Virtual Historic Site Impressions: Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

July 28, 2022

     After I visited the Harriet Tubman Historical National Park, I virtually went across the Atlantic Ocean to visit Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, England. I really enjoyed exploring the area and walking through what is left of the abbey. I was surprised to see at least one space that is shielded from the sun because the first impression of Fountains Abbey I had was there is no roof left. It would have been wonderful to see what it may have looked like fully intact. I can imagine it was just as beautiful as it is in its current state. I included a link to the virtual tour I attended in the list below. While I was exploring Fountains Abbey, I took the time to learn the history of this abbey.

The abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York who were fed up with the extravagant and rowdy way that the monks lived in York and so they escaped seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. After three years, the monks were admitted to the Cistercian Order which was founded in 1098 by a group of monks in France. The monks at Fountains Abbey were introduced to the Cistercian system of lay brothers (laborers) to give monks more time to dedicate to God instead of spending time farming the land to get by. The Fountains Abbey became so wealthy with the help of the lay brothers through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding, and stone quarrying. Unfortunately, bad harvests hit the monks hard, and they dealt with raids from Scots throughout the 14th century which led to an economic collapse. Things were made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348. The Abbey remained important despite its financial problems.

    In 1539, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ordered by Henry VIII, led to the Abbey abruptly closing down, and the abbot, prior, and monks were sent away with pensions. Demolition of the Abbey began in 1540. The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant named Sir Richard Gresham, and stripped it of anything of value. Furnaces were built in the church to melt the lead from the roof and pipes; the fire was fed by timber from the screens and furnishings. The grounds surrounding the ruins of Fountains Abbey were landscaped during the 18th century. It remained in private hands until the 1960s. The National Trust bought the estate from the West Riding County Council in 1983. The Abbey and grounds are open to the public for tours, and the National Trust recommends spending the whole day on the property to be able to see everything during the visit.

     In addition to the ruins of Fountains Abbey, there is also Studley Royal water garden, which is home to the moon ponds, cascades, statues, follies, and wide views. Then there are Fountains Hall, Fountains Mill (the oldest building in the National Trust), the medieval deer park and St Mary’s Church (open 12-4pm, March to October). If one is looking for something to eat, then there are three different places across the site to choose from: the restaurant at the visitor center, the Studley Royal tea-room, and the Mill Café. The National Trust also has a minibus service in case people are tired after walking the grounds which runs between the three different entrances: the visitor center, Studley Royal, and West Gate. For more information, check out the links in the list below.

Thank you again for your patience as I finish this post!

Links:

http://www.360vista.eu/abbey/

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/fountains-abbey

https://abbey.cistecian.org/history/the-cistercian-order/cistercian-beginnings/

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/fountains-abbey-3467

Biography of Sir Richard Gresham: https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/gresham-sir-richard-1486-1549

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/your-day-at-fountains-abbey

Estate Map: download-the-estate-map.pdf (nt.global.ssl.fastly.net)

Virtual Historic Site Impressions: The Tower of London

March 3, 2022

Thank you to all of those who responded to the second poll I released. The one that had the most votes was the Tower of London in London, England. A little while back I saw a couple of documentaries about the Tower of London on Netflix and the Tower’s history has fascinated me ever since. I decided to include the Tower of London as one of the options for the poll since it has fascinated millions of visitors and I thought that there may be interest among all of you readers. Enjoy this impression of my virtual visit!

           I took a couple of tours including the 360-degree tour of the Tower hosted by the Historic Royal Palaces YouTube channel. The Historic Royal Palaces tour was guided by Dan Snow behind the camera and Chief Yeoman Warder Alan Kingshott. I appreciated that during the tour there are arrows at the top left corner to see more of this 360-degree tour especially when it may be a person’s only way to visit the Tower of London. It is great to have this experience of learning about the castle that not only held prisoners, but also guarded royal possessions, protected the royal family during times of war and rebellion, and was used as a luxurious palace.

         William the Conqueror, in the 1070s, began to build a massive stone fortress in London to defend and proclaim his power.  The Tower of London took about 20 years to build and William the Conqueror did not live to see it completed. Since it’s completion the Tower has been adapted and developed by other kings; for instance, Henry III (1216-1272) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded the fortress by adding huge defensive walls with a series of smaller towers and enlarging the moat. In addition to using the Tower as protection, a defense and a palace, arms and armor were made, tested, and stored there until the 1800s. The Tower controlled the supply of the nation’s money; the coins were made at the Tower Mint from Edward I’s reign until 1810. Kings and queens locked away their jewels and other valuables at the Tower. Today, the Crown Jewels are protected by a garrison of soldiers.

         The soldiers who guard the Tower are known as Yeoman Warders and are recognized as symbols of the Tower around the world have been there for centuries. They were originally part of the Yeomen of the Guard, who were the monarch’s personal bodyguard who traveled with the monarch. Henry VIII (1507-1547) decreed that some of the Yeomen would stay and guard the Tower permanently. Nowadays the Yeomen Warders guard the visitors but they still carry out ceremonial duties including the Ceremony of the Keys, which is the unlocking and locking of the Tower every day that began in the mid-1300s during the reign of Edward III; the King went to the Tower unannounced one night in December 1340 and walked straight in unchallenged, and after imprisoning the Constable of the Tower for neglecting his duty Edward III decreed that the castle should be locked at sunset and unlocked at sunrise. The Yeomen Warders wear their red state “dress uniforms” for important occasions at the Tower and special events including the Gun Salutes (firing the huge cannon on the Wharf). Yeomen Warders live on the premises of the Tower.

        When it was used as a royal residence, medieval kings and queens lived in luxurious apartments at the Tower. They worshipped in the Chapel Royal, kept a menagerie of exotic animals (which lasted until the 19th century), and welcomed foreign rulers at magnificent ceremonial occasions. Although it has long since vanished, there was once a splendid royal palace to the south of the White Tower. Henry VIII modernized the rooms inside in preparation for the coronation of his new bride, Anne Boleyn in 1533. She and the King feasted the night before Anne processed in triumph through the City of London to Westminster Abbey. Three years later Anne was back at the Tower, this time accused of adultery and treason. She was held in the same luxurious lodgings before being executed by sword on Tower Green.

         For over 800 years, men and women have arrived at the Tower. Some stayed for only a few days, others many years. During the Tudor age, the Tower became the most important state prison in the country. Anyone thought to be a threat to national security including the future Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Guy Fawkes were sent to the Tower. The last time individuals were sent to Tower was during World War II when German spies were brought here and shot. Not everyone who went to the Tower came to serve time in prison.

         The Tower has been a visitor attraction since the 18th century, but the number of tourists increased dramatically in the 1800s. Visitors were fascinated by the stories of England’s turbulent and sometimes gruesome history. Stories of ghosts haunt the Tower. Anne Boleyn is said to stalk the site of her execution on Tower Green. Arbella Stuart, the cousin of Elizabeth I who starved while under arrest for marrying without royal permission, is said to frequent the Queen’s House still. One of the most famous legends of the Tower surrounds the ravens.  The story goes that should the ravens leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall. Seven ravens live at the Tower today and are cared for by a dedicated Yeoman Warder known as the Ravenmaster. It continues to be a popular visitor attraction today.

        To learn more about the Tower of London, I included a list of sources below.

Thank you for reading! If you would like to support my book project, check out my Buy Lindsey a Coffee page to learn more.

Links:

360 degree Tour of Tower of London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeLQVare-3k

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/the-story-of-the-tower-of-london/#gs.p7qji9

https://joyofmuseums.com/museums/united-kingdom-museums/london-museums/tower-of-london/

Secrets of Great British Castles: The Tower of London episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdgjsSQ3McM&t=38s

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/the-ceremony-of-the-keys/#gs.p7v0pf

https://www.hrp.org.uk/discover-the-palaces/#gs.nvvop9

https://kidadl.com/online-events/video-tour-tower-of-london

https://www.londononline.co.uk/towerguide/

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/#gs.nvx23z

Virtual Museum Impressions: Charles Dickens Museum

April 15, 2021

Most recently I decided to take another virtual trip outside of the United States to visit the Charles Dickens Museum in London, England. Charles Dickens, who was the author of books such as Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and the novella A Christmas Carol, moved into this house at 48 Doughty Street with his wife Catherine a few months before Queen Victoria began her reign in 1837. They raised the first three of their ten children within this house, and hosted many of the period’s leading figures with dinners and parties. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby inside this house, and where he first achieved international fame as one of the world’s greatest storytellers.

        The Dickens’ home became a museum in which hosts events and exhibitions, a garden café and shop, an international center for research on Charles Dickens, and a MA program on Charles Dickens research through the University of Buckingham. Inside the house itself, there are five floors with objects that were owned by the Dickens family. Off of the entryway there is a gift shop where it leads to the café, the Water Closet (bathroom), and the special exhibition room.

         As I went through the virtual tour, I was surprised by the layout of the house since it was different from other historic house museums I previously visited both virtually and in person. For instance, the servants quarters where they cook the meals were below the first floor where the dining room was, and the servants’ sleeping quarters were on the top floor. The Charles Dickens Museum considered the main floor with the dining room and parlor to be the second floor while where the servants cooked and stored food and wine is the first floor, at least according to the virtual experience.

        Also, at the time of writing this post I noticed that in almost each room there were only two links to explain the room and one object (sometimes there is a link to learn more about the object). One object in the Entrance Hall is the large, 8-day chiming clock that is still in good working order once was displayed in the hallway of Charles Dickens’ home Gad Hill Place in the 1860s. The link led to the collections page for the clock that includes a picture of the clock with information such as its object number, when it is created, and an object note that shared a letter Dickens wrote to the clockmaker who made the clock, Sir John Bennett of Cheapside, London, regarding problems with the clock following a cleaning. I would have loved to learn more about other objects in the Entrance Hall such as the objects in the glass case and the letters in the frames displayed on the walls.

       In the study, the highlighted object in the room is the desk and chair that was originally used in his study at Gad’s Hill Place. According to the information provided by the Dickens Museum’s collections, the desk and chair were acquired by Charles Dickens in 1859, and they remained in the Dickens family after he died in 1870. Both of them were on loan to various heritage institutions, including the Charles Dickens Museum, from 1967 to 1987. They were eventually purchased by the Charles Dickens Museum in 2015 with support from the National Monuments Trust and the Dickens Fellowship after years of being on loan at various places over the years. Dickens would have written portions of his novels, such as Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, and the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood, on this desk.

      Not only in the interactive tour I was able to explore the house but I was also able to visit inside the gift shop and café, the small garden outside of the café, the exhibition room, and a couple of additional floors that included a meeting room where it seemed like one could do research in.

      I really appreciate that this interactive tour is available online, and I hope to visit there in person someday. I especially would like to see it in person so I could learn more about other items that the interactive tour did not share their history and their relevance to Charles Dickens’ life and/or works. To check out the Charles Dickens Museum, I posted links, including the interactive tour, below.

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Links:

Desk and Chair

Mahogany Clock and Shelf

Interactive Tour

About the Charles Dickens Museum

Charles Dickens Museum Online Collection

Charles Dickens Museum Collections Database