Wessex Worthies: John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) of Wrington in Somerset is often called the "father of liberalism", though he is noted more as an apologist for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 than as an originator of Enlightenment thought. His work attracted comparatively little attention during his lifetime, but garnered renewed interest in the period leading up to the American War of Independence.

Locke's work is often contrasted with that of another Wessex-born philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Both men believed that humanity originally existed in a state of nature where all people were equal and free, But where Hobbes believed that this led to rampant egoism that needed a strong despot to control it, Locke was far more optimistic. For him, the purpose of the state was to secure the natural rights of the individual. He was a supporter of a constitutional monarchy, and of religious toleration, but only for the different Protestant denominations. Catholics and atheists were still considered to be beyond the pale.

Phrases from Locke's Two Treatises on Government later found their way into the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson considered him to be one of the three greatest men who ever lived, along with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. However, the left-wing American historian Howard Zinn has accused him of overlooking disparities of wealth in his writings on equality, while from the right, Roger Scruton has criticised his ideas about the Social Contract for concentrating solely on the living, while ignoring the needs of those yet to be born.

However, even Locke's critics are forced to acknowledge his immense contribution to modern thought, Thanks largely to the worldwide influence of the United States his writings have, for good or ill, helped to define the global neoliberal order.

Essential Wessex: Wessex Culture

Wessex culture in this context does not mean the wider sense of anything to do with the region's history, heritage or arts scene. Rather, it refers to the early Bronze Age culture of what would later become Wessex.

The term was coined in 1937 by the Hampshire-born archaeologist Stuart Piggott, in an influential paper for the Prehistoric Society entitled The Early Bronze Age in Wessex. Piggott was best known for his part in the excavations at Sutton Hoo, and was portrayed by Ben Chaplin in the Netflix film The Dig.

Wessex culture was characterised by burials in richly-furnished barrows, decorated with gold, copper and amber. It is related to the Hilversum culture of the Low Countries. It is usually subdivided into two phases, from c2000-1650 BC, closely associated with the building of Stonehenge, and from c1650-1400 BC, though this subdivision has been questioned. In the early stages of prehistoric studies, it had been thought that the Wessex culture constituted a distinct material culture, but nowadays, it is believed more to refer to an elite social class.

Regardless of changes in archaeological thought, the prehistoric landscape of Wessex is one of the region's most distinctive features, and was the inspiration for Tolkien's Barrow-Downs.

Wessex Attractions: Totnes Castle

Totnes is best-known as the landing site of Brutus of Troy in Geoffrey of Monmouth's origin myth for Britain. But it also houses one of the best-preserved Norman castles in England. After William the Bastard invaded in 1066, he ordered a string of castles built in order to subjugate the native English population. Saxon Totnes was a thriving market town on the River Dart, with a mint. The castle was thought to have been built by one Juhel de Totnes, a Breton commander in the Bastard's army, later passing to the De La Zouche family.

Today, the castle is owned by English Heritage. It is currently closed due to lockdown.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is  TQ9 5NU.

Wessex Attractions: Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe, is one of the Cotswolds' premier attractions. It is known to have been the site of a manor since Saxon times, when Ethelred Unrede gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter Goda. It was fortified during the Anarchy, when its then-owner, John de Sudeley, sided with the Empress Matilda (or Maud). However, it was seized by King Stephen and turned into a royal garrison.

The oldest parts of the present building date back to 1442, built by Ralph Boteler and funded by spoils obtained from the Hundred Years' War. It is the only private residence in England to house the grave of a queen, Katherine Parr. After Henry VIII's death, Parr married Thomas Seymour, the owner of the castle, with whom she had been having a long-running affair,

Today, set in a magnificent 1200-acre estate, Sudeley Castle is home to 10 different gardens, each with its own unique character. It also contains a collection of rare and exotic pheasants, an adventure playground, and its own cafeteria.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is GL54 5LP. Stagecoach West service W (Cheltenham to Winchcombe) stops at the War Memorial, about ¾ of a mile from the castle.

Wessex Attractions: Sandham Memorial Chapel

Sandham Memorial Chapel was constructed in the town of Burghclere in order to house the paintings of Stanley Spencer, whose work we have covered here previously. It was built between 1926 and 1932 from a design by Spencer himself, with work being delayed by the 1926 general strike.

The chapel was largely funded by Spencer's patrons Louis and Mary Behrend, who also purchased the meadow to the south in order to preserve the view of nearby Watership Down from the chapel.

The chapel was gifted to the National Trust in 1947, and the meadow in 1960. The chapel was awarded listed building status in 1984.

The chapel is currently closed due to the national lockdown. The postcode, for when it reopens, is RG20 9JT. The nearest station is Newbury, approximately 4 miles away, Buses are infrequent.