When I first started tiptoeing through England’s history, it came as a shock to learn that there was a rich Roman heritage behind all of the castles, thatched cottages and the Paul McCartneys. Obviously, I was aware of the Romans themselves, but I had no […]
Month: September 2013
Following an unfortunate incident with a rental car, a tailgater and a stone fence in Ireland, I have been loathe to get behind the wheel of a car “on the other side.” So, when it came to getting ourselves to a spot in England that […]
Travellers tend to go for the obvious choices. In England, those would be London and Bath. And I get it , I do. Those places contain dense history, excellent tourist infrastructure and shops that are willing to suck in the almighty tourist dollar well past 5 o’clock.
But some of my most treasured memories come from visiting places that don’t merit a mention in the Lonely Planet or the Rick Steves. Those are the places that feel real. Sometimes, they’re even a tad “behind the times” or “tired,” in the words of insufferable snobs. But I say, bring on the floral wallpaper!
A market town with a population of about 25,000, Newark has a crumbling castle where King John (often portrayed as an evil jerk in the Robin Hood legend) died in 1216.
We stayed at The Grange Hotel, a Victorian hotel which pleased me immensely. It had me at the outdated “automatic trouser press” in the bedroom.
The Grange has a cosy, traditional English feel to it. The nostalgic force was strong in this one, folks. Why go to England only to stay in a place that feels like it’s been transplanted from…hmm, Des Moines? My poor heart weeps for twee old hotels that get shiny “modern” makeovers. We’ll never have the oldies back once they’re gone.
It just so happened to be Heritage Open Days in Newark-on-Trent, so we were able to experience more of St. Mary Magdalene Cathedral than is normally the case. In our clutches, we had some records that showed that an ancestor had his funeral in this very church in the early 19th century.
These are the narrow spiral steps that led us up to the church spire. I won’t tell you how many gasps and cries my mom let out as she negotiated these.
And this is the view up into the spire – this thing was completed in 1350!!!!
From the balcony on the spire we had an unfettered view of Newark’s marketplace, all abuzz with vendors yelling about apples and socks because it was a Saturday. At this time, I don my History Teacher hat to let you know that Newark played a role in the English Civil War. The town supported the royal cause, and was besieged multiple times in the mid 17th century.
Now I remove that hat and replace it with my blogger beanie.
We combed the tombstones surrounding St. Mary Magdalene in vain, hoping to find evidence of our forebear, one Richard Starr. Unfortunately, it appears that Dick probably didn’t have the dough to afford grave art.
Then again, many of the stones were incredibly weathered. If not for the moss, I probably wouldn’t be able to make out the name “Elizabeth” on this one. Side note: this would be a great grave for Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men fame.
We retired to a medieval timbered building – The Old Bakehouse – for refreshments.
So many cakes for so few stomachs!
Just when we thought that imagining Richard Starr’s funeral would have to suffice, a trip to the local tourist office revealed that there was actually a plaque on an old industrial building called “Starr’s Yard.” Given that our ancestor was listed as a “malterer” on the death certificate and that this building was undoubtedly part of the brewing industry, we are 99% sure that Starr’s Yard relates to us. My mom was overjoyed. She still has the surname “Starr,” you see.
Allow me to get a bit sentimental, if I may: late in his life, my grandpa Jack Starr lamented that he’d never learned about his own ancestry. He had absolutely no idea that his people went way, way back in the British midlands. He didn’t know that, all his life, Starr’s Yard was sitting there in Newark. And so it was in his honour that we made this pilgrimage.
To top off our Newark-on-Trent experience, we breathlessly ducked into the grandiose Newark Antiques Centre with about 5 minutes to spare. Mom was hoping to get her hands on a print of St. Mary Magdalene Cathedral to love and cherish for all time.
Well, wouldn’t you know it this vendor had a Victorian-era framed picture of the church and he just gave it to her. Gratis. Who does that? The people of Newark, evidently.
That would never happen in Bath.