The Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge

This post will feature the newly opened, Battle of Britain Bunker and Visitor Centre on the former site of RAF Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon. It is the only Second World War bunker to be preserved and open available to the public. The former RAF site was sold off for a new housing development in 2010. The Bunker was available for tours, booked in advance. Now however the site has been heavily invested by the financial backing of Hillingdon council and houses a new Visitor Centre adjacent to the Bunker, whereby prior booking is no longer necessary.  The Visitor Centre explains about the line of work that happened in the Bunker and features interactive exhibits and visuals relating to plotting, radar and collecting calls from telephones. It is also a good feature for those visitors who are less mobile as they can still see information and learn about what happened in the Bunker.

Outside the complex visitors are welcomed to the statue of New Zealander Keith Park (1892-1975), the Second World War Royal Airforce commander. He oversaw the running’s of the operation room at RAF Uxbridge for two years from 1940-1942. He was known as the “Defender of London” in Germany and for organising fighter patrols during the Dunkirk evacuation the Battle of Britain campaign. What’s more, the grounds also include a mock Hurricane, Spitfire and memorial close to the entrance of the Bunker immortalising the words uttered by Winston Churchill when he entered the Bunker on a visit in 16th August 1940, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few”.

 

The Bunker

Upon arrival visitors must report to the entrance desk at the Visitor Centre to collect tickets to visit the Bunker. The Bunker operates tours in the mornings and afternoons. Please ensure to take a ticket and keep it on your person until the guide leads you to the entrance of the Bunker, it is here where you hand your ticket to a steward. When entering the bunker, you go down a long flight of stairs so be watchful.

The Bunker was the location for No. 11 Group RAF’s operation which served as part of the Dowding system. The Dowding system served as the world’s first conception network on land to control airspace in the United Kingdom. It used a telephone network to gain intelligence as opposed to radar that could have been intercepted. This Bunker is most famous for controlling airfield operations during the Battle of Britain in 1940 and additionally the Dieppe raid of 1942 and the D Day Landings of 1944.

Geographically there were several fighter command groups stationed in the United Kingdom they were divided into different geographical locations. No. 11 Group which encompassed the South-East, No. 10 Group covering the South West, No. 12 Group covering the Midlands, No. 9 Group covering the North West, No. 13 covering the North East and lastly No. 14 Group covering Scotland. Focusing on No. 11 Group its headquarters was located at Hillingdon House at RAF Uxbridge. The group’s operating room was within the Bunker underground, to avoid detection. A previous bunker was built over ground in 1939 but the idea of having an operations room over ground was too obvious in case of an enemy air attack.

The commands that occurred in the Operations room within the Bunker was passed onto airfields within the group. These airfields were divided into 8 different sectors. The Operations Controller was seated above a plot map and a display on the wall relating to the other RAF stations within the group covering; RAF Tangmere, Kenley, North Weald, Debden, Biggin Hill, Hornchurch and Northolt. These were the stations were fighter squadrons were based. It is important to note that everything displayed in the Operations room was always suited to the view of the Operation Controller. Additional staff included; Army and Navy Officials, Plotters, telephonists and RAF officers, one of which was the late Hollywood actor Rex Harrison.

The map of the United Kingdom and northern France was displayed on a large board whereby the Operations Controller could see very clearly where plotters would update them with necessary information. This was a job carried out by plotters who were mainly women from the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce (WAAFs). They were fed information from Chain Home Radar stations monitoring approaching aircraft, it was the Royal Observer corps that detected aircraft that was friendly or hostile. This information was fed to a Filter room whereby the plotters in this room would breakdown the information and relay it to the plotters in the Operation room. The plotters used long thin rods that would move markers on the map indicating numbers of aircraft and how many feet they were in the sky. It also displayed friendly and hostile aircraft. Depending on what information they receive the would move the markers across the map to provide the Operations Controller an up to date understanding of affairs happening in the skies.

Going back to the display on the wall depending on the different stations lights will flicker to state whereabouts aircraft is and to show the Operations Controller a physical embodiment/tracking of their decision making from standby to action. It is also important to note that the visibility and weather balloons was also marked on the display, again providing the best view to the Operations Controller so they can be best informed to make decisions. The plotters job was important as they had to ensure the information was kept up to date, otherwise that could mean drastic consequences for aircraft and cause confound decision making for the Operation Controller. When changing shifts, the plotters had to standby the other plotter they are shifting with to see what information they were being fed to again make sure the information on the map was current. This was also true when a plotter needed to take a break, the covering plotter had to stand with the plotter wanting a break for approximately 10-15 to ensure all information fed to them was being kept up to date.

 

Location-

The location of the Battle of Britain Bunker is easy to get to, it is close to the Town centre of Uxbridge, Greater London and has good connections to the A40 and M40. It is an easily accessible day trip from London as the tube serves Uxbridge on both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines. Additionally, the U2 is the nearest bus to serve the Bunker which will then take an extra 10-15 minutes to walk to the venue.

 

Practicalities-

Residents of Hillingdon Borough can visit for free (upon showing Hillingdon resident card) as with servicemen/women and ex-servicemen/women. Please check with the venue for exact proving to those visitors from outside the area.

 

All in all, the Bunker and Visitor centre is a great day out for history buffs, particularly those with an interest in the Battle of Britain.

A Brief History of Winchester Cathedral

Last week, after three amazing years, I finally graduated from the University of Winchester with a 2:1 in English Literature and History. Graduation was an unforgettable experience, spent catching up with friends, trying not to trip, and posing for about a thousand awkward photographs that will, presumably, stare down at me from my grandfather’s display cabinet until the end of time.

[PHOTOS of me graduating]

It was also, as I’m sure every Winchester grad can confirm, spent looking around in absolute awe at the beautiful cathedral we’re so lucky to graduate in. What a building! And what a history! As I stood nervously, waiting for my name to be called and wobbling in my heels (in hindsight, a poor choice on the uneven stone floor), I couldn’t help but think of all the sights the cathedral must have seen over the years and of all the other people to have passed through those impressive wooden doors.

I knew various tidbits about the cathedral’s history- such as the gloriously higgledy-piggledy stained glass in the West Window, which had been swept up and restored by the people of Winchester after Cromwell’s men destroyed it during the Civil War- but I suddenly felt inspired to learn more. More than that though, I wanted to jot down some highlights here, hopefully to inspire others to visit (and to fall in love with) Winchester Cathedral.

But first:

(Because what post about Winchester Cathedral would be complete without this gem from the ‘60s?)


Anglo Saxon Origins

Now, Winchester Cathedral has its roots in the seventh century, when the pagan monarchs of England first converted to Christianity. In 635, Cynegils, king of the West Saxons, was baptised and, just over a decade later, his son Cenwalh built the first Christian church in Winchester, which was by then the heart of Anglo Saxon Wessex.

This was a small, cross-shaped church which became known as Old Minster. In these blurry photos I took back in 2014 on my freshers’ tour of the cathedral, you can just about make out where it stood, slightly to the north of the present building and outlined in red brick.

[PHOTOS of Old Minster outlines]

Soon, Old Minster became a cathedral, housing the cathedra of a bishop responsible for a huge diocese that stretched all the way from the English Channel right up to the River Thames. In turn, it became the most important church in Anglo Saxon England, and was the burial place for many of the earliest kings of Wessex, including King Alfred the Great. The legendary King Cnut is also buried at Winchester, alongside his wife Queen Emma.


A Place of Pilgrimage

By the tenth century, Old Minster had become the priory church of a community of monks, living under the care of St Benedict. The church was made even bigger and grander by Bishop Aethelwold, who had the bones of St Swithun moved from their burial place in the forecourt, and housed in a new shrine inside. The fame of St Swithun and his miracles spread far and wide and all around his tomb, the walls were hung with the crutches of people he was said to have healed.

By the year 1000, Old Minster was a multipurpose building- having become a mighty cathedral in its own right, a thriving priory church, and a renowned place of pilgrimage.


E-norman-ous Change

Significant changes were to lie ahead for Winchester however, as England’s Saxon leaders were abruptly toppled following the events of 1066 and the invasion of William the Conqueror. He was anointed king on Christmas Day at a ceremony in Westminster Abbey, and quickly moved to take control of the Church.

Winchester’s last Saxon bishop was replaced with his own royal chaplain, Walkelin, and the French bishop soon set about building a huge new church in the Norman Romanesque style. After 450 years, Old Minster was demolished. Its stones were used for the new cathedral, consecrated in 1093 with a grand ceremony attended by almost all of England’s bishops and abbots.


Medieval Majesty

The Norman cathedral soon flourished. In 1100, William the Conqueror’s son, William Rufus (the Red), was buried here following his suspicious death whilst out hunting in the New Forest. He was buried under the tower of his father’s great cathedral, which collapsed seven years later- according to local folklore, as a result of his wickedness.

Around this time, sumptuous works of art were being commissioned. A glorious new font was installed, celebrating the life of St Nicholas and later, in the twelfth century, a magnificent illuminated Bible was made for the monks to use in their daily worship. The Winchester Bible can still, to this day, be seen in the Cathedral Library.

[PHOTOS of the Winchester Bible]

In the centuries that followed, wealth and powerful bishops would put their stamp on the Norman cathedral. It was re-modelled again and again, with soaring gothic arches added in the fourteenth century and made more ornate in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They also commissioned their own chantry chapels, where priests would say daily masses over their tombs to speed their souls into Heaven.


Reformation Transformation

The dissolution of the monasteries, following the Act of Supremacy and Break with Rome in 1534, lead to many changes and upheavals for the cathedral. After nearly 600 years, Winchester’s great Benedictine monastery, St Swithun’s Priory, had come to an end. The shrine of its patron saint was ransacked under the cover over darkness and its cloister demolished.

Catholicism was briefly revived in the 1550s by Mary Tudor, who married King Philip II of Spain at a ceremony held in the cathedral, but it was not to last long. Since the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the cathedral has been Church of England.


From Pride and Prejudice to the Present Day

By the early sixteenth century, much of the Cathedral as it appears today was complete. New secular names became forever linked to it, in addition to those of many kings and bishops. In the seventeenth century, the angler Izaak Walton was buried in Winchester Cathedral, as was the great novelist Jane Austen, back in 1817.

All was nearly lost in the early 1900s however, as concerns began to grow that the east end of the building would collapse following centuries of subsidence. Miraculously though, the deep-sea diver turned hero, William Walker, worked for six solid years (in terrible conditions, underwater and in complete darkness) and was able to stabilise and, ultimately, save the cathedral!

[PHOTOS of William Walker and the cathedral with scaffolding]

In 2017, after twelve centuries, the beautiful cathedral remains the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the Diocese of Winchester. It continues to echo with the sounds of sacred music, daily prayer and, on occasion, the voice of Alan Titchmarsh (Chancellor for the University of Winchester) congratulating graduates.

[PHOTO of Alan Titchmarsh]

It truly is an incredible place to visit, and I would fully encourage everyone to do so.


Winchester at War: the Battle of Passchendaele

‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele)’ –

Siegfried Sassoon, Memorial Tablet.


On this day, exactly one hundred years ago, the Battle of Passchendaele began. Today, the conflict has become infamous, remembered across the world as one of the major battles of the First World War. Tragically, over 500,000 allied and German soldiers were killed, injured, or declared missing over the course of the battle, which raged until the 10th of November 1917 and impacted upon lives as far afield as Canada, Australia, India and South Africa. The casualties were also felt much closer to home, however, as the Royal Hampshire Regiment (known as the Hampshire Regiment prior to 1946) played an important role in the battle. This blog post will remember the men of the Hampshire Regiment in keeping with memorials and tributes across the world which, today, mark the centenary of Passchendaele.


‘My platoon was all Hampshire men… they came from villages I knew, and as they got knocked off I said to myself, there goes Hartley Wintney or Old Basing. It was like wiping those places off the map… some of them I’d even been to school with and I said to myself, Hampshire’s getting a good old doing.’

An account of the Hampshire Regiment at Passchendaele, taken from The Changing Countryside in Victorian and Edwardian England and Wales by Pamela Horn.


Firstly, in order to situate the conflict in the context of the First World War, The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele (after the Flemish village which was the final objective captured by British and Empire troops), was a major Allied campaign in Flanders during the First World War. Rather than one battle, the Third Ypres campaign was, in fact, a series of operations which took place between the 31st of July and the 10th of November, 1917. The strategic aim of these operations was to break through German defences and capture enemy naval bases along the Belgian coast from where U-Boats were launching numerous attacks on British Royal Navy and merchant ships. The campaign infamously failed to achieve this objective, and resulted in heavy losses on both sides.

The campaign was preceded by the Battle of Messines (7th – 14th of June, 1917) which opened with the British detonation of 19 large mines under German lines. The attack, in which the 15th Hampshire took part, succeeded in capturing the strategically important high ground along the Messines Ridge and paved the way for the much larger operation further north which began exactly a century ago today, on the 31st of July.

The first operation of the Third Ypres campaign then began, at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Here, the 14th Hampshire were in action as part of the 41st Division’s attack from northwest of Wieltje towards St Julien; a distance of around 3,000 yards. The battalion captured three German lines and 200 prisoners, at a loss of 63 killed and 161 wounded. At one stage during the attack, 2nd Lieutenant Denis Hewitt was reorganising his Company when a shell exploded nearby, injuring him and setting fire to both the signal lights in his haversack and his clothing. After extinguishing the flames, and sustaining serious burns, Hewitt persevered by leading his men forward into the face of heavy German machine-gun fire and playing a major part in the capture of the battalion’s final objective. Tragically, having reached it, Hewitt was shot and killed by sniper. For his gallantry, however, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and the 14th Hampshire were able to hold their position for two days before being withdrawn on the 3rd of August.

A short time later, The Battle of Langemarck (16th – 18th of August, 1917) became the second Allied attack of the Third Ypres campaign. The 2nd Hampshire, as part of the 29th Division, had been in reverse during the Pilckem Ridge operation, but they rapidly became involved with the conflict. On the night of the 15th of August, the battalion traversed boggy ground (so boggy, in fact, that some of the men who fell into waterlogged shell holes had to be lifted out using ropes) to an assembly point northeast of Pilckem. At quarter to five the following morning, the Hampshires advanced behind a creeping barrage and secured their two principle objectives. During the fighting, Sergeant Finch led an attack on an enemy strongpoint. Remarking on his courage, The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum notes that Finch dashed ahead of the British barrage, ‘killing four Germans single-handed and taking the blockhouse with some 20 prisoners.’ The Corps commander, Lord Cavan, warmly congratulated the Hampshires for their achievement when he inspected them on the 19th of August and, on the 25th of August, the battalion was pulled out of the line to begin nearly a month’s deserved respite from the fighting.

The 15th Hampshire remained stationed at the front line, however, and became involved in the Battle of the Menin Bridge Road (20th – 25th September). By the 25th of August 1917, Sir Douglas Haig, British Commander-in-Chief, had become dissatisfied with the limited gains made during the opening phase of the Third Ypres campaign. He therefore passed responsibility for operations from Fifth Army Commander General, Sir Hubert Gough, to General Sir Herbert Plumer of Second Army.

After a three-week pause in fighting, the Battle of Menin Ridge is said to have opened in fine weather, a stark contrast to the heavy rainfall that would become synonymous with the Battle of Passchendaele. Now focusing on more limited objectives and with additional heavy artillery support, the British attacked on a 14,500 yard front. By mid-morning they had captured most of their objectives to a depth of 1,500 yards.

Among the units taking part, the 15th Hampshire had successfully secured their first two objectives before becoming entrenched in a desperate struggle to seize the third objective, Green Line. This was close to Tower Trench and the German strongpoint known as Tower Hamlets, a mass of concrete dugouts and pill boxes. Only 130 men could be collected for the attack, but they pressed forward nonetheless and soon established themselves in the Green Line, taking 40 prisoners. This number included 30 Germans taken from a dug-out by 2nd Lieutenant Montague Moore, supported by only half a dozen men, who then consolidated their position and defended it against several counter-attacks and their own artillery, who were unaware of their new position.

The following day, Moore was the most senior officer left in the Green Line. The regimental museum notes that ‘he showed great resourcefulness and composure, withdrawing his men slightly to avoid the British barrage but then re-occupying the position directly the moment it stopped.’ Early the next morning however, another British barrage destroyed the rifles and rations of the surviving Hampshires, forcing Moore and his men back to the line of the second objective. Tragically, of the 130 men who had begun the attack 36 hours earlier, only ten remained. For his gallantry, 2nd Lieutenant Moore was awarded the Victoria Cross, but the battalion faced heavy casualties. Six officers and 83 men were killed or declared missing, while seven officers and 251 were wounded.

The remaining men of the 15th Hampshire were relieved by the 14th Battalion which took part in the opening of the Battle of Polygon Wood (26th September – 3rd of October), an operation that finally saw the British capture of Tower Hamlets. On the 27th of September, the 39th Division (to which the 14th and 15th Battalions were assigned) was, at last, relieved.

Also in September, the 1st Hampshire moved from the Arras sector to Flanders where, on the 4th of October, they took part in the Battle of Broodseinde. This was to be the last of the Allied autumn attacks to take place in fine weather. The battalion attacked northwest of Poelcappelle, suffering 50% casualties before returning to Monchy, near Arras on the 18th of October. The Battle of Poelcappelle also involved the 2nd Hampshire Battalion. Unlike the Battle of Broodseinde, however, Poelcappelle was dogged by bad weather and supply problems which would greatly impact upon the conditions faced by the men.

The 2nd Hampshire Battalion soon became involved in heavy fighting north of Langemarck. However, together with the 4th Worcestershires, they successfully secured the Namur Crossing and then their second objective before being held up before they could achieve their third. After nightfall, the Hampshires went on to relieve the Newfoundland Regiment in what had become the front line, astride the Poelcappelle-Les Cinq Chemins road. Despite the wet and treacherous ground, the battalion worked to consolidate the line the following day.

That afternoon, a detachment under Captain Philip Cuddon attacked and captured an obstinate German strongpoint near Cairo House. Cuddon was later given a bar to his Military Cross for his role in the assault while Lieutenant-Colonel T.C. Spring, who had displayed exemplary leadership and courage throughout the operation, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

On the night of the 7th of October, three days before the Third Ypres campaign would draw to a close, the Hampshires were relieved, finally bringing to an end the regiment’s active involvement in the Battle of Passchendaele.


If you would like to learn more about the Royal Hampshire Regiment’s involvement with the Battle of Passchendaele, their museum (which can be found on Southgate Street in Winchester) is an excellent place to start.


Originally posted on the 31st of July, 2017.

Spring of Water Rises: A history of Orpington before 1900

I recently moved to Orpington, part of the London Borough of Bromley, on the border of London and Kent. Despite only becoming part of London in 1965, Orpington has a long and interesting history which has meant my original idea for this blog post has changed several times. Therefore this post only covers the history of Orpington up until 1900, I hope to at some point in the future to blog about the history of Orpington post 1900. The name Orpington comes from a bastardized version of Dorpentune which means ‘where the head or spring of water rises’.

Tools from the Stone Age, pottery from the Bronze Age and a farmstead from the Iron Age show that Orpington has been settled since early human history, however our first concrete history of Orpington comes from the Crofton Roman villa. It is thought to have been occupied from around 140 AD to 400 AD. The villa was the centre of a 500 acre farming estate overlooking the River Cray. The villa underwent various changes during its 240 year existence, possibly containing around twenty rooms with at least sixteen found during its excavation. By 400 AD it was abandoned and eventually due to the remains of the buildings being taken or lost under soil washing from the slopes above, the villa was lost until 1926 when it was found during construction work. Ten of the rooms are now preserved in the Crofton Roman villa museum.

The next records of Orpington appeared in 862 AD in a charter under King Ethelbert of Wessex. It then appears again in 1032 when King Cnut’s chaplain gave his estate to the Christ Church Priory in Canterbury.  Four years later the area was first recorded as Orpedingetune. Ten years before the Domesday Book in in 1076, there were disputes within the church about the lands around Orpington. The Domesday Book however is our best source of information for Orpington as it records its population as around 75-100 people detailing their possessions and livelihoods. It also included who owned what parts of Orpington. The largest manor belonged to the Monks of Christchurch Canterbury, as had been given to them in 1032. There was a second manor, known as ‘Little Orpington’ which belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but not the monastery.

The first major secular records begin in 1111, with the construction of the first manor house in Oprington, built by the de Rokesle family who then let the manor to Philip de Malevil. By 1281 the house reverted back to de Rokesle family, who had risen to prominence with Gregory de Rokesle holding the position of Lord Mayor of London. However the residence of such a prominent figure seems to have done little for Orpington. By 1363 on the death of John de Rokesle, his lands including the manor house were sold to Sir John Peche.

Upon the dissolution of the monasteries the Priory was given to Sir Percival Hart. In 1554 Hart built on the Priory land, retaining some of the existing buildings. In 1573 Elizabeth I as part of her Royal Progress visited Orpington staying at the property known as Bart Hart. She spent three days in Orpington before moving on to her own property in Knolle. The manor and land would remain in the Hart family until 1671.

The seventeenth century saw the beginning of recorded industry. The Colegates Mill was constructed on the River Cray in 1634. This mill would remain until at least the nineteenth century. In 1654, the Hodgson Brothers built their foundry also on the Cray, where not only did they cast bells for the local St Mary’s Church but also the famous Bow Bells for St Mary Le Bow of Cheapside in central London. Those born in the sound of the bells are considered ‘true’ cockneys. As industry spread so did the need for better transport links with the turn-piking of the London to Tunbridge Wells’s road being completed in 1750 which Orpington was situated on. By the early nineteenth century two paper mills were established which would remain until the Great Depressions in the 1930s. Fox and Sons also established a large brewery in Orpington in 1836. They would later build housing in the area for their employees.

Such development of industry lead to the building of train stations in the area. St Mary Cray Station predated Orpington by ten years arriving in 1858, this helped development around the river Cray. The railway helped Orpington gain links not just with the surrounding areas of Kent but also with London. At this time Orpington was still mostly an agricultural area along with the industry around the Cray. The Vinson family for instance who were the largest soft fruit producers in England invested heavily in the area. However Orpington was growing, with its population increasing from 754 in 1841 to around 4000 in 1900.

By 1900 Orpington had developed from a tiny village to the beginnings of a growing town. Despite its small population until the mid-nineteenth century, Orpington had a rich history dating from the Roman period. It began to develop more into what the town appears as today, although much of the events of the twentieth century would truly form it.

The Scouse Way of Speaking: How Liverpool’s Accent Developed

Feature Image: Liverpool’s Skyline from New Brighton Beach

The Liverpool accent, most famously dubbed the ‘Scouse’ accent, is one of the most noticeable and varied speech patterns in England – and in the British Isles. But have Liverpudlians always talked like they have a blocked nose? Have they always spoken in a higher pitch towards the end of a sentence? Have they always finished sentences with the word ‘like’? This post looks at how the famous twang of Liverpudlians has developed over the years.

Is it an accent or a dialect?

First of all, it’s important to look at the distinction between accent and dialect, and which one the Liverpool way of speaking falls into. Andrew Hamer is a lecturer of English Language at the University of Liverpool and defines the two as such:

Dialect: “this includes the vocabulary you use, the grammar that you use and lots of local expressions as well. Dialects are defined socially – depending on your social background, and regionally – in terms of the area that you come from.”

Accent: ‘The sounds that people produce – it can involve the tunes that people use when they are speaking, and also the individual sounds of speech. So ‘accent’ is a more narrow term than dialect.’

Hamer defines the Liverpool speech as an accent, stating that although there are a number of deviations on slang and local expression., i’s the way it is spoken and sounds in how it really deviates, which is why it can be defined as an accent.

 Where does it come from?

It’s generally agreed the Liverpudlian accent was much the same or similar as other Lancashire accents up until the mid-nineteenth century and only really began to develop into its famous twang from then. In correlation with other events it’s easy to see why. In the 1840s and early 50s, the Irish Potato Famine had caused mass starvation across the country, and many emigrated to Liverpool to escape and start new lives. As many as 1.3 million Irish moved to Liverpool during the famine, and as early as 1851 one in five people in Liverpool were born in Ireland.

Irish migration, of course, has a long history in Liverpool. Its proximity to Ireland had led to this, but its development as a port really accelerated the movement towards the city. This huge shift, and through becoming a huge proportion of the population, had an impact on Liverpool, not only in making Liverpool the great port city it became, with their work on the docks, but also on the way the Lancastrian scousers spoke.

wales
Liverpool’s Proximity to Wales

Welsh migration also had an impact on the city and its accent. Liverpool is very close to the border of North Wales and its connections made movement very easy. This movement came a little later than the Irish, towards the end of the nineteenth century. Around 80,000 Welsh-born people lived in North West England in 1892, with many concentrated in Liverpool. Historian Merfyn Jones notes that many Welsh migrants were forced to move due to economic collapse, mainly from the northern counties. A main driver, he underlines, was the collapse of large-scale copper mining in Anglesey, an island off North Wales. But Welsh influence had been there from much earlier, with a migration influx starting in 1760. By 1900, there were 90 Welsh-speaking chapels, churches and mission halls. Therefore, it was not just the Welsh accent influencing the city, but the language itself.

Has it changed?

Accents and dialects are continuously changing, whether due outside influences or personal choices. The influx of American influences in Britain has caused an Americanized way of speaking in younger generations, and also a heavy focus on the capital of the country and its own cockney slang has influenced speech patterns across the country. The Liverpool Museums website has underlined how the accent has been under constant development, and this can be seen with the shift in speech patterns since the mid-nineteenth century.

Overall, Liverpool’s distinctive accent can be compared in comparison with its neighbouring city and also a giant of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester. Only thirty miles away, Manchester’s immigration also included Irish and Welsh, but mostly relied on that on surrounding Lancashire areas, forming its own way of speaking into a Lancastrain dialect, whereas Liverpool’s can really only be described as Scouse.

Further Reading

Liverpool Museums, Accent and Expression

Merfyn Jones, Welsh Immigrants in the Cities of the North West of England. 1890-1930: Some Oral Testimony 

BBC, Local Dialects: Ask the Experts 

Exodus, Irish Migration into Liverpool in the Nineteenth Century 

Liverpool Welsh, A Brief History of the Liverpool Welsh 

Interview with Stardust Years owner, Karen Fitzsimmons.

Stardust Years is a brilliantly unique shop on the Winchester High Street, specialising in vintage and historical fashion items. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the shop for the first time and at once fell in love with the beautiful items on display. After my visit, I approached the owner Karen Fitzsimmons, and she kindly agreed to answer a few questions I had about historical fashion and the growing popularity of vintage-wear.

Q: When did Stardust Years open?

A: July, 2013

Q: Where do you get the items from?

A: That’s a bit like asking Tinkerbell where she gets her Magic Fairy Dust!  All I can say is that I go out and source all our stock myself.  We do not buy over the counter so, if you’re reading this and you have a treasure to sell please don’t come to us as you’ll only be disappointed.

Q: It must be hard to part with some of the beautiful items on sale, what has been your favourite item that you’ve encountered?

A: Oh, it is! I think there are too many to choose from but if I had to choose it would be some of the Rayne Shoes that I had when we first opened the shop.  As a result of researching Rayne Shoes, I met Nick Rayne, the son of Sir Edmund Rayne who steered the family business during its most successful years.  Rayne Shoes supplied many Hollywood stars with shoes, including Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh. They also made the Queen’s wedding shoes.

Nick bought some of our shoes for the Rayne Shoe Archive (you can see some of our shoes – including the pair we donated) in the book, Rayne, Shoes for Stars which accompanied last year’s exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum. We were invited to the Book Launch at the Dorchester Hotel, held in the famous Oliver Messel Room. It was wonderful.  I was very sad at parting with the shoes so soon after I had found them – my husband took a photo of me saying goodbye to them when we were packing them for the courier’s collection!  However, they led me on an exciting journey and I know their beauty and craftsmanship will be enjoyed by so many more people in the future.

Q: When did your interest in vintage and historical fashion begin and why?

A: I loved Cinema from an early age and I grew up watching fabulous films from the 1930s, 40s and 50s which gave me my love for the fashions of the past.  They were so creative and glamorous.


Q
:
Is there a particular era that you feel drawn to, and if so why is this? (Would you say it was based on the aesthetics of the era or a historical interest? Or both?)

A: My favourite eras are the 40s and 50s.  Across those decades there was so much diversity and creativity, even though we were plunged into a World War.  I love the tailoring, the detail and the care that went into the creation of accessories as well as clothing. Designers of some of the most glamorous fashions of the day were also involved in developing Utility Clothing (eg Digby Morton and Hardy Amies) and functional, eccentric items such as the Gas Mask Shoulder Bag (H Wald).

Q: What era of clothing is the most popular among your customers, and why do you think this is?

A: I think the 1950s is the most popular due to a number of factors.  There are the customers who are ardent vintage fans and attend a lot of vintage dances and weekend events.  The most popular period for vintage events seems to be the 1940s and the 1950s.  Then there are the customers who are looking for a dress for a special event and find the choice on the High Street limiting.  These customers find our 1950s rails attractive because of the diversity of styles that ran throughout the decade.  Whatever your figure, you can find something that suits you and looks wonderful.  The 40 and 50s were a time of great social change and these changes are reflected in contemporary fashion.

Q: What is the strangest/quirkiest vintage item you’ve encountered in the shop?

A: I can’t think of anything strange!  I always have to consider who would buy whatever I source. What I do love about vintage is that you can find quirky elements such as a 1940s clasp on a handbag or a clasp to a necklace.  We did have a marvellous 1920s bag with a mirror base and a large carved, enamel clasp which had to be twisted in a particular way to open the bag.  You can find lovely, unique accessories inside what appears to be a fairly plain handbag, too.

Q:  Do you have a vintage fashion icon or inspiration?

A: Too many to mention in terms of designers but Christian Dior is one of my favourites. I love those designers who also designed for the cinema such as Adrian, Edith Head and Irene Lentz and any of the actresses they dressed.


Q
:
Equally, do you have a contemporary fashion icon or inspiration?

A: No.

Q: Can you see the influence of past styles on contemporary fashion? If so, what would an example of this be?

A: Oh, yes.  Nothing seems to be new.  There was a recent resurgence of 1950/60s fashions, as well as the 1970s with maxi dresses (which, of course were pre-dated by earlier fashions!).  I do wonder if future fashion will ever be as exciting as the developments that occurred during the 1910s – 60s.

Of course, fashion historians will be able to point to other great periods in history.  As the way we live changes, so will the way we dress so it’s interesting to see how young fashion designers will translate that into fashion and accessories.

Q: Why do you think vintage fashion is becoming so popular? In your opinion, would the popularity of programmes such as Downton Abbey or Mr Selfridge have anything to do with this?

A: Popular culture has always influenced fashion so it’s no surprise that very successful period dramas have contributed to the continuing popularity of vintage fashion.  There have also been a lot of anniversary events around the two World Wars and I think that has increased the interest in the 1940s, in particular.

The way in which we celebrate our lives has also been influenced by popular culture and social history.  We’ve seen customers buying vintage for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.  Sometimes, it’s been a Mad Men birthday party or a 1930s wedding. I once had three ladies in one afternoon all going to the same 1940s party but none of them knew each other.  None of them liked to dress in unfamiliar clothing! (With each lady, I looked at our reference books, discussed what they already had in their wardrobe and accented it with an accessory or advice on hair).

Q: What would you say to someone with a newly found interest in vintage and historical fashion? Any tips or advice?

A: I would recommend joining the mailing list of the Fashion & Textile Museum in London.  They have some fabulous exhibitions. I would advise anyone wanting to buy vintage to be discerning – for me, there’s a difference between vintage fashion and old clothing.  Good vintage will cost more but it’s worth it for the superb tailoring and quality of the fabrics. I have some customers who come to Stardust Years because they’ve become collectors and buy investment pieces.  Others, are looking for a high-end piece of fashion that’s unique and won’t be identifiable as a “High Street piece.” Then there are those customers who just want to enjoy wearing the fashions and feeling a little closer to the past.

Also, always try on a garment – and never over jeans! I love wearing vintage but shapes have changed – plus, we’re all individuals!  I’ve never agreed with fashion sizes – we don’t fit a designated size. For this reason, I never buy my vintage wardrobe online.

Finally, remember there are no rules – you don’t have to go for the “complete” vintage look. Sometimes, it’s just as much fun and stylish to put the past with the present and create an individual look for you.

Q: Is there any era that you dislike in terms of the fashion trends? If so, why is that?

A:  The 1970s – I remember it the first time round – and I wasn’t keen on it then!
Though, looking back, I do admire what designers like Zandra Rhodes and Emilio Pucci achieved.

Q: What do you think we can learn from vintage and historical fashion?

A: The way people lived their lives, how our values have changed and how much effort went into creating something – whether it was a dress or a handbag.  People comment that our stock is in very good condition (most of it, anyway!) and that’s generally because, people didn’t have many clothes.  “Sunday Best” was exactly that.  Hardly worn and very well looked after because their “Sunday Best” was the only Best they had.

I’ve seen haute couture items by Dior, from the 1940s and 50s, which were constructed with wide inner seams so that as the wearer’s shape changed, the fashion house could alter the dress, accordingly. Nowadays, we live in “disposable” times – if something breaks, needs a part or needs letting out, we don’t mend it, we throw it away and just buy a replacement.

Q: Have you ever encountered an item with a really fascinating history attached? 

A: We have a costume once worn by actress Glenda Jackson in the film The Incredible Sarah, based on the life of Sarah Bernhardt. The designer, Anthony Mendleson was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1976 (but lost out to Danilo Donati’s Fellini’s Casanova).  It has a gorgeous circular train and would be a beautiful wedding dress. We also have a fur wrap believed to have been worn by actress, Vivien Leigh.

Sometimes, the most interesting items are the ones that come with clues to their owner/wearer’s life eg the 1930s clutch bag that has a theatre ticket inside it, dated the 18th of August, 1945.  When we find such clues to its past, we always keep the item with the vintage piece.  I once had a 1940s suit with a damaged skirt.  The jacket was priced but the customer had to take the skirt, too (at no charge, of course). I couldn’t bear to have them parted, not after they had been together for over 75 years!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Just that if you find a vintage item remember, it is just like you; individual and unique – you won’t find anything like it anywhere else!

Q: Thank you so much for your time.

 

A great many thanks to Karen for taking the time to answer my questions, I loved reading your responses. Stardust Years will be celebrating its third birthday this weekend. To help celebrate in style, there will be free signature cocktails as well as the return of the TLC Rail, and vintage ‘Rescue Remnants,’ going free to a good home! On Sunday afternoon, between 1 and 3pm, Stardust Years will also be joined by Virginia Hannan, Bespoke Dress Design who will be available to offer tips and suggestions on dress design and alterations.

More information can be found on Karen’s Stardust Years blog, and on their Facebook page.

Monsters of Cantabria: Rural Epics, Ancient Myths

I am back with another update on Cantabrian mythology, as we are sporting a new look and the month is still young. So gather around to hear stories of my home land. This time, as promised, I bring you stories of monstrous creatures and impossible animals, which the Cantabros believe to inhabit their mountainous, green land.

I will first introduce you to a beast known only to inhabit in the area of Cabuerniga, which is one of the municipalities in the centre of the region: proper rural area, all full of stone houses and old farmsteads. This small odd-looking creature is called Cuegle. It is a bipedal, of humanoid shape but feral looks. It has a big, fat head, with a rough horn and hair like wild bush. Supposedly it has 3 eyes, one blue, another green and the last one red. Usually, it is also portrayed as having a long harsh beard. The Cuegle also has 3 arms but with no hands or finger, and its legs are very sturdy full of wounds and scratches, and they cover their bodies with the pelts of animals they kill. There is a popular believe, almost now forgotten, that these monsters are conceived from cursed Anjanas, who due to an evil spell turn into dreaded witches that every 30 years mate with old bears, giving birth to this abhorrent beast. It is said that Cuegles have a taste for meet, particularly foxes, but they will also eat small children. So the women of the villages put a small branch of holy or oak by the cradles for the smell of the trees sap makes the Cuegle have nausea and flee in horror. On a final note, and just so you see how all Cantabrian myths interlinks together, they say when a Cuegle dies, the insides turn into funny coloured worms, and if you catch one, this will bring you eternal luck and even prevent you from the evil doing of Ojacanos.

Now moving on to a relatively local legend for me, is the tale of the Sierpe de Peñacastillo. Peñacastillo used to be a small community outside of Santander, but now it has become part of the suburban area of the city. There is a cave known as Cueva del Tesoro (treasure cave), where it is said that inhabits a horrendous creature, half human-half serpent, that guards this treasure hidden in Peñacastillo. This legend goes back to the 16th Century, and it is said that Felipe II, sent an Italian wizard to find and defeat the beast, and steal the treasure. However, the legend says that upon seeing the monster, the wizard got so terrified that he run away never again to be seen or heard of again. And ever since, the secret of the cave and its treasure has remained a myth. And following on this serpents motif, we move on to the biggest and most epic monster of Cantabrian mythology: el Culebre.

In Spanish, particularly in the Cantabrian manner, a culebra is a word used as a synonym for a snake. In the rural areas of my region you hear lots of farmers using the work culebra rather than snake, simply because for us a culebra is a smaller kind of serpent type, (we would not use it to refer to a python, if you see what I mean). I remember being called “culebrin” (little culebra) many times, for being little and always twisting and turning, and moving from one place to another, trying to be sneaky but hissing and doing weird noises playing with the chickens and the like. So, you may get the hint by now what the Culebre may be: yes, Cantabria has its own Dragon! And a very famous one in fact! For it is said that this creature inhabited the caves located at the cliffs of San Vicente de la Barquera, a port town at the far west cast of Cantabria. This is the kind of dragon that spits fire, guards treasures and demands tributes. Legend has it that many centuries ago the people from San Vicente use to offer a maiden so the beast would leave them be. If you know a bit of your Spanish geography, Cantabria, and particularly San Vicente, is in the pilgrims route for El Camino de Santiago. And it is said that in his was to Compostela (Galicia) the apostle Santiago saw a maiden tie to a post on a path, as she was crying for help. He approached her and she explained that she was the sacrifice for the Culebre and that any time the beast would come to eat her. But Santiago being a courageous and noble apostle freed the maiden and rode into the cave where the Culebre lived, and slayed the monster. And there is the popular believe that, even nowadays, if you visit these caves you can see the imprints of Santiago’s mighty white steed on the rocks, from the fiery battle against the dragon.

Once again, Cantabrian myths prove that the people of the region were conscious of their harsh landscape, and the isolation of many communities allowed for these legends to pass down from generation to generation, perpetuating stories of strange ogre like creatures like the Cuegle. However, it also shows that not all these stories are just a local rumour, for guarding serpents and dragons that require the interventions of kings and apostles are the stuff the European medieval epics are made of. Thus, Cantabrian folklore is not only the reminiscence of the Celtic heritage, but it echoes the grand narratives of the Germanic tribes that inspired stories such as the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, or St. George and the Dragon.

…I would like to see you try to find dragons in the dry, arid lands of the interior like Madrid, though I am sure the Castilian farmers would like to blame their missing sweep on a Culebre or two, if you know what I am saying… 😉

Cantabrian Mythology: Into the Deep

Hi there! I come back with this third blog update on Cantabrian mythology for our month of local history. Today I am going to talk to your about folklore and creatures from the deep woods. As you may recall from my first blog post on the subject, Cantabria is a very green regions covers in forests, rivers and steep mountains. Due to the Celtic origin of the Cantabros, it only makes sense that a great part of the most mysterious stories of the region come from what happens in the forests and most isolated mountainous areas, as a residue of the Telluric tradition. In these areas of the region is where the more obscure and mysterious creatures and tales originate, evoking the isolation of sheep farmers, the unknown within the woods.

One of the most intriguing characters of the deep areas of Cantabria is el Musgoso. He is this solitary male figure that lives like a hermit in the forests, and who no one has ever heard speaking. But no words are needed from him. All the farmers and locals know him to be a kindred spirit, the keeper of the woods, the protector of nature. He is usually described as an elderly man, with a long beard and an outfit made of moss (hence the name musgoso: moss=musgo in Spanish). The also carries with him a flute of a very rare wood unknown to man. It is said he is always walking, and never stops, and he plays this flute on his way, warning the locals of any dangers that may come. But during the night he does not play, he only whistles. In this way he is supposed to not disturb the creatures of the forest but send this signal to the farmers that danger may be near. El Musgoso is not the only mysterious wanderer of the Cantabrian woods. A man of long ginger hair, who wears a white habit with purple paint splashes, he also has a green cross painted on his forehead, surrounded by keys and locks. Like the Musgoso, he always appears to be walking, and no one ever knows where he is going or where he came from. The one consistent thing in all stories about the Arquetu is that he dislikes people wasting their money. However, if he find in the woods someone who, because of their wasteful live style, has nowhere to live and is finding refuge with the trees, he takes pity and takes care of them. Then he opens this locked box he always carries around and gives them a couple of ounces of gold, so they can invest them in finding a job and a home. But if for whatever reason this wealth is wasted again, he condemns them to life of poverty, asking for charity and pity of others. 

In connection to wealth, there is another group of creatures that inhabit the rivers of Cantabria. I believe the reason why several of our creatures hold treasures is due to the very rural background of locals, who were mostly farmers or fishermen, people working the fields, who never had many earnings. Thus, these creatures of their legends reflected this social anxiety, in a land which is rich in other non material ways like its fertile vegetation. These creatures are known as Mozas del Agua: the water maidens. These girls share similarities with the Anjana regarding their beauty and wealth, but they are of a different kin. They live in luxurious palaces under the waters of the Cantabrian rivers. Their riches are displayed in their silver clothing, their many rings, and golden locks which they tie in long braids at their backs. A common characteristic of these women is that they are always said to be of small size, almost fay like. It is said that they only emerge to the surface on sunny days to dry reels of golden thread which they produce at night in their homes, for they do not sleep. While the threads dry, they hold hands and jump, sing and dance together always in a very jolly fashion. And it is said that while they play out of the water, wherever the step, little flowers grow, and if you were to catch one it would bring you eternal happiness. The tales say that when the threads are dry the go back into the water, but if a youngster was to catch the end of the thread, these water maidens will pull them into the river, but he would not drown. Instead, he would be taken into their palaces to live with them and marry, but they will never be able to live in the surface again. It is said they can then only emerge once a year with their otherworldly wife , for the purpose of leaving a jewell in the woods, visible only to maidens of virtue. These jewells are supposed to have healing qualities, and the folk say that the healers from Cantabria have acquire their powers from these supernatural gifts.

But not all the creatures that live in the depths of the Cantabrian region are of kindred spirits. Although these are not as well-known or as feared as the Ojancano, they are still regarded as malign spirits. Legends talks of a bird of yellow eyes that lives in the harsh mountain tops, particularly around the valleys between the rivers Nansa and Saja. Its said to be of different shades of blue feathers with red spots on his wings, and that his gaze would bring the death of any that would look into its eyes. The tales advise he was born from the unholy union of a bat and a barn owl. Oddly enough after 10 years this bird loses its wings, and seeks refuge under water, where it dies after a hundred years. Another strange creature of the deep wilderness is the Roblon. This was an old and common oak that developed a hollowness in its trunk. It is said one rainy eve, a beautiful maiden took refuge in the hollow part of the tree and its youthfulness activate the sap of the old tree, bringing it alive and absorbing the spirit of the girl. With time the Robon grew bigger and adopted human like features, and due to its size and need for life, it drained away other trees around leaving them dry and dead. A few years after this happening, it is said the Roblon got so big it felt the need to move so it pulled the roots out of the ground, and that since then he wonders the woods causing illness to the vegetation or smashing bushes while he walks. He is also made responsible for the mist in the forest and tremors of the land. However, it is a common story among the Cantabrian lumberjacks and hunters is that Roblon has now died, for some of this trade found the creature resting in the woods one day and manage to set it on fire…

Many other stories of strange wild beasts populate the deepest areas of the region, like the Monuca, and animal only known to Cantabria, born out of feral cats, blinded at birth and of fierce nature who lives of the blood of animals and children. Similarly, there are mythical creatures like the Alicornio: a unicorn with winged hooves, who lives in the most inaccessible mountain tops and drinks only from the purest water streams. It is said the only way of capturing such a wonderful creature is by the presence of a young fair maiden, and that if its horn is cut and you drink from it, you will never suffer any illness or evil. Nevertheless, this usually end with the death of the animal. Perhaps these reflect the fear of Cantabrian people to the wilderness which they ought to respect for their livelihood, but at the same time their will to control and use it for their own gain.

And thus I reach the end of my story today, but do not worry, I shall return perhaps once more, to tell you about the most feared monster that dwell in the Cantabrian caves…

The Anjana and The Ojancanu: Dualism in Cantabrian Mythology

Welcome to our second post on Cantabrian mythology. Today’s post will be dedicated to some of the best well-known figures within these legends. Like in many other supernatural narratives, there are agents of good and evil. This is in a way characteristic of the Celtic tribes, and it is likely that it all roots from their ancient cults of the Sun and the Moon, their funerary rites and their ideas of life and death. Moreover, the Celts had deep connections with the land, particularly the woods. In other cultures, like the Irish, we have myths of fairies, and gnomish creatures. The Old Norse believed in trolls and giants, and so did many other Germanic cultures. This is also reflected in the two main protagonists of Cantabrian mythology: la Anjana and el Ojancanu.

The Anjanas are fay creatures of beautiful appearance and kind spirit. They are characterised by their long blonde hair that falls down their backs to the ground, creating highlights of gold under the sun on their blue mantles. They are very pale, and usually appear wearing a crown of flowers, and a magical staff which they use to cure and protect the sick, lead the way to those that get lost in the forest, and stop the evil doing of the Ojancanus. They are said to inhabit old secret caves, where they hide their wealth of gold and silver, which they use to help those in need. There are stories of pasiegos (peasants and farmers inhabitants of the area around the river Pas) who claim that at night, they have seen these fairies visiting their villages and leaving these gifts in the doorsteps of the houses of those who called for their aid and who showed good intentions. However, the Anjanas are not to be summoned lightly. They are mighty creatures, and if their help is used for ill-doing or their advise is contradicted, they will issue a punishment for the aggravation. The Anjanas are also believed to be protectors of the trees, and they are often seen by travelers through the Cantabrian woods. They are said to strengthen the roots so the trees grow stronger, delicately tend to the branches, leaves and flowers, and keep their seeds to help the forests grow. This is a clear reminiscence of the Celtic telluric tradition associated with the cult of the trees. As we have said previously, Cantabria is a region full of woodlands and green areas. Therefore, the tradition preserved with the figure of the Anjana is one of existing at peace with nature, being respectful of the land and the land of others.

On the other hand, we have the Ojancanu. This creature is similar to that of the cyclops of Greek mythology, which is known to exist in some other Indo-European traditions. The Ojancanu has a yellowy flesh, covered by reddish hair covering most of his body except his round one-eyed face. They are completely the opposite of the Anjanas in nature. They are mean, destructive creatures, known for stealing sheep, breaking over trees, blocking wells and rivers streams, as well as causing landslides. The Cantabrian farmers fear them the most, for not only their lands suffer but also their families. There are many tales of how an Ojancanu has come down the valley before dawn, and stolen away young maidens never to be seen again, killing or eating most of the cattle in the process of this kidnapping. However, it is said that all these ogres have one white hair hidden somewhere in their red beards, and if it was to be pulled from their skin, the creature would die. Yet, the people of Cantabria say that once every 100 years a good Ojancanu is born, and if taken in by the people of the local communities, this creature would warn the inhabitants against when his kin are near, so the villagers could protect themselves. 

Nevertheless, the Ojancanu is not alone. This beast lives with another: the Ojancana, or Juancana. The Ojanca, however how has 2 eyes, long messy, dirty hair, and two enormous breasts that she puts over her shoulders when running or charging down the mountains. She is perhaps even worse than her husband. She steals children who she then devours, as she feeds on their blood. These evil ferocious creatures resemble in their aspect the giantesses of the Sagas. However, the most interesting aspect of this companionship is the way these creatures reproduce. It is said that when an Ojancanu is far too old, the rest kill him. Then they take those things inside him (treasures, body parts) that they desire and bury the body underneath a great oak. Then 9 months later from the oak spawn these yellow worms that the Ojancanas then feed with the blood of their breasts, nurturing more Ojancanus and Juancanas to roam freely in the mountains, caves and woods of Cantabria. 

Therefore, we see in the shape of these creatures how the myths have evolved from ancient Celtic believes into allegories of the sociocultural anxieties of the rural Cantabrian communities. These formed mainly by farmers and peasants. If their livestock and lands were ruined so would be their livelihood. The Anjanas and Ojancanus of Cantabria are the embodiment of the forces of nature that had such a great impact in the lives of the Cantabros. Perhaps the reason why out of our entire mythos these creatures are the best remembered is due to their ordinary, yet mighty characters.In addition, these are entities common to all the localities within the region, thus perpetuating the tradition across different sectors and producing a continuity within the oral history, which is not always possible with more local legends, only relevant for the inhabitants of a certain district.

Now that you have got to known the more famous figures of La Montaña, please stay tuned to discover some of the most obscure, yet interesting characters of Cantabrian mythology.

Discovering Cantabrian Mythology

We start again a series a theme posts – based on the supernatural, and/or local history. I have taken the task to combine these two synergies and to bring you something very personal for me. I want to tell you the stories of creatures now forgotten to many. I am talking about the mythology of my home region: Cantabria. The north of Spain is very different from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. It is cold, wet, and green. It is also blue, with the brave and treacherous Cantabrian sea shaping out the coasts of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Although the northern regions share similarities amongst themselves, Cantabria is, well, special. People from the  south say we speak like singing. Traditionally our diet was based on milk and beef, pulses, and fish: essentially what the farmers could grow in this tought landscape. As the modernisation of Spain occurred after Franco’s dictatorship, traditions, however, have become more like the rest of the country. Yet, we know Cantabria is different.

We still remember that the Cantabros kept the Romans away forcing them into a long campaign. Champions like Corocota forced Augustus to come in person to oversee the Cantabrian Wars (29 AC-19 BC), for my people came from a long lineage of bellicose celts, living in fortified castros. These dexterous and relentless warriors were so fierce that Roman accounts tell us how the legionaries would chop off the arms of the combatants to hinder the Cantabrian army. Yet, years later, when Cantabria raised in rebellion, the Romans noticed many of the warriors had become left-handed, and nothing would stop them from fighting. These warriors would also use the berries from one of their sacred trees – the Yew – to poison their weapons, or even eat them to take their own lives rather than falling at the hands of the enemy. The Cantabros, living in a well defended land by the sea, the mountains and the forests, had a rich culture of myths and legends, like many other celtic tribes. However, through the process of Romanisation, that was later on perpetrated by the Visigothic rule over Iberia, many legends were replaced by Christian traditions, or mingled and undermined as simple folk tales. They have been preserved thanks to oral tradition. Nevertheless, as the rural exodus increases due to modernisation – Cantabria was always a rural region – and the urban communities grow while villages drop dramatically in population, these tales are being lost.

Many of our folk tales are similar to those of other cultures. The celebration of San Juan, still popular nowadays that is, in essence, a summer equinox festivity. We light fires by the sea or in the woods to send away evil spirits. You can sometimes hear people speak in spells, drawing seven crosses over the fires to keep away the Caballucos del Diablo. These are seven faylike creatures, similar to dragonflies and fireflies, that go in groups. The red one leads the way followed by the other six: white, blue, black, yellow, green and orange. Legend has it that the Devil himself rides the on the red, and other demons and sinners ride the others. To keep them away you shall go to the forest searching for a four-leaved shamrock or flores del agua (water flowers). But this becomes a difficult task as by night the Caballucos destroy all the flowers and plants in their hellish ride. However, most people would just brush myths like this as blatant Christian superstition.

However, I was lucky to have known my great grandparents who owned a mountain house in a very remote village hidden in the mountains by the river Miera, close to the town of Liérganes. It was almost automated in the speech in the villagers to warn me against the Trenti or the Trasgu; these little gnome like creatures who were mischievous. Trentis would get travellers lost in the mountains for a joke. They wear clothes made of leaves and moss that allows them to camouflage in the woods. Trasgus, or trastolillos, are house gnomes who like messing around with your food, misplacing your items, and in general making a mess. But these creatures are mostly inoffensive. Whether the villagers actually believed in them or whether they were part of their cultural memory is difficult to tell. However, remember I just mentioned a place called Liérganes? Well, we used to go there regularly as it was the closest train station and the biggest town near by. Legend has it that many, many years ago there was a man there, who loved being in the water, he used to swim constantly in the Miera river. Turns out this man was somehow capable of breathing underwater. So his longing for the sea took him down river to the Cantabrico, actually to my natal city – Santander – and as he saw the vast sea before him, he became enamoured with it and disappeared into the deep. Some years later, it is said some mariners found this strange thing coming out of the water all the way down the bay of Cádiz (Andalucia). This creature did not look human to them, but fish like, however it could walk and talk, but he would say nothing except the word “Liérganes”. It seems some monks took pity of him and brought him back to his home town, to shortly after disappear into the water once more. This is was actually first recorded by Fray Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (a clergyman), and later on written by a Cantabrian author in 1877, José María Herrán. The book was called El Hombre-Pez de Lierganes – the Man-fish from Liérganes. I recall clearly, that when I was a child, one of the cafe places down in Liérganes operated under that very same name. 

Thankfully, there some attempts by the people of Cantabria to keep their legends alive. Many have now been amalgamated with other tales of the north – but those are not our tales. We do not have a Basque Maya, or Galician Meigas; we have our own stories. I was pleased to find out that last year, my family went to celebrate the fayre of Cantabrian Mythology to a village called Barriopalacio (Anievas). There the villagers make their own festivity about our mythsby crafting costumes, recreating scenes from the folktales, and they even have folklore talks, where someone shares these ancient stories. They even have a play!

http://jesusfrleal.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/fiesta-de-la-mitologia-2012-un-pueblo.html

In addition, the makings of the Parque Mitologico Mina Pepita are showing great progress:

http://www.turismomediocudeyo.es/web/parque-mina-pepita/

This is a natural park repurposed as well as a place where to celebrate Cantabrian mythology, although there are still many creatures to be included. It is nice knowing that the hard work of Manuel Llano, a famous Cantabrian author who compiled all these stories towards the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century, was not in vain, and that Cantabrian people are slowly waking up to their own heritage.

So if you are intrigued by the creatures of La Montaña, please follow me in this personal trip and set of updates where I will share with you the rest of our mythos in the course of the next couple of months.