Tuesday, 3 August 2010

If these Stones could Speak

Ancient Keep and Lighthouse, from Victorian walls,
the Isle of Wight beyond

Where have we come from? Who lived here before us? Television is constantly asking these and similar questions; "Who do you think you are?", "Time Team", "How old is your House?" the channels seem full of such programmes. For me, local history has always been an interest, and since coming to live in Hampshire we have been finding out a great deal about our locality. There are very ancient roots; "The Rings" are half a mile from where we live, and they are pre-Roman conquest earthworks on a huge scale. Then there was shipbuilding all along the Solent, with the clearest evidence at Buckler's Hard near Beaulieu - some of Nelson's vessels were built there. The local birdwatching site, the Salterns, has a long history as a place for producing salt; these were part of an ancient industry, salt pans along the sea margin where the water was evaporated to concentrate the salt before being boiled to give the end-product. So successful was it that in one year in the eighteenth century the tax on Lymington salt was £40,000. The church and many of the buldings in our high street witness to that success.
A long history

Most evocative of all for me, though, is Hurst Castle. It stands at the end of a spit of land which runs east from the southern tip of land facing the Isle of Wight. It commands the entry to the Solent, which at this point is only half a mile wide. Standing at Hurst you are muchnearer the Isle of Wight than you are to the rest of the Hampshire mainland.

Graffiti from 18th C and earlier
Odd openings witness to re-used stones

It was such a strategic spot that it was chosen for one of Henry VIII's many coastal castles. Why the need for these defences? The Church of England is the answer; or rather the Royal Succession, which Henry found no way of solving other than by putting away his first wife. Since she was a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, he managed to enrage the strongest power in Europe, Spain. Spain had been enriched by the wealth of its conquests in the New World; so you could say that the reason for much of the history of England through the past five hundred years can be put down to America.

1585: getting ready for a Spanish Invasion

Yesterday we visited Hurst once more, and this time I paid attention to the fate of one Paul Atkinson, whose crime was teaching the catholic faith. This was not during the bloody upheavals of the reformation, but at the start of the Century remembered for the Enlightenment. It was in 1700, in the reign of Dutch William and Mary Stuart that he was betrayed by a young woman whose confession he had heard. He spent the next thirty years locked up in Hurst Castle, until his death in October 1729. The much-vaunted tolerance and liberalism of the Church of England, and of England itself, takes some knocks when you consider the treatment of Catholics right down to their emancipation in the nineteenth century. The fulminations by the press over the forthcoming visit by the Pope show that those feelings of suspicion and hatred towards Rome, which have their origins in Tudor times are still flourishing. So here in pictures are some of those stones; stones of Hurst originally robbed from the monastic houses around the Solent shore.

Our liberal English Patrimony

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