Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Yorkshire’


In which we pose an anniversary question

Today: the anniversary of the one date in English history that just about everybody knows. It is – as you’ve probably realised – the 944th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which occurred on October 14th, 1066. And, of course, all that: the death of King Harold II at the hands of Duke William of Normandy, which led to the duke’s coronation as King of England on Christmas Day that year.

It is, of course, slightly silly to posit: what would the world be like now if the Battle of Hastings* had turned out differently. Counterfactual history can always be true, as the narrator of an Umberto Eco novel almost said, because the premise you’re starting from is always false. Nevertheless, it’s an ever-interesting exercise, particularly with an event like Hastings which turned on a rather narrower pivot than you might think. The standard history of the battle, after all, was written for the victor’s brother, and follows a firm melodramatic template: our hero is promised his future inheritance by a pious elder, and our dastardly villain swears loyalty to him. Come the pious elder’s death, our dastardly villain grabs power, God shows his displeasure, and the plot ends with the villain dying a perjurer’s death and our hero getting his just reward.

The battle was a long battle, though, for the time; and it certainly didn’t start off as a rout. At one point, in the confused melee, things definitely seemed to be going the English way: some of the Norman troops had fled, and Duke William appeared to have been killed, disappearing down into the miry slaughter. However, it was only his horse that had been killed, and somehow he survived, climbing up and throwing off his helmet to persuade his troops he was still there to fight for. There were a good proportion of mercenaries in the Norman army, after all, and you can imagine how willing they would be to go on fighting once they thought the chap paying the money out was down. It was a very narrow escape, it seems, but from there he eventually succeeded in turning the battle round; and thus, English history proper started.**

Would we be living in a very different world if the battle had been won by the English? Undoubtedly, in both large and tiny ways. The English we speak would be a rather different English, for one thing: probably none of those legal paired phrases like “cease and desist”, “goods and chattels”, and so on. We’d have one fewer national park: the New Forest would never have been built. Moreover, we may well have had a rather more decentralised country. King William overthrew a system of English nobility which had slowly grown up from a loose grouping of tribes sharing a common North Sea culture, a system in which no single family was dominant over the long term, there was no automatic hereditary throne, and the individual royally-qualified families had strong regional power bases. He replaced this with a single dynastic line; in the following thousand years, there have only been three major breaks in the line of succession.*** He made sure this happened by carrying out an economic conquest alongside his military one: destroying the entire economy of Yorkshire and Durham, for a start, and thoroughly replacing the English land-ownership structure, taking economic power out of the hands of the English and giving it over to the new nobility.****

Would England have been very different if this hadn’t happened? Would rural Yorkshire have denser settlement patterns, and would we still have a single Royal Family? Naturally, it’s impossible to say: on the first point, the Black Death would still have happened, so by 1400 the population in our projected Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire may well have been around the same as it actually was. We’d probably have different northern cities: York, Durham, Newcastle and (probably) Grimsby were already well-established by 1066; Manchester, Leeds and Middlesbrough were nowhere, and Sheffield was a Norman foundation. I like to think, though, that overall the country would have been more like Germany: still with its capital as the nation’s hub, but with a much greater sense of regionalism, and the importance of the regional cities. We’d still have been English, but we might have been English in a rather different England. Whether it would have been a better England, of course, is another of those things that’s impossible to say.

* Which, of course, didn’t happen in pier-bereft Hastings, but in the handily-named nearby town of Battle.

** Or at least it felt as if we were taught that in schools 25 years ago. I particularly remember, at the age of 5, watching a Norman Conquest-themed series of the educational TV show Zig Zag, featuring a “will the peasant forced into poaching really get his hand chopped off?” cliffhanger.

*** There was something of a hiccup after all William’s own sons had died, largely because some leaders at the time did not like the idea of a queen regnant. The outline of the start of that phase of history, strangely enough, is almost the same as the story of the Bayeux Tapestry: dastardly villain swears oath but goes on to seize throne, etc. However, instead of the dastardly villain dying within the year during a short and decisive military campaign, this story ends with 19 years of on-off civil war until the villain, King Stephen, died a natural death.

**** And those people who can trace their ancestry back to that newly-founded nobility are, of course, still very proud.

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we go to the seaside

By the time you read this, we will be in internet-connection limbo. The broadband will be down for a few days. No up-to-the-minute topical blogposts. No uploading photos, although, as I’m on a several-months backlog as per usual, nobody is likely to notice.

So, here’s something that’s easy to write in advance. Photo Post Of The Week. Beside the sea side, beside the sea.

Cliffs, Whitby

Whitby harbour

Pier, Whitby harbour

Cliffs, Whitby

Strange Times

In which research fails

Sometimes, there are little things that bug me. Like: remembering the vague outline of the plot of a book I read 20 years ago, but not being able to remember enough to track it down. Or remembering something I saw on TV,* or read in a library book at some point in the distant past.

It’s something like that that’s bugging me at the moment. Regular readers might know that I occasionally enjoy talking about prophets and predictors of the future, noting people who make predictions that fail to come true, or try to rewrite their predictions retrospectively to match the actual events. Ages ago, probably approaching the 20-years scale, I read that a sometime-famous clairvoyant had predicted that a nuclear war was going to start, and that it would involve a nuclear attack on Hull. Which may one day happen, I suppose.** Unfortunately, this was a prophecy with a very specific date, and that date was in 1981.

The only hint I have to go on is that I’m fairly sure this was in a book I got from my local library of 20 years ago, and it might have been by Jenny Randles. As Jenny Randles has written several shelves’ worth of paranormal books, that’s not much help. It may well have a book about the vast number of prophecies indicating that Something Horrible Would Happen To Civilisation As We Know It around the start of this century; clearly all very very accurate ones. There’s not much to go on, though, and searching for information on prophecies about Hull hasn’t dragged anything up either. So, in trying to track this one down, I’m puzzled.

* Like an old movie where a pit pony refuses to be evacuated from a coal mine and gets blown up in an accident as a result. That movie gave me nightmares for weeks.

** Feel free to insert the compulsary joke along the lines of “at least [insert street/district here] might be improved a bit”


In which Yorkshire and the Humber turns nasty

This is just a quick note; I didn’t intend to write another political post so soon again. But I felt it needed saying, as someone who was born in the now-deceased Humberside and was a registered voter in the Humber region until last year. I’m ashamed, to come from a region in which a six-figure number of people are willing to vote for a party with no real policies other than removing citizenship from non-white people. The elected candidate claimed in his acceptance speech that he “heard a rumour” that the Prime Minister has considered annulling his election result. No doubt his party would love for that to happen. What is more important: this election result happened because of a drop in turnout. It shows how vital it is that we have an open democracy where voters are able to make an educated choice, and exercise their right to make it.

Calling Dr Jones (part four)

In which we finally finish talking about Tudor Parfitt and the Ark of the Covenant

Series of posts, on here, always seem to take me longer to write than I had planned. It’s now, ooh, at least six weeks since I wrote the first post in this series, so I really should tidy it up and finish it off. For people who aren’t regular readers: some time ago, a Jewish Studies professor called Tudor Parfitt made a documentary about the lost Ark of the Covenant, the Biblical artefact which starred in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which in reality has been missing for well over 2 millennia. Professor Parfitt’s theory is that, although the original ark is probably long destroyed, it passed into east Africa, into the possession of a Jewish tribe there called the Lemba, and that its replacement is a war drum now sitting in storage in an Harare museum. Feel free to go back and read what I’ve written so far, if you’re a new reader.

All that is so well and good. It may well, indeed, be true, so far as I’m concerned. However, that’s not the end of the theory. Its logic goes as follows: the ark’s descendant is a war drum; therefore, the original ark must have been a drum too. Even though all the evidence for its existance states that it wasn’t a drum, a drum it is now, so a drum it must have been. In part three, I discussed how, in some ways, this theory is typical of what I suppose you could call “primitive archaeology”: the traditional diffusionist archaeology that held sway until the 1960s. Change was seen as a hard thing to do, and the possibility of cultural change tended to get swept under the carpet.

Change happens, though, in the real world: we can see it every day. It’s hard to see it occurring in the archaeological record, though; and very hard to determine its cause. Archaeological change and historical change are very different beasts.

There is one case in the British archaeological record where archaeology and history match up, and together provide evidence for inward migration. It’s in a small area of East Yorkshire, and archaeologically it’s known as the Arras Culture. It’s distinctive because of its chariot burials, unique in Britain. The nearest parallels are with similar cemetaries in the Ile-de-France region and the surrounding area.* Some of the riding gear buried with the chariots – the bits, for example – also resemble continental riding gear more than British.**

Fast forward to the end of the Iron Age; and the Romans arrive in the area. They have historians with them, and said historians write down the names of the various British tribes that the Romans encounter. The tribe that lives in East Yorkshire? They’re called the Parisii. They’re not the only tribe of that name, though. The Romans had discovered Parisii before, in the Ile-de-France, where they even had a city named after them.*** On the face of it, then, an obvious link. One of the few clear examples of cultural change in the British archaeological record which has matching historical evidence for a migration.

It’s not quite that simple, though. The Yorkshire Parisii and the French Parisii both buried people in chariots, and they used similar riding gear. But if you put a Yorkshire horse bit next to a French horse bit then, although the Yorkshire one looks suspiciously Continental in its general design, it’s still also clearly separate from the French one. Its detail design work will still be distinctively British. Overall, the Arras Culture is something of a hybrid of British and Continental Iron Age styles.

How does this fit in with Tudor Parfitt’s Ark of the Covenant theories? Well, archaeologists have tried to explain the Arras Culture in various ways other than straightforward migration. For example, a British tribe might have been trying to adopt Continental styles and fashions.**** Or, it might reflect a limited migration: a small number of leaders move, bringing their technology with them; but the craftsmen and engineers doing the actual work are British and use the same styles as their ancestors did. And, curiously, this is exactly what the Lemba say happened to them. A small number of priests came down from the north, bringing with them Jewish traditions, laws, and their holy war drum.

It’s entirely possible that this happened. There aren’t many other ways to explain the Lemba’s existence, after all. However, we do know that the priests from the north didn’t bring all the Jewish traditions with them. The Hebrew language, for one thing: the Lemba speak a Bantu language. Just like in Yorkshire, the new leaders brought with them the outline of a culture but not the detail. They brought with them an idea of the Ark, if not the Ark itself, as a holy object through which God could speak and smite, to be carried into battle in front of the tribe. But the concept of the Ark as a reliquary didn’t survive. In the Lemba culture, it became a drum, the literal and thunderous voice of God.

Professor Parfitt is forced to admit that the Harare drum is definitely not the Biblical Ark, because, being wood, it’s straightforward to date. He wants to stick with the idea, though, that the Harare drum is as close to the real Ark as we can get now. It may well be the closest surviving object to the Ark we have, yes. But that doesn’t mean that the Ark was always a drum. Cultural change happens, details of culture get left behind, and things change and adapt. The Lemba’s religion isn’t Judaism as the rest of the world practises it: it is Judaism filtered and absorbed through a small group of priests and the African tribe they evangelised. There’s no reason why we should follow their lead and say that the Ark of the Covenant was a drum, when the rest of Judaism***** says it was a reliquary. Tudor Parfitt’s theory may be partly right, but it is also very flawed, because of his inability to consider how the Lemba culture developed, and how cultures can adapt and change.

* Confusingly, the “Arras Culture” name is nothing to do with France at all; it refers to a place in Yorkshire.

** Specifically: the number of joints in the bit mouthpiece.

*** It’s still there today, apparently.

**** Even today, I can see why, if you came from Hull you might want to imagine you were from Paris instead.

***** Not to mention Christianity, and Islam.

The Quest Continues…

In which we are still on a quest for condensed milk

After Thursday’s post, Kahlan got back in touch, with a tip-off. Apparently there had been a rumoured sighting of a can of own-brand non-evil condensed milk, in a Waitrose. So our Saturday was spent driving 25 miles to Harrogate, the nearest branch,* to find … Nestlé products firmly on the shelves. Oh well.

To make up for the disappointment, we bought an ethical jar of dulce de leche instead, and tried to make cookies, from this recipe. They didn’t quite turn out as I expected, being rather flat and soft, but they still taste good, albeit so sweet that I can barely manage to eat a couple at once. Not surprising, given the huge amount of sugar in each one.

Cookie ingredients

Cookie mixture

Cookie mixture

Fresh-baked cookies

Sandwiching cookies

Sandwiching cookies

Dulce de leche sandwich cookies

A quick redaction of the recipe, the way we did it: take 230g of butter, chop it up, and beat it until it’s soft. Open your jar of dulce de leche and taste some just to make sure it’s not off or something. Beat 3/4 cup of light brown sugar and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into the butter, then add 3/4 cup of dulce de leche, assuming you can scrape it out of your measuring cup, and beat that in too, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Lick your cups clean, and your fingers, and anything else the stuff has stuck to. Add 2 eggs, mixing them in one by one, before sifting 2 1/2 cups of flour, half a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of bicarb into the mixture. Rest the dough for a few minutes before putting teaspoon-sized balls of it onto baking trays lined with greaseproof paper, and bake at 160 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before removing them from the baking tray; then when they are properly cold, carefully pair your cookies up into matching-sized pairs before using the last of the dulce de leche – if you have enough left – to sandwich the pairs together. Yum.

* and the only post code district left in the country that’s free of the Mighty Tesco

Water in pictures

In which we stand by the riverside

“Water” was the title of a photography series I did back at school, back when I was 17 and in the darkroom, wearing torn, fixer-stained jeans,* and getting my Art GCSE. I spent the February bank holiday travelling round the Pennines with the parents, taking photos of waterfalls; then augmented it with studio shots of dripping water against a dark background.

So, the other weekend, when the rain had been heavy and the rivers were expected to flood, I went into town with my camera to see just how high it was, and how it poured over the falls below the castle. I was slightly disappointed, in that there was no flooding at all; but we stood by the river as young boys threw stones and things in the water and watched the floating things race down over the falls.

Winter sunlight

River Swale


Boys throwing stones

* and with bleached-white patches from A-level chemistry spills, too. The Art GCSE was a sideline whilst doing my A-levels.


In which we wish for better maps

Maps are wonderful, lovely artefacts. I love to spread one out and read it like a book, analysing every square. Nowadays, though, I only do it for pleasure. Because, for practical reasons, if I want to plan a route or look somewhere up, it’s usually much much easier to go online for it.

There are downsides to this. Google Maps are nowhere near as good as a paper map. Their cartography just isn’t up to the same standard. They include roads, railways, rivers, and that’s about all. No buildings, no landmarks, no landscape. In Britain, Google Maps have the slightly odd habit of only including railway lines with passenger services,* and there seems to be no contours and few footpaths.

Google, though, are nowhere near as low-quality as Yahoo Maps. Since I bought a full Flickr account, I’ve used Yahoo Maps a lot, to record where I take my photos; and there are just so many places where Yahoo’s map doesn’t match reality. Take, for example, somewhere I visited recently with my camera: Battersby, on the edge of the North York Moors national park. This is Google:

Battersby, from Google Maps

For comparison, this is the Yahoo version at the same scale:

Battersby, from Yahoo Maps

Never mind the lack of street names, and the general lack of contrast which makes it difficult to see where the roads run, especially within the National Park. Where exactly does that railway run? Where is the park boundary? The park boundary does indeed follow the line of the railway; but what shape is it? There’s a big difference there, just because Yahoo’s maps don’t include enough detail, apart from for roads, to be at all accurate when zoomed in. Rivers are just as bad, and apparently have zero width too.

If you really wanted to know the answer to the park boundary question, incidentally: it’s Google that’s right, as you can see by looking at Streetmap, who license the Ordnance Survey’s maps. Now that’s what a map is supposed to look like.

* It probably derives from the Ordnance Survey’s long-standing division between “railways” and “freight lines, sidings or tramways”, which dates right back to the start of the One-Inch series. It was bad enough when Landrangers, at I think the Second Edition, dropped the distinction between single-track and multiple-track railways. I have some First and Second Edition Landrangers somewhere, so I’ll have to check when the single-track railway symbol disappeared. First Edition were the last One-Inch maps photographically enlarged, which leads to some odd discrepancies on them;** the Second Edition were redrawn.

** for example, on the First Edition Sheffield and Huddersfield Landranger map (sheet 110), a chunk towards the south of the map is lettered in a different, older, font, which suggests that part of the map was derived from a rather earlier original than the rest of the series. I’ll scan a section some time to show you.

Update, August 30th 2020: At some point in the last 10 years, Google Maps’ coverage of railways became much better, not only including non-passenger railways, but detailing the coverage down to individual tracks, not just lines of route. So hurrah, on that point at least!