The 100 places that made Britain

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The 100 places that made Britain

Post  eddie on Mon May 30, 2011 10:59 pm

Are these the 100 places that made Britain?

Castles, cathedrals and the Cavern Club: historians make their choices of key sites in Britain's past for book

Maev Kennedy guardian.co.uk, Sunday 29 May 2011 18.59 BST


Sutton Hoo: 'The landscape feels like it’s been picked up from Denmark and plonked down in East Anglia,' says David Musgrave. Photograph: Brian Harris/Alamy

Which was more important in the making of Britain, a ruined abbey, a Dorset tree, a Liverpool cellar or a painted gable in Northern Ireland?

Battle Abbey was where Harold lost his crown and his life to William the Conqueror in 1066; Tolpuddle where in 1830 a group of agricultural labourers discussed forming a union and paid for their audacity with transportation to Australia; and Free Derry Corner looks down on the narrow streets where 13 unarmed demonstrators were shot dead by the army in 1972. All are among the 100 sites nominated by historians to appear in a book as the places that made the modern nation.

The Liverpool cellar nominated by Peter Catterall, lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, was a fruit warehouse, air raid shelter and egg packing station before in 1957 it became a music club and four years later gave the world the Beatles. "I don't think music was the only element of the 1960s, but it came to be emblematic of it," Catterall says. "You can't imagine Swinging London without the music. In a sense the band that made everything possible was the Beatles; it was they who paved the way for the idea that the British were good at music."

David Musgrave, who edited the book, spent months tramping around the ruins, industrial landscapes, archaeological sites, castles and cathedrals, and odd corners once brushed by the hand of history, checking out the 100 places nominated by scores of historians.

Many are internationally renowned, including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.

There are surprises. Gerard De Groot, professor of history at St Andrews, chose a nearby stretch of smooth green turf: the Old Course overlooked by the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient golf club.

Historians have often ignored the significance of sport, he argues.

"It is hugely important in the sense that it's not just seen as a leisure pursuit. It's a package of cultural values that have been exported along with the other elements of civilisation that the British feel they have given to the rest of the world."

He added: "Sports have been seen not just as a way to exercise and have fun, but also as a way to convey the cultural values of fair play, decency and honesty. It's interesting that golf embodies that better than most because it is based on the fundamental honesty between the people playing it."

John Morrill, professor of British and Irish history at Selwyn College, Cambridge, chose a little 16th-century folly in Northamptonshire, Rushton Triangular Lodge, which was built by the unswervingly Roman Catholic Sir Thomas Tresham as a blatant symbol of his belief in the Holy Trinity.

"You get a sense of the religious passion and the religious obsession that was to dominate the whole of the political and social life of people in Britain and Ireland over the early modern period. There's no building I can think of that tells us more of these passions during the century after the Reformation."

The gable with the painted slogan "You are now entering Free Derry" chosen by Claire Fitzpatrick, history lecturer at Plymouth University, stands witness to the long shadow of the wars of religion.

"In a place like Northern Ireland which is big on commemoration, it was symbolic to write on that Free Derry wall. This is a nationalist area and they felt locked out of the city, so Free Derry Corner is the ironic response to the city walls. It's an important part of British history within the context of British identity."

Musgrave, who edits the BBC History magazine, imposed only one criterion on the historians: that all the sites had to be open to the public, so readers can make their own pilgrimages and argue the merit of the choices.

He added one of his own, the field in Leicestershire where the Battle of Bosworth was fought in 1485 – which was only pinpointed by archaeologists last year. The battle changed the course of English history when Richard III, the last Plantagenet king and the last monarch to die in battle, literally lost his crown when it fell from his head and rolled under a bush to be retrieved for the victorious Henry Tudor.

Musgrave chose his top 10 from the 100 for the Guardian and, forced to choose his absolute favourite, eventually plumped for Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, where in 1939 the grave of an Anglo-Saxon prince was found, his treasure heaped around in him in the ghostly outline of the long since rotted timbers of his ship.

The site was nominated by Julian Richards, professor of archaeology at the University of York, who said: "Until the discovery of Sutton Hoo, historians and archaeologists had taken rather a dim view of the Anglo-Saxon barbarians who had stepped into the power vacuum after the departure of the legions."

Musgrave was entranced by its atmosphere: "The place where Anglo-Saxon history comes alive, and the site of one of the greatest archaeological finds ever made. I love it there, the landscape feels like it's been picked up from Denmark and plonked down in East Anglia – or maybe that's just me."

Musgrave's top 10

• Iona: the Scottish island was a key location in the early days of Britain's Christian story

• Sutton Hoo, Suffolk: A find that gave insight into the mysterious Anglo-Saxon world

• Battle Abbey: 1066 and all that. A key English battlefield, where Harold lost to William and history took a decisive turn

• Dunfermline Abbey: Scottish church where the remains of Robert the Bruce were rediscovered in 1818

• Dolbadarn Castle: a seat of native Welsh power before the Anglo-Normans dominated Britain

• Longthorpe Tower: Cambridgeshire medieval tower with surviving 14th-century domestic secular wall paintings

• Hampton Court: spectacularly preserved window into the Tudor world

• Putney church: the site in south-west London of days of passionate debate on the rights of man during the English civil war

• Blaenavon: the best preserved ironworks in south Wales and a key site in the industrial revolution

• Belfast Titanic Footprint: The Northern Ireland site where the doomed transatlantic liner was built

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

eddie
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Re: The 100 places that made Britain

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 29, 2012 6:16 pm

The part of Britain known as England is the subject of the staggeringly prolific Peter Ackroyd's new book. When I bought the first volume ("Foundation": below) yesterday I hadn't taken on board that this is only the first of a projected series of SIX volumes Shocked :
***************************************************************************************************************
Peter Ackroyd: 'I just want to tell a story'

Prolific author Peter Ackroyd talks to Euan Ferguson about his monumental six-part history of England

Euan Ferguson

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 August 2011 14.51 BST


Peter Ackroyd: 'It sometimes seems to me that the whole course of English history was one of accident and chance.' Photograph: Jason Alden/Rex Features

For anyone struggling to summon the self-discipline and due diligence to write even one book, a visit to Peter Ackroyd's first-floor Bloomsbury flat could prompt a month's worth of guilty nightmares, the comparison between his workload and those of lesser mortals being so instantly, odiously obvious.


Foundation: A History of England Volume I
by Peter Ackroyd

He's sitting in what looks like his library but isn't really: every book on these wall-to-wall shelves is being employed in researching the second volume of his latest venture, which is nothing less than an entire history of England. Before him, beside his computer, sits a long, fat, neat row of books on Charlie Chaplin, which catches my eye. "Oh yes, I'm also doing a short biography of Chaplin. Well, maybe not so short. He's fascinating. I just thought I'd have a go at him."

He's short of time, but still gracious enough to give up 45 minutes. He is 61 now, and a little more tired, though much less emotional, than in a famously bibulous interview with my colleague Tim Adams more than a decade ago. Time, however, has in no way diminished his insane capacity for new projects. And he still springs up with something approaching excitement to show me how his system works. "I don't do it in the British Library or anything, no. I order everything from here – or my assistant does – and then they get labelled, with these little coded stickers. Then I have my little notebooks, and they slowly get filled with references, and each reference is to one of the books as I read them, so when eventually I come to writing I can just flick to one book, one specific little passage, look at it and the surrounding passages, come to my conclusion. That's the idea anyway. These are all" – there must be at least 500 books, each with a small white sticker coded in neat black felt pen – "for the Stuart sovereigns."

Short of time, as we all are, I've only had two days with the proof copy of the first volume, Foundation, and admit I haven't quite finished it, but did manage to get from pre-history to King John. It wasn't a struggle, huge though the book is; Ackroyd's trademark insight and wit, and the glorious interconnectedness of all things, permeate each page. One thing that struck me was the realisation that history isn't nearly as linear as we thought. Something is invented, or discovered, or philosophised, and we tend to think that that's knowledge known from then on, but even in this single volume there are endless forgettings.

"Absolutely," comes his fast answer, spoken, as ever, gently and with a strange mix of confidence and self-effacement. "One thing which most interested me was the fact that neglect, or our genius for forgetfulness, occurs at every level of social and political activity. The same mistakes, the same confusions, occur time and time again. It sometimes seems to me that the whole course of English history was one of accident, confusion, chance and unintended consequences – there's no real pattern."

What he discovered, or rediscovered, is that "what underlines that random happenstance are the deep continuities of national life that survive, uninfluenced by the surface events. In this book, I have little chapters on, say, medieval medicine, or punishment, or medieval humour, simply to convey the broad continuities that underlie this bewildering range of events. Continuities of the soil, the land, the earth." And these help create human – English – sensibilities? "Yes. As I said in my London book, it's a sort of territorial imperative, the landscape; the shape of the geology, almost, has a definite though not comprehended effect on human behaviour, human need. So that's one of the things I was trying to explore I suppose.

Ackroyd has always been fascinated by the telling detail, the tiny sliver of an undocumented peasant's life that brings a whole period into focus. "Also, by the things that don't change. If we were transferred back a century or two I don't think we'd find the excitement or panic or worry or surprise of life any different from the way we do today. Health, money. That's what people worried about in the 14th century as much as today. I find it so much more interesting than the supposed activities of kings, queens, generals. I must say I felt at times I was going to get tired of this endless chronicle of royal and parliamentary battles, but it has to be dealt with in the same way you deal with the more interesting, less sensational matters."

Why, I ask, did he set out on this series? What, in terms of our history, were we lacking? "It just suddenly came to me, as an idea to do; the shape of the six volumes came to me at once; I just wrote them down on a piece of paper. So I've got this one, volume two is the Reformation, three rebellion, four is revolution, five dominion, six innovation. But I don't really know enough about the other histories to know if there's a 'lack', but the same is true of almost everything else I've written. I didn't know how many Dickens biographies there had been, how many books on London, it doesn't bother me. I just want to tell a story."

It's the same driven, headstrong, unapologetic approach he's always taken; he never studied English history, for example, "but then I was never an expert on Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde or Blake or Moore or Dickens or Turner before I started work on them. And then they're gone. None of my books has been ever in my head; after they're finished they go. It's like being a sort of medium; you just grab it when it's there then just release it when it's time to go. There's a lot of instinct, not planning."

Is there one thing that explains how we became so powerful? Island nature? Climate? Invasions? "I don't know the answer to that. By the end of the whole series, I might be able to hazard a guess at some of those reasons. I hope. What I do know is that I've enjoyed it, loved it. I loved, am loving, doing the whole thing. It gave me great pleasure, made me realise it must have been something I'd always wanted to do."

eddie
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Re: The 100 places that made Britain

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 29, 2012 6:27 pm

^
QUOTE: "...it's a sort of territorial imperative, the landscape; the shape of the geology, almost, has a definite though not comprehended effect on human behaviour, human need. So that's one of the things I was trying to explore I suppose...."

Very interesting. Tubby English historian talks like native American indian or Australian aborigine. cyclops

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