We are delighted to announce that Brick to the Past have been commissioned by Nevis Partnership to build a minifigure scale model of Dun Deardail hillfort for permanent display at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.
Dun Deardail occupies a striking position on a rocky knoll above Glen Nevis and is surrounded by the often snow-capped peaks of the West Highlands. To its east it is overlooked by Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain and to its north, Glen Nevis unfolds, revealing the historic town of Fort William. The hillfort is thought to have been built and occupied, perhaps over several periods, between 700 BC and AD 900 and is unusual because the stones that once made up its walls have been vitrified. Vitrification is the process by which stones are fused together at temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius. It is uncertain why vitrification took place, but current theories tend to see it as either an act of aggression following capture or as ‘ritual closure’ at the end of the site’s active life, akin to the destruction of many Neolithic ritual monuments.
Nevis Landscape Partnership have been running an ambitious project to excavate the Dun Deardail. Working closely with Forestry Commission Scotland & AOC Archaeology, they aim to uncover the mysteries surrounding this ancient settlement and have got hundreds of ‘citizen archaeologists’ involved in the work. You can find out more in this video.
On this day in 1536, King Henry VIII of England took part in a jousting tournament, It was to be his last.
Jousting was a dangerous activity and a risky one for a king, yet in spite of sustaining injuries in previous tournaments, it remained one Henry's favorite sports. However on this occasion he was unhorsed by his opponent, hitting the ground in his heavy armor. His horse then fell upon him and he remained unconscious for two hours. During this time the doctors feared he would not recover. The accident bought the risks Henry was taking to the fore and persuaded him to end his jousting career. It has been argued that the accident resulted in Henry suffering from worsening health problems over the course of his remaining life.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on world history. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see them first.
Following 1715 Rising the British Government decided to build four infantry barracks at strategic locations in the Highlands. These were to augment the government’s fortifications at Fort William, Inverness Castle (re-named Fort George), Edinburgh and Stirling, with the aims of preventing further conflict and enforcing the new Disarming Act (1716), which banned broadswords, muskets and other weapons of war being held by the Highland clans. The new barracks were built at Bernera near Glenelg, Inversnaid near Loch Lomond, Kiliwhimen (now Fort Augustus) and Ruthven, near Kingussie.
When we were considering what features to build, we knew that one of these barracks was essential and since our focus was to be area now designated as in the Cairngorms National Park, the barracks in question would be based on Ruthven. Fortunately for us, Ruthven is also the best preserved of these facilities.
Ruthven was built between 1719 and 1721 on a mound just to the south of the River Spey. The mound had previously been occupied by a medieval castle, which was laid to ruin in 1689 by Graham of Claverhouse, who attacked the pro-Williamite garrison there. The newer structure consists of two three-storey barrack buildings each capable of accommodating 60 soldiers. A protective curtain wall enclosed these blocks and was complimented with two square turrets, which doubled as the Officer accommodation and provided space for logistical functions (including bakehouse and brewhouse). In 1734 a stable block was added, reflecting the preference of General George Wade, who had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of North Britain in 1724, for more mobile dragoons (mounted infantry) in outposts such as Ruthven. The dragoons were “…to serve as a convoy for money or provisions for the use of the Forces as well as to retain that part of the country in obedience”.
At the outbreak of the “Forty-five” the bulk of Ruthven’s garrison was withdrawn to Inverness to join General Cope’s army. Taking the opportunity to take on a weakened position a force of 300 Jacobites attempted capture the barracks, they however lacked artillery and were unable to overcome the remaining 14 redcoats led by an Irish sergeant called Molloy. Following their victory at the at the Battle of Falkirk on 17th January 1746, during which the captured a number of heavy cannons, the Jacobites were in a stronger position and returned in February. This time a short siege resulted in the garrison’s surrender and they were allowed to leave the barracks unmolested. The Jacobite forces burnt the facility to prevent its future use.
Following the government victory at Culloden on 16th April 1746, Lord George Murray marshalled the remaining Jacobite forces at the barracks and attempted to rally them for the next stage in the campaign. However, Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) was defeated and issued the order "Let every man seek his own safety in the best way he can" and so ended the Rising of Forty-five. The barracks was never rebuilt.
In designing our model of Ruthven Barracks we were able to draw upon a number of sources. Firstly, we undertook a number of field trips to the site. This was useful in so many ways as it not only gave us a real idea of its scale and its setting in the landscape, but it also provided us with lots of detailed information, such as the appearance of windows and musket holes, that we could work into the model. The barracks also have a number excellent interpretive panels, which are always useful sources of information and inspiration and we used these to help us design the interior of one of our barrack blocks, which is revealed with a small cut-away.
A second important source of information came from the original drawings of the British army’s surveyors and engineers which were drawn up prior to its construction. This helps us build the model to a scale that makes sense for a LEGO minifigure, which are weirdly shaped when you compare them real people. Due to this weirdness, of considered at a rough scale of 1:40, our model of Ruthven Barracks has a slightly smaller footprint and a slightly shorter relative height than the real one. The result, however, looks amazing!
A compromise we had to make was with regard to the mound that the barracks sit upon. Because landscape features always tend to be scaled down, thus avoiding the monotony of large featureless fields and hillsides, building a scale model of the mound would result in a feature totally out of scale with the rest of the model. So in order to make the relative scale feel right, our mound is a bit more symbolic, having a much lower absolute height.
Ruthven Barracks is owned by Historic Scotland and can be visited for free all year round. It’s an amazing site to visit offering dramatic vistas of the landscape around it:
LEGO Ruthven will next be on display as part of our huge model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne at Stirling Castle over December and January.
Last year we bought you a piece on how we built our Jacobite army, in this post we turn our attention to the government force.
It’s often a little too easy to view the government army of the ‘Forty-Five’ as being a homogeneous mass of redcoats occupied by men enlisted in England. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘redcoat’ is in reference to the colour of the uniform worn widely by soldiers in the British Army from the 17th to the 20th centuries. To some degree, there is truth in this; for example the vast majority of regiments present at Culloden were dressed in this way and indeed most soldiers were English. Within the army as a whole however, there was more diversity with plenty of Scots, and even Highlanders, serving on the government side; it is important to remember that it’s likely that most Scots at the time were not Jacobites and many were fiercely Unionist in outlook. The presence of Dutch and Hessian mercenaries provides further diversity, not just in terms of language and nationality, but also in dress. Lastly it is worth noting that even among the regular British army, not all soldiers wore redcoats; for example the artillery regiments of the time wore blue, while light cavalry often wore green.
Researching the appearance of our government army took much the same path as our Jacobite one. We have drawn from a variety of sources, but the most useful have been books published by Osprey and a visit to the Highland Folk Museum where we met members of Alan Breck's Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment.
Given the predominance of redcoats within the army, building up our infantry has been a relatively straightforward task as LEGO have produced redcoats in some form ever since their first Pirate sets were released in the 1980s. The quality of torsos has improved considerably since then and so we have been able to use minifigures from more recent LEGO Pirates and Pirates of the Caribbean sets. The only modifications we have had to make to these is to change the heads and hands around to give them a more natural ‘fleshy’ colour.
We have used a few different torsos to represent our officers, but these have been chosen solely to denote a difference in rank rather than coming from a historical source. The same could be said of our standard infantry torsos, since the infantry coats of the time were fronted with yellow lapels, which are conspicuously lacking on our LEGO ones. Such are the compromises that need to be made when building a LEGO army; the symbolic must often take precedent over perfect accuracy.
Attached to each infantry regiment were grenadiers; soldiers that represented the elite of the British army. Grenadiers did not wear the usual tri-corn hat of regular infantry, instead wearing a finely decorated mitre-style headpiece. While we cannot recreate the decoration, a mitre may be recreated using a headpiece found originally in Prince of Persia sets. To complete our grenadiers we have also equipped them with a satchel, which is supposed to represent the grenades they carried.
We thought it important that we should in some way show the Scottish, and more specifically, the Highland element of the government army and the obvious choice for this was to build a small company of the 43rd Highlanders (later the 42nd Royal Highlanders), better known as The Black Watch.
The Black Watch’s history goes back to the aftermath of the 1715 rising when the British Government found itself without the resources or manpower to keep a standing army in the Highlands. Instead they kept order by recruiting men from local clans that had remained loyal to the government. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory and in 1725 General George Wade raised six Independent Highland Companies as militia to keep "watch" for crime. These companies were commonly known in Gaelic as Am Freiceadan Dubh, or the Black Watch, probably due to the dark government issue plaids they wore. Four more companies were added in 1739 and in the same year all ten were formed into the 43rd Highland Regiment of Foot.
When the ‘Forty-five’ broke out, the Black Watch saw action at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 but then returned to England, partly to counter a feared French invasion and partly because they weren't really trusted not to join the Jacobites. However one of the regiment’s companies fought at the Battle of Culloden, where they suffered no casualties.
The key to creating a convincing LEGO Black Watch was to get the plaids right and fortunately there is a third-party company that makes kilts for minigiures in the Black Watch tartan. These, along with black bonnets rather than tri-corn hats, were placed on minifigures with the standard redcoat torso and the result is a reasonably accurate representation of the regiment’s dress during the ‘Forty-five’. Interestingly, accounts from the time appear to suggest that officers of the Black Watch could choose their own plaids and so our officer is dressed in a red tartan.
One of the key features of the government army was its cavalry. General Wade had favoured the use of dragoons, facilitated by his new roads, as a means of patrolling the Highlands and as such we see modifications, such as the addition of stables at Ruthven Barracks, made to the area’s military infrastructure. Dragoons have been relatively easy to create, because as far as LEGO goes the only meaningful distinction you can make is to put a redcoat on a horse. Other cavalry types take a bit more work.
The government army also deployed a company of hussars, which were a type of light cavalry commonly used in during the 18th and 19th centuries. The role of Hussars was to harass enemy skirmishers, overrun artillery positions, and pursue fleeing troops. The style of combat originated in Hungary and indeed, when Cumberland entered Scotland he had a personal escort of Hungarian cavalry. The Hussars of Cumberland’s army wore dark green and a tall fur hat and we have been able to recreate this appearance using parts from a number of minifigures. The torso has been the crucial aspect here, with the ideal part found as part of Collectable Minifigure Series 8’s Thespian.
Like the cavalry, artillery is another area where the government army had superiority over the Jacobites. At Culloden they were able to field 10 3-pounders and 6 coehorn mortars, which did significant damage to the Jacobite lines before they were able to engage. Creating soldiers for this artillery is reasonably straightforward as they wore dark blue jackets with black tri-corn hats. There are a range of dark blue torsos available from the Collectable Minifigure Series’, Pirates and Pirates of the Caribbean sets, so creating a hierarchy of troops has been relatively straightforward.
The final component of our Government army is the Germanic one – the Hessian mercenaries. Hesse-Kassel was a state in the Holy Roman Empire that for its size had a relatively large army, which it paid for by renting out to other warring countries. Great Britain’s Hanoverian monarchy were of course German themselves, in fact George II was born and bought up in Germany and remained Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire until his death. Britain and Hanover were already engaged in the War of the Austrian Succession and were able to draw on their allies and indeed familial ties, first the Dutch and then the Hessian’s, to provide troops to put down the Jacobite rising. The influence of the Hessian’s during the ‘Forty-Five’ is debatable; for example they refused to march through the Pass of Killiecranckie to relieve the besieged Blair Castle and did not take part in the Battle of Culloden.
The Hessian uniform of this period was dark blue with the headgear dependent on the type of soldier they were i.e. regular infantry, grenadiers or cavalry. Because our artillery were already in dark blue there are some similarities between the design of the two. Context offers a means of separation as the Hessian’s did not operate artillery, so our Hessians have muskets and the occasional sword. We have decided to only create Hessian infantry, since our army already has enough cavalry to fill its ranks.
With the army assembled, all that remains is to place them in the field; you can see how this was done on our blog on the Battle of Killiecranckie. Better yet, you could see our LEGO Hanoverians as well as our LEGO Jacobites for real, when they go on display as part of The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne at Stirling Castle until February 2nd. Find out more:
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Crowned on 3rd April 1043, Edward the Confessor was King of England from 1042 to 1066. He is usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex. He is the only king of England to be canonised and his death resulted in a succession crisis which culminated in William of Normandy taking the English throne.
Edward was born between 1003 and 1005 and was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, and the first by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. During his childhood England was the target of Viking raids and invasions under Sweyn Forkbeard and his son, Cnut. Sweyn seized the throne in 1013, forcing Æthelred and his family, including Edward, to flee to Normandy. With Sweyn dying in February 1014, the exile would not last long as Æthelred was invited back to take the throne. Peace would not however return to England and what followed was a brutal struggle with Sweyn’s son, Cnut. Æthelred died in April 1016 and was succeeded by Edward's older half-brother Edmund Ironside who carried on the fight. Edmund died in November 1016, and Cnut became undisputed King of England. Edward, along with his brother Alfred and sister Godgifu, resumed their exile in Normandy, while in 1017 their mother married Cnut.
Cnut, who would become known as Cnut the Great and rule over Denmark and Norway too, died in 1035. His son Harthacnut succeeded him as king of Denmark while Harold Harefoot acted as regent in England. In 1036 Edward and his brother Alfred separately came to England, perhaps at the request of their mother. Alfred was captured by Godwin, Earl of Wessex who turned him over to Harold Harefoot. He had Alfred blinded by forcing red-hot pokers into his eyes to make him unsuitable for kingship, and Alfred died soon after as a result of his wounds. The act probably marked the origins of Edwards' animosity towards Godwin, which would later result in the Earl’s excile. Edward is said to have fought a successful skirmish near Southampton, and then retreated back to Normandy.
In 1037 Harold was accepted as King of England, but died in 1040. In his wake, Harthacnut was able to cross from Denmark unopposed and take the English throne. In 1041 Harthacnut invited Edward back to England. He was received as king in return for his oath that he would continue the laws of Cnut. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Edward was sworn in as king alongside Harthacnut, but a diploma issued by Harthacnut in 1042 describes him as the king's brother.
Harthacnut's died on 8th June 1042 and Edward was crowned at the cathedral of Winchester, the royal seat of the West Saxons, on 3rd April 1043. His initial position was weak as the power of the house of Wessex had been eroded by the period of Danish rule, however Edward quickly set about the task of restoring the strength of the monarchy.
In ecclesiastical appointments, Edward howed a bias against candidates with local connections, and when the clergy of Canterbury elected a relative of Godwin Earl of Wessex as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051, Edward rejected him and appointed Robert of Jumièges, who claimed that Godwin was in illegal possession of some archiepiscopal estates. In September Edward was visited by his brother-in-law, Godgifu's second husband, Eustace II of Boulogne. His men caused an affray in Dover, and Edward ordered Godwin as earl of Kent to punish the town's burgesses, but he took their side and refused.
Edward seized the chance to bring his over-mighty earl to heel and armies were raised to fight him. The position of Godwin and his family disintegrated as their men were not willing to fight the king and Godwin and his sons, Sweyn, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth fled, going to Flanders and Ireland. In 1052, Godwin returned with an army, and received considerable support. There was concern within both Royal and the Godwins’ camps that a civil war would leave the country open to foreign invasion but before violence could break out, Edward yielded and restored the Godwins and to their earldoms.
While the Godwin family’s power was checked for the time, the balance of power began to change following Godwin’s death in 1053. Harold succeeded as Earl of Wessex, while Swyen was Earl of Herefordshire. In 1055 Tostig was appointed Earl of Northumbria and in around 1057, Gyrth became Earl of East Anglia and Leofwine became Earl of Kent. Thus by 1057 the Godwin brothers controlled all of England subordinately apart from Mercia. It is not known whether Edward approved of this transformation or whether he had to accept it, but from this time he seems to have begun to withdraw from active politics, devoting himself to hunting, which he pursued each day after attending church.
Despite the internal strife and threat of the Godwin’s, Edward managed to pursue an aggressive and relatively successful policy in dealing with Scotland and Wales. In 1040 Macbeth killed Duncan I of Scotland and proclaimed himself king and Duncan’s son Malcolm would be an exile in Edward’s court. With the support of Siward of Northumbria, Malcolm gained the Scottish the throne in 1085 and while Scottish and English relations were initially good, Malcolm raided Northumbria in 1061, pillaging Lindisfarne.
In 1049 Gruffydd ap Rhydderch of Deheubarth, with Irish and Viking support, led an unsuccessful raid on England. This would lead to Edward ordering the Welsh king’s assassination at Christmas 1052, which took place soon afterwards. Rhys’ head was delivered to Edward on the 5th January. In the power vacuum left by Gruffydd’s death, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd established himself as the sole ruler of Wales, the first Welsh king to do so. Gruffydd allied himself with Ælfgar of Mercia, who had been outlawed for treason. They defeated Earl Ralph at Hereford, and Harold Godwinson had to collect forces from nearly all of England to drive the invaders back into Wales. Peace was concluded with the reinstatement of Ælfgar, who was able to succeed as Earl of Mercia in 1057.
Gruffydd swore an oath to be a faithful under-king of Edward, but in 1062 Harold obtained Edward’s approval for a surprise attack on Gruffydd’s court at Rhuddlan. He escaped, but when Harold and Tostig attacked again the following year, he retreated to Snowdonia and was apparently killed in 1064 by his Welsh enemies.
Domestically, Edward's most significant achievement may have been the building of Westminster Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England. This was commenced between 1042 and 1052 as a royal burial church, consecrated on 28 December 1065, completed after his death in about 1090, and demolished in 1245 to make way for Henry III's new building, which still stands.
In October 1065 Northumbria rebelled against Tostig Godwinson’s rule. They nominated Morcar, the brother of Edwin of Mercia, as earl, and invited the brothers to join them in marching south. They met Harold at Northampton, and Tostig accused Harold before the king of conspiring with the rebels. Tostig seems to have been a favourite with the king and queen, who demanded that the revolt be suppressed, but neither Harold nor anyone else would fight to support Tostig. Edward was forced to submit to his banishment, and the humiliation may have caused a series of strokes which led to his death.
Edward probably entrusted the kingdom to Harold Godwinson shortly before he died on 5th January 1066. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 6th January and Harold was crowned on the same day. Depite the swift coronation, what transpired was a succession crisis that would end with William of Normandy seizing the throne.
These scenes was built by James Pegrum and Jimmy Clinch as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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