Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Bolsover Castle: a short history and guide

As you travel along the M1 motorway between Nottingham and Sheffield, near the exit for Chesterfield you can see Bolsover Castle standing guard on a high ridge of land a few miles to the east. If you can spare the time, a visit to the castle will be an enjoyable experience.

Although the castle owes its origins to a medieval foundation in the 11th century, what you can see today is almost entirely the work of members of the Cavendish family in the 17th century. The castle was built for pleasure, not defence, although it did suffer damage during the English Civil War. That said, the ruined nature of part of the castle is due to neglect and abandonment rather than enemy action.

The castle buildings follow the ground plan of the medieval original, with a ‘keep’, an inner court, an inner bailey and an outer bailey, but there is no sign of the original stonework. The buildings comprise three main elements, the Terrace Range and State Apartment, the Riding House and stable block, and the ‘Little Castle’ together with the attached wall-walk.

The Little Castle

This was built between 1612 and 1617 by Charles Cavendish close to the site of the original castle keep. Indeed, it does look like a stone keep in the style that a Norman aristocrat would have built in order to dominate the local area and tell the peasants who was boss.

It is a fascinating building on four floors, with many rooms to explore. The plan of the castle is not easy to appreciate, with rooms leading off in all directions and narrow little stairways in unexpected places. None of the rooms are particularly large, in terms of what might be expected in a “stately home”, but they are decorated in varied and interesting ways, including wall panelling, ceilings painted with biblical and mythological scenes, and tapestries. The restoration of the building is partial, in that some rooms are presented as they would probably have appeared originally and others have been left bare.

The Terrace Range and State Apartment

This row of buildings was first built in the 1620s and 1630s and was the living quarters of the second generation of the Cavendish family who clearly wanted far more opulence than could be provided in the Little Castle. King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria were entertained here in 1634.

However, during the Commonwealth period of the 1650s, when the owner William Cavendish was living in exile abroad, the buildings were plundered for their roofing materials and stonework and had to be partially rebuilt after the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660. Many changes were made at this stage to the original design.

The restored buildings were later abandoned for more peaceful reasons and, from the 1770s onwards, were roofless ruins. Today you can see the inside of the shell of the building which stretches to four floors in height and would have contained some magnificent rooms that were far larger than any in the Little Castle.

What you can also see, from the terrace on the outer side of the range, is a magnificent view over the vale that lies below the castle. The view takes in a wide panorama of this part of Derbyshire and includes Hardwick Hall, which was another property held by the Cavendish family.

The Riding House Range

This row of buildings dates from the 1660s. It fell into disrepair in the early 19th century but was completely restored in the 20th century and now represents a rare example of a 17th century riding establishment, perfect in nearly every detail.

William Cavendish was an expert in the art of “manège”, by which is meant training horses to perform specific movements to spoken commands. It is closely related to the more familiar “dressage” that is commonly practised today. Cavendish wrote a book about manège in 1658 and had the Riding House Range built at Bolsover so that he could teach the art to others.

The range comprises a stable building in which up to 15 horses could be housed, a smithy and shoeing house, and the riding arena itself with a viewing gallery at one end. The arena is still used today for demonstration events.

The Grounds

The inner court of the Little Castle is surrounded by a broad elevated wall-walk with a battlemented balustrade along both sides. A great deal of work has been done in recent years to restore this, with the result that the fresh stonework is as “clean” as all the fabric of the castle would have looked when first built. No doubt this will weather to a darker tone as time passes.

In the centre of the garden is a fountain that represents Venus emerging from the waves. It has been restored to full working order, including the “putti” or small boys from whom some of the water spouts from interesting places – in the style of the “Manneken Pis” at Brussels!

Bolsover Castle is in the care of English Heritage.

© John Welford

A trip up The Shard

The Shard (in London) is the tallest building in Europe and offers superb views from its viewing platform nearly 1000 feet up.  Getting up there is an adventure all it itself, but well worth it!

You need to pre-book a ticket, which you can do very easily online (you can turn up on the day and may get lucky if they are not overbooked, but you will pay extra).

You can choose the time you wish to visit and must turn up within half an hour of that time.

There are some restrictions on what you can bring with you – large pieces of luggage or equipment, for example, and open containers of food or drink.

Security is an important consideration, and you will go through a similar scanning procedure to that found at airports, though without any physical ‘pat down’. You are then photographed, although this has more to do with trying to sell you an expensive photograph when you leave than with any security consideration.

The lift takes you up 68 floors in two stages, the first taking you to floor 38 and the second the rest of the way to the top. Each lift takes less than half a minute, so if you are subject to ear-popping you will experiences some definite Rice Krispies moments!

Once you are at the top you can stay there as long as you like. The proprietors have worked out that the average stay is about half an hour, so they know that the space is unlikely to get overcrowded if they restrict the flow of new arrivals and allow departures to take place as and when people feel ready to go.

As a result, the atmosphere of the viewing platforms is relaxed and friendly. There are staff members there to help people identify what they can see and use the telescope devices that are provided, and there is also a bar.

You do not actually go to the very top of the building, as this would be difficult given that it comes to a sharp jagged point! There are actually three viewing floors, and from the topmost one (level 72) you can look up to see the steel framework of the very highest levels. It comes as a surprise to appreciate that level 72 is open to the sky on one side, which can provide a welcome cooling breeze on a hot afternoon. However, there is no chance of anyone being able to climb over the glass wall!

On the day of my visit the weather was fine and sunny but there were also clouds in the sky, which threw shadows over the landscape below. This meant that the view kept changing as you walked round, and you noticed things that you had missed earlier.

Taking photographs through glass can pose problems with sunlight glinting off the panes, but this did not cause too much difficulty.

The boast of the owners is that you can see up to 40 miles, but photos at this distance suffer from the effects of heat-haze and atmospheric pollution. Clearly, in poor weather the top of the Shard could be surrounded by low cloud or fog, but should this happen you will be offered a refund or an alternative date.

So when you have had enough it’s time to go back down in the lifts, an invitation to collect your photo, a quick visit to the gift shop, and away you go. I for one would quite happily make a return visit!

© John Welford

Harwich Redoubt: a short history

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15) there was a very real threat that Great Britain could be invaded by France. In December 1805 Napoleon defeated two of his enemies, Austria and Russia, at the Battle of Austerlitz, and there was every reason to expect that he would then turn his attention to Britain. Attention was therefore given to improving the defences of south-east England.

This was despite the fact that in October 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar had been fought, in which the British Navy under Lord Nelson had had a decisive victory over the French. This gave Britain a huge breathing space, because Napoleon could not invade without a Navy and Nelson, despite losing his life, had ensured that Britain would be the dominant naval power in Europe for decades to come.

However, that did not stop the plans for strengthening Britain’s coastal defences from going ahead. The Redoubt at Harwich was therefore built as part of a chain of forts, known as Martello Towers, that ran from Aldeburgh in Suffolk to Seaford in Sussex, although only two others were of similar size.

Harwich stands on a narrow peninsula at the mouth of the River Stour, where it is joined by the River Orwell. Together, the estuaries of the two rivers form a substantial harbour area that could be vulnerable to attack. Should an enemy be able to pass this point, it would have river access to both the west and north-west. A fort that commanded the waters on both sides of the peninsula (i.e. covering both the estuary and the open sea) would therefore be invaluable.

The foundations of the Redoubt were laid in 1807, and by 1809 it was ready to be armed, although the work was not completed until 1810. The circular design allowed for guns to be mounted all around the top level and thus able to fire in any direction. The fort was sunk into the top of a low hill so that it would not present an easy target for any attacker. Even today, the Redoubt is virtually invisible until one is almost on top of it.

Needless to say, the Redoubt saw no action before the war ended with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, it continued in service throughout the 19th century, with various alterations made to the gun emplacements to allow heavier guns to be mounted, although no shot was ever fired in anger from the Redoubt throughout its history.

In 1910 the Redoubt was no longer regarded as having a defensive function and was instead used purely as a barracks, as it could accommodate up to 300 men.

During the 1920s the fort was abandoned when the area around it was developed for housing, much of which remains to this day. During World War Two the Redoubt was again used for minor military purposes, but not in any attacking or defensive mode.

After the war the long period of decay began that only ended in 1968 when it was scheduled as an ancient monument by the Ministry of Works. The Harwich Society was founded in February 1969 and in July of that year began work on restoring the Redoubt to its former glory. This effort, which has been entirely carried out by voluntary effort, still continues.  The current writer, despite not being a Harwich native or resident, can claim to have played an extremely small part in the restoration effort back in 1971.

The Harwich Redoubt is the largest ancient monument in Britain that is being restored by a voluntary group. It is open to visitors during the summer months (May to August).

An important early stage of the restoration involved clearing vegetation from the dry moat that surrounds the Redoubt. When this was being done a large cannon was found that was part of the original ordnance of the fort. This has now been lifted back into its rightful place, alongside a number of other pieces of military hardware that form part of the museum display, most of which is housed in the former barrack rooms.

© John Welford

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The New Forest, Hampshire

The New Forest is an area of southern England that has many attractions for the visitor, although he or she must not expect to spend all their time surrounded by trees.

What is the New Forest?

The name “New Forest” is slightly confusing, because it is no longer new and, in the eyes of many people, scarcely constitutes a forest. True, it was new in 1079 when William the Conqueror passed laws to make it a royal hunting domain, but the “National Forest” in the English Midlands is a great deal newer! On the other hand, the creation of the New Forest National Park in 2005 was recent enough.

As for the term “forest”, it is a mistake to think that a forest must consist wholly of trees. There are plenty of trees in the New Forest, but it also has huge areas of open heathland, bog and other open land. These various habitats make the New Forest an extremely valuable wildlife resource, and that is one of the main reasons why millions of people visit this area every year.


The New Forest covers an area of about 220 square miles in south-west Hampshire, with a small part of Wiltshire also included. The main A31 road cuts through from northeast to southwest, providing easy access for the visitor and a tempting glimpse for those who rush through between Southampton and Bournemouth/Poole. The main railway line from Southampton to Bournemouth also snakes through the Forest, with several stations at which semi-fast and local trains stop.

The A31 marks a divide between the northern and southern Forest, with the northern part tending to be wilder and more open than the south. Most visitors head for the southern part, with its small towns, extensive woods and other attractions, but the north is also a delight to visit, especially if you are a walker, cyclist or rider.

To be blunt, the car driver gets the worst deal from the New Forest, as it is only when you get close to it, under your own steam, that you really learn most from what it has to offer. However, the most visited site in the Forest is very accessible to the motorised visitor, namely the Rufus Stone, close to where the A31 becomes the M27. This marks the supposed site of the death of King William II (known as Rufus) who died in 1100 when hunting in the Forest. Whether his death was an accident or an assassination has been the subject of debate for centuries.

A managed wilderness

It is the history of the New Forest that makes it what it is. As a royal hunting park, the laws that governed the Forest ensured that the local people could not cultivate the land or fence in it. Many of these laws still apply, although the penalties for breaking them are far less severe than in William the Conqueror’s day! This is a wilderness, but it is only so because it is a managed wilderness in which the needs of man and nature are carefully balanced.

For example, the “commoners” of the Forest have the right to turn pigs into the woodlands in the autumn to eat the acorns that would otherwise poison the ponies and cattle, and at same time prevent the growth of unwanted oak saplings. These ancient rights and privileges are jealously and efficiently guarded by the “verderers” and “agisters” who ensure that the Forest continues to stay the way it always has, but visitors also have a responsibility to treat it well and preserve an ecosystem that is both enduring and fragile.


One of the main reasons for visiting the New Forest is to experience its wildlife, which can best be done on foot, horseback, or bicycle. The Forest is famous for its semi-wild ponies, which are everywhere, but visitors should be wary of getting too close as they can sometimes be aggressive and give a nasty bite. Less often seen are the five species of deer that roam the woods, including the small sika deer that have descended from stock that escaped into the Forest more than 100 years ago.

The heathlands and bogs are home to the widest range of reptiles and amphibians to be seen anywhere in the British Isles. These include every species of snake and lizard found in Britain. Visitors should be aware that adders (vipers) are Britain’s only venomous snakes, but bites are rare and almost never fatal to humans. If you want to see all the species in one place, a visit to the New Forest Reptile Centre, near Lyndhurst, is a must.

Birdwatchers will find the New Forest very much to their liking, as more than 100 species breed here, and many others are regular winter visitors or migrants. Unusual species to be found here include the hawfinch, hen harrier, woodlark and nightjar.

The Forest is also a haven for many unusual butterflies, dragonflies and other insects, not to mention fungi and wild flowers and other plants, some of which are found nowhere else.

Getting around

To help you get around, there are more than 150 miles of gravel tracks that are off-limits to cars, and several firms rent out bicycles by the day. You can also hire a pony, for either accompanied or unaccompanied rides through the Forest, to which there are few restrictions in terms of hedges or fences.

Places to visit

A short guide to the New Forest cannot cover everything, as there is so much to see and do, but mention should be made of three unusual attractions that should not be missed.

The National Motor Museum was the brainchild of the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and consists of more than 250 motor vehicles of all kinds, tracing the history of motor transport and motorsport, including former holders of the world land speed record. You can also visit Beaulieu Abbey, the ruins of a Cistercian abbey dating from 1204, and Palace House, the former home of Lord Montagu.

Not far from Beaulieu is Buckler’s Hard, a former shipyard that used New Forest timber to build some of the ships that formed Britain’s past navies, including some of Nelson’s fleet that fought at Trafalgar. Some of the cottages of this delightful village have been carefully preserved, and you can trace the history of shipbuilding at the Maritime Museum.

To be absolutely accurate, the third place on the list is just outside the New Forest proper, but should not be missed. This is the Eling Tide Mill at the head of Southampton Water. This is a restored watermill, originally built at least as long ago as the creation of the New Forest by King William I, that operates by filling a millpond from the incoming tide and releasing the trapped water when the tide is low. Visitors can see the mill in operation, although timings depend on the tides, and buy flour that has been ground here.

A special place

The New Forest contains only three small towns (Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Lymington) and a number of smaller villages, so hotel accommodation within the Forest is limited. However, this should not be a problem, given that the large population centres of Southampton and Bournemouth/Poole are not far away. One option, especially if you want to experience the Forest at dawn (an excellent idea!) is to camp, and there are nine campsites in the Forest that are managed by the Forestry Commission.

The New Forest is a very special place, to be enjoyed and savoured, never rushed but always respected. It is full of surprises (for example, the grave of the original “Alice in Wonderland” can be seen at Lyndhurst), and is always changing with the seasons and the weather. It is very accessible yet unspoiled. Its status as a National Park will ensure that this continues to be the case for many future generations.

For more information, see these websites:

© John Welford

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Peterborough Cathedral

Peterborough Cathedral is perhaps the second finest Norman church in England after Durham Cathedral, and is certainly one of the least altered. The city of Peterborough, in north Cambridgeshire, has relatively few attractions for the visitor, but the cathedral makes the trip very worthwhile.


A monastery dedicated to St Peter was built in 656 but this was sacked by the Danes in 870. The Bishop of Winchester built a replacement a century later but this was destroyed by fire in 1117. The core of the present cathedral was begun as an abbey church on the same site in 1118 and completed in 1143. To this was added the cathedral nave, built between 1194 and 1197. The bulk of the cathedral was therefore built in the Romanesque style. Local limestone from Barnack near Stamford (the monks owned the quarry) was used in the construction.

However, the west front of the cathedral, which is one of the most dramatic such fronts in medieval architecture anywhere, is more Gothic in conception, having been added as an afterthought some ten years after the rest of the building was complete. Indeed, it appears that the original front was remodelled while it was still under construction, for reasons that are still a mystery. The small Galilee chapel at the centre of the west front was added in 1370.

Although Peterborough Cathedral was built as part of a monastic site there are only vestiges to be seen today of any other abbey buildings (notably the walls of the cloisters). It was at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1541, that the Anglican Diocese of Peterborough was created, and the abbey church was preserved to become the seat of the new Bishop of Peterborough. The decision was probably helped by the fact that King Henry VIII’s first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, had been buried in the Cathedral in 1536 (and her tomb can still be visited).

The central tower dates from the 14th century but had to be rebuilt in the 1880s.

The far east end of the Cathedral is a spacious retro-choir that was built around 1500 in late Perpendicular style with magnificent fan vaulting.

Along with many other English cathedrals and churches, Peterborough Cathedral suffered from the vandalism of Cromwell’s soldiers, in Peterborough’s case in 1643. However, the loss of medieval stained glass, choir stalls and monuments, as well as a massive high altar, have left the cathedral with a much lighter and airier appearance and feel than might be expected from a Romanesque building.

Cathedral Exterior

The main feature of interest is the west front, which is 156 feet wide and therefore wider than the nave that opens behind it. The dominant feature is a trio of arches which are 81 feet high and deeply recessed with rich mouldings. The central arch is narrower and therefore more pointed than the other two, although the gables surmounting the arches are of the same height and angle of point.

The effect of the front is enhanced by two small towers at either end, thus giving the front a pleasing symmetry of five vertical elements that alternate between narrow and broad. Spires were added to the towers in the 14th century.

However, a jarring note was introduced by the building of a square tower behind the front on the north side that is unmatched by a similar tower on the south side (there is a tower base but it is not built to the same height as on the north side and is therefore not easily seen from ground level). When looking at the west front one is struck by the tower peeping, off-centre, over the top of the façade. One feels that having no towers in this position would have been better than having two.

Another feature that detracts from the perfection of the west front is the Galilee chapel, or entrance porch, that is set in front of the central arch. This was possibly built as a means of adding support to the pillars of this arch, and it is not unattractive in its own right, but the visitor will rightly wonder what the front would have looked like without this intrusion.

Apart from the west front, Peterborough Cathedral is not of great architectural merit when viewed from outside, although the three tiers of windows on the south transept are impressive and represent the oldest part of the building.

Cathedral Interior

The nave is typical of Romanesque cathedral naves in having a three-decker set of well-proportioned round arches rising from solid pillars, with aisles on either side. At Peterborough the pillars, which are multiple-shafted, are not as massive and imposing as those at Durham, for example. The side aisles are stone-vaulted with massive ribs, but the main nave is not, and this is where Peterborough’s chief treasure lies.

The nave ceiling is wooden and painted, the decoration having been applied between 1230 and 1250. Although the paint has been restored twice in the Cathedral’s history, the geometrical pattern is as it was originally designed and it is therefore one of only four such ceilings of this date to have survived in all of western Europe, and the only one in Britain. It is work of very high quality and well worth the effort of the journey for this feature alone.

The ceiling of the presbytery area of the choir was one of the features desecrated by Cromwell’s troops and was among the restorations made in the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Although not all Victorian restorations of English cathedrals were done with particular sympathy to the original design, the work at Peterborough does seem to have bucked the trend. In particular, the painting of the semi-circular apse ceiling (which formed the end of the cathedral before the retro-choir was added) was very well executed. It shows Christ in glory surrounded by saints, with their haloes and surrounding script picked out in gold.

The whole of the tower, presbytery and choir area was restored under Scott, including new choir stalls, marble paving, bishop’s cathedra and high altar.

The fan vaulting of the retro-choir is exceptionally fine and was almost certainly the work of John Wastell, who would later create the vaulting at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. It is notable (here and at King’s College) that the fans are not complete semi-circles but bump into each other at the sides, although they meet their opposite numbers at the mid-line of the ceiling without interruption. This is an excellent example of how artistic perfection must sometimes be compromised for the sake of engineering safety, because the purpose of a vault is to support the weight of a roof and distribute stresses, but the Peterborough fan vaults make this compromise in a way that is still extremely pleasing to the eye.

A visit to Peterborough Cathedral is almost certainly going to be a rewarding one, for anyone who appreciates fine proportions, clean lines and unfussy decoration.

© John Welford

Friday, 29 July 2016

A short guide to Durham

One of the first things to do when visiting the ancient City of Durham is simply stop and stare at one of the most magnificent settings for a cathedral that could be imagined. Nature supplied the site in that the River Wear has created a deeply incised valley and a narrow peninsula with steep sandstone bluffs that are mainly wooded.

It was to this spot that, in AD 995, the monks of Lindisfarne brought the body of St Cuthbert, who had died in AD 687. The legend of why Durham was the final resting place of the saint’s bones is that the monks were told in a vision to seek a place called Dun Holm, and they only discovered where this was when a milkmaid was overheard saying that her cow had wandered off and was probably at Dun Holm. The monks therefore followed the milkmaid, found the cow, and also the ideal place to end their journey. They promptly built a wooden church to house St Cuthbert’s remains.

The original church was replaced by a cathedral, built in the Romanesque style, that was begun in 1093, took only 40 years to build, excluding the towers, and is largely what can be seen today.

A good way of appreciating the splendour of this building from the outside is to walk the path that runs alongside the river. There are in fact two paths, one on each side, but the best views are from the outer path, looking across the Wear up at the three towers of the Cathedral. The walk takes about 30 minutes to complete, and is definitely to be recommended if favour of trying to see the views from the roads that are slightly higher up, as the trees get in the way.

The interior of the Cathedral is every bit as breathtaking as the exterior. Durham Cathedral is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture to be seen in the world, being remarkably complete. It has many features of interest that cannot all be described in a short article, but the visitor will doubtless be impressed by the lofty stone-vaulted ceiling, the massive stone pillars with their varied geometrical decorations, the Shrine of St Cuthbert with its pillars of local marble including easily seen fossils, the Galilee Chapel containing the tomb of the Venerable Bede, and the “Sanctuary knocker”, on the north door, which is a very rare surviving example of Romanesque metalwork (although what you can see is actually a copy of the original, which is carefully preserved).

Although the Cathedral is undoubtedly the greatest attraction of Durham City, it is not the only one. The bishops of Durham originally occupied Durham Castle, but in 1832, with the founding of Durham University, the bishop moved to a new palace at Bishop Auckland and gave the castle to the University. It is still a University building, occupied both as a college and for student accommodation.

Because it is a working building, the Castle can only be visited on a 45-minute guided tour, such tours being more frequent during college vacations than in term time. Although the main keep was largely rebuilt after the University took over, visitors can still see the 15th century kitchen and the Norman chapel, and can climb the massive hanging staircase.

Durham offers a number of interesting museums around the City. These include the Museum of Archaeology housed in a former fulling mill and accessible via the “inner” river path mentioned above.

Slightly out of town to the south is the University’s Oriental Museum which has collections of Chinese jade, Japanese woodblock prints and Arabic calligraphy. Nearby is the Botanic Garden which contains plants from around the world, both outdoors and in glasshouses, and a collection of tropical insects. A one-hour science trail offers many interesting discoveries for explorers of all ages.

In the other direction, namely north of the city centre, is the Durham Light Infantry Museum, to which is attached the Durham Art Gallery. The former houses exhibits relating to this famous former regiment, and the latter specialises in modern and contemporary art, mounting a series of temporary exhibitions.

June and July are good months for visiting Durham, as there is a lot going on. The second weekend of June is when the Durham Regatta is held. This event goes back to 1834 and is therefore nearly as old as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (and has taken place more often). July is Festival month, with arts and music events taking place at various locations, particularly the International Brass Festival for the first two weeks and the Durham Miners Gala on the second Saturday.

There is a lot to see and do in the city of Durham, and even more in the towns and countryside that are only a few miles away!

© John Welford

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Monument, London

One of London’s most impressive monuments is just that – “The Monument”. It was built in 1671-7 as a reminder of the Great Fire of London of 1666, and it stands very close to Pudding Lane, the street in which the fire started in Robert Faryner’s bakery before spreading to destroy about 80 per cent of the old city of London. The height of the column, 202 feet, is supposed to be the distance from its base to the bakery.

The fire destroyed 87 churches as well as Old St Paul’s Cathedral, and the rebuilding owed a huge amount to the efforts of Sir Christopher Wren who designed not only the new Cathedral but many of the replacement churches and The Monument as well – the latter in collaboration with Robert Hooke.

The Monument comprises a single fluted Doric column on a large square base. It is unusual among London’s monuments and memorials in that members of the public can, for a reasonable fee, climb the 311 steps of a spiral staircase to the viewing platform near the top. In times gone by the view was more extensive than it is now, due to all the high-rise buildings that have appeared in London’s business district in recent decades, but the climb is still worth the effort, even now – and the exercise is good for you!

At the top of The Monument is a flaming golden urn, to symbolise the fire, and at the base there are inscriptions and reliefs by Caius Gabriel Cibber. Part of the original inscription blamed “Papists” for starting the fire – a self-deluded Frenchman confessed to the “crime” and was hanged, although he could not possibly have been responsible – but the words were erased in 1830 after the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed.

© John Welford