The site now occupied by Castle Park seems to have had a chequered history. Bristol Castle was established, in the form of a simple motte and bailey affair, under William The Conqueror. By The Anarchy, which pitted the forces of Matilda and Stephen of Blois in a fight to fill the power vacuum left by King Henry I, the castle had become a formidable fortification. During the English Civil War the castle was occupied by Parliamentarian and Royalist troops and Oliver Cromwell decided Bristol Castle was a liability and it had to go. That’s why, if you go to Castle Park today, you only see the big clumps of wall Oliver Cromwell’s pioneers could not undermine. In homage to William The Conqueror’s original Bristol Castle, I’m assuming, a wooden castle commands a prominent position at the Lower Castle Street end of the park, complete with wooden men-at-arms. I was inspecting the fortifications in Castle Park at about 10 o’clock on a Monday morning in school term-time, so there were very few people about, but the play ground looks like a lot of fun.
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
To quote from English Heritage’s website, “The spectacular west front [of the Benedictine Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds] was completed around the turn of the 13th century under Abbot Samson, who added a great central tower and lower octagonal towers to either side. He also improved the accommodation including a new hall, the Black Hostry, to house the abbey’s many monastic visitors“. Abbot Samson can be seen here, in a corner of the Moyse’s Hall Museum, which sits at the heart of Bury St. Edmunds, holding a model of his creation.
To quote from the description of the former abbey site today on English Heritage’s website, “Enough remains of the abbey church to suggest it was an impressive structure. At over 150 metres long the church was one of only a few of its date to be built on such a large scale in this country” and I would agree that what ruins point to Abbot Samson’s Abbey being as grand as English Heritage and the statue in the Moyse’s Hall Museum suggest.
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.