History is thick on the ground in the UK. It’s an old land with a rich history. Most people know about the big old places. The Roman baths, the famous castles, the ancient stone circles.
I like them well enough, but I really enjoy the smaller places. The lesser heard of. The sorts of places that are run by volunteers, keepers of local history. The ones that you visit and leave inspired to find out more.
Being Wiltshire based for a few years has been a wonderful opportunity to explore through history and heritage. Here’s some of my favourite historical finds.
The Hanging Chapel, Langport
In the pretty Somerset town of Langport sits a 13th century archway. Spanning the oldest road into town, it is topped by the historic building known as The Hanging Chapel. This style of gate-chapel was popular in medieval times, when thanks for safe arrival or prayers for a safe journey would be offered.
The Langport Hanging Chapel is one few surviving examples.
Both form and function have altered over the years. In the 14th century this was the Guild Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It went on to find use as part of a grammar school, a museum specialising in stuffed birds, an arms store and a Sunday School.
In the late 1800’s it was leased to the Portcullis Lodge of the Freemasons who continue to use it today.
Exploring Nearby: Langport is a delight, with riverside walks and an award winning high street of independent shops and cafes. A leisurely circular walk runs from the town centre to neighbouring Muchelney Abbey and the historic Priests House. For delicious artisan bakes and hot drinks The Little Bakery serves up the perfect post walk treat.
The Animal Wall, Cardiff
The Victorians were obsessed with the natural world and the Animal Wall in Cardiff is a fascinating expression of that.
The wall was originally a set of eight animals carved by sculptor Thomas Nicholls of Lambeth in the late 1800’s. They stood guard on the wall of the South gate entrance to the castle and included lions holding the Crichton-Stuart and Stuart of Bute shields of arms. You can spot the original carvings by their distinctive glass eyes.
In 1928 the road in front of the castle was widened and the animals were relocated. Seven more animals were added, created by Alexander Carrick of Edinburgh – lynx, vulture, beaver, leopard, racoon, ant-eater and pelican- and the original polar bear replaced.
Exploring Nearby: wander the streets of Cardiff with its historic arcades. Escape into Bute Park, a 130 acre green space with a river, ruins and sculpture trail. End the day by the water at Cardiff Bay, where you’ll find sea views and historical buildings alongside the bars and restaurants of Mermaid Quays.
The Transporter Bridge, Newport
The Newport Transporter Bridge. An impressive bit of industrial heritage and one of just six in the world that are still operational. Made up of a high level frame from which hangs a moving gondola, the bridge creates a ‘flying ferry’ that can transport over the river rather than across it. Clever stuff.
Built in 1906 as a practical solution to the problem of getting the workforce from one side of the river to the other, the bridge cost around £98,000. Given that it’s still in use all these years later, and has reinvented itself as a tourist attraction, I’d say it has given good value.
The future of the Newport Transporter Bridge is secure, thanks to a council led transformation project. Plans include a new visitor centre and a multi use venue for exhibitions and performances. The bridge and new visitor centre is due to open in Spring of 2023.
Exploring Nearby: Explore Newport. It’s compact, so good for walking. Look up; many of the old buildings are quite beautiful but the facades at street level have been covered up with modern signage. For a glimpse into Newport past, visit the Newport Museum & Gallery.
Clevedon Pier, Somerset.
Sir John Betjemen declared Clevedon Pier to be, ‘The most beautiful pier in England” .I haven’t seen them all, but I think he might have been right.
A Victorian beauty, the pier was designed to allow passengers access to the steamer ships that once sailed up and down the coast, and across to South Wales. Over time, the use of the pier changed and the focus moved onto fun.
When the pier fell into disrepair, it’s future looked uncertain but people power saved it. It remains a much loved local landmark with a cafe, gift shop and museum. Oh and hundreds of brass plaques, read more about those and my visit to Clevedon Pier here.
Vintage beauty, keeper of stories and dog friendly. What’s not to love?
Exploring Nearby: Make a day of Clevedon. The seaside town with a resort feel has miles of walks, a marine lake for swimming, a heritage cinema and a thriving independent shopping scene. One visit won’t be enough.
The Peace Garden, Horsell Common
During WW1, the German propaganda machine put it out there that Indian soldiers who had fought with the British were not being buried in accordance with their religious beliefs. To counteract this, the British government established the Woking Muslim Military Cemetery
. 19 Muslim Indian soldiers who fought in WW1 were buried there and a further 8 following WW2.
The bodies of the soldiers were later exhumed and reburied at Brookwood Military Cemetery , but the Grade II listed walled garden remains as a place of remembrance and reflection. It now contains a Portland stone memorial to the Muslim Indian soldiers for whom it was created.
English by design but Islamic in inspiration, the garden is a beautiful and thought provoking spot tucked away in the woods of Surrey.
Exploring Nearby: The Peace Garden is situated on Horsell Common, a 900 acre stretch of heathland, woodland and meadows with the River Bourne running through it. You could easily fill a day here walking and exploring, although there are numerous shorter circular walks. Stop for coffee at the welcoming and very dog friendly Heather Farm Cafe.
If you enjoyed this post, try this one next. A walk packed full of history and monuments: Walking The Runnymede Memorial Trail