On this day in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Thomas Becket is on his way to the main hall for vespers; he never makes it.
The events leading to Thomas Becket's unsuccessful journey start with King Henry II having uttered words that were interpreted by his men as wishing Becket killed. King Henry II is said to have said "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?" Whatever the exact words were, they were brought about by a succession of events that strained the relationship between the two men.
Following the kings words, four knights, Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, set out to confront the Archbishop of Canterbury. At first the knights tell Becket that he has to go to Winchester to give explain his actions, but Becket refused. At this the knights go back outside the cathedral and collect their weapons. They catch up with Becket in a spot of the cathedral near a door to the monastic cloister, the stairs into the crypt, and the stairs leading up into the quire of the cathedral.
The knights rein down a number of blows which leads to Thomas Becket’s martyrdom.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see them first.
Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Before the widespread use of formal calendars and other time keeping methods, astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland. Both these sites have a primary axis aligning on sight lines pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). At Stonehenge there is one stone known as the Great Trilithon, which is oriented outwards from the middle of the monument; this means that the flat face was directed towards the midwinter sun. The winter solstice is therefore likely to have been a special moment in the annual cycle of cultures at least as far back as the Neolithic.
Monitoring the progress of the seasons was immensely important and the people at this time, and indeed for many, many centuries hence, were economically dependent on it. The winter months January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere) were known as "the famine months" as starvation came on. As deep winter began most of the cattle were slaughtered for two reasons – firstly they wouldn’t have to be fed and secondly as it provided a plentiful supply of fresh meat. At this time of year the majority of wine and beer fermented and was also ready to drink.
This time of year also had much symbolism, with the change of the sun’s presence in the sky signifying concepts of birth and rebirth. Evidence from some places suggests that the celebrations saw connections and references to life-death-rebirth deities or “new-beginnings”, such as Hogmanay's redding, a New Year cleaning tradition.
Many things have changed since the days that Stonehenge was a part of life. Today at this time of year many of us look forward to celebrating Christmas, however many of the activities we indulge in, such as feasting, predate this festival and are likely to have their origins in solstice traditions.
In the UK Winter Solstice can still be celebrated at Stonehenge and the awe of how our ancestors reflected as the sun interacts with this World Heritage site. Find out more:
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This year we've drawn inspiration from the landscape of the Cairngorms National Park in our big build - The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne. The Park is home to snowy mountains, verdant forests, picturesque lochs and winding rivers and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Britain - fertile ground for us LEGO builders.
But the National Park is also one of the best places in the country for nature and is home to around a quarter of Britain's rare animal, insect, lichen, fungi and insect species. Some of the Park's beasties are truly iconic, so we've obviously decided to include a few of them in our model.
Now some animals, such as cats, already have some pretty decent LEGO moulds so including species such as the Scottish Wildcat has been pretty straightforward. However, others need to be built from scratch and here's where this blog comes in, because we're going to show you how to build them too!
What's a capercaillie?, you might ask; and you could be forgiven for doing so given that around 80% of the UK's population live within the National Park. Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) are Britain's largest grouse species and are at home in Scottish native pinewood forests, a rare and vulnerable habitat, but one that still exists in the Cairngorms. Over the last 40 years the UK population declined so rapidly that it is now at very real risk of extinction and is a 'Red List' species.
An interesting bit of trivia is that the name capercaillie is derived from the Gaelic capall coille, which roughly translates as 'horse of the wood'.
Here's how you can build one out of LEGO.
The Cairngorms are home to 14 raptors (18 if you include owls), including hen harriers, kestrel and golden eagle. Some are resident all year, while others, fly thousands of miles to breed or winter there. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are one of the long distance travellers and have been one of the area's real conservation successes. In Britain, the osprey went extinct in 1916 but returned in 1954, choosing Loch Garten as their home. Since then their numbers have grown considerable and pairs still return to the Loch Garten site, which is now managed as part of the award winning RSPB Loch Garten nature reserve.
Osprey are large birds, with adult reaching more than 60 cm in length and 180 cm across the wings. Its diet consists largely of fish and in the summer months they can often be seen fishing in one of the National Park's lochs and lochans. For the best chance of seeing them, head to RSPB Loch Garten, who have a visitor centre that looks out onto a regular nesting site.
Grouse are a pretty common throughout the Cairngorms and can be found on moorland, montane scrub and in and around the edges of woodlands. Black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) get their name from the all-black colour of the male birds, which have a distinctive red wattle over the eye and a lyre-shaped tail which is fanned out and raised to show white under-tail feathers when displaying.
Historically, the natural habitat of the black grouse is likely to have been clearings in and at the edges of woodlands, however habitat loss and overgrazing have resulted in severe population declines which make this a Red List species.
Build your own in LEGO:
There are two species of native deer living the Cairngorms; Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus). The former is the UK's largest wild land mammal and is seen as central to the cultural and natural heritage of the Highlands. The latter are less high profile but are popular with wildlife spotters and are valued for venison.
In LEGO terms there's very little to differentiate between Red and Roe deer, so our instructions are basically for whatever species you like best.
There are of course lots of other Highland animals that can be built out of LEGO pieces - check out Cairngorms Nature for info and inspiration - then just let your imagination run wild! Don't forget to show us what you've got!
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You can also spot all of these animals and more on our model the Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne, which is on display at Stirling Castle until February 2nd 2018. Find out more:
On this day in 1577, Francis Drake set sail from Plymouth on expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. The journey would turn into the first circumnavigation of the earth.
Drake and his fleet of five ships, which included his flagship Pelican, as well as the Elizabeth, the Benedict, the Marigold and the Swan, had originally set sail on November 15th, but a storm had forced them to return to Plymouth for repair. He soon added a sixth ship, Mary (formerly Santa Maria), a Portuguese merchant ship that had been captured off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on important events in British history; Drake's story is to be continued...
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On this day in 1688 King James II of England and VII of Scotland attempted to flee England during the events that would come to be known as the Glorious Revolution which put William of Orange and his wife Mary on the two thrones. In doing so he dropped The Great Seal into the Thames, as no lawful Parliament could be summoned without it. However he was captured the next day by fishermen in Faversham opposite Sheerness, the town on the Isle of Sheppey and returned to London. He would finally manage a successful escape on December 23rd and so the Jacobite movement was born.
The Glorious Revolution happened when concern over James’ Catholicism, and perhaps more specifically over the Catholicism of his newly born son James Francis Edward Stuart, resulted in the invitation of the Dutch stadtholder William III, Prince of Orange and his wife Mary (James’ protestant daughter) to depose the King and jointly take the thrones of England and Scotland. William landed with an army at Torbay, Devon in November and advanced towards London with little resistance. The King’s religion was unpopular and anti-Catholic rioting broke out in a number of cites while his mostly protestant army seemed reluctant to engage. On 9th December a minor battle was fought at Reading, which resulted in a Williamite victory, although casualties were probably well below 100.
William arrived in London on the 18th to a cheering crowd. The Dutch officers had been ordered that if James attempted to leave that he should not be hindered and on 23rd December he left for France. In doing so he helped resolve the question of whether he was still the legal king or not, apparently creating a situation of interregnum. William and Mary were crowned joint monarchs of England on 13th February 1689 and a few months later Scotland on 11th April.
James still however held significant support in Ireland and Scotland where his followers would become known as Jacobites. They viewed the Revolution as nothing more than an illegal coup by force of arms and sought to resist it. The first Jacobite Rising would take place in 1689 when John Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee, also known as Graham of Claverhouse or Bonnie Dundee, raised an army from the Highland Clans. In Ireland, Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell led local Catholics raised an army there and was joined by James himself alongside some 6,000 French troops. Though Jacobites also existed in England and Wales, the two countries remained relatively calm. The Jacobites would ultimately be defeated in both Scotland and Ireland, however many continued to see the Stuarts as the legitimate monarchs, and there were further Jacobite risings in Scotland during the years 1715, 1719 and 1745.
Our huge model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne explores these events and can currently be seen at Stirling Castle until February 2nd 2018. Find out more:
On this day in 1831 the HMS Beagle set out on her second voyage (1831 to 1836), carrying the then little known naturalist, Charles Darwin. It would turn out to be a ground-breaking journey that would eventually lead to the development of his revolutionary theory of evolution.
Through studying the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils on the islands and at other locations visited on the 5 year voyage, Darwin began to formulate his theory of natural selection. His book On the Origin of Species was published on 24th November 1859 and was revolutionary at the time. It established the evolutionary descent with modification as the dominant scientific explanation for the diversification of nature. The book contained evidence that he had gathered during the Beagle expedition and his subsequent findings from research, correspondence and experimentation.
Darwin is now regarded as one of the most influential figures in human history and is honoured with a burial at Westminster Abbey.
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.
December 3rd 1917, The Cottage, Middle Street, Nazeing, Essex. Alfred and Sarah Pegrum having been anxiously living the last year waiting for bad news, all the time grateful that it hasn't come.
The Battle of Passcendaele, which begun on the 31st July of that year had just ended. Their eldest son, Wilfred Pegrum (Service nos. 47675), a private in the 25th Machine Gun Corps had been deployed, but had not been heard of in some weeks. They nervously waited each day for the possibility of a dreaded message, that Wilfred had been killed in action. The newspapers, heavily censored as they were, offered little and the weight of fear stayed with Alfred and Sarah as their oldest son continued his service.
On this day they would wonder no longer, their greatest fear realised. Wilfred was dead. Alfred and Sarah's small family of three children would never be the same. The future in that one moment changed.
Over the last month, starting on the last day of the Battle of Passchendaele, we have looked at what might have happened to Wilfred Pegrum. Our journey began by looking at photos of the battle and at the same time researching if any family members from our builder, James Pegrum, had fought in the battle. These two avenues of research merged into an imagined story line of how Wilfred could have been moved along the Chain of Evacuation, the system of treating casualties during the war - from the frontline onto a stretcher, then a horse drawn ambulance then, to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), before dying of his wounds. The tragedy of course is that Wilfred was not alone and his death neither unique or special. To this day, it is not known exactly how any died during the Battle of Passchendaele, though estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. All these Men left behind their family, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and children grieving for their lost.
James’ father is a fourth cousin to Wilfred, a distant relative in many ways, but this is hardly surprising; most of our direct ancestors are the fortunate. However, James’ father himself lost a brother in World War Two and the scars of grief sink deep to this day, some 70 years later. The world we live in today is too often formed by war.
For the Fallen, by Robert Laurence Binyon
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them
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