Category Archives: History

Ribblehead Viaduct


Ribblehead Viaduct carries the Settle-Carlisle railway across the upper Ribble Valley. It is 400 metres long, and 32 metres high at its highest point. It consists of 24 arches, each 14 metres wide.IMG_5476

The viaduct was built between 1870 and 1874. British Rail attempted to close the line in the 1980s, but a public outcry led to it being repaired in 1991.


The above photo was taken in 2014 . . . although a much younger-looking Midge visited  the same spot in 2010:


Hundreds of navvies lost their lives in the original building of the Settle-Carlisle railway. In St Leonard’s Church, in nearby Chapel-le-Dale, there are two memorials to them, one contemporary and one more modern:




Why visit?

The viaduct is a magnificent structure, probably the most impressive example of engineering on the entire Settle-Carlisle line.

Its setting, in the western Yorkshire Dales, is also magnificent. Situated at the foot of Whernside, the Ribblehead Viaduct is one of the iconic views of the Yorkshire Dales and, in particular,  the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge walk.


The third of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, Ingleborough, is also visible from the arches of the viaduct:


Even the first of the Peaks, Pen-y-ghent, can be seen in the distance:


The Station Inn is situated close to the viaduct, with its beer garden providing splendid views of Ribblehead and Whernside:


Ribblehead Station is also worth a visit, as it has been restored to its original Victorian state, and houses an exhibition about the history of the line.

Circular walks

There are numerous walks in the area. Two favourites involve a circular including an ascent of Ingleborough, either returning via Chapel-le-Dale (11 miles) or Ingleton (14 miles) Or, for a greater challenge, there is the Yorkshire Three Peaks!


Getting there

Ribblehead viaduct lies six miles north-east of Ingleton, along the B6255. It is about 20 miles east of the M6 at Junction 36.

Bradgate House


The ruins of Bradgate House are to be found in the grounds of Bradgate Park, a few miles north-west of Leicester. Who might have lived here?

The mansion was completed in 1520, and was one of the first great unfortified country houses in England. It was also one of the first buildings since Roman times to be built using brick.

Twenty years after it was built, it was the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey.

A brief history of Lady Jane Grey

Jane was born, probably in Bradgate House, in 1536 or 1537. She lived there until she was nine, when she was sent to live with Thomas Seymour (the brother of Jane Seymour). This was during the last months of the reign of Henry VIII; the King was dying, and his son, Edward, was only nine years old. Seymour was set to become part of the Regency Council that would govern the country until Edward VI was old enough to rule in his own right. It is likely that Seymour intended to promote Lady Jane as a royal bride for Edward.

The marriage did not happen, and in 1553, Jane was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, the son of the Duke of Northumberland. The Duke of Northumberland had become the leading figure in the Regency Council, and was extremely powerful. He was able to exert much influence over the King.

During the reign of Edward VI, Protestantism became more firmly embedded as the state religion. In 1553, it became clear that Edward was dying, and the most obvious successor was his sister Mary, a staunch Catholic. At this point, Edward wrote a document to change the succession, so that his sisters Mary and Elizabeth would be overlooked, and Lady Jane Grey, the eldest daughter of his niece, would succeed him. In changing the succession, Edward was acting in a similar way that his father had done in 1533 and 1536. However, the Third Act of Succession had been passed in 1543, and Edward had no right to do so, except by another Act of Parliament.

On 6th July, 1553, Edward VI died, and on 10th July, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen by Northumberland and the Privy Council. She was initially reluctant, before being cajoled into submission:

If what hath been given to me is lawfully mine, may Thy Divine Majesty grant me such spirit and grace that I may govern to Thy glory and service, to the advantage of this realm.

Lady Mary, who had been staying in Hertfordshire when she heard of Edward’s death, fled to her stronghold in East Anglia. Northumberland set out from London on 14th July with 3000 troops to capture her. Mary moved to Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, and was quickly gaining support.

In the end, no battle was needed. As Mary gathered support, Northumberland’s army began to desert. The Privy Council, realising the way the wind was blowing, hastily changed sides and proclaimed Mary queen on 19th July. Queen Jane’s nine-day rule was over.

Queen Mary entered London on 3rd August, and Northumberland was executed two weks later. Jane and her husband were also sentenced to death, although there is evidence that Mary intended to commute the sentences. Only when Jane’s father and brother became involved in a subsequent plot against Queen Mary, did the sentences get carried out. Lady Jane Grey was beheaded on Tower Hill on 12th February, 1554.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche
The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche
Bradgate House


The above picture shows the Chapel of Bradgate House, and the eastern tower, known as Lady Jane’s Tower. Below, we see the wall of the Great Hall, viewed firstly from what would have been the kitchens, then from the chapel. The largest window in the wall was extended later to create a bay, in preparation for a visit by William III in 1696. Some of the smaller walls in the foreground would have formed part of the original cellars.



Why visit?

Bradgate House is an important part of Bradgate Park, but it is not the only attraction. The park contains many paths through the bracken and heather, and the River Lin flows through it on its way to Cropston Reservoir.

Geologically, Bradgate park contains some of the oldest rocks in England, formed when volcanic eruptions deposited layers of ash on the ocean floor some 600 million years ago. Within these rocks have been found precambrian fossils – Charnia masoni – which, at 570 million years old, is one of the oldest fossils in the world (pictured below). Although it has the appearance of a fern, it cannot be a plant since it existed in water too deep for photosynthesis to take place.


There are also other places of historical interest in Bradgate Park. These include Old John, an eighteenth century folly, and Queen Adelaide’s Oak, where the widow of William IV once picnicked. I shall return to Bradgate Park in later posts.

de lisleives

For most visitors, though, the main attractions of Bradgate Park are the open spaces, the numerous paths, and the free-roaming deer.


Getting there

Bradgate Park has three car parks. The nearest to Bradgate House, and the most suitable entrance suitable for wheelchairs, is at the western end, next to the church in the village of Newtown Linford. Newtown Linford is about six miles north-west of Leicester, and conveniently situated about two miles from J22 of the M1. Follow signs to Leicester, and after a mile, Newtown Linford is signposted to the left.

To the west of the park is Hallgates car park, while to the north is Hunts Hill car park. All three car parks are open from 7.45 am to dusk every day of the year. Although the car parks are closed, there are several public footpaths which cross-cross the park, meaning that the park itself is effectively always open.

There are public toilets at each of the car parks, and at the visitor centre near the Bradgate House ruins. Refreshments are available at the Newtown Linford car park, and at the visitor centre. There are also two pubs and several cafes in Newtown Linford.

Miles Dock

One of the delights of coastal walking is coming across places that seem, initially, not to be worth a second look; but which turn out, on closer inspection, to have a unique and special history. Such a place is Miles Dock.


At first, this small indentation in the riverbank looks as though it could be the natural outlet of the stream coming down the hillside. However, there are a enough signs of stonework to indicate that this was once part of a man-made structure, a small harbour.

miles dock2

Why would anyone build a harbour here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere?

Although now silted up, Miles Dock has a varied and fascinating history. It takes its name from the Miles family, who made their fortune during the eighteenth century, importing sugar into Bristol from the West Indies. In the 1790s, William Miles was one of the largest importers of sugar in England, a position sadly built on the transatlantic slave trade. In 1812, his son, Philip Miles, commissioned the re-building of Leigh Court, a mansion high on the east bank of the river, above Leigh Woods. The original Leigh Court, dating from 1558, was demolished and replaced by a much larger Palladian structure. Miles Dock was constructed to receive the the large quantities of Bath Stone needed for its construction.


A small kiln (above) was also built near to the dock, which was fired by anthracite brought by barge from South Wales. Leigh Court was completed in 1814. It would remain the Miles’ family home until 1917, but now it is a conference centre and wedding venue.

leigh court 2

In 1829, a competition was held to design a bridge to span the River Avon at Clifton. Two years later, work on Brunel’s Clifton suspension bridge began. Red sandstone from the Leigh Court estate was used to build the two great piers at either end of the bridge. Miles Dock was used to ferry this stone down the river to the construction sites.


Following the building of the supporting pillars, construction of the bridge was halted in 1843 due to funding difficulties. The bridge was not completed until 1864, five years after Brunel’s death. Miles Dock, meanwhile, fell into disrepair. It must have seemed unlikely that this little dock would ever be used again.

That changed in 1880, however, when Henry Miles began to mine celestine on his estate.

Celestine is a form of strontium. During the last century, the main use of strontium was in the refining of sugar beet. For a few years at the end of the nineteenth century, Leigh Court was an important international supplier of celestine, all of which was exported through Miles Dock. A tramline was built from the quarries in Leigh Woods to the dock, and it is still possible to trace the incline down which it ran.


With the development of radiography and cathode ray tubes (both of which use strontium) in the early twentieth century, the demand for celestine increased and larger producers – notably the Bristol Mineral and Land Company – began to dominate the industry. Production at Leigh Court was abandoned in 1912, and Miles Dock has not been used since. Other mines in south Gloucestershire, however, continued to supply 90% of the world’s strontium until the Second World War.

Why visit?

Mies Dock is a few minutes walk from the National Trust car park at Leigh Woods. Leigh Woods is a great destination for a day out, and contains some lovely forest trails. The woods stretch southwards as far as Clifton suspension bridge, and include Stokeleigh Camp, an Iron age fort. So much of historical interest in such a small area!

Miles Dock also lies on the River Avon Trail, which runs for 23 miles from Pill (near the mouth of the river) to Pulteney Bridge in Bath. This is a excellent trail, and fairly easy to complete in stages thanks to good bus services (services X39/338/339). We walked it in one go, but it could easily be split at Bristol, Keynsham and Saltford.

A interesting circular walk is to follow the River Avon north to the Avonmouth motorway bridge. A footway and cyclepath crosses the river adjacent to the motorway, and footpaths follow the river south on the opposite bank. Crossing the river via the Clifton suspension bridge, or continuing to Bristol, give an 11 or 14 mile circular walk. Highlights include the historic village of Pill and the remains of a Roman harbour near Sea Mills.

Devon’s parliament

Sometimes, just a word on an Ordnance Survey map can ignite curiosity, especially when that word is written in a fancy Old English font. An example is Parliament, marked on the map a few miles from Brixham, in South Devon. To what “Parliament” does that refer?

On the ground, Parliament is made up of a couple of cottages called, not surprisingly, Parliament Cottages.


The proximity of Parliament to Brixham should have been a clue. For it was at Brixham Harbour, in 1688, that William of Orange landed in the so-called “Glorious Revolution”.


A stone (above) in the garden of the cottages reveals the origin of the name of the cottages. The inscription is not easy to read, but says:

William Prince of Orange is said to have held his first Parliament here in November 1688

That may answer the initial query about the place name, but it raises more questions about the historical background to all this.

What was happening in this quiet corner of Devon in 1688, and why?

The historical background

In 1685, James II ascended to the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland (James VII of Scotland). Crucially for the events that would follow, he was a Catholic.

Initially, this did not create a problem for the English Parliament. Despite earlier attempts to exclude James from the succession, Parliament tolerated the new monarch. The English Civil War had ended only 34 years earlier and its horrors were probably still fresh in people’s memories. Despite James making frequent use of the dispensing powers of the monarch and promoting Roman Catholics in numerous institutions, such as the Army and Oxford University, no moves were made against him. Even when the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of Charles I and a Protestant, landed at Lyme Regis in 1685, the population did not turn against James, and the Duke was easily defeated.

The uneasy status quo changed in 1688. Parliament, and the hierarchy of the Anglican Church, may have been willing to put up with a Catholic monarch until his death, but they baulked at the idea of a Catholic succession. On 10th June, 1688, James’ wife, Mary, gave birth to a son. This was unacceptable to the Establishment. A rumour, probably unfounded, quickly spread that the baby was a changeling, smuggled into the Queen’s apartments in a warming-pan. He was christened James Edward Stuart, later to become better known as the Old Pretender, and father of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

It was in this atmosphere that leading Parliamentarians and Anglicans invited the Dutch Prince William of Orange to invade. As a grandson of Charles I, William had only a tenuous link to the throne; his wife, Mary, daughter of James II, had a much stronger claim to the succession.

So it was that William of Orange landed at Brixham Harbour on 5th November, 1688, accompanied by an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 troops. The date was propitious: the 83rd anniversary of the discovery of Catholic conspirators attempting to blow up a Protestant king in the Gunpowder Plot.


The stone on which William supposedly first set foot on English ground is encased in a monument (above) on Brixham seafront.


Why Brixham? It’s difficult to say; there is evidence that the English suspected he might land at Hull, or Sole Bay in Suffolk. In reality, William may have been unconcerned about where he might land. Unlike the Duke of Monmouth, who relied on garnering local support and thus chose the West Country deliberately, William of Orange had 15,000 experienced troops, and was not dependent on the English to swell his ranks. It may, though, have been his plan to land some distance away from the capital, in the hope that James’ position might collapse during a slow advance towards London.


Following his landing, William headed inland. There is a cottage at Yalberton, some six miles from Brixham, called King William’s Cottage, and it is thought that William of Orange may have stopped here to take refreshment.

willy cottae

William continued along the narrow Devon lanes for a further three miles, which brought him to a farmhouse near the hamlet of Aish. Here, he met up with Sir Edward Seymour, an influential privy counsellor and opponent of James II, together with a number of unnamed “Gentlemen of the West”. This meeting has been termed his first Parliament on English soil.

Thus, a farm in rural South Devon wrote itself into the fabric of the history of England.


Why visit?

If the historical value is not enough, Brixham has much to offer as a harbour and seaside resort. The harbour contains a replica of Drake’s Golden Hind, and the long outer breakwater is an exhilarating walk. The steeply-set cottages of the town are much photographed, and the vicar of All Saints’ Church composed the hymn Abide With Me. I will certainly be returning to Brixham in future posts.

Getting there

Although it is not easy to park near Parliament Cottages, they are within walking distance, along quiet lanes, of both Totnes and Stoke Gabriel. All the places mentioned also lie on the Orange Way, an unofficial 350 mile long distance footpath which follows the route of William of Orange from Brixham to London.


For those who would like to learn more about William III and the Glorious Revolution, I can thoroughly recommend the book by Edward Vallance below.

glo rev