“Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches” (Aretha Franklin version) might be one of the songs you’ll sing along to at some point over the next month. The song has a traditional German folk background, which is thought to date back to the 16th century. The modern German lyrics were written by Ernst Anschütz in 1824 and refer to a ‘Tannenbaum' or fir tree in English.
Like the song, the tradition in Britain of bringing a living tree into the house (something my cats have now got used too) came from Germany and we can thank the Royals for that. The exact point at which the tradition arrived is however uncertain. During the 16th century German Christians would bring in to their homes and decorate an evergreen tree, whereas in Britain it had been normal for people to bring in a branch of holy or mistletoe, but not a tree. Apparently, Queen Charlotte, who was the wife of George III, used to bring in a yew tree at Christmas, but it is not known of this was the start of the trend.
Things changed when in 1848AD the Illustrated London News reported in detail and included a drawing on its cover of the Royal family around a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. On Christmas eve, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would bring the tree in themselves and decorate it with candles (sounds a fire hazard to me!) and gingerbread. Once decorated they would bring in the children.
The Royals at this time were trend setters and within 10 years the wealthy were copying them. By the 1850’s it was accepted as normal throughout the nation. Soon other nations around the world were hot on their heels. This was not without its problems, particularly in the absence of today’s electric lights. For example, in 1855 or 56 Caroline Luttrell from Somerset accidentally died after her dress caught fire as she lighting the candles on her tree!
Today Christmas trees are common in people’s homes throughout Britain and thankfully there are safer decorative options than candles! Our decorations have also expanded to include many wonderful colourful items and maybe a Lego train for the kids ...or AFOLS!
These scenes were built by James Pegrum; find out more by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For the last few years we've had little LEGO goats in our models. These goats have proved surprisingly popular, so popular that we've decided provide you with the instructions of how to make them. But we can't do this without first introducing you to a bit of goat based culture.
It's a cliche to say that Wales is a land of song and an exaggeration to claim that there's a male voice choir in every town... although there might be, it's difficult to tell, we've not been to them all. But it's no exaggeration to claim that Wales has some good songs, especially folk ones. One such song is a song about goats called Cyfri'r Geifr, which means 'Counting the Goats', or Oes Gafr Eto?, which means 'Is There Another Goat?'. Both the tune and the words are traditional and have evolved over the centuries.
The song begins slowly, but the speed increases in each new verse and the first four lines are repeated before each new goat is counted. Further choruses can be added by choosing new colours for the goat. The song is a bit of a tongue-twister and a popular test-piece in choral competitions but is best sung as part of a drinking game - whoever messes up, drinks! Simple but effective.
Watch this video to hear it sung.
Anyway, here are the instructions:
Now build yourself a herd and mix up the colours!
And don't forger to make your gafr binc!
The landscape we see today is the product of thousands of years of interaction between humans and their environment. One of the greatest changes has been the transition from a largely wooded landscape to an open one of fields and moors. Currently, only around 13% of the UK is covered by trees, ranging from 19% in Scotland to 8% in Northern Ireland, however thousands of years ago the the level of tree cover would have been much higher.
Following the retreat of the last major ice sheets around 10,000 years ago, the tundra landscape of Great Britain and Ireland started to be colonised by the first trees, including juniper and willow. The height of forestation of Great Britain and Ireland is likely to have occurred by 5,000 to 6,000 years ago where trees would have grown wherever possible, though the exact extent of coverage would have been complicated by the presence of humans.
Woodland clearance likely began in the Mesolithic (circa 9,000 to circa 4,300 BC) when hunter gatherers would have made clearings to attract grazing animals for the hunt and make way for their temporary camps. These small areas of managed wood would have also provided material for the production of wood products.
The first large-scale clearance probably first took place during the Neolithic (circa 4000 to circa 2,500 BCE) as agricultural practices spread and intensified. During this period it was learnt that wood from a regrown stump was of more use than the timber from the original tree and so the practice of management by coppicing began.
The clearing of the forests increased in the Bronze Age (2,500BCE – 800BCE) with clearance taking place in higher elevations. The great majority of the woods still remained up to this time period.
With the arrival Iron Age and the development of more advanced and durable equipment clearances of the “wildwood” increased to allow for the cultivation of additional land and grazing needed for a growing population. During this period there were different methods used to clear the forests; felling, burning and grazing animals. These processes went on for hundreds of years and allowed the population to increase the arable land and the fields which they farmed.
Coppiced woodlands were used as sources of timber for their buildings, fences, roads, carts heating and cooking. They developed their woodworking skills to a fine art, which is in evidence in the remains of the houses, wheels, boats and other artifacts discovered.
And so by the time the Romans arrived the landscape had already been possessed by the local population and the field systems they created in the clearance of the forests have remained can still be seen today in the landscape.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum; find out more by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
On this day in 1620 the Mayflower Compact was signed aboard the eponymous ship. The Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony and was written by the male passengers of the voyage, consisting of separatist Puritans, adventurers and tradesmen.
The Mayflower was originally bound for the Colony of Virginia but storms forced it to seek anchor at the hook of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Owning to a lack of provisions it was considered unwise to continue and that a colony should be established there. Because they would not be settling in the agreed-upon Virginia territory this inspired some of the non-Puritan passengers to proclaim that they "would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them". To prevent this, the Pilgrims determined to establish their own government, while still affirming their allegiance to the Crown of England. Thus, the Mayflower Compact was created, forming a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the community's rules for the sake of order and survival. Historian Nathaniel Philbrick has argued that this provided “the basis for a secular government in America”.
The original document has long been lost, but three slightly different versions printed later in the 17th century still exist. A modern version of the wording goes as follows:
"IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620."
Forty-one of the Mayflower’s 101 passengers signed the document. This was done on the 11th November under the Old Style Julian calendar, since England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. The Gregorian date would be November 21st.
Next year is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage with many events planned to commemorate the event. So… who wants to guess what our big build of 2020 will be?
These scenes were both built by James Pegrum; find out more by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
We have our final save the date of 2019 for you! We will be at Oban Winter Bricks at St. Columba's Cathedral Hall on the 16th November!
Entry is just £3 and under fours go free! A great deal all round!
Find out more, here:
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On this day in 1839, around 10,000 Chartists, led by John Frost, marched on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire, in what would become known as the Newport Rising. It was the last large-scale rebellion to take place in Britain and would result in the deaths of 22 demonstrators, who were shot by troops guarding the Westgate Hotel. The leaders of the rising were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, though their sentence was later commuted to transportation.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, namely:
The Newport Rising occurred in the wake of the House of Commons' rejection of the first Chartist petition in July 1839 and in August, the conviction and imprisonment of Chartist Henry Vincent in Monmouth Gaol. Because of Vincent’s imprisonment, the authorities were alert to the possibility of a riot. They had not however anticipated the potential scale of the reaction until November 3rd and so, the day before the Chartists would arrive, began to make hasty perpetrations. Frost and his associates had gathered around 10,000 people on their march towards Newport, many of whom were armed with home-made pikes, bludgeons and firearms. 500 Special Constables were sworn in and troops sent were sent for to bolster the 60 men already present in Newport. Crucially, 32 men of the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot were stationed at the Westgate Hotel where Chartist prisoners were held.
The Chartists arrived in Newport on November 4th. The exact rationale for the confrontation is uncertain, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some Chartists, and the animosity he felt towards some of Newport’s establishment. They arrived at the small square in front of the hotel at about 9.30 am and demanded the release of Chartists they believed to be held inside. A brief but violent battle ensued. Shots were fired by both sides, contemporary accounts indicating that the Chartists attacked first. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the superior training, disciple and firepower of the soldiers quickly broke the crowd. The Chartists did manage to enter the building temporarily, but were forced to retreat in disarray. After a fiercely fought battle, lasting approximately half an hour, around 22 Chartists had been killed and upwards of 50 had been wounded.
In the aftermath more than 200 Chartists were arrested and twenty-one were charged with high treason. The main leaders of the Rising, including John Frost, were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Though it was later commuted to transportation, they were to be the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales. Frost was transported to Tasmania.
In response to the conditions, Chartists in Sheffield, the East End of London and Bradford planned their own risings. Samuel Holberry led an aborted rising in Sheffield on January 12th 1840; police action thwarted a major disturbance in the East End of London on January 14th, and on January 26th a few hundred Bradford Chartists staged a failed rising in the hope of precipitating a domino effect across the country. After this Chartism turned to a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation, but the transported and imprisoned Newport Chartists were regarded as heroes and martyrs amongst workers.
Frost was given an unconditional pardon in 1856 and immediately returned to Britain. He retired to Stapleton near Bristol and continued to publish articles advocating reform until his death there, aged 93, in 1877.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past