Travelling in Scotland

Ancient carved standing stones from the 7th century

I have been travelling in the East Coast of Scotland for work recently in the Aberdeenshire and Angus areas. I was very lucky as the sun shone down on me as if I were the blessed pilgrim. Another good aspect of my video job was that I was chauffeured about. I certainly took in some mileage, from Fraserborough in the fair flung north down to Carnoustie, which is fairly near Dundee.

The advantage of all this was to be able to take in the amazing countryside. I hadn’t realised how much of the land was cultivated into agriculture farmland with barley, wheat and oil seed rape being the most prevalent crops.

Historically this side of Scotland offered much for the Bald Explorer and naturally I had my eyes open for likely video investigations in the future. Part of my job was to film some classic landmarks for a presentation my client was organising and included some rather fabulous opportunities for me to learn about Scottish history.

We stopped at Arbroath Abbey which now lies in ruins but cared for by Historic Scotland. It’s red sandstone remains are impressive as you approach the fabulously craved Norman door. It was where the Scottish Declaration was signed in 1320 after the dreadful Battle of Bannockburn where the Scots were triumphant in sending the English home with their tales between their legs.

J.M Barre of course is famed for his whimsy about the ever youthful Peter Pan, but how many people know where he was born or have ever visited his birthplace? Kirriemuir is the town and to make sure visitors do not forget there is a splendid bronze statue in the centre. Unfortunately the Hook Hotel had seen better days and was abandoned and up for sale when we passed by. Presumably the lease had ticked on by too much.

Brechan is a small city, although you would think it was a town, so small and quiet. The cathedral was rather special surrounded by tall trees with much foliage and chunky tombstones. But for me, the round tower, from Irish descent, was rather unusual and a pencil thin curiosity. A tall edifice with simple, yet small door some eight foot off the ground is the only access. It is capped at the top with a conical roof and its original use was as a bell tower. Definitely a joy to have discovered.

Arbroath Abbey, where the Scottish Declaration was signed in 1320

Golf is represented rather heavily along this coastline with is various links courses, including the Montrose Golf link being the fifth oldest course in the world. I didn’t get to tee off myself from there but I filmed a man who did!

One of the curious and weird things I was shown, of which I gather historians are much ignorance themselves are the Aberlemno Stones. Three upright standing stones carved by the ancient Picts sometime in the 7th and 9th centuries. The first I saw was sculpted with a Celtic type cross adorned with angels with books. These are to be found a few miles of Forfar and are easily missed.

For a stroll I took to the footpath that circumnavigates the Loch of Forar, probably one of the smallest Lochs as they go in Scotland. It takes a mere 45 minutes to walk round and when the sun is shining it is very beautiful.

Well, that’s a brief potted look at some of Scotland’s heritage which passed me by on my otherwise ordinary business trip and definitely worth popping back when I have time to explore in greater detail.

Bald Explorer Petworth Teaser Video

I am currently shooting two videos at once. The first being a search for the Caratacus’s last stand in the Welsh Marches and the second a visit to the rural market town of Petworth in West Sussex. Here is the teaser video for the latter.

Petworth is famed for its splendid stately home, once the property of the de Percy family and later the Earl of Egremont’s base.

The town was also known for its austere House of Correction which later served as a prison with prisoners having to work long hours on a treadmill or handcrank. Many of the poor were shipped off to Canada in the 19th Century by the Petworth Immigration Committee and in the 1942 a German bomber destroyed a boys school killing 28 of the children and two teachers.

The Bald Explorer is off to search for all these things and more in the episode. Meanwhile, while we wait for that, here is a teaser video show off some of Petworth’s rather lovely architecture.

Building a Virtual Prison

Building a prison in computer graphics..
It is early days, but work has started on a computer graphics version of the House of Correction which is to be featured in one of the next Bald Explorer episodes. If you have been reading recent posts you will have seen mention of this grim place and the fact that there is little left to see now. I aim to recreate it, albeit virtually, so that we can see the grim building for what it was and appreciate how dominant it must have looked on the top of its hill bearing down on the inhabitants of Petworth towards the end of the 18th Century.

Where possible I always like to gather as much information about the subject I am making in computer graphics. One of the first pieces of luck was noticing that the prison is clearly marked in precise terms on the planning maps for Petworth in 1875. Not only was the building’s shell accurately drawn up, but also the cells and ancillary buildings, such as the treadmill block and handcrank shed.

From there I can extrude upwards the walls and produce a skeleton of the old prison. What one does still require are the real measurements of widths of walls, heights of buildings and detail of roofs, etc. Luckily, there was an inspection of prisons made in the 1840’s and it included the Petworth one, giving not just a written description, but accurate measurements and dimensions in feet and inches. What is lacking, however, are drawings or photographs of the House of Correction. That said, I do have an old sketch of the place and one scratchy early photo which gives us the rear detail and roof.

I do not intend to make an all singing and dancing model, that would take too long, but fair representation of the austere nature of the place will do. Besides my cg skills are very sparse, so I will do what I can. I am not sure if anyone has done any work in this area before, so it could be a valuable contribution to the knowledge we have on the Georgian/Victorian building, who knows? There are plans to rebuild on the site, so all that is there is likely to be lost for ever, so I must work quickly before all my references are gone.

Grave Explorer

I am confused. I am dismayed. I am annoyed too.

While out scouting at locations for a forthcoming episode of the Bald Explorer my friend and fellow researcher Jimmy and I found ourselves in a cemetery. This is not usual for history enthusiasts like us. It is always interesting to read the names of those that have passed before us and on occasions attempt to find out more about them from old post office directories and town listings. The reason we were in this particular grave yard in Petworth, West Sussex, was to see a curious oblong shaped wall that resembled the remains of a mortuary chapel. We had been scanning the satellite photographs freely available on the Internet while comparing them to old maps from the 19th Century to see what had changed over the years and this had stuck as interesting.

We wondered what the story was behind the chapel and why there was only the rectangular wall of its footings left. We marked it down as one of the things to check out when we next popped over to the old rural market town for further research. As it happens, it wasn’t what we thought. Nothing unusual there, but the mystery deepened. Looking at the low walls and the small square rusty holes sunk into it, we could see that this was a very grand enclosed grave, probably a large family affair. Unfortunately, there was no name, or anything discernible to read and it been abandoned long ago. At one time, iron railings would have surrounded it and at the east end we deduced had been a pair of gates, the recces for the hinges could clearly be observed. No doubt the railings and gates had been removed during the 1940’s as part of the wartime requirement for metal and these historic relics might very well have been used to build parts of tanks, planes or weapons.

The shamefully forgotten resting place of the third Earl of Egremont.

But who could this site have been for, we wondered? The Earl of Egremont was the big name that sprung to mind, but discounted almost immediately because as the owner of Petworth House in the 18th Century and with a large number of estates up and down the country, it seemed most unlikely that he would be buried in a small and otherwise parochial cemetery. I was pretty certain that a character of his magnitude and importance would have had a private burial ground attached to the large and impressive stately home. There is an old family chapel in there after all.

But then, that evening, I met Leigh Lawson, author of a book about the Rev Thomas Sockett who ran the Petworth Emigration Committee which in the early 19th century, with the approval and help of George O’Brien Wyndham, the third Earl of Egremont and effectively Lord of Petworth, sent 1800 of the poorest members of the community in and around Petworth and other parts of Sussex to Canada for a fresh start and a new life. She informed me that this family grave was indeed. I have to say that I am appalled at the state in which the people of Petworth over the past 180 years have allowed it to become.

Missing, the memorial to George O'Brien Wyndham, third Earl of Egremont's tomb

The third Earl, more than any other of the various families that had lived in the manor and palatial house of Petworth, had generously assisted the inhabitants of the town. He had engaged more workers that he really required, set up charities to assist the poor and gave the town an enormous amount of money to building the necessary schools, prisons, town halls and other public requirements.

It maybe 175 years since his death, but you would think that the up keep of a small area for memory of his name wouldn’t have been much to ask considering all he did to put Petworth on the map and now bring a not insignificant tourist trade to the town.

Don’t want to read this? Have a listen instead!


Podcast: Petworth House Explored.

The Georgian Stately Home that is Petworth House
In the old days of the Richard Vobes Radio Show, a podcast that later became the Vobes Show, and which is still running, Jimmy Hastell and myself took a trip to the very splendid Petworth House and waved our microphone in front of the people at the front gate. They very kindly let us in and we recorded the following podcast.

Petworth House as we see it today is from the alternation in the 1870’s, but the original manor of Peteorde dates back to the Saxon times. It was superseded by the Normans after the Conquest and held by Robert de Belleme, the son of the great Earl and friend of William the Conqueror, Roger de Montgomery. But soon the house passed into the de Perci family ending up in the ownership of Henry Hotspur who dies at the famous Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. His sword that he wielded on that battlefield against King Henry 4th was for a long time on exhibit at Petworth House.  I called them up the other day to determine if it was still there, but a rather surprised young lady said that I was the third person inquiring and that unfortunately it was lost.

The house is best associated with George Wyndam, the third Earl of Egremont. He was a very generous man. He collected the mass of the arts works that are now on permanent display and did great works within the Petworth community. More of all these things will be investigated in the forthcoming Bald Explorer episode.

Meanwhile, do enjoy the audio tour of the house with Richard and Jimmy.

Download as Podcast – Part 1.
Download as Podcast – Part 2.
Download as Podcast – Part 3.
Download as Podcast – Part 4.
Download as Podcast – Part 5.
Download as Podcast – Part 6.

Podcast: The Petworth Museum

Gordon Stevenson chats to Richard Vobes about the museum.

Mr. Pegram and I visit the Petworth Cottage Museum. Here is what they say about the place: It’s not really a museum. It’s a house that has been restored, redecorated, furnished and equipped as if it were 1910. But it’s not just anybody’s house. Mrs. Mary Cummings was the tenant of 346 High Street from 1901 to 1930. The reconstruction takes account of the living memories of Mary’s time here, her Irish Catholic background and her work as a seamstress at home and at Petworth House. We have always aimed to make the place feel as if Mrs. Cummings has just stepped out. The range is lit, the table is laid for tea, the kettle is boiling.

We thought it was delightful. A real step back in time. Certainly worth a visit if you are ever in the area. The atmosphere, smells and detail is second to none and will make you appreciate all the mod-cons that we take for granted everyday!

Why not check the podcast and have a listen to the visit:

Download as Podcast.