Well, let's be honest with ourselves, 2020 has been a cursed year. Due to COVID-19, all our shows were cancelled and the Brick to the Past team have been stuck in their various corners of the country unable to see each other. For the first time since our formation we have been unable to make a really big model, with our plan to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower lost at sea. That said, we have been keeping ourselves busy and have turned out an unprecedented volume of new content, albeit at a much smaller scale. In this blog we will take a recap on what's been most popular while also looking at some of the team's 2020 highlights.
First of all, let's hit our top 5 blogs according to the number of visits to our website. Before we begin we do need to point out a slight flaw in this methodology in that the longer a blog has been up the more likely it is to have more hits... but we'll go with it anyway! The other thing we noticed is that most of the blogs are about Welsh history reflecting a strong showing from our friends across various Welsh Facebook pages - diolch yn fawr cyfeillion! So starting the countdown, with number 5...
5. Merched Becca: Protest & Riots in Rural Wales
The Rebecca Riots are perhaps one of the more unusual British protest movements of the 19th century. Taking place in west and mid Wales between 1839 and 1843 they were undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to deteriorating economic conditions in the countryside. Nothing unusual there, however what marks these riots out is that they were usually undertaken by men dressed as women.
4. The Merthyr Rising
In May and June 1831 the workers of Merthyr Tydfyl, Wales, rose up against the British Government in what would become known as the Merthyr Rising. Trouble blew up after William Crawshay of Cyfarthfa Ironworks reduced the wages of his iron workers, however the causes were more deep-rooted with frustration around the truck system, the management of dept and the desire for Parliamentary Reform. It is believed that the red flag of revolution was flown as a symbol of workers' revolt for the first time during this event.
No. 3 Battle of Bryn Glas
On June 22nd 1402 a Welsh army under Owain Glyndŵr won a significant victory over a larger English force at the Battle of Bryn Glas, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne in Powys. The English were there to crush the war of independence that was being waged by Glyndŵr and his supporters. However, instead of bringing the rising to an end it renewed Welsh enthusiasm in the cause while also inflicting a destabilising blow upon English politics, from which it would take years to recover.
No. 2 Battle of Brunanburh
The Battle of Brunanburh was fought in 937 between Æthelstan, King of England, and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin; Constantine II, King of Scotland, and Owain, King of Strathclyde. The battle is often cited as the point of origin for English nationalism: historians such as Michael Livingston argue that "the men who fought and died on that field forged a political map of the future that remains [in modernity], arguably making the Battle of Brunanburh one of the most significant battles in the long history not just of England, but of the whole of the British Isles."
No. 1 Must Farm - Britain's Answer to Pompeii?
Located in The Fens of Cambridgshire are the remains of a Bronze Age settlement known as Must Farm, named after the quarry in which they were found. Discovered in 1999 when a local archaeologist noticed a series of wooden posts sticking out of the quarry’s edge, the site has since been subject to a programme of excavations, which have revealed many incredibly well preserved artefacts that give us a real glimpse into life during the Bronze Age.
So there you have it, our top five blogs of 2020! honourable mentions should also go to the next five, which are The Battle of Lugdunum, Horatius at the Bridge, The Black Death, The Last Invasion of Mainland Britain and The Miracle of the Rain. Do check them out!
Next up we have the highlights from some of our team, beginning with James Pegrum. James has been responsible for a most of our new material this year and boy has he put a shift a in! When asked what he was most pleased with this year, he said it was his model of Scrooby Manor, which was made as part of a series on the history of the Mayflower. James said it was because he "enjoyed working in dark red colour and playing around with the arch details". The work on the arch has been developed further in later builds - so there's more to look forward to!
Next up we have Dan Harris, who was told he couldn't pick one of his Welsh blogs, because most of them are already featured here. According to him, his favourite bit of creativity of 2020 was his model on the Miracle of the Rain, because it gave him a chance to play with his Roman soldiers again; the big man child he is.
Finally, according to Colin Parry, his favourite build of 2020 was his model on astronomer Sir William Herchel who discovered Uranus in 1781. This was an easy choice for Colin, because it's the only thing he's built all year, because, and I quote "I'm up to my neck in kids and never managed to build anything else". Fair play to him.
Another highlight for all of us in 2020 has been the sheer number of new followers we've gained on our social media platforms. We're really grateful for everyone who supports us in this way, because without you we're just shouting into the ether. Anyway, we look forward to bringing you lots of new stuff in 2021 and with any luck, get to see you and say hello at some LEGO shows! If you haven't already, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Happy new year friends!
Merry Christmas folks! Today we come to you with a festive themed blog on the Nativity. Yes, the Nativity, the Christian tradition of creating an artistic representation of the birth of Jesus.
Nativity scenes take it inspiration from the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Luke's narrative describes an angel announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds who then visit the humble site where Jesus is found lying in a manger, a trough for cattle feed. Matthew's narrative tells of "wise men", or Magi, who follow a star to the house where Jesus dwelt, and indicates that the Magi found Jesus some time later, less than two years after his birth, rather than on the exact day. Matthew's account does not mention the angels and shepherds, while Luke's narrative is silent on the Magi and the star. The Magi and the angels are often displayed in a nativity scene with the Holy Family and the shepherds although there is no scriptural basis for their presence.
The first nativity scene is thought to have been created by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 at Greccio, central Italy, in an attempt to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving. The nativity scene created by Francis is described by Saint Bonaventure in his Life of Saint Francis of Assisi written around 1260. Staged in a cave near Greccio, Saint Francis' nativity scene was a living one with humans and animals cast in the Biblical roles. Pope Honorius III even gave his blessing to the exhibit.
Such re-enactments became hugely popular and spread throughout Christendom and within a hundred years every church in Italy was expected to have a nativity scene at Christmastime. Eventually, statues replaced human and animal participants, and static scenes grew to elaborate affairs with richly robed figurines placed in intricate landscape settings.
Different traditions of nativity scenes emerged in different countries. A tradition in England involved baking a mince pie in the shape of a manger which would hold the Christ child until dinnertime, when the pie was eaten. When the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations in the 17th century, they also passed specific legislation to outlaw such pies, calling them "Idolaterie in crust". We do not think they would have approved of our “Idolaterie bricks”.
Anyway, we wish you a merry Christmas filled with idolaterie bricks!
These scenes were built by James Pegrum; please be sure to follow and support us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
Safe Anchor - Plymouth Harbor
On this day in 1620 the Mayflower, having crossed the Atlantic and reached Cape Cod, dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor. It would be here that those on board, the so called Pilgrims and Strangers, would establish their new community and England's newest colony. The task would be an arduous one and they would need to fall on the charity of the local native Americans to see them through.
This is our final blog of 2020 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower's voyage. We will return in next year with lots more content, but for now we wish you a happy Christmas and a Happy New Year and the hope that 2021 will be a better year for everyone.
Please be sure to follow and support us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - we always love hearing from you!
Third Time Lucky!
With the second exploration of December 7th returning no possible site for settlement the passengers of the Mayflower discussed what to do next. It was agreed that they should sail south and explore the coast of Cape Cod Bay an. On December 16th, a group left on the shallop, which was piloted this time by Robert Coppin and John Clark, rather than Captain Jones. From amongst the Pilgrims were Bradford and Standish. By now the temperatures were below freezing and along with illness those onboard the Mayflower were suffering. On board the shallop the salt spray froze on their coats
On their journey the explorers once again spotted the elusive natives, who were working away at a beached bulbous-headed black whale. When they made their way ashore, they built themselves a barricade and a fire and settled down for the night. About four miles away they could see smoke from another fire.
With the new day some explored on land while others went along the coast in the shallop. Again, they found graves and empty native dwellings. That night the two groups met at a tidal creek (today known as Herring River) and again built themselves a circular barricade.
They posted guards who woke the group around midnight shouting “Arm! Arm!”. In the moment, some muskets were fired and then all went quiet. A sailor, whose name we do not know, but had visited the area before, helped ease the groups fear when he shared his experiences of similar noises of wolves and so the group went back to sleep. In the morning after they got ready and as they were taking their weapons and armour to the shallop they suddenly heard another “great and strange cry”; one of the group who had been in the woods came out shouting “Indians, Indians”. Then the air was full of arrows. Those who had guns nearby grabbed them and started shooting away. Standish was aware that ammunition was short and told the men to stop shooting until they could see their opponents. Meanwhile those whose guns were down by the shallop went to retrieve them. The natives took their chance and trapped them behind the boat. The skirmish between the two groups went on for a short while with the natives eventually withdrawing. The explorers followed for a short while and then returned, fortunately nobody had been hurt. And so, the First Encounter had taken place (the site is still known as First Encounter Beach in Eastham).
Once back onboard the shallop the explorers headed along the south coast of Cape Cod Bay, during which time the weather got worse. With the wind picking up and the temperatures around freezing they became drenched by the freezing horizontal sleet and salt spray. As they made their way along the coast a sudden wave hit them, tearing the rudder off the shallop. It took two men and a long oak oar to get the boat back under control. As night came it became harder to control the shallop and the news that their aimed for destination was in site, a place called Thievish Harbor, which is thought to actually be Plymouth Harbor, cheered them up. Then, another disaster, the mast broke into three pieces which had to be gathered up along with the sodden sail. They were now dependent on rowing and soon realised that they were drifting off course towards a wave pounded beech, which they had to avoid.
It was now getting dark and they came across what they would latter discover was an island. After some discussion they decided to land and make a big fire instead of stay on the boat, a decision that spared them a night on board the shallop which had been subject to a hard nights frost. They spent the next day, Saturday, on the island, which was named Clark Island, after John Clark, who had been the first to set foot on it. Over the next day they cut down the straightest tree they could find and made a spar to replace the splintered mast. With the next day being Sunday they rested as it was their sabbath.
They commenced their exploration on the Monday and found that the harbor would be suitable for ships the same size as the Mayflower. They explored the land in the area that is now Plymouth and found a site that had good water supply, fields that were cultivated and signs that there had been no recent native settlement. They had now found the site they would settle and so they headed back to the Mayflower with the good news. On their return William Bradford was met with the sad news that his wife Dorothy had slipped overboard and drowned and that night he went to sleep with mixed emotions.
As a post note, it has become legendary that the Pilgrims first stepped onto a rock, now known as Plymouth Rock, when they landed in the area on Monday. However, this was not recorded by those who were on the Mayflower and the first records appear from 1774. Since then, the rock has become an American symbol of the nation's founding.
Charles Ignatius Sancho was a British writer, composer shopkeeper and abolitionist and is the first known Briton of African heritage to have voted in a general election.
Much of what we know about Sancho’s life comes from Joseph Jekyll’s 1782 biography, which accompanied a collection of Sancho's posthumously published letters. There are however doubt about the reliability of the biography and indeed it is contradicted in places by Sancho’s own writing.
According to Jekyll, Sancho was born in around 1729 aboard a slave ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean, in what was known as the Middle Passage. Sancho however wrote in his letters that he was born in Africa. His mother died not long after in the Spanish colony of New Granada, corresponding to modern Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. According to Jekyll, his father took his own life rather than live as a slave. Sancho therefore grew up an orphan and so was taken to London, where he was forced to work as a slave for three sisters at a house in Greenwich, where he lived from around 1731 to 1749. As an adult, Sancho wrote:
“the first part of my life was rather unlucky, as I was placed in a family who judged ignorance the best and only security for obedience”.
However while at Greenwich he met John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu who, impressed by Sancho's intellect, frankness, and amiability, encouraged his education and gave him books to read. Sancho's informal education made his lack of freedom in Greenwich unbearable. Following the Duke’s death in 1749 he fled to the Montagu House where he served as the butler for Mary Montagu (née Churchill), Duchess of Montagu until her death in 1751. He would then go on to act as valet to George Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu, son-in-law of his earlier patron. He remained there until 1773. In 1758 Sancho married Anne Osborne, a West Indian woman with whom he had seven children.
By the late 1760s Sancho had become an accomplished writer, actor and composer of music and was considered by many to be a man of refinement. Over the course of his life he published four collections of compositions and a treatise entitled A Theory of Music. He was even the subject of a painting by Gainsborough. In 1766, at the height of the debate about slavery, Sancho wrote to Laurence Sterne encouraging the famous writer to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade:
“That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many – but if only of one – Gracious God! – what a feast to a benevolent heart!”
Laurence Sterne's widely publicised response to Sancho's letter became an integral part of 18th-century abolitionist literature.
“There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl, and my eyes had scarce done smarting with it, when your letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me – but why her brethren? – or your’s, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face about St. James’s, to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ’ere mercy is to vanish with them? – but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavour to make ’em so."
Following the publication of the Sancho-Sterne letters, Sancho became widely known as a man of letters.
After leaving the Montagu household, Sancho and Anne opened a grocery store in Westminster, where Sancho, by then a well-known cultural figure, maintained an active social and literary life until his death in 1780. As an independent male property owner, with a house and grocery shop in London, he had the right to cast his vote for the Members of Parliament in the 1774 and 1780 elections. In doing so he became the first person of African descent to vote in a British general election.
He died on December 14th 1780. He was the first known person of African descent to have an obituary published in British newspapers. It was only after his death that his letters began to reach a large readership, when they were collected and published in 1782 as The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African. The two-volume collection sold well and delivered to a wide audience Sancho’s reflections on slavery and empire, as well as his own vexed experiences as a highly educated person of African origin living in London towards the end of the 18th century. A plaque to his memory o was unveiled on June 15th 2007, by Nick Raynsford, MP for Greenwich, on the remaining wall of Montague House on the south-west boundary of Greenwich Park. The plaque was funded by Friends of Greenwich Park to commemorate the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, made law in 1807.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Death of Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf
On this day in 1282 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, known in Welsh as Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf (lit. 'Llywelyn, Our Last Leader') was killed when he was ambushed near Cilmeri in Mid Wales. The son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr and grandson of Llywelyn the Great, he was Prince of Wales from 1258 until his death and was the last sovereign prince of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England.
In 1267 Llywelyn had been recognised by the English Crown as Prince of Wales, holding his lands with the king of England as his feudal overlord. However, following the death of Henry III in 1272, the relationship between England and Wales broke down as the new and ambitious King Edward I pressed his ambition to master of the whole island of Great Britain. By 1276 Llywelyn had been declared a rebel and diplomatic pressure was followed by a massive invasion force the following year. Edward forced Llywelyn into submission, confining him to lands above the Conwy.
In 1282 however, many of the lesser princes who had supported Edward against Llywelyn in 1277 had become disillusioned with the exactions of the English royal officers. On Palm Sunday that year, Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd attacked the English at Hawarden Castle and then laid siege to Rhuddlan. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of Wales, with Aberystwyth Castle captured and burnt and rebellion in Ystrad Tywi in south Wales, also inspired by Dafydd according to the annals, where Carreg Cennen castle was captured.
Though he claimed not to have been involved in the planning, Llywelyn felt obliged to join his brother’s ill prepared rebellion. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried mediating between Llywelyn and Edward, and Llywelyn was offered a large estate in England if he would surrender Wales to Edward, while Dafydd was to go on a crusade and not return without the king's permission. In an emotional reply, which has been compared to the Declaration of Arbroath, Llywelyn said he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had protected since "the days of Kamber son of Brutus". The offer was refused.
Llywelyn now left Dafydd to lead the defense of Gwynedd and took a force south, trying to rally support in mid and south Wales and open up an important second front. On December 11th at the Battle of Orewin Bridge at Builth Wells, he was killed while separated from his army. The exact circumstances are unclear and there are two conflicting accounts of his death. Both accounts agree that Llywelyn was tricked into leaving the bulk of his army and was then attacked and killed. The first account says that Llywelyn and his chief minister approached the forces of Edmund Mortimer and Hugh Le Strange after crossing a bridge. They then heard the sound of battle as the main body of his army was met in battle by the forces of Roger Despenser and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn. Llywelyn turned to rejoin his forces and was pursued by a lone lancer who struck him down. It was not until sometime later that an English knight recognised the body as that of the prince. This version of events was written in the north of England some fifty years later and has suspicious similarities with details about the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Scotland.
An alternative version of events written in the east of England by monks in contact with Llywelyn's exiled daughter, Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, and niece, Gwladys ferch Dafydd, states that Llywelyn, at the front of his army, approached the combined forces of Edmund and Roger Mortimer, Hugo Le Strange, and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn on the promise that he would receive their homage. This was a deception. His army was immediately engaged in fierce battle during which a significant section of it was routed, causing Llywelyn and his eighteen retainers to become separated. At around dusk, Llywelyn and a small group of his retainers (which included clergy) were ambushed and chased into a wood at Aberedw. Llywelyn was surrounded and struck down. As he lay dying, he asked for a priest and gave away his identity. He was then killed and his head hewn from his body. His person was searched and various items recovered, including a list of "conspirators", which may well have been faked, and his privy seal.
There are legends surrounding the fate of Llywelyn's severed head. It is known that it was sent to Edward at Rhuddlan and after being shown to the English troops based in Anglesey, Edward sent the head on to London. In London, it was set up in the city pillory for a day, and crowned with ivy (i.e. to show he was a "king" of Outlaws and in mockery of the ancient Welsh prophecy, which said that a Welshman would be crowned in London as king of the whole of Britain). Then it was carried by a horseman on the point of his lance to the Tower of London and set up over the gate. It was still on the Tower of London 15 years later. The last resting place of Llywelyn's body is not known for certain; however, it has always been tradition that it was interred at the Cistercian Abbey at Abbeycwmhir.
Following these events Dafydd ap Gruffydd proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and attempted to continue the fight. However, he was quickly defeated and, having spent months in hiding, was captured on June 22nd 1283. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in October. It is by this means that Wales became "united and annexed" to the Crown of England as under the auspices of Llewelyn and Dafydd’s ‘treason’, Edward I was able to take possession of the lands and titles of the House of Aberffraw.
These scenes were created by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Winter is Coming
On December 7th 1620 Captain Jones led a group of 34 on a second exploration of the Cape Cod area. The group was made up of 24 passengers and 10 sailors. The shallop had finally been rebuilt, but due to the wind they had difficulty weathering the point where the Mayflower was anchored. They were blown to the other side of the harbour where they found shelter in an inlet and spent the night there; the inlet is a part of what is now called Pilgrim Lake. Temperatures were now falling well below freezing and Bradford later reflected that this was the beginning of the death of some of those onboard the Mayflower. By morning there had been six inches of snow.
The party headed to south towards Parnet Harbour, being so cold and frostbitten they named the inlet Cold Harbour. They landed and spent the next few hours marching up and down the snow covered hills. Cold and fed up by now Captain Jones wanted to head back to the Mayflower. Others wanted to stay, and Captain Jones insisted they make camp for the night under several large pine trees. They caught six ducks and three geese and fed their cold hungry bodies. Their day’s work had shown them that Cold Harbour was not the place to found their settlement as the sea was too shallow.
In the morning it was agreed to relocate Corn Hill and collect more corn. By now the area had been covered by snow and after some time hunting for it and, having poked away at the surface with their cutlasses, they found the original bag and a further ten bushels. Captain Jones used this as a further supporting reason to get back to the Mayflower along with those who were too sick to continue. The others would explore the area further while they waited for the shallop to return.
On the morning of day three, Captain Standish, who was now in charge, led the group in search for the native that had been sighted the week before. They were however to remain elusive, having moved inland for the winter, not to return to the area until summer. However, in their search the explorers came across another apparent grave site. They found several boards, one with a carving of Poseidon’s trident, a clue that this came from a European ship. Further down they found two bundles one small and one large. In the large bundle there were some bones, with some flesh and golden hair on them along with a sailor's canvas bag which held a knife and sewing needle. In the smaller bag was another skull and the bones of a small child.
After returning their finds into the grave and covering the site back they carried on their exploration and found some native houses which from the evidence suggested they’d been left in a hurry. Bradford and Edward Winslow were later to leave one of the best first-person descriptions of a native house and their finds inside which included a pots, bowls, mats and the remains of a fire. As with the grave found earlier, they decided to take the best finds with them.
Finally, they headed back to the Mayflower where they were greeted with good news, a son had been born to Susanna and William White, who they called Peregrine. With their second exploration completed they were still without a site where they would settle down and over the next few days they discussed where to go next.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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