Wessex Attractions: Pepperbox Hill

Pepperbox Hill, six miles south of Salisbury, is the site of one of the earliest follies, built in 1606, before the term "folly" was in common use, at least in an architectural context. Built in 1606 by local landowner Giles Eyre for his wife Jane (not that one), its exact function is the subject of debate. The general consensus seems to be that it was some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos.

The octagonal building appears to have been modelled on the Tower of the Winds in Athens, as does a similar folly in County Down, Ireland. Now owned by the National Trust, the tower itself is closed to the public, but the surrounding chalk ridge offers magnificent views of the surrounding area. It is a popular spot with dog walkers, so watch where you tread!

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is SP5 3QL.

Essential Wessex: The Prayer Book Rebellion

Plaque in Sampford Courtenay

The Prayer Book Rebellion, also known as the Western Rebellion, was an uprising that took place in Devon and Cornwall in 1549. At the time, there was already social unrest due to a poll tax on sheep, and rumours that it was due to be expanded to other forms of livestock. This was a major burden on farming communities. The straw that broke the camel's back proved to be the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in place of the Latin mass.

The use of English was particularly unpopular in the western parts of Cornwall, where there were still many monoglot Cornish speakers at the time. But it was in Sampford Courtenay in Devon where both the first and the last battles of the rebellion were fought.

The rebellion began when a local farmer, William Hellyons, was run through with a pitchfork for supporting the change. The rebels marched on Exeter, where they were defeated by forces summoned by the Council of the West, the regional government set up by Henry VIII. The leader of the rebels, Humphrey Arundell, regrouped at Sampford Courtenay with the promise of reinforcements from Winchester, but was betrayed by his secretary, John Kessell. The reinforcements never came, and vastly outnumbered, the rebels were thoroughly defeated.

The Western Rebellion is still considered an important part of Cornish history. Hopefully, this very brief summary shows that it has a Wessex dimension as well.

Thomas Malory and Winchester

This would have been an entry in our Wessex Worthies series, except that Thomas Malory probably didn't come from Wessex. Malory's identity is the subject of scholarly debate, but the consensus view is that he came from Newbold Revel in Warwickshire. Alternative candidates hail from Shropshire, Wales and Yorkshire.

He does, however, have a connection to Winchester, which is explicitly identified as Camelot in Malory's book Le Morte d'Arthur, the first major prose work printed in the English language. It was published by William Caxton in 1485 , the year in which the Tudor dynasty ascended the throne of England, and which was said to mark the end of the middle ages and the birth of the modern era when I was at school.

The Caxton book was though to be the earliest manuscript of Le Morte d'Arthur until 1934, when WF Oakeshott, headmaster of Winchester College, was cataloguing the school's library, and came across a previously unknown manuscript. The Winchester Manuscript, as it became known, differed significantly from Caxton's edition, which appears to be a revised version of the same text. In 2009, it formed the basis of a modern English paraphrase by Dorsey Armstrong.

Winchester remains proud of its Arthurian connections, and a 13th century replica dominates the Great Hall. But that's a subject for another post.

Wessex on Screen: Cross Currents

Cross Currents is a 1935 film about which little information is available beyond the briefest of plot synopses: a Devon vicar tries to clear his name after being accused of murdering his rival in love. As Hitchcockian as this sounds, Cross Currents is described as a comedy. It was set in Devon, but filmed in Cornwall.

The film, based on the novel Nine Days' Blunder by Gerald Elliott, was produced by Paramount British as a "quota quickie". The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 was designed to give a boost to the British film industry, and those of British dominions such as Canada, creating a studio system modelled on that of Hollywood at the time, with production, distribution and exhibition of films being handled by the same (British or imperial) companies. In practice, Hollywood studios simply set up British subsidiaries, churning out B-movies that were designed for no other purpose than to meet the quota for British films specified in the Act, released as supporting features for American films.

The Act was modified in 1938 to exclude Empire nations, and repealed in 1960. It was not generally considered a success, but did aid in the production of some bona fide classics, such as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Paramount British continued into the 1970s, its biggest success probably being The Italian Job (1969).

Wessex Attractions: Okehampton Castle

Okehampton Castle was once the largest castle in Devon. As with several castles that we've covered in recent weeks, it was originally built for one of the Bastard's extended family, in this case Baldwin FitzGilbert, husband of his cousin Albreda. It was still a working castle during the reign of Henry VIII, but when Henry Courtney, the 2nd Earl of Devon, was executed in 1539 for allegedly taking part in a Popish plot, the castle fell into ruin.

Today, it is owned by English Heritage. Entry is free for members, non-members should consult their website for prices. The grounds in particular are famous for the large numbers of bluebells that grow there in springtime. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is EX20 1JA.