A little piece of English history

As most readers of my blog will realise, I am more one for natural rather than human history. However, over the last few weeks a little piece of both national and immediately local history has come to light which has taken more of my interest than usual.

One morning between Christmas and New Year, I looked over our lawn to see that part of the wall facing the road had come down in the storm during the previous night. Like so many of the older houses in our village, we have a drystone wall boundary although ours looked a lot more rickety than most. Since we moved into the house nearly a year ago, we have carefully taken off some of the ivy that was overgrowing it and made some of the stones on the top a little more secure. Looking at the wall on the Google Streetview image, which was taken in 2015, it was completely overgrown with bramble and ivy, so it appeared to be in better shape than it had been in previous years. However, after several storms and heavy rains over the last few months, it seem it couldn’t stand up any longer, or at least one section of it.

We spent the following week getting quotes for works and eventually appointed the local waller and shepherd, Tim, who actually drives down our village lane each day to tend his sheep. He started the work a week and a half ago and, with a few hours each day, is already showing good progress. He’s not just repairing the missing gap but rebuilding much of the whole 10 metre run, including putting a cock and hen coping on it. The section of the wall done to date already looks much better than the section it replaces, so the whole wall is going to be much stronger and a lot less rickety.

Now onto the history…

While taking some of the stones down, to then rebuild the wall, Tim found pieces of an old clay smoking pipe including parts of the bowl. After an initial view from Tim and some research, the pipe has been dated to a time around 1650 to 1680. This may be interesting enough to some, but then comes the wider historical link to the stones in the wall and the English Civil War.

Naseby is a village around 12 miles to the north of our own, and is on some of my usual cycling routes around the area. It was the setting for the Battle of Naseby in 1645, one of the defining engagements of the war and perhaps the most famous. Even closer to us, around two miles away, is Holdenby House, pronounced locally as Holmby, which was the site of what was to become a major royal palace of both James I and Charles I. After the Civil War it was the prison of Charles I between February and June 1647 before he was seized and taken off to New Market (to be later executed in 1649 in Whitehall). Parliament later sold the palace to Captain Adam Baynes, who demolished the majority of the building, leaving behind one wing, which remains in itself a major country house. The stone resulting from the demolition, potentially used to pay soldiers from the war, was distributed around the area and used in construction of buildings and walls.

All of the above dates point to not only our wall being built in the 17th Century (the house is from circa 1860) but also being made, in part at least, from stone taken from a former royal palace. Looking at some of the stone in the wall, Tim believes that some of the local ironstone and non-local sandstone is very similar in size and shape to other Holdenby stone he has come across in walls he has worked on.

As I said, I’m not one for human history really, but links from my own drystone wall and a major palace and Civil War battle, might just make me look a bit more, at least at the history of our new home and surrounding area. It’s pretty amazing what findings objects such as little as a piece of old smoking pipe can lead to.

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