St Albans – a bloody history!

Yesterday I jumped on a train and stepped off in a city that has been the site of plenty of murderous history in its time. I was in St. Albans. I was surprised to learn it was a city, being that it started and remained for most of it’s life a ‘one street town’. By that I mean, like many places in Britain, it grew up around a through road, and in this case the famous Roman road of Watling Street.

The city was named after Saint Alban, the first British Christian martyr who was beheaded by the Romans for refusing to give up his new faith. Alban, originally a Romano-British pagan, was so impressed with the piety of a Christian priest that he sheltered from religious persecution that he cast off his pagan beliefs and became a Christian convert. When the Romans came calling, Alban offered himself up in the place of the other priest. As a result, when this was discovered, the Romans became so angry they beheaded him. Later, when invaders returned home to Rome, the Roman City of Verulamium became known as St. Albans.

Before that, Boudicca, queen of the British Iceni tribe, led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. She and her tribe of warriors went on the rampage against the invaders attacking what is now called Colchester, London and St Albans. It took place in AD 60-61. Below the ground of these three towns archeologists have discovered a layer of carbon and ash. It is the remains from the sacking (burning down to the ground) of these Roman occupied centers.

battlefield-bookI was here, not to attack or rampage the place, but to meet up with author Robert Bard and his assistant Leslie Abrahams, to talk about the two battles from the War of the Roses that also took place on this historic site. Robert’s book, London’s Lost Battlefields, explains that there were two important conflicts fought here. The first, on 22nd May 1455, kicked off the numerous battles of the 32 year feud between the most powerful families in England at the time. Each side, represented by the colour of a rose, was vying for right to be King.

This war should have been called the War of the Car Parks; it is hard to believe that in an unassuming St Alban’s car park (one that Robert found a unique way of getting his car into – through the closed of bollards) opposite a pub, the first confrontation of the War of the Roses began. It would eventually lead to the death of Richard the Third and a burial in another car park in Grey Friars Street, Leicester. However, as you stand in the first car park, picturing how the Yorkists faced up to the Lancastrians for the first time, there is no official plaque or marker to tell the visitor of this important historical moment.

A great amount of detail from the two battles that took place during the War of the Roses in St Albans has been recorded. There is plenty of gory descriptions by those that took part, and also from observers living in or visiting the town. You may walk up the high street, between St. Peter’s church, at one end, and the Abbey at the other, with a 15th century clock tower near the middle, and picture the carnage and death that was happening 558 years ago. Many of the original buildings remain standing.

I am planning to return with my camera and make an episode of the Bald Explorer in the new year (2014) and tell part of that story.

If you would like to help make this happen and would like to be one of the first people to enjoy this episode, before it becomes broadcast on the Community Channel, then please make a donation on the right hand side of the BE website. Without out your support these important programmes, which incidentally are not funded in any other way, cannot happen. Thanks very much.

Spas of England

As you may be aware, I am currently making another long format episode of the Bald Explorer about the subject of water. Not any old water you that might find in your tap or down a well – this is Chalybeate spring water, stacked with iron and coloured with an orange tinge. There are quite a few springs up and down the country like this and many located in famous resorts – Bath, Epsom and Harrogate. The BE is interested in one discovered by a nobleman while convalescing at the beginning of the 1600s in an area we now call Royal Tunbridge Wells. A place where gentry and royalty came in large numbers to be seen and parade along the Pantiles at the height of the Georgian period.

In 1841, Augustus Granville published the second volume of his well researched book, The Spas of England which concentrated on his travels in the Midlands and South of that country. He was an eminent physician who had previously brought out a guide to the spas of Germany – a country renown for their love and fascination with health giving water.

Granville worked his way round the country, describing not only the facilities which the Spa towns had to offer, but also tit bits of information about the locality, eating places and hotels. He stayed at Tunbridge Wells for a short, but didn’t have too many good things to stay about it. On one occasion, when in Buxton, Derbyshire, staying at the Crescent hotel, a hugely popular and expensive mansion of a place, the general manageress asked him if he was the same A.B. Granville that authored the work on Spas of Germany to which he bashfully confessed he was. She lampooned immediately, nearly casting him asunder from her hotel – the reason she exclaimed was that by telling the readers of his book how marvelous it was in Germany, most of her wealthy customers had lost interest in the English Spa scene and had disappeared abroad – many never returned.

The work is a little out of date, of course, but aside from the information on spring water and health advice bathing in the sea, it is a jolly good read.

I am hoping to have the programme finished and delivered to the Community Channel by January 2014 and no doubt it will transmitted soon after.

The Bald Explorer is a self funded TV documentary series and if you have enjoyed the programmes, you help is always appreciated. You may donate, if you like, to help me cover the costs of production by using the Paypal button to the right hand side of the website. Thank you so much.

Taking the Waters: Preview

The Bald Explorer is back and the next production is under way (Autumn 2013). In this episode, ‘Taking the Waters’, Richard Vobes, aka the Bald Explorer is investigating the story of the spring water discovered at a spot near the medieval town of Tonbridge in Kent – later it was to become Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Richard wants to find out what makes the water so good, how it became popular and why is there today for visitors who are keen to make the excursions today.

This is a teaser video, partly filmed on the common near Royal Tunbridge Wells (www.twcommons.org) and at High Rocks, a popular tourist resort and wedding venue (www.highrocks.com). The full production will be available in early 2014 on the Community Channel (www.communitychannel.org).

Follow him on Twitter: @BaldExplorer or Richard Vobes @Vobes.

Crew: Producer/Presenter – Richard Vobes. Photography – Jason Reeve. Sound – Billy Lindsey.

Taking the Waters

Working has started on the next Bald Explorer episode. I shall be off to the Sussex and Kent border to taste the waters at the Georgian Spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. I am working with my new cameraman, Jason Reeve, who as it happens, conveniently lives in the same town.

Like my town visits programmes I want to get to the bottom of some of the quirky and unusual historic aspects of the town, as well as trying the Chalybeate spring water with its iron health-giving properties. The programme is to be broadcast on the Community Channel, probably in the new year (2014) along with other that I have planned.

One of the lesser known facts about Royal Tunbridge Wells is the deposits of sandstone all around the area. The Kentish Weald and Sussex Downland hills are more known for their clay and chalk, but there are some very unusual rocks to explore in the area.

If you would like to support the Bald Explorer in this non-profit venture and help fund the programmes, may I direct you to the Donate Button on the right of this website. If you donate, I will make sure you get a copy of the finished programme before it is transmitted on the TV. Anything you can spare would be most welcome. Thanks very much.

Lewes Boot Scrapers

Have you ever spotted those weird little metal things sunken into the walls of Georgian houses and wondered what they are? They look like miniature fire-places, don’t they? In the days before the motor car and when travel was really only possible either on your own two feet or by those of a horse, the state of the walkways was dreadful. The roads were barely paved and where they were, dirt, mud and other animal waste collected in sloppy piles. Consequently, one’s foot attire became encrusted with plenty of unwanted crap. The last thing any respectable gentleman, or gentle woman for that matter, wanted to do was to bring this putrid soil into their expensive households or spread the filth on their exotic carpets. Behold, the boot-scraper; a cunning little wrought iron device adorning the exterior of the house, at ground level and close to the front door – the perfect gadget to remove this unwanted muck.

In another of the mini-series episodes on my new Youtube channel, I am in the rural county town of Lewes, in East Sussex, on the search for a boot-scraper and another oddities from our heritage. It is amazing t see what is still out there,  left alone and for all to discover if we open out eyes. Originally, the footage appeared in the full length documentary about the town and shown on the Community Channel, but knowing that not everyone has time to watch these long format videos, I have pulled out interesting moments and repackaging them into shorter films. I do hope you will like them. There is unseen footage too – so you get a bonus as well.

Do go and check out the channel, if you have time and please, don’t forget to subscribe. Many thanks.

New Series – Hidden Heritage

be-sixtowns In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Alec Clifton-Taylor made a series of programmes with the BBC entitled Six English Towns, Six More English Towns and Another Six English Towns. He was principally interested with showing off the wonderful survivors of beautiful architecture that was available to discover in our towns across England. Although a simple premise of looking at buildings, he did it with such charm and authority, it became a landmark series. That was thirty years ago. Much of what he showed us still remains, fortunately, but in that time towns have expanded enormously and a lot of our heritage has been swallowed up and tucked away behind the commercial hoardings, large plate-glass windows and new utilitarian constructions; what survives nowadays is often ignored or taken for granted.
I am planning to go in search of my own six towns to explore the hidden gems that are under our noses and often overlooked. To fund this, with the help of the Community Channel, a Kickstarter fund-raising project will start towards the end of June this year. (More information on that will announced soon.) This will mean, with a small TV crew, I shall be making a jaunt in the autumn and spending one week at each of the following towns:

Lyme Regis – Dorset
Lyme Regis is a coastal town in West Dorset, England, situated 25 miles west of Dorchester and 25 miles (40 km) east of Exeter. The town lies in Lyme Bay, on the English Channel coast at the Dorset–Devon border. It is nicknamed “The Pearl of Dorset.” The town is noted for the fossils found in the cliffs and beaches, which are part of the Heritage Coast—known commercially as the Jurassic Coast.

Barnstaple – Devon
Barnstaple or is a former river-port, large town, civil parish and the capital of the local government district of North Devon in the county of Devon, England. Since 1974, it has been a civil parish governed by town council.

Monmouth – Monmouthshire, Wales
Monmouth is a traditional county town in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is situated where the River Monnow meets the River Wye, within 2 miles of the border with England. The town is 36 miles north-east of Cardiff, and 127 miles west of London

Bridgenorth – Shropshire
Bridgnorth is a town in Shropshire, England, situated on the Severn Valley. It is split into High Town and Low Town, named on account of their elevations relative to the River Severn.

Newark-on-Trent – Nottinghamshire
Newark-on-Trent is a market town in Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands region of England. It stands on the River Trent, the A1, and the East Coast Main Line railway.

Sandwich – Kent
Sandwich is a historic town and civil parish on the River Stour in the Non-metropolitan district of Dover, within the ceremonial county of Kent, south-east England. It has a population of 6,800.

I do hope you will support our fund-raising efforts, tell your friends and family about the project and following the progress here on the website and on Twitter (@BaldExplorer #BaldExplorer) and of course Facebook too.