Wessex Attractions: Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle was built shortly after the Norman invasion by William FitzOsbern, the Bastard's guardian and counsellor; who fought alongside him at Hastings, and was subsequently made the 3rd Earl of Wessex, the only Norman to hold the title (unless the present incumbent counts). After his death in 1071, the original motte-and-bailey castle passed to one Roger de Berkeley, and subsequently to his son Roger de Berkeley and grandson Roger de Berkeley (the Normans apparently didn't quite understand how names work).

The present castle was constructed by Robert Fitzharding in 1153, 26 years after Edward II famously died when someone inserted a red-hot poker into his plop-socket (according to Holinshed, though his account of the murder has been disputed). In the 14th century, Dickie Pearce, the last court jester in England, died after falling from the Minstrel's Gallery, thus eliciting the biggest laugh of his career.

The castle was captured by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. In the 18th century, the 4th Earl of Berkeley planted a pine tree supposedly grown from a cutting taken at the Battle of Colluden.

More recently, Berkeley Castle has been used as a filming location in many historical and period dramas, such as The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall and Father Brown. It appeared in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? when Courtney Cox traced her ancestry back to the aforementioned Edward II. It has given its name to two Royal Navy warships, and a Castle class steam locomotive owned by the GWR (and subsequently British Rail).

Today, the castle is a popular tourist attraction, open to the public between May and October and playing host to many events such as recitals of early English music, and Tudor-era re-enactments. The gardens feature many scented roses, a lily pond, and a butterfly house with 42 exotic species flying freely. Opening hours are 11am-5pm (10.30am for the gardens). Tickets are available online. The postcode, for satnav purposes is GL13 9PJ.

Wessex Attractions: Winchester Military Quarter

Winchester is home to a number of regimental museums, six to be precise, which have now banded together under the label of Winchester's Military Quarter. A single ticket costing £11 gains you access to the following:

  • Horse Power: The Museum of the King's Royal Hussars
  • The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum
  • The Gurkha Museum
  • The Rifles Collection
  • The Museum of the Adjutant General's Corps
  • The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum

Horse Power tells the story of three cavalry regiments: The 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own), the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own), and their successor regiment The Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own). It features uniforms, audio-visual displays, and a diorama of the aftermath of the Battle of Balaclava (1854).

The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum features the uniform worn by Andy McNab, a touch screen display giving information on the regiment's 59 Victoria Cross recipients and a diorama of the Battle of Waterloo (1815).

The Gurkha Museum allows visitors to explore not only the history of the Gurkha regiment, but also the culture of Nepal.

The Rifles Collection is of particular interest to Society members, as the four regiments which merged to form The Rifles in 2007 covered the whole of Wessex, as well as some neighbouring counties. We had hoped at the time that the new regiment would feature the word Wessex in its name, but it was not to be.

The Museum of the Adjutant General's Corps is dedicated to the internal administration of the army, as well as featuring a display on the history of women in the army.

The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum naturally has more of a focus on local history than the others. The "Hampshire Tigers" are the county regiment for Hampshire (in its pre-1974 boundaries) and the Isle of Wight.

The museums are all located close to each other at Peninsula Barracks, Romsey Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8TS . The site also features a cafe called Copper Joe's serving light lunches from 10am to 4pm.

Wessex on Screen: Comrades

Comrades was a 1986 film written and directed by Bill Douglas telling the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Martyrs themselves will be the subject of a separate article in due course, so this post will concentrate purely on the film.

The film clocks in at nearly three hours, the first half of which takes place in Dorset, and the second in Australia after their unjust transportation for the "crime" of forming a trade union. Douglas was previously known for the autobiographical, social realist trilogy My Childhood (1972), My Ain Folk (1973) and My Way Home (1978). Comrades was the result of a nine-year struggle to bring it to the screen.

Rather than a straight retelling of the story, Comrades uses an impressionistic approach, with the tale told by a magic lanternist played by Alex Norton, who also plays a dozen other roles scattered throughout the film. It was praised as a "poetic and painterly work" by Sheila Rowbotham in The Guardian, and won the BFI's Sutherland Trophy for 1986, as well as being nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival the following year.

Despite what the DVD cover used as the featured image (taken from Wikipedia) says, the film was never an 18 certificate. It was originally cut by three seconds in order to receive a PG rating, and re-released uncut on home video in 2009 with a 15 certificate.

Comrades is available to rent on the BFI Player.

Wessex on Screen: Inspector Morse

Inspector Endeavour Morse is the creation of Colin Dexter, the star of 13 novels, a short story collection and two successful TV series. He is now so associated with Oxford, where the stories are set, that a veritable cottage industry in Inspector Morse tours has now sprung up in the city.

Dexter originally conceived the character of Morse while on holiday in Wales in 1972. He spent the next 18 months writing the first novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, which was eventually published in 1975. The novel was adapted for BBC radio in 1985, and six more novels were published before ITV turned it into the highly successful TV series starring John Thaw.

The series spawned a spin-off, Lewis, starring Kevin Whately in the role of Morse's former sidekick; and a prequel series, Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans as the young Morse. The music by Barrington Pheloung was based on the Morse code for the name MORSE. Pheloung later stated that he had also provided clues in some episodes by spelling out the killer's name in Morse code.

All three series are now available to stream on the Britbox, the new streaming service from the BBC and ITV.

Wessex Attractions: Frogmore House

Frogmore House is a country house in Berkshire owned by the Crown Estates. It was built during the reign of Charles II by one Hugh May. A story that May asked the king "Your Majesty, may I build a house in the grounds of WIndsor Castle?" and he replied "Yes, Hugh May" remains unconfirmed, probably because I just made it up.

It became a royal residence in 1692, when it was bought by Mad King George's wife, Queen Charlotte. The main thing to know about Queen Charlotte is that she was really, really into botany. This is reflected not only in the magnificent gardens, but in the decor of the house. To call it "floral-patterned" would be a massive understatement. The wallpaper alone would give a person hay fever.

The gardens are home to over 4000 trees and shrubs, including tulip trees and redwoods. There is an 18th century summerhouse designed to look like a gothic ruin, and a teahouse made for Queen Victoria.

Frogmore House is home to part of the Royal Collection. Again, many of the works have a botanical theme, including artificial flower arrangements, and paintings by botanical artist Mary Moser.

Frogmore House is open to the public only in August. Bookings must be made in advance, and the minimum party size is 15. Details can be found here.

The postcode for satnav purposes is SL4 2JG