22nd -27th April 2018
by Larry Breen
This year we returned to the Midlands of England and it proved to be a great choice with fifty two people on board making up our merry band of local historians. We were delighted to welcome our great friends from Ulster who totalled twelve in number.
Twenty one Counties were represented including Dublin, Kildare, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford , Limerick, Westmeath, Leitrim, Sligo, Louth, Armagh, Down, Derry, Galway, Meath, Kilkenny, Tyrone, Carlow, Wicklow, Antrim and Cork.
We had twenty four societies represented, Clane, Newbridge, Athy, Rathmichael, Foxrock, Roscommon, Tipperary, Stuartstown, West Belfast, Knocklyon, Banbridge, Galway, Waterford, Mallow, Cork Western Front Association, Kilkenny, Dromore, Kinsale, Knockraha, Clondalkin, Carlow, Navan, Rathcoffey and Calry.
The group left Dublin Port on a fine morning and experienced a really smooth crossing to Holyhead. We took the road east and made a comfort stop at the Wedgewood Centre near Stoke–on–Trent, which also afforded us the chance to visit the museum. It was a very interesting experience. It was then on the road again and to our home base for the rest of the week, the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nottingham. A welcome dinner awaited us and then it was off to bed for a well-earned rest.
After an early breakfast our guide, Ian Jelf, took us on a guided tour around the centre of Nottingham passing on the way, the impressive statue of legendary Nottingham Forest Manager, Brian Clough. We walked along many streets with interesting and informative commentary from Ian on places of interest along the way. Nottingham had been famous for stocking and lace manufacture but this had disappeared in the years after the war. Nottingham Theatre Royal was very impressive as were the many Art Nouveau buildings we also encountered on our tour. We also learned that Nottingham was the birth place of Players Tobacco and the famous Raleigh bicycles. Our itinerary took us to see Nottingham Castle with its fine bronze statue of local folk hero, Robin Hood outside and it also conjured up thoughts of the infamous Sherriff of Nottingham. We passed by a unique Pub, called “The Trip to Jerusalem “, reputed to be the oldest in the country, and carved into the rock below the castle. This was to be the evening haunt for some during our stay in Nottingham. An interesting coach journey took us to the iconic, Chatsworth House ,the home of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire since 1549. The house set in expansive parkland contained an important collection of paintings, furniture, old master drawings, neo- classical sculpture, books and many more artefacts to please the eye. The house has changed somewhat over the years, with the 4th Earl creating a richly appointed Baroque suite of state rooms across the south front in anticipation of a visit from King William 111 and Queen Mary 11 which actually never happened. The 4th Duke made further changes to house and gardens with the gardens being designed by “Lancelot Capability Brown”. The 6th Duke, in 1811, inherited eight major estates including Chatsworth and Lismore Castle in Ireland. A unique garden feature was the “Giant Cascade” with water cascading down steps from a great distance. Inside we visited the Great Chamber, the Sculpture Gallery, the State Drawing Rooms, the Painted Hall and the Library among many others. It was then a complete change of scenery from all this ambience as we took a lovely coach tour to part of the beautiful Peak District and enjoyed the beauty of this upland area at the southern end of the Pennines. The national park extends five hundred and fifty five square miles onto Staffordshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester and South & West Yorkshire. The journey was made all the more interesting with an excellent commentary from Ian, our guide. Later that evening we were delighted to welcome, John Parker, Chairman of Nottinghamshire Local History Association, as our after -dinner speaker. He delivered a most absorbing and thought provoking talk on the myths and legends of Robin Hood. We were able to show a strong link between Nottingham and Ireland through a family called Brownlow, who settled in Lurgan, Co. Armagh during the Plantation of Ulster in the 1600s. Larry Breen and Jimmy Conway, both, born in Lurgan, told the story and presented John Parker with a framed copy of the Brownlow family Coat of Arms.
The morning saw us travel to the City of Leicester, one of the oldest cities in England, in search of the unbelievable story of King Richard 111 and the discovery of his remains in the local car park. The city lies on the river Soar and is in the county town of Leicestershire. The Richard 111 centre was very impressive and outlined the fascinating story of how they found his remains and the detailed identification process that followed. It was unbelievable to see the actual grave and then his tomb in Leicester Cathedral. The tombstone is deeply incised with a cross and is made of Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in West Yorkshire and rests on a low plinth of Kilkenny marble also incised with the King’s name. We then had some time to take a walk around some of Leicester’s old narrow streets and see the old Elizabethan Town Hall. The afternoon saw us visit the magnificent Burghley House which proved a somewhat different experience to Chatsworth House. It had more of the ambience of a home and not so much that of a show place. The house was built for the Cecil family between 1558 and 1587 and is a grand 16th century house in the county of Cambridgeshire . The house is still occupied by the family. The gardens were beautiful which along with the avenues in the park were laid out by Capability Brown, who also designed the park’s man-made lake. He was also responsible for designing the Lion Bridge at the cost of one thousand guineas.
The house and gardens also play host to the annual Burghley Horse Trials. The interior was magnificent with many rooms filled with all sorts of interesting artefacts. The Burghley Art Collection is well known and the house still displays several hundred paintings. In the Pagoda room were portraits of the Cecil family, Elizabeth 1, Henry V111 and Oliver Cromwell. The unique billiard room displayed six oval paintings of members of the “Order of Little Bedlam”, the 5thEarl’s drinking club. I think it is fair to say that most enjoyed the more homely atmosphere in Burghley to the more austere ambience of Chatsworth. The house represents one of the main examples of stone masonry in 16th century Elizabethan England. It had a suite of rooms remodelled in the Baroque style with carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The main house had thirty five major rooms and there were more than eighty lesser rooms with numerous corridors and halls. A most beautiful house and an unforgettable experience. On our journey back to Nottingham we were privileged to drive through the unique stone built town of Stamford on the river Welland in Lincolnshire with its 17th-18th stone buildings, old timber framed buildings and fine medieval parish churches.
Up bright and early we started the day with a most pleasant leisurely walk in Sherwood Forest on a fine sunny morning. It was very refreshing and we stopped on our way to view the “Large Oak” associated with the legend of Robin Hood. It was a spectacular sight with its long spreading branches, which due to its age require poles to help hold it up. We then moved on to Lincoln City and arrived there before lunch. I have to say that we all fell in love with its winding streets and attractive buildings. The walk up and then particularly down “Steep Hill” was a challenge but well worth just to see its array of quaint buildings. The two major landmarks were the Gothic Cathedral and Lincoln’s 11th Century Norman Castle, both of which we visited. We started with the castle which included a walk around its walls and also to explore the green area inside the perimeter. There was an old Victorian Prison housed within its outer walls and this was in pristine condition. The castle holds one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta . The prison church was something special with its very high pulpits confining prisoners to view little more than the altar itself. We learnt that Eamon De Valera was at one time held as a prisoner within its walls. After this , the best was yet to come with our visit to St. Mary’s Cathedral. This Cathedral is the 3rd largest in Britain after St. Pauls and York Minister. The Cathedral with its three massive towers is a sight to behold and this is particularly true when viewed from the ramparts of the prison. Inside it is breath-taking and described by some on entering as “Wow”! The stained glass windows are magnificent, the central isle is a remarkable one hundred yards in length and stunning, the impressive vaulted roof seems to disappear into the air. Two of the stained glass windows are beautiful Rose Windows which are a very unusual feature in medieval architecture in England. There are many stone carvings evident including the famous “Lincoln Imp”. In the S-W tower are thirteen bells, two in the N-W tower and five in the central tower including “Grand Tom” which is a quarter hour striking clock. The cathedral is famous for its spectacular vaults and within its interior holds the tomb of “Eleanor of Castile”. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Sadly , after an early breakfast, we bid “Adieu” to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which we had grown accustomed to during our stay in Nottingham and which had provided excellent facilities and service. After a smooth ferry crossing from Holyhead we all arrived safely back in Dublin.
As in previous years , this was another memorable visit to another beautiful part of England. We were delighted to share it all with our great friends from the Ulster Federation and have fond memories of the people and the places we encountered on the way.