Our trips in 2014 included a day visit to York in June and a tour of Upton Cresset manor in August. In July we met up with other members of the Society on the annual summer trip - this year at Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire.
VISIT TO YORK
Having decided that we wanted to visit York and that the only option for a small group was by train, all we had to do was work out the logistics of co-ordinating four people from Chester, Crewe, Leek and Stafford to arrive at the same time. Somewhat to our surprise, our feat of logistics worked and by 10am Biddy, Dierdre, Val and I found ourselves sitting together on the 09.57 from Manchester Piccadilly. We phoned Cris, who was organising our visit for us to tell her we were on our way. The weather, dull when we left Manchester, steadily improved throughout the day and by the time we arrived in York at 11.12, it was already pleasantly warm.
From the station it was just a short walk to the Yorkshire Museum and as we made our way there we had the pleasure of Biddy's friend Sue joining us for the day. The sun broke through the clouds and on the museum steps, Cris was waiting for us. It was good to meet up with her again, as we hadn't physically met since last year at Dadlington (though we chat a lot by email). The sight of the Abbey ruins in the museum grounds reminded me of the wonderful performance I had seen staged there years ago, of the full cycle of the York plays in the original dialect.
The ground floor of the museum was dedicated to the Roman period and we lingered looking at the fine displays before heading down downstairs and into the medieval period. The famous York House book was not on display but a rare first folio of Shakespeare's plays was open at "Richard III". The undoubted highlight for us though, was the exquisite Middleham Jewel which was beautifully displayed and lit. We wondered at the intricacy of the gold work and and the sapphire with the hole so finely drilled through it and speculated as to its owner.
By then it was time for lunch and Cris took us to a restaurant which is on the site of the Augustinian Priory where Richard is known to have stayed. The association made it very special for us and the food was excellent too.
After lunch we went to the Guildhall, where we rang the bell several times and were just about to turn away disappointed when the door was answered by a harassed but good humoured clerk who explained that she was on her own and had been on the phone. She kindly let us in to the meeting chamber of the old Guildhall where we saw the plaque to Richard III. Built in 1445, it would have still been relatively new when Richard was there. The building had had to be largely reconstructed after being damaged in the Second World War but the work was very impressive, especially the pillars of English oak. We remembered that Richard and Anne had become members of the Corpus Cristi guild which had overall responsibility for the production of the York mystery plays. By becoming guild members Richard and Anne no doubt thereby became major patrons.
We then went into St Helen's church where the Fulford tapestry was on display. This remarkable work is not, of course medieval but a modern piece in the style of the Bayeux tapestry, telling the story of the battle of Fulford following the Viking invasion in 1066 by king Harald Hardrada. It is a beautiful work and it's good to think that there are still people who possess the skills and will dedicate the time, to make such a thing. We followed this with a visit to the Barley Hall, again a remarkable rescue and restoration. There was a story telling in progress inside, so we didn't go in but looked through the glass wall.
The Minster was, of course, a must. The £10 admission fee buys a ticket valid for 12 months, an incentive to go back. We had all seen the Minster before at various times in the (distant) past but that did not diminish the impact of that awe-inspiring building of pale stone and glorious medieval glass. Cris showed us the Haxey tomb, a cadaver tomb of 1425, and a connection of the Darrel family who are a particular study of hers. We admired the arms of Richard III in stained glass in the Duke of Wellington's Brigade chapel, placed there by the Friends of Richard III. Below, in the Undercroft, displays outlined the history of the Minster as well as displaying some of its treasures. It is such a great building there was not time to do it all justice. It would be good to take advantage of our 12 month tickets to return, perhaps for a full guided tour.
St William's College was closed for private event, so after peering into the courtyard, we went on to the Monk Bar museum, now re-named "The Richard III Experience". Climbing the steep stairs to the top was certainly quite an experience. The information boards did not tell us anything new but the replica crown which John Ashdown Hill has commissioned for the re-burial was on display and seeing that close up made the negotiating the stairs more than worthwhile.
Then we made time for a pot of tea before sadly, it was time to go. The trains served us pretty well and we were all home before bedtime, tired but full of memories of a marvellous day out.
VISIT TO HAUGHMOND ABBEY SHROPSHIRE
Stafford and District have been out and about this summer. On a hot day in July, a group of us went to Haughmond Abbey, east of Shrewsbury. Here we met briefly with the Society's annual summer tour. Haughmond was an Augustinian foundation, the origins of which are a bit obscure but the major benefactors were the Fitzalan family, later earls of Arundel and the Lestranges of Knockin. It was the home of the poet John Audelay who was chaplain to lord Lestrange of Knockyn. We did not have a formal tour but Val bought a guide book and with this we explored the ruins which are extensive and evocative.
VISIT TO UPTON CRESSET HALL
The first Saturday in August was a visit to the manor of Upton Cresset near Bridgnorth. Besides being a very lovely old manor house, it is of particular interest to Ricardians as the place where Edward V stayed on his way to the arranged meeting with Richard Duke of Gloucester at Northampton which resulted in the arrest of Rivers, Vaughan and Grey at Stony Stratford.
We gathered for lunch at the Aston Arms just up the road at Morville. Unfortunately, while we were there, Val who had arranged the visit, phoned to tell us she had had an accident: someone ran into her at a roundabout. Thankfully she was unhurt but she missed the tour she had organised.
The house is down a very long lane and we were beginning to wonder if we would ever get there but when at last we did, we saw at once how very lovely it is. We had admired the beautiful gardens for a while and visited the Norman chapel before our host emerged, having, he said, mistakenly thought that our visit was the next day. However, all was well and we were then treated to a very good tour of the house, which is still a private residence, followed by tea and home baked cake in the dining room.
REPORT ON THE NEW VISITORS CENTRE LEICESTER
The following Saturday, I met up with the Notts and Derby Group for a visit to the new Richard III visitor centre in Leicester. It is very impressive, Leicester have really gone to town and are making the most of Richard. A lot of imagination and artistry has gone into it along with the 4 milIion and it really does have what Richard Buckley described as "the wow factor". Some teething problems with the acoustics on the first floor need sorting. One of the ushers told us that they were aware of the problem and intending to sort it out as soon as possible but that it would be helpful if we mentioned it in the comment sheets we would be given on leaving. With regard to the controversial white armour, I thought that having a suit of armour with all the parts labelled was a good idea to teach visitors about the armour of the period and if they wanted it white to match the more clinical and scientific decor, fair enough but in that case it should not have a crown on it. These however are the only criticisms I would make of what we all agreed was a very impressive display.
Quite a busy summer, out and about and with the weather holding good, all very enjoyable