2015 December Vita vinum est: life is wine: Romans and their wine
“Having just graduated I was unsure what to do next”.
For Professor Jeremy Patterson, the solution to this quandary led him to research wine production in the ancient world.
He soon found himself immersed in an absorbing study of the commercial life of ancient Greek and Roman civilisations that became his life’s work.
In an informative and entertaining talk entitled Life is Wine, Professor Patterson described how the cultivation of grape vines and olive trees started at about 6000 BC and was one of the first forms of agriculture. He suggested that the production of wine and olive oil was an important factor in the development of a more settled agrarian lifestyle which led to the establishment of city states all around the Mediterranean. Trade routes were established as the Roman Empire expanded. Commerce often preceded conquest.
The wine was transported in amphorae, large pottery vessels and sold by weight. Its quality was tested by inspectors and the trade regulated by a legal framework that would have been familiar to us. There are How to do manuals that have survived to this day.
Professor Patterson surprised his audience by revealing that he is one of only five people who have actually tasted ancient Roman wine! His verdict – a bit acidic but not bad after two thousand years of aging!
11th November 2015: War time laws in Northumberland
On Armistice Day, November 11, members were given an entertaining talk by Philip Rowett on ‘Wartime Laws in Northumberland’. The talk cast a light on some of the strange laws in operation for the civilian population during the dark days of the Second World War.
We were told of many instances where individuals were fined in the local courts for displaying a light during the blackout. The blackout was not popular people walking home had found themselves hopelessly lost in park shrubberies. However the local courts seem to have generated a significant amount through the imposition of fines. All vehicles had to have their headlights screened and the speed limit in blackout areas was 20mph. The owners of cars parked on the wrong side of the road would find themselves in court and inevitably fined.
Public transport was not exempt from the laws, individuals queuing for buses had to queue at no more than two abreast and individuals could be fined for queue jumping.
Local shopkeepers were subject to some stringent regulations and could be fined for selling goods for which they did not hold a licence. All shops had restricted hours for the sale of goods and the volume of goods to be sold was strictly limited. Rationing was a major issue for the population and the use of ration coupons in some areas of Northumberland gave rise to concern about the recycling of coupons.
The Cornhill area of Northumberland seems to have had a particularly strong adherence to the rules and regulations and the zealous nature of the local police was noted. The area it was reported was deliberately avoided by some lorry drivers who feared being stopped for the smallest infringement.
The talk focussed on some of the more humorous and curious laws implemented at that time. However it was apparent that underlying the stringent laws and regulations enforced was a fear and paranoia in relation to a potential German invasion. It is now hard to fully understand the anxiety which gripped the country at that time.
On Wednesday 10th February 2016, Derek Cutts, Chairman of the Medieval Antiquities Society gave a fascinating illustrated talk to the Glendale Local History Society on the Grey tomb in Chillingham church with reference to other 15th century alabaster monuments in the north of England.
The extensively decorated and elaborately carved tomb is that of Ralph and Elizabeth Grey, with their animals at their feet, in the south chapel of Our Lady in Chillingham church, founded in the 12th century. The tomb is unusual in that the effigies are made of alabaster while the tomb chest is of sandstone. The remains of Ralph Grey lie in a vault beneath the tomb. The sandstone headboard features a central image of an angel and two each side are further angels lifting the souls of Ralph and Elizabeth to heaven. The fine canopy work features military themes with family heraldic badges. There are also images of saints in niches. At the bottom end of the tomb a late 16th century obelisk sits on a blank space where originally it is thought that vertical columns most likely supported a canopy that no longer exists.
Ralph Grey lived from 1406-1443. He married in 1410 Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Fitzhugh who was born at Ravensworth, Yorkshire, and died in 1445. Lord Fitzhugh of Ravensworth was a close companion of Henry V, who made him a member of the Order of the Garter. The Greys also had Royal connections. Ralph’s father Thomas Grey (1384-1415) was born in the middle gatehouse of Alnwick Castle. He became Sheriff of Northumberland from 1408-09 and Constable of Bamburgh. In 1408 he was granted a papal license to enlarge the chapel or build a new one in his castle at Heaton. He married 1408, Alice Neville, daughter of Ralph de Neville, KG, 1st Earl of Westmoreland, whose wife was a descendant of Henry II and of Edward I.
Ralph held a considerable lands in north Northumberland including Wark Castle (manor and town), Coupland in Kirknewton, Learmouth and Presson in Carham, the manor and town of Doddington and the manor of Wooler. The total value was £21. 15s, a paltry sum even in those times, so he made much of his income from service. He became Keeper of Roxburgh Castle from 1439 before leaving with Richard Duke of York for France in 1441. Following battle he was held captive by the garrison at Nantes and died in 1443. Most of his remains probably stayed in France although his bones were packaged up and returned to Alnwick where his inquisition was held.
Following Ralph’s death Elizabeth married again and she is probably buried near the seat of her second husband in Gloucestershire. None of her remains were found in the Chillingham tomb.
Ralph was succeeded by his son Ralph Grey II (1429–1464) who was the first of the Greys to actually live in Chillingham. He became a Knight of the Shire for Northumberland in 1449 and was elected MP at Westminster Palace in 1454. He was Sheriff of Northumberland from 1455–56 and 1459–60 and Keeper of Roxburgh Castle 1454–58. He transferred his allegiance between the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides on several occasions for greatest financial benefit. In 1462 he assisted in the capture of Alnwick for the Yorkists and was made Constable, and he assisted in the taking of Dunstanburgh in the same year. In 1463 he changed sides again and surrendered Alnwick to Queen Margaret. He fled to Dunstanburgh in 1464 where he was taken prisoner. He was brought before Edward IV and executed.
Ralph I’s brother was William Grey, who educated at Balliol College, Oxford, later became Chancellor of the University. He was Treasurer of the Exchequer and was installed as Bishop of Ely on St Cuthbert’s Day, 20 March, 1458. He died and was buried in Ely in 1478 near the shrine of St Etheldreda.
The tomb was probably arranged by Ralph Grey II between 1448 and 1462. It is likely that William Grey was also involved. It was probably constructed in two phases, firstly the two alabaster effigies and later the tomb chest in sandstone. He is portrayed wearing his armour demonstrating his military importance. The coats of arms illustrate his family connections. Such tombs were often constructed to remind surviving and later generations of the family to pray for the souls of the dead so that they would not remain long in purgatory. The burning of candles near the tomb was also thought to help so a hearse was used to support candles over the tomb. The angels flanking the headboard of the tomb are portrayed carrying the souls of Ralph and Elizabeth up to heaven. It was also important that the incumbent should have paid off his debts or made such provision in his will.
Tombs can be dated by the headgear and hairstyles of the effigies. Prior to 1400 the males wore helmets. Female heads were normally shown supported by cushions. This tomb is unusual in that Ralphs head is also on cushions rather than a helm. Up to 1540 male hair was cut short – later the fashion was for hair to be worn longer. Elizabeth’s hairstyle is typical of 1450.
The Church at Chillingham is open 7 days a week for anyone interested in visiting it and viewing this tomb for themselves.
2016 April The ancient craft of laying a hedge
You can tell what part of Britain you are in by examining the hedges. Every county has its own hedge laying signature written by an ancient craft that goes back to medieval times and beyond.
In a talk to Glendale Local History Society Mike Wade from Howtel explained how, in different regions of the country, hedges are laid to particular patterns to do certain jobs – keep different types of stock confined or facilitate jumping during the chase.
Mike confessed to being a total hedge enthusiast. He has been a National Champion, has won many regional competitions and been a national judge himself.
He explained how saplings and small trees are partially cut, bent over and woven between stakes to make a living, green, impenetrable barrier that becomes at one with the landscape. The practitioners of hedge-laying are heirs to a craft that puts them in touch with the countryside and its history. Simply handling the tools – many of which in more turbulent times were modified for battle – is enough to make the connection.
Hedge-laying has been done all over Europe since pre – roman times. Julius Caesar found hedges a considerable impediment to his efforts to invade the Low Countries. In Britain the Enclosure Acts gave the craft a great impetus and the period between about 1750 and 1850 – coinciding with the Agricultural Revolution – saw most of the hedges we enjoy today established in this country.
Today the craft is undergoing something of a revival as enthusiasts work to preserve and advance it. Increasing numbers of people are becoming accredited hedge layers and the benefits of hedges to the environment, wildlife and the aesthetic appeal of the countryside are being recognised. Little wonder then that the heir to the throne is himself an accredited member of the craft!
Freemen of Berwick
Captain Jim Evans, recently retired chairman of the Guild of Freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed, covered 1000 years of complex history. He revealed that Berwick is unique in many ways. Together with Roxborough, it became the first ‘Royal Borough’ and was once the wealthiest town in Scotland with only London, in England, contributing more financial support to its monarch at that time. Records show that Berwick changed hands 27 times, finally becoming English. As King James V1 crossed Berwick bridge into England he exclaimed that Berwick should be the centre of his domain – neither English nor Scottish!
In ancient days a Burgess was a privileged member of a community, enjoying freedom to work and trade as merchants in their town and possessing certain rights; however, in return they had responsibility for administering and supporting their local community. They had originally been granted a plot of land from the king, to whom they paid rent ─ all land being owned by the king in that era. Those living in the then very prosperous town of Berwick became property owners, living in grand houses. The king also appointed a ‘provost’, whose responsibility it was to collect and pay the town’s taxes to the monarch and a mayor who originally represent the Guild.
As communities developed, master tradesmen evolved, each having their own trade guilds. Names became associated with trades, for example: Baxter (baker), Smith (blacksmith) and Miller. Other names were connected with places of origin. In the thirteenth century Berwick grew in size, seeing an influx of families from the continent attracted by its wealth. Skills and trades were passed on to sons but, we were told, few families survived more than an average of three generations; common disasters of the time ─ fire or disease ─ frequently caused their demise. An apprentice served seven years and lived in his master’s house. Eventually skilled tradesmen’s guilds combined with burgesses into one guild, becoming synonymously Freemen.
The commercial centre of a trading community was traditionally the market – usually indicated by a market cross. Berwick once had two such crosses which stood where the current Town Hall is sited. The Town or Guild Hall has an ancient history and was given to the Guild of Freemen many centuries ago. Its many past uses have included being a prison. Originally having one curfew bell, it now has a peel of eight bells (paid for by the Freemen); there are no church bells in the parish church which was built in the puritan days of Cromwell’s rule.
Our speaker described Berwick as “unique” in many ways – too many to tell here! Currently there are 600 Freemen enrolled, with women admitted in 2009. Originally only the eldest son, at 21 years of age, was eligible to become a Freeman, but by the seventeenth century all sons were admitted to the Guild ─ widows too. The Guild of Berwick-upon-Tweed formed a trust in 1926, governed by trustees and a committee elected annually. Roles, rules and privileges have evolved over the centuries with numerous charters and Acts defining their governance.
Today amongst its many activities the Guild supports charities, provides housing, and continues ancient traditions and ceremonies. Captain Evans showed the Guild’s official robes and a number of documents and books, proving Berwick-upon-Tweed’s has a very intricate history, incorporating that of the Freemen’s Guild.
14th September 2016