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A Day in Derbyshire:

Such a full day that I'm breaking up the text with pictures. Click on these links if you just want to read/see one of the sections: Records Office | Peveril Castle | Little John's Grave

Derbyshire Records Office

I'm here to look for records that might tell me a bit more about the people who created the Findern manuscript. This is the area where they lived, read poetry, courted each other with love songs, married, laughed, went to church, worried about the battles going on between the powerful nobles and royalty, kept track of their harvests, looked for lost sheep and cattle, prayed in church, waded through banks of snow, picked flowers in summer, and buried their dead.

It's a beautiful, charming place as you can see just from these very mundane snapshots. Even the view from the Derbyshire Records Office steps is breathtaking— an expanse of mountain dales and a castle sitting on a hill. While I was working this morning, Shelly and Erin drove up as close as they could get to this castle. Then came back to pick me up at lunch and we went out adventuring together.

Castles where ever you look...
Castles where ever you look...
A castle-ly looking structure on the hill overlooks the Derbyshire Record Office parking lot.
Derbyshire Records
Derbyshire Records
This is the reason we're in Derbyshire. The people who created the Findern manuscript lived in this area, so I'm looking up information about them in the records office in Matlock, Derbyshire.
The Greyhound
The Greyhound
Lunch at the Greyhound and a chat with an elderly man who wanted us to be as delighted with the sun and heat as he was. "Much nicer than the snow," he said.
The Book Store
The Book Store
Where we finally obtained a paper map of the area. (Complete with labels for touristy things.)

 

Peveril Castle

The headline for this part of the blog should read: "Paranoid Norman Invader Builds Crazy Over-kill Fortification to Keep Out Anglo-Saxon Natives Who Didn't Care That Much."

So William Peveril came to England with William the Conqueror (also called William the Bastard, depending on your point of view.) As one of the people on the conquering Normans' side, he was given land in Derbyshire. Apparently, Bill, (you don't mind if we call Peveril, Bill, do you?) Right, so apparently Bill was totally freaked out by being the new overlord to a bunch of Saxons. I'm sure the Saxon nobles who got ousted so he could take over their land were not exactly thrilled, but Bill's castle is just a little insane.

When you see the pics, please realize— they do not do that hill justice. I'm sure that when Bill contracted with builders to construct a castle on top of a mountain whose only way up was a steep hillside, the builders probably just got out their pencils and warned, "hmm. There's going to be some up-charges for carrying rock up that hill. And they'll be a really special price for hauling water up there."

So there Bill was in the years after 1066, sitting on his hill, in his castle. The watchmen nodding off on the walls because, of course, no one was EVER crazy enough to try to beseige the castle. As a matter of fact, I'm sure if you looked carefully, there's probably a rock half-way up the hill where perhaps a band of angry Saxons who THOUGHT they might attack it, fell over on their backs puffing and turning purple and red. The rock would say, "Good grief is armor heavy. We've decided to let the so and so Norman keep the bloody hill."

Now the site does have importance, I won't lie to you. There are lead mines down below, and this castle overlooks the east-west trade routes. So, stone age people, saxons, everyone whose ever thought they belonged here have kept an eye on the dales. But Bill? Well, I say he just had the weebie jeebies about being surrounded by Saxons.

His son, Bill Jr, inherited the castle and lands from him, but he backed the wrong person in the civil war between Empress Matilda and King Stephen. He was captured at the Battle of Lincoln, and managed to piss off Matilda's son, Henry. When Henry became king (Henry II—you remember him, he married the pretty red head Eleanor of Aquitaine), he took the Peveril castles in Derbyshire for himself.

Richard the Lionhearted owned Peveril for awhile, though like most places in England, he was never there. He gave it to his brother John, but had to take it away from him again when the two of them fell out. (King John, as he was known after his big brother Richard died, is the bad guy in the Robin Hood legends.)

That's when the big square keep was built. Since anyone could see that the castle didn't need more defensive capabilities, it's likely that Henry built it to just show he had a vested interest in the area. Building a castle is slow going since it is seasonal work. One season's work might add 12-16 feet of stone to its height. At that rate, the stone keep took many years to build—which may have been partly why Henry had it built. Kind of a way of showing the local population (and the people working the lead mines) that he was serious. Well, and it's a darned impressive place to hold meetings with your local nobility. And let's not forget it could be used as a hunting lodge.

In the time of Henry III in the thirteenth century, they add a posh "New Hall" that has a fireplace. (A new-fangled invention that keeps the smoke out of the hall.) So, if the king ever came to look at his castle, which he might have once, then he had a nice place to stay. More likely, it's the King's Constable who got to use the posh new hall.

John of Gaunt (sigh, either you know him or you don't. Suffice it to say, he's a big deal noble. He seems to have liked Chaucer, and if he'd ever WANTED to be King of England, he probably would have been.) Right, so John of Gaunt is granted the castle in the fourteenth-century, but he thinks it doesn't really serve any purpose. So he has them take the lead off the roofs to reuse on buildings someplace else. And he has them strip the finished stone blocks off the keep to use someplace else. (In the pictures you can see the smooth finished blocks up near the top that they apparently couldn't get down.) When John of Gaunt's son, Henry, becomes king as Henry IV, the castle becomes a royal keep again— although one without a lead roof or finished stones.

Amazingly the keep still was used for official business, though it had stopped being manned. Even in ruins it still looms over the dales and provides a reminder of the Norman presence. And I suppose you didn't need to worry about any of the guests being over perky at a meeting if they'd half killed their horses getting up the slope and perhaps had to walk part of the way. By 1480, when the other royal castles received their maintenance budgets, Peveril did not. So they had kind of officially decided to let it "go."

Mock up of Peverel Castle
Mock up of Peverel Castle
Peverel Castle is a triangle that has sheer cliffs going down into gorges on the back two sides. The extremely steep hill (on the front sice) is the only way to get up to it. The bridge across the gorge to another peak was really there, but their not sure what was on the other side. (Although in this mockup, it's another little bailey and tower.)
Does not look as steep as it is
Does not look as steep as it is
The castle ruins at the top are much further away than they look in this photo. And that hill is nightmarishly steep.
Erin pausing for breath
Erin pausing for breath
Thankfully the trail up to the castle has switchbacks and benches where one can stop and pant.
Erin and Cindy halfway there
Erin and Cindy halfway there
Castledon view from halfway up the hill
Castledon view from halfway up the hill
This is the village of Castledon. It's always been there below the castle.
The curtain wall of the castle
The curtain wall of the castle
This is the "easy" approach up to the castle. The curtain wall alone would have been enough to repel any out of breath invaders who made it to the top. The wall would have originally been 17 feet high.
Castledon from the east gate
Castledon from the east gate
I'm pretty sure there must have been a serious upcharge for deliveries made to the castle. By the time we made it, I felt they should have paid Erin and I money, rather than charging us an admittance fee.
English Students Hiking a Castle
English Students Hiking a Castle
So, of course we bought the guide book and took turns reading it out loud to each other as we scrambled around.
East Gate (the main gate)
East Gate (the main gate)
After climbing the steep hill, this would have been the giant arch that you'd go through to get through the curtain wall. It was large enough for mounted riders and wagons to come through.
The Wall from the inside of the Bailey
The Wall from the inside of the Bailey
The wall walk is still there, where guards could have walked between the two walls and kept watch out the arrow slits. I'm fairly sure that aside from watching the wee tiny village far away, and watching the ravens circling over the dale, the watchmen had nothing else to see. No one ever attacked this castle.
Panorama from the curtain wall
Panorama from the curtain wall
The mountain on the left with the dipped face is Mam Tor. The lower peak to the right of that is Hollins Cross. The sharp cliff shape covered in dark green trees is called the Back Tor. The peak just to the right of that, in the middle of the picture is Lose Hill.
Peverel Keep and the Bailey
Peverel Keep and the Bailey
It's a good sized bailey (yard), but the whole thing slopes, so it must never have been all that useful for exercising horses or men. The keep (square tower) dates from the time of Henry II in the 12th century.
Patchwork of Time periods
Patchwork of Time periods
The stones at the bottom left are in kind of a "herring bone" pattern— that's classic early Norman construction. Then you can see the nicer dressed stones that used to cover that up, and on top of those, bigger dressed stones from perhaps the late 121th century, and some sandstone blocks that someone's used sometime to make a repair later. The whole thing is a bit of a patchwork as each owner improved, added, repaired, and changed the castle.
Garderobe in the Wall
Garderobe in the Wall
Well you know, guardsmen have to go somewhere or they start whizzing over the side of the curtain wall. This drains to the gorge below.
West gate where the bridge used to be
West gate where the bridge used to be
The west gate used to lead to a bridge that spanned the gorge and led you to a bit of ground at the top of a nearby peak. Perhaps it was a place to stable the horses and animals? Perhaps it was an easier way for tradesmen to get supplies to the castle? We just know that money kept being spent to keep the bridge in operation until the mid-fifteenth century.
Peverel Keep
Peverel Keep
This was added around 1155, after William Peverel II backed the wrong side in the war between the Empress Maud and King Stephen. Maud's son, Henry II, was not known for suffering fools gladly, and when he came to the throne, the castle came into his possession. As one of the royal castles, the keep was added.
Inside the keep
Inside the keep
This is the main floor, although you have to walk up a staircase to get to it. The gabled roof was lower than the surrounding walls. (One assumes to prevent invaders from being able to fire arrows onto it? Anyone know for sure?)
Arrow slits
Arrow slits
This is the remnant of an arrow slit that overlooks the bailey. Notice how the window is very wide inside the room and angles in towards what would have been just a narrow slit on the outside? That allows an archer to stand and shoot almost 180 degrees—aiming to the extreme righ or to the extreme left.
Alcove
Alcove
Alcove must have been reached by steps inside the room.
Another arrow loop
Another arrow loop
Larger window for light
Larger window for light
View of the Dale from the Keep
View of the Dale from the Keep
Walkway on the right
Walkway on the right
There was no way to get to that righthand archway from inside the keep. It must have had a ladder that came down to it from the curtain wall.
The Castle Commands a View
The Castle Commands a View
Gorge behind the Castle
Gorge behind the Castle
Erin at the Old Hall
Erin at the Old Hall
Next to the keep are some foundations of buildings that must have been the Old Hall and the Chapel of the Castle. (We know those existed because of records from the mid-thirteenth century that mention them, but the remains are too slight to know much about them, except that parts of the Old Hall date back to the 1100s. )
Newfangled Inventions and The New Hall
Newfangled Inventions and The New Hall
Sure the old keep was impressive and imposing but it probably wasn't posh. In the thirteenth century, ground was leveled and a "new hall" was built with a fireplace (a new-fangled invention that had a chimney and kept the smoke out of the room. ) Maybe it was built for Henry III, but doubtless the royal constable made use of the posh new hall. (If you look at the model, the new hall is sitting in the right front corner of the curtain wall.)
View of the Bailey from the Old Hall.
View of the Bailey from the Old Hall.
The path back down
The path back down
This shows a bit better how steep it is.
Castledon's Jubilee Tree
Castledon's Jubilee Tree
This tree was planted to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year (that's her 60 year anniversary on the throne.) The only other monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee is the current queen, Elizabeth II.

 

Little John's Grave:

Shelly had noticed that Little John's grave was in Heathersage, a village in Derbyshire fairly close to us, so we made that the last stop of our day after Erin and I quit heaving for breath from having climbed up to Peveril and back.

Little John (of Robin Hood legend) was supposedly a large man, and so a grave in the churchyard that is unusually long, and where a very long thigh bone was found, is ascribed to Little John. In 1929 the Order of Foresters put up a headstone for him, and started caring for the grave. We were able to find it because the church has obligingly put up a sign on the main road with a hand pointing, "St. Michael's and All Angels, and Little John's Grave This Way."

The churchyard that has the grave is St.Michael and All Angels, a beautiful fourteenth century church that is standing very much as it was when it was built. Erin noticed a sign saying everyone was welcome inside, and I said, "Oh that's just Anglican "inclusive language." It means gay people are welcome." But Erin, said, "No look the door is open." And she twisted the wrought iron ring that serves as a door handle and opened up the door. We enjoyed the visit exceedingly.

St. Michael and All Angels
St. Michael and All Angels
Shelly had found this and suggested we visit. It is the traditional site of Little John's grave (from the Robin Hood legends.)
Little John's Grave
Little John's Grave
Tradition says that this is Little John's Grave and it is cared for by the Foresters Guild. The head stone and foot stone mark out a prodigiously long grave— that and an extremely long thigh bone that was dug up at some point, are the basis of the attribution of the grave to Little John. (You remember Little John, the big guy with the quarter staff who whollops Robin Hood and sends him flying into the stream, the first time that they met.)
Heraldry over the Entrance
Heraldry over the Entrance
Most of this church is from 1381, although it got a face lift when Sir Robert Eyre returned from the Battle of Agincourt. (The name of the Eyre family was used by Charlotte Bronte for her book "Jane Eyre.")
Gargoyle downspout
Gargoyle downspout
Faithful Roof Timbers
Faithful Roof Timbers
It is always amazing in what good condition a 600 year old roof can be if it's lived through times of peace and had a community of humans to care for it. These faithful timbers have been holding up the side chapel roof for that many years.
Towards the Altar
Towards the Altar
A sign in the church, which is left open in hospitality to people like us, read: "Populations and times change. But you are here today. Please do more than look at the architecture, or think about the history. In the memorable phrase of the poet TS Eliot, this is "a place where prayer has been valid." Those who have prayed here before you have departed, but their prayers still resonate in this place."
Touching Stones
Touching Stones
As I always do, I touched the stones of the walls and thought about the hundreds of people who gathered here, who sang here, who prayed here. It feels like I am looking to my left in a long shield wall, not able to see the end of the line I am standing in.