According to my trusty Ladybird book, “Discovering The Tower of London“, the Martin Tower housed the Crown Jewels during the reign of King Charles II and that this was the place where “adventurer” and self-styled “Colonel“, Thomas Blood attempted to steal the royal regalia. In those days you could pay for a private viewing of the Crown Jewels and after winning the trust of Jewel Keeper Talbot Edwards, Blood knocked him unconscious and a run for it. Colonel Blood was captured, after an affray in which one of the sentries on duty was shot, but bizarrely, after an audience with King Charles II, Blood was let off! There are many stories wrapped up in the history of the Tower of London, but the tale of Colonel Blood and his mysterious pardon has to be one of my favourites.
Arbeia Roman Fort, First Astrurian Cavalry, Fort, Fortifications, gate, gatehouse, Gateway, Hadrian's Wall, Iraq, Museums, River Tyne, Roman, Roman auxiliaries, Roman Britain, Roman Fort, Roman occupation, Ruins, South Shields, Tigris, Tigris Bargemen
Situated a relatively short distance behind the Emperor Hadrian’s famous and the southern bank of the River Tyne, Arbeia was probably seen as one of the last stops before the Northern frontier of Roman Britain back in AD 122. I wonder if it was any comfort, to the garrison and those civilians who no doubt settled close by that the fort, that the fort is not only behind the artificial frontier represented by Hadrian’s Wall and the natural barrier of the Tyne? I remember reading a theory that the name Arbeia was coined by a company of Tigris Bargemen stationed at the fort around AD 300 and refers to the “Place of the Arabs” and was struck by how small the known world was at that point. To think that Roman auxiliaries, raised on the banks of the Tigris [in what is currently Iraq] ended up stationed in Roman Britain.
The fort served as a logistics base or supply depot for the other frontier forts, such as Segedunum Roman Fort on the other side of the River Tyne at Wallsend, so I imagine there was a lot of tedious admin, combined with back breaking labour, taking place at Arbeia. Presumably the Roman auxiliaries, especially in the case of the Tigris Boatmen, would have also handled the probably quite tricky business of getting supplies from one side of the Tyne to the other. A squadron of the First Astrurian Cavalry, a unit originally raised in Spain, were stationed at the fort, so there would have been a certain amount of dashing around the surrounding area on horseback. The fort must have been a very different place during their tour of duty, with the sights, sounds and smells associated with the care and stabling of horses being ever present within the walls of Arbeia.
You can find out more about the fort here: http://www.visithadrianswall.co.uk/things-to-do/arbeia-roman-fort-and-museum-p715761
artillery, artillery pieces, Ben Ainslie, Fortifications, forts, guns, London Summer Olympics 2012, Military History, Museums, Nothe Fort, Nothe Fort Weymouth, Olympic Gold Medal winner, Olympic sailing, sailing, Sir Ben Ainslie, Souvenirs, Victorian., Victoriana, Weymouth
I witnessed a small, but significant, moment in the history of the Nothe Fort back in 2012, as Weymouth and Portland prepared to be the venue of the London 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic sailing. That was the year Sir Ben Ainslie won his Gold medal in the Finn Class sailing, his fifth Gold at five consecutive Olympic Games [not that I was in Weymouth or Portland for the actual sailing, I was only there for the final preparations].
The Fort operates on three levels; the ramparts on top, the gun deck/parade ground below and the magazine beneath that. You enter the Fort at the gun deck/parade ground level, through the barbican; the main defensive feature on the landward side of the fortification.
The gun deck is comprised of 26 casements, which once open plan and housed the “massive Victorian muzzle loaded guns“. Casement 22 contains a reconstruction of the Victorian gun deck, where an impressive collection of very proud looking mannequins manned artillery pieces that look so colossal you would think they were immovable. There were no partitions between the casements back then, so it was possible to move along the gun deck without having to go out onto the parade ground. The casements also contain the reception and shop, the canteen and some interesting displays about the building of the fort and films about the various guns that have been positioned there throughout its history.
On the ramparts above you can see one of the 6 inch guns that made the Victorian muzzle loaded guns on the gun deck below obsolete by 1905 [there were three guns originally, but now there is only one, but you can still see the emplacements were they once stood].
In the magazine below the gun deck you will find a series of underground tunnels and rooms. One surprising feature of the fort is that a third of the magazine was converted into a nuclear fallout shelter for civilian use during the Cold War.
The Nothe Fort is a fascinating place were Britain has faced external threats both real and imagined; arguably the fortifications finest hour was during World War Two when it served as an anti-aircraft position protecting Portland and Weymouth harbours, a conflicted its Victorian architects could never have imagined. The Victorians were right about one thing however, the Nothe Peninsula offers great views of Weymouth and Portland, so it is worth the trek up there even if you are not interested in history, especially on a sunny day, like that day back in 2012.
What is the appeal of ruins? The details of this particular ruin escape me, but I am sure I paid to see it and probably enjoyed every minute of it; but why?
Perhaps it is because the ruined state leaves enough for my imagination to fill in the gaps and create something far more magical than the artists impression in any guidebook (and probably more magical than the original 11th Century fortress at Hastings, which was probably quite a business like affair).
The ruin also offers a unique opportunity to study how a building was constructed in the first place. A friend of mine, Scott, was very disappointed, on a memorable visit to the National Railway Museum in York, that the famous Flying Scotsman was in pieces in The Works, but I found it fascinating; it is not every day you get the chance to view the interior of a legendary steam train or a Medieval castle.
The irregularities in the stonework in contrast with the regular brickwork and concrete of my home town and places like it, the unique opportunities for shadows to play across the ground, the connection to a shared history, the novelty, the feeling of being enclosed whilst also being open to the elements; surrounded by thick stone walls and Gothic arches that let in views of the Channel and a large proportion of the Town below (in the case of Hastings Castle).
Am I a romantic fool? Most probably. Do I care? Not a jot.
If memory serves me, this reconstruction of a Roman gateway is only a short walk from Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, on Liverpool Road. The gateway marks what would have been the North entrance to the fort at Mamucium, a garrison town on the road between the Romano-British centres of Chester and York. The reconstruction is definitely worth investigating, especially if you are visiting the MOS&I anyway.
It seem that, in 2014, an impressive gatehouse and crenellated battlements simply aren’t enough to keep out unwelcome visitors! This fence and strategically placed traffic cone were deployed to give added security to a NATO summit, which is currently taking place in Newport (or at least that’s what an old lady sitting at a bus stop on this side of the fence told me). Presumably it will be taken down after the summit finishes.
Photo Archive: Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, c.2012.