Sunday, 5 November 2017

Gunpowder, Treason and Activism!

It's an odd morning for me, as I currently appear to be dog-sitting invisible dogs!

The owner has a theory his other dog sitter has taken them for a walk, but it's turning out to be a very long walk indeed, so I'm not sure what to do now...

Today is November 5th, Bonfire Night. A night for fire and fireworks, toffee apples, and burning an effigy of attempted regicide, Guy Fawkes (except it's a school night, so most people seem to have done their burning of things last night). I watched the BBC drama series Gunpowder, produced by and starring Kit Harrington as his gunpowder plotter-ancestor, Robert Catesby. Harrington's genealogical research, and the clear passion that has inspired has imbued the drama with an unrivalled verisimilitude, I think. With some slight artistic license  -  I believe it generally takes hours to die of the torturous method of pressing, but I thought it was amazing. Of course, it has attracted some criticism for its unfettered violence, but I think that's really important to know the pain and degradation felt by the Catholics under ever more stringent clampdowns on their religion and religious expression, and to give an idea as to why  Robert Catesby and the other plotters did what I did.

When I lived in the Black Country, I often saw the sign pointing towards Holbeche House, the manor where the gunpowder plotters, including Catesby, were found and arrested. I had no idea that it was the scene of a massive shoot out, though, and how many of them died in that place, and what was done to their bodies after they were buried nearby. A gruesome but fascinating part of our history. I wish I'd gone before it was turned into a care home for the elderly!

But last week, we were on staycation, and as a treat, OH took me for a drive to a "mystery location in Northampton". A trick to fool me, as in Gunpowder the manor house where the Catesby family lived was labelled in the series as being in Warwickshire. Well, nowadays, Ashby St. Ledger is in Northamptonshire. The manor is a private residence now, owned by Lord Wimborne, and a field separates the gates that would have led down to the house when it was in its own land with fewer neighbours.

It's a very beautiful house, and that's thanks to the current Lord Wimborne's efforts as just over a decade ago, apparently it was in very poor repair. the Crown Estate had to step in to buy the estate minus the manor house, and run by a "Rural Directorate" as an agricultural business. And Lord Wimborne might have inherited the estate from his grandfather, but it has been owned by quite a few people in between them - and businesses. British Airways owned it at one point.

Right next door to the manor house is the church, dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Leodegarius. According to this website it has been there since 1100, but most of the buildings are 14th and 15th century. It's beautiful and has some fascinating frescoes, including one depicting the flagellation of St. Margaret.

Here at the side of the church you can just make out the famous "gunpowder room", a timber framed part of the manor house where the gunpowder plotters allegedly planned their act of terror.

Creepy skeleton commemorates the Black Death.

No more brass rubbing allowed!

This ornate tomb was beyond reach in a part of the church that looks like it doubles up as a storage area.

A wall memorial from early 17th century in which husband and wife are wearing ruffs.

This memorial plaque is topped with a harpie (blonde with very pink boobs)

Slightly closer view of the harpie

A Norman font.

 Next to the font, there is also a mini exhibition on the gunpowder plot... which gave us a clue as to where we could go next.

But first, we had a spot of refreshment in the Olde Coach Inn, and then took in a but of the Jurassic Way which crosses through the village.

 For our next destination, we had to cross the border into Warwickshire proper, to pay a visit to Dunchurch where the Old Red Lion Inn once stood, where the gunpowder plotters awaited news of the success of the plot, so they could nip off to Coombe Abbey to kidnap Princess Elizabeth and make her their sovereign. It is now known as Guy Fawkes House, and it's someone's house now. Someone who must have to get used to lots of people taking photos of their house!

 While we were there, we thought we might as well also visit the outside of 12th Century St Peter's church, which has some lovely miserichords.

We were trying to work out the dates on this for longer than wasn't embarrassing.
So, what else was I up to on my staycation? Not much chilling I'm afraid... rather I seem to have become a bit of an activist.

It's a dire time in Northamptonshire, as the County Council have announced that they have so little money, they are going to be forced to cut services, some of which are not only vital, but also statutory, so they ruddy well can't, never mind shouldn't. Therefore they have a fight on their hands!

In the first wave of cuts to save £9.6 million, they have proposed the closure of up to 28 libraries (out of 36 across the county), but 21 can be "saved" if the community finds groups to run them with volunteers. Well... remember when I did that gig in a volunteer-run library? That is typical of community-run libraries, in that it depends on the unskilled retired, rather than trained librarians. Yes, people can still borrow books (from a limited supply, also donated by other nice people), but modern libraries are about so much more than book-lending. They provide access to computers, homework help, jobseeker support, mental health resources, blue badge provision, bus pass renewal, playgroups and health visitor services, and more! They are a frontline statutory service and our local authority is obligated to provide a decent and comprehensive service for all who wish to use it.

It has made me so angry. In reaction to the 3 pitiful options the County Council has suggested, many of us are joining the campaign Option 4 - Save ALL libraries. I think the CC are hoping we will be divided by trying to just back our local library under threat, and indeed I am backing Save Kingsthorpe Library, my local library  (and it's crazy that this one only has 1 of the 3 options to stay open, seeing how used it is). We are investigating the figures for costs and usage provided by CC, and querying why other measures don't seem to have been taken with regards to budget reduction.

I can't believe this is a consideration for the council. It's the 21st century, and we need libraries more than ever. I am as baffled by this as I am incensed.

To help my campaign group I put together  this video.

And on 28th October, I took part in a demo outside Kingsthorpe Library, which I filmed.

Here are my banners!

And here is my video.

What you can do: