would house a small section of men. Between mile forts were turrets for a small patrol. Along the wall, or sometimes behind it, are major forts with large garrisons and a surrounding civilian town. 10,000 men in all would garrison the wall. In front of the wall is a ditch, and behind it a grass mound and ditch called the Vallum.

Centuries later after the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century came along. The main impact on the wall was that the English commander demolished large chunks to provide the rubble to build a military road from Carlisle to Newcastle running west to east behind and sometimes along the wall. Today it is the B6318 road and provides a perfect way to navigate along the wall.

Our Tour begins

On Friday 4th July we arrived at Carlisle around noon. We started with a visit to Tullie House Museum in Carlisle. This houses a good overview exhibit about the wall and the Roman Period and serves as an ideal starting point. We then went west out of Carlise to the Cumbrian coast. Although the Wall itself extended from Bowness to Wallsend there are supporting fortifications down both the Irish sea and North sea coast, and the idea was to see something of them.

We visited Maryport. In Roman times a fortress, Alauna, stood here. The fort was first established in around AD 122 as a command and supply base for the coastal defences that would prevent Pictish or Irish raids along the coast. Today the fort is only an outline in the grass. There is however a museum showing part of a large collection of Altars that would be made with each new commander. The old altars were used later as supports for posts of a large hall - perhaps in the post Roman period.

The mounds and lines that

A replica wooden watch tower that now functions as a view point at Alauna.

Around this time we had the only bad weather of an otherwise rather pleasant July weekend. It just poured down, and we abandoned attempts to see the other forts in the area. We did stop briefly at Bowness and looked out over the Solway Firth at the spot that the wall once started. There are no stone ruins west of Carlisle however - for that we would have to head east on Saturday.

Our Friday night Hotel turned out to occupy the site of a Roman Fort that stood on the wall. Today nothing is visible but a display board, and the brick line in the carpark of the hotel shows where the fort stood. It was rather fun to spend the night in a Roman fort - even if the fort vanished centuries ago.

Uxelodunum Fort Carlisle - its location

Day Two

Saturday meant time for some ruins. Our itinerary on the Saturday was to visit the first sections of the wall still visible coming from the west, the Roman Army Museum and the Vinolanda Fort.

I can recommend the most western section of surviving wall for a nice walking tour. Here is the local map:

First stop was the first section of wall and a turret.

The most western surviving section of wall  and a turret just west of Birdoswald.

The first turret on the wall. (Turret 52a Banks Turret) Just off the Of map

Just further along this road is Banna (known today as Birdoswald. This is the location of a significant sized partially excavated fort.

Birdoswald is adjacent to a later farmhouse and small manor house whose
19th century owners were some of the first enthusiastic excavators of the site.

Birdoswald has a nice little museum recording the first haltering attempts to excavate the wall in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Inside Birdoswald Museum

For more images on Birdoswald click here

We then walked the wall from Birdoswald the two miles to Gilsland. This route took us past a long section of surviving wall, two turrets and a milecastle and the remains of one side of a Roman bridge.

The Wall between Birdoswald and Gilsland.

The River Irthing - once bridged at this point by a Roman Bridge. A beautiful peaceful spot.

The Bridge approach in the eastbank is now all that is left.

Roman Army Museum

This museum at Brampton gives a excellent overview of life in the Roman army. It includes a well done 3D movie "Edge of Empire" whose participants also appear in a film  later on about a day's life in the army. There are lots of replica items from the period.

Nearby is Vindolanda, one of the star attractions of the wall. A huge part of the fort and nearby Viccus is excavated. Vindolanda lies behind the wall. It was a nearby supply base for this section of the wall.

Vindolanda visitors can explore the site, visit a museum in the former house of an early excavator, as well as climb replica stone and wooden towers.

Excavation is still on going all along the wall and you can often see digs and get
explanations of what is going on. Here our own guide fill us in on wooden  walls found
deep below the stone fortress - maybe an early part of the first fort here.

A well inside the commandant's house.

This was a granary. The elevated floor was to allow ventilation beneath.
The Romans would let dogs and cats chase the rats out from there.
The side buttresses can be seen - reinforcement for the tall (often 2 story) walls).

There are more Vindolanda images here

Day Three

On the Sunday we took in Housesteads, Chesters Fort and Corbidge. On the way to Housteads we passed Sycamore Gap.  This section of the wall runs along an escarpment which is almost sheer in places.

There is a dip in the high ground of this escarpment, and in that dip a tree grows made famous by Robin Hood Prince of Thieves from the bit where Kevin Costner is walking home to Sherwood from Dover and ends up on Hadrian's Wall somehow! Ah well, at least Alan Rickman was good as the Sheriff. Costner chose a good cinematic location, mind you, and it is a good spot for a photo. A tip though. Park up in the nearby Once Brewed Carpark and walk along the ridge. Don't try and reach it from the road as fences lie in your path - as well as a bog.

Housesteads fort  lies on the wall. To me it is one of the most dramatic locations as the approach walk dips down from one ridge and up towards the site above you on the far slope. You then have to endure heart attack hill as one of of our party called it. But the walk is worthwhile when you find yourself in Housesteads.

Housesteads is built on a slope, and many of the buildings are built on more than one level.

Hypocaust under floor heating system

Looking North from Housesteads over the wall and a tower. This way lie the barbarians!

More images from Housseteads here

Chesters Fort is not far from Housesteads and is on the River Tyne. There is a fort at Chesters that has all the usual features like granaries, barrack blocks, and commanders house, etc., but after 3 days of this we were getting a little "seen that done that", so I was pleased that Chesters had a bath house in decent condition as that was something I had not seen close up in the other sites. The bath house was on the river.

Changing room

Drainage system

Chesters has a fine museum of stone relics and other items found on various digs.

Joking aside, the fort is also a fine example. For more images from Chesters Fort, including the fort itself, go here.


Near the wall were other settlements that sometimes had heavy military presence and at other times did not. Corbridge, not far from Chesters, is such a place. This has evidence of military compounds within a more open civilian settlement which itself was probably not fully fortified. It's a slightly different feel and rounded off day 3 nicely.

Among other structures was a huge pair of granaries that may
have stored supplies ready for shipping up to the wall.

Although not purely a military base, the headquarters of the military compound contains
an underground strongroom of the sort found in all the forts.
More images from Corbridge here

Day 4

On the Monday morning we packed up ready for the homeward trip. First though we had 2 final visits.


Segedunum is at the extreme eastern end of the wall. It lies within modern day Newcastle. The fort here is excavated in outline only - outlines filed in mainly with rocks and pebbles to show the layout. As such its not as impressive as say Housesteads. However it is in some ways clearer to see what goes where in a Roman fort especially as there is a panorama level in the adjacent museum which allows you to see the entire fort from up high (or at least the half that is visible above ground).

Looking down on Segedunum from the Panorama room.
The site also features a reconstructed Roman Bath House (alas closed during our visit)

The site also has the most eastern section of Wall. This is where the wall went down hill into
the River Tyne 70 miles from its western end on the Solway Firth.

There is also a memorial to the men and units that built the wall.


Arbeia is a mirror to Alauna/Maryport. Just as Alauna watched over the Irish sea, Arbeia stood watch over the coast line of the Northsea just below the mouth of the Tyne. Today there is a partially excavated fort but what is of main interest here is a replica gatehouse, barracks block, and commandants house.

This is me standing outside the replica gatehouse.
This is what Hadrian's wall would have looked like as you approached it.
A Roman squad of 8 men slept in here.
10 such rooms made up the accommodation for one century.

This is the more spacious centurion's room.

Bedroom in the Commandants House

Public dinning room in Commandants House.

More Arbeia images here

All in all a great 4 days. I had in the past visited the Wall 2 or 3 times and each time just went to one fort. This tour gave me a much clearer overview of the whole wall from end to end, its general anatomy, how it was built, and the way of life of its inhabitants. It is a World Heritage Site and for good reason.

On a nice sunny day - such as we had - it is a magical location combining amazing views in places with a structure of huge historical significance.

Oh - and we got some good ale too!

This article is an Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives, originally published July 14, 2014.


Richard Denning is a historical fiction author. His main areas of writing are the early Anglo-Saxon years. For more details go to his website: http://www.richarddenning.co.uk/