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Beautiful castles to visit in the UK

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Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

The coast of Britain is literally littered with countless castles.

Some of these wonderful fortifications are better preserved than others but all are equally fascinating and collectively tell the story of the long, often dark and rich history of these isles. Having visited just some of them, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites.

Dover Castle

Dover Castle

Dover Castle

Dover Castle in Kent has to top the list. This incredible fortress is referred to as the key to England because of the importance of its defensive position and is the country’s largest castle.

The castle dates back to medieval times but there are layers of history to uncover at Dover, so you’ll find a wealth of things to see and do here. As well as the keep; which is Norman and resembles the Tower of London’s White Tower (in fact it is often used in filming as the White Tower) there are numerous other buildings to visit, which were expanded greatly under the rule of Henry II. There is also a network of medieval underground tunnels, as well as WWII tunnels, which include a hospital. From here you can step out and view the port of Dover and it was from this vantage point that the evacuation of Dunkirk was overseen. A Roman fort and a church also feature on the site.

Dover Castle is so vast and fascinating, it is possible one visit may not be enough.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

Situated in Warwickshire, this impressive medieval fortress was built on the site of one of William the Conqueror’s Norman castles dating back to 1068.  Sitting on the River Avon, it came to be the seat of the Earls of Warwick, one of which was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as the Kingmaker during the long running Wars of the Roses.

Now owned by the Tussauds Group, there are endless activities for all the family at enjoy at Warwick, you even have the option of spending the night in the Tower Suits if you really want to make a trip of it.

Step into the castle’s great hall, its turrets and battlements, find your way out of the new Horrible Histories maze with the kids, take a tour of the dungeons if you dare, with actors bringing the castle’s darkest history back to life before your eyes. There are daily shows held at Warwick too, such as the fabulous birds of prey display and colourful jousting tournaments.

A trip to Warwick Castle promises to be one that the whole family will love.

Hever Castle

Hever Castle

Hever Castle

The childhood home of King Henry VIII’s second queen Anne Bolelyn, Hever Castle and gardens is another of Kent’s treasures. Anne spent her youth at the family seat before her education in France and her subsequent doomed marriage to the monarch, which ended in May 1536, when on the orders of the king Anne was beheaded. After the death of Anne’s father Thomas, the castle became the property of the king, who bestowed it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves as part of the settlement following the annulment of their short-lived marriage.

As well as the beautiful castle itself there are the wonderful gardens to visit, ornamental ponds, mazes, miniature model houses to view, boating, jousting, shield painting, archery, a military museum, adventure playground, and a Japanese teahouse to discover. You can stay overnight too at Hever Castle’s suits because once again, a day may not be sufficient to take in all that it has to offer.

Deal Castle

Deal Castle

This Kent castle is unusual in that it is set low in the ground hidden from view of passing ships, rather than the more familiar towering structures of most fortresses that dominate the UK’s coastline.

Built on the orders of Henry III, Deal was constructed in the form of the Tudor rose, and this is apparent form a bird’s eye view of this coastal fort.

You can walk around the castle at your leisure and may wish to employ the use one of the audio guides to take you through the darkened passages, storerooms and officers’ quarters.

Deal is an ideal spot for those with less time to visit the larger fortresses on the Kent coast but it is no less fascinating.

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle

Situated in Kenilworth in Warwickshire this fortification is another gem of English history. With its beginnings from Norman to Tudor days, Kenilworth has plenty to please. Learn about the six-month siege of Kenilworth back in 1266, which is said to be the longest in England’s history. Marvel at the keep, the great hall and Elizabethan gardens, or take a spot of lunch in the stable tearooms.

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle

Located on the stunning Cornish coast, Tintagel is the place where myth meets history. This medieval structure, perched on the cliff’s edge and erected by Ricard Earl of Cornwall during the thirteenth century, it has long been associated with the legend of king Arthur but the Romans were also thought to have had a settlement at the site.

Once you have navigated the numerous steps up the Cliffside to reach the fortress you’ll be amazed by the stunning views initially. Once you’ve enjoyed these, you can wonder through the substantial ruins of this castle, discover the dark ages and learn how it came to be linked to Arthur and his gallant knights.

Once you’ve toured the ruins, take a trip down to the incredibly beautiful beach below to round off your trip.

Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle

Built by the Peverel family in the twelfth century, medieval Bolsover castle in Derbyshire is another of England’s fascinating castles.

Visit the Little Castle on the site, which was the lavish retreat of poet and playboy Sir William Cavendish, where he entertained King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, or visit what remains of his terrace with its incredible views, the stunning fountain garden, or walk the wall, or you may prefer to take a canter across the wonderful indoor riding school. Top it all off with a visit to the lovely tearooms.

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle

Hampshire’s medieval Portchester Castle is situated at the town’s Harbour and was built on the site of a Roman fort. It was one of many built along this coast in an attempt to combat pirate raids.

Take in the site’s rich history with the free audio tour, as well as informative exhibitions. In August there is a grand knight’s tournament for all the family to enjoy.

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

For over 1000 years this castle has been central to the defence of the Isle of White. The structure has been a Saxon fortress and a Norman castle. It underwent remodelling during Elizabeth I’s reign and Charles I was held captive here during the English Civil War, prior to his eventual execution. The suggestion of Roman occupation of the site is of further interest but has yet to be proved. An Anglo Saxon fort was likely situated here to prevent pirate raids of the island.

Play bowls at Portchester on the green used by Charles I, dress the kids up in Norman attire in the gatehouse and introduce them to the castle’s resident donkeys, or pay a visit to the museum and chapel.

Middleham Castle

Middleham Castle

Middleham Castle

A trip to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales would not be complete without a visit to Middleham Castle. The childhood home of Richard III, Middleham is roofless but otherwise it is well preserved. As well as the castle there are lovely gardens and exhibitions to enjoy, family activities and books to complete, picnic areas and play areas.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

Well, we could hardly leave out this utter gem in the heart of the capital. Listed as an historical royal palace, The Tower of London is drenched in history, much of it dark and terrifying. This great Norman edifice on the banks of the Thames would have been a foreboding site when it was first constructed by William the Conqueror and indeed remains so. Although Londoner’s have taken it to their hearts this would not have originally been the case, as it was a visual reminder that they had been conquered and a symbol of the power of the new ruler.

There is no end of things to see at the tower. Learn about its dark history, the famous and infamous prisoners held within its thick walls, take a look at Traitors Gate and imagine Anne Bolelyn entering it by boat to her imprisonment and eventual execution within the grounds. At its heart, step into the White Tower and view the contents of the royal armoury, visit the Crown Jewels, discover why the ravens leaving would be considered a disaster, the history of the royal mint, take a look at the replicas of the torture instruments once used there, the graffiti scrawled into the walls by prisoners and no visit is complete without a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining yeomen warder tour, which is the only way to take in a tour of the small chapel on site, housing the remains of queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Thomas More and others who were beheaded at the tower on the orders of Henry VIII.

There is just so much to see and do here that we recommend you start your day early, as it does get very busy, such is its popularity.

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History

Prisons and historic palaces that once stood in London

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Newgate Prison, London

You won’t believe the buildings that once stood in the very heart of the city!

London has expanded and altered much over the course of its existence and continues to do so and many old and wonderful historical buildings have thankfully remained. Sadly though, many more have also been lost and are little known about. Passing by some of the city’s well known and now sometime lesser interesting places it is fascinating to think about what once stood there. Here are just some of London’s lost buildings. Some more pleasant than others.

Baynard’s Castle

Beynards Castle
Baynard’s Castle circa 1200s

Named after the nobleman Ralph Baynard; who arrived in London following the Norman Conquest, this long-lost London fortification was situated by the River Thames at Blackfriars. Scant clues remain of its existence but if you were to glance up at the nearby street signs you would discover Castle Baynard Street nearby, a modern-day reminder of what once proudly stood at the site. King John had the castle demolished in 1213 but a grand mansion house was later built a short distance from the site. The royal house of York made use of the building, basing themselves there when in London during the lengthy Wars of the Roses, with Edward IV being crowned there.

The building later came into the hands of Henry VII when he took the crown from Yorkist King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The new king then had it reconstructed into a royal residence.

King Henry III later gifted the residence to his first wife Catherine of Aragon as a wedding present. The Earl of Pembroke; the brother of Henry’s sixth and final wife Catherine Parr, came to own the building after the king’s death, and it passed through various hands until like many other buildings, it was destroyed in London’s Great Fire of 1666. Today, office buildings occupy the site.

Montfichet’s Castle (or Tower)

Montfichet’s Castle - artist impression
Montfichet’s Castle – artist impression

This little known castle was the near neighbour of Baynard’s Castle. Another Norman fortress, it was situated on Ludgate Hill midway between where St Paul’s Cathedral and Thameslink station now stand. Earliest recordings of the castle date back to the 1130s and it is thought that it was constructed late in the 11th century. During the revolt against King Henry II by his wifeEleanor of Aquitaine and their three sons, the castle’s defences were strengthened.

King John was also responsible for the demolition of this castle in 1213 and the site was later sold off to accommodate Blackfriars Priory. Waste pits and the remnants of ditches were uncovered in the 1980s when excavations were carried out by The Museum of London. It is also said that the Old Bailey was so named after the fort’s Bailey wall.

The Savoy Palace

Savoy Palace
Savoy Palace – Credit: Wikipedia

Savoy Palace was said to be the very grandest house of the nobility during in the middle ages. Sited on the Strand beside the River Thames, this fine edifice was in what was even then a prime location, away from the stench of the City of London and approaching the grand Palace of Westminster. John of Gaunt owned the palace and when he introduced a very unpopular poll tax in 1381 the uprising that ensued; known as the Peasants Revolt, brought about the destruction of the building. The building and its contents were burned, smashed or simply tossed into the Thames by the unhappy mob.

Canterbury Tales creator Geoffrey Chaucer also began penning the famous works whilst living there as a clerk.

Later in 1512, Henry VII had a hospital erected on the site. The Savoy hospital for the poor and needy was said to be the first to employ medical staff on a permanent basis. Later still in 1642, the site became a military hospital then later still a barracks in 1679. It was destroyed by fire in 1779 when a prison had also come to be situated there.

Today the Savoy Hotel and Savoy Theatre occupy the site and take their names from it.

Millbank Penitentiary

Millbank Penitentiary
Millbank Penitentiary – Credit: Wikipedia

Strolling past or visiting the Tate Britain today, most of us would likely have no idea about the notorious prison that was once sprawled across the site, its neighbouring art collage and a pleasant large housing complex in the quiet leafy streets nearby. Millbank Prison was vast.

Opened in 1816, the prison was purchased by the philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham on behalf of the Crown. The first arrivals were initially women, with men subsequently being incarcerated at Millbank from 1817. Those deemed to be likely candidates for reform were given five-ten year sentences in the institution; which was said to be a dreadful place, rife with disease and abject misery. Others were sent from there to great hulks on the Thames, from where they were transported to Australia.

There are far more clues to the existence of this Thames-side prison; if one knows where to look, than that of other lost buildings of London. Behind the Tate Britain is a low segment of wall, incorporated into the modern-day wall; yet much older and somehow out of place, thought to have surrounded the site, as well as the remnants of the moat to the rear of a residential building which once encircled the prison. It is now used by local residents for growing herbs and hanging out washing to dry. Excavations beneath the art college uncovered some of the prison’s cells and the nearby Morpeth Arms public house claims to have cells remaining in its cellar. There is also a belief that the Victorian redbrick Millbank housing estate was constructed from bricks recycled from the penitentiary. However, this is most unlikely since it well known that the prison was constructed of yellow brick, some of which have been discovered on the Thames foreshore close by, along with buttons bearing a symbol of the Crown, which are thought to be from the uniforms of the prisons officers who worked there, possibly coming loose as they escorted prisoners to waiting hulks in the Thames. Also a stone’s throw away in tranquil St John’s public gardens on Horseferry Road, lays quite out of sight the decaying gravestone of one of the prison’s Governors. A reminder that history lies all around us, yet is so often unseen or unnoticed.

Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison – Photo credit: peterberthoud.co.uk

So named because it was originally built into London’s old Roman wall, this hellish prison came to be when Henry II instigated legal reform giving the Crown more authority in administering justice. Newgate was rebuilt several times from the 12th century onwards until its demolition in 1902. Infamous for its horrific conditions, after a rebuild in 1782 the prison comprised of two main divisions, a common general section which housed societies poorest and most destitute and more comfortable state accommodation for those who could pay for it. Newgate was also the site of London’s public gallows, they having been relocated from Tyburn at modern day Marble Arch. Up until 1868, the execution of prisoners drew large crowds but after this time condemned men and women went to meet their maker from within the prison walls. Today we know the site better as the Central Criminal Court, or even better still as the Old Bailey but remnants of the prison do remain. In Amen Court to the rear of the present-day court building, you will find what survives of Newgate prison wall. Additionally, the prison bell; which rang out when an execution was imminent, can be found a short distance away in St Sepulchre’s church.

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History

Supermarkets That No Longer Exist In The UK

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Safeway

Have you ever wondered what happened to the supermarket that you, your parents or grandparents used to shop at many years ago? 

What Happened To Them?

Some historically popular supermarket brands used to be placed strategically in our towns and communities for our convenience.

In recent times, with the dominance of the major brands we know and love today, we have seen that a majority of independent and smaller chains of supermarkets have since disappeared, seemingly without a trace!

Where did they go, and why did they leave our towns and cities?

Here we can see where exactly they got to, and why we no longer see them on our travels!

Safeway

Safeway was a staple essentials supermarket seen around towns and cities in the UK from as early as 1962. It was a subsidiary of its American parent company and boasted almost 500 stores around the UK.

It was, however, not designed to be around forever. After a successful merger with Argyll Foods in 2004, it was bought out entirely by WM Morrisons, with most of its existing stores and convenience shops being rebranded to the Morrisons empire and the rest of them being sold. 

We last saw the Brand of Safeway in the UK in late 2005.

Alldays Supermarkets

Allday’s supermarkets were seen in abundance in Scotland and Southeast England in the 1990s and hailed themselves as a chain of convenience stores.

The Alldays brand had high hopes for expanding and purchasing several more outlets that they successfully merged into the existing brand, but their profit did not match the brand’s expansion.

With a lot of courage and buyouts, they continued trading and accumulated almost 100 stores. However, in mid-2002, the brand put itself up for sale after a huge pre-tax loss and was bought out in its entirety by the Co-Operative Group.

Somerfield (Gateway)

Somerfield was a chain of supermarkets that were operating in the UK and were previously called Gateway. 

Somerfield, which was operational as a self-service supermarket from 1960, operated primarily in the Southwest of the UK, Opened its first store under the new branding in Nottingham in 1991.

After many other acquisitions and talks in the background regarding the future of the discount supermarket, the last store was seen open in the UK in the summer of 2011 after a successful takeover from the Co-Operative group.

Sainsbury’s Freezer Centres

As we know it today, the supermarket giant Sainsbury’s once operated a chain of frozen food stores in the UK called Sainsbury’s Freezer Centres. 

The first store opened its first store in 1974 near Bournemouth amid competition from rival frozen food stores. Still, the vision was not met with much success as not many people owned freezers, and, in 1975, stores that we being refurbished or built had freezer departments built into their plans.

In 1986 Sainsbury’s sold their freezer stores to a company called Bejam, and three years later, in 1989, these became part of the Iceland chain of frozen food stores.

Big W

Big W stores were designed to be on a vast scale and encompassed everything all under one roof!

Trading under the Kingfisher Group, which later became rebranded as Woolworths PLC (Which, incidentally, is no longer around anymore!) was operational between 1998 and 2004, so not an overly long time!

In 2004, Big W sold off a third of its store spaces to the likes of Tesco and Asda and rebranded to a more minor exercise called Woolworths out-of-town Stores.

You can no longer find the brand in any disguise on the high street.

Hinton’s

Primarily a Northeast England supermarket, Hintons was founded in Middlesborough in 1871 and rapidly expanded in stores and had seven stores in its chain on Teesidde by 1919.

After Hinton’s continued success, it went on to by a chain of off-licenses which increased their premises numbers trading under this name to 55 stores and 30 off-licenses.

Hinton’s was acquired in 1984 by Argyll Foods, and they changed some of its products to the Presto brand while they still traded as HIntons, but slowly the Presto brand dominated, and the brand changed everything to the Presto brand shortly after.

Netto

Initially a Danish brand of cut-price supermarket products, Netto hit the UK in the very early 1990s bringing international food and bargain-basement food and products to the home.

Owned by the Salling Group, Netto had accumulated nearly 200 stores by May 2010 but was sold to Asda at this point.

However, Netto came back to the UK shores in 2014 as a collaboration with Sainsbury’s, which lasted two years before Sainsbury’s made the decision to dissolve this partnership and sell all of the stores, so Sainsbury’s could focus more on their investment ventures.

Presto

In the early 1960s, 1964 to be exact, Presto supermarkets became popular in Scotland and the North of England but ended up with a presence nationwide.

In 1982, the brand had accumulated 136 stores, and it had transferred all of its going concerts to Argyll Foods, which continued to operate under the presto umbrella until 1985 when a significant rebranding shuffle was decided upon and accumulated a lot of other affiliate stores into the Presto brand.

However, in 1987, the phasing into the Safeway brand began after the parent company Argyll Foods Acquired Safeway, and in 1998 the conversion was complete, and the Presto brand was no more.

As you can see, many of the major supermarket players we see today had some involvement with the disintegration of the smaller and older supermarket brands we used to see on our high streets and industrial estates many years ago.

The dominance of major brands such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, and the Co-operative Group has taken over some of the smaller established brands as part of takeovers and business amalgamations.

By the giants being able to provide a holistic, self-service shopping experience on a more superior level, smaller and more independent supermarkets are a part of supermarket shopping history.

Related: High street stores which are sadly no longer with us

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History

The Third Man On The Podium

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Olympics 1968 Mexico

The famous image of two African American athletes protesting at the 1968 Olympic games is one of those that has gone down in the history books but there is even more to the story than meets the eye.

It is said that every picture tells a story and in the spirit of the Olympic games we’d like to relate to you a sad yet empowering one.

Rewind to the Mexico games of 1968 and that iconic image of two African Americans, their fists held aloft as they stood on the podium, each with a hand clad in a single black glove in protest at the treatment of African Americans and the poverty many endured.

Tommie Smith had won the gold medal for the 200 metre race and his fellow countryman John Carlos had earned the bronze in the same race but as the Star- Spangled Banner rang out they stood not in triumph but shoeless; symbolic of poverty, each with one hand raised above their heads in protest, their faces not beaming but sombre and bowed down. A brave move in a time of high racial tension and with the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy still vivid in the hearts and minds of people across America and the world.

Although the photograph is well known and the protest immediately apparent, what is far less well known is the story of the third man on that podium and the part he played in the story, silver medallist Peter Norman.

Prior to the medal ceremony Smith and Carlos had approached Norman to inform him of their intention to use the moment as a platform for their protest and inquired of Norman if he was a believer in human rights and of God. Carlos reported that the Australian runner; who had broken an Aussie record with his performance which still stands to this day, said that yes he was very much a supporter of human rights and having come from a Salvation Army background, was a strong believer in God and he did not hesitate to offer his support. This at a time when his own homeland of Australia had a policy akin to that of South African apartheid.

There was a hitch though, Carlos had left his black gloves back in the Olympic village and it was Norman who suggested they each wear a single glove, hence each is seen raising opposing hands in the famous image. Furthermore, pinned to Norman’s chest is a human rights badge he had acquired from a white American teammate of Carlos and Smith, rower Paul Hoffman to show his support.

The consequences for Norman following the protest were lifelong. Although he qualified with ease for the subsequent Olympics, Australia did not send a team to represent their nation to the 1972 games. Norman went on to work as a gym teacher and in a butcher shop in subsequent years, his athletic career all but over for the stand he had made.

Many years later at the San Jose university campus, a statue was erected in honour of Smith and Carlos’ stand, each represented with fists in the air on a podium. Norman was not present though and Carlos felt strongly that he too had had earned his place alongside himself and Smith and so called the Australian to discuss the matter with his old friend. Norman’s response floored the American when he told him that the silver medal place must remain empty, leaving room for any man or woman to stand there and make their own individual stand for human rights.

Norman’s love for running never waned but in 1985, following a charity race he almost lost a leg when a torn Achilles tendon became gangrenous. Depression, painkiller addiction and heavy drinking ensued and Norman died of a heart attack in 2006 in Melbourne at the age of 64.

Perhaps the most poignant image though, is that of both Smith and Carlos carrying Norman’s coffin at his funeral, each having stood on another podium to pay tribute to their friend as they gave a eulogy to him.

It was only in 2012 that the Australian government issued a posthumous apology to Peter Norman for the treatment he received after simply doing the right thing.

When speaking of Peter Norman, John Carlos recalled expecting to see fear present in Norman’s eyes when asking him to support he and Smith but said he remembered seeing “only love” there.

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