"Heavy weather, heavy soul, heavy heart. That is an uncomfortable trinity, isn't it?"
Hedd Wyn, 2017
On this day 100 years ago, the Welsh poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn, was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I. He is known by few outside of Wales, but within the country and in particular among Welsh speakers, he is widely recognised. While Hedd Wyn’s death is no more tragic than any of the other 31,000 Allied soldiers who fell that day, or indeed the deaths of the thousands in the German lines, Hedd Wyn’s story and his work have become an important part of Wales’ wider cultural heritage.
It’s a cliché to describe Wales as a land of bards and the importance of poetry may be overemphasised in conversations on Welsh national identity. However, it is almost certainly given greater prestige as an art form than in other parts of the UK; central to this is the eisteddfod, a cultural tradition that is said to have begun in the 12th century court of The Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, but in the modern tradition goes back to the late 18th century. Hedd Wyn’s story is tied to the National Eisteddfod of 1917; an eisteddfod is a festival of literature, music and performance in which the top prize goes to the best poet, or bardd in Welsh. The prize is a chair, which at the many smaller town and community eisteddfodau is usually symbolic and given in the form of a trophy, but at the National Eisteddfod it is an ornately carved fully sized wooden chair.
After a brief training period at a camp near Liverpool, he was sent to Flanders as a private in the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; he arrived at the front in early June. During that month he finished work on his entry to that year’s National Eisteddfod Chair, the subject for which was Yr Arwr (The Hero) and it was sent along with a collection of other poems back to Wales.
On July 31st Allied forces launched an offensive that would become known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Hedd Wyn was among the among the first to attack and the first to fall; he was killed at Pilckem Ridge, aged 30 years old. His death was witnessed by Private Simon Jones, a member of his company, who recalled it in 1975:
“We started over Canal Bank at Ypres, and he was killed half way across Pilckem. I've heard many say that they were with Hedd Wyn and this and that, well I was with him... I saw him fall and I can say that it was a nosecap shell in his stomach that killed him. You could tell that... He was going in front of me, and I saw him fall on his knees and grab two fistfuls of dirt... He was dying, of course... There were stretcher bearers coming up behind us, you see. There was nothing – well, you'd be breaking the rules if you went to help someone who was injured when you were in an attack.”
In September the National Eisteddfod was held at Birkenhead. In the main pavilion the adjudicator announced that the winning poet with the nom-de-plume of ‘Fleur-de-lis’ fully deserved to win, but nobody came forward to claim the prize. The audience were informed that the winner was Private E. H. Evans - Hedd Wyn - and that he had been killed in action just six weeks earlier. Solemnly, the empty chair was covered with a black cloth. Hedd Wyn’s body is buried at the Artillery Wood Cemetery near Boezinge and the words Y Prifardd Hedd Wyn (The Chief Bard) were later added to his gravestone.
Following his death, Hedd Wyn's works were anthologised in a book compiled in his home town of Trawsfynydd, Cerddi'r Bugail. He has inspired a mountain of poetry and prose eulogising him and a 1992 Oscar nominated film about his life.
While it was Hedd Wyn's poem Yr Arwr that won him the chair, his best known work is perhaps the much shorter but no less powerful Rhyfel, which simply means War.
Writing on her excellent War Poetry blog, Behind their Lines, Connie Ruzich eloquently describes the poem’s key themes: “Hauntingly, the poem weaves together nature, faith, and war in a lament not only for the dead, but for all who live in a time of war”. The poem is also deeply political; in its second line the word teyrn, which is usually translated as ‘King’ or 'Lord', is actually more closely related to the word for tyrant, and as Ruzich puts it “...in a world gone wrong, the burdens of death and suffering fall disproportionately upon the poor, and song itself has been silenced”.
While translated poetry almost always loses some of its meaning and can also end up gaining meaning that doesn't exist in the original language, a good translation has been made by former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke. Clarke's work delicately balances literal translation with poetic style and the result, which admittedly loses some of the original's power, is the best this Welsh speaker has read.
The blog was created by Dan Harris, who grew up in a small town in west Wales. The first LEGO scene is by Dan and the second by James Pegrum. We will be posting more blogs on the First World War over the coming year.
We have another show for your diary! On August 26th and 27th we will be on display at Awesome Bricks at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Air Field in East Lothian.
We’ll be there with our awesome LEGOfarne model, which was recently featured on the BBC and STV. Our Vikings are raring and there will be lots of other awesome displays and activities to get into. Have we overused the word ‘awesome’ yet? Anyway, why not come and join the fun!?
Reduced price early bird tickets are still available, but full price tickets cost between £9 and £14, while under 5s and National Museums Scotland Members go free!
Find out more and book your tickets at:
In this blog we explain why we chose to base the battle in our new model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne on the Battle of Killiecranckie, which was fought on this day in 1689.
Choosing a battle for a LEGO model is always a tricky act, particularly when the the period you are presenting has become entwined within competing notions of national identity, romanticism and sectarianism. Under such notions subtitles and complexities are sometimes lost while myths and legends gain ground. The presentation of conflict in our latest model has therefore been carefully thought about.
The Jacobite Risings are often romantically depicted as a David and Goliath struggle between Highland Scots and an English dominated British Government, with the former’s tartan clad warriors clashing with the latter’s musket firing redcoats. However, the reality, as always, is more complicated. The support for the Jacobite cause alternatively grew and waned throughout the period, but it’s never likely to have gained the support of the majority of Scots. In fact it never even had the unanimous support of the Highland Clans and time and again we see Highlander fighting Highlander from opposite sides of the battlefield. Conversely, though less prevalent, the idea that every Englishman was an enthusiastic Williamite or Hanovarian is also false as, for example, we see from the ill-fated adventure of Charles Edward Stuart’s Manchester Regiment. The agency of individuals or groups cannot and should not be underplayed. We also see the intervention of foreign powers, with at various points French and Spanish troops fighting on the Jacobite side and Dutch and German troops on the Government’s, the latter able to draw on the resources of an increasingly global empire. Such complexities are the hallmark of civil conflict and it’s perhaps best to regard the Risings as such, Britain’s last civil wars.
We also have to consider that unlike our models of earlier battles, such as Hastings or the Viking raiders of England 793, many of the rank and file who fought in the Risings were not anonymous faces but people for whom we have records and accounts. People who have identifiable ancestors and ancestors who identify with them. There are therefore additional sensitives that need to be recognised when creating a battle out of LEGO. This is not to say that depicting a battle such as Culloden, or indeed any battle, is taboo. If it were then the entertainment industry, be it involved in film, television, video games or literature would have overstepped the mark some time ago. The important thing is how you frame and present your creation.
Choosing a battle for The Jacobite Risings and deciding on how to depict it has proven challenging. There are after all no shortage of options, with Killiecrankie and Cromdale in the ‘89, Sheriffmuir and Preston in the ‘15, Glen Shiel in the ‘19 and Prestonpans, Falkirk, Inverurie and Culloden in the ’45 all being strong candidates. Even the Battle of the Boyne, which is generally ascribed to the Williamite War in Ireland, can be seen as part of the broader Jacobite efforts of the first rising. Given its importance to British history and its role in forging Scotland’s national identity, the Battle of Culloden would seem like the obvious choice. It’s location within the Highlands also makes it a strong contender, particularly as the “Forty-five’s” other major battles all took place in the Lowlands. Yet it is also marks the end risings and the end of realistic efforts to restore a Stuart to the throne and we wanted the model to feel like it was during the risings, to feel like events were yet to fully unfold.
This left us with a bit of a problem because, as mentioned earlier, the “Forty-five’s” other major battles were fought in the Lowlands and therefore outside of the area we wanted to create. It’s true that skirmishes and other encounters, such as the two sieges of Ruthven Barracks, took place in the Highlands, but these were limited in scale and peripheral to the thrust of the main campaign. In the Highlands, the major battles of the risings were Glen Shiel in 1719, Killiecrankie in 1689 and Cromdale in 1690. Yet these were also problematic, because as explained in our original blog, we are largely basing our model during the “Forty-five” and certainly, in terms of architecture and minifigure design, this is the period we draw our references from.
To address this we returned to our aim of representing a dramatic highland landscape and in particular the landscape of the area now designated as the Cairngorms National Park. The battlefields of both Killiecrankie and Cromdale are within the Park, the former in the south the latter in the northeast. While the area around the Haughs of Cromdale undoubtably holds a subtle beauty it is Killiecrankie that possess the drama we were searching for.
The geography of the Pass of Killiecrankie is dominated by deeply incised gorge, through which flow the waters of the River Garry. It’s slopes are littered with crags and densely wooded and in the shade of the often snow-capped summits of the Cairngorm Mountains. The gorge provided a strategic bottleneck in the main route through the Highlands, a fact that was well recognised by the Jacobite commander, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee (also known as Bonny Dundee), who was camped with an army of some 3,000 men near Blair Castle, just to the north. Having heard that a government army of 4,000 foot, two troops of cavalry and three pieces of old artillery under General Hugh MacKay of Scourie was moving north from Stirling, Claverhouse moved his army to a ridge above the pass. As the government army moved through the gorge they were forced to climb uphill through woods to a position below the Jacobite’s ridge. For two hours the armies faced each other with the government artillery firing speculative shots. At 7pm, the setting sun blinding the west facing MacKay’s troops, Claverhouse ordered a charge and while the musket fire of the government lines caused much damage it failed to check the oncoming Jacobites. The government army was routed and their baggage train overcome, the Pass of Killiecrankie choked with fleeing men. MacKay made a last stand in which Claverhouse was killed, though it was not enough to prevent a Jacobite victory and the Williamite general was forced to retreat. Though Claverhouse’s death sent the rising in Scotland into terminal decline, the victory on the battlefield was complete, with around 2,000 government troops lying dead compared to just 600 Jacobites.
We decided therefore to base our battle on the geography of Killiecrankie even though stylistically our armies would reflect a later date. While this does remove our battle from real events slightly it does fit with our approach towards landscape, in which we must place buildings and features in a way that provides balance of interest, rather than attempting to place them relative to one another as they might appear in real life. Furthermore, we are still able to capture the essence of military conflict in the period while also showcasing the type of landscape on which the conflict took place.
National Trust Scotland run a visitor centre at Killiecranckie, where you can find out about the battle and get information on walks around the gorge. It's open daily from April 1st to November 5th and entry is free. Find out more here:
LEGO Killiecrankie will next be on display as part of The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne at the Great Western Brick Show in Swindon on 7th and 8th October – why not come and see it for yourself?
Last week we attended Brick Live at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. This was a mammoth four day event, the biggest yet to be held in Scotland.
We were represented by our most northerly builder Dan Harris, who traveled south from his home in the Highlands with a car full of LEGO Vikings. The model on display was our Anglo-Saxon monastery which was originally part of last year's England 793, a model that is available for rent on its own or as part of our historical model collection.
Dan, who was joined in the Fan Zone by his friends from Tartan LUG, as well as a few new ones from further afield, said:
"It's been one heck of a show and I feel as though I could sleep for a week... I started to lose my voice sometime during day two and it's still not yet fully recovered! I had a great time with some great people and it was amazing to meet so many new faces. Scotland has a lot of hidden LEGO builders who seem to be only just discovering the wider community and the show seems to have been a great way of bringing them together. I'm really looking forward to seeing how things grow over the next few years!"
Dan's LEGO models can currently be seen at two other Scottish venues this summer, with the Caithness Broch on display at the Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso and a model of Corgarff Castle at the real Corgarff Castle in Aberdeenshire. There will also be other chances to see the LEGO Vikings with the next two-day show, the appropriately named Awesome Bricks, being held at the National Museum of Flight on the 26th and 27th of August.
This week is National Parks Week in the UK, where we celebrate everything that is unique and wonderful about the country’s 15 National Parks. This year we’ve drawn inspiration from the landscape of Britain’s largest, the Cairngorms National Park.
At 4,528 square kilometres, and comprising 6% of Scotland’s land area, the Cairngorms National Park is the UK’s largest protected landscape. It’s twice the size of the England’s Lake District National Park and bigger than the whole of Luxembourg. It’s perhaps best known for its eponymous mountain plateau of expansive proportions and its interconnected sub-arctic environment. There are no other mountains like them in Britain - massive granite domes with corries and passes scooped out by long departed glaciers and a broad rolling plateau that is more akin to Arctic Scandinavia than Britain.
The National Park also contains the most extensive tracts of Caledonian forest in Britain, comprising of pine, juniper and broadleaved species. Over 300 kilometres square of this woodland has also been identified as being ‘ancient’, which is defined as land that is currently wooded and has been continually wooded since at least 1750.
The area now covered by the National Park was the scene of a number of pivotal events of the Jacobite Risings as well as a number of buildings that saw events unfold. These include:
The National Park is also home to the Highland Folk Museum, which is home to a recreated 18th Century township and is a great place to learn about life in the Scottish Highlands. The museum also puts on events and we have been lucky enough to witness Jacobite and redcoat reenactors demonstrating the ways of 18th century warfare.
This history made the National Park the ideal place on which to base our mode, The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne, and naturally, we built a number of these events and buildings into our model. You can read about these in more detail in our previous and forthcoming blog posts (here and here), but we've decided to go a step further. Creating a landscape that looks anything like the Cairngorms has to pay some respect to its beautiful mountains – so we’ve built up and we’ve built high! The centrepiece of the model is a one metre tall mountain, complete with rocky cliffs, tree lined slopes and snow patches. Of course, this isn’t a scale model of a Cairngorms mountain, if it were it would need to be around 30 metres high, which would put a bit of a limit on our ability to take it to events. But at one metre, this is a big LEGO model by any standards and dwarfs the buildings and Minifigures that surround it. Building the mountain has been tough, with its creator James Pegrum, describing it simply as “...a nightmare”.
A second aspect of the Cairngorms’ landscape we wanted to recreate was its rivers, with the National Park containing the headwaters of three of Scotland’s largest, as well as many smaller ones. We wanted to show some river types that are unusual in other parts of the UK, so rather than choosing one of the big rivers such as the Spey or Dee, we chose some smaller but still famous ones. On one side of our mountain we have created the weaving form of a braided river, inspired by the spectacular landscape of Glen Feshie. On the other we have created a deeply incised gorge, inspired by the River Garry as it flows past Killiecranckie.
Finally, we wished to create some woodlands inspired by those found in the area and in particular those made up of species such as Scots pine and silver birch. Both species are common throughout the National Park and in places dominate its landscape. Because the former is coniferous and the latter deciduous, this meant harnessing a range of different techniques, as shown in the photos below.
We’re big fans of the Cairngorms National Park and thoroughly recommend a visit. It was voted one of the top 20 places to visit in the world by National Geographic Traveller Magazine, having “…everything from castles and distilleries to family attractions and endless outdoor fun”.
Find out more and start planning your trip now:
We’ll be tweeting photos of the National Park all week, follow us at @bricktothepast
Brick Live Glasgow starts this Thursday, so why not come and join us at Scotland's biggest LEGO show?!
We'll be there with our horde of LEGO vikings who will be running amok across an Anglo-Saxon island monastery. There will be lots of other awesome models on display too along with tons and tons of LEGO based activities to get stuck into.
Yesterday we attended the Brickmania LEGO show at Peterhead Prison Museum. We were there with our LEGO Vikings and were joined by some of Scotland's finest LEGO builders, including Alison and Callum Clayton, who recently featured in a Daily Record article about Scottish AFOLs and Edinburgh based pros Warren and Teresa Elsmore.
Held in a room that once fed the prison's former occupants, the event was attended by an astonishing 2,000 or so people, with brick pits, building competitions and of course the exhibits of Tartan LUG's builders providing tons of entertainment.
Our man at the show Dan Harris said:
"This was a great event that seemed to fly-by! The quality of the exhibits and activities on offer was outstanding and I think visitors really appreciated all the effort that went into hosting it. My model was quickly surrounded by the great entries to the LEGO builders competition; there appear to be a lot of talented young builders in north-east Scotland!"
We look forward to coming back next year!
Yesterday saw the unveiling of Caithness Broch Project’s LEGO broch at the Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso. The model is a Brick to the Past creation, built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum, the former working on the broch itself and the latter the landscape it sits on.
One of the amazing things about this model is the distances it has travelled to get here. While Dan lives in Nethy Bridge near Aviemore, which to be fair is reasonably local in Highland terms, James lives in Devon. This means that a big part of a model that now resides in the most northerly town on the British mainland was created just a stone’s throw away from the English Channel.
The model is 1.4 metres square and reaches a height of about 40 cm. The broch itself is made of approximately 10,000 pieces and the whole model packs in a lots and lots of advanced building techniques. One of the greatest challenges was getting the gently tapered shape of the walls right and Dan admits that the Broch is the most challenging thing he has ever built.
The LEGO broch is just one of many outreach activities Caithness Broch Project have going on in 2017, which is Scotland’s 'Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology'. It will be at the Caithness Horizons Museum all summer but Caithness Broch Project also intend that it visit local schools and clubs to help promote brochs as one of the area’s richest historic and cultural heritage of assets.
Chairman of Caithness Broch Project, Kenneth McElroy said:
"The LEGO broch's main purpose is to encourage people to learn and engage with the archaeology of Caithness. We hope that we can make learning about the heritage of our county exciting and enjoyable.
We also hope that it will let people know about Caithness Broch Project, and what we are aiming towards. We hope to build a much bigger replica broch one day!"
We’re proud of working with this grassroots organisation and hope that our little model will in some small way contribute towards their goal of building a fully sized reconstruction of a broch in Caithness.
The exhibition opens at the Caithness Horizons Museum today and the LEGO broch will be on display at until October 16th.
You can find more about Caithness Broch Project and offer your support by visiting their website:
We'll next be on display at Peterhead's Brickmania event, held at the town's excellent Prison Museum - the perfect place to lock up your family members for a few hours of LEGO fun.
The event is for one day only and will be held on 15th July 2017 during Peterhead Scottish Week. Doors are open from 10 am and close at 4 pm and tickets are £3 per person and under 5s go free!
We'll be there with our LEGOfarne model so come along and get down with our horde of marauding Vikings! It'll be a day of displays from some of Scotland's most talented builders, play and competitions involving all aspects of the LEGO brick!
Find out more:
Phew, we do some miles here at Brick to the Past! Last month we were in Caithness, last weekend we were in Manchester and now we're back in Scotland, this time in the mountainous splendor of the Cairngorms National Park! To be fair, we have our HQ in the mountainous splendour of the Cairngorms National Park, but that's not really the point, it's all about time spent on the road! Besides, we wouldn't be writing just to tell you that we're back home safely, no, we can do better than that. So here it is - we're delighted to announce that we have another exhibition on!
Last weekend we unveiled the first iteration of our latest epic model, The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne. Part of this model is a recreation of Corgarff Castle, located in the eastern Cairngorms, as it might have looked during the first half of the 18th Century. We wrote a blog about the design process back in March; a blog that's well worth checking out if you're nerdy enough to be interested in the castle's history.
So what better place for the LEGO Corgarff Castle to spend the summer than the real Corgarff Castle? Well, it's our opinion that there is no better place so that's exactly where it is and will be until September 4th.
It's rare that we can say with confidence that the venue is more impressive than the LEGO model we have on show. Which isn't to talk the model down, the model rocks, but Corgarff Castle must be one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland and is well worth a visit in its own right. So what we have is a great opportunity to not only visit an amazing historic building in an amazing landscape, but it's also an opportunity to see some amazing LEGO at the same time. The model is packed with details from the period of the last Jacobite Rising in 1745 as well as a ton of other features including an impressive collection of local wild animals - see if you can spot them all!
Corgarff Castle is owned and managed by Historic Scotland and is open Monday to Sunday between 1st April to 30th September.
LEGO Corgarff Castle will be on display until the 4th of September 2017, so that in our opinion, is the best time to visit!
Tickets are £6 for adults, £3.60 for children and children under 5 and Historic Scotland members go free. The price of seeing LEGO Corgarff is included in this price.
Find our more and buy your tickets at:
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