Wessex Attractions: Sir Bevil Grenville’s Monument

Sir Bevil Grenville (1596-1643) was a Cornish nobleman who was one of the leaders of the royalist Western Army during the English Civil War. He led 1500 Cornish pikemen at the Battle of Lansdown, where he was killed.

In 1720, his grandson, Henry Grenville ordered a monument to be built on the site of the battle. It is currently maintained by English Heritage.

The satnav postcode is BA1 9DD, and the monument is on the Bath to Tetbury bus route, Wessex service 620. The what3words is ///indicates.evidence.landowner.

Wessex in Fiction: Escape

Escape was a 1928 play by John Galsworthy, best known as the author of The Forsyte Saga. It tells of World War 1 veteran Captain Matt Denant, who in trying to protect a streetwalker from the attentions of a persistent Metropolitan Police officer, accidentally kills the policeman in a scuffle, and is sentenced to five years in Dartmoor prison for manslaughter. It has been filmed twice, in 1930 and 1948.

The 1930 film was one of Britain’s earliest talkies, and starred Gerald du Maurier as Denant. Much of it was filmed on location, including scenes set on Dartmoor when Denant escapes from prison. The film was a critical success, but a commercial failure, and barely got a release in the US, where it was supposed to benefit from a distribution deal with RKO.

The 1948 remake starring Rex Harrison updates the story to make Denant a veteran of the Second, rather than the First World War, and makes him an RAF squadron leader rather than an army captain. The film was directed by acclaimed director Joseph L Mankiewicz, who was praised for expanding it visually, beyond the constraints of its theatrical origins.

Escape is an examination of the British class system, through the various people Denant meets after his escape, who either aid or obstruct him. Much is made of the perception of Denant as a gentleman, which colours people’s perception of him.

Wessex In Fiction: The Oxford Murders

The Oxford Murders is the English-language title of the 2003 novel Crimenes Imperceptibiles (literally Imperceptible Crimes) by the Argentinian novelist and mathematician Guillermo Martinez. It was subsequently adapted into a 2007 film starring John Hurt, Leonor Watling and Elijah Wood.

It tells of a series of murders at Oxford University that use mathematical symbols as a key, which are solved by a professor of logic, played by Hurt in the film, with the aid of one of his students.

The book delves fairly deeply into mathematical topics, which can be offputting to the general reader. It is written in the Latin American magical realism style, so people’s perception of the book tend to be coloured by their opinions on that tradition.

The film, directed by Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia, won several awards in Spain, though it was filmed in English, and changes the nationality of the student protagonist (played by Wood) from Argentinian to American.

The film is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, rated 15.

Wessex Attractions: Three Choirs Vineyard

Three Choirs Vineyard in Newent, Gloucestershire, is one of the longest-established large-scale commercial vineyards operating in Wessex today. It was founded in 1973, just as Britain was emerging from a 30-year slump in wine production caused by the deprivations of World War 2.

It bills itself as the oldest and largest vineyard in England, though of course this only applies to the vineyards still in existence. Wine has been made in England since Roman times, and many of the larger villas had their own vineyards. Since Wessex largely corresponds to the “villa belt” in Roman Britain, it is likely that it was a major centre for wine production.

Over the years, a restaurant and hotel has been added to the original vineyard, making it a major tourist attraction, largely focussed on romantic getaways for couples. The number 132 bus between Gloucester and Ledbury (the latter being the closest railway station) runs right past the vineyard. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is GL18 1LS.

Wessex Attractions: Bembridge Fort

Bembridge Fort, on the Isle of Wight, is an example of what is known as a Palmerston folly. Ordered by Lord Palmerston, prime minister from 1855 to 1858, and again from 1859 to 1865, these were a series of forts on England’s Channel coast designed to defend Britain from a threatened French invasion that never materialised.

The fort finally saw service during both world wars, but gradually fell into disrepair until it came into the possession of the National Trust in 1967. In 2011 Trust volunteers uncovered the gun racers at the top of the fort, which gave them some insight into how the guns were moved, and their line of sight.

The surrounding downs offer spectacular views, with excellent birdwatching, as birds of prey use the chalk cliffs as a vantage point.

The fort is currently not taking bookings for tours, as the Trust finalises its plans for 2024. The postcode is PO36 8QY. Southern Vectis buses 8 and 71, and the open-top Island Coaster service pass nearby, and Brading Station on the Island Line is about a mile away.