inspiration / writing

Touching History

This is the biggest bed I’ve ever slept in.

big bed

I’m known for having fairly roomy handbags, so the one sitting on the bed gives you some idea of scale.

The bed is in sixteenth century Thornbury Castle in South Gloucestershire, and I was there because the Tudor period is my passion, and I’m planning a new book. My room was especially atmospheric because of the huge wall hangings and the dim light.

It was particularly dim because the only windows were two arrow loops, or arrow slits. In the morning, this one looked like a big glowing cross.

Although some of the features in my room, like the cold stone walls and the arrow loops, were original, one thing I learned at Thornbury was not to take what I see for granted. For instance, look at these photos, taken just a few metres from the main part of the castle.

building site 1

building site 2

What do you see? Ruins? Doorways? The remains of fireplaces?

That’s what I saw, until I was put right by an expert. These aren’t pictures of castle ruins. They’re pictures of a building site – a  Tudor building site. Whoever was having this part of the castle constructed ran out of money, and there it stayed. Fortunately, the VIPs’ parts of the castle look out over privy gardens and courtyards, not over this neglected area.

My visit gave me some idea of what it must have been like to be a Very Important Person, living in a great castle in the sixteenth century. Even the 21st century loo roll looked important!

                                   Very Important Paper

                                    Very Important Paper

Two of the Very Important People who stayed at Thornbury Castle were Henry VIII and his bride, Anne Boleyn. They spent ten days of their honeymoon there, and slept in an octagonal tower room. When I was shown this room, I yearned to touch something that they might have touched. The only original thing I could be fairly sure of was a fireplace, so I did some very casual leaning while having one of those I’m-touching-history moments.

In the name of research I’ve been to some great places and done some fascinating things, so I’ve had a few of those I’m-touching-history moments. For instance, once I held a bible that was presented to King Charles II at his coronation in 1661. I was only allowed to because it was just off to be restored.

Then, when researching a book about dinosaurs, I was allowed to use a special tool to grind away small pieces of rock, revealing a real dinosaur bone. That was soooo exciting! (Even though they realised how excited I was getting, and took the tool away from me.)

Anybody else had an I’m-touching-history moment?


5 thoughts on “Touching History

  1. There’s a church in Bosham, near where I live. Bosham is the place Canute is reputed to have tried to hold back the tide to prove to people he wan’t God and couldn’t do so, his daughter is thought to be buried there BUT the really amazing thing about this church is that all around the doorway are tiny carved crosses. They were put there be CRUSADERS returning from battle who , as a mark of respect for God and the church, affected to blunt their blades before entering the sacred building. The marks are darkened by the thousands of fingertips that have traced over then

    • Kathryn, thanks for telling me about those crosses. A trip to Bosham is called for, so I can darken them, too. Parking very carefully, of course! 😉

  2. Lovely post. I’ve a moment of touching history and being touched by history. We now live in an old cottage – part of it over 400 years old. My first Armistice Day here I was suddenly and profoundly struck by the number of women who had said farewell to their loved sons, brothers and husbands going to war from this home. It moves me every year.

    • I envy you living in such an old cottage. I’d spend hours wondering what had gone on there over the centuries. I love it that you think of those caught up in the war. Wouldn’t it be lovely if those families could know that they, and their plight, are remembered?

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