December 2015



 News & Views newsletter December 2015


Newsletter of the Gloucester Branch of The Richard III SOCIETY

December 2015

First of all, I apologise for the sparseness of this edition of News & Views. For the first time since I took over producing News & Views, I have almost run out of articles but this means I have managed to include Liz’s excellent article on Arkwright’s Mill in Cromford, which I hadn’t room for last time. Please, therefore, can I beg members to send me some contributions to include in our next issue of News & Views. I would like to have a stock-pile of articles rather than too few.  As I’ve mentioned before, I can accept any subject, particularly if it is about or connected to Richard, but any article on medieval history or any interesting visit you have made would be acceptable. In order that I can get out a News & Views in March, I would like, please, articles before the end of February.

We have had another busy year, not least, of course, all the excitement surrounding the re-burial of Richard. Once again, we have had some excellent speakers, interesting trips out, our usual stint at the Tewkesbury Festival and the eagerly awaited workshop day with Tim Porter.


We held our A.G.M. in October when Keith revealed some details of our programme for 2016, which all sound exciting.

We finished the year with our annual Christmas gathering at the Emmanuel Hall, most ably organised by Mike and Monica to whom we owe our grateful thanks. Monica has let me have her thoughts on Christmas in the 1480s.

Thoughts on Medieval Christmases

As we celebrate another successful RIII Christmas get-together, I can't help thinking about what Christmas was like in the 1480s. Today smellies, socks, a book, jewerly or chocolate are all things we might be lucky to receive.

Smellies are packed in attractive jars and bottles and would equate to herbs, spices and flowers dried and made into various concoctions for medical purposes as well as their fragrances. Socks or hose of some description would have been available. They would have probably been homemade or made locally as a cottage industry. Tewkesbury was famous for it's sock making, but that was much later. Books were available to the rich who could read. Catxon hadn't quite got going yet. Many nobles had personal libraries with books on chivalry and moral stories.

Jewelry must have been available to those who could afford it. Did they recycle the gold and precious stones, remodelling them into new pieces? I often see gold rings on the Antiques Roadshow, found in gardens and dating back to the 15th century. they always look so pristine and shiny!

We are encouraged to not get pets for Christmas presents. However, in the 1480s perhaps a new hunting dog or bird of prey would have been common. At a recent lecture, it was mentioned that many phrases we use today go back to early falconry. 'Wrapped around your little finger' refers to holding a falcon by wrapping it's straps around your finger. Once your falcon was fed he was no longer willing to hunt hence he was 'fed up' and no use to you!

Visiting various pubs over the holiday season, have you ever looked at their named signs? At another talk, I learned that we owe our pub signs to the Romans. They didn't go far into Scotland so the tradition isn't as strong there.  Signs were needed to let the Roman soldiers know where there was safe food and drink. A chequered sign was where the soldiers could gamble or borrow money (hence our Chancellor of the Exchequer).

Signs were mostly religious  - The Star, The Angel and Cross Keys, and they catered for pilgrims; or, Royal - The King's Head, Queen's Head, and Rose & Crown; or, Heraldic - The Rising Sun, the Red Lion (John of Gaunt), White Hart (Richard II) and various family arms. Trade was also represented, especially the wool trade - The Ram, The Lamb, the Fleece and The Woolpack. 

So next time you visit a pub see what their sign means - you can always use it as a research excuse.

Monica Donnelly

On the subject of Christmas presents, I have just heard from Pam Daw that she received a rose from her family for Christmas, which they purchased at Bosworth.  It is called “Bosworth” and is a floribunda in carmine/plum/white and is produced by Style Nurseries.  Sadly, there will not be any more until November 2016!


A Visit to Cromford in Derbyshire

Outside Matlock, nestling under the Gorge through which the River Derwent flows, lies the village of Cromford, mostly gathered around the market place before climbing the steep hill to Wirksworth.  It was enlarged and developed by Richard Arkwright when he invented a new type of loom using water power with water from the “sough” which found it’s way down the hillside from a lead mine.  He built Cromford Mill and later on Masson Mill nearer to Matlock during the 1770s.  He was a large man, corpulent and given to fits of wrath and suffered from asthma. When his mill really got going he began to accumulate riches and was a multi-millionaire when he died.  He needed to impress and built his own house – Willersley Castle – which was badly damaged by fire before he moved in, destroying a lot of elegant furniture which he had stored there.  Arkwright’s son finished it when Richard died.  He also built the smart Greyhound Hotel, the canal wharves, developed the canals, built a new parish Church and constructed numerous terrace houses for his work force and the school.  The houses, built from a pink-grey gritstone, are still there and now owned by the Landmark Trust as is the one I stayed in. The top floor was occupied by the father of the family and he worked all day at his frame-work knitting machine whilst his wife and children worked a punishing thirteen hour day at the Mill.  Arkwright was fairly humane and did not employ children under ten years of age.  He provided heating and paid quite well and allowed a lunch break of one hour!  He sometimes bought a cow for workers who had done particularly well at their job!

The chief draw-back was an inadequate road system.  What roads were there, were often flooded or too steep for wagons carrying goods.  Celia Fiennes, when she wrote about them in the 17th century, said they were “steep precipices and full of quagmires and no-one goes without a guide and even they get lost”.  Daniel DeFoe wrote that the Derwent was “a fury of a river” and people using fords were often drowned.  The whole area was interlaced by pack-horse trails which were somewhat easier to traverse.  The horses were roped together one behind the other, about sixty in number, with the leading horse carrying a bell wich warned of opposite numbers.  The passageways were narrow and sometimes had horizontal slats across the middle to help the horses up-hill and to stop erosion.  The pathways were really old and had been there since before Roman times and were used extensively in medieval times.  The horses had two pronged saddles and carried various loads – pig iron, salt, malt, meat, wool, milk and lime.  They were driven by “jaggers” and one hopes they were kindly treated.

However, difficulties loomed: all farm workers, who owned a plough, were bidden to give freely four days for road duty, which was increased to six.  They resented this as, of course, their land became neglected, which they thought unfair, so, of course, the roads deteriorated.  Tolls were introduced and the roads became slightly more passable.  Richard Arkwright directed some money towards Cromford Bridge, which was too narrow for carriages.  He enlarged it, with smart new round arches, facing his new hotel and house, which the other side remained medieval with pointed arches and original stone.  At the Cromford end, one can see the remains of a medieval chapel with simple mouldings round the pointed doorway .  On the other wall, is a spy-hold where the incumbent could spy out the land for security’s sake.  Passers by could call in for the comfort of a prayer before crossing the river which could be hazardous.  Very little remains and one can see it after walking across a water-logged field near the canal wharves.  Next to it, in an almost similar neglected state, is a little 18th century square Chapel with a little rack outside for fishing rods.

There is so much to see in Derbyshire:  in the Churches, remains of castles and monasteries, there is much that is medieval.  Underneath some of the houses, one can discover medieval construction.  In Wirksworth there are the remains of a crutch-built houses embedded into the wall of another late house.  Types of cobbles (setts) can be seen in the streets and there are undamaged market crosses.


Derbyshire is better visited in the Autumn, when the crowds have gone home and when the copper colour beeches contrast with the blue-purple hills where sand-coloured larch trees and dark green pines climb towards the racing grey clouds – threatening yet another storm of freezing rain!  The nearly pure white sheep on the uplands seem undeterred as they crop the grass in the wall-lined fields.

Above all, one can visit Cromford Mill, which is being refurbished by the Arkwright Society  also with various shops and an excellent café.  The water rushing through the leet is magnificent and one can watch it and listen to it for minutes on end.

Elizabeth Clarridge

Some years ago, I also went to Cromford and stayed in Willersley Castle which was then – and I think still is – a Christian Guild Hotel.   I haven’t got a photo of the Hotel itself because, as it is built into the Gorge, it is difficult to move far enough away to take a good photo but I do have photos of the steep rock-face opposite where you can just about see a climber and also a photo of part of the Mill with the gushing water Liz describes.


Margaret Lewis