Tutbury Castle

John O Gaunt’s gateway.

We have lived just six miles from Tutbury Castle for over 40 years and have seen it from the outside many times but until quite recently I had never actually been into the grounds. In July, as lockdown restrictions continued to be relaxed, Tutbury Castle reopened for three days a week and we took the opportunity to visit. It turned out to be a good choice as it was a beautiful day and there were not too many people about.

Tutbury Castle sits on a hill close to the Staffordshire/Derbyshire boundary which at that point is the River Dove. There are excellent views towards the river and hills of Derbyshire.

The path leading from John O’Gaunt’s gateway.
South tower.

The first record of the castle is 1071 as one of the new castles built to stamp the authority of the Norman conquerors across the Midlands.

In the background is Julius’ Tower, a folly built in 1780

The castle is best known as one of the prisons of Mary Queen of Scots, who was held here on four occasions. It was here that she became involved in the plot that ultimately led to her bloody execution at Fotheringhay.

Her first visit began on 4th February 1569 when she arrived with no fewer than sixty attendants. She had been many hours in the saddle and for the first time since her arrival in England, she realised that she was now in prison. Mary loathed Tutbury, not only because of what it represented but also because it was cold, draughty and extremely damp – threatening her already delicate health. She wrote of its miseries and rather than waxing lyrical about the magnificent view Tutbury offered, she described it as ‘sitting squarely on top of a mountain in the middle of a plain’, subjecting her to all the ‘winds and injures of heaven’.

It is suggested that letters to and from Mary were smuggled concealed inside beer barrels from the brewers of nearby Burton on Trent who were supplying Tutbury Castle.

North tower.

Tutbury Castle website

Bluebells 2020

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Bluebells postcard backIt is exactly a year since I first posted about bluebells, and here we are again – bluebell season. The difference this time is that we are in coronavirus lockdown so we have been walking close to home and enjoying a nearby small wooded dale.

P1090587My post last year stated  – ‘Here in the UK we have more than half of the world’s bluebells and you can see them in woods up and down the country each spring. They are powerful magnets for photographers and artist alike, although strangely not always the easiest of subjects to photograph and capture the colour accurately’. The photographs this year were taken in the little known local bluebell woods. There is no car parking nearby and consequently they are only used by nearby residents and they do not attract people from other parts of the town. This year they are being used by local families were the parents are clearly on the ‘home schooling’ duties. What better classroom?

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Last year I also wrote ‘Native bluebells are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It’s against the law to dig up bulbs in the wild and landowners aren’t allowed to dig them up to sell them either’. This year we have our 3 and 4 year old grandchildren with us and whilst it is a pleasure to see their joy and excitement when seeing bluebells it can be quite difficult to stop them picking them and taking some home. I remember one shortened and simplified version of the official Countryside Code was ‘Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’.  Today, I only took photographs but the ground was dry and firm so I didn’t even leave any footprints.

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A perfect spring day – or is it?

St Mark's front

St Mark's backWe continue to follow the official advice and guidance and this week have taken several walks starting from home rather than jumping in the car and driving a few miles first. It does have its advantages. We see things which we would not normally see, have a chat with people we probably wouldn’t usually talk to, and I have taken the opportunity to update photographs of local landmarks and places of interest.

One such landmark is that of our parish church, St. Mark’s, Winshill. It was built in 1869 at a cost of £6000. Like several churches in Burton on Trent, it was provided by one of the town’s influential brewers, in this case John Gretton. The cynics may ask if they saw such gifts as their ticket to heaven, but generally speaking the brewers such as Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton were great benefactors, and often provided facilities which were of great benefit to the people of the town.

The peaceful scene, on a perfect spring day, is a welcome ray of sunshine midst the encircling gloom.

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The Ferry Bridge

10postcard back 2 2A postcard from home, taken during an evening stroll by the nearby river Trent. In fact, we crossed the Trent via the Ferry Bridge, a familiar landmark to all Burtonians. The bridge leads to a walkway, Stapenhill Viaduct, which links Burton town centre to the suburb of Stapenhill, around half a mile on the other side of the river.

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Before the bridge was built, the only way across the river at that point was by a small ferry.  The bridge was gifted to the town in 1889 by the brewer, Michael Arthur Bass.

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Around that time the population of Burton was growing rapidly, mainly due to the expansion of the brewing industry. The Ferry Bridge must have been welcomed and appreciated by the large number of brewery workers who lived on one side of the river but worked on the other side. They could finally cross the river free of toll.  (Not such good news for the ferryman).

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The bridge is described as a semi-suspension bridge. It was the first of its kind in Europe to be built to this design and possibly the only one remaining. It is made of wrought iron and cast iron, and is Grade II listed. Two or three years ago it was completely refurbished.

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It is still used by hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists every day. A real turn-around is that cycling across the bridge was strictly prohibited when the bridge was first build until quite recently. Those who ignored the warnings ran the risk of a fine of forty shillings (£2.00) in the early days, which eventually rose to £10 before the rule was finally abolished. Now, a narrow cycle lane is marked and this is part of National Cycle Route 63.

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The viaduct part of the walkway is necessary as it crosses the Trent Washlands, an area which can be very wet and boggy and in fact floods from time to time.

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At the Stapenhill side of the river are the Stapenhill Gardens, an area very popular with residents. Locals will tell you this is the largest swan in England!

Marmite – Love it or loathe it

Not only is Burton on Trent the brewing capital of the UK, but it is also the home of Marmite, which has been produced in the town for well over 100 years. Marmite is a by-product of the brewing process and is made from the excess yeast produced during brewing.

Marmite

Those of you who don’t live in Burton on Trent can be forgiven for thinking that this is an April Fool joke. Why? Because while other towns and cities have statues of kings, queens, prime ministers, politicians, military heroes, writers, artists, sports personalities and entertainers, we have a sculpture of a Marmite jar! (Actually we do have other statues, etc. and these may be covered in future posts).

So, well established facts or April Fool fiction?

• Marmite is good for you. It is gluten free and contains high levels of vitamin B3, folic acid and thiamine
• Countless Burton babies have been weaned on Marmite on toast without any (known) ill effects.
• There is a sculpture in Burton in the shape of a jar of Marmite
• The sculpture is called Monumite
• It incorporates some digital technology and visitors can download information from it onto their mobile phones via Bluetooth.
• Recent scientific studies have discovered that ‘love it or hate it’ all depends on your genes. The Marmite Gene Project reports that ‘whether you fall into the loathe it or love it category all depends on your genes. The ‘Marmite Gene Project’ shows that people are born biologically more likely to be either lovers or haters of Marmite thanks to 15 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s or genetic markers, in lay terms) linked to their taste preference’.

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