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:

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

By Carolyn Miller

A few years ago, I was blessed by the opportunity to visit my sister who was living in London at that time. For an Australian who had long dreamed of seeing England, this was a wonderful opportunity indeed. One of the places I had to see was the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, something that seemed most fantastical, a monument to the excesses of the Prince Regent, and something I’d read about in works such as Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck

Originally built as a farmhouse and situated on Brighton’s main thoroughfare, the Steine, the Prince Regent bought the property in the mid-1780s when he wanted an establishment outside London. The salubrious sea air, the distance from the pressure of court, and the position that enabled him to discreetly conduct his affair with Mrs. Fitzherbert, who resided nearby, were all doubtless strong inducements to settling in a place long recommended by his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland (known to enjoy gaming and the theatre).

In 1787 the Prince Regent requested architect Henry Holland’s assistance. Holland, who had previously worked on London’s Brook’s Club and the neoclassical remodelling of Carlton House, added a central domed rotunda, cream tiles and Ionic columns, and the former farmhouse became known as the Marine Pavilion.

John Nash was later called on to create designs that reflected the Regent’s interest in the Orient. According to John Morley who wrote the wonderful The Making of the Royal Pavilion, the Prince Regent was very hands on in specifying what he did and didn’t want, which is why we see the fantastic mix of the Oriental, Moorish, and Indian in the building today. Nash’s remodelling also had to take into account the Prince’s new stable block, built by William Porden in 1804-1808 with a great dome and minarets, that could accommodate sixty (!) horses, and which towered over the Marine Pavilion. A house fit for a Prince (and future king) had to be fashioned.

From 1815 to 1823, further transformations saw the construction of the Great Kitchen, the Music Room and the Banqueting Room, and the new king’s status saw the Royal Pavilion moniker adopted. The dramatic façade included many minarets, onion shaped domes and cupolas, an exotic contrast to Holland’s earlier classical designs. Inside, redecoration became necessary, and designers Frederick Crace and Robert Jones—with specific direction from the Prince Regent—were largely responsible for the chinoiserie-infused decoration schemes, which blended various elements of Chinese décor for dramatic effect. The decoration of the rooms is designed to increase in vibrancy as the visitor enters through the Asian-inspired yet subdued Octagon and Entrance Halls, to the crimson theatricality of the Long Gallery and the State Rooms beyond.

The Long Gallery seen today is not dissimilar to the illustration of 200 years ago, in Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, (published 1827), with its painted glass ceiling, tasselled lanterns, bamboo furniture and richly patterned carpet. The 1950s restoration show walls that strongly resemble the original design of trees, leaves and birds, which together with the bell-lined ceiling and mirror-backed doors give the illusion of an endless corridor in an exotic Oriental pagoda. No doubt those who gathered for cards and conversation would have spent much time talking about the fantastic (garish?) décor, the likes of which many visitors would never have seen before.

Passing through the Long Gallery serves as dramatic entrance to the magnificence that is the Banqueting Room. Robert Jones is understood to have designed this interior, a fabulous gilt-laden room of Chinese inspiration, centred by a grand chandelier suspended from a silver dragon. This 30ft chandelier holds six more dragons who breathe light into glass lotus shapes, and is believed to have cost eleven thousand pounds sterling. Princess Lieven is reported to have said “I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there has been such magnificence and luxury” (John Morley, The Making of the Royal Pavilion). Dragons are a feature of the room, and can be seen festooned on sideboards, the Spode torchere, gilt wood columns, and the large Axminster carpet, the sumptuous display designed to show off the host’s status and wealth.

Palm tree columns were used to hide the cast iron supports for the upper floors in the Great Kitchen, a place that also employed the latest technology to create lavish meals, such as the famous menu designed by the French chef Marie-Antoine Careme with 60 dishes! Apparently the Prince Regent’s visitors were escorted to see this room (also known as the King’s Kitchen), and the attention to detail here further demonstrates the desire to impress with the best money could buy.

Further rooms continue to emphasise such things. The Banqueting Room Gallery, part of the original farmhouse, consisted of two rooms, an anteroom and a breakfast room. These were combined in 1815 to form the Blue Drawing Room, after Frederick Crace’s colourful decorating scheme. Nash’s later design saw the room designated as a gallery for use after dinner, with a more subdued colour palette, designed for guests to relax after the Banqueting Room’s excesses. Palm tree columns and the Dolphin Furniture (c. 1810), decorated with maritime motifs, demonstrates the importance of the sea and Nelson’s victories over Napoleon.

The rounded Saloon, situated directly under the central dome, dates from Holland’s time, and while its physical shape remained unaltered by Nash’s renovations, the interior décor changed several times over the years, from neoclassical style, to Frederick Crace’s Chinese wallpaper and clouded ceiling, to Robert Jones’s opulent, regal theme, complete with Indian motifs, completed in 1823. Today’s visitor will soon see a freshly restored room of silver and white, silk panels, and a replica of the carpet designed by Robert Jones.

The Music Room Gallery, used for recitals and smaller concerts and occasionally for dancing, provided respite from the more ornately decorated State Rooms. Frederick Crace’s earlier design showed a bright yellow drawing room, complete with Chinese-inspired details, which was replaced by another Crace design in 1821 that was more restrained, perhaps more in keeping with the role of the new king.

George IV loved music and would often join in with the evening’s entertainment, singing whilst accompanying himself on the pianoforte, and the Music Room was a favourite place for him to indulge his passion. Designed to hold an orchestra as well as many guests, this State Room has a domed ceiling with nine chandeliers of painted glass shaped like lotuses, painted dragons supported canvases of Chinese scenes, silver dragons held up blue silk draperies, and the gilding used throughout. An astonishing room indeed.

Of course, not all of the Prince Regent’s contemporaries approved such lavish displays of wealth. A number of people, no doubt influenced by the extravagant costs associated with the seemingly constant refurbishments, and the fact the Prince ‘paid’ for such refurbishments via taxes, were quite critical. The Pavilion has been described as “like a collection of stone pumpkins and pepper boxes,” “long been the subject of laughter all over the country,” “as if the genius of architecture had at once the dropsy and the megrims…fantastical,” and “it looks as if St Paul’s Cathedral has come down to Brighton and pupped.”

But despite this criticism, I think the Royal Pavilion in Brighton is a must see. I’m so glad this splendid edifice to royal Regency (and questionable!) taste has been preserved through the years, so if you get the chance, take the hour-long tour, then spend time in the lovely gardens. The Royal Pavilion truly has to be seen to be believed.

[all photographs copyright of the author]

[This is an Editor's Choice archive post, originally published on EHFA 2nd August 2018]


Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked part-time as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher. A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novels include The Elusive Miss Ellison, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Winning Miss Winthrop and Miss Serena's Secret, all available from Amazon, Book Depository, Koorong, etc

Connect with her:        website | facebook | pinterest | twitter | instagram

Monday, July 27, 2020

Law & Order - Duties of the Constable in 17th Century England

by Deborah Swift

A Conventicle preacher brought before the Justices

The Role of the Constable
In the 17th century the responsibility for law and order fell on the community through its constables; though actually only a proportion of the community were eligible for this post – that is the householders. Tenants were not allowed to be constables. The office was usually held yearly amongst the wealthiest householders who were obliged to serve, or provide a deputy in their stead. I have read of one occasion in 1644 where in Upton, the householder turned out to be a widow. Given the often violent nature of the job, Jane Kitchin was obliged to hire a deputy. Though I have to say, I rather like the idea of a woman fulfilling this role.

Unlike later police, the position was strictly amateur, with the constable receiving no remuneration for his services, which could be both dangerous and cumbersome. However, what it did do was to promote a shared citizenship, and in the early 17th century, gave prominent householders an understanding of how the systems of ancient Manorial land ownership worked. Once a year, the constables from neighbouring parishes were sworn in at the local Justice’s office or residence by the High Constable of the County.

Their duties were primarily in disputes over land and territory, particularly with regard to tenancies, but also after the Excise Act of 1642 they were also charged with collecting tax and duty on goods. A duty was put on provisions coming into the cities from the country – on beer and cider and soap, and the next year on salt, hats, starch, and copper goods. This law was extremely unpopular, as these were not imported items from abroad, as before, but everyday necessities, and the enforcing of this law, and the collection of these monthly excise duties must have been a great burden on the elected constables.

Like doctors or vets today, the constables were constantly ‘on call’, meaning they often had to leave their dinner or their sleep to deal with the drunk and disorderly, street fights, or criminal activities.

Hue and Cry
If a murder or robbery had been committed, or a criminal had escaped, the Constable was responsible for recruiting a search party. The pay for chasing a criminal was anything from one penny to one shilling, depending on the perceived danger. The constable could call upon the villagers or townspeople for help, and anyone who refused to give chase or lend his horse to the party, was fined. The chases were known as Hue and Cry
‘given to Richard Taylor for going to Aram with a Huincri in ye night 2d’
Upton Constable's Account Book 

Hue and Cry of 'Canonbury Besse'

When the miscreant was caught, that was not the end of the constable's responsibility. If no gaol or lock-up was available, the constable had to find suitable premises and a watchman to keep the wrong-doer under lock and key.

Minor offences could be punished by a stay in the stocks, but more serious misdeameanours had to wait for the Justice at the Quarterly Assizes, known as the Quarter Sessions. Justice was a hit and miss affair, though, as the constable was often responsible for choosing the jurymen, to his own advantage in disputes.

Inside the Judge's Lodgings Museum Lancaster

Moral Guardians
Along with the churchwarden, the constable was supposed to keep an eye on the moral compass of the neighbourhood. During the Interregnum, with Cromwell in charge, staunch attacks on vice were demanded. Alehouses were restricted, various sports were banned, and the constable’s duties were to enforce all these new rules – an unenviable task, particularly since he was subject to the orders of the army Generals who were put in charge of each county district. In the period after the Civil Wars when there were many disputes over sequestrated land, (aristocrats' land seized by Parliament) the job must have required much diplomacy.

In addition there were all the new religious rules, such as fining those who did not keep Lent. Once the King was restored, a whole new raft of rules appeared, including persecution of religious dissenters such as the Quakers. A constable could call upon the trained band of soldiers to help quell a disturbance, and was resposible for enforcing that men of the parish trained in pike duty or other defensive arts as stipulated by law.
Allowed our trayne soldiers their charges when thery apprehended some Quakers in our town and conveyed them to prison 13/-
From the Upton Constable’s Account Book 1661


The Long Parliament brought about a reform in taxation, moving away from the feudal system, and introduced a Poll Tax – no doubt extremely unpopular, and yet another difficulty for the constables to administer. The taxes were means tested, which meant constables must go door to door to assess the rate of tax – a task that was hardly going to enamour you with your neighbours. The taxes were resented because Parliament had promised that the poor would not be taxed. (sound familiar?)

Hearth Tax returns from Chaddersley Corbett, Worcestershire

Added to this already unpopular Poll Tax, the constable had to administer the Hearth Tax, introduced in 1662, where the number of chimneys had to be assessed.
There is not one old dame in ten, and search the nation through,but if you talk of chimney men will spare a curse or two
 Macauley 1662


Not only all this, but the constables were in charge of keeping the roads passable, and the bridges mended, and preventing vagrants from entering their boundaries. Vagrants were obliged to return to their place of origin, which resulted in many a poor beggar being turned away from one parish, and sent onwards to the next, spending their time sleeping in barns and calling on charity. More often than not the charity was supplied by the parish constable. No travelling was allowed on a Sunday, and canny travellers would arrive at a village on a Saturday night, knowing they would have to be accommodated there until the Monday.
'Given to a man that had been a footman to the Kinge, and who was in great want whose wiffe was with him 4d'
'Given to a souldier the 12th of May that was maimed at woster and had been under the surgon's hand 2d'
Upton Constable's record

Depending on where the sympathies of the constable lay, supporters or soldiers of the King after the end of the Civil War could be treated with kindness and respect, or they could be moved on, like common beggars.

Unpaid Civil Servant
The duties of the constable combined the duties of our police force with the duties of a charitable institution, and the constable was at the heart of the community. His house was taken over for a year as a gaol, a minor court, a meeting house, and a poor man's soup kitchen. The constable had to be a record-holder and thus was required to be literate and numerate, and thank goodness, for it is from constables' records that we know so much about the workings of the law in this period.

Rude Forefathers: F.H West
The Gaol : Kelly Grovier
Every One A Witness - The Stuart Age: A.F.Scott

This is an Editor’s Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published May 24, 2017.

Deborah Swift is the author of nine historical novels as well as the Highway Trilogy for teens (and anyone young at heart!). So far, her books have been set in the 17th Century or in WW2, but she is fascinated by all periods of the past and her new novel will be set in the Renaissance. Deborah lives on the edge of the beautiful and literary English Lake District – a place made famous by the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.

For more information of Deborah's published work, visit her Author Page. Find her historical fiction blog at her website or follow her on twitter @swiftstory.