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Ride that broomstick…!

When you think of a witch, what image do you conjure up? Is it the one of an unkempt, old crone – dressed in black, with a flowing cape and pointy hat? Is she stirring a cauldron or flying on a broomstick, with her faithful cat? Where on Earth does this notion come from? Blame it on the drugs….

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Going Home tsbl2000 via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/68942208@N02/16365078410/

Our vision of what a witch should supposedly look like is a fairly recent concept…. Go back to the pictures drawn by Medieval artists, during the times of the mass hysteria surrounding witchcraft – and a very different story is depicted….Wanton, naked women, cavorting with the Devil – if they did happen to be clothed, it was likely to have been in very ordinary attire of the day; any hat would most probably have been a simple bonnet. It wasn’t until the early 1700s that Western European artists began to draw witches with long pointed hats, possibly to symbolise devil horns, an indication to ‘dark magic’ – very likely coming from the Salem witch trials, after witnesses claimed to have seen the Devil himself – ‘a large man in a high-crowned hat’…. Later, during Victorian times, children’s books elaborated and exaggerated the image, adding the long black flowing cloak….

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“Witches” Artist Hans Baldung 1508 Source: R.Decker, Hexen, Frontispiz (2004) This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art

Back in the Middle Ages the World would have been a very scary place to live in….lack of scientific knowledge meant answers to the unexplained had to be found elsewhere…. For any situation – good or bad – that could not be accounted for by the obvious – it had to be down to magic…. People lived in constant fear of otherworldly beings….ghosts, fairies, monsters, witches…. At the same time, life was hard in so many other ways – not least the challenge of providing enough food to feed the family; not having the option of nipping to the local supermarket meant finding supplementary foods for the diet in any way possible – foraging was common-place….It is hardly surprising therefore, that certain plants were happened upon that had adverse effects on the body and mind – (indeed, the beginnings of our modern-day medicine can be attributed to some of these discoveries)…. Some of these discoveries would have actually of provided effects on the mind that some would have found rather pleasurable….

We may consider drug taking for recreational purposes a modern-day problem but people have been using mind-altering drugs since prehistoric times…. The earliest evidence of an alcoholic beverage dates back to 7,000-6,600 BC. Pottery shards discovered by archeologists, in the ancient Chinese village of Jiahu, were found to have remnants of an alcoholic drink consisting of ingredients such as rice, honey and fermented fruit….

Archeological finds in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras suggest hallucinogenic mushrooms were used between 500 BC and 900 AD. Fossil remains of a hallucinogenic cactus – ‘San Pedro’ – were found in a Peruvian cave and date back to between 8,600 and 5,600 BC. Finds in Northern Mexico and Southern Texas of Mescal bean seeds, dating from the end of the 9th millennium BC to 1,000 AD, all point to evidence Mankind has used hallucinogens almost from the beginning of his time on this planet…. A long with proof of opium being used from the mid 6th millennium BC, to South Americans chewing cocoa leaves 8,000 years ago and Argentinians smoking pipes as far back as 2,000 BC – it seems Man has always been getting high on some kind of drug or other….

So, what were they up to in The Middle Ages? As is so often the case, many a discovery is made by accident…. Bread has long been part of the staple diet of the World and Rye-bread would have been the most common type consumed in Medieval Europe…. Rye is susceptible to a fungus called ‘Ergot’ – eaten in large quantities this fungus can be fatal but smaller amounts cause a hallucinogenic reaction. Accounts from between the 14th and 17th Centuries record Europeans dancing through the streets, jabbering nonsense and foaming at the mouth after consuming Rye-bread infected with Ergot. Very often, large groups of people would carry on like this until they collapsed from exhaustion; when asked, they frequently claimed to have seen wild visions…. It became known as St. Vitus’s Dance – so named after the 4th Century Sicilian martyr, St. Vitus – Patron Saint of Dancers. We would nowadays liken the effects of Ergot to those of LSD….

Human nature, being what it is, meant there were those keen to experiment and gain knowledge to exactly what certain plants could do to the body – not always with the best of intentions…. Dabbling with ‘herbal remedies’ and in some cases outright poisons formed the basis of many an accusation of witchcraft….

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Witch’s tools http://www.chrisbirds.com via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118292762@N02/16339427989/

In 1324, Lady Alice Kyteler was the first ever accused witch in Ireland….after some very damning evidence collected with which to condemn her…. Alice Kyteler was born as an only child in 1280 – By all accounts, those who knew her, thought her to be arrogant and bossy – she wasn’t much liked…. However, certain aristocratic gentlemen seemed to find her attractive and she went through a quick succession of wealthy husbands, each coming to an untimely end…. Rumours began to circulate…. At the age of 44, Alice was on her 4th husband, Sir John Le Poer…. Eventually, as the rumours became more rife, Le Poer became suspicious and carried out a search of his wife’s bed-chamber…. What he found were items referring to the Devil and evidence that Alice was an expert in the art of poisoning. Drawing the conclusion that she intended him to be her next victim, Le Poer sent his finds to the Bishop of Ossory….

The Bishop, one Richard De Ledrede, was a man on a mission – he was obsessed with exposing witches…. Alice, her son – William Outlawe (from her first marriage) and her personal maid, Petronilla de Meath, were all arrested….

The rumours continued to grow, stories became embroidered – tales of her sacrificing animals, performing black magic in local churches and carrying on with a strange man called Robert Artisson – who some believed could manifest himself as a black cat – (was this a symbolisation of the Devil?) – all added fuel to the fire…. The Bishop, although he hunted rigorously, never did manage to find this elusive man….

It all became too clear that Alice had indeed murdered her previous 3 husbands and aimed to kill her 4th…. Her reason? Pure greed, a desire to gain more money….

However, the Bishop did not have the power to bring Alice to trial…. Witchcraft and sorcery was overseen by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who happened at the time to be a certain Roger Outlawe, a relative of her first husband…. Outlawe and other rich relatives supported Alice and had the Bishop imprisoned within a castle for 18 days…. On eventually regaining his freedom, De Ledrede resumed his quest to bring Alice to justice….but by then she had fled to England, leaving behind her maid and even her son to face the consequences…. William begged for forgiveness, which he was granted – but in return he had to pay for a new roof for St. Mary’s Cathedral…. The maid, Petronilla did not have such luck – under torture she admitted Alice had taught her the art of witchcraft…. She was flogged and burnt at the stake on November 3rd 1324…. Alice was never heard of again….

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Burning witches, with others held in stocks 14th Century Author: Anonymous Public Domain Source: http://molcat1.bl.uk/llllmages/Ekta%5Cmid/E124/E124110.jpg

There are many plants Alice could have used to make her poisons…. Some of the most common belong to the Solanaceae family. Consisting of approximately 98 genera and some 2,700 species, many of these plants will be very familiar to us today….potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, chillies, foxgloves, petunias, tobacco and deadly nightshade to name but a very few….

Written references to deadly nightshade being used as a ‘flying ointment’ go back to at least the 9th Century…. Deadly nightshade, if taken orally, can speed up the heart and be fatal; however, when applied to the skin in small quantities it can cause hallucinations…. People began to make the connection to how certain plants could make an impact upon them and started to experiment in how to use them safely…. Mixing a concoction of deadly nightshade, hemlock, henbane, mandrake and wolfbane, usually in a base of animal fat, produced a potent balm called ‘flying ointment’…. All of these plants contain hallucinogenic chemicals known as ‘tropane alkaloids’ – causing vivid dreams that take the user to another world of fantasy – full of pleasure….feasting, dancing, singing and loving…. (apparently)….  Perhaps not so much ‘black magic’ but simply chemistry…. For those who found the World a particularly hard place to live in back in the day – such escapism must have been so very tempting…. For women, particularly, exploring their own sexuality, liberation and self-pleasure – totally unthinkable at the time – this would have been seen as a link to the Devil himself….

However, ingesting any of these ingredients causes a problem, in the form of nausea and vomiting. It became realised that the body can absorb in other ways….namely through the sweat glands – particularly those located in the armpits and genital regions….

Now…. I have often wondered why witches are associated with broomsticks – but never in a million years would I have suspected a reason such as this…! The broomstick, or besom broom, a symbol of feminine domesticity – yet at the same time, a phallic, sexual symbol – or perhaps in the case of the witch – one of femininity gone wild and out of control….

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Image from page 293 of “St. Nicholas [serial]” (1873) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebook images/14772736232/
The besom broom was often used in Pagan fertility rituals….poles, pitchforks, brooms – in fact anything resembling a phallic object – were carried by folk dancing through the fields, jumping as high as they could, to encourage the crops to grow…. Then there is the traditional ‘jumping of the broomstick’, a feature of the Wicca hand-fasting ceremony – the broom being a reference to new beginnings, sweeping away the old…. The besom is also used in Wicca to cleanse and purify a space which is to be used for a ritual ceremony – sweeping out negative energies….

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Jumping the broom! morgan.cauch via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/67297972@N04/6444876189/

So, why the connection with the witch of the Middle Ages? For that, we need to refer back to the application of that ‘flying ointment’…. Having discovered it could be applied to the sweat glands, especially those that are in a very intimate place if you happened to be a woman, a utensil was required in order to apply it…. What better than the handle of one of the most common household items – the humble broomstick!! Yes, I’m serious….they really did do just what you’re thinking…. It puts a whole new definition on ‘riding that broomstick’…!

“In rifleing the closet of the ladie,
they found a pipe of oyntment,
wherewith she greased a staffe,
upon which she ambled and galloped
through thick and thin….” – English historian Raphael Holinshed – 1324 –
with reference to the evidence collected against Lady Alice Kyteler…

“The vulgar believe, and the witches confess,
that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff
and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint
themselves under the arms and in other hairy places….”
– Theologian Jordanes de Bergamo – ‘Quastio de Strigis’ – 1470

I will never look at a broomstick in the same way again….

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Besom in the Corner It’sGreg via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/itsgreg/514745734/

 

Eyes to the skies….over Dunsfold….

I suppose you would hardly call Dunsfold a “chocolate box” village – however, it does have a certain charm all of its own. Indeed, William Morris once described its church as being the most beautiful in all of England; Saint Mary’s and All Saints can even claim to have the oldest pews in the Land…. The church was built in the late 13th Century, on the site of a Norman chapel, close to a holy well, which was once visited by pilgrims, as it was believed its waters could cure diseases of the eye….

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Dunsfold is a village in the county of Surrey, in the South East of England; it lies in the Weald (the area between the North and South Downs) – 14km South of Guildford and the nearest town being Godalming. It is neighboured by Cranleigh, said to be the largest village in England…. Dunsfold covers an area of 16.06 km² (6.2 sq miles) and the 2011 Census recorded a population of 987, with 467 dwellings, some of which are particularly old…. The village is surrounded by farmland and woodland and is situated at the base of the Surrey Hills…. Dunsfold itself is spread out over grass-land and common-land, with several ponds of notable size, attributed to being located on Wealden clay…. There is an extensive network of bridal-ways and footpaths in and around it, enabling walkers to explore and discover the village and surrounding area…. Maybe the privately owned deer-park – with its herd of white fallow deer – or within the village itself, the pub – (The Sun Inn)….or the cricket pitch – the village shop, with its own post office (a ‘hub’ of local life) – the fire station…. Yes! I did just say ‘fire station’…. Why on Earth would a village the size of Dunsfold need one of these? Ah! Now that is because it is the location of something that really does put it on the map….Dunsfold Aerodrome; (well to be correct half the area the airfield occupies does actually officially lie within the boundaries of the neighbouring village of Alfold)…. “Never heard of it”….many of you will mutter – but you may well of heard of one of the BBC’s most popular TV shows – Top Gear….

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Top Gear! Fenners1984 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fenners/9367527706/

Even if you are not a fan and don’t watch it, no doubt you will recall the controversy that surrounded it in recent times…. Since 2002 the aerodrome has been home to Top Gear; one of the hangers is used as a studio and it is the residence of the famous test track, (designed by Lotus test drivers), with its Hammerhead, Chicago and Wilson Bend…. A test track now also used by local driving schools for the under 17s to learn how to drive a car, before venturing out on to the public highways….where my own boy, Jordan, is taking a lesson this very coming Saturday morning…. Wish him luck as he’s let loose on that very famous test track….

Of course, the use of the aerodrome doesn’t just stop there; the track itself is used for cycle racing during the summer months and until recent years the airfield was the base of the Surrey Air Ambulance. It is also home to many businesses, including warehouses, storage and offices….but we must come back to the filming…. A part from Top Gear a number of other popular TV programmes have been recorded there; Panorama, Watchdog, Spooks and the well-known ITV science fiction drama Primeval, to name but a few. Several major films have also made use of the location, such as The Da Vinci Code, Nanny McPhee and the James Bond movie Casino Royale. One of the main reasons Dunsfold Aerodrome is such an attractive proposition for film makers is down to its resident Boeing 747 – the only one in Europe that is used exclusively for filming. The 747 was in service with British Airways until its retirement in 2002; it was then bought by a company called Aces High Ltd., who specialise in supplying aircraft for film and TV work. You may have seen it in the series ‘Come Fly with Me’, starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams….or perhaps more recently when it was dressed as Air Force One in the 2016 film London has Fallen….

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Photo credit: Andrew Ebling Boeing 747 G-BDXJ (previously known as City of Birmingham)

Dunsfold Aerodrome also holds various events, from supercar racing to the annual Wings & Wheels airshow and motoring display. Held every August Bank Holiday, the two-day show attracts some 40,000 visitors; it was first held in 2005 with the aim of fundraising for numerous charities. Although the roar of noisy ‘planes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, many villagers either gather on the Common or watch the air display from their gardens…. The weekend before last was indeed August Bank Holiday and we were, for once, blessed with glorious weather….perfect to spread a picnic rug out on the grass and enjoy what was a spectacular show…. For those actually attending the event there is obviously so much more to see; motoring demonstrations, static displays, all kinds of cars – vintage to supercars, monster trucks to military vehicles – for those inclined there’s something for everyone…. For the rest of us, observing from the outside, it’s all eyes to the skies…. The most adrenaline fuelled contribution has to come from the Eurofighter Typhoon; the roar from its twin EJ200 engines sends a thrill that goes right through you….

This year we were also treated to displays from the Norwegian Historic Vampire Pair, B17 Sally B, RAF Chinook and the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team.

A Hurricane, Spitfire, Messerschmitt 109 and Mustang added some nostalgia….(usually the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight attends the show but unfortunately, due to technical problems it was absent this year).

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Hurricanes – Flying Legends 2017 Airwolfhound via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24874528@N04/35625023842/
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Spitfire and ‘109’ – Flying Legends 2013 Hawkeye UK via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajw1970/9293981825/

We were entertained by The Blades, chasing each other across the skies and saw a variety of helicopters, including the Apache…. Then of course, there was everyone’s favourite….The Red Arrows – The Royal Air Force Aerobatics Team; their motto being “Éclat” – meaning “excellence”….for they really are the best of British….

The Red Arrows are pictured as they fly in tight formation during display training
The Red Arrows are pictured as they fly in tight formation during display training Defence Images via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/defenceimages/5038167323/

The Red Arrows were formed in late 1964 and flew for the first time in 1965. Prior to this time there were several other aerobatics teams operating; it was felt too much time was being spent by pilots practising and so it was decided to amalgamate the teams into one. 1947 saw the first jet team of de Havilland Vampires based at RAF Oldham; in 1950 another team of 7 Vampires formed and were the first to use smoke trails in their display. Hawker Hunters were used for the first time in 1955.

The first official RAF team was formed in 1956 and used a uniform colour scheme of black – they became known as The Black Arrows…. In 1958 they set a World record by performing a loop and barrel roll involving 22 Hunters. They were the RAF’s premier team until 1961, when the role was taken over by The Blue Diamonds, with their 16 Hunters. 1960 saw the arrival of The Tigers with their supersonic Lightnings, who sometimes performed co-ordinated displays with The Blue Diamonds…. In 1964 the position of lead RAF display team was taken over by The Red Pelicans, flying 6 BAC Jet Provosts. At the Farnborough Air Show, that same year, another team flying 5 yellow Gnat Trainers from No.4 Flying Training School also flew….they were known as The Yellowjacks….

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Yellowjack Gnat G-MOUR Take Off eppingforestdc via Foter.com / BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eppingforestdc/12790881633/

Initially The Red Arrows flew Folland Gnat Trainers, which were inherited from The Yellowjacks; the Gnat being less expensive to run and maintain than other fighters. The ‘planes were painted red, possibly in homage to The Red Pelicans but also because the colour is more visible and thus safer….

That first season saw the team fly 65 displays, the first public performance being the Biggin Hill Air Fair  on May the 15th 1965. In 1968 the team increased to 9, allowing that classic diamond that has become the team’s trademark formation….

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RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire was the first base used by The Red Arrows but after Fairford became the test flight centre for Concorde in 1966, The Arrows moved to RAF Kemble. 1983 saw another move, this time to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, (famous for its role in the Dambusters raid in 1943). Scampton was closed in 1995 and The Arrows moved to nearby RAF College Cranwell; but as they were still using the airspace above Scampton, for practise purposes, the runway and emergency facilities had to be maintained…. So, on the 21st of December 2000 The Red Arrows returned to Scampton and it has become their permanent base and will remain so until at least the end of the decade….

The Gnats flew 1,292 displays in total and were replaced by the Hawk in 1980…. In 2002 the team flew with Concorde over London as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations and again, a decade later, The Arrows flew a fly past for her Diamond Jubilee…. They were also included in the 2012 opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games…. Each year they have a packed programme of air shows to attend; for example, Sunday the 27th of August they were here with us in Dunsfold at midday – then at 5.30pm they were entertaining the crowds at the Rhyl Air Show on the North East coast of Wales…. 2017 is the 53rd season for the team, which now consists of 9 pilots and 91 support members…. Long, long, long may they continue….

Dunsfold Aerodrome itself was built by the Canadians, as a Class A bomber airfield – it took just 6 months to build! It was known as Royal Canadian Air Force Station Dunsfold – later it was to become RAF Dunsfold….

Life as an airfield began on the 11th of May 1942. The very first ‘plane to arrive at Dunsfold, on the 20th of July 1942, was a RCAF Tiger Moth – de Havilland DH.82 – a 1930’s bi-plane…. Some of the first aircraft to be based at the airfield included Curtiss Tomahawks and North American Mustangs. Later the B-25 Mitchell Bombers and Mosquitoes became resident…. 1944 saw the arrival of Spitfires, Typhoons and Tempests….

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B-25 Mitchell Kimbenson45 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimbenson45/14879394927/
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Ground personnel of No.98 Squadron RAF, who serviced North American Mitchell Mark III, HD372 ‘VO-B’ aka ‘Grumpy’ Date WW2 Photo CH 13734 from collections of the Imperial War Museums.
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Mitchell Mark II arriving back at Dunsfold after sortie over enemy targets in France – 1943. Photo CH 11037 from collections of the Imperial War Museums.

After World War 2, the airfield was used to repatriate prisoners of war. Using Dakota, Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster aircraft, over 47,000 were brought back to British soil….

Dunsfold was declared an inactive airbase by the RAF in 1946. It was then employed by Skyways Ltd., an early British airline, which went on to become established as the largest non-scheduled passenger and cargo air service in Europe…. It also notably played an important civilian part in the Berlin Airlift…. As another ‘arm’ to its business, Skyways refurbished ex-RAF Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes for the Portuguese Air Force…. Skyways went into liquidation in 1950….and so enter a new chapter in the history of Dunsfold Aerodrome…..

In 1950, the Hawker Aircraft Company took on the lease for the site and it became the development site for the Hunter Jet Fighter….a jet fighter that was to remain in military service until 2014, when it was still being used by the Lebanese Air Force….

In October 1960, Hawker Siddeley flight tested what was to become the Harrier; in 1961 the final assembly and test flying of the Harrier and Hawk trainer aircraft came to Dunsfold.

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Spanish Harrier joseluiscel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joseluiscel/35193485382/

The Hawker Company, based at Kingston, used Dunsfold Aerodrome as its test flight centre for testing and also the refurbishing of Hawks, Gnats, Harriers, Hunters, Sea Hawks and Sea Furies…. The Dunsfold site was protected by the Official Secrets Act right up to the 1990s and so limiting public access…. In 1977 Hawker Siddeley became part of British Aerospace…. In 1999 British Aerospace announced its closure of operations in Dunsfold….

Before closing this blog post, I feel it is important to remember all those who lost their lives at Dunsfold; those who flew from the airfield during WW2 and also the losses that occurred in the years to follow…. In 1975 a test flight of a Hawker Siddeley encountered a bird-strike shortly after take-off….which resulted in an emergency landing. The ‘plane over-shot the runway and ended up hitting a car on the A281 – killing all 6 occupants…. The aircraft then went on to burst into flames in a field….all 9 passengers and crew survived….

In 1986 Deputy Chief test pilot Jim Hawkins was killed, whilst testing a developmental Hawk 200, when it crashed on to farmland…. In June 1998 a Hawker Hunter crashed prior to an airshow….the pilot John Davis was killed…. (BAE, in those days, used to hold a staff family fun day, which included an airshow – it attracted some 13,000 visitors….a predecessor perhaps to Wings & Wheels)….

The most recent crash was in 2014 but luckily no major injuries were incurred….

In 2002 the site was sold to the Rutland Group and Dunsfold Park Ltd was formed. Thanks to this present ownership we have the likes of Top Gear and Wings & Wheels….and not to mention the many other fabulous events and productions it hosts; plus it is still an operational airfield for private and business flights…. Controversially, its future hangs in the balance….because of the proposal to build 1,800 houses on it. Obviously, this is a very emotional issue for many, one that divides opinion. An impending decision from the Government will soon decide its fate….I wont say which side of the fence I am on – but I think you can probably guess….

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Moving mountains….

For me, the best time of the year has to be Spring…. New beginnings – the promise of Summer to come….anticipating long hot sunny days and warm, balmy evenings…. After enduring months of dreary winter weather, surely we deserve just this? OK – this particular summer started on a very positive note – soaring temperatures, unbroken spells of sunshine…but then – Well! What the hell happened? The jet stream apparently….

I can’t moan too much…. I am very fortunate, as I have just had a fabulous two-week holiday in a part of the World that has become very dear to me…. When I first met John, nearly 15 years ago, he introduced me to a region in the South of France, somewhere very special to him…. A place we have visited almost every year since…

In the early days we would all travel down together; leaving at a very anti-social hour to catch an early ferry from Dover to Calais. The car would be fully laden, every inch of available space utilised – one year we even transported a sofa bed on the roof….

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It was never the most comfortable of journeys, one that took the best part of 36 hours, including an overnight stop. John loves the drive – Jordan and I are less keen…. The final straw for me came the year we were unable to find somewhere to stay overnight and ended up ‘kipping’ in the car….only to breakdown the following morning, on the motorway just as we were about to cross the Millau Bridge… Not an ideal start to a holiday – especially as this particular one was rather special – it was our honeymoon…!

Nowadays, things are much more civilised. John still drives down – he heads off a couple of weeks before us, taking all our baggage and paraphernalia with him…. He’s happy – as he gets a bit of time to himself, does a few chores and unwinds…. Jordan and I then fly down to join him – leaving home at a very respectable 11am and arriving in Perpignan around 7 in the evening – where John meets us….

I love making the journey this way – it’s far more relaxed and I get to spend a little quality time with my son. Once landed, we’re off the plane, through passport control – and as we have no baggage – we’re out of the airport and into the car in a jiffy…. Perfect….!

Once we are out of the hustle and bustle of Perpignan, we’re on the road across the Plain of Roussillon to Llauro, a French Catalonian village, about half an hour’s drive away…. As the scenery rolls by I look out for the familiar landmarks, not least the majestic peaks of the mountain the is Le Canigou….

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It is perhaps its isolation that makes Canigou stand out so much – whereas other mountains are surrounded by massive peaks within their range, Pic du Canigou stands proudly alone…. At an elevation of 2,784m (9134ft) it was, until the 18th Century, thought to be the highest peak of the Pyrénées – (This accolade actually goes to Anéto in the Province of Huesca, at 3,404m or 11,168ft)…. By mountain standards,  Canigou is not a massive peak, it is only the 395th highest in France alone….but this does not make it any less impressive….

Visible from much of Southern Languedoc-Roussillon, Canigou lies west of Perpignan and about 10km, as the crow flies, from Prades, a small town in the Eastern Pyrénées – and is within the Parc Naturel regional des Pyrénées Catalanes (Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees). Canigou became a Listed Grand Site de France in 2002….

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Le Canigou Museumdetoulouse via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/museumdetoulouse/5953252959/

To the people of Catalan it is the sacred mountain – ‘La Muntanya Sagrada’. Canigou is a symbol of unity for those living on different sides of the border but sharing the same land….a physical and spiritual landmark…. For many, to climb it, is in fact a pilgrimage….

Many myths and legends surround the mountain and being the spiritual home of Catalan it is a place where French and Spanish Catalonians gather for certain celebrations. One such time being the Nuit de Saint-Jean – or the eve of Saint John’s Day – on the 23rd of June (which also coincides with the Summer Solstice). Saint John’s Day is the feast day of Saint John the Baptist – ‘Féte de la Saint-Jean’ – and is a Catholic celebration. On the night of the 23rd a fire is lit on the summit of Canigou – known as the ‘Flama del Canigó’ – the Ceremony of the Canigou Flame. A vigil is held throughout the night and from the flame torches are lit and relayed all across the Pyrenees and Catalonia, to light bonfires elsewhere…. Some sources say up to 30,000 fires are ignited from this flame….

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Flama del Canigo 2014 Ajuntament de Cubelles via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajcubelles/14503731145/

The weekend before Saint John’s Day sees the ‘Trobade’, which comes from the Catalan ‘Trobada’ – meaning ‘meeting’. Bundles of wood are taken to the summit where they are deposited – hidden within these bundles are messages of friendship, love and peace….

The first Sunday in August is also a notable date in the Canigou calendar – it is when the ‘Course du Canigou’ or Canigou Race takes place. It entails a 34km course, with a 2,180m climb, from the spa resort town of Vernet-les-Bains at the base of Canigou, to the summit and then back again…. Not for the faint hearted…!

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Vernet les Bains et le Pic du Canigou Thierry Llansades via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/llansades/19021462329/

Personally, I have yet to climb to the summit of Canigou, the furthest I have been is to the Chalet des Cortalets, one of the starting points often chosen by those making a more serious ascent…. My son puts me to shame in this respect, he and John climbed to the top a while ago, when Jordan was just eleven or twelve years old….

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The locals often say it is a savage mountain….the weather can be unpredictable, with fog and storms arriving with very little warning. In deed this was the case the time I visited, one moment it was glorious sunshine – the next we were amidst a ferocious thunderstorm…. So it is advisable to check the forecast thoroughly before attempting to make an ascent and to be aware the weather can change in an instant…. The best time to climb is June to September; it is wise to leave early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Some choose to spend the night before at one of the refuges, for example Cortalets, where  climbers and walkers can sleep, cook and refresh free of charge…. There is also a café at Cortalets….

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Massif du Canigou, Refuge de la Jasse des Cortalets Thierry llansades via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/llansades/35317991041/

On the North side of the mountain there are jeep tracks; it is possible to drive a certain distance before having to resort to foot…. There is more than one way to tackle the climb – a popular choice is from the afore-mentioned Chalet des Cortalets; at 2,150m it is roughly a 3.5 hour round trip to the summit and back. Another well-known route is from the Mariailles Refuge – this is, perhaps, for more seasoned adventurers as it is approximately an 8 hour round trip….

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From the base to between 800 to 1,000m a Mediterranean climate prevails; between 1,000 to 1,700m it becomes a mountain climate. Venture up further, between 1,700 and 2,300m a sub-alpine climate is found and then 2,300m to the top it is an alpine climate…. Generally snow is continuous over 1,800m from mid-November through to May….

On the way up there is plenty of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered; you never know you may just spot a marmot or a vulture and there are plenty of eagles to be seen soaring in the skies….

On reaching the summit there is a cross to be found – often decorated with the Catalan flag and always adorned with offerings from climbers and pilgrims alike…. There is also an orientation table….

The view from the top is that of the Pyrénées Mountain range, the Roussillon Plain and the Mediterranean Sea…. On a clear day, Barcelona can be seen, which is 200km south, as the crow flies….

It is said the first ascent of the mountain was made by Peter III of Aragon in 1285 – (there is some discrepancy, as recorded by Italian monk – Fra Salimbene – as to whether he actually made it to the summit). Legend has it the king claimed to have thrown a stone into a lake on the mountain…. From the water emerged a dragon, so vast that when it flew into the sky it obscured the sun, blotting out the daylight….

For those not brave enough to attempt the climb to the summit, Canigou has two ancient monasteries at its foot that are well worth a visit….Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Martin-du-Canigou….

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Abbaye Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa Phillipe Garcelon via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://flickr.com/photos/philgar/14819474690/

We visited Abbey-Saint-Martin last year. Quite a steep climb that zig-zags up the mountain side – but I’m glad we made the effort…. Built on a rocky peak, at the beginning of the 11th Century, by Count Guifred, it was a Benedictine Abbey for 800 years. It eventually fell into ruins but has since been restored and is now a spiritual retreat for members of the Communauté des Béatitudes – who are very welcoming to visitors, so during the holiday season it does tend to be quite busy…. On reaching the top, one simply has to take the path that climbs above the Abbey – to look down on what is one of the most stunning views imaginable….

The great-grandfather of Count Guifred was reportedly the founder of the Catalan dynasty. According to legend it was he who created the Catalan flag. Mortally injured in battle, he dipped his fingers into his own blood and drew them across his shield, creating four red stripes….he declared this was to become the ‘flag of Catalan’….

The first written references found relating to Canigou are in Latin from 949; ‘Montis Canigonis’ and ‘Monte Canigone’. The first written Catalan reference dates to 1300; ‘Canigó’ – from this comes the French – ‘Canigou’….

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Image taken from page 189of ‘Promenades dans les Pyrenees. (2e Serie.) [with illustrations.] The British Library via Foter.com / No known copy right restrictions Original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11220814564/
One of the greatest Catalan poets, Spanish writer Jacint Verdaguer (1845-1902), celebrates Canigou in his works. In 1877 he wrote ‘Canigó, L’Atlàntida’ – an epic poem consisting of ten books! In it he covers many wonders such as the creation of the Mediterranean Sea, the discovery of the Americas and the sinking of Atlantis…. Manuel de Falla’s opera, ‘Atlàntida’ is based upon it….

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Jacint Verdaguer, per Ramon Casas, 1901 Diari La Veu – http://diarilaveu.com via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diariveu/27458499185/

Canigou can only be described as one such wonder in itself….the way its majestic beauty dominates the Roussillon Plain…. Sometimes it looks peaceful and calm, with the sunlight glinting upon it…. Other times it looks moody and angry…. Occasionally it can’t be seen at all, as it is shrouded in mist and cloud…. Whatever mood Canigou is in – I, for one, never tire of looking at it….

At the end of each holiday it’s time to pack the car up again for the return journey. We all drive back together as I have not successfully managed to persuade John that it is absolutely necessary for Jordan and I to fly both ways…. It is an epic 18 hour non-stop door to door trip – and quite frankly a bit of a killer…. When we set off at first light I take one last look at Canigou – waking from its slumber – and I whisper ‘au revoir – until next time’…. I like to think Canigou bestows a little of its magic upon us, to see us home safe and sound….

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Accumulations….

Here in the UK about a third of us can be classified as ‘collectors’ – and we are far from being alone – all across the World there are like-minded people adding to their own accumulations; a collection of collections which is more diverse and varied than most of us can possibly imagine….from the simple, to the sublime, to even the outright bizarre….

For many of us, collecting is something that begins in childhood; it may be trading cards, Lego, stamps, Barbie dolls – whatever captures the young imagination…. For my son, in his infant days, it was an insatiable appetite for Thomas the Tank Engine – we still have a huge stash of die-cast models up in the loft (I think he’s quietly hoping they may one day increase in value)…. Later he moved on to Lego – I’m currently badgering him to do something about his hoard – it is surprising how much space it takes up….

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Lego photo credit Foter.com

The thrill of coming across that elusive Pokémon card or that hard to find action figure….that feeling of satisfaction…. Of course, those feelings don’t necessarily disappear upon reaching adulthood, very often we elevate to more elaborate things to amass – frequently with a passion and sometimes even with an obsession….

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Trading Cards Minhimalism via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/minhimalism/5516898844/

It is only over the last 150 years or so that everyday people have begun to collect. More disposable income, an increase in leisure time, the advent of consumerism and having more personal space has allowed the magpies amongst us to indulge our whims….

In 1892 the US Mint produced its first commemorative coins, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Europeans arriving in the Americas. Nowadays, the commemorative coin market is worth a mint in itself…. Obviously it’s not just coins that are produced purely for the collector; plates, figurines, stamps, soft toys, t-shirts – the list is endless…. Memorabilia is another area that often attracts – be it a Royal wedding or maybe a national event, people like souvenirs…. I doubt if there are many households in Britain that don’t have at least one mug, spoon or plate commemorating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee….

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God bless you maam Project 365(3) Day 11 Keith Williamson via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elwillo/6919761373/

Then there’s celebrity memorabilia; an autograph (or more likely these days a selfie with one’s favourite celeb), perhaps a lock of hair, underwear…. Yes! I’m serious – a quick on-line search might well reveal just how much a famous person’s knickers can fetch….

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Photo credit: express.co.uk

Household trade brands were quick to recognise the potential of producing relative paraphernalia – often involving trademark characters, such as Homepride’s Fred, Robinsons Gollies – or what about those Natwest Piggies so many of us aspired to – how could we ever forget those?…

Personally, I am old enough to remember a time before teabags became the norm…. I recall, as a nipper, hanging around excitedly when my mother opened a new packet of tea – waiting to see what the enclosed card would be…. I never took it as far as trying to complete a set – but plenty of people did – what a brilliant way for companies to ensure customer loyalty…. Cigarette cards were another biggie of the time – smoking may no longer be in vogue but those cards have managed to remain a mainstay in the world of collecting….

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Roses Cigarette Card Effervescing Elephant via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cr01/5584111357/

Sometimes a craze takes the Planet by storm; one particular one that springs to mind is the Beanie Baby phenomenon back in the late 90s…. At the time I had two gift shops and stocked the collectable little bean bags…. When a new delivery came in, very often it became what can only be described as pandemonium…. I have witnessed grown adults fighting over some of the more desirable of what were essentially intended to be children’s toys…. Such was the secondary market that certain Beanie Babies changed hands for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of pounds…. I feel a little embarrassed to admit I still have a large collection myself, taking up room at my mum’s house (and I have the audacity to complain about Jordan’s Lego)….

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Sometimes companies will collaborate and work in affiliation with each other; sticking with the Beanie Baby theme, Ty and McDonald’s did just that – with a range of Teenie Beanies produced for McDonald’s Happy Meals…. Collecting the free toys given away with Happy Meals is in itself a pastime enjoyed by many – but did you know, Mike Fountaine, owner of McDonald’s, has over 75,000 pieces of memorabilia from his World famous burger restaurant chain, occupying 7,000 sq ft of his home?…

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McDonald’s jun560 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/47741487@N06/34376741161/

Of course, collecting is a very personal thing – maybe it could be a preference for a certain kind of animal: cows, owls, cats, dogs, ducks etc etc…. Sometimes collections happen by accident…. Having acquired a spinning wheel, which resides in our sitting room, it has over the last few years become home to an array of various ornamental sheep…. Naturally, when it becomes known that someone has a collection of a particular item (or theme), they can expect to receive related gifts, when it comes to birthdays and other such occasions….

Soft toys are often a popular thing to collect, perhaps because they have a nostalgic link to our childhoods; characters such as Winnie the Pooh are always a favourite. Dolls such as Barbie or Raggedy Ann remain firm contenders – Troll dolls are another example; one collector, Sherry Groom, has more than 3,500…. Then there’s the occasional quirky collectors….one couple own 240 blow-up dolls (yes, you know the ones)….they like to dress them and treat them like members of the family….

Me, I’ve got a soft spot for teddy bears…. There’s not a room in this house that doesn’t have at least a couple of bears lurking somewhere…. My weakness is for those German bears with the tag in the ear….

To be honest though, I find it hard to resist any bear…. My collection will never rival that of Jackie Miley though, who has over 7,000 of our furry friends…. The other collection that appears to be growing in this household is themed around witches – there seems to be at least one of those in every room too…. now, I can’t think why – but there again I do believe there are those who consider I might be one….

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Sometimes people may accumulate things associated with their profession, be it of a humorous nature or more directly connected….maybe vintage tools of the trade or examples of the end product…. Former milkman, Paul Luke, boasts over 10,000 different types of milk bottle….

Men and women are equally likely to collect….occasionally crossing the stereotypical boundaries….  Perhaps the largest collection of women’s dresses belongs to German, Paul Brockman – who owns more than 55,000 of them – (although in his defence, he claims they are for his wife)…. Now, there’s one wardrobe I wouldn’t mind having a rummage through….

Housing large collections can cause a few headaches – especially for those living in the same space as the collector. Sure, there are those lucky enough to be able to devote an entire room to their passion but for many every available nook and cranny gets taken over. I wonder where Valli Hammer keeps 2,450 rubber ducks and where does UK’s David Morgan store his 137 traffic cones? Then there’s Russian Grigori Fleicher with over 1,300 toothbrushes and the Dutch collector who has more than 6,000 air-line sick bags….

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Sick Bag by Jill Hadfield Map of the Urban Linguistic Landscape via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mapurbanlinguisticlandscape/14229060841/

There is no end to the odd things people collect…. I found a huge quantity of shower caps acquired from hotels, whilst helping to clear my mother-in-law’s house…. My own mum used to save those little sticky labels that often come attached to individual fruit and vegetables…. She used to stick them to the inside of a kitchen cupboard door and over time built up quite a collage of them…. Collecting is such an individual thing, it can be whatever captures the heart – like Italian David Andreani, who has Coca Cola cans from nearly every country in the World; or Carsten Tews from Germany, with over 1,500 different mobile phones….

Then there is the more bizarre…. Graham Barker collects belly button fluff….his own admittedly; he began accumulating it in 1984 and now has over 21 grams of the stuff stored in jars…. Or how about a hoard of 24,999 toe nail clippings? Gathered for a scientific study in 2013, this has to be one of the more gruesome accumulations….

There are those who particularly like gruesome or even ghoulish…. Victorian surgeons’ equipment is an area some find interesting – but how about corpse tattoos? Tattoos are  removed from dead bodies, preserved with mummification and stretched so they become translucent and are presented mounted under glass…. Or what about murderabilia? Artwork produced by convicted serial killers….it might sound like a very odd thing to collect but it is extremely popular on-line….

Then there’s those who collect things that many of us may find very distasteful…. I used to work with a chap who had an interest in Nazi memorabilia. He used to wear a ring which he claimed was made from gold taken from the teeth of victims of the Holocaust – I personally found that absolutely horrifying and abhorrent….

On a lighter note – I naturally come into contact with many a collector through my line of work…. Being a dealer in vintage/antique I am often asked if I ever come across certain items and pieces – I have met some fascinating people and it never ceases to amaze me to the variety of things folk choose to collect…. For every person who collects something, from the man who acquires vintage cars to the woman who accumulates kitchenalia….they do it for a reason….it gives them pleasure. Some may not understand, how what to them is an ordinary and mundane object, can be another’s passion – take for example those who collect antiquities – I, for one, totally get that – (well, I would wouldn’t I)? I hope long may they continue to enjoy their passion – purely for selfish reasons – it gives me an excuse to continue indulging my own – one which I’m also lucky enough to call my job….

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Striding down the road to knowledge….

To me it seems such a short time ago that we moved into what was then a ‘building site’…. It was the beginning of September 2005; I had always been adamant we were not going to live in a half completed house and that the renovations had to be finished before Jordan started school….but so often these things don’t go according to plan…. That is how we found ourselves frantically moving into a semi-derelict cottage the day before Jordan took his place in the reception class of a local primary school…. A rather chaotic and stressful beginning to his academic life….

How the time has flown – this week Jordan’s school year will be celebrating the end of the exam season and their final year at secondary school, in the way that has become customary in the UK – with their school prom….

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CXO Prom 2017 danxoneil via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juggernautco/34492830791/

I have to admit, the school prom is a completely new experience for me too…. A fairly recent tradition that has taken the best part of a century to cross the Atlantic from the States…. I left school in the early 80s – I can’t remember if we even had a leaver’s disco, let alone a prom! How things have changed…. On Thursday evening Jordan and his school friends will be attending a formal dinner dance at a rather plush wine estate in Dorking…. His new suit, bought for the occasion, is hanging on the back of his bedroom door; he has a new shirt, tie, pocket-chief and shoes, to complete the ensemble…. I perhaps ought to think myself lucky I have a son, I can only imagine the preparations (and expense) for those with daughters….

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Day 23 …girls just wanna have fun! @RunRockPrincess via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thotmeglynn/4594197800/

With over 85% of schools now holding leaver’s proms in the UK, it is a massive business; over £100 million a year is collectively spent countrywide on the occasion – prom dresses/suits (hair, makeup, nails, accessories etc), transport, the venue…. Then there’s year books, leaver’s hoodies…. so it goes on…. Some parents can expect to fork-out up to £1,500! It is now a huge industry and this year is set to be the biggest yet….

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Standing beside limo jabzoog via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/capricious/122097511/

It is hard to think, that less than 150 years ago it was not even a legal requirement to attend school at all….

The oldest school in the UK, Kings School, Canterbury, was founded in Saxon times, in 597. During the Middle Ages schools were established to teach Latin grammar to boys from aristocratic families, mainly for those being prepared to enter the Clergy. During Tudor times, under Edward IV’s reign, the system was reformed, to provide ‘free grammar schools’. Theoretically, these were open to anyone – but the majority of poorer families could not spare their children, they were needed for work, their labour bringing in much-needed income to the family….

Up until the late 19th Century the majority of education was organised by the Church, concentrating mainly on religious studies and the teaching of Latin and Greek. The University of Oxford was set up in affiliation with the Church, shortly followed by Cambridge…. For many a child, the only education received was in the form of Sunday school; by 1831 some 1,250,000 children attended Sunday school – this is often seen as the beginning of the British school system as we know it….

Children in wealthier families may have had a governess who would have taught them at home until they were 10 years old. Boys would usually have gone on to public school, whilst girls might have continued education at home. Other children may have attended ‘charity schools’, (informal village schools); or they may have gone to ‘dame schools’. These were run by school mistresses and were basically private schools at the lower end of the scale – they were often very basic, teaching only spelling, occasionally maths and grammar, depending on the mistress’s own abilities…. Many of these lessons were conducted in the school mistress’s own home….sometimes a purpose-built building was available ( a few of these still survive today – a nearby village to here, Thursley, has one within its churchyard)…. Although given the name ‘charity schools’, they were not exactly that, they were not free of charge. In 1870 the Education Act stated schools could charge no more than 9 pence per week per child; it wasn’t until 1891 that free education became available….

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Victorian School Photograph at Frenchay Church of England School brizzle born and bred via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/8524545330/

It was actually in August 1833 that the State became involved in education, allocating money for schools to be built for poorer children in England and Wales – (Scotland had begun its programme in the 17th Century)…. In 1837 a bill for public education was presented to Parliament…. In 1880 the Elementary Education Act made it compulsory for 5-10 year olds to be educated (with the exception of blind or deaf children). This was not popular amongst many poorer families; tempted to keep their youngsters out earning, they risked a visit from the ‘Attendance Officer’…. Only when a child had reached the required satisfactory level of educational standard were they issued with a School Certificate, enabling them to work. If this certificate could not be produced by any working child under the age of 13, the employer in question could face heavy penalties….

In 1893, the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act raised the minimum leaving age to 11, this time including blind and deaf children on a voluntary basis, (by now specialist schools were being introduced). An amendment in 1899 raised the age to 12, a further amendment raised it to 13 and made attendance compulsory for blind and deaf children…. During the late Victorian era the grammar school curriculum was brought up to date but Latin was still taught….

In 1944 the school-leaving age became 15 and on 1st September 1972 it increased to 16…. Of course, things have changed again recently….unless taking up an apprenticeship, it is now a legal requirement to remain in full-time education until the age of 18….

The first exams for schools were introduced in 1858, the schools themselves demanding them as a way of determining achievement levels. Universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge were asked to produce them so boys could sit exams in their home towns (they may have been sat at the school or somewhere like a church or village hall)…. Girls were not permitted to sit exams until 1867….

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Girl Scholars 1895 Sunderland Public Libraries via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunderlandpubliclibraries/3680817889/

The first exams took place on the 14th December 1858. There were 2 levels; Junior (for the under 16s) and Senior (for 16s to 18s). Subjects included: English Language and Literature, History, Geography, Geology, Greek, Latin, German, French, Political Economy, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Music, Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Zoology and Religious Knowledge (although parents had the right to withdraw their child from this particular one)….

Examiners would arrive wearing full academic dress, carrying a locked box containing the exam papers. Nowadays, the papers are sent in advance, schools appoint their own invigilators and the papers are returned for marking. Even that is changing though; with the advent of ‘e-testing’, exam papers could well become a thing of the past….

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Day138/365 Kennysarmy via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysarmy/8721165482/

In 1944 the 11 plus exam was introduced, determining whether a child should attend a grammar, technical or secondary modern school for their senior education. It wasn’t until 1964 that comprehensive schools (a school for mixed abilities serving a specific catchment area) were proposed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government….

A General Certificate of Education (GCE), O-levels and A-levels were introduced in 1951 (replacing the School Certificate) – but these were mainly for those attending grammar schools. Some education authorities brought in their own exams for those not eligible to take GCEs and in 1965 the CSE was introduced as an alternative. O-levels and CSEs were then replaced by the GCSE in 1988. In 1995 a further set of tests, often referred to as SATs, were introduced for children aged 7, 11 and 14….

Back in those early days, exams took place over the period of a week….papers were sat morning, afternoon and evening. Nowadays, the exam season extends over 2 months in early Summer. Expectations of students were also very different in the beginning, vast amounts of information had to be learnt off by heart…. A more flexible approach now means students are allowed to demonstrate they can analyse information and show they can apply knowledge and understanding….

Modern day thinking takes the view that children should be encouraged to ask questions in order to learn. In days gone by this was not the case; the belief was that children had to be taught to behave in a correct manner; “children should be seen and not heard” – “spare the rod and spoil the child”. This ‘reasoning’ stemmed from religious views, the Christian belief that mankind was born with a tendency to sin and do wrong. Discipline in Victorian schools probably had to be tough due to large class sizes. Any form of physical punishment today is viewed as abuse; Victorians certainly had no such view – slipper, belt, cane – sometimes it really must have been a severe case of abuse, cruel adults unable to show restraint….both in school and at home…. Poland was the first country to abolish corporal punishment in schools, in 1783. It took English state schools until the late 1980s to follow suit (2000 for Scotland, 2003 for Northern Ireland) and in Britain’s private/public schools right up to 1999. Nowadays corporal punishment is not practised in any European country (although some parts of the World still use it)….

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Junior School Punishment Book theirhistory via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22326055@N06/3598627253/

There are those who would argue the cane should be brought back, a little discipline should be instilled. I don’t know, perhaps it is just good fortune – but having just had a child go through the state education system, up to the point of starting college, it has been nothing but an exceptionally positive experience. I have always admired the level of respect both teachers and pupils have shown to each other and there has been a genuine desire from the students to learn and do well…. The kids have worked so damned hard towards these exams; now they are over and prom night is upon us. I hope every single one of them has a fantastic time….they deserve it….X

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Happy School Kids ‘playingwithbrushes’ via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/playingwithpsp/1578887549/