Posts Tagged ‘History’

Philosophy and History

Plato_Silanion_Musei_Capitolini_MC1377

By Copy of Silanion, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7831217.

I went to a U3A meeting yesterday at St Neots, they had a number of different displays around the room from different interest groups one was by the Philosophy Group.

Although there are a number of definitions of Philosophy they seem to distil down to what I understand Philosophy to be, the study of wisdom. I have felt for some time that along with History it should be a core subject within the education system. Philosophy should replace Religious Education in my view. Teaching people how to think, would help them make sounder judgements, rationalise and avoid knee jerk reactions to untested statements. It would make us all more questioning and rational less willing to take statements of fact at face value.

Why then history too?

This quote in its various forms is probably the most persuasive argument for the teaching of history:

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir Winston Churchill

(by Dallon Christensen White board Business Partners website)

The commonly used expression, “Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat it” is actually a misquotation of the original text written by George Santayana (1863-1952), who, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stanford University online also provides an outstanding and much more detailed background on this important and profound philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.

Santayana’s quotation, in turn, was a slight modification of an Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Burke was a British Statesman and Philosopher who is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern political conservatism.

(Answers.com)

I was talking to a history teacher of a secondary school a few years ago, when I said I thought history was a very important subject she asked me why I thought it was important?

I replied, that “History teaches us not only about the past but informs us about the present and helps predict the future”.

If we do not know history we have no option than to continue to repeat it as we have nothing to learn from.

England’s Lost Lake a Review

 

 

Englands Lost Lake

England’s Lost Lake, The story of Whittlesea Mere.

 

 

The fen country was for centuries, millennia even, a vast expanse of open water fen and bog that stretched from the Wash inland to the higher ground to the North and West. It has been described as a vast sump soaking up and holding the water flows from those surrounding counties on higher ground. A map of Huntingdonshire dated 1645 shows towns and villages as islands amongst the bogs fens and open water. Although drainage had been started in Roman times it was not until the seventeenth century that the serious work began with Van Vermuyden as the chief engineer. Eventually the last mere left undrained was Whittlesea Mere; Paul Middleton’s  England’s Lost Lake tells the story of that nineteenth-century project updating an earlier work produced by the WEA in 1986.

It is an interesting read, detailing not only the draining of the Mere itself and the methodology but also describing some of the players involved. The way of life of those that had earned a living from the mere is explored too. We learn of the Reed Cutters, Wild Fowlers and those that fished the Mere. We are informed of how the different seasons provided other means of earning a living for those whose livelihood depended on this vast lake. Details are given of the wildlife, insects, flora and fauna that occupied the area. The species that have survived and those that were lost, some completely unique to the area.

One is left with the feeling that the project was not the overwhelming success envisaged and returning a good proportion of the fen to its past state was partly an act of expediency. This though is purely my own personal view. Whatever the reasons the Great Fen Project is something that those of us that love this landscape, welcome, a view I share with the author.

If you have an interest in the Fens and its history this is a book you should own.

One last point Paul if you are reading this can you tell me about the Shelerode?

This book was sponsored by the Fenland Trust.

 

 

I Daniel Blake

Poster for the film I Daniel Blake

Advertising poster for the film I Daniel Blake

I watched the Ken Loach directed film “I Daniel Blake” Saturday evening.

Its first airing on BBC television. Probably one of the best British films ever made. Although the characters are fictional, their stories aren’t, the evidence haunts our streets. Our fellow citizens sitting on pavements, begging, hungry children at school and shopping trolleys in supermarkets collecting donations for food banks.

When I was an apprentice, my foreman, a Geordie told me of his family’s struggle to survive during the thirties, he was an apprentice himself then, having left school at fourteen. He told me about the visit by the “Means Test Man”, who forced the family to sell what few possessions they still had.

During my apprenticeship I attended Technical College one day a week, our English teacher gave another insight into the thirties. This man an old Etonian, an Oxford graduate and an economist, also taught economics to an evening class I attended. He was responsible for my wife and I being able to buy our own house. At the start of the college year in 1971, he walked into our English class, the first one of the new college year. Asking if any of us were thinking of getting married and buying a house? I replied I was thinking of it.

“Buy a house now”,  he said, “by this time next year they will have doubled in price”.

I asked if he was sure, he said he was absolutely certain, my girlfriend and I went out that weekend found a house under construction affordable for us we thought, the foundations were in. We secured it with a £25 plot deposit then struggled to get a mortgage, the cost of the house was £4150 in 1971, when we moved into our first home a year later the price was over £8000.

This English teacher told me of his in-laws a married couple; during the thirties, they were forced to live apart by the government. Made to work in different parts of the country as domestic servants.

He was probably one of the most left-wing people I have met also one of the most caring.

About this time Monetarism was being touted as an economic policy, he explained why it wouldn’t work and why its forerunner hadn’t worked in the thirties.

We all now know for most of us, the homeless and disadvantaged in particular that it doesn’t work.

To quote Glenda Jackson (Tribute speech to Margaret Thatcher), “greed has now become a virtue.”

Having known about the thirties and how it affected those suffering from the policies of a callous government, I had no desire to see the same horrors revisited.

I Daniel Blake is a commentary of what has happened to our society fictional only in its characters. A proper caring society should not accept the treatment of our fellow human beings meted out by an uncaring government, we the people are better than this even if our government isn’t.

 

The Gaspipe Cavalry

Have you heard of the Gaspipe Cavalry?

This nickname was given to The Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions, (The Hunt’s Cyclists) a military unit raised within the county of Huntingdonshire.

As part of the Huntingdonshire History Festival Mr Martyn Smith, webmaster of http://huntscycles.co.uk/ gave a talk at the George Hotel in Huntingdon on the 26 of July.

His talk about the Hunts Cyclist Battalion was interesting and informative. Several of the audience had ancestors or other relatives who had served in our local unit. Many men then moved on to regiments of the line to fight in France or overseas. The Hunts Cyclist battalion was only allowed to deploy in the British Isles under the army regulations of the time.

Hunts Cyclists A Company Filey 1914

A photograph of A Company Hunts Cyclists at Filey in 1914

Most of us didn’t know but guessed at the high casualty rate; of those who joined, 25% were killed and 50% wounded in action. Many more carried hidden wounds until the day they died. Reliving unrelenting memories of horrors they had witnessed or grief for the loss of close, even boyhood friends. Post Traumatic Stress wasn’t identified as a problem then and no treatment was available.

This local battalion, a cavalry unit was started in 1908,  the Earl of Sandwich its honorary colonel. Because Huntingdonshire was a small rural county, there seemed little likelihood that the 1000 men needed to form an infantry regiment would be available. A cavalry battalion only needed 500 men. However instead of horses, their steeds were to be bicycles, the soldiers were described as wheelmen. As some of the bicycles were allegedly made from surplus gas pipes, they became known as the Gaspipe Cavalry.

The Hunts Cyclists spent their active service in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire protecting the coast from a possible German invasion. As Martyn pointed out their single shot rifles were no deterrent to the German Battleships which shelled some East coast towns. Their failure to deter the German navy led to ill feeling from the affected town’s residents who were disappointed in their failure.

The talk showed in great detail how the local Hunts community got behind their own men whether it was knitting warm clothing for them or converting vehicles to carry machine guns.

He detailed the development of the Gaspipe Cavalry’s mounts (originally the cyclists were expected to supply their own steeds). How rifle mounts were developed, the need for brakes, (very important in the hilly areas where they were stationed not so in the fens). There were many casualties caused by the cycles themselves until their design was improved

Another interesting feature was the billeting arrangements, bell tents for the unfortunate men, a hotel for the officers. He mentioned Charles Laughton, not from Huntingdon but a family member of the hotel owners in Scarborough where the HC. officers stayed. He was evidently recruited there. Charles Laughton became a famous actor in the twenties and thirties. Starring on both the stage and in films He went onto become a renowned film director and producer, dying in 1962 at Hollywood.

Mr and Mrs Richard Cumberland

Mr and Mrs Richard Cumberland. My grandad and grandma.

My grandfather Richard Cumberland served in the army during the First World War. Joining the Hunt’s Cyclist Battalion in August 1914 before seeing active service as a member of Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was discharged wounded in February 1918.

His first posting was as a member of  A Company to Filey, I am not sure whether during the time he was there my grandmother joined him or not. I have a recollection of a story that Granddad helped out at the fish docks unloading the catches, whether this was at Filey or somewhere else in that area. This may have been as part of his duties or a bit of spare time private enterprise. When you are young you seldom ask the questions you should have done. Thinking that people will live forever you put off finding out information that will become so precious in later years.

War badge record showing Grandad's discharge record

War badge record showing Grandad’s discharge record

Martyn’s love of his subject, the tremendous respect and desire to make sure these men who sacrificed so much are not forgotten is something that will stay with all of us who were privileged to hear him speak, for a long time. He has made it his mission to track down every member of the Hunts Cyclists and commemorate each one, holding memorial services as he finds another grave or resting place. Honouring the men we owe our existence to

Thank you, Martyn, for a most interesting talk.

 

Cromwell Walk in Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon Headquarters of the Parliamentary forces’

Last Monday evening I joined a group of like-minded people for a guided walk to explore what was left of the Huntingdon Oliver Cromwell would have known. The tour had been organised by Huntingdonshire History Festival, our guide was Alan Butler, a long-serving volunteer at the Cromwell Museum.

Our group set off from the Town Hall heading for the North end of the High Street. It was here that Royalist troops entered the town following their thrashing at Naseby, to start what became known as the Battle of Huntingdon. The Royalists overcame local resistance and occupied the town for two days before withdrawing.

Moving South the next point of interest was Cromwell House, the site of Oliver Cromwell’s birth and home of his parents. Outside the house set in the pavement is a commemorative plaque one of several around the town. The original building in Cromwell’s time was a Priory. The house is now a care home.

St John’s churchyard is a little further along on the opposite side of the road to Cromwell House, Oliver was baptised here, the church was in a state of disrepair even then and didn’t survive the civil war pulled down near its end in 1651.

Moving along the High Street, Alan our splendid guide directed to cast our eyes to the roofs of the buildings on the George Hotel side. To the surprise of most of our group, we learned that most of these buildings dated from the seventeenth century. The twisted chimneys an important clue. My great-grandfather, then my granddad (his son in law) had a corn shop in one of these buildings no 63. I knew it was old but hadn’t realised it was that old. Now an estate agent the beams in the ceilings and in the party walls have been exposed and clearly visible, through the front windows. The George Hotel (outside). was the next stopping point, Alan said that Charles the First had his headquarters here for the two days the Royalists occupied the town.

On our left, as we moved southwards to what is now the Cromwell Museum. The rebuilt Old Grammar School where Oliver Cromwell and been a pupil and later one Samuel Pepys.

Cromwell Museum Huntingdon

The Cromwell Museum Huntingdon from all Saint’s churchyard.

All Saint’s church was next, opposite the museum occupying one side of Market Hill, there is another commemorative plaque set in the pavement just outside the church gates. Oliver Cromwell’s father Robert is buried here in the family tomb. An old former Huntingdon neighbour claimed to have shaken hands with Oliver Cromwell’s father when work was being carried out on the tomb.

The Falcon Inn to the left of All Saints also in Market Hill was used as the Parliamentarian’s headquarters during part of the Civil War, it was also reputedly the recruiting station for the New Model Army. Remaining original features of the Inn include the heavy oak doors and the first-floor bow window.

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon Headquarters of the Parliamentary forces’

The present Town Hall directly opposite All Saints Church is built on the site of an earlier town hall. We walked behind the town hall passing the Market Inn, though old it isn’t thought to date from that period.

Moving south along the High Street we paused at Saint Benedict’s Court site of the church of that name. The church was said to have been destroyed by Royalist cannon fire during the Civil War. Stone reclaimed from the ruins of the church was used to build the Barley Mow public house in nearby Hartford.

Continuing along, Alan told us that lurking behind many of the present day shop and building frontages, older building remain. Again he directed our attention skyward to the evidence of twisted seventeenth-century chimneys. An open door from the High Street to one of the remaining passages gave us a glimpse of half-timbered walls on either side.

The present-day Hartford Road is shown on John Speeds map of the time, on the corner of which stands the Three Tuns Public House. My great-grandfather is recorded in the 1911 census as landlord (William Dixon). His daughter, my grandmother Lily, is shown in the record as working there, not Cromwell related but a bit of local history.

The Three Tuns public house Huntingdon

The Three Tuns Huntingdon

Saint Mary’s Church was our next port of call, this was old in Cromwell’s time, Robert Cromwell, his father had been one of its bailiffs. After passing more seventeenth century buildings, including the wonderfully restored 147 High Street, next to the former studio of photographer Earnest Whitney, we crossed the ring road to arrive at the stone bridge between Huntingdon and Godmanchester. During the Civil war, the central section was removed and a wooden drawbridge substituted as part of the town’s defences.

Entrance to Saint Mary's Church Huntingdon

Entrance to Saint Mary’s Church Huntingdon

After visiting the Bridge we made our way back beside the ring road to Castle Hills, during the Civil War the earthworks were used as defensive positions. The hill top commands a good view with firing positions for cannons over the river and the bridge. The site would have been larger in Cromwell’s time the encroachment of first the railway then the A14 has taken a sizable portion of the site.

We completed the tour near the Bus Station, at the town sign, lamenting collectively about the lack of a statue to Oliver Cromwell, in this his birthplace. He is described by Antonia Fraser as our “Chief of Men” and by Christopher Hill as “God’s Englishman”.

Thanks Alan for a most interesting tour.

If you fancy seeing what’s on offer at the Huntigdonshire History Festival try this site:

https://huntshistoryfest.wordpress.com/calendar-of-events/

 

U3A Walking Group Houghton Trip


 

We travelled to Houghton Mill by car, thank you to our chauffeurs. On arrival the group gathered together in the car park, the weather was fine remnants of the early mist were diminishing fast under the strengthening sun.

Ready for the off

Ready for the off

The current mill at Houghton on the river Great Ouse was built in the seventeenth century, with improvements made in the nineteenth century, it is now owned by the National Trust and in working order. When I was a lad it was disused as a mill and used as a Youth Hostel. There was mention of a mill on the site as early as the Doomsday Book, one was originally built in 963AD

DSCN0660

Houghton Mill

 

We walked through the mill, (the footpath passes though the building itself), crossed the bridges and set off across Hemingford meadow towards Hemingford Abbotts, it was dry under foot with little wind. the group crossed the bridge into Hemingford Abbots then walked along Common Lane into the centre of the village. There are many attractive old cottages remaining together with a thatched pub, the Axe and Compass.

Axe and Compass

The Axe and Compass

When I was a young lad, I left school at fifteen and started working at a garage in Hemingford as an apprentice mechanic. Although I left the garage close on fifty years ago a lot of the village is familiar, though changed from how I remember it. we followed the footpaths to the river then walked along the bank until reaching Hemingford Grey. I used to know a man who lived in River Cottage at Hemingford Grey. He was a customer of the garage where I worked and a friend of the owner, he had been a prisoner of war by the Japanese. At the age I was then, his experiences didn’t interest me as much as they would now, the one thing I recall him saying was the commander of the prison camp, believed he must be intelligent, believing he came from Cambridge rather than living close to it.

St James Church Hemingford Grey

St. James Church Hemingford Grey

St. James church in Hemingford Grey was approached walking along a path beside the river, it is in a beautiful position. We walked past it and after a while walking through Hemingford Grey village passed some picturesque lakes, formed I would imagine from disused gravel workings carrying on further we found ourselves back on the open meadow.

DSCN0666

A view of the lake

DSCN0670

Back on the Meadow

We continued across the meadow until we reached the outskirts of St Ives at the Dolphin Hotel passing through its grounds onto London Road. Leaving the hotel behind crossing the historic town bridge into the town. The bridge is noted for its’ old chapel in the centre, the chapel is now single storey, I have seen old photographs of it having three storeys, the upper two, which had been added to the original, were removed in the thirties.

DSCN0674

A view from the bridge

Entering the centre of St Ives, I was surprised at how prosperous the town now looked. It seems an influx of people commuting to Cambridge has brought more wealth to the town and provided the money for things to improve. We carried on through St. Ives passing the Nelsons Head pub, which featured in my misspent youth. An acquaintance of mine owned a very elderly Humber Hawk car which had lost reverse gear, a three point turn necessitated the passengers disembarking and providing the reverse push. The chap was showing off to a young lady who worked at the pub one night and in the process managed to crash into a bollard, as a result the passenger side headlight pointed skyward and to the left. As he drove along, the headlight that side, shone into upstairs bedroom windows.

St Ives

The walking group sightseeing in St. Ives

We carried on along the Waits beside the river, then through All Saints churchyard continuing on past the bridge to Holt Island, then onto the Thicket, the footpath to Houghton.

Chinese Bridge St Ives 2

The bridge to Holt Island

The Thicket is a pleasant wood lined walk to Houghton passing through the nature reserve. We re-entered Houghton passing some really picturesque buildings en route, this is one.

Thatched cottage at Houghton

This cottage wouldn’t be out of place on a chocolate box.

Continuing back into the centre of the village past the Three Horseshoes on the right and to the left a statue of Potto Brown.

Three Horseshoes

The Three Horseshoes

Potto Brown

Statue of Potto Brown

I had seen Potto Browns’ statue on visits to the village in the past but paid little attention to it, I didn’t know who he was and couldn’t read the inscription, so with the aid of Google did a bit of research. The tenant of Houghton mill during the nineteenth century and a philanthropist, founding many local schools, a chapel, also allotments amongst other things for the poor. There are more details for him on Wikipedia and the St Ives.org website, under oddities.

We completed our walk by returning to the Mill for a well earned cuppa at the National Trust cafe. All in all an excellent walk, together for me and one or two others, originating from this part of Cambridgeshire, a trip down memory lane. My thanks to the organisers and to the weather.

 

 

 

 

The importance of History

I have been looking round locally with the intention of taking evening classes to gain a history A level. There doesn’t seem to be any available, anywhere, no one seems to be running them. Has history gone out of fashion, is there a lack of interest or is it just a lack of funds?

I know history seems a bit of an odd choice of subject for someone who works with his hands but I work with history all the time. The anvils I use are probably over a hundred years old, one that I own personally is well over a hundred years old, (it has a beautiful ring to it when struck with a hammer) some of my tools belonged to my grandfather, he died in 1978 aged 84 and most of his tools were old then.

History for me is not just about wars, dates of battles and the names of monarchs, it is about how things, were why they were, why things are now and how they might be in the future because of how things are now and were before. It strikes me that we cannot plan for the future if we haven’t learned the lessons from the past, if we neglect the past, are we failing to plan for the future?

The man who chairs the Federal Reserve Bank in America, Ben Bernanke studied the Great Depression, its causes and effects. This knowledge of this particular piece of history has helped shape the policies he has followed in trying to prevent a repitition

of another Great Depression, although it will be some time yet before we know whether he and others have been successful. Without knowledge of the history of this calamity there would be a greater difficulty in planning to deal with our current problems.

Those of us who make anything, design things or work in business are building on the foundations that history have given us, anyone worth their salt, involved in any form of activity looks at what has been tried before, what has failed, what has succeeded and why, this is building on history.

Given all this it surprises me that the teaching of history is not regarded as important, it is to me as senseless as not teaching maths, because everyone has calculators or computers.

Neil Kinnock once said of Margeret Thatcher, “she knows the price of everything and the value of nothing “.

However Oscar Wilde said it before him.

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