Tenbury Wells, United Kingdom. Photograph by Matt Cardy/Getty
Members of the Leominster Morris Dancers lead the crowd from the Hobson Brewery to the nearby apple orchard to take part in a torchlit Oldfields Orchard Cider wassailing ceremony.
The orchard-visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year. (Wikipedia)
Gaping Gill is the largest underground cave chamber in Britain.
It’s often said, without exaggeration, that this dramatic chamber is big enough to fit a cathedral.
It is so big that there has been an attempt to fly a hot air balloon inside the cave. The vertical main shaft from the surface to the floor of the chamber is about 98m deep and normally contains a substantial waterfall, the route by which the surface stream, Fell Beck, finds its way to the chamber floor.
The chamber and the extensive cave system it is a part of are usually only accessible to experienced and properly equipped cave explorers.
But for two separate weeks of the year (around the August and late May public holidays) two local caving clubs provide a winch to allow members of the public to be lowered down the shaft on a boatswain’s chair, and later winched out again.
Once inside you can just explore the chamber, or the slightly more adventurous can enter some of the easier and closer passages of the 16.6km cave system.
It’s a good idea to wear waterproof clothing as the winch passes you through the spray from the towering waterfall.
In the 19th Century, when the postal service was in its infancy, Charles Dickens lobbied for his own personal letterbox, writes Kathryn Westcott.
It’s Christmas 1869 and Charles Dickens, prolific letter writer, is hurriedly finishing off a correspondence. “The postman is waiting at the gate to tramp through the snow to Rochester and is unlawfully drinking a glass of gin while I write this,” Dickens reveals to his friend Charles Kent.
The postman was a familiar sight at Dickens’s Georgian home, Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent.
A postbox, installed by the postal service at the author’s request, was one of the earliest wall-boxes to be introduced in Britain, following the introduction of the pillar box across the nation by fellow writer Anthony Trollope in 1852.
Dickens had personally lobbied for that postbox in 1859.
Perhaps acting on a tip-off by friend and writer Edmund Yates, who worked in the Postmaster General’s office, he replies to a correspondence from Yates stating:
“I think that no one seeing the place can well doubt that my house at Gad’s Hill is the place for the letter-box. The wall is accessible by all sorts and conditions of men, on the bold high road, and the house altogether is the great landmark of the whole neighbourhood. Captain Goldsmith’s house is up a lane considerably off the high road; but he has a garden wall abutting on the road itself…”
“This was taken on a cold winter’s evening from the slopes of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and looks towards the castle and St Giles’ cathedral in the city’s old town. Although the day was cold and a frost had already started to form on the ground, I was attracted by the warm colours of the evening sky.”
[Prison hulk loading], Samuel Atkins, 1787–1808, watercolour. Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia: an5601463
In the 21st century we are accustomed to thinking of imprisonment as one of the more obvious forms of punishment for convicted criminals.
This was not so in the past.
The industrial revolution, social change and war caused great changes in the lives of British people in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Extreme poverty was a fact of life for many, and desperate people resorted to crimes such as theft, robbery and forgery in order to survive.
If caught and convicted, they faced a harsh and complicated criminal code.
Imprisonment was only one of a range of sentences that judges could inflict and, with no national prison system and few purpose-built prisons, it was often not their first choice.
Instead, most criminal offences were punishable by death, public humiliation in the form of branding, whipping, hair cutting, the stocks or the pillory, the imposition of a fine, or transportation overseas.
British authorities had used the transportation of criminals overseas as a form of punishment since the early 17th century, particularly to provide labour in the American colonies.
The American War of Independence (1775–1783) put an end to this human export.
Convicts sentenced to transportation were sent instead to hulks, old or unseaworthy ships, generally ex-naval vessels, moored in rivers and harbours close enough to land for the inmates to be taken ashore to work.
Although originally introduced as a temporary measure the hulks quickly became a cost-efficient, essential and integral part of the British prison system.
Prison-ship in Portsmouth Harbour, convicts going aboard, Edward William Cooke, 1828, hand-coloured etching. Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia: an9058453
Once tried and sentenced convicts were sent to a receiving hulk for four to six days, where they were washed, inspected and issued with clothing, blankets, mess mugs and plates.
They were then sent to a convict hulk, assigned to a mess and allocated to a work gang.
From 1776 to 1802 all English hulks were operated by private individuals such as the shipowners Duncan Campbell and James Bradley, under contract to the British government.
These included the Justitia, Censor, Ceres and Stanislaus on the River Thames at Woolwich, the Chatham and Dunkirk at Plymouth, the Lion at Gosport and La Fortunee at Langstone Harbour near Portsmouth.