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Subject: ‘Famous landmarks’
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Posted in Actors, English Literature, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Literature, London, Shakespeare, Theatre on Monday, 3 March 2014
This edited article about the English theatre first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 576 published on 27 January 1973.
Telling the boy apprentices to look after the shop, Master and Mistress Page, a prosperous tailor and his wife, went out into the street and headed south.
This was a street with a difference, for it was London Bridge with its high houses and marvellous array of shops. It was a wonder of the Elizabethan world.
The Pages walked hurriedly, waving at friends and not stopping to talk to them, for it was already nearly 1.30 and the play at the newly built Globe Theatre on Bankside on the south bank of the Thames began at 2.
Boats were taking other theatre-goers across the river, which in Spring 1600 was London’s main highway, but it was more sensible for the Pages to walk. They passed under the south gateway, glancing up at the shrunken traitors’ heads stuck on poles to deter others, then they turned right into a world of churches, slums, bear-gardens and theatres all alongside each other. Many patrons of the bear-baiting and cockfighting dens were just as much at home in the Globe listening to Master Shakespeare’s thrilling poetry, or to singers accompanied by lutes. Such was the sharp contrast of Elizabethan London – beauty and pain, music and sudden death, and always in the background the fear of the plague, which, when it came, closed all the theatres on Bankside for fear of mass infection.
The flag was flying over the Globe to show that a play would definitely be given that afternoon, and streams of people, some 2,000 or so, were heading for the cylindrical building with the thatched roof that the great actor Burbage, Shakespeare and several of their friends had built when their old one in north London had been threatened by the landlords. The Pages knew the story of how Burbage and the others had literally pulled the old theatre down and carried the wood across the river to help build the new one. They had once met Shakespeare himself, a most likable man, as everyone agreed, and they knew one of the boy actors at the Globe, who played women’s parts.
They waved at friends going to the Swan Theatre. Still more were heading for the Rose, where a play by Christopher Marlowe, who had been killed in a tavern brawl, was being given by the Lord Admiral’s Men, rivals of Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men.
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Posted in Castles, English Literature, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Politics on Friday, 28 February 2014
This edited article about the Prisoner of Chillon first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.
The Chateau de Chillon and Bonivard were immortalised by Lord Byron in his poem The Prisoner of Chillon, by Harry Green
The Lake of Geneva is a long crescent-shaped stretch of water with Switzerland on its northern side and the Savoy region of France to the south. Many famous places lie along its shores – Lausanne, Vevey and Geneva itself – places that are visited by tourists from the world over.
Towards the eastern end of the lake, past the resort of Montreaux, stands the Chateau de Chillon, a building that has a far darker history than its beautiful surroundings would seem to suggest.
The Chateau de Chillon dates back to the seventh century, but it was not until about 1250 that it was expanded to become an impregnable fortress. Subterranean dungeons were hewn out of the massive rock foundations. On three sides, the castle rose sheer from the icy waters of the lake. Its fourth side faced towards the cliff that towered above the shore. This side was strengthened, and the roadway between the lake and the cliff was narrowed, so that at most only two horesemen could ride abreast along it. A heavy gate was built across the path leading to the castle.
The Chateau de Chillon had been made impossible for an unwelcome intruder to enter – or for an unwilling prisoner to escape from – a prisoner such as Francis Bonivard.
In those days, the Savoy district of France was a separate country ruled over by its warrior dukes and counts. They looked upon Geneva as part of their territory by right, although the people of Geneva would have preferred to ally themselves with the neighbouring states in Switzerland. But as long as the people of Geneva stood alone, the dukes of Savoy were too strong for them. So revolutionary groups began to be formed, people who made plans for the day when Geneva would be free of the chains of Savoy. Francis Bonivard was one such person.
Francis Bonivard was born in 1493. His uncle was the prior of the monastery of St. Victor in Geneva and, when he died, Bonivard took over the position. It was really a position in name only, offering a good salary and little in the way of duties. Bonivard used his salary to further his own education, travelling and studying law. When he was about twenty-five he joined the “Children of Geneva,” a young political, group who seemed to be more enthusiastic than sensible, for their main activity was to swagger round the town shouting “Down with the Duke of Savoy!”
The following year, the Duke of Savoy visited Geneva to wipe out this talk of sedition. Bonivard’s closest friend was caught and beheaded as a warning to others. Bonivard himself left Geneva disguised as a monk, but he was betrayed and imprisoned by the Duke of Savoy for two years.
“Never again shall I endure the horror of imprisonment,” Bonivard vowed. He little realised that a far worse prison was waiting for him.
When Bonivard was released, he found that his position as Prior had been taken from him. He was friendless and without money. He decided to fade from sight until the right moment came once again to try to help Geneva gain its independence.
After a few years, his position as Prior of St. Victor was restored to him. But the position was one thing, money another. The money had previously come in the form of rents collected from estates in Savoy. These had ceased. So Bonivard now built up his own private army and went to war. He would sally forth, striking without warning, and conducting a form of amateur guerilla warfare. However, the people of Geneva became worried by his activities, fearing reprisals from Savoy. They persuaded Bonivard to stop, offering him instead a small yearly income from the city exchequer.
But Bonivard had already gone too far. The Duke of Savoy now had other plans for him!
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Posted in Architecture, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Science, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about castles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 568 published on 2 December 1972.
Artillery Castles: the simplest was Camber Castle (top), made up of a 12-sided structure with a central tower, whilst Deal Castle (centre) was more complicated and built on three levels; (bottom) the round castle at Dover; pictures by Pat Nicolle
“Who is this man?” snapped Pierre d’Aubusson, Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes of the Order of St. John.
“His name is Roger, Sire. He is an English sailor,” replied one of the knights. “He has a scheme to destroy the Turkish assault bridge.” At this the Grand Master pricked up his ears. Though he was a busy man organising the defences, d’Aubusson was particularly interested in anything that could stop another Turkish attack on the St. Nicholas Tower, the northern outpost of Rhodes’ defences.
For months the Turks had hurled themselves with incredible courage and ferocity at the walls of Rhodes. Their cannon had smashed ramparts, towers and battlements. Once they had tried to take the St. Nicholas Tower and this time they were planning to float across an assault bridge. But how did they intend to do it? Roger the Englishman had the answer.
“Sire, the Turks brought an anchor in secret across the harbour last night. They have now passed a rope through it and tomorrow they will haul their bridge across on the rope.”
“Two hundred crowns if you can get rid of that anchor!” boomed the Grand Master. And two hundred crowns Roger earned the following night, for he was a fine swimmer. Yet the Turks were not so easily deterred. They concentrated a barrage of artillery fire on the St. Nicholas Tower while thirty ships towed the bridge across. With ships, shouts, giant cannon and janissaries the Turks once more attacked. The walls of Rhodes crumbled – but the Knights of St. John drove back their fanatical foe until after three months of siege the Turks retreated.
The shattered fortress of Rhodes had survived, yet all Europe knew that this Christian victory had been won because the knights were as fanatical as their foes. The weakness of their fortifications in the face of artillery fire was plain for all to see.
During the 15th century Italy was in the front line of the war against the Turk. Then in 1494 Charles VIII of France rampaged through Italy and gave the Italians yet another reason to improve their defences. One of the best Italian fortification engineers was Michele San Michele and in 1520 it was he who came up with an entirely new idea – artillery bastions which he designed for the defences of Verona.
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Posted in Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about the Countess of Bamberg and imperial pretender first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 567 published on 25 November 1972.
Catherine of Russia stormed up and down the lavishly decorated throne room of her Winter Palace in a white-faced fury. Her courtiers cowered back. They knew her ugly temper only too well. Before the throne stood Count Orloff, that morning returned from Naples. It was his news that had thrown Catherine into this fit of rage.
“It is intolerable!” Catherine fumed.
“I await your orders,” Count Orloff said gravely.
Orders? What orders could she give? What was she to do?
Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia, had been a German princess before politics had forced her into a marriage with Peter, son of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Her early life in Russia had not been a happy one. The Empress Elizabeth had treated her with rudeness and contempt, and her husband, Peter, had been tottering on the brink of madness.
Eventually Elizabeth had died, and Peter had become Czar of Russia. But the loyalty of the people had been towards Catherine. In the end, the loyal officers of the Guards had risen up against her husband and taken him prisoner, and proclaimed Catherine as sole Empress. A few days later it was announced that Peter had been killed in an attempt to escape. There were many who said that he had been assassinated by Count Orloff on the orders of Catherine.
However, Catherine ruled wisely and well. Russia became united, as she had never been before, and there was no more internal strife. The way to future prosperity lay clear.
Until Count Orloff had brought his disturbing news from Naples.
A certain woman, it seemed, had made her appearance in Naples. She called herself the Countess of Bamberg and had applied to the British Ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, for the necessary papers to travel to Rome. These had been given to her.
On her arrival in Rome she had written in secret to Sir William asking for his help. She stated that in reality she was the daughter of the old Empress of Russia, Elizabeth, by a secret marriage. She further stated that it was she, not Catherine, who should be sitting on the throne of Russia.
Sir William knew that Count Orloff was in Naples and had confided this news to him, asking for his advice. Realising the possible consequences of the affair, Count Orloff had travelled post haste to St Petersburg to inform Catherine.
A pretender to the Russian throne! Someone who, if she came to Russia, could again divide the loyalties of the people. No, it could not be permitted!
Catherine threw open the tall windows of the throne room and strode out on to the balcony, ignoring the icy winter wind that lashed at her face. She started out across the broad stretch of the River Neva towards the island near the further side. On the island the massive shape of the grim Peter and Paul fortress stood silhouetted against the snow-clad hills.
As she stared her plans began to take shape.
There was a movement behind her. It was Count Orloff.
“I still await your orders, Madam,” he murmured.
She swung round, eyes blazing.
“You shall have them,” she said.
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Posted in Architecture, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about castles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 567 published on 25 November 1972.
(Top) Pierrefonds in France, owned by the Duke of Valois; (centre) Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, built in the early 15th century by the Lord Treasurer of England; (below) from a French illuminated manuscript showing soldiers attacking a Spanish town, by Pat Nicolle
“Hey – Leonello, there’s the little kitchen maid who likes you so much!” shouted a young man dressed in blue and yellow. Leonello blushed, and so did the kitchen maid who hurried away. The young men laughed. They always teased Leonello d’Este because he was the serious minded member of the gang. But Leonello took it in good spirits.
The Italians sauntered down the wide streets of Ferrara towards a great castle that dominated the city centre. This was the Castello d’Este, Leonello’s home. Leonello let them walk ahead. His friends were good company but Leonello had seen someone he wanted to talk to.
“Good day Master Guarino da Verona,” said the young man respectfully to an old gentleman who gazed thoughtfully at the brick-built towers of Leonello’s home. Guarino da Verona just nodded. They stood in silence for a while, the dashing young nobleman and his white haired teacher.
” ‘Tis a fine castle is it not? My grandfather must have been as proud to build it as my father is to rule it,” said Leonello.
Guarino da Verona merely grunted for he was of a philosophical turn of mind. “Yes a fine castle – a fine castle – but a sign of man’s stupidity that such things should be necessary in this world.” Leonello was a bit taken aback by this description of his huge home battlements, barbicans, bridges and moat. Of course people were not peaceful, he thought, and so castles were needed, and anyway this one was very handsome.
The 14th and 15th centuries were the age of the Renaissance when new ideas and learning were completely altering men’s attitudes. On a more practical level it was a time of great change. The nobility wanted to live in more comfort and enjoy a really civilised life. This was just as true in Britain and France as it was in Italy. Castles were originally meant to be strong places safe from attack but now their function as homes was growing more important.
Homely comfort is not easy to combine with defensive strength. One way to get round the problem is to make your defences as clever as possible rather than relying on brute strength. Many Italian Renaissance castles show this sort of cleverness. The Castello d’Este is in the middle of Ferrara town which means that its outer defences cannot stretch very far. On the other hand it is near an arm of the river Po, so the Castello d’Este relied a great deal on its moat.
The castle itself is a rectangular building around a central courtyard. Its four gateways are each defended by a separate tiny castle or barbican in the middle of the moat. Two of these barbicans are isolated from the castle while two are joined to the main structure by an archway over a drawbridge.
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Posted in Architecture, Castles, Famous landmarks, Royalty, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about Mediaeval fortified towns first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 566 published on 18 November 1972.
A picture history of the mediaeval French walled city of Carcassonne by Pat Nicolle
A sudden bell sounded over the silent city of Calais. For a while it seemed to be ringing for the dead. Calais was utterly silent. Then there was a murmer. You could not tell where it came from – then there was a shout, and then another. A woman cried out in a high pitched voice, a man bellowed to his neighbour, doors creaked open, hurrying feet rang on stone steps. People came out of their houses, poured into the streets.
“What news? What news!” they shouted to each other as they rushed along towards the main square in the middle of Calais.
They were a pitiable sight – old people with faces drawn and yellow, little children in the last stages of starvation, women clinging to their husbands in fear and hope, and men, once proud and strong but now walking with the uncertain steps of those whose bodies cry out for food. The people of Calais were starving.
For almost a year since September 1346 the French city of Calais had defied an English army under Edward III. It had been a long and terrible siege but now the commander of Calais’ garrison, Sir Jean de Vienne, had news from the English camp.
A silence fell on the citizens as they stood before their grim faced leader. Then Sir Jean spoke.
“The English King is angry. Our resistance has cost him much in men and money, yet we have won terms from him, though they are hard. Our city must submit to the English. We, the knights and squires, must go as prisoners to the enemy camp. But . . .”, Sir Jean looked at the fearful faces all around. “. . . six of your leading citizens must also go to the English King dressed for their own execution, wearing only their shirts, and with ropes around their necks. They shall take with them the keys of Calais.”
For a moment there was a horrified silence, then the richest man in Calais, a proud man whose once wide waist had given little clue to his courage, stepped forward. His name was Seigneur Eustache de Saint Pierre. Five other rich merchants followed him and with their self-sacrifice Calais was saved.
As it turned out, those six brave burghers of Calais did not die. Edward of England would have executed them but his kind-hearted wife, Queen Philippa, softened his heart. That siege had a happy ending. Most sieges did not! They were bitterly cruel and often dragged on for years. The reason was simple – fortifications were getting too good for the siege weapons then available.
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Posted in Architecture, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Invasions on Monday, 24 February 2014
This edited article about forts and castles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 563 published on 28 October 1972.
(Top) Reconstruction of a motte and bailey style wooden castle; (insets) Restormel Castle in Cornwall (top) and Farnham castle (bottom); (Bottom Left) Hedingham Castle in Essex; (Bottom Centre) Spiral stairs built into angled walls; (Bottom right) Cross section through Hedingham Castle showing the stone arches that support each wooden floor; pictures by Pat Nicolle
Shoulder to shoulder stood the northern barbarians, their shields making a rampart above which fierce bearded faces roared defiance at the foe. The warrior traditions of these northern Angles, Saxons, Franks and Germans were certainly heroic but not always very sensible. Sometimes courage and a strong sword-arm were not enough.
This was just what the Franks found when they set up their kingdom of France in what had been known as Gaul. Under their king Charlemagne the Franks tried hard to rebuild the Roman Empire. They themselves were Christians and quite civilized in their way, but their empire-building habits brought them up against the pagan Saxons of Germany, cousins of those other Saxons who had conquered Britain.
The Saxons fought back savagely and forced the invading Franks to build garrison forts to keep them down. In fact the Franks copied the older forts of the Romans, though their forts were much smaller and cruder than those of Imperial Rome.
Far to the north and to the east the distant barbarians of Scandinavia and eastern Europe were still defending themselves behind earth ramparts and wooden stockades just as the ancient Celts had done. These Scandinavian and Slav tribes were slowly merging into new nations like Poland and Russia. As they did so they built fine hilltop strongholds that were one day to grow into great cities.
In Scandinavia lived the Vikings, the most ferocious and feared of all the peoples who lived outside the frontiers of civilization. Suddenly in the ninth century they burst out of their cold northern lairs to raid and pillage across Europe. From longboats beached on the coasts they plundered the defenceless lands of England, France and Ireland. If they met resistance they would build fortified base-camps in the most inaccessible and marshy parts of the coast.
The kings of Europe had terrible trouble winkling the Viking raiders out of these strongly defended bases, for the camps were well designed by warriors who had long experience of building strongholds back in their Scandinavian homeland. One of the biggest Viking camps was at Trelleborg in Sweden. 1,200 fighting men could live within its huge circular rampart and ditch in ‘long-houses’ like barracks laid out with Roman-like precision.
The only way the English and French could resist these Viking raiders was to copy them and start building fortresses of their own. This is exactly what King Alfred did in England. He built a series of walled towns called burghs or boroughs all over that part of England not conquered by the Vikings. As Alfred’s successors slowly won back the Viking-occupied areas they also built burghs as rallying points for the English forces.
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Posted in Archaeology, Astronomy, Famous landmarks, Prehistory, Space on Saturday, 15 February 2014
This edited article about Prehistoric astronomy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 553 published on 19 August 1972.
Original arrangement of stones at Carnac, Bretagne
It seems that Neolithic Man, who inhabited Europe about 3,500 years ago, was not the simple farming type that the history books would have us believe. Recent scientific research has shown that these people went to extraordinary lengths to solve the complex problem of the Moon’s motion and had an astonishing knowledge of astronomy and geometry.
Surveys carried out on Megalithic monuments in Scotland and France show that what seemed to be just geometrical patterns of stones were in fact observatories that were used for determining the Moon’s motion. From there findings it has been found these people had a far greater understanding of lunar astronomy than any of their descendants were to have for the next 3,000 years!
In the 18th century it was realised that Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, was aligned with the mid-summer sunrise and was perhaps used on this day for religious or mystical rites. More recently one expert has suggested that the way the stones are arranged at this famous monument made it possible to predict eclipses of the Sun, an event which would have had a special and awe-inspiring significance for these early peoples.
To understand just how great the problems of building these observatories were for Neolithic Man it is important to know something of the Moon’s complicated motion through the sky.
To observers in Prehistory the most striking fact would be that the rising and setting points of the Moon change rapidly from night to night. In the Outer Hebrides, where most of the important Megalithic sites are found, it is possible for the Moon to rise and set almost in the north one day, and then two weeks later it barely manages to rise above the southern horizon for more than a few hours. When it does rise, it appears at different heights in the sky and over a period of 18.61 years goes through a full cycle of different positions and setting and rising points.
Only by constant observations over decades and even centuries could these early stone circle builders establish the reference points needed to construct their observatories.
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Posted in Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Monday, 10 February 2014
This edited article about architecture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 548 published on 15 July 1972.
A modern house next to a 1930s semi-detached house with bay windows
Ex-gardener Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, built in six months of mass-produced and standardised parts, was the real beginning of modern building techniques. For the rest of the 19th century, cast-iron was the stuff of which architectural dreams were made reality.
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, French engineer and bridge-builder, put a lifetime’s experience in the handling of cast-iron into his masterpiece, the Eiffel Tower, that he built for the Paris Exhibition of 1889. Nearly 1,000 feet high, this marvellous tower remained the tallest man-made structure on earth till the beginning of the 1930s and the raising of the Empire State Building, New York.
With visionaries like Paxton and Eiffel (the latter also designed the inner framework for the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour), modern architecture moved towards a state when it became inseperable from engineering. Not since the days of the ancient Egyptians who, in one stride, left behind the primitive concept of ‘a house as a home’ and discovered architecture had technology and imagination worked so closely.
Poor Pharaoh Cheops’s mummy would have turned in its sarcophagus at the thought that, after 5,000 years, men at last had the know-how to rival him as a builder. And could build quicker and more cheaply.
Not that the break with traditional forms of architecture was so clear-cut as the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower might suggest. The basic shapes of Classical and Gothic continued to point the way to good structural design; and the best architects realised that there was more to Classical than the Five Orders, and more to Gothic than flying buttresses and stained-glass windows. There’s many a modern building of steel, glass and concrete that owes its general proportions to a Greek temple.
Nor did the pioneering work of Paxton and Eiffel send everyone dashing off to build in mass-produced cast-iron. In England, William Morris, architect and designer, believed in a return to the hand-craftsmanship of the Middle Ages. His personal talents ran to the design of wallpaper and fabrics but he believed that his methods could be applied to all art and architecture. The pity of Morris was that though his ideas on design were good, his methods had already been swamped in the relentless, surging tide of history; the teeming millions of this modern world can’t wait around for hand-made wallpaper. Or hand-made houses.
Around the turn of the century, the new modernism threw out an interesting offshoot which was called all sorts of things all over Europe, but is now generally referred to as Art Nouveau.
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Posted in Architecture, British Cities, British Towns, Famous landmarks, London, Railways on Friday, 7 February 2014
This edited article about architecture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 547 published on 8 July 1972.
The St Pancras, Midland Railway Station, London, erected in the years 1866-69
Fashions change. Victorian art, architecture and interior decoration and, indeed, Victorian costume are all very much “in” things at the present time.
Forty years ago you could not have given away odd bits of Victorian bric-a-brac, like vases, glassware, paper-weights, and similar oddments, all of which fetch enormous prices nowadays. In the years between the two World Wars, Victoriana was a great big joke and no aspect of Victoriana was more laughable than its architecture. Someone coined a jibe to the effect that the Victorians were jolly nice chaps, but that they should never have been allowed to get their hands on bricks and mortar.
However, there has been a reappraisal of Victoriana, and of Victorian architecture in particular – since this has a way of standing around and continuing to make itself known long after its creators, and their beliefs, have crumbled away to nothing.
Our light-hearted look at architecture, so far, has really been a matter of examining various architectural styles in relation to the people who did the building, and the environment in which they lived.
Nomadic people, like desert Arabs, dreamed up a portable house of sticks and skins and called it a tent. Firmly established in the rich and fertile Nile valley, the Ancient Egyptians went to the other extreme from the temporary and portable dwelling, and built their homes to last for ever.
It was the good Greek eye, sharpened by the clear atmosphere and the revealing sun, that devised the perfection of the Classical style. Those go-ahead and pushy fellows the Romans took over Greek architecture and bent it to their own needs; adding the techniques of building in brick and concrete, and exploiting the dome and the arch.
The Gothic style grew out of religion and added techniques that enabled men to show their adoration of God by extending slim shafts of stonework towards the skies of Northern Europe, towards Heaven.
All these architectural styles evolved for a reason. They were and are immediately recognisable because they each sing with one voice, in tune. They all have coherence.
By the 19th century, architecture ceased to have any coherence. There was no more singing in tune, everyone was singing solo.
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