Archaeology, Art History, Cymru, Europe, Ewrop, History, Literature, Poetry, Shropshire, Sir Amwythig, Wales

The Trees of Tilstock Park

My Manchester Metropolitan University page: http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hpp/research/current-phd-students/

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This week we are on the Shropshire / Flintshire border looking at Tilstock Park (Longitude 52.931698; Latitude -2.710032). The earliest date for a park at Tilstock is 1361 when it is recorded in an ‘Inquisition Post Mortem’. An Inquisition Post Mortem recorded the lands held at their deaths by tenants of the crown.

If want to know more – have a look at http://www.inquisitionspostmortem.ac.uk: “The project will publish a searchable English translation of the IPMs covering the periods 1236 to 1447 and 1485 to 1509. From 1399 to 1447 the text will be enhanced to enable sophisticated analysis and mapping of the inquisitions’ contents. The online texts will be accompanied by a wealth of commentary and interpretation to enable all potential users to exploit this source easily and effectively.”

Back to our particular Inquisition taken in 1361, which was taken on the death of Ankaretta Lestrange. Although the park is not recorded prior to 1361, it must have been in existence prior to this date for it to be included. From 1361 to the end of the century there are records of the Parkers (those officials responsible for maintaining the parks) but in this post I want to look at the ‘death’  of the park, rather than its ‘life’.

During my research I found this image which was published in Rowley, T. 1972 ‘The Shropshire Landscape’, Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Tilstock Park c.1600
Tilstock Park c.1600.

(The annotations are mine on a photocopy before anyone thinks the book was defaced!)

This map – produced c.1600 – shows the ‘death’ of Tilstock Park. With the trees being chopped down by men equipped with axes. Having looked at this map in the book, I wasn’t happy with the reproduction of the original as some things didn’t look quite right, and it said in the book there there was no north marked on it.

Annotations on a copy of Tilstock Park c.1600
Annotations on a copy of Tilstock Park c.1600.

I thought I’d use my copy as it shows my ‘workings out’, and gives some idea of how I look for clues, both in maps and in the landscape. Firstly, the original map does have north marked on it, it just happens that it is written in Latin.

Latin words for 'North', 'South', 'East' and 'West' around the edge of the original map
Latin words for ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘East’ and ‘West’ around the edge of the original map.

Septentrionales = North / Meridies = South / Oriens = East / Occidens = West

Another way of orientating the map would be to look at where the county of Flintshire is marked, and in this case the county of Flintshire should be to the west of the county of Shropshire. So, with the map orientated, what other clues can we glean from the map?

Tilstock Park in its final incarnation had two gates, one on the western side and one on the eastern side. The gate on the western side had a park lodge outside of the park on the northern side, and there was another building in the north western corner of the park. On the southern side of the park was a water gate which allowed the flow of water to be controlled into a series of fish ponds on the south eastern side.

Fish Ponds in Tilstock Park
Fish Ponds in Tilstock Park.

Rowley thought that the park was divided into three – and in the ownership of Greene, Chawner and Gregorie. However, although Chawner and Gregorie appear to be depicted on the map, with axes over their shoulder, there is no sign of Greene. It would appear that in this case Greene refers to an open space, something we would expect to find in a medieval park.

Chawner and Gregorie depicted with axes
Chawner and Gregorie depicted with axes.

Chawner and Gregorie are probably felling the trees in Tilstock Park in order to see them off and make some money as they change the use of the park from something which would have derived its income from a variety of sources, for example from the deer and other animals kept in the park, from the fish in the ponds and from the sale of wood. The park would now become an open space used as farmland, in this case pasture for sheep or cows.

Armed with the knowledge the original map was kept in the Shropshire Archives in Shrewsbury, I went to see why it hadn’t been reproduced in the book and why Rowley had made a copy. When I saw the original, I quickly understood why. The map was in several shades of green with black ink illustrations on top. This meant it was very difficult to read, and even more difficult to photograph.

So, what does Tilstock Park look like today?

Tilstock Park Today
Tilstock Park Today in the wider landscape.

The most obvious feature visible in the park from the air is the site of the former fish ponds.

Tilstock Park Today. The edge of the former fish ponds is highlighted in blue
Tilstock Park Today. The edge of the former fish ponds is highlighted in blue.

The boundaries of the park are also clearly visible, and next week we’ll look inside the park in greater detail to see what else can be identified in the archaeological record.

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From Psychiatrists to Peter Rabbit

My apologies for not putting up a blog post in quite a while, so I hope you will read this one in its entirety, and if you think someone else should read it, please pass it on.

On the 6th of December 2013 I was at work when I suffered what can best be described as the mother and father of depressive panic attacks. It really frightened me and thinking of the consequences of what I might do to myself in this mood, I drove myself straight to my Doctor’s Surgery and asked to see someone. The receptionist was really patient with me, especially after she told me there was no Dr. available to see me and I pointed out I wasn’t leaving, because I was scared of walking away from a situation where I would receive help.

The Dr. who saw me took one look at me, asked me a couple of questions and immediately phoned to make me an appointment with the mental health team at one of the major hospitals. I was taken there and after a brief conversation with a nurse was put in a quiet ‘special’ room to wait for a full assessment. The room had very heavy furniture with rounded edges and no easy way to get your fingers underneath to lift any of it up. The windows were bolted shut, the pictures screwed to the wall and a panic button fitted behind where the assessor was to sit. I suppose people had been there in far angrier moods than me.

The assessment was an opportunity to talk. I was allowed to ramble on, follow tangents and let everything tumble out of my mouth in an unfocussed narrative. Much is written about how writing a PhD can be detrimental to your mental health, but not much is written about when a PhD is the glue that binds your mental health together. I have a good life, as many people do who suffer mental health issues, but when that indefinable something gets in under your skin and the tiny problems you are experiencing start to expand and fill your every thought. Well, you get the picture.

I’ve been ill before, and I mean physically ill. I’ve had a couple of operations on my kidneys and my gall bladder out. Add to that some other scars from various other adventures and I have parts of my skin that look like a dog chew toy. Physical pain I can handle, junior doctors at the end of my bed staring at my testicles I can handle, but letting someone look inside your head is a very different experience indeed. In one sense, writing these blog posts are letting people inside my head, by explaining the inner workings of how I come to work out various concepts and points of my thesis. In another sense, many of you don’t know me as a person and form your opinions of me from what I write on here, and my writing has meant that my first term was funded by you, and I in turn am inspired by your faith in me.

After the assessment by a psychiatrist I was allowed home and this was the start of my recovery. In order to recover from something like this you have to admit that you understand that there are problems, and that you need to address each one as an individual rather than screw them up into one big ball which is then juggled around as one big worry. Making sure I fulfilled my obligations to you, the people who support me by reading the blog and contributing to my PhD fee payment fund http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks is something which I have to admit worried me and was rolled up in my big ball.

Thanks to the dispassionate honesty of my psychiatrist, the love of my family and the support of three friends in particular – you know who you are – I’ve been able to work through my problems and I’m now well enough, both physically and mentally, to be able to continue with the writing process and to able to talk about my latest discovery, which all starts with the ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_Peter_Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

One of my friends has just given birth, and she and her husband have decorated the nursery. They chose to put up illustrations from ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. I remembered that the illustrations were drawn in the garden of Gwaynynog Hall near Denbigh (Latitude 53.177178; Longitude -3.445713) and so posted a link to the BBC News article http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_east/4441615.stm to show her.

Galch Hill

And then I thought. Hang on a minute. Where exactly is Gwaynynog Hall? So, I checked my maps and it lies within one of Denbigh’s medieval parks. Which then made me think that Peter Rabbit, or at least the rabbits that Beatrix Potter was inspired by when she created Peter Rabbit, arrived in the area during the medieval period. Whether these were imported by English or Welsh royalty is a little bit more difficult to establish without archaeological excavation of the medieval rabbit warren locations, but it is an important step forward in understanding the landscape. And I’ll be sure to tell my friends’s newborn daughter someday how she helped me start writing again.

If anything in the first part of this blog post struck a chord, you could try the following websites:

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://bemindful.co.uk