Canterbury Cathedral


Canterbury has been a place of Christian worship for 1700 years. The city was originally built by the Romans before becoming the capital of Kent under the Saxons. In 400 A.D. the Romans departed Britain and left it a Christian nation, but the Saxons were pagans. It was here in the 6th century that St. Augustine and his missionaries came to Canterbury to bring Christianity back to England. Later in the 11th century a Benedictine monastery was founded at Canterbury.


From the center of London, Canterbury Cathedral is 62 miles east, south east in the district of Kent. It is an easy drive from London or there are plenty of tours that will take you for the day.

My Experience

I took a class in college on Chaucer and even had to memorize the first 40 lines for my professor. This trip to Canterbury Cathedral was exciting because I was a getting a chance to study Chaucer’s medieval life first hand. Arriving in the village of Canterbury at night, I drove into town after dark trying to organize my trip the next morning. It was an experience I won’t forget. Much of the old town is blocked off from vehicle traffic. As in most English villages, there was little activity outside of the pubs after dark. I decided to be adventuresome and drive through the restricted areas typically reserved for delivery trucks during the day. Thirty minutes later I was unable to find a way out of the area. It was truly a Twilight Zone experience. One of the challenges with GPS (SatNav as they are called in the UK) is that some of the roads in these villages are no longer accessible to vehicles. More than once or twice I have followed my GPS directions exactly only to find myself driving down a street that is designated for foot traffic only. It is embarrassing when everyone from another country is looking strangely at you, but this experience in Canterbury was downright frustrating. Every turn my GPS told me to take was either blocked by construction or road obstacles designed to keep cars from entering (or exiting). Taking matters into my own hands, I quit following my GPS and just started randomly turning on streets I didn’t recognize. I must have been 10 miles from downtown when I finally got my GPS to provide directions back to my hotel without going through closed roads in Canterbury.

Castle Street walking towards Canterbury Cathedral

Daylight was much better. I left early and parked at the first parking lot on Castle Street (along with High Street always a road you want to follow). Parking might be the UK’s biggest challenge. You have to pay for parking wherever you go. Always remember this! You will see “pay and display” every time you park in the street or a parking lot where it is legal to leave your vehicle. The parking garage I chose was a long walk to the Cathedral, but it was a beautiful morning so I enjoyed the walk. The size of the crowd at 9:30 a.m. surprised me.

Old buildings on Castle Street

Walking through the cobblestone streets of Canterbury, I could see the Cathedral in the distance. It was so exciting to see the final destination of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. What a great village! I snapped so many pictures of houses and businesses that were still in operation from the Middle Ages. The intersection of High Street and Castle Street was crowded with pilgrims, vendors, musicians and tourists. There was great energy in the air as I continued to the Cathedral. I remember feeling pulled emotionally in different directions by the sights, sounds and smells of Canterbury.

Entrance through Christ Church Gate built in 1517

Walking into an open area outside of the Cathedral I was face to face with the Norman entrance to Christ Church, Canterbury Cathedral, which was built in 1517. It was Tudor cool, architecturally impressive and strangely exciting as I paid the entrance fee and entered through its arches on my way to the Cathedral.
Once on the Church grounds you see the enormity of the Cathedral whose entire view is obstructed by buildings that surround it in the village of Canterbury. Its Gothic towers rise up against the sky and are impressive. There is extensive construction in progress and part of the Cathedral will be under reconstruction for a number of years to keep important areas from crumbling due to weather, age and pollution.

Outside the Christ Church Gate

Main service area in the Cathedral known as the Nave

Inside the Cathedral it looks large enough to have its own atmosphere. Beyond the front entrance is a large common area for services called the Nave. There are a large number of rows of chairs with a pulpit in the front curling around a single column. A small, open tourist shop is in the back corner of the Cathedral. Beyond the Nave are stone stairs leading through a single arched door into the choir. The choir is made of ornate, dark wood that took years of craftsmanship to make. Beyond the large choir area is the open area that was once the location for the shrine of Thomas Becket. Originally in the crypt below the altar, Becket’s shrine was moved to the area beyond the choir to accommodate the large number of pilgrims. During the English reformation, Henry VIII sent his men to Canterbury Cathedral to destroy the shrine of Becket, who was a Catholic saint, and scatter, or crush, his remaining bones. A single candle on the floor shows where the shrine used to rest. Tombs of famous politicians, members of royal families and former archbishops line the side corridors around the choir and the area surrounding Becket’s former shrine.

Up the stone steps and into the choir through this door

Canterbury Cathedral choir.

If you look close you can see the wear on the centuries old stone steps which can make walking up them a little tricky.

A single candle on the floor is the only reminder where Thomas Becket’s shrine was located when Henry VIII’s men destroyed it.

A second view of the lit candle resting where Thomas Becket’s shrine once rested.

Below the choir is an underground crypt. Visitors have to go down the stairs to enter the crypt where some of the oldest areas, dating back to Saxon times, of the church remain. As expected it is darker than the above ground areas of the Cathedral since there are no windows, but shadows from the light of candles and a few electric lamps give the area the feel of a dungeon. There are a variety of tombs, small chapels and religious monuments located throughout. The spot of Becket’s original shrine is now an open area for pilgrims and tourists to view.

Photographs aren’t allowed in the crypt area but this is the door leading into the crypt.

I searched for the area where Thomas Becket was originally murdered by four knights who believed King Henry II wanted him dead for disagreeing with the King over Papal authority. I spoke with a guide standing nearby and he said that there had been some renovation changes to the area over the years. At the time Becket was killed there was a column in the area. When Becket refused to leave the building with the Knights he admonished them for even coming to talk to him, they grabbed him with the intent of dragging him outside. Becket fought back and clung to the column as he was being pulled. The knights became more frustrated and one of them swung his sword at Becket taking off the crown of his head. He dropped to his hands and knees. Two other knights finished Becket off by taking their turn with a sword against the top of his head. The fourth, and last knight, used his sword to separate the brain matter from his skull as he lay on the floor, bleeding.
Becket became an important martyr and within 2 years of his death he was canonized by the Pope in Rome. Pilgrims from all over Europe flocked to the Shrine that held his bones. Today there is an unusual monument marking the location where he was murdered – just above the entrance to the crypt, below the entrance to the choir and on the far side of the Nave from the main entrance. He was going to prayers when he was stopped and brutally killed.

The area below the swords is where Thomas Becket was murdered.

There is a lot of interesting sites to see in and around Canterbury Cathedral and a tremendous amount of political and religious history. It is impossible to separate the history of politics, the monarch and religion in England as they are so intertwined. The Cathedral and area around it has seen major events at, or near this site, for almost 2,000 years when the Romans first arrived in England.

Crypt of King Henry IV and Joan of Navarre

The Background and History

2 pillars that are part of the original Saxon Church on the site of Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury has been a place of Christian worship for 1700 years. The city was originally built by the Romans before becoming the capital of Kent under the Saxons. The Romans left Britain a Christian nation in 410 A.D., but the conquering Saxons who replaced the Romans were pagans.

Born around the middle of the 6th century, St. Augustine was given the task to bring Christianity back to England by Pope Gregory the Great. At first reluctant to land in England after hearing of the danger of being a missionary in England, Augustine’s trip was stalled in France. With the Pope’s encouragement, Augustine landed in Kent and met with King Ethelbert and his wife Bertha, a Frankish Princess and Christian, who welcomed him to the kingdom. The Saxon king of Kent was King Ethelbert who was the first ruler of any Anglo-Saxon kingdom to be baptized into the Christian faith. Augustine established the Church, which would later become a Cathedral, on the site of an old Roman Christian church.

Canterbury Cathedral

In the 11th century Canterbury Cathedral became a Benedictine Monastery. Six years after the Norman Conquest, in 1072, the Archbishop of Canterbury was chosen as Chief Bishop of all England. However, by this time the church was already a focus of worship, not just for Kent, but for people from around the world.
Three years after his death in 1170, Thomas Becket was canonized and pilgrims were already flocking to his tomb. The greatest poet of the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote about a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury in his famous poem Canterbury Tales. It was written in the 1380s. Chaucer’s poem shows and illustrates the variety of individuals and their experiences in making a pilgrimage to Canterbury.

The English Reformation began in the early 1500s and ended almost two hundred years later. The result was a split of the Church in England from Papacy leadership. In 1535, Henry VIII affirmed himself as head of the Church of England. Canterbury Cathedral lost many of its saints of the Catholic Church, but the same faithfulness and devotion that lead the original pilgrims guided the future worshippers at Canterbury.


Some parts of the Cathedral need stonework to preserve the building.

In medieval times there were four great sites for Christian pilgrimages: 1) Jerusalem, 2) Rome, 3) Compostela (Spain) and 4) Canterbury. The body of St. James was supposed to have been loaded onto a ship shortly after death and taken to Compostela, Spain where it became a major site for pilgrims wanting forgiveness or good health. Canterbury Cathedral actually held the shrines of many saints although Thomas Becket was the most popular. Pilgrims also flocked to the shrines of St. Augustine and Theodore in the Abbey of St. Augustine and Saints Dunstan, Alphege and Anselm in the Cathedral.

The pilgrimage itself started with a journey, often from great distances with all of the dangers that were resident with travel in the Middle Ages. The journey itself was part of the religious experience that mirrored the gradual approach to Heaven in the course of an earthly life. The end of the pilgrimage was its climax which included individual worship at the shrine of the saint who was to act as an intercessor with God on behalf of the pilgrim. The most famous of the depictions of these pilgrimages was Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He wrote of a group of pilgrims traveling together for safety from London to Canterbury. His rich story shows the wide variety and types of people who went on pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.

Cathedral Survives WWII Bombing

Canterbury Cathedral was miraculously saved from German bombing raids in WWII.

The damage can be seen in and around the Cathedral from German air raids.

From among the surrounding rubble and ruins the Cathedral still stands virtually unscathed. This was in part due to the bravery of wardens throwing incendiaries from the roof onto the grass below; in the same way St. Paul’s in London had been saved. The few incendiaries that did get through into the building fortunately burned harmlessly on the stone floors. There was one scare when a four-ton bomb, the largest dropped during the air raid, landed in the precincts only twenty yards from the Warrior’s Chapel. Some glass in the nave was blown out but the most valuable and important windows had been removed previously and stored safely elsewhere.

Despite the carnage on every side, including the destruction of some of the houses within the precincts, the Cathedral received only one direct hit which was on the Victorian Library. Fortunately, particularly for the genealogists that visit this site, the valuable papers and records, like the stained glass windows, had already been stored elsewhere.

Christ Church Gate

More than 3 million visitors a year enter the Cathedral through Christ Church Gate. It was built in Tudor times. The gate was probably built as a tribute to Prince Arthur of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII and brother of Henry VIII who died at 16. Prince Arthur’s wife, the Spanish Princess Katherine of Aragon, became Henry VIIIs first wife after Arthur’s death.

Ratings (Church)

Category Rating: A

Overall Rating: #2

Comments: Canterbury Cathedral rivals St. Pauls Cathedral in London as the two greatest Cathedrals in England. Canterbury Cathedral is the center of religious history in England while St. Paul’s Cathedral has become more the national Church of England. Well worth a day trip, get to Canterbury early enough in the day to see some of the other interesting sites around the Cathedral.

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Leeds Castle, Outside London


Leeds Castle has been called “the loveliest castle in the world”. William the Conqueror, the first Norman King in 1066, demanded a survey of English lands, wealth and property for tax purposes. The compilation today is known as the Domesday Book. This 11th century book provides a detailed look at England at the time it was written. Leeds Castle was listed in the Domesday Book as a Saxon manor consisting of vineyards, meadows, woodland and mills. Its historical roots pre-date King William I who gave the manor to a loyal Norman baron to oversee. It would later be the property of six medieval queens and was eventually restored and updated by an American heiress of English descent.


Leeds Castle is located in Kent, near Maidstone which is about 45 miles east, southeast of London. It is an easy 1 ½ hour drive from London with major motorways most of the way.

42.5 miles from central London

My Experience

Leeds Castle is one of the easier drives to a major historical site outside London. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs around Maidstone, which is the nearest village to the castle. After parking my car, I decided to take the small “train” from the front gate to the castle gate. Experiencing some back problems after the long climb up the St. Peter’s dome in London the day before, the train sounded like a good idea instead of the beautiful, but long walk to the castle. It was only 50p which seemed like a good value.

As I loaded onto the small train there was a young couple with a beautiful little girl in the seat behind me. During the course of conversation it was discovered we lived within 5 miles of each other in Texas, north of Dallas. It is truly a small world.

Bride and father of the bride wait for ceremony to begin outside the front gate of the castle.

The estate is surrounded by beautiful property.

The train dropped me off outside of the castle and it was beautiful. The countryside around the castle is magnificent with meadows, water and forests. It is easy to see why it was coveted as a country home by medieval royals. As I stepped off the train there was a fantastic open air coach pulled by two beautiful horses, driven by two handsome tuxedoed men with a pretty bride and her father in the carriage. People were walking around taking pictures so I did too. I am sure her wedding was a dream come true for a lot of people.

The front gate into Leeds Castle.

I went through the gatehouse and entered the center courtyard taking in all of the sights and sounds. It is breath taking the first time you enter a well preserved medieval castle. I was surprised it wasn’t more crowded on a beautiful and sunny Sunday afternoon. The tour starts on the lower level of the castle so I followed the trail along the water to the oldest part of the castle called the Gloriette, which is on a small island. Originally this island was surrounded by water and a drawbridge was the only means to it. About 150 years ago a bridge was built that connected buildings on the two islands making the drawbridge obsolete. The moat was extended around all of the castle buildings.

360 view of Leeds Castle from the inner court

The tour begins through some steps that lead you through the bridge to the Gloriette. Unlike a lot of castles in England, most of the decorations are not medieval, but are from the last private owner, Lady Baillie. In 1552, the castle fell into private hands and passed through the tumultuous next two centuries of English history. Various wealthy owners fell in and out of favor and fortune as the castle and its property changed hands.

A view from the castle where people can picnic and relax.

“Death duties” also known as legacy, succession and estate duties were introduced into England in 1796. Although the value of the estate impacted by these death taxes varied over time these duties had a significant impact on ownership of the castle. In 1926, the Martin family was forced to sell the castle and its estate to pay for death taxes. The property was purchased by an American heiress and her sister who was the daughter of a former British industrialist who emigrated to American in 1881and a wealthy American woman who inherited money from the Standard Oil fortune.

Lady Baillie was born “Olive Cecilia Paget”. She went to school in France and served as a wartime nurse during WWI in England. Her first marriage produced two daughters who would be raised at Leeds Castle. It was during her second marriage in 1925 that Leeds Castle was purchased. After divorcing her second husband in 1931 she retained possession of the property. Her third marriage was to Sir Adrian William Maxwell Baillie, 6th baronet thus giving her the title of “lady”. They had one son in 1934. She divorced Sir Adrian in 1944 and she remained at Leeds Castle until dying in London in 1974.

Some of the rooms decor are from the 20th century.

The importance of this history is because of the décor of the castle. It has been left in the state it was when Lady Baillie entertained nobles, politicians, authors, artists and the Hollywood elite. The pictures, apartments, furniture and other interior decorations were not of kings and queens from medieval times but from the last century. While Lady Baillie had an interesting life, it was still a little disappointing to me to see 1940s décor in a 800 year old building.

Lots of room for kids to play

Leeds Castle is a wonderful place to take children. The grounds are open to walk around, picnic, paint, take pictures or just lie down and relax. Once leaving the castle grounds there is a great restaurant in converted buildings built in the last 100 years. Children’s areas such as gardens, playgrounds and an outdoor restaurant make it ideal for the family. It is clean and well run.

Take the kids on a short boat ride around the grounds.

There is a pond or small lake outside the castle on one end which connects to the children’s play areas at the other end. For £1, you can take a delightful 5 minute ride across the lake seeing the property a last time before heading back to your car.

The Background and History

The area that is today Leeds Castle was once a Saxon manor. The Saxons ruled this area of England in the preceding 500 years to William the Conqueror defeating King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. The earliest recorded appearance of Leeds was in 855. It became a Norman stronghold, was home to six English medieval queens, a palace used by King Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon, a Jacobean country house, a Georgian mansion and an early 20th century retreat for the rich and famous. Today it is one of the most visited locations in Britain.

Norman Stronghold

The original part of the castle was built on this island.

The first stone castle was built in 1119 during the reign of King Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son. It became property of the monarch in 1278 when possession passed to Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I.

The castle’s first siege came in 1139 as Stephen of Blios took control of the castle in his battle against King Henry I’s daughter, Matilda the Empress, to become King Stephen. Stephen gave the castle as private property to the Crevecoeur family.

In 1278 the castle owners fell into financial ruin and it was sold to Eleanor of Castille, King Edward I’s first wife. This move began the ownership succession of six subsequent English queens. Royal engineers added and modified the castle over the years to suit the owners. The Gloriette, the main castle on the original island, was largely built by Eleanor as it appears today. Eleanor died in 1290.

One of the older areas of the castle.

Edward II gave the castle to Bartholomew de Badlesmere, Lord Steward of the royal household. Edward II’s policies were making a great deal of enemies in the kingdom and Bartholomew joined the opposition. When Edward’s wife, Isabella, was denied entry into the castle it was besieged by Edward and Bartholomew was executed. The castle stayed again in royal hands until Henry IV’s wife, Joan of Navarre, gave the castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury who died 3 years later. After Henry IV died, Henry V treated Joan of Navarre, his stepmother, decently, but in time he turned against her imprisoning her in Leeds Castle. Eventually Henry V died and left the castle as part of a larger estate to his wife, Catherine de Valois who was the youngest daughter of Charles VI of France.

The Tudors

Catherine de Valois bequeathed the castle to Henry VII, the first Tudor king, who was her grandson by her second marriage. The castle was transformed from Saxon stronghold to a Tudor palace by Henry VIII for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

In 1520, Henry VIII stopped at Leeds Castle with 5,000 people and soldiers on his way to France to try and negotiate a peaceful settlement to hostilities between the two countries. Finally, in 1552, the deed to the castle was granted outside of the royal family. The castle was granted to Sir Anthony St. Leger for his role in subjugating an uprising in Ireland.

Once a Tudor bake house this area of the castle was transformed to living quarters during Richard II.

For the next 200 years the castle changed hands several times in parallel with the ever-changing political winds in England. It continued to be used as a country estate for the rich. Fortunately, the castle was relatively untouched by the civil war between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, as its owners claimed their allegiance early to the Parliamentarians who destroyed a great number of royal castles on their way to victory.

The castle did suffer great damage when it became a place for French and Dutch prisoners of war during the 1660s. They set fire to part of the castle causing extensive damage that was not repaired until the 1820s.
The property passed hands many times through inheritance until 1821 when it became the property of Fiennes Wykeham Martin who spent a considerable sum of money to restore the property leading to his financial ruin. His son was able to restore the family fortune and the estate, but once again the family found the property in peril due to Britain’s “death tax” in 1925. The Martins sold the castle to Honorable Mrs. Wilson Filmer, later known as Lady Baillie, who spent the next 30 years updating the castle.

Lady Baillie was born an American but had a rich English heritage. Her father was Almeric Paget, 1st Baron of Queenborough. He was the sixth and youngest son of Lord Alfred Paget. His grandfather had commanded the British cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He immigrated to America and had an interesting life while establishing relationships with top American leaders and Presidents. He owned a ranch, became an industrialist, award-winning yachtsman, British nobleman and member of the British conservative party and Treasurer of the League of Nations Union.

Lady Baillie’s mother was Pauline Payne Whitney. The Whitney’s had a prominent role in America’s early industrial history. Her father was Secretary of the Navy and corporate counsel for New York City. She was an heir to part of the fortune of Standard Oil Company. The Paget’s moved to England, largely due to the health of Lady Baillie’s mother, when she was a teenager.

The castle was owned by 6 different royal families.

Olive Cecilia Paget went to school in France, but returned during WWI and became Lady Baillie after her second marriage to Sir Adrian Baillie. In 1925 during her second marraige, she purchased Leeds Castle which was in deteriorating condition. She would devote the rest of her life restoring the castle, its associated buildings and the estate.

Lady Baillie was a renowned hostess to the rich and famous in the early 20th century.

Lady Baillie became renowned as a hostess. During her marriage to Sir Adrian they lived in London during the week and entertained at Leeds Castle on the weekends. She retained the castle after her divorce from Sir Adrian. The castle became the playground for a variety of famous people of the day: politicians, actors and actresses, the royal family, authors and musicians as well as foreign dignitaries. During WWII the castle became a military hospital.

With the decline in health of Lady Baillie she gave a large portion of the property to her son, Gawain, but wanted the castle to be enjoyed by the public. She created a charitable trust called the Leeds Castle Foundation to operate the castle after her death in the 1970s. One of her daughters continued to live in the castle until her death in 2003.

Ratings (Castle/Estate)

Category Rating: A

Overall Rating: #4

Comments: The property is beautiful; the castle is lovely and interesting. The history of the castle is unparalleled in England. However I was expecting more after hearing it was the “loveliest castle in the world”. It is a delightful estate that really emphasizes less its ancient history and more its current history. Nevertheless it is a beautiful property and well worth the drive or tour for a day trip.

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The Pilgrims Meet in Billericay

Billericay is located in Essex, east of London. It is an old community with evidence of occupation that pre-dates Roman Britain. In the 13th and 14th centuries pilgrims began to arrive in Billericay from Canterbury. A meeting of the Pilgrim fathers took place in a basement under one of the businesses on this street prior to their sailing on the Mayflower. It isn’t open to the public, but it was described to me as an old stone basement with cuts in the stone to hold candles for light. Four people from Billericay were on board the Mayflower when she left for the new world. All four of the pioneers died shortly after their arrival in Cape Cod, MA. Their unfortunate fate did not deter other pioneers from Billericay and in 1655 the town of Billericay, MA was established to commemorate origins of some of the first settlers.

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Cleopatra’s Needle


Along the Thames River in London are a number of monuments. Tourists pass by many of these old monuments without taking the time to learn their history. Cleopatra’s Needle is one of these. It was made in Egypt 1,000 years before Cleopatra was born. It was given to the English in 1819, but remained in Egypt until 1877 where it began a long and interesting journey to where it rests today, the Victoria Embankment.


It is located in Westminster, on the north side of the Thames River across the river from the Needle.

My Experience

After finishing my tour of the Tower of London I took the Thames River boat upstream to Westminster. The boat ride was fun and there were a lot of interesting sites along the way. There is a tour guide to provide historical context for all of the tourist sites that can been seen on the ride up the Thames.

I had seen the monument several times, but didn’t know exactly what it was. That isn’t surprising as there are so many historical sites to see in London. It is in a very central location, just east of Parliament on the river bank. The tour guide told part of the story of the monument, but upon research he really only gave a glimpse. The monument was a gift from the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali for the role the British played in the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Alexandria in 1801.

Cleopatra’s Needle is in the heart of Westminster near such sites as Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Needle. It is a short walk to the needle from Big Ben.

The Background and History

The obelisk (defined by Google as “a stone pillar, typically having a square or rectangular cross section and a pyramidal top, set up as a monument or landmark”) is located near the Embankment underground station in the center of London. The obelisk was constructed by Tuthmose III, an Egyptian Pharaoh. It is carved with hieroglyphics commemorating his “third sed festival”. The sed festival was an ancient Egyptian ceremony celebrating the continued rule of the Pharaoh. Ramesses II added inscriptions at a later date to the monument to commemorate his military victories.

There are four plaques around the base of Cleopatra’s Needls

There are four plaques located on the base of each side of Cleopatra’s Needle. The first plaque details the history of the obelisk. The next outlines why the obelisk was given to the British. The next plague that details the events at sea during the transport of the obelisk in 1879, almost 65 years after it was given to the British. The last plaque commemorates the lost British sailors killed during the transport of Cleopatra’s Needle to England.

There are two large bronze Sphinxes which lie on either side of Cleopatra’s Needle. These are not ancient Egyptian, but are Victorian. Nevertheless they are impressive replicas.

Cleopatra’s Needle has a twin obelisk in New York. There is another Egyptian obelisk in Paris with its match still in Egypt. Both Cleopatra’s Needle and her twin in New York are large structures. They are made of red granite and are 68 feet high. Each weighs about 224 tons! They were originally erected in the city of Heliopolis in Egypt around 1450 B.C. before being moved to Alexandria. The Romans set it up in the temple Caesareum, which Cleopatria built, in 12 B.C.

In appreciation for the victories led by Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and Sir Ralph Abercromby at the Battle of Alexandria, Pharaoh Muhammad Ali gave the Needle to England. While the English monarch welcomed the gesture it decided against the expense of transporting it to England. The obelisk remained in Alexandria until 1877 when Sir Erasmus Wilson sponsored its transportation to London at an enormous personal cost. It was dug out of the sand and was encased in a large iron cylinder 92 feet long and 16 feet in diameter.

The ship transporting the obelisk ran into a storm west of France, north of Spain in the Bay of Biscay. A rescue boat with 6 volunteers was sent out to stabilize the ship and drowned in the process. The transport shipped was abandoned and considered sunk, but it showed up four days later in the Bay.

On the bank of the Thames River is this Egyptian monument that was a gift to England in the 19th century.

The obelisk eventually made it to London and was scheduled to be erected outside of Parliament. That location was rejected and it was finally erected on the Victoria Embankment. Cleopatra’s Needle also became a time capsule on the day of erection on the front part of the pedestal. It contained: 12 photographs of the prettiest English women of the day, hairpins, cigars, tobacco pipes, imperial weights, a baby’s bottle, children’s toys, a razor, a complete set of British coins, a hydraulic jack, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a written account of the troubled transport of the obelisk to England, a translation of the inscriptions, copies of the Bible in several languages, a copy of Whitaker’s Almanac, a railway guide, a map of London and copes of 10 daily newspapers.

Ratings (Historical Monument)

Category Rating: B
Overall Rating: #5

Comments: Finding an Egyptian artifact in England is cool and unexpected but it tends to get lost in the sites around it. Walk down to Cleopatra’s Needle if you need a few minute break while visiting all of the Westminster sites.

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Westminster Abbey, London


The crown jewel of religious buildings in England is the abbey in Westminster. It is one of the world’s greatest churches. What is unique about Westminster Abbey is that it is “Royal Peculiar”, a term meaning that the Dean is directly answerable to the monarch instead of the Archbishop. The coronation of kings and queens has taken place here since 1066 when William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day after defeating King Harold in the Battle of Hastings.

Another picture I took inside the Abbey (against the rules)

King Edward the Confessor built the Abbey to satisfy his guilty conscious over breaking a vow to take a pilgrimage to Rome if God would allow him to defeat the Danes (Vikings who landed in England). The Vatican later made a deal that would forgive his promise if he would build a great church. Today it is known as Westminster Abbey, but it is more than a church. More than 3,000 important politicians, monarchs, heroes and heroines, soldiers, authors, artists and musicians are buried within and around its walls, floors and chapels.


Westminster Abbey is probably the most visited place in the world. It stands within sight of Big Ben, within walking distance of The Needle, which overlooks the Thames, and is across the street from Westminster Palace, now Parliament, in central London.

My Experience

The first time I was at Westminster Abbey was 1971. It has changed very little since I was fifteen; however I have changed a great deal. The first time I saw the Abbey I was impressed by the Gothic architecture and its rich English history. Today I better understand the historical significance of those buried and honored in Westminster Abbey and the impact they had on western civilization. It is simply overwhelming.

Outside the Abbey on a sunny English Day

Crowds at the entrance to the Abbey

Of course it was a beautiful Saturday when I arrived at the Abbey and there were huge crowds of people in line. There were actually two lines to enter the Abbey: 1) to purchase tickets and 2) to get into the church. You can buy tickets in advance and I should have done so. The day was full of sunshine and the English make the most of sunny days as you can see from the crowds in my pictures. All grass, regardless of where it is located, is open season to be occupied by an Englishman when the sun is out.

Once inside the Abbey I was disappointed to find out that I couldn’t take pictures. This is standard procedure in most old chapels and churches I visit. It is an attempt to show respect to those who are there to worship. Even today there are 28 worship services held at Westminster Abbey every week. The choir sings at one or more of the daily services. I pulled out my iPhone and tried to sneak a quick picture inside but got caught. Security is hidden everywhere.

Pictures weren’t allowed but I sneaked one of Chaucer’s tomb.

Guides are only available for pre-arranged tours at Westminster Abbey. The Abbey, like most historic locations in England, provides you with a recorder that is shaped like a phone. It enables you to walk and listen at your own pace as you tour the Abbey. There are numbers in all of the rooms and hallways that indicate which button to push to hear the history of the tombs and monuments in that area. There is easily a half a day or more of sight-seeing inside the Abbey. Some of England’s most notorious and beloved monarchs are buried within its walls. There isn’t a single place I have been in the world that contains more history. There is so much history it tends to draw attention away from the beauty of the church.

There are seventeen monarchs buried in Westminster Abbey. In room after room are the colorful tombs of these monarchs; sons and daughters, half-brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews, grandparents of the English monarchy. Even Edward the Confessor, the original builder of Westminster Abbey in 1065, is buried there. There was one room where I paused to absorb the full history in the room. I found it unusual that cousins Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots are buried next to each other at Westminster Abbey.

Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland and succeeded him when she was 6 days old. As a young married Queen of Scotland, there was controversy in her involvement in the death of her husband and she was forced to abdicate her throne to her one year old son, James. She fled southwards to England seeking the protection of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Having the same rights to the English crown as Elizabeth, she was perceived as a threat and confined with royal privileges to a number of castles and estate houses in England. After almost 20 years in custody, Elizabeth had Mary executed when it was found out that her cousin was plotting to overthrow Elizabeth to get the English crown.

Another side view of the Gothic architecture

Elizabeth died without ever marrying or having an heir. In a strange twist of fate, Elizabeth agreed to meet with Mary’s son, James, and to consider him a possible successor. She was surprised to discover how much she liked him. He was already King of Scotland, but it was arranged upon her death for him to succeed Elizabeth and unite Scotland and England.

Describing Westminster Abbey is impossible. It is THE place, along with the Tower of London, that a person has to visit when they go to England. It is not only the church of kings and queens, not only a beautiful church, not only a giant tomb of famous people; it is home for the history of England.

The Background and History

The ground on which Westminster Abbey was built was an island. The land, called Thorney Island, near the Thames River was marshy. Over the centuries work has been done to improve drainage in these areas. On one side the Tyburn tributary flowed into the Thames and on the other side the Westbourne tributary.
The man most responsible for the church that stands in Westminster today is Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042 – 1066), the last Saxon King of England. His original vision included a royal palace, a church and a large monastery. There was no doubt he was devout in his beliefs, but he was driven by guilt to start this project. As a child he was forced into exile in Normandy when the Vikings invaded England. He made a solemn vow that if he were to ever be restored to the throne he would make a pilgrimage to Rome in gratitude. Edward did indeed become king, but in a time of great political unrest. Pope Leo excused him from his vow realizing it was unwise for him to leave England giving his enemies an advantage. He asked instead for Edward to re-endow the monastery of Westminster.

He built the Abbey on the ruins of an old Saxon church started by monks in the 900s. Edward built the church in Romanesque style and began his palace nearby. Edward died 8 days after it was complete and the throne passed to Harold Godwinson. Some believe that King Harold began the tradition of royal coronations in the Abbey, but we know for sure that William the Conqueror, who defeated King Harold, was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

In the Abbey, the oldest door in England over 1,000 years old.

Westminster Abbey is more than a church. Within its grounds you will find: 1) St. Margaret’s Church (the Church of the House of the Commons), 2) the great and little cloisters, 3) the Chapter House and Museum and 4) College Garden, the oldest garden in England. There are 28 services a week continuing a 1,400 year tradition. The present church was begun by Henry III in 1245 and is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country. The Abbey contains a treasure trove of paintings, stained-glass, pavements, textiles and other artifacts.

The English monarchy has significantly contributed to the Abbey over the centuries as the home of royal coronations. Kind Edgar (ruled from 959-975) first gave substantial lands to build a church covering most of what is today the West End of London. Edward the Confessor, almost 100 years later, built his palace near this monastic community and the stone church which became his own burial place. Henry III rebuilt Edward’s church into the Gothic building seen today. Henry’s own burial here really began the tradition of Westminster Abbey as the royal burial place for the next 500 years.

Crowds at the entrance to the Abbey

The official name of Westminster Abbey is “the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster”. The Abbey is a “royal peculiar” which means it is a free chapel of the Sovereign, exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction other than the King or Queen.

Famous people buried at the Abbey:

• Poets – Jeffrey Chaucer, Robert Browning, Robert Burns, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Dryden, Thomas Hardy, Ben Johnson, Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Lloyd Tennyson
• Politician – Winston Churchill
• Royalty – Anne of Cleves (one of Henry VIII’s wives), Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Edward I, Edward III, Richard II, Henry V, Edward V, Henry VII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, James I (King James), Charles II, Mary II, William III, Anne and George II, along with many of the monarchs spouses and children. In addition, Mary Queen of Scots was buried at Westminster Abbey.
• Composer – Handel
• Author – Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin (strange to me) and Samuel Johnson
• Scientist – Isaac Newton
• Actor – Laurence Olivier

WWII and Westminster Abbey

In 1939 many of the Abbey’s treasures were relocated to various estates outside of London. About 60,000 sand bags were used to protect the royal and medieval tombs. Although many of the stained glass windows were boarded, quite a bit of glass was blown out, especially in 1940.

Courtyard inside Westminster Abbey

The worst air raid occurred on the nights of May 10 & 11, 1941. Germany dropped clusters of fire-bombs rather than high explosives. A number of bombs fell on and about the Abbey. Most were put out by firemen but one fell in a hard to reach roof location in the center of the Abbey. Flames quickly reached 40 feet. Fortunately, most of the burning timbers fell into an open area below where monarchs are crowned and where it was easily extinguished. Other houses on the property and some of the rooms suffered damage during this particular air raid. Services were never stopped during the war.

Ratings (Churches)

Category Rating: A+

Overall Rating: #1 (tied with the Tower of London)
Comments: Westminster Abbey, along with the Tower of London, Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall, are all can’t miss historical sites. Only the Tower of London can rival the rich western history locked inside the Abbey’s Gothic walls. Study it before you go, get there early and take your time going through it. You will never forget it.

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Durham Castle


Durham Castle dates back to Norman times. Construction began in 1072 shortly after William the Conqueror defeated the British at the Battle of Hastings. Since 1840 it has served as the home to Durham College. More than 100 students live there today.

Students were out on the lawn in the courtyard by the front entrance of the castle enjoying a rare day of English sunshine.

Durham Castle is in Durham which is south of Newcastle and north of York. It is physically located on the same property as Durham Cathedral, one of the most popular and oldest cathedrals in England.

My Experience

The River flows just below the Durham Castle.

The River Wear runs through the heart of Durham where shops and cafes line the banks today. Castle Durham was built on a hill overlooking the river creating a beautiful backdrop for the 11th century castle.
The only way to tour the castle is to go with a group. The tour guide is always a student and there is a limit on the number of tours they offer a weekend. We met at the front gate of the castle and entered into a round courtyard at the center of the castle. Since it was a nice, warm and sunny day there were students sunning outside on the grass. Some were studying, others picnicking or talking with friends. Used to the tours, they largely ignored us.

The castle is relatively small and circular. We entered into the main doorway and were directed to the kitchens. Food is still prepared in the same area today for the students as it was almost 1,000 years ago for its original owners. The students eat in what used to be the Great Hall of the castle complete with splendid bay windows, a large fireplace and a balcony overlooking the guests. It looks like a smaller version of the dining hall in the movie Harry Potter.

Watch this video. It is a 360 view of the inside of the castle. You can hear the student tour guide speaking to the group.

Durham Castle 360 View

The tour guide was well informed, polite and knowledgeable of the castle’s history. We climbed a wooden staircase that was hundreds of years old and walked down the gallery area where paintings and sculptures would have been on display. The tour eventually led us to a dungeon which was the oldest area of the castle. The old Norman walls were still visible. It was here that under siege the inhabitants once escaped to safety through a hidden door.

At one time this was the largest Great Hall in England. Students who live in the castle still eat in the Great Hall.

The Great Hall and the 2 chapels are the most impressive rooms of the castle. There are two chapels: 1) Norman Chapel built in 1078 and 2) Tunstall’s Chapel built in 1540. The Norman Chapel was used as a bomb shelter during WWII. Both chapels have extensive intricate woodwork and remain in use today.
It was disappointing but understandable we weren’t able to go into the living quarters and see the different rooms in all of the buildings. However, it is home to 100 college students and the college does it’s best to respect the privacy of the students.

The Background and History

Once King Harold and the English troops were defeated at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror wasted no time in showing the English who was in power. He destroyed small towns and villages on his way to London in hopes of intimidating Londoners into negotiating for peace which they did. Upon entering London triumphantly, he set about with great building projects including the Tower of London (built on an old Roman site), Westminster Abbey and castles throughout England. It was shortly after the Battle of Hastings that Durham Castle was commissioned to be built. Building the castle was strategic to defend the troublesome border with Scotland as well as control local English rebellions.

Students at the college lead the castle tours.

This picture is taken from below the castle along the Wear River.

The castle is an example of a style of popular castle architecture during the Norman period known as “motte and bailey”. Basically the castle stood on a mound (motte) surrounded by an inner and outer bailey (fenced or walled area). The remaining buildings (trades, stables, etc.) were walled outside the castle with less protection.

Durham Castle became the home and responsibility of the Bishop of Durham who was appointed by the King. It remained the Bishop’s Palace until 1837 when the Bishops moved to Auckland Castle, an estate nearby, and the castle was given to the newly formed University of Durham. It remains today as part of the university.

The streets of Durham.

NOTE: The city of Durham wraps itself around the college and Cathedral near the banks of the Wear River. It is a delightful town and has a lot of activity and energy the way most college towns do. I wandered into the town from the castle and enjoyed the sites. Here are several video links that I hope you enjoy. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the people of Durham were out enjoying the sunshine.

Watch this video. It was taken in the town square of Durham after visiting the castle. Enjoy the music.

Durham City Square

Ratings (Castle)

Category Rating: B
Overall Rating: #6

Comments: The castle is old and played an important role in early English medieval history. It would be an interesting location to attend school.

Listen to the bells ring from the Durham Cathedral next door.
Durham Cathedral Bells

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Tyburn Tree: London, England


“How dismal is the Lot of these we see,
Poor Guilty Suff’rers at the Fatal Tree!
Warn’d by their Fate, their Crimes O, Let us Shun
Least We, like them, transgress and be Undone.”

Author Unknown

The Tyburn River is a tributary of the Thames that today runs underground. However the name has been synonymous for years with public execution. It was the principle place of execution for London criminals and traitors that included many religious martyrs. The famous Marble Arch is less than a stone’s throw away from the location of the Tyburn tree where an estimated 1,200+ people were executed.


The Tyburn tree is across the street from the Marble Arch on the north side and on the northeast corner of Kennsington Park.

My Experience

I stood under the bus sign near the Marble Arch where the Red Tour Bus was picking me up. It was early Sunday morning and the day promised rain so I wanted to begin early to beat the showers. As the bus pulled up I hurried to the upper deck to procure a good seat. As we drove off, the tour guide pointed to what looked like a manhole cover. It was the location of the infamous Tyburn tree. Between 1571 and 1783, when the last execution took place, there was an estimated total of 1,232 people hanged. 92 of those were women and it was estimated that 90% of all executions were men under the age of 21. Some reports indicated crowds between 10,000 and 50,000 on days when executions took place.

Between 1660 and 1800 there was a surge in crimes in London. The number of crimes that could be punishable by death increased by 190. Crimes punishable by death included petty crimes as well as crimes against property, such as demolishing a public fence or the destruction of machines. Executions also occurred at the Tower of London and Tower Hill, within walking distance of the Tower of London, but Tyburn was the place for most public executions.

The Red Tour Bus dropped me off near my destination point. I remembered the words of the tour guide and walked across the street to see the marker established to commemorate the executions performed on the Tyburn tree. I stood staring at the spot trying to imagine the horror this former location invoked on a community. Massive crowds were walking by and double decker buses were crowding the streets fighting their way back for the night. I tried to imagine a crowd of 10,000+ people, all waiting for common criminals to be executed. So many people were walking and driving by with apparently no knowledge of this former location. So it is in all of London. There is so much history that has occurred over the past 2,000 years, and yet, it seems almost on every street there is an interesting story that most walk past everyday and never realize.

The Background and History

Criminals were sentenced in London at the Old Bailey Courthouse. Prisoners sentenced to death went to Newgate prison to await their execution. Most criminals’ hands were tied behind their back before being placed on the back of a horse-drawn carriage that would take them on their final journey. The two-mile ride would take nearly 3 hours because of the crowds. At that time London may have been the biggest city on earth, approaching 1 million inhabitants. According to reports, inhabitants were all along the route, some hanging out the windows. The crowds jeered at those being executed; some people threw food, others threw excrement, women blew kisses and some cheered. For most prisoners it was the first time in weeks they had smelled fresh air, as the prisons were overcrowded and the smell rancid.

The prisoners would traditionally stop for a pint of beer at two locations: 1) halfway along the trip at the Bowl Inn and 2) at the end of the journey at a pub called The Mason’s Arms. Shackles remain at both locations indicating the prisoners were in chains for their last two drinks. A reported ritual was for the condemned to tell the pub owners that they would pay for the pint on the way back.

As they arrived at the gallows, merchants were selling food and drinks to the swelling crowds. There was a gallery, much like football stands today, where people paid to watch the executions. The best seats were in “Mother Proctors Pew”. From here a person could hear the last speeches and their cries and screams as they struggled for their last breath. The Tyburn tree was three bars on three posts made up of three-cornered gallows.

The prisoners were blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs. Sometimes a hood was put over their head. Nooses were not used in those days and ordinary knots were tied around the necks of those being executed. The more a prisoner struggled the more the crowd cheered. There may have been as many as 20 people hanged at a single time from the Tyburn tree. A minister stood nearby preaching until the end.

Death was slow and agonizing. It wasn’t unusual for men to gasp for air for up to 45 minutes. The more fortunate of the executed had family members pull on their legs to put them out of their misery. A sure sign of death was urine running down the leg of the dead person. By this point the crowd was hushed. The bodies were cut down one by one. Anatomists, who could always be found nearby, would select the unclaimed bodies to dissect in the name of science. Some relatives had to fight the anatomists for the body of their loved ones in hopes of a proper burial.

In 1783, public executions at the Tyburn tree ended due to fears of public unrest. Executions continued closer to Newgate prison where there was more control. The last executions in London were in 1868.

Famous Executions

Williams Fitz Osber, a populist advocate for the poor of London, was the first person to be publicly executed at Tyburn in 1196. After hiding out at the Church of St. Mary le Bow he was dragged naked behind a horse and hung at Tyburn.

The first victim of the “Tyburn tree” was Dr. John Story, a Roman Catholic who refused to recognize Elizabeth I as Queen. Elizabeth was known as “Bloody Mary” for her persecution of Catholics. There is a plaque nearby, at the Tyburn Convent, recognizing the Catholic martyrs between 1535-1681. At least 8 Catholic priests were martyred.

Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of England when Henry VII was king. He claimed to be the younger of the two sons of King Edward IV who were both killed at the Tower of London. He was found guilty of treason.

Elizabeth Barton known as “The Holy Maid of Kent” incorrectly prophesized that Henry VIII would be dead within 6 months if he married Anne Boleyn.

Francis Dereham and Sir Thomas Culpepper were guilty of having sexual relations with the wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard. They were each sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered (cut into four pieces, after being emasculated, disemboweled and beheaded). However, due to his previous close relationship to Henry VIII, Culpepper’s sentence was commuted to beheading at Tyburn. Beheading was normally reserved for royalty at the Tower of London or Tower Hill. Dereham received the full sentence.

Oliver Cromwell led the Parliamentarians to victory over the Royalists. King Charles I was executed and the monarchy ceased in 1651. His son Charles II was defeated in a battle against Cromwell and fled to France. After the death of Cromwell, the monarchy was reinstated and Charles II became King. Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey for a posthumous execution and hung at Tyburn tree. His body was cut down and his head, and those of other Parliamentarian leaders, were placed on spikes. In 1685, a storm broke the spike, throwing his head onto the ground where it was grabbed by private collectors. In 1960, it was buried in Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.

Robert Hubert falsely claimed to have started the Great Fire of London. He actually was not even in London at the time of the fire. He was a watchmaker who was either tortured into confession or confessed not actually understanding what he was confessing to. The King needed a scapegoat and Robert was convenient.

June 23, 1649, 24 prisoners, brought in 8 carts were hung simultaneously – 23 men and 1 woman.

Ratings (Unique and Unusual)

Category Rating: B
Overall Rating: #4
Comments: There is little to see but a marker on the ground. With so much concrete and traffic on all sides it is hard to fathom the events that took place on this location for over 200 years.

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Hampton Court Palace Outside London


Hampton Court Palace is the former residence of the English monarchy prior to the 18th century. The palace was originally built and owned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and taken by King Henry VIII when Wolsey was unable to convince the Vatican to absolve one of his marriages. The palace has seen many expansions and restorations over the centuries and is a unique combination of Baroque and Tudor styles. The palace was home to Henry VIII, the most famous King in English history.


Taken from the bridge over the Thames which leads back to the train station.

The palace is almost 12 miles southwest from the center of London in the borough of Richmond. It rests next to the Thames River that flows downstream from the palace through London. It is a 30 minute train ride from central London on the Tube or Underground.

My Experience

After walking all over London I was happy to get a seat on the Underground while I headed towards Richmond where Hampton Court Palace is located. Today Richmond is a borough of London but prior to the 19th century it was located outside of London which was part of its appeal to its royal inhabitants. It was a favorite place to hunt, fish, play tennis, boat on the Thames, walk through the gardens and get away from the masses.
Most of the Tube is underground but some of the trains travel above ground when you reach the outer boroughs. The countryside is pretty around Hampton Court Palace and I was thankful for the short, above ground train ride and pretty scenery as we neared Richmond. From the train station I walked across the Thames on an old bridge and entered into the magnificent royal grounds. My first reaction to Hampton Court Palace was that it was more country home than fortress.

Front gate of Hampton Court Palace

From the distance the palace is imposing. The large property is full of ancient reminders of medieval Kings and Queens of England who lived there for three centuries. Each royal family seemed to make their signature on the palace by modifying it or by adding to it. The entry of the palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, one of King Henry VIII’s closest advisors. Upon his fall from grace Henry seized the palace as his own and began enlarging and improving the property.

A surviving painting of Henry VIII.

Another surviving picture of Henry VIII.

Much of Henry’s private residence and court remains. The tales of his five wives and the reasons behind the separation the Church of England from the Vatican play a prominent role in the history of the palace. Henry was the first royal owner and the palace is full of his history. He is both a heroic and tragic figure of the English monarchy. Some of the best paintings of the era of Henry VIII have survived and are located at the palace for visitors to peruse.

The Great Hall made by Henry VIII where Shakespeare performed.

Made in France and hung on the wall during the reign of Henry VIII.

The Great Hall is the largest room in the palace. Up to 600 people ate here in two sittings, twice a day during Henry’s reign. The magnificent tapestries that line the walls of this large room were commissioned by Henry VIII himself and probably made in France. They were hung for the first time in 1546. The Great Hall also served as the location for dance and drama. Henry himself played a starring role in a specially written chivalric plays, rescuing helpless maidens from dangerous castles.

Henry was not the only King that enjoyed theatre. King James I used the Great Hall for some of the most elaborate theatricals ever staged at an English royal court. Shakespeare appeared on more than one occasion as part of “The King’s Men”, a theatrical troupe that entertained the King. Many times there was dancing and drinking until dawn in the Great Hall before entering into the Great Watching Chamber to eat.

Here are pictures of three of Henry’s wives.

There is a legend that when Henry VIII’s 4th wife, Catherine Howard, found out that she was to be charged with adultery she ran down the processional route hoping to find Henry in the chapel where she would plead her innocence. However Catherine was indeed guilty of infidelity and would be executed in the tower of London. Reportedly her ghost still haunts the gallery.

The chapel is one of the most impressive rooms I have seen in any palace or building in England. Unfortunately, as in most chapels in England, pictures were not allowed to be taken. It has been in use continuously since Thomas Wolsey built it over 500 years ago.

A “Close Stool” or toilet of the King/Queen. A chamber pot would be under the seat.

This might be the right place to discuss something I find in most castles, palaces and other old buildings especially where royalty lived. Toilets, called guardrobes in medieval times, were padded stools with a hole in the middle, positioned above a chamber pot. There is a surviving “close stool” on display at the Palace although the one the King used was much more elaborate, padded with black velvet, decorated with swansdown (feathers) and decorated with 2,000 gift nails. Commoners had to use scarce and crowded public stools. Many times a dozen or more people may have been sitting nearby taking care of their business.

Henry VIII was assisted by the gentlemen of his Privy Chamber. It is hard to imagine they were the most senior members of his court. The most important person in the Privy Chamber was the Groom of the Stool, the most important serving position in the palace. He accompanied the King whenever he used the bathroom. This position was highly sought after and probably carried a significant amount of influence with the King. Believe it or not even the King’s bowel movements were of great interest to everyone at the court. Lower members of the court had no privacy as they used the “Great House of Easement” to relieve themselves. The Great House was a 28 seat lavatory for men and boys whose discharge flowed directly into the Thames.

A courtyard in the Palace. At one time Henry VIII had a fountain that flowed with wine.

Here is a decorated courtyard for an event that was planned.

Britain’s first flushing toilet was installed at Hampton Court Palace during Tudor times. Unfortunately it didn’t catch on and Hampton Court continued to be short of facilities. Iron spikes from the 18th century remain in the corners of courtyards intended to discourage courtiers from relieving themselves.
King William III and his wife Queen Mary II (co-monarchs) did more than any other royalty to shape the palace as it is today. Mary was attractive and kind but lacked the confidence to rule. She married William of Orange, a prince from the Netherlands, in an arranged marriage and insisted her co-rule with her. William was shorter than Mary, had a stubborn disposition and was considered “not handsome”. However he proved to be a leader of men in defending his homeland against the French. Anne was Mary’s sister and heir apparent who despised William. Upon Mary’s untimely death to smallpox there was tension among the royals. William was King but he wasn’t British by birth and Anne’s claim to the throne was stronger than his. William ruled until his death in 1702 of pneumonia, 8 years after Mary died and Anne became Queen. William and Mary’s elaborate apartments and living quarters are on full display at the palace today.

Beautiful flowers are planted year round in the garden.

The main garden had little privacy and people sailed up and down the Thames to catch a view of the royals. This garden was built for more privacy.

The palace gardens include great fountains, ponds, banquet facilities, tennis courts and a variety of private gardens; The Rose Garden, The Wilderness and the Maze, the Tiltyard Gardens, 20th Century Garden, the Lower Orangery Garden and the Great Fountain Garden. It was well worth spending $5 to ride in an open carriage pulled by horses around the massive gardens with a tour guide detailing specific history.

Enjoyable ride around the large garden.

The Background and History

Over seven centuries of powerful owners of Hampton Court have changed their palace according to their demands and tastes. Yet no one managed to wipe out their predecessors marks entirely. Hampton Court Palace was valued for its rural setting, hunting and for its unique collection of architectural styles.

Buried beneath the palaces are remains of the first known house built for the Knight Hospitallers of St. John before 1338. It was a large farm estate owned by the holy order’s priory which was originally created to provide funds for crusaders in the Holy Land. In 1494 one of the King’s senior courtiers, Thomas Wolsey leased Hampton Court.

Thomas was a dominant churchman and politician. He acquired the property in 1514. As Henry VIII’s indispensable administrator and Cardinal he gained enormous wealth and power. He turned the house into a palace to entertain the King and receive foreign dignitaries. He built a long gallery overlooking the country and added an entrance court to the existing buildings. He also added several hundred fine tapestries made in France.

Throughout the Palace are beautiful ceiling paintings.

A small glare on the wall but you can still see the massive ceiling and wall paintings.

By 1525 Hampton Court had become a palace. Wolsey presented it to the King even as he continued to add to the buildings and build a chapel. Hampton Court played an important role in a meeting with French dignitaries in 1527 during negotiation toward a permanent peace the King needed to support his attempts to divorce Queen Katherine of Aragon. Unable to persuade the Pope to annul the marriage was the beginning of the end for Wolsey. In 1529 Henry removed him from the property and took possession.

Henry took personal interest in the palace and began preparing it as a home for his mistress, the future Queen Anne Boleyn. He built personal apartments, a large chamber, kitchens and the Great Hall. He also wanted private lodgings with hot and cold running water which was rare at the time. By the age of 40, with a widening girth, he was no longer able to compete in contests so he built an indoor tennis court and two bowling alleys.
Queen Anne Boleyn never used the new apartments as she fell out of favor and was executed in 1536 on trumped up charges of treason. In 1537 Henry had a new wife and Queen, Jane Seymour. She provided the only male heir to the throne for Henry, Prince Edward. He was baptized in the chapel at Hampton Court. Jane died shortly after childbirth and Henry’s building projects came to an end.

Those are not phones people are talking on but devices used as a Palace guide. This is a large gallery with huge paintings.

If you believe in Orbs here is one right above the picture of Henry VIII.

Henry married and divorced Anne of Cleves, another brief marriage in 1540. Catherine Howard was the fourth of Henry’s wives. After admitting to being unfaithful to Henry she was executed in the Tower of London (she asked for the chopping block the night before the execution so she could get comfortable putting her head on it). Henry took a fifth wife, Catherine Parr, who managed to outlive him by a year. In 1547, his son Prince Edward became King at 9 years old. Edward was under care of his uncle, the Duke of Somerset. The Duke took over the Queen’s apartments at Hampton Court when the court stayed at the palace in the summer. Edward died six years later at age 15. Before his death he took steps to keep England from returning to Catholicism by naming Lady Jane Grey as the next Queen over his two half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Mary would become Queen after raising an army and earn the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her heavy-handed attempt to restore England to Catholicism.

Mary accepted King Philip of Spain’s offer to marry. In one of the more unusual royal stories Mary was confined to the palace during, what was later determined, a false pregnancy. All of Europe awaited the birth of a baby as Mary gained weight and displayed other symptoms of being pregnancy. The birth was never to occur and she was humiliated. She became fatally ill and died 3 years later.

King James I spent his first Christmas as King in Hampton Court Palace. William Shakespeare, one of “The King’s Men” entertained him by performing plays. Hampton Court also served as a location for religious debates on the King James translation of the Bible.

Shows the writers of the four gospels stoning the Pope. This was a painting from the era of King Henry VIII.

King Charles I was a great art collector and bought works from the great Italian masters to decorate the palace. Charles was executed at the end of the civil war, between Royalists and Parliamentarians, and most of the royal valuables were sold off to the benefit of the Commonwealth. Oliver Cromwell, hero of the Parliamentary Forces, as named Lord Protector of England and used the Palace for his own pleasure where he lived like a king.

In 1660, the monarchy was restored and the pleasure loving Charles II added a tennis court to his favorite palace and hunting lodge. Charles II’s brother, James II, used the palace sparingly. His Roman Catholic beliefs led him to make big changes in the palace. James was ousted to France in the “Glorious Rebellion”. His daughter Mary II married William of Orange and co-reigned. They put a lot of money and resources into restoring Hampton Court on a grand scale. Christopher Wren, famed Baroque architect, was hired to modify the palace to rival the palaces of Louis XIV in France.

Throughout the Palace are large paintings.

Royal bed and fireplace

Mary oversaw the restoration while William was away fighting wars. Mary suddenly died of smallpox. The distraught king completed the project 6 years later. He died shortly after its completion from a fall suffered on his horse in the garden.

The next two monarchs, Queen Anne and King George I, were unenthusiastic about the court although Anne did complete the modernization of the chapel. George II and Queen Caroline filled the palace with their family. Hampton Court was already in decline by this time as a royal palace. When George died his grandson, George III, became King. He reportedly had bad memories of Hampton Court from his childhood. He began the system of granting unused apartments to members of the royal court. No British monarch would live at Hampton Court Palace again.

From the bridge as you walk from the train station to Hampton Court Palace.

The sun is getting low as I leave the Palace.

Hampton Court became an unlikely village of well-to-do ladies, mostly widows. Charles Dickens called them “Gypsies of Gentility” in his book titled Little Dorritt. In 1839 Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court to large numbers of paying visitors. During the Victorian era Hampton Court was restored and became valuable as an important place in English history. The palace has become a popular tourist attraction that is able to maintain its beauty without any government assistance, surviving on private donations and fees paid by visitors. In 1986, portions of the King’s apartments were damaged in a fire. Several years later, the apartments reopened completely restored.

Ratings (Estate and Royal Houses)

Category Rating: A-
Overall Rating: #4

Comments: This is definitely an all day trip. There is a significant amount of British history on display of the monarchs who ruled England between King Henry VIII and Queen Victoria. Palaces are always worth visiting.

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Bolsover Castle


Bolsover Castle is a stunning castle perched on the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful English countryside. It is unusual in that it was built as an estate house to look like a castle. It received the nickname “Little Castle” when built. I always imagine the first reaction of medieval travelers as they rode their horses and carriages up the road for the first time as I approach the castle by car.


It is east of Chesterfield (home of the Church of the Crooked Spire) about 20 miles, southeast of Manchester.

My Experience

Perched on top of a hill up from the motorway (highway) I stopped to take in the sight and take a picture of the castle above me. King Charles I was entertained at the castle in 1634 by the Cavendish family. Queen Mary visited the estate in 1912.

This is a view outside of the stables from the courtyard. On the left is the inside view of the Terrace Range with the Little Castle in the background.


Bolsover Castle is a stunning castle perched on the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful English countryside. It is unusual in that it was built as an estate house to look like a castle. It received the nickname “Little Castle” when built. I always imagine the first reaction of medieval travelers as they rode their horses and carriages up the road for the first time as I approach the castle by car.


It is east of Chesterfield (home of the Church of the Crooked Spire) about 20 miles, southeast of Manchester.

My Experience

Perched on top of a hill up from the motorway (highway) I stopped to take in the sight and take a picture of the castle above me. King Charles I was entertained at the castle in 1634 by the Cavendish family. Queen Mary visited the estate in 1912.

This house is the type of house that surrounded the castle at one time.

This is the view from the castle today.

I drove through the narrow, winding, stone street known as Castle Street. It is the same in all medieval castle towns. Visitors approach from the unprotected rear of the castle, away from the view of the tower. That is one indication this tower was never meant to be a fortress but rather a home, a place to entertain.

Bolsover Castle – Inside the Outer Courtyard

The castle is in amazingly pristine condition. Restoration work was complete in 1999 that uncovered much of the original woodwork and the color of the rooms inside the castle. The Cavendish’s were consumed with horses evidenced by the enormous stone structure for shoeing the horses, a large stable and a “riding house”. The castle stables are one of the best preserved in England. No other castle I have visited had such extensive stables.

This is the view of the castle and hill from the front of Terrance Range.

This is a view of the Terrace Range from inside

The “Terrace Range” is a series of guest rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, drawing rooms, galleries and other entertainment areas. The elongated building overlooks the countryside below and must have been spectacular view 400 years ago when it was built. The former living area today is a remnant but it has been restored enough to see how spectacular it must have been when Charles I visited.

This is the front of the Terrace Range from the castle.

This is the back path that leads through the wall to the Castle.

After the stables and Terrance Range is the approach to the “small castle” on the crop of the hill. Between the Terrance Range and the castle is an outer circular wall protecting the castle. As you walk through the gate you see a beautiful courtyard with gardens, statues and water fountains. There were few people the day I visited and it was most peaceful. As the picture shows above the water fountain was elaborate.

Visitors are required to enter the castle through a main entrance created by the Cavendish’s to provide a spectacular view of the valley below. It is highly decorated and intended to create an impressive entrance. It requires a person to stop and admire the surrounding landscape.

Side view of the castle

Side view of the castle from the gate.

This is the front view of the Small Castle from the front gate.

The castle itself is four stories high with an abundance of small rooms. Unlike a larger, more elaborate castle, Bolsover has the same number of rooms just much smaller. Each room is highly decorated with ornate handcrafted woodwork and some of the original colorful paint has been restored. As in all castles, the higher up a person stayed or worked the more important the person. The “upper class” is a term used today derived from this practice.

Beautiful artwork has been restored and is magnificent.

The ceilings were restored and as you can see they were amazing.

This is a fireplace in one of the rooms.

The rooms were marked with wall plaques with explanations of their usage and some of the rooms had some interesting history. Cavendish’s bedroom had a private guardrobe (toilet) and a way to sneak “guests” into his room from the outside. There is a maze of guest areas, additional bedrooms, fireplaces, gathering places throughout the castle which must have left a unique impression on the guests of the Cavendish’s.

<strong>The Background and History

Before the Norman conquest Bolsover was in the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. William the Conqueror granted the area to William Peverel after the Battle of Hastings. There was a rudimentary castle built on the hill during this time but the Peverels lost the castle when they were on the wrong side against King Henry II in 1152. A medieval castle was later built on the site but didn’t survive the siege as a result of the revolt against King John in 1223 when one of the towers was breached. It fell into ruin and much of its materials sold off. To an Elizabethan traveler it appeared as a “great building to an old castle”.

Charles Cavendish purchased the castle in 1608. Cavendish was a soldier with a passion for arts, music and architecture. His tombstone in the graveyard of the church nearby says he was a man whom, “wisdom, honor, content, made happy”. It is believed that Cavendish hired the brilliant designer Robert Smysthson to work with him on the design of the building. It was built over the foundations of the previous medieval castle.

This is a view of the Little Castle entrance from the front gate.

Intricate records were kept and have survived showing the details of how the castle was built. In 1612-14 50 men were on site with women, boys and even girls to help them. Some of the “boys” were apprentices but other children were employed carrying stone and sand. The castle was an interesting combination of both old and new architectural ideas.

Four years after the work on Bolsover began Charles Cavendish died. His son William used it as his country home until his death in 1676. William lived in nearby Welbeck Abbey but visited the castle frequently. He had a household of 45 people which included his wife and 5 children. The entire group usually ate together in the early afternoon and was usually finished by mid-afternoon. A menu survives showing different tables for “my lord”, the steward, gentlewomen, children, nurses, grooms and “those that wait upon the masters’”. The lower tables had only mutton and porridge while William had “larks, pies and other small boiled meat”.

This is the view of the front gate from the entrance to the Small Castle.

The castle played a key role in the extraordinary life of William Cavendish. He was known to be a voracious philanderer. His second wife Peg was a writer who authored his biography and chronicled much of his life. In her own words with regard to his wandering ways, “Whether this be so great a crime to condemn him I will leave to the judgment of young gallants and beautiful ladies.” From all accounts he was a loving husband who wrote many poems to both of his wives and his mistresses.

His first wife, heiress Elizabeth Bassett, died when he was fighting the civil war in 1643. In 1645 he met Margaret, whom he nicknamed “Peg”, in Paris. William wore fashionable clothes “unless they were inconvenient for horse-riding and heroic actions”. According to Peg he was always neat and cleanly which made him “long in dressing”. Even in war his vanity had no limits. Those serving him complained that “he lay in bed until eleven o’clock and combed till twelve”.

Because of her biography we know he ate little, normally one meal a day. Although time was spent in managing his estate it was not his first love. He spent time instead in music, poetry, architecture and horses.

Peg was known to the world as “Mad Madge of Newcastle” and she may have been more eccentric than William. An author of philosophical books, rare for a woman at that time, plus her bizarre behavior contributed to her reputation. One contemporary wrote that “there are many more soberer people in Bedlam.” Although she spent a great deal of time writing in her closet she also loved to make outlandish public appearances. Her prolific writings were highly unusual for a woman in the 1600s. She was an ardent supporter for women’s rights in a time when there were none. She wrote of the inferior education and role allotted to women. She suffered the usual fate of women who did something in a “man’s” field which didn’t seem to bother William. Her writings provoked an uneasy fear that the “lesser” sex was overstepping her boundary and she was accused of “dangerous peculiarity”.

The fountain is the centerpiece for the inner courtyard garden.

For all of their unconventional ways there was one event that would define William’s legacy. He was a key royalist leader in the English Civil War as Commander of the troops north of Trent. He is most famous for losing the north for the King in a crushing defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. He fled to the Continent to escape the Parliamentarian army. Bolsover Castle was captured by the Parliamentarians in 1645. With cannons trained on its walls its occupants surrendered without a fight.

Like many of the Royalist leaders, William was unable to return unless he apologized for his role in the Civil War which he refused to do. His brother stepped in, paid a hefty fine for William and gave the estate to William’s children to use the income. After the death of Oliver Cromwell, leader of the Parliamentarians and Lord Protector of England after the Civil War, and the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II invited William to come home but his reputation and position with the royal family was tarnished by his military failure. William died on Christmas Day 1676 at age 83 and was buried in Westminster Abbey under a tomb marked “The Loyall Duke”.

<strong>Ratings (Castle)
Category Rating: B+

Overall Rating: #5

Comments: The castle is worth visiting and its stables are unmatched in any castle I have visited to date. It is unusual as it is both an estate house and a castle. There is a great deal of unusual artwork and woodwork in the main house that has been restored and is visible today.

Beautiful view through an arch on the Terrace Range.

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The Church of the Crooked Spire

Its ponderous steeple, pillared in the sky
Rises with twist in pyramidal form,
And threatens danger to the timid eye
That climbs in wonder.

Samuel Bromley 1822

St. Mary and All Saints Church was finished around 1360. It is the largest church in Derbyshire. The spire leans 9 feet and 5 inches from its true center and leans at a 45 degree angle. There are several theories on why it leans but it wasn’t intentional. The Great Plague killed between a third and half of everyone in England. With the church built shortly after there was a shortage of artisans. Others have speculated that it is the amount of “green” timber used in its construction as it has to support 32 tons of lead roof.

It is near the center of town on a hill and easy to see to those driving by.

Folklore was that a black-smith “mis-shod” (wrong shoes) the devil who leapt over the spire in pain knocking it out of shape. Driving through Chesterfield it is a sight that is hard to miss.

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