St Bride’s & more

I had some photos left on my phone from short visits to monuments and museums across the UK, which I thought would be a waste not to discuss! As such, here’s a rather unusual blog post discussing several things at once.

Christopher Wren‘s masterpiece is of course St Paul’s Cathedral in London. However, there are many more churches in the City of London by his hand. One of them is St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street, which was reconstructed by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.


St Bride’s Church

This church is a hidden gem: you’d hardly notice it walking on Fleet Street as it’s tucked away between other buildings at the end of an alley. Still, St Bride’s is the second tallest of all Wren’s buildings at 69m. It’s said that the church’s tower inspired the tiered wedding cake. It is not the first church built here. In fact, St Bride’s is the eighth church built here over 1500 years! It’s thought this site was home to a Celtic Christian community during the time of the Romans.


Inside St Bride’s

Being in the City of London, the oldest part of London, the church (and its predecessors) has witnessed many historic events and hosted many famous historic figures. King John is said to have held meetings here. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, was baptised here. Charles Dickens is likely to have attended mass here as he lived nearby. Fleet Street has historically been known as the center of publishing, as a lot of printing was done here from the 16th century onwards. The first official English Bible was printed here in 1539 for Henry VIII, an important moment in the history of the Church of England. Up until the 20th century, Fleet Street was the preferred location for most British national newspapers. Now, however, it’s become a prime location for banking. St Bride’s is still sometimes referred to as the “Printer’s Cathedral” or the “Journalists’ Church”. This is also due to the fact that the first printing press with moveable type was brought here in 1500.

In rebuilding the church in the 17th century, Christopher Wren mostly used the original outline of the medieval church that had burnt down. The current tower was built over the ruins of the medieval tower. In 1940 the church was bombed, revealing Crypts containing some Roman pavement! Here you can now find an interesting exhibition about the history of the church and Fleet Street.

On a completely unrelated note, after the trip me and my father took in Cumbria and Northumberland, I needed to take a train back from Newcastle. I had some time to spare and visited the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art there. This museum is housed in an old flour mill. This massive building can house 3000sqm of art divided over 6 floors.


BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle

The staircase at this museum itself is a work of art! Two mirrors facing each other have been placed at the bottom and top of the staircase, which makes it appear as though the staircase goes on endlessly. Looking down from the stairs here made me afraid of heights for the first time in my life! This is a work by Mark Wallinger, and with this work he points out how a fear of heights is ultimately a fear of death.


Heaven and Hell by Mark Wallinger

I also visited an exhibition of Caroline Achaintre‘s work, which made a big impression on me. Her work shows how humans are primed to recognize faces in almost anything. Using paper, textiles and ceramics, she makes masks with minimal facial features. It’s almost as if she’s trying to find the bare minimum by which she can make people see a face. Her work is much inspired by Primitivism and Expressionism. You can see some pieces from the exhibition below.


A work by Caroline Achaintre


Frank by Caroline Achaintre


A work by Caroline Achaintre


A work by Caroline Achaintre

Finally, in a recent visit to the British Museum I saw some interesting archeological finds I wanted to share with you. Firstly, the British Museum displays some of the Vindolanda tablets I discussed when I visited Hadrian’s Wall (see post here).


A selection of the Vindolanda tablets at the British Museum

The Corbridge Lanx (‘lanx’ means ‘tray’ in Latin) is an incredibly well-preserved silver serving plate found near Hadrian’s wall in Corbridge by a 9-year old girl named Isabel Cutler in 1735 by the River Tyne, which was then owned by the dukes of Northumberland until 1993, when the British Museum bought it. It is estimated to have been created in the 4th century AD. It is unclear what the meaning of the engraving is exactly. A shrine of Apollo is depicted and the god himself can be seen on the far right with his lyre positioned by his feet. Further to the left, the goddess Minerva can be seen wearing a helmet and raising her arm.


Corbridge Lanx

The last Roman archeological find from The British Museum I want to briefly discuss is the Hinton St Mary Mosaic, a section of 4th-century mosaic floor found at a villa at Hinton St Mary in Dorset. It is a very early example of a Christian decoration in the Roman Empire. Commonly, the centre of a main floor in Roman times was occupied by the depiction of a pagan god or goddess, but this figure is most likely Christ as evidenced by the Greek letters X (chi) and P (rho) behind the figure’s head. The pomegranates by Christ’s head are a symbol of immortality.


The Hinton St Mary Mosaic

Sorry for the hodgepodge of topics in this blog! In my next blog I will start reporting the epic hiking trip on the West Highland Way I took last summer!



Even though I have only just moved to London, this week I have accepted an offer of a studentship with the Doctoral Training Programme in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford! So I’ll be moving again around mid-September 2017. Get ready for more posts about college history!

This summer I did some interesting sight-seeing in Northumberland and Cumbria with my father. Among other things, we visited Cragside, a Victorian estate in Northumberland, built by extraordinary water engineer William Armstrong.

William George Armstrong was born in Newcastle in 1810. As a child he was often very ill, and started making many small machines during the days he was sick at home. From an early age, he had a fascination with water. He would spend most of his holidays fishing in the river in Rothbury, while at his father’s friend Armorer Donkin’s country house. His father wanted William to become a lawyer, and so he started working for Donkin’s law firm in Newcastle. But he still spent much of his free time inventing and building things.

In 1845, Armstrong became secretary of the Whittle Dene Water Company, which supplied Newcastle with drinking water. He was working on ideas to use water to derive power. He developed a hydraulic crane that was used at the Newcastle Quayside to unload ships and was very fast, cheap and effective. At this point he decided he wanted to solely focus on engineering. He quit his work as a lawyer, and started up his own company, which became very successful.

In 1863, he visited Rothbury again, where he had spent many holidays in his childhood. He liked it so much, he decided to buy some land there so he could build a house to visit more frequently: Cragside. But Armstrong wouldn’t be Armstrong if he didn’t use this opportunity to use new technologies to improve ways of living in his new house. On the site he built a hydraulic pumping engine that would supply the house with drinking water. He also built a power house that provided electric lights to the house. The house was the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity!

Now, the house itself is just plain WEIRD. It looks like an attempt was made to combine many different architectural styles used through the ages in a single building, making the whole thing look very much thrown together. Some of the upper part of the back of the house is very clearly in the Tudor Revival style from the 19th century, but then the bottom looks more castle-y. You can also see some Neo-Gothic arches, and A LOT of turrets. Opinions are very divided about whether this design by Richard Norman Shaw is inventive and beautiful, or flamboyant and over-the-top.



Below you see the house’s living room and the first room in the world that was lit with incandescent light bulbs, invented by Joseph Swan. The electricity for these lights came from the nearby power house, which contained a water-powered Siemens dynamo.


First room in the world with light bulbs!



The gallery contains some interesting paintings, sculpture and taxidermy

In 1884 the Prince and Princess of Wales (who would later become King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) visited Cragside for five days. It is thought that they chose to visit this house, rather than Alnwick Castle where they would usually reside when visiting the area, because it had many modern comforts, like running (hot!) water and central heating. To impress the royal couple on their visit, Armstrong had a whole new section added to the building. This included rooms especially built for their occupation, among which is the Owl Suite. I want to highlight this room, because it contains a beautiful wooden canopied bed with two bedposts in which owls are carved (giving the room its name). The bed is made from American black walnut and was designed by Shaw (who designed the rest of the house as well).


American black walnut canopied bed by Richard Norman Shaw (this is actually really really pretty 🙂 )

The absolute elephant in the room when visiting Cragside is the monstrosity of a fireplace you can see below, which is in the drawing room at the end of the gallery and was also added right before the royal visit of 1884. This room was used as a banquet hall, because the dining room did not fit the number of people that were invited to have dinner with the Prince and Princess. The fireplace was designed by W.R. Lethaby, weighs a whopping 10 tons and is made completely out of Italian marble (what a waste). Now, this fireplace was designed and built to impress the royal couple, but I can only imagine how horrified they must have been at the sight of this… thing! Besides being, just, horrible, the fireplace is also completely useless. As this room is built against a rock, all the fireplace does is heat up the cold rock behind it, rather than the room itself.


Why, Mr. Armstrong, why???


A more close-up look of the ‘fireplace’.

The estate is still an important place for hydroelectricity. Recently, an Archimedes screw has been built to gather power to light the house. Archimedes screws are traditionally used to move water from a low-lying place upwards, but in this screw water goes the other way and as such power can be generated. All the light bulbs have been replaced with LEDs to make the house even more energy-efficient.



View of the house from the grounds

So, even though I didn’t 100% agree with all of the architectural design choices made in the building of this house :P, it was a really cool place to visit, because of its history in relation to hydroelectricity and the interesting stories about Armstrong and his family.

Next time will be a bit of a mash-up of topics as I’d like to talk about some interesting art I saw in Newcastle this summer as well as some really cool archeological finds I saw in the British Museum in London more recently.




Now for a completely different country! Yes, I do occasionally visit landmarks in other places than Holland and the UK. In fact, in February I visited Disneyland with Merel, which was of course fabulous (how could it not be). We had some spare time to take a day trip to Paris.


Notre-Dame de Paris

To keep within the Disney theme, we firstly visited the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. You can go up to the cathedral’s towers for an astonishing view of the city, and to get a close-up look at the gargoyles that were the inspiration for Disney’s Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. These gargoyles used to be brightly coloured, as well as the rest of the building, but the paint has washed off long ago. The cathedral’s construction began in 1163, replacing an older church that had been demolished to make way for the Notre-Dame, and was finished in 1345. The fact that many different architects worked on the cathedral over many decades, can be seen from the different styles employed at each level of the facades.

The rose window at the north end of the cathedral is a beautiful example of the Rayonnant style: characterised by its ‘[repetitive] decorative motifs at different scales’ (wikipedia). This was a big contrast with the previous High Gothic style, which was mostly concerned with large, high spaces.


The Notre-Dame’s rose window (photo from therosewindow.com)

In line with previous posts, some interesting events took place in the Notre-Dame. In 1431, Henry VI (the ‘Mad King’)  of England was crowned King of France here. In 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots was married to the Dauphin Francis in the Notre-Dame (Mary and Francis were only 16 and 14 at the time!). And in 1804, the cathedral was the site of Napoleon‘s coronation. So the cathedral continued to be a very significant place throughout the centuries!


View to the East from between the Notre-Dame’s two towers


View to the West from the Notre-Dame

Later the same day, we visited Versailles. For somebody as obsessed with European royal history as me, it’s quite unusual I hadn’t been there before!

Most French monarchs resided in Paris. Louis XIII had a hunting lodge built at Versailles in 1623, which Louis XIV enlarged to a magnificent royal residence during his reign. Louis XIV distrusted Paris, as many anti-monarchical movements originated here. Furthermore, Versailles offered many opportunities for further construction. Architect Louis Le Vau was responsible for the building of the palace and André Le Notre designed its famous gardens. From 1682, Louis’ court and government were officially located here. Versailles became the center of festivities and events organised by the King. Many of the famous plays by writer Moliere and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully originated here. After the French revolution, the palace was turned into a museum.

The palace has too many astounding rooms to discuss here, but I will attempt to talk a bit about what the highlights were for me. Unfortunately, I did not manage to take too many pictures at Versailles, as it was incredibly busy.




The Royal Chapel at Versailles


Hercules Room at Versailles

The Hercules Room, which you can see above, was used as a ballroom in the 18th century. It is the first room of the King’s Grand Apartment, but was created the last. A chapel used to be here, but the Hercules Room was built when the Royal Chapel was constructed instead. The large painting decorating the room is The Meal at the House of Simon, painted by Veronese in 1570 and offered by the Republic of Venice to Louis XIV in 1664.


Ceiling of the Venus Room in the King’s Grand Apartment at Versailles: Venus Crowned by the Graces by René-Antoine Houasse (1672).


Marble bust of Louis XIV by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1665) in the Diana room in the King’s Grand Apartment in Versailles.


The Mercury Salon of the King’s Grand Apartment at Versailles.

The Mercury salon (above) was the King’s Grand Apartment’s bedchamber. This chamber used to be completely decorated in silver furniture, until Louis XIV was forced to have them melted down to pay for the Nine Years’ War.


The magnificent Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Above you can see The Hall of Mirrors, by far the most impressive sight at Versailles. This Hall functioned as a hallway and meeting place in the days of Louis XIV when there were about 4,000 people at court! The hall is 73 metres long and is aptly named as it contains 357 mirrors. Note that mirrors were a luxury product at the time; as such this hall was a a very impressive testimony to the prosperity of France. The arch contains paintings by Le Brun which depict Louis XIV many political victories. For you Dutchies reading my blog: the Treaties of Nijmegen are included in the elaborate painted ceiling! Many important events took place in this hall, not only in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was used as a royal residence. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War was signed in this room.


View of the Gardens of Versailles from the Hall of Mirrors.


One of Louis XIV’s great achievements: making peace with Holland.


The King’s Bedroom at Versailles, facing the rising Sun in the East


The Bull’s Eye Room; named after its oval windows. Visitors waited here to be admitted to the King’s Bedchamber.


The crowning of the Empress Josephine by Napoleon in Notre-Dame of Paris on 2 December 1804 by Jacques-Louis David (1808-1822); copy of the original, which hangs in the Louvre.


The Battles Gallery at Versailles.

The Battles Gallery was built in 1833-1837 when Versailles became a museum. The gallery shows the biggest victories of France from history through 33 paintings lined along the wall. The gallery also features busts of famous French officers who died in combat.


Louis XIV Storming Valenciennes, 17 March 1677. This painting honours the Sun King, who built Versailles, and his victory over the Dutch at Valenciennes.

That was my very short summary of all the magnificent sights at Versailles. To finish, here is a view of Versailles’ gardens.



Stirling Castle

A short holiday I haven’t talked about yet, was a trip to Scotland with some friends in November 2015. I was inspired to post something about this due to a recent trip to Edinburgh. Merel and I visited Stirling, as I was desperate to see Stirling Castle, often coined the most impressive of the Scottish castles.



My sad attempt at photographing Stirling Castle by night (it was foggy)

Stirling Castle is built on Castle Hill. Its location is incredibly strategic, as the hill it is on is very steep on three sides. There are many myths and legends about Stirling Castle’s ancient history, such as that King Arthur’s court sat here. However, the first actual record of it comes from the 11th century, when King Alexander I built a chapel on the hill. Alexander’s successor, David I, turned Stirling into a royal burgh. The castle was a popular royal home for centuries.

The castle also played a big part in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th & 14th century (the cause of which is described in a previous post on Carlisle Castle). The castle was occupied by the English and the Scots intermittently for decades, until it was retaken by Robert Stewart in 1342, who would become the first Stewart king of the Scots. The early Stewart kings built parts of the castle that can still be admired today.


The North Gate is probably the oldest surviving part of the castle and was built by the early Stewart kings of Scotland in the 14th century (photo from Wikipedia as my own pictures are shit, because fog)

The rest of the castle that survives has mostly been built in the 15th and 16th centuries. In these centuries, Stirling was a royal residence to the Scottish kings. Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned at Stirling Castle in 1543 and visited frequently thereafter (another flashback to a previous post). When the English and Scottish crown were united in 1603, the castle stopped being used as a royal residence. Instead, it was increasingly used by the military.

King James V built a Royal Palace inside the castle walls in the 1530s; the first Renaissance palace built in the British isles! The palace facade includes some very interesting stone statues of important figures such as the king himself, the devil, saints, Venus and other deities.


Facade of the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle

Visiting Stirling Castle is unlike any other visit to historical monuments: at Stirling many of the castle’s interiors have been decorated to mimic what they must have looked like during the Renaissance. This gives the visitor a unique view of the post, which can be very surprising! We’re so used to seeing ‘old junk’ at museums and worn exteriors of buildings, we forget what these objects might have looked like when brand-new. Specifically, the bright colour of the restored Great Hall is very unusual-looking to our eyes as we’re used to seeing old buildings with worn and stained exteriors.


Restored Great Hall: its exuberant colour is especially dashing when compared to the dirty, worn non-restored exterior of the Royal Palace next to it.

The Great Hall’s interior is equally mesmerising. Its hammerbeam roof is a replication of what it was like up to 1800, when it was removed and the space was divided into two floors. This hall is the largest of its kind in the entirety of Scotland! You can imagine what an impressive sight it must have been for the King to have been sat in his throne at the very end of the room when receiving visitors.


Awesome hammerbeam roof inside Great Hall at Stirling Castle


Thrones at the Great Hall at Stirling Castle

The Chapel Royal also has been completely restored. This is the place Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned in 1543. However, the current chapel is one that was rebuilt after this coronation in order to be used for James’, Mary’s son, christening.


Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle (note the beautiful Italianate arched windows)

The King’s and Queen’s apartments inside the Royal Palace have also been restored to their former glory. Each apartment consists of a hall, a presence chamber and a bedroom, as well as some smaller rooms. Most larger rooms have big stone fireplaces, dating from the time in which the castle was used as a military centre. The King’s Presence Chamber’s ceiling has been beautifully recreated, as it used to be covered by the famous Stirling Heads: carved oak portraits now displayed inside the Castle behind glass.


Shitty picture of the King’s Presence Chamber (it was really dark and foggy outside so apparently my camera needed time to recover while inside). Note the reconstructed Stirling Heads at the top of the picture.

One of the most impressive sights was the reconstruction of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, hung in the Queen’s Inner Hall. These tapestries were commissioned for this room to give an idea of what type of decoration the room might have been decorated with in the 16th century. The originals can be found in The Cloisters in New York. The Hunt of the Unicorn was a much used theme in the Renaissance. It can be seen as a symbolic depiction of the Passion of Christ. However, the story also has some pagan connotations, as in pagan myths the unicorn was believed to be an animal that could only be tamed by a virgin.


The magnificent replicas of The Hunt of the Unicorn in the Queen’s Inner Hall

That’s all about Stirling Castle: I can definitely recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. Stirling is actually quite easy to reach by train from Edinburgh! To finish this post, I’ll show you some lovely photos we took on a day trip to Callander, right by the Trossachs.



Samson’s putting stone: according to folklore this boulder was thrown onto Bochastle Hill by a Fingalian giant named Samson in a competition to prove himself the strongest giant of all.



Whipple Museum


I’ve recently moved to London, but I still have one more post left on one of Cambridge’s wonderful museums, so I couldn’t resist…

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science at Cambridge, is pretty much a massive collection of antique scientific instruments. I will highlight a few that interested me: you probably won’t have heard of some of them before! The museum is named after Robert Stewart Whipple who donated his collection to the University of Cambridge in 1944.

When entering the museum, your attention is immediately drawn to the massive astronomical clock in the center of the room. This is a replica of a 14th-century clock, a fourth as small as the original! Richard of Wallingford, the abbot of St Albans Abbey, built this clock between 1327-1336. Supposedly, King Edward III was angry with Richard for spending all his time on this clock, while letting his church go to ruin. But Richard insisted this clock be a very important project. Richard died in 1336, but the clock seems to have been finished by other monks. However, in 1536-1541, Henry VIII shut down many of the monasteries, while founding the Church of England, and the clock seems to have been destroyed along with it. Luckily, Richard of Wallingford had left detailed manuscripts of how the clock had been built. The clock has two parts: one part tracks the time, the other the movements of the Moon.

2015-09-25 15.19.22

Replica of a 14th-century astronomical clock

The museum also has a brilliant collection of astrolabes. Astrolabes are ancient calculators that were used from antiquity up to the Renaissance. They had many uses among which were predicting the locations of planets, and computing the local time. The word ‘astrolabe’ comes from the Greek ‘astron’, ‘star’, and ‘lambanein’, ‘to take’. Here you can find a TED talk on how to use astrolabes.

2015-09-25 14.27.08

Armillary spheres are models of the solar system. In 1543, Copernicus stated the Sun was in the centre of the universe instead of the Earth (as had been believed until then). This view slowly became accepted over the next two centuries. However, to accommodate everybody’s beliefs, these armillary spheres were usually sold in pairs, showing both ideas about the universe, up to the eighteenth century! The sphere usually consists of rings around a centre (the Sun or the Earth). The Greek Eratosthenes has been credited with the sphere’s invention. Its name derives from the Latin ‘armilla’, meaning circle.

Also, doing some Google searching on armillary spheres made me stumble upon some amazing modern ones that I’m now supertempted to buy for my new place in London. 😛

2015-09-25 14.30.10

Early 18th-century Copernican armillary sphere

Dip circles were instruments used to measure the dip angle: the angle between the horizon and the Earth’s magnetic field. They were used for navigation, mining, and for mapping the Earth’s magnetic field. In 1831, British explorer James Clark Ross used such a dip circle to locate the North Magnetic Pole in Canada.

2015-09-25 14.45.08

Early 19th-century dip circle

A chronometer is an extremely precise time piece. They were taken on voyages on sea to measure longitude. The chronometer would be set to indicate the time it was at the place of departure. On board, you could then measure the local time using the Sun. Computing the difference between the two times, would give you the longitude change during the journey.

In 1714, the British government issued a competition with a £20,000 reward for anybody who could invent a way of tracking longitude while at sea. John Harrison’s solution was the chronometer. The museum holds a beautiful replica of one of Harrison’s clocks.

2015-09-25 15.27.57

Replica of 18th-century chronometer by John Harrison

The following item I find particularly interesting: the museum holds a part of Charles Babbage‘s ‘Difference Engine No. 1’, the world’s first computer! It transforms multiplication into addition.

2015-09-25 14.52.44

Fragment of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1

In the early twentieth century, science become more popular, and companies started producing more scientific instruments for household use. For example, many chemistry sets (always targeted at boys, grrr) became available, which the museum has some nice examples of.

2015-09-25 14.53.31

Twentieth-century chemistry set (FOR BOYS…)

Phrenology was the study of bumps and dents in the skull relating to personality traits, which became very popular in the 19th-century. To be clear: we know now that that is a severe extrapolation of brain function localization. So please do not attempt to draw conclusions from bumps on your head, it’s silly. Below you can see a phrenology head of convicted murderer Pierre-Francois Lacenaire. This head was made for phrenologists to examine after Lacenaire’s execution in France in 1836. They claimed protrusions above the right ear and some other areas indicated ‘destructiveness’, ‘acquisitiveness’, and ‘vanity’.

2015-09-25 14.59.48

Phrenology head of Pierre-Francois Lacenaire

In the early 19th-century, there was a huge shortage of bodies for medical students to dissect. The French Dr. Auzoux started making papier-mache models for students to examine, which became a huge success.The museum has some wonderful examples of these models.

2015-09-25 15.10.36

19th-century papier-mache model by Dr. Auzoux

And here are some further items that caught my attention:

2015-09-25 14.20.23

A 19th-century string model used to create representations of three-dimensional functions

2015-09-25 14.23.47

The Whipple museum holds about 100 of these glass models of fungi made by Dr. William Weston between 1936-1953

2015-09-25 14.37.29

19th-century replica of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope

2015-09-25 14.41.14

Charles Darwin’s microscope

The museum also holds some more modern items, that are important for the collection’s continuity. Below you can see the first globe ever produced of the planet Mercury, in 2014. NASA’s Messenger finally collected enough data in 2011-2013 (18,000 pictures) about the planet for this globe to be made. It used to be very hard to examine this planet as it is so small and close to the Sun.

2015-09-25 15.01.34

First globe of Mercury

I hope you enjoyed this little history of science lesson! In my next blog I will chat about a trip Merel and I took to Stirling, which was a while ago, like everything on this blog (oops).


Carlisle Castle

This post I will be talking about my trip to Carlisle Castle, which I can recommend to everybody, because it’s fascinating. Carlisle Castle is a red sandstone fortress near the Anglo-Scottish border, which was continuously occupied for nearly 900 years (!!!).

King William II Rufus conquered Carlisle and Cumberland from the Scots and built a castle in 1092 to protect the new border. His brother, Henry I, then fortified it in stone. The St Bees’ red sandstone that you can now see was used in later alterations. In 1136 the region was taken back by King of Scots David I. The future Henry II of England promised to David he would leave his land alone, but later broke this promise.

In 1190, Scotland had no ruler, after their Queen Margaret died, who left no heirs as she was only a child. Edward I of England got to pick a new ruler for Scotland and chose John Balliol. However, the Scots were not happy with their new king, as they suspected that he was heavily manipulated by Edward and got rid of him. Subsequently, they invaded England and conquered Carlisle. Edward invaded Scotland, and there was a great war between the two kingdoms for years, during which Carlisle was an important base. Edward I’s wife Queen Margaret of France lived at Carlisle Castle during these years. Carlisle would continue to be an important location as England and Scotland continued to have wars very frequently. The job of warden of the West March was thus a hard and important one. The wardens lived at Carlisle Castle; the most famous one was probably Richard, who would later become Richard III.

During the English Civil War, Carlisle endured the longest siege of a town in English history! Carlisle was loyal to the crown and was thus besieged by Parliamentarians and Covenanters (Scots who had joined the Parliamentarians against the English crown) for nine months, after which the city surrendered. After some decades of peace, Carlisle was again besieged during the Jacobite uprising of 1745 (anybody who has been watching Outlander: all the feels) by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). After failing to get support in England, the Jacobite army returned to Carlisle and were captured there by the English.

2015-08-08 11.44.05

Outer Gatehouse of Carlisle Castle

The first thing you see when approaching the castle is its gatehouse. The oldest parts of this gatehouse are from around 1160, but it has been much altered over the centuries, as you can imagine.

Via the gate, you enter the outer ward of the fortress. In the Middle Ages, this was open ground. In the 19th century, accommodations were built here for soldiers, which are still used today. The Border Regiment was stationed here between 1873 and 1959. The buildings are named after significant battles in which the Border Regiment was involved. One of them is called Arnhem, depicted below for all the Dutchies out there.

2015-08-08 11.47.11

Arnhem building at Carlisle Castle

2015-08-08 11.47.17

View of Carlisle Castle from the outer ward with the Captain’s Tower on the left

The Captain’s Tower, as seen above, was where the head officer lived. It was built in the 12th century, and again, changed much through the ages.

2015-08-08 12.27.43

Hinges of the Captain’s Tower’s gate

2015-08-08 12.29.08

View of the Captain’s Tower from the inner ward (note the beautiful 14th century tracery above the gate)

2015-08-08 12.33.04

View from the inner ward of three 16th century storage spaces

Now on to the part that gets me properly excited: Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive here in 1568 and the tower she occupied is aptly named Queen Mary’s Tower. The tower was demolished in 1835, as it was too old to be restored, and all that can be seen now is a few foundations. She grew up in France, while Scotland was ruled by regents in her place. Back in Scotland, an uprising took place against Mary and her husband and the throne went to her one-year old son. Mary fled to England, seeking her cousin Queen Elizabeth I‘s protection. However, Elizabeth wasn’t too friendly towards Mary, as Mary had previously claimed the throne of England and many English Catholics perceived Mary to be the true Queen of England. As such, Elizabeth kept Mary captive for 18 years, after which Mary was executed, having been found guilty of plotting to assassinate the Queen.

The Castle Keep is 21 metres high. Originally it was higher, but the roof was rebuilt to allow for better gun placement.

2015-08-08 13.08.18

16th-century entrance to Carlisle Castle Keep. The remains of foundations along the sides of the entrance suggests that in the original building plans, the Keep was meant to have a more impressive entrance.

2015-08-08 13.11.17

Great Hall at the Keep

The absolute highlight to be found at the Castle Keep is a small section of wall on the second floor that is completely filled with doodles. These are called the Prisoners’ Carvings, because the drawings used to be attributed to prisoners. However, it is more likely that they were actually made by guards on duty, considering they only appear in this small doorway. They are dated to about 1480, when Richard (who would later become King Richard III) was the Warden here. The carvings can be divided into two categories: crude drawings of animals and more refined carvings of many different subjects.

2015-08-08 13.20.49

Part of the Prisoner’s Carvings at the castle keep; here you can see a drawing of a boar, the symbol of Richard

2015-08-08 13.21.21

The Prisoner’s Carvings at the castle keep; here you can see the drawing of a leopard, part of the coat of arms of England

2015-08-08 13.21.30

Part of the Prisoner’s Carvings at Carlisle Castle Keep; here you can see a carving of a white rose, the family symbol of the House of York (Richard’s house)

Again, I can definitely recommend visiting this fascinating place. Next time, I’ll be blogging about something closer to home: the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, right here in Cambridge. I’ll be leaving Cambridge very soon, so it may be my last post about Cambridge in a long time!



Birdoswald Fort & Carlisle Cathedral

Another fort we visited is Birdoswald Fort (Banna), the excavations of which are much smaller than those at Vindolanda. Interestingly, it is the only fort along Hadrian’s Wall that has been proven to have been occupied after the collapse of the Roman Empire, possibly by local warriors. It was occupied by Roman soldiers between 112-400AD. Again, as is the case with many Roman forts, first a fort of turf and timber was built before it was erected in stone.

In Roman times the fort was called ‘Banna’, but later it became known as ‘Birdoswald’. The latter name probably comes from the Anglo-Saxons. The Celtic word ‘buarth’ means enclosure, and this was likely combined with the Anglo-Saxon name ‘Oswald’.

2015-08-06 10.37.25

View of Western gateway of Birdoswald Fort

The outer wall of the fort was about 4.5m tall, about as tall as the Wall was. The Military Way, the main road connecting all the forts, passed right through Birdoswald fort, which made this a very busy place.

In the 1840s, this estate was bought by Henry Norman, who was very interested in the fort’s history. He was the first to hire archaeologists to study it. The building below was built by Norman. It looks much older than it is, because it was fashionable at the time to build Medieval-looking houses. Norman named his son Oswald, after the site, but his son auctioned the place off and sold many of the artefacts found to the Tullie Museum in Carlisle.

2015-08-06 10.38.26

Tower and porch at Birdoswald built by Henry Norman

2015-08-06 10.40.01

Henry Norman’s initials above the doorway

2015-08-06 10.44.57

East Gate of Birdoswald Fort

On our last hiking day, we walked to Carlisle, our final stop. Carlisle (then called Luguvalium) was established by the Romans as a settlement to supply the forts along the Wall. It was a strategic location, as Carlisle overlooks a crossing-point of the River Eden. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Carlisle soon became an important military centre, as it is so close to Scotland. This is evidenced by Carlisle Castle, a magnificent fortress overlooking the city, which I will talk about in a next post.

Firstly, we visited Carlisle Cathedral, a beautiful 800 year-old Medieval church.

2015-08-08 11.38.25

Carlisle Cathedral

2015-08-08 10.19.54

Carlisle Cathedral

The church was established in 1122. The Diocese of Carlisle was founded 1133, by King Henry I, in an attempt to stabilise the border region between England and Scotland. Until 1540, a group of Augustinian canons lived here and served the cathedral. During the time of its construction, a lot of Augustinian churches were built in England, as the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, William de Corbeil, was a member of the Augustinian order.

The church was initially built in the Norman style using local red sandstone, this style is still very visible in the south transept, with its round arches and typical Norman decorations (see picture below). In the 13th century part of the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style, which is a much lighter, expansive style. The 14th-century wooden roof of the choir is absolutely stunning and was repainted in 1856.

2015-08-08 10.21.46

South transept of Carlisle Cathedral; typical Norman decorations can be seen over the arches and on the columns (zigzags and scallop shapes)

2015-08-08 11.01.37

14th-century wooden roof of Carlisle Cathedral

Also notable is the Cathedral’s window: an excellent example of the Flowing Decorated Gothic style in which the window is divided into many subparts of many different shapes at the arched top of the window, which branch out. It is the largest and most complex window of its type in England. This style became possible due to big advances in engineering in 14th-century England.

2015-08-08 11.01.43

East Window of Carlisle Cathedral

The cathedral also has a marvellous set of 15th-century black oak misericords. Misericords are little seats, at the bottom of the actual seat. Whenever people have to stand up during mass, the misericord can be leaned on for some support. This is particularly useful for elderly monks, who have difficulty standing for large amounts of time. Misericords were often elaborately decorated, and are easy to miss when visiting a church. I always like to peak under a few seats, and often find some remarkable works of art depicting biblical or mythical scenes.

2015-08-08 11.02.04

Example of a beautifully crafted misericord at Carlisle Cathedral

The Cathedral’s organ was built in 1856 by Henry Willis.In 1875 it was enlarged to include the large 32 foot pipes.

2015-08-08 11.01.30

Organ at Carlisle Cathedral

The Romans brought christianity to England, and by the time the Roman Empire fell, it was firmly rooted here. The Cathedral’s Treasury holds some fascinating examples of this Post-Roman time.

2015-08-08 10.32.31

Anglian cross fragment, 700AD

Next time, I will discuss my trip to Carlisle Castle in detail, because it was AWESOME. Here is a sneak peek:

2015-08-08 11.41.38



Miss me? I seem to have completely forgotten about this blog for a while, and we’re now reaching the point where I’m still discussing stuff I did last summer, while my next summer trips are approaching! Next week I’ll be doing a dance summer school at the Royal Academy of Dance in London (I also did one there when I was 16, how nostalgic!). The week after that, I will be returning to Bush Nook Guest House, which I talked about in my last post from 5 months ago, with my father. So I started ranting about the Roman fort Vindolanda in my last post, which I’ll be visiting again in two weeks. Be warned: the ranting is not over! This was definitely the coolest site we visited on our Hadrian’s Wall hike, so I will discuss it in (pain-staking) detail!

The reason this place is so cool, is that many findings are in very good state. The wooden writing tablets, which I talked about in my last post, for example, were preserved in the anaerobic earth. The same holds for part of a wooden underground aqueduct which was found with water still running through! The ruins of Vindolanda were first recorded in the 16th century. We can learn much from records by past visitors to the fort, because a lot of stone was looted from the site throughout history, as is the case with the Wall. According to a record by Christopher Hunter from 1702, the military bathhouse was still partly roofed when he went to visit it! Excavations of the site began in the 19th century, and in 1914 an altar was found that confirmed the fort’s name as being ‘Vindolanda’. In 1930, the land was bought by Eric Birley, and his descendants continue to excavate it. There is actually still a lot left to excavate, but the museum simply doesn’t have the money to excavate it all. Some amazing treasures may still be waiting to be discovered!

2015-08-05 10.06.50

Vindolanda actually consists of multiple forts, as the Romans often covered old forts in earth to build a new one on top. The oldest ones were made of wood and turf, which are now buried about 4 metres deep. Subsequently, 5 timber forts were built and taken down. A stone fort was built around the time Hadrian’s Wall was built. During a rebellion against the Romans in Northern England, Emperor Septimius Severus had the fort demolished and instead placed some military buildings to the west. Another stone fort was built for the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, who inhabited the fort from the early third century onwards. It is thought that, regardless of the garrison’s name, most of the troops were recruited locally. However, an interesting inscription was discovered at the fort suggesting there were still some ‘original’ Gauls left among the troops:



, which translates as “The troops from Gaul dedicate this statue to the goddess Gallia with the full support of the British-born troops.” Pretty cool, huh? The fort was rebuilt one last time in 300AD.

The Vindolanda museum is quite interesting, because it features some replica buildings from Roman times. The replica shrine below, for example, is dedicated to the water nymphs, and is based on examples found on wall paintings. Such a shrine would have stood in the civilian settlement next to the fort. Water nymphs were popular among the Celts. Plus, water supply was of the essence to such a civilian settlement, so it made sense to try and please the water gods.

2015-08-05 10.24.54

In the Vindolanda museum, more fascinating examples of the blending of religions common in the Roman Empire can be found. I particularly liked the below relief of a celtic god called Maponus, who was the god of eternal youth. By his head, the Roman gods Apollo and Diana can be seen.

2015-08-05 12.25.21

Furthermore, I was very interested in the carving below, which dates from early Christianity at Vindolanda. Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion in 325 AD. The carving shows the interlocked Greek letter chi and rho, which are the first two letters of the word ‘christos’, or: Christ.

2015-08-05 12.28.08

As I mentioned before, the Vindolanda museum also holds some remarkably intact findings because of the anaerobic soil in this region. It holds the largest collection of Roman leather anywhere! A very impressive example of this can be seen below: this is a horse chamfron, or: horse mask. The reconstruction at the top shows what the mask would have looked like in Roman times.

2015-08-05 10.31.46

And as I predicted back in this post: I came across some interesting ancient objects once again, most notably these beautiful dice and combs below. Again, I find it remarkable how little some common objects have changed throughout the centuries!

2015-08-05 12.09.54

2015-08-05 12.31.11

I also want to draw your attention to the beautiful remains of painted glass below. Honestly, this looks like it could have been painted today!

2015-08-05 12.35.50(1)

We took a guided tour to see the highlights of the excavations at Vindolanda. Below you can see the leftovers of the bathhouse at the fort, recognizable by the hypocaust that would have heated the floors of the several rooms. As you may know, bathhouses in Roman times did not just have a hygienic purpose. They were also places to meet up with friends or to work out. This bathhouse was a particularly elaborate one, with a cold room (frigidarium), a hot room (tepidarium), a hot steam room (caldarium), and a hot dry room (laconicum).

2015-08-05 11.11.06

2015-08-05 11.32.00

In my next post I will talk about the rest of our hike along Hadrian’s Wall, as well as our visit of Birdoswald Fort along the way.



Vercovicium is the old Latin name for Housesteads Roman Fort. The fort was built in 124 AD, soon after building of the Wall began in 122. It was occupied for 280 years by up to 800 auxiliary soldiers. Legionaries were Roman citizens and formed the heavy infantry in open battle. Auxiliaries were from the provinces, the land the Roman Empire had conquered, and were not universally granted citizenship until 212 AD. They supported the legions with infantry, cavalry and archers for all terrain and types of warfare. It was auxiliaries that occupied the Wall, as it was common they occupied the forts at frontier zones. In the third century AD, the fort was occupied by the Cohors I Tungrorum, auxiliaries from Belgium.

This fort is the best preserved one of the 16 forts on the Roman Frontier of Hadrian’s Wall. All Roman forts were built according to a fixed design. The site is rectangular, and surrounded by a stone wall up to 5 meters high. The fort had four large gates, one on each side. The gates were very large, as to convey the glory of the Roman Empire. Statues of gods were often placed over these gates. The gates led onto streets that divided the area into three smaller areas. The central area consisted of administrative buildings: headquarters, granaries, a hospital, and the commanding officer’s house. Around the central area were barracks, where the soldiers lived, as well as workshops.

Vercovicium - Housesteads Roman Fort

Vercovicium – Housesteads Roman Fort

Remains of North Gate of Housesteads Roman Fort

Remains of North Gate of Housesteads Roman Fort

Apparently, a group of Frisian soldiers and their families lived at or near this fort, auxiliaries part of the military unit cuneus Frisiorum. Some beautiful Frisian pottery has been found at the site. Many Frisians joined the Roman army as the sea claimed more and more of their land, and they gradually became impoverished. Their families would live near the fort in vici, or civilian settlements.

Frisian pottery found at Housesteads

Frisian pottery found at Housesteads

Well preserved example of Roman hypocaust (underfloor heating)

Well-preserved example of Roman hypocaust (underfloor heating)

Granary at Housesteads Roman Fort

Granary at Housesteads Roman Fort

Above, you can see a picture of a beautifully preserved granary (horreum), including hypocaust. Granaries were used to store the massive food supplies needed to sustain a large army. The granaries had strong buttressed stone walls with air vents and raised floors to allow air circulation and to avoid rodents getting to the food. Holes in the walls were used to let dogs into the space below the floor to catch rats.

Remains of barracks at Housesteads Roman Fort

Remains of barracks at Housesteads Roman Fort

There were 10 barracks at the fort, each accommodating 80 men (a century) as well as the centurion. Each barrack had 10 compartments, containing 8 men each (a contubernium) who lived in the small space together.

Well-preserved latrine at Housesteads Roman Fort

The highlight of our visit to this fort was without a doubt the extremely well-preserved latrine you can see in the picture above. It has a deep sewer, which you can see along the sides of the latrine, that used to be covered by a wooden floor and benches with holes in them that functioned as toilet seats. The sewer was flushed by rainwater and drained down the hill so the waste did not remain in the fort. In the centre of the latrine, a small channel provided water for washing.

The Wall just after Housesteads Roman Fort

The Wall just after Housesteads Roman Fort

Stunning view!

Stunning view!

Sheep are huddled to the Southern side of the Wall via a small opening

Sheep are huddled to the Southern side of the Wall via a small opening along Sycamore Gap

Sycamore Gap

Sycamore Gap (and Merel 😛 )

We walked on from Housesteads Roman Fort, since we had some miles to travel before we arrived at the place where we would be picked up by our B&B host. Above is a picture of Sycamore Gap, a location made famous by the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

The B&B we stayed at for our second and third night was Bush Nook Guest House, which is by far the best guesthouse I ever stayed at in the UK! The host Malcolm was very friendly and had great advice on which places to visit! Also, we were able to have dinner at the guest house both nights, and they were the best meals we had on our entire trip! Besides that, we had some nice chats with other guests, who all had very interesting stories to tell, over dinner and breakfast.

Our room at Bush Nook Guest House

Our room at Bush Nook Guest House

Our key at Bush Nook Guest House

Our key at Bush Nook Guest House

The next day we got up early to visit Vindolanda, another Roman Fort near the Wall. This was definitely the coolest site we visited, as some amazing findings have been done here. Most notably, the Vindolanda tablets have been found here: the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain! The tablets are sort of wooden postcards that were used for correspondence in the Roman Empire by inscribing them with ink. The 752 tablets found here are from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Since the ground at this site contains very little oxygen, the wooden tablets were preserved, while they perished at other sites.

It took quite some time to translate the old Roman cursive script in which the tablets are written. The tablets contain mostly army matters, but also some personal correspondence. This makes it a very special finding, as most preserved Roman writing is official documentation, not personal! On one of the more famous tablets, Claudia Severa, the wife of Aelius Brocchus, a commander of a nearby fort, invites Sulpicia Lepidina, the wife of Flavius Cerialis, prefect of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians, to a birthday party in approximately 100 AD. This may be the oldest surviving document in Latin written by a woman! Even more mind-blowing is that excavators have managed to find a sandal that they concluded must belong to Sulpicia! (how they figured that out is quite the mystery to me…)

2015-08-05 12.48.08

In another tablet, a mother writes about having enclosed some clean underpants for her soldier son:

… I have sent (?) you … pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants, two pairs of sandals … Greet …ndes, Elpis, Iu…, …enus, Tetricus and all your messmates with whom I pray that you live in the greatest good fortune.

Some of the tablets can be viewed at the British Museum in London. More about them in my next post!



Stop 1: Hexham

Here is the next part of my report on my trip to Hadrian’s Wall last summer. This report is getting awfully long and spread out over the year, but it’s my blog so that’s how it’s gonna be.

Our Hadrian’s Wall hiking trip started with an awkwardly long wait at a bus stop in Hexham, where nobody knew whether a bus was going to come because the time table had been changed that day. We waited for half an hour and then coaxed a bus driver to drop us off somewhere around 1-2 miles from our B&B. Seriously, living in the UK makes you absolutely love NS/Hermes/Veolia, when you go back to Holland (other Dutchies living abroad might know what I’m talking about).

We didn’t see much of Hexham itself, since we just went to our B&B, The Dovecote, straight away, which was in Humshaugh (pronounced Hams-hof???), a parish nearby. We had a great time there, the hosts were very nice! There was also a lovely garden to have tea in. The weather was pretty great – in August it’s even sunny in Northumberland! I’m afraid the rest of this post is going to be loaded with pictures, since I just took so many nice ones! Particularly the sky was so beautiful throughout our walk!

Our room at The Dovecote, Humshaugh

Our room at The Dovecote, Humshaugh

2015-08-04 09.02.50

Start of our Hadrian’s Wall hike from Humshaugh

Amazing skies during our walk from Humshaugh

Amazing skies during our walk from Humshaugh

2015-08-04 09.37.44

More interesting sky and view 😛

Then we encountered the first bit of Wall! So I suppose now’s the time to finally give some background info on Hadrian’s Wall, since I like history and facts and historical facts.

Our first bit of Wall!

Our first bit of Wall!

Hadrian’s Wall was the frontier of the Roman Empire for the greater part of three centuries. It stretched across North England from coast to coast for about 80 miles (approx. 120 km). Not much is left of the original Wall. The Wall used to be up to 6 metres high! This Wall was completed in only six years by three legions (about 15,000 men). And they did not just build a Wall; a Milecastle was placed every mile as well as many forts along the frontier (about one every five Roman miles). Also, a military way was built along the Wall, as well as two ditches on either side of the Wall. Along our walk, it was easy to follow these ditches as they are still visible in the hills! All in all, a very impressive feat of engineering! We did not walk along the entire frontier, only the centre part between Hexham and Carlisle, where most of the Wall ruins are to be seen.

The construction of the Wall started in 122 AD by order of Emperor Hadrian (who would have thought). Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan had expanded the Roman Empire massively. Hadrian thought the size of the Empire was becoming almost unmanageable, and invested more resources into defending and maintaining the Empire as it was. This is where the Wall came in, as a defence mechanism. It is often thought the Wall was built to ‘keep out the barbarians’, but this view is a bit outdated. In fact, many findings show that it is likely that many ‘barbarians’ or: natives of the land, settled close to the Wall to trade with the Roman soldiers.

Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius didn’t bother much with the Wall, and instead built his own Wall: the Antonine Wall. Built 160 km north of Hadrian’s Wall, it lies in what is now the Scottish Lowlands. However, Antoninus could not conquer the Northern tribes he wanted to conquer, so his successor Marcus Aurelius abandoned the Antonine Wall and started using Hadrian’s Wall instead in 164 AD. Emperor Septimius Severus tried something similar to Antoninus and went back to Antonine’s Wall, but again failed.

In the 4th century, the Roman Empire started losing its grip on its territories. 410 AD is the estimated end to Roman rule in Britain, and Hadrian’s Wall was abandoned. Much of the stone was reused for the building of other structures. We came across some B&Bs and pubs on our way that were built from Wall stones! In the 18th century, many stones were also used for roadbuilding. John Clayton, a Newcastle town clerk, did much to preserve the Wall in the early 19th century. He bought some of the land on which the Wall stood and carried out excavations. He also managed to restore some bits, which are the somewhat higher bits you come across when visiting the Wall.

Initially, the Wall was supposed to be 3 meters wide, which was changed halfway through  building to 2 meters. In the East (from where they started building), the switch between the two plans can be seen. While the foundations here are 3 meters, the Wall itself is only 2 meters wide.

Temple for Mithras along Hadrian's Wall

Temple for Mithras along Hadrian’s Wall (lol, sorry Merel :’) )

On our first day we came across this interesting finding, which I thought was one of the highlights! This is a temple dedicated to Mithras, an old Persian god worshipped in the Roman Empire. The Romans were very tolerant about religion in the sense that they included many ‘foreign’ gods into their religion. In their view, praying to many different gods increased their chances of getting what they wanted. I think it’s quite unique to find this mystery cult temple dedicated to an Eastern cult so far away from the cult’s origins! It shows the cult had literally spread to the furthest edges of the Roman Empire, including North England.

Northumberland National Park

Northumberland National Park

We soon came to Northumberland National Park, England’s northernmost national park. This nature reserve is known for its dark, gloomy skies, which you can see well on the picture above. This is where the most ‘dramatic’ section of the Wall is located (you know, the bit you always see on postcards).

Cutest calf ever!

Cutest calf ever!

Remains of Sewingshields Milecastle 35

Remains of Sewingshields Milecastle 35

Sick Northumberland skies

Sick Northumberland skies

Merel with the remains of Sewingshields Turret 35a

Merel with the remains of Sewingshields Turret 35a

Not The Wall, just a wall.

Not The Wall, just a wall.

Next time, I’ll write about our visit to Housesteads Roman Fort, in the late afternoon of our first day hiking.