Ask An Armstrong, A Beattie Or A Graham If Their Family Tree Includes A Bereaved Reiver

Words like “retrieve” and “bereaved” come up often in conversations today, but did you know that they originate from a ruthless group of Scottish clans who raided, stole, kidnapped, murdered and pillaged?

The BordersTerrible conflicts between England and Scotland began in the late 13th century and lasted for 300 years. Powerful clans emerged, developing alliances, demanding loyalty, and earning a reputation for being notoriously lawless. Their family names — like Graham, Armstrong and Beattie — are still common today.

Frequent wars, invasions and raids took place on the border between the two countries, turning a picturesque landscape into a dangerous frontier. These clans became so criminal that they came to be known as the Border Reivers, derived from the Scottish verb, “reive,” meaning “raid,” “rob” or “plunder.” “Reive” then became associated with loss, which is how it morphed into “bereaved.”

Border robbers needed horses to raid properly.  Sitting atop a hobbler, a small, agile horse trained to navigate the rugged terrain, riders wore a steel bonnet helmet, a jack — a quilted leather coat sewn with metal or horn plates for added protection — leather breeches and boots, and carried a lance and other weapons.  

A modern-day interpretation of a Border rider greets visitors at the Tullie Museum in Carlisle, but instead of riding a hobbler, he sits astride a bicycle.  Pay a coin and he'll start to move.

A modern-day interpretation of a Border rider greets visitors at the Tullie Museum in Carlisle.  Pay a coin and he’ll start to move.

The reivers were such a national disgrace that the Archbishop of Glasgow directed a “Great Curse” against them that was read from every pulpit in the Scottish borderlands, expressing the hope that they would be “swallowed down to hell.” Some reivers were hung from this capon tree in Jedburgh, Scotland, a massive oak tree whose name derives from a corruption of the name of the Capuchin monks who would find shelter under its branches on their way to Jedburgh Abbey.

The Capon Tree, painted by Arthur Perigal in 1876, Jedburgh Castle Jail and Museum

The Capon Tree, painted by Arthur Perigal in 1876, Jedburgh Castle Jail and Museum

If an innocent resident of the Borderlands found himself victim to one of these raids, he could demand justice, wait and plan for the time when he could raid the robbers yourself and get his revenge illegally, or he could legally pursue them in a “hot trod.” A trod gave him the right to recover his property by force within six days; it was a “hot trod” if it followed immediately, or a “cold trod” if not.

Fear ran rampant, and those who lived in these borderlands developed ways to protect themselves and their livestock in surviving this turmoil. Wealthy families built sturdy refuges with walls up to 10 feet thick.

Some were pele towers, like this one built in Chathill, Northumberland between 1392 and 1399. Preston Pele Tower has seven-foot-thick walls. A guard room and prison was on the ground floor, a bedroom and living room are on the first floor, and the second floor contains the mechanism for the clock that was installed in 1864.

Preston Pele Tower

Others were bastles, fortified farmhouses that were built with about 400 tons of sandstone blocks. The Tarset Bastle Trail winds its way through the Tarset Valley of Northumberland and passes Black Middens and the Gatehouse North Bastle, two of the area’s best-known bastles.

Gatehouse North Bastle

Gatehouse North Bastle

To construct bastles like these, larger stones were placed at the bottom of the structure, and smaller stones were placed near the top. The floors of most bastles were made from soil and paving stones. Virtually all bastles had one door at the gable end and small, narrow windows at the first-floor level. Livestock were kept on the ground floor, so that the heat from their bodies would rise and warm the family’s living quarters on the first floor, like central heating. The main door was at the top of a flight of external stairs. A “quench hole” on the first floor allowed buckets of water to be poured on any attacking reivers, and a trap door opened from above, for added protection. Rush lights were placed in indentations made in the walls on the first floor, since they were easily extinguished in drafts.

Black Middens Bastle

Black Middens Bastle

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I, became King James I of England, and wanted to bring peace to his kingdom. Reivers were executed, their lands were confiscated, and the reiving stopped. To signify the union of Scotland and England, both countries’ flags were officially combined in 1606. Both countries stayed independent until the Treaty of the Union in 1707 which created one Parliament of Great Britain. In 1801, the saltire of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was combined with the cross of St. George, the patron saint of England, and the saltire of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. That’s how the Union Flag, or Union Jack, became the national flag of the United Kingdom.

For more on the Border Reivers, see The Reivers: The Story of the Border Reivers, by Alistair Moffat, and The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, by George MacDonald Fraser.

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Survey the Farne Islands From Bamburgh’s Royal Throne

Another one of those scenes from Northumbrian history that Walter Bell Scott chose to paint in Wallington’s Central Hall commemorated an event that took place on September 7, 1838.

Grace Darling, Center Hall, Wallington HallTwenty-two-year-old Grace Darling looked out of an upstairs window of Longstone Lighthouse, a lighthouse on the Farne Islands which her father, William, ran. She spotted the wreck of the SS Forfarshire on a nearby island called Big Harcar. The vessel had hit the rocks during bad weather and broken in half, and one of the halves had sunk overnight.

Grace and her father jumped into action to rescue the survivors. Since the water was so rough, they decided to take a rowing boat, called a coble, instead of a lifeboat. When they reached the wreck, Grace held the coble steady in gale-force winds while her father helped the first five of nine survivors climb aboard.

News traveled about Grace’s bravery while risking her life to rescue others, and she soon became famous. She earned the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s first Medal for Gallantry to be awarded to a woman. “The girl with windswept hair” was immortalized in 1839 by Jerrold Vernon’s Grace Darling, or the Maid of the Isles, and by William Wordsworth in his poem, Grace Darling. Porcelain figures of Grace, the Longstone Lighthouse and the rescue were cast. She and her father even appeared on Lifebuoy soap wrappers. Four years later, she died of tuberculosis and was buried in the churchyard of her hometown of Bamburgh. The Grace Darling Museum opened in Bamburgh in 1938, and continues to tell her story through personal artifacts, including letters, family portraits and the famous coble.

Bamburgh is also home to a castle that traces its roots back to around 420. Ida the Flamebearer, an Anglo-Saxon king who was a widower, lived here with his teenaged daughter, Margaret, while his son, Childe Wynde, sought adventure abroad. Ida remarried, choosing a woman named Behoc who, unknown to him, was a sorceress who was so jealous of Margaret that she decided to cast a spell on hBamburgh Castleer, and no one saw Margaret again. In the years that followed, a scary dragon settled on a nearby hill, terrorized the kingdom, and became known as the Laidly (loathsome) Wrym (dragon). One day, the news reached Childe Wynd, and he returned on a ship with a keel made from the rowan tree, which offered protection against magic. Queen Behoc saw the ship coming and started a storm, but the rowan keel kept the ship safe. When he docked, Childe Wynd overtook the dragon and was going to kill it until he saw it was crying. The dragon told him that it was under a spell, which could be broken if he kissed its face three times before the sun set. He did, the dragon turned into his sister, Margaret, and they went back to the castle, where they found Queen Behoc, used her own magic against her, and turned her into a toad that still lives in a cave below the castle.  The Laidly Wyrm of Spindlestone Heugh is told through a series of ceramic rubbings created by local potter Graham Taylor that visitors can work on at the castle and take home with them.  

The castle passed to King Ida’s grandson, Aethelfrith, who named it Bebbanburgh for his wife, Bebba, then to Aethelfrith’s son, Oswald, who would play a significant role in Northumbrian history by bringing a monk named Aidan from Iona to establish a monastery on Lindisfarne.

A piece of stone found during archaeological excavations in 2010 is thought to be part of an Anglo-Saxon throne or “gift stool.” Based on the style of the carvings, it dates from around 800. The original is on display in the castle’s museum, but the castle grounds include a replica of the throne that was made by a local stonecarver.

Bamburgh Castle

The Vikings destroyed the original building in 993, and the Normans built a new castle there. After an unsuccessful siege in 1095, the castle belonged to the reigning English monarch, and the Forster family of Northumberland governed it for 400 years, eventually coming to own it until they became bankrupt.

DSCN1351In 1894, the castle was purchased and restored by William George Armstrong, a successful and famous Northumbrian engineer who designed a hydraulic engine used in cranes and lifting mechanisms, like the one originally used at the Tower of London. During the Crimean War, he developed a field gun that was much lighter and easier to maneuver, leading him to be knighted by Queen Victoria and regarded as the inventor of modern artillery. Armstrong’s Northumbrian home, Cragside, was the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity, with power generated from its five surrounding artificial lakes.

One of the many rooms on view at the castle is the magnificent King’s Hall, which Armstrong built on the site of the castle’s medieval Great Hall as a place to host grand balls and other social events. The intricately carved ceiling is made of Siamese teak, and musicians performed in a minstrel’s gallery.Bamburgh Castle

For more on Grace Darling, William George Armstrong and Bamburgh Castle, see Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine, by Hugh Cunningham; Emperor of Industry: Lord Armstrong of Cragside, by Ken Smith; Armstrong: The Life and Mind of an Armaments Maker, by Kenneth Warren; and The Laidley Worm of Bamburgh, by Steve Chambers. Bamburgh Castle is the setting of Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories, Matthew Harffy’s The Serpent Sword, and Anne Thackery’s Ragnarok. It also been featured on film, including A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), Elizabeth (1998), Robin Hood (2010) and Macbeth (2015). Historian Michael Wood’s “In Search of Eric Bloodaxe,” an episode about the last ruler of Northumbria from the 1981 BBC television series, In Search of the Dark Ages, includes a visit to the castle.

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That’s Iron And Coal!

The Vatican Museums were packed. I shuffled along through the Gallery of Maps, squeezed inside the Room of the Segnatura, and there it was, just like I had seen in Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. I was standing before The School of Athens, Raphael’s famous painting of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid and other ancient philosophers that I had learned about in Sweet Briar’s Survey of Art History course.

During my travels, I often find myself face to face with a masterpiece like that, one I pored over during the seven art history courses I took.  While traipsing around Wallington Hall in Northumberland last month, I spotted Iron and Coal: The Industry of the Tyne, a painting by William Bell Scott that I had memorized when I learned about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.Wallington Hall

In 1853, Sir Walter Trevelyan and his wife, Pauline, Lady Trevelyan, decided to create a large sitting room in the center of their home where they could have afternoon tea while their grandchildren played. John Ruskin was an influential friend of Lady Pauline’s, and an illustration of Murano Cathedral in his Stones of Venice inspired the balustrade around the hall’s upper gallery. It’s also said that he introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelites and their serious, detailed, symbolic and colorful paintings.

Lady Pauline approached Scott, the head of the School of Design in nearby Newcastle and a Pre-Raphaelite proponent, to create eight scenes in Wallington’s Central Hall that would illustrate events in Northumbrian history, such as the Vikings’ landing near Tynemouth; the building of Hadrian’s Wall; the Spur in the Dish, a Northumbrian custom in which the lady of the house asked her husband to forage for food that would fill their empty larder; and Iron and Coal, a tribute to two important industries in the valley of the River Tyne: the iron foundries that devWallington Halleloped for shipbuilding, and glassmaking, which depended on the region’s coal mines. From 1856 until 1860, Scott toiled away on the paintings, borrowing props, studying local architecture and persuading Trevelyans to pose for him. Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, the heir to Wallington at that time, wields the sledgehammer in Iron and Coal.

Lady Pauline and her friends painted flowers and plants on the hall’s piers. Ruskin started to work on the two panels on the southwest corner in 1861, but he was not able to finish it.

The Central Hall may be the most famous room at Wallington, but I found many other wonderful things in the home.

Wallington’s 13,000-acre estate was the home of the Fenwicks, the Blacketts and the Trevelyans. The house was built around 1688, and altered around 1738. The Trevelyans, the last family to live in the home, inherited Wallington in 1777 and donated it to the National Trust in the 20th century.

Decorated in a style recalling a fine piece of Wedgwood Jasperware, the dining room recently took on the hue of the 1929 General Election campaign in which Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan defended his Newcastle Central Labour Parliamentary seat. He also was a Socialist who had a hammer and sickle painted on Wallington’s entrance gate.

Wallington Hall

A spectacular piece of needlework hangs in the drawing room. Embroidered by Mary, Lady Trevelyan, Sir Charles’s wife, it illustrates the legend of the first Trevelyan who is said to have swum with his horse from St. Michael’s Mount to the mainland of Cornwall on a bet. Also incorporated into the design are the four shields of the Fenwicks, the Blacketts, the Trevelyans and the Bells — Lady Mary’s family — and “Tyme Tryeth Troth,” the Trevelyan motto. Here, you can also see the results of a nifty innovation called an Eyemat. The original floorcovering was photographed with a high-spec scanner to capture its exact details. Digital printing matched the color and the look of the original, creating a floorcovering that looks just like the original, but is much more durable to withstand visitors’ feet.  It is then placed on top of the existing floor to protect the original.

Wallington HallThe original “Granville” William Morris wallpaper has hung in the parlor since it was installed for Caroline, Lady Trevelyan in 1897. The room is adorned with framed paintings by great artists J.M.W. Turner and Edward Burne-Jones. A William Morris carpet and table lamps were added about 1940. Talk about an inspiring environment in which to work, as these Wallington staff members were doing when I looked around the room.

Wallington Hall

Another room displays several period dollhouses, as well as 3,000 lead soldiers that were made in Germany in the 1880s. The Trevelyan boys set them out on the floor, following actual battle plans from the Marlborough and Napoleonic wars.

Hammond House dollhouse, Wallington Hall

Upstairs, you’ll find a Cabinet of Curiosities, a room filled with a fantastic collection of everything from fossils and porcupine fish to narwhal tusks and kangaroo paws. One bedroom contains a Georgian exercise contraption called a “chamber horse” that Thomas Sheraton included in The Cabinet Maker’s Drawing Book.

Wallington Hall

The nursery’s walls are hung with applique needlework panels of nursery rhymes that Lady Mary made in 1906 and 1909 for Cambo House, where the family lived before they moved to Wallington.Wallington Hall

I was transfixed by two rooms furnished with needlepoint stitched by Julia Blackett, Lady Calverley, the oldest daughter of Wallington’s builder and the mother-in-law of Sir George Trevelyan, whose son inherited Wallington in 1777. In one room called the “Pigeon Hole,” I admired a six-leaf screen worked in petit point in 1727; the designs were taken from engravings from the 1663 edition of Virgil’s Georgics and from the Eclogues.

Pigeon Hole, Wallington Hall

The walls of the other room are lined with 10 needlepoint panels of linen canvas, on which Lady Julia stitched designs influenced by Oriental textiles with wools and silks. She created the panels for the drawing room at Esholt Hall, the Calverley home, during a three-year period in the 1710s, and they were brought to Wallington when Esholt was sold in 1755. Six chairs with matching needlepoint cushions sit before the panels. Lady Julia’s portrait hangs over the room’s chimneypiece.  Here’s a detail of one of the panels.

Wallington HallDuring World War II, Wallington was home to a number of children who had been evacuated from Newcastle. When parents came to visit them, Lady Mary Trevelyan served them tea for twopence a cup. Recalling her ingenuity, a room in the home was furnished in the style of the era, with wartime music playing and newspapers to read, and tea was served there during the most recent summer season.

Four stone dragons’ heads are an eye-catching feature of Wallington’s grounds. They were purchased in 1760 in London, where they once had adorned the Bishopsgate entrance to the City of London, and were brought to Northumberland on a coal ship via Newcastle. They stood at Rothley Castle, about four miles from Wallington, until they were placed on Wallington’s east lawn in 1928.

Wallington Hall
Wallington’s grounds also feature a hidden walled garden, built in 1760 to grow fruit and vegetables, but now designed with colorful themed borders, shrubs and plants. A small nuttery is filled with spring bulbs, ornamental trees and small vegetable plots. An Edwardian conservatory, a serpentine path around a pond and a small lake covered in waterlilies are other garden highlights.Wallington Hall

Wallington boasts a connection to Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the famous English landscape gardener whose famous nickname derives for his talent for recognizing and capitalizing on a landscape’s natural “capabilities.” He is best known for his gently curving serpentine paths; plantings of circular clumps of trees surrounding parks; the gentle contouring of smooth, sweeping lawns that meet the water; and sunken ditches that separated livestock from the grounds without interrupting the view — better known as ha-ha’s because people were so surprised to find them during their walks.

Brown was born in 1716 in Kirkharle, just steps away from Wallington. His family name is said to have originated from the fact that people who lived in this area wore clothes made from wool that was naturally brown like the peat-stained countryside, which made good protective camouflage to hide from the Border Reivers.

AKirkharles a boy, Brown walked through the Wallington estate on his way to and from school in nearby Cambo. In 1732, he became a gardener at Kirkharle Hall and helped to improve the estate by planting thousands of trees. He moved on in 1740. Around 1980, an unsigned, undated landscape plan for a curving lake, a park, and a semicircular entrance drive at Kirkharle was discovered, and it is thought to have been Brown’s work.

In 1765, Brown is said to have designed Wallington’s Rothley Lake as a fishing lake that would be part of a pleasure ground, with a Gothic-style grotto and teahouse, but they were not built. He also may have been responsible for some alterations to a wooded area near a garden pond and for naturalizing the landscape closer to the house, planting clumps of trees and rounding the boundaries of the woods, both telltale symbols of his style.

For more on Wallington and the Trevelyans, read Wallington, Northumberland, by Sheila Pettit, John Cornforth and Gervase Jackson-Stops; A Very British FaWallington Hallmily: The Trevelyans and Their World, by Laura Trevelyan; A Pre-Raphaelite Circle, by Raleigh Trevelyan; and Lady Trevelyan and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by John Batchelor. George Macaulay Trevelyan was an historian known for narratives like The History of England, British History in the Nineteenth Century and Must England’s Beauty Perish?

To learn more about Capability Brown, see A World of Gardens, by John Dixon Hunt; Capability Brown and Humphry Repton, by Edward Hyams; Capability Brown: The Story of a Master Gardener, by Thomas Hinde; Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape, by Roger Turner; The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot “Capability” Brown, 1716-1783, by Jane Brown; Capability Brown and the Northern Landscape, a catalogue of an exhibition in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1983, the bicentenary of Brown’s death; Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, by Laura Mayer; and the just-published Capability Brown & Belvoir: Discovering a Lost Landscape, by Emma Duchess of Rutland, with Jane Pruden.

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Mead Is No Match for William’s Wallhanging and Edward’s Windows

Beowulf’s warriors and the pilgrims of the Canterbury Tales may have smacked their lips over mead, but I thought a free swig of the legendary medieval honey wine was no match for the intoxicating feeling of beinLanercost Prioryg at Lanercost Priory.

Around 1169, an Augustinian monastery was founded at Lanercost in Cumbria. Since it was less than a mile from a portion of Hadrian’s Wall, the 73-mile defensive fortification that the Romans built in northern England around 122 AD to keep their empire intact, the priory and its associated buildings were built with stones that had been salvaged from the wall.

Look at lovely Lanercost today, and you can hardly imagine its troubled past. It was repeatedly raided during the Anglo-Scottish wars at the end of the 13th century, which were led by Edward I of England and Robert the Bruce of Scotland. In fact, an ill Edward ruled England from Lanercost for six months during the winter of 1306-7, joined by his queen, Margaret, and their court. They worshipped in Lanercost’s newly renovated church, which had recently been given a new sanctuary, a north aisle along the nave, and a grand west portal. It’s said that the statue of Mary Magdalene, the church’s patron saint, in the gable above it was a gift from Queen Margaret.Lanercost Priory

When Henry VIII dissolved England’s monasteries in 1538, Lanercost’s priory was closed, and the roofs of the cloister, refectory and church were taken off. The king gave Lanercost’s buildings and land to Sir Thomas Dacre, who converted the west cloister into a family home, built a fortified pele tower there for protection against the Scots who raided and ransacked settlements along the border, and buried their family members in the priory’s ruined presbytery, including this tomb of tiny Elizabeth Dacre Howard.Lanercost Priory

The parish church survived, and services were held in the single-aisled nave. In 1740, the church got a new roof, but the building wasn’t restored until the 1840s. In the 1870s, George Howard, the 9th Earl of Carlisle, commissioned leading Arts and Crafts designers of the day to do some amazing things.

William Morris designed a dossal, or ornamental cloth, for the east wall behind the altar. He chose to represent grapes, grape leaves and wheat – symbols associated with the bread and wine of the Eucharist — in pink, blue and green. After ladies of the parish spent five years embroidering the felted woolen material with worsted wool, the completed piece was hung on Easter Sunday in 1887. Measuring 24 feet long by four feet high, the dossal is artistically and historically significant not only because such an important person was especially commissioned to design it, but also because it was embroidered locally. Exposure to everything from light and dampness to rodents and moths caused fading, broken threads and other damage, so it was taken down in 2003 for restoration and conservation. It was rehung in 2013.

Lanercost Priory

Edward Burne-Jones designed three stained glass windows, and Morris’s firm executed them. One installed in 1877 shows St. Luke writing his account of the Nativity and the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Another depicting the Annunciation to the Shepherds was installed in 1890. The third window illustrates the burial of Moses.Lanercost Priory

The shaft of the intricately carved Lanercost Cross has stood in the northwest corner of the church since it was brought there for preservation in 1888. A Latin inscription on one side of the cross reveals that it was made in 1214. Its base still stands on the green outside the church.Lanercost Priory

The Lanercost Priory church still has a regular congregation of about 50 people who worship there on Sundays.Lanercost Priory

For more on Lanercost Priory, see its entry in The Abbeys and Priories of England, by Tim Tatton-Brown and John Crook, as well as The William Morris Lanercost Priory Dossal – History and Conservation, by Christine Boyce, and The William Morris Lanercost Dossal, a DVD by Alan Sawyer. The design for the endpaper of Parish Church Treasures: The Nation’s Greatest Art Collection, by John Goodall, was taken from the Lanercost Priory dossal.

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It’s The Place In The Pinecone!

Jim turned down a country road, parked the Mercedes beside a playground where schoolchildren were having recess, pulled out a slip of paper, and read:

St. Mary's Church, WreayIn the village of Wreay, just above the Lake District, stands perhaps the most singular church in England, built in the early Victorian era by a most unusual landowner — the subject of this delightful book. Born into an old Cumbrian family and heiress to an industrial fortune, Sarah Losh was intelligent, highly educated, strong-willed, and passionate in her pursuits. She eschewed marriage to live with her sister and indulge in her own creative impulses, and her St. Mary’s Church is a masterpiece of architectural synthesis and symbolic carvings in stone that anticipated the Arts and Crafts movement by 50 years.”

As I listened to him, I looked out the window, saw the church across the road, and came to an incredible conclusion. This was the place I had read about years ago in Jenny Uglow’s The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine – Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary.

Our new friend Barbara had carried this clipping of the Daedalus Books catalog entry for The Pinecone all the way from New York, hoping that Jim could squeeze in a visit to Sarah Losh’s church. As usual, he didn’t disappoint.

Sarah was born on New Year’s Day 1786 at the Losh family estate, Woodside. Located on Waygates Road, a mile away from Wreay, the estate afforded picturesque views of the Cumberland fells and the Pennine mountain range that is the “backbone of England.” Her father, John, waSarah Losh, St. Mary's Church, Wreays a forward-thinking community leader, not only the head of the “Twelve Men” who looked out for Wreay and its residents, but also a successful entrepreneur who had founded an iron foundry in nearby Newcastle and an alkali works that produced the alkaline salts needed by glass manufacturers. Business boomed, the Loshes’ wealth increased, and Sarah and her sister, Katharine, became accomplished, wealthy women who came to own almost all of Wreay.

The unmarried sisters were inseparable. Together, they translated Latin and Greek; read Byron and Scott; studied history, architecture, geology and science; and traveled extensively. And then Katharine died in 1835. Sarah was inconsolable.

Suddenly, Sarah snapped out of it. She decided to “improve” Wreay’s church, which had been built around 1319, so that the villagers could more conveniently participate in services and hear sermons. As a generous benefactor, she offered to pay for all expenses, but on the condition that she could do exactly as she wanted. The Twelve Men allowed her to tear down the present church, divert the road to the west of the churchyard, rebuild the surrounding wall, and build a new church within 30 yards of the old structure.

Sarah started her project in 1840, enlisting several village craftsmen to help her. For the next two years, they immersed themselves in constructing a work of “great genius,” as it was later described by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist.

Wanting to create a simple, striking church very different from anything else in Britain, Sarah decided to build a Romanesque structure out of yellow sandstone, circled with gargoyles. What set it apart was how imaginatively it was decorated, both inside and out.

It’s said that Sarah sent William Hindson, the young local stonemason, to Italy for a few months to improve his skills, but he could have received training as near as Carlisle. When he returned, he produced some amazing things. Three arched windows on the west side of the church are loaded with naturalistic images: A chrysalis resting on an oak leaf. Butterflies. Poppies. Lilies. Wheat. Nautilus fossils. Coral. Fir branches. A raven. A scarab. A bee. An owl. And pinecones, the symbol of eternal life.

St. Mary's Church, Wreay

Four Norman-style arches surround the front door. One of them is decorated with 25 stylized water lilies. Two giant pinecones are at either end of the arch.St. Mary's Church, WreayEnter the church, close the door, and notice the door latch is two overlapping pinecones, carved in wood. Sarah’s gardener was responsible for the carved arch around this door. It shows gourds being eaten by caterpillars.St. Mary's Church, Wreay

With the help of her cousin, William Septimus, Sarah carved the octagonal alabaster font herself. Bordered by Norman zig-zags and Greek fluting, each of its 10 panels is adorned with something different: Ferns. Water lilies. Lotus flowers. Butterflies. Ears of wheat and barley. Dragonflies. Grapevines. Pomegranates. A dove with an olive leaf. The cover is made of silvered glass and alabaster lotus flowers.

St. Mary's Church, Wreay

Sarah also carved two lotus-shaped candlesticks out of pale rose alabaster. The lotus is an early symbol of creation and light; its petals represent the rays of the sun. They rest on an Italian green marble altar, supported by two brass eagles, with carvings of corn and grapes at the base. The apse is surrounded by 14 pillars carved with bats and other figures; the spaces between them are decorated with paintings of the emblems of the twelve Apostles, as well as lilies, passion flowers and acanthus.St. Mary's Church, Wreay

Two lecterns – one resembling an eagle and the other a stork — were carved from chestnut by John Scott, a crippled man from Dalston. St. Mary's Church, Wreay

The pulpit was fashioned from an oak tree that had been darkened from peat, a result of being submerged in a bog for 3,000 years. A carved palm tree holding a candle is beside it.St. Mary's Church, Wreay

The stained glass windows were made by William Wailes of Newcastle. Some are like a kaleidoscopic mosaic of green, red, yellow and mauve glass. Others are patterned with circles, ovals and St. Andrew’s Crosses. Still more are based on fossilized creatures and plants found in the coal mines of Cumberland and Northumberland.

St. Mary's Church, Wreay

A procession of carved wooden angels sit on a shelf decorated with oak leaves and acorns, grasshoppers, flowers and grapes. Separated by palms, they carry palm branches, lilies and a banner of good news. Two larger angels flank the north and south of the apse.St. Mary's Church, Wreay

Pinecones may be the dominant motif of Sarah’s church, but she also instructed John Scott, the lectern carver, to create several iron arrows, a symbol of death. You’ll find them on the doors of the west façade. More arrows form a railing around the well by the door. And one arrow appears to have been shot into the inside wall by the baptistery.St. Mary's Church, Wreay

Sarah’s extraordinary creativity can also be found in a Runic cross that she created in her parents’ memory. Her model was Cumberland’s Bewcastle Cross, standing 14 feet high and carved in the late 7th or early 8th century and decorated with runes, interlaced knots and scrolls, twisting vines and figures, like a falconer with his bird.

In the mausoleum, Sarah had a white marble statue carved of Katharine, based on a sketch that Sarah had made of her on the beach at Naples in 1817. She holds a pinecone in her hand.

Sarah died in 1853 and is buried next to Katharine in the Wreay churchyard. Adorned with carvings of scallop shells and plants, the gravestone is inscribed, “In vita divisae, in morte conjunctae” — “Parted in life, in death united.”

Uglow, a native of Cumbria, served as a historical consultant for the film, Miss Potter, as well as BBC serials like North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel based in the industrial North of England. Besides writing biographies of Gaskell and other figures from English history, she has also published several interesting books, such as The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future; Words & Pictures: Writers, Artists and a Peculiarly British Tradition; A Little History of British Gardening; and Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick. Her latest book is In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815.  To hear her talk about Sarah Losh that she gave at the 2013 Charleston Festival, an annual literary event, click here; her remarks begin at 21:18.

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Oh My Stars! It’s Owen Jones!

We hurried along Castle Street to Carlisle Cathedral. Owen Jones was waiting for us!

Our destination has been standing there since 1122, when it was founded as an Augustinian priory. Built of local red sandstone, the Norman-style church became a cathedral in 1133.  Carlisle Cathedral

Carved angels and forms from nature flank the main entrance.  Two important mementos of the cathedral’s ancient past are rare 12th-century Scandinavian Runic inscriptions. One is the single name “Reginald”; the other was found just inside the main door, when paint and plaster were being removed from the walls in 1855. It reads “Dolfin wrote these runes on this stone.”Carlisle Cathedral

A 14th-century Gothic arcade is loaded with interesting things to see. One stone pillar capital is adorned with a Green Man, a decorative ornament common during this time, where a sculpture of a face made from leaves, branches or vines represents the renewal of Spring.Carlisle Cathedral

Other carved capitals in the arcade depict birds, animals, flowers and figures representing the Labours of the Months, also a popular Medieval decorative element. One woebegone man sits by a fire, while another digs with a spade at the foot of a tree. Another works in a wheat field, while another harvests grapes.

Carlisle Cathedral The choir was built in the Gothic style during the 13th century, but it was severely damaged by a fire in 1292 and was reconstructed.  Its magnificent east window is the cathedral’s crowning glory.Carlisle Cathedral

Called “black canons” because of their black cassocks, cloaks and hoods, the Augustinian monks who lived in the priory next to the cathedral came to the choir to pray, taking their place in one of 46 stalls dating from around 1400. To keep from falling asleep during their prayers, the monks propped themselves up against a misericord, a hinged seat that tips up so that a person could either stand, sit, or perch in a position that was good for singing. Each misericord is made of black oak and its underside is decorated with ornate carvings of dragons, griffins, eagles, pelicans, foxes, angels, and even a mermaid.

Carlisle Cathedral

Alas, the misericords didn’t always work. The pillars supporting the canopies of the choir stalls show traces of having been burned by sleepy monks who held a lighted candle in their hands.

Carlisle Cathedral

Children on a school tour did a great job role-playing this story.

Carlisle Cathedral

In 1853, British architect Ewan Christian began restoring the cathedral, a project that would last until 1870. Owen Jones, one of the great decorative artists of the day, designed the choir’s ceiling. Jones revolutionized British design, promoting the use of geometric patterns and primary colors.  He is best known for writing his 1856 design sourcebook, The Grammar of Ornament, a trend-setting publication that is still important today.  

Jones’s choice for the cathedral choir ceiling was a vibrant blue background studded with golden stars and adorned with angels. A contemporary Saturday Review article reported that when the cathedral’s dean first saw the roof, resplendent with Jones’ painting and gilding, he exclaimed, “Oh my stars!”Carlisle Cathedral

Oh my stars” is what we said when we heard the story behind the Tait Memorial Window in the cathedral’s north transept. The window commemorates the Tait family’s five daughters aged between 10 years and 18 months, who all died between March 6 and April 8, 1856.

Carlisle CathedralFor more on Carlisle Cathedral, see The Cathedral Church of Carlisle: A Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See, by C. King Eley; Carlisle Cathedral, a Pitkin guide by Henry Stapleton; and Organ Music from Carlisle Cathedral, performed by organist John Robinson.  To learn more about Owen Jones, read Owen Jones: Design, Ornament, Architecture, and Theory in an Age in Transition, by Carol A. Hrvol Flores.


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Anyone Visiting Tullie House Might Well Fancy They Have Dropped Into A Dream Of Fairyland

When William Morris saw thrushes stealing strawberries from his garden at Kelmscott Manor, he was inspired to create one of the most iconic designs of the Arts and Crafts Movement: “Strawberry Thief.”Tullie House Museum

Morris created the pattern around 1883, and it was the first design for a printed cotton furnishing textile using a printing technique in which red and yellow dyes were added to a basic blue and white background. Although it was one of Morris & Co.’s most expensive printed textiles, customers couldn’t get enough of it, using it for curtains, draping it on walls, and covering furniture with it. In more recent years, the design has lined a Barbour jacket and even led to an iPad game created by the V&A Museum in London.

Strawberry Thief” is one of the items in the important collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and related Arts and Crafts Movement ceramics, metalwork, furniture and clothing held by the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, England.

Tullie House MuseumThe Pre-Raphaelites were a group of seven 19th-century artists who emulated painters before the time of the artist Raphael because they thought that paintings made since then were “insincere.” They are known for their serious subjects, elaborate symbolism, bright colors and strong attention to detail. Edward Burne-Jones is one of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite painters, and the Tullie House collection includes his designs for the east window of St. Martin’s Church in Brampton, Cumbria, which was designed in 1878 by Philip Webb, the acclaimed Arts and Crafts architect. Burne-Jones made 15 designs featuring figures and angels for the church’s east window; Morris & Co. created the window’s floral background and lead patterns, chose the jewel-like color scheme, and executed the design in stained glass.

These items are displayed in the museum’s Old Tullie House, on the site where a dwelling place of some kind has stood since the late 13th century. The Tullie family lived here from 1624 until 1689, when the old building known as “White Hall” was torn down and replaced with the Jacobean-style house that is there today.

Tullie House Museum

When Tullie House opened as an “Institute of Science, Literature and the Arts” in 1893, architect C.J. Ferguson designed an addition, but retained the original wrought-iron staircase inset with heraldic shields of the City of Carlisle.
Tullie House Museum

In keeping with the fashion of the day, he finished the staircases with decorative earthenware tiles with molded floral motifs that were made at the Craven Dunnill tile factory in Shropshire. Tullie House Museum

In this building, you can also see a violin made circa 1566 by Andrea Amati, an influential Italian violin-maker who perfected the shape, size and proportions of the violin as we know it today. This beautiful instrument was part of a set of 38 violins, violas and cellos that Amati made for the court of King Charles IX of France. The back of the instrument still has fragments of a decoration featuring the royal coat of arms, together with a crowned letter “K”, the initial letter of “Karolus,” a Latinized form of “Charles.”  The museum shop sells a compact disc recording of Simon Standage, an English violinist who specializes in 17th- and 18th-century music, playing compositions by Nicola Matteis and Heinrich Biber on this rare and important violin.

Tullie House Museum

Other galleries and special exhibitions at the museum are devoted to the history of Carlisle and Cumbria. One recent exhibition focused on the Carlisle historical pageants of 1928, 1951 and 1977.DSCN1070

During the 20th century, communities across England, Scotland and Wales staged theatrical re-enactments of significant local and national historical events. Thousands of people were involved as performers, organizers and spectators. The Carlisle pageants included re-enactments of the Roman occupation of the city, King Edward I’s visit during his march to fight the Scots, the imprisonment of Mary Stuart in Carlisle Castle, and the invasion of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. Rare film footage of the 1928 pageant was on view, together with costumes, photographs, ephemera and recordings of oral histories given by Carlisle pageant participants. The exhibition was part of “The Redress of the Past: Historical Pageants in Britain, 1905-2016,” a research project to create a public database of historical pageants, a book and other publications about them.  This souvenir napkin was produced for Princess Mary’s attendance at the closing performance of the 1928 historical pageant. “Anyone visiting Carlisle might well fancy they have dropped into a dream of fairyland…,” the souvenir proclaims.

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