History and architecture

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The stone cross and medieval statue of St Paulinus at Lady's Well, Northumberland

What are holy wells?  

Holy wells are springs, pools, or small bodies of water associated with spiritual or religious beliefs and practices. Although some holy wells are said to be guarded by water nymphs or fairies, the vast majority have Christian associations.

The Sunken Garden at Acorn Bank, Cumbria

Who created the gardens at Acorn Bank? 

Acorn Bank is a sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Westmorland gentry house surrounded by walled gardens containing orchards, nationally important herb garden and Italianate sunken garden.

Tryfan, the Glyder Fach & Y Garn, Carneddau, Snowdonia, Wales

Who was Gerald of Wales? 

Gerald of Wales (1146-1223) was a secular clerk and prolific author of Latin texts ranging from saints’ lives to natural history.

Maid's Room at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire

What were Georgian and Victorian servants’ rooms like? 

Servants were a vital part of every country house. Our image of them is based on the kitchens and other service rooms, yet we rarely consider the rooms in which servants lived and slept – our picture is dominated by their work, not the people.

William III in the Temple of Worthies at Stowe, Buckinghamshire

What was the Glorious Revolution? 

Between 1688-89, England ended up ousting her king, aided by foreign invasion. Why did it happen?

Bardic meeting at Caernarfon c. 1894

How do you become a Welsh bard? 

There's a well-known story about Cadair Idris, a mountain in southern Snowdonia: if you sleep one night on its summit, it's said you'll wake either a bard or a madman. However, bards – or beirdd as they're usually called in Welsh – are not just figments of folklore.

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Jewish stories at our country houses 

Being Jewish meant different things at different times. Taken together, the Jewish stories in our country houses speak to the integration of Jews into nineteenth and twentieth century British society, and the obstacles they encountered.

A detail of Humphry Repton's Red Book for Sheringham Park, 1812

What were Humphry Repton’s Red Books? 

The famous ‘Red Books’ were produced by the landscape designer Humphry Repton for his clients to showcase his designs. They were small, filled with handwritten text and watercolours, and bound with the red Morocco leather that gives them their name.

View of the West Face of the house and Ha-ha at Berrington Hall, Herefordshire

What is a ha-ha? 

A ha-ha is a type of sunken fence that was commonly used in landscaped gardens and parks in the 18th century. The ha-ha gave the viewer of the garden the illusion of an unbroken, continuous rolling lawn, whilst providing boundaries for grazing livestock.

An extract from Thomas Carlyle's manuscript of The French Revolution at Carlyle's House, 24 Cheyne Row, London

How did the French Revolution affect England? 

The French Revolution (1789 – 1799), had a deep and lasting impact upon the whole of Europe, profoundly challenging traditional notions of authority and political power.

Chromolithograph of The signing of the Armistice, November 11th 1918 by Pollard

What was the Armistice? 

The Armistice was the ceasefire that ended hostilities between the Allies and Germany on the 11th of November 1918. The Armistice did not end the First World War itself, but it was the agreement which stopped the fighting on the Western Front.

A view over Housesteads Fort at Hadrians Wall

What is archaeology? 

Archaeology is the study of human society and life in the past through physical remains.

Looking towards the sea, over the heather-covered ground at Dunwich Heath, Suffolk

Why were some medieval villages deserted? 

There are over 2000 known sites of deserted medieval villages in England. Some villages were depopulated gradually by disease, enclosure or depleted local resources, others destroyed for aesthetic reasons by landowners, and others swept away by the effects of a changing climate.

The entrance to Smallhythe Place, Kent

Why does LGBTQ heritage matter? 

LGBTQ heritage is everywhere. Yet stories about Britain’s national and cultural heritage tend to reflect a ‘heterosexual past’; ‘queer’ history and heritage has been blighted by criminal persecution and moral condemnation of gender and sexual nonconformity.

A 16th century stained glass panel with the figure of a pilgrim at Packwood House

What is a pilgrimage? 

A pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination of significance. The means or motivations in undertaking a pilgrimage might vary, but the act, however performed, blends the physical and the spiritual into a unified experience.

Henry VIII depicted in 16th century stained glass at The Vyne.

What was the Reformation? 

The Reformation was a European-wide conflict over the hearts and minds of Christendom which gave rise to the distinction between Catholic and Protestant.

Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 1908 by Dean and Son Ltd.

What is the Peerage? 

The Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom is comprised of the Lords Spiritual - the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and twenty-four other bishops - and five ranks of secular peers.

Hercules in the gardens at Powis Castle, Wales

Who were the Classical heroes? 

In Classical mythology, heroes were often the descendants of gods. The Italian Renaissance rediscovered the artistic appeal of such mythological figures, and this movement widely influenced British art and architecture from the sixteenth century onwards.

A view of the Clive Museum and Tipu Sultan's palanquin at Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales.

What was the East India Company? 

The East India Company was probably the most powerful corporation in history. At its height, it dominated global trade between Europe, South Asia and the Far East, and conquered and colonised modern day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma.

Runnymede, Surrey

Why was Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede? 

Runnymede – from Old English runieg (council island) and mede (meadow) – was the location for the sealing of the Magna Carta by King John on the fifteenth of June 1215, with the 1225 version becoming the definitive version.

A statue of Winston and Clementine Churchill

Who was Clementine Churchill?

Born in 1885, Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill (née Hozier) was far more than just Winston’s wife. She was a keen promoter of social and humanitarian causes, often in defiance of Winston, including women’s rights.

Standing Stones at Avebury

What is a World Heritage Site? 

A World Heritage Site is a cultural or natural landmark that has been recognized by UNESCO due to its universal value to humanity, both in the present and for future generations.

Mary Victoria Leiter, Lady Curzon (1870-1906) by Fransz Seraph von Lenbach

Who were the titled Americans? 

Over 300 British aristocrats married American women between 1870 and 1914. While popular perception understands these marriages as arranged trades of titles for dollars, this explanation is correct for only a few exceptional cases.

Painting of the Duchess of Sutherland

Who was Harriet, duchess of Sutherland? 

Harriet Elizabeth Georgiana Leveson-Gower [nee Howard], duchess of Sutherland, was born on 21 May 1806 into the Howard family, earls of Carlisle, one of the great Whig families of the age.

King George V and Rudyard Kipling

What was the Imperial War Graves Commission? 

The Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) was the British institution that dealt with burying and commemorating First World War dead and missing soldiers. Today it is responsible for cemeteries and memorials of both World Wars in over 150 countries.

South side of red bricked baroque hall

What does ‘baroque’ mean? 

Originating in Rome, the baroque was a cultural movement in Europe throughout the seventeenth century. Baroque style can be seen across many forms of art including painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature and theatre.

Detail of an early fourteenth century Italo-Byzantine triptych

How did Byzantium influence the British Isles? 

The Byzantine Empire was a strong power for more than 1000 years. Its influence was felt across the world, including the British Isles.

A handcrafted replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet

What are the Beasts of Battle? 

‘Beasts of Battle’ is a recurring image in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Old Norse (Viking) poetry. The three beasts are the raven, the eagle, and the wolf, who feast on the bodies of the slain.

Wooden statue of a policeman, 1979. Maker unknown

When was the modern police force invented?  

Starting with the Metropolitan Police in 1829, the nineteenth-century saw the establishment of ‘modern’ police forces across the country.

The Egyptian temple in Egypt at Biddulph Grange

What is Egyptomania? 

The term Egyptomania refers to the enthusiasm for everything that is related to ancient Egypt. Although Egyptomania has been seen in many places and at many times, several peaks are especially noteworthy.

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson in Turkish Dress by Henry Wyndham Phillips

Who was John Gardner Wilkinson? 

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875) was a nineteenth-century traveller and scholar. He was a pioneer of Egyptology, the modern science devoted to the study of ancient Egypt.

Petworth House from the Lake: Dewy Morning, painting by JMW Turner, c. 1810

What is Romanticism? 

Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement which took place in Europe between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries.

William John Bankes by George Sandars

Who was William John Bankes? 

William John Bankes was one of nineteenth-century Britain’s most extravagant collectors of art and antiquities, which he amassed at his country estate at Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

The Palladian Bridge, and house (not owned by the NT) in the distance, at Prior Park Landscape Garden, Bath, Somerset

What is Palladianism? 

Palladianism was an approach to architecture strongly influenced by the sixteenth century architect Andrea Palladio. Characterised by Classical forms, symmetry, and strict proportion, the exteriors of Palladian buildings were often austere. Inside, however, elaborate decoration, gilding and ornamentation created a lavish, opulent environment.

Engraving in the collection at Parke Estate, Devon

Why were local fairs important? 

The local fair was a site for trade, celebrating community identity, and welcoming outsiders to a town or village. There were hundreds of fairs across Britain, often occupying the same site on the same date for centuries.

The octagonal dovecote in the Walled Garden at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

What is a dovecote? 

Dovecotes are structures designed to house pigeons or doves. They are also referred to as ‘culverhouses’ (English), ‘columbaria’ (Latin) and ‘doocots’ (Scots).

'The Beauties of Stow' c. 1750, part of the library collection at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

When were country house guidebooks invented? 

Britain’s first country house guidebooks were published in the middle of the eighteenth century, primarily because of the increasing – and unprecedented – numbers of tourists.

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

What happened in a medieval abbey church? 

Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the late 1530s, hundreds of monasteries and nunneries were founded across Great Britain. The Rule of St Benedict set out guidelines for their life, including the daily routine of prayer for both the living and dead.

Coloured lithograph of Father Returns by Maude Goodman

How new is the 'modern dad'? 

When we think about fathers in the past and present, many of us assume that the ‘hands on dad’ is an entirely modern invention. However, historians have shown that there have always been loving and caring fathers.

Barras Nose headland, Tintagel, North Cornwall

Who was King Arthur? 

Historians and archaeologists fiercely debate the possibility of a ‘real’ King Arthur.

Panoramic view of Levant Mine near St Just in Cornwall

What is the Anthropocene? 

The Anthropocene is the idea that the Earth is entering a new epoch in its geological history, in which human beings have for the first time become the primary agents of change on a planetary scale.

Close view of towers and turrets at Wray Castle, Cumbria

What does Gothic Revival mean? 

The ‘Gothic’ is a style associated with late medieval English art and architecture; its many revivals are attempts to style literature, architecture, visual and decorative art, landscape design, and music after its features.

A sunken lane on Dunstable Downs

What are sunken lanes? 

Sunken lanes are roads or tracks that are incised below the general level of the surrounding land, often by several metres. They are formed by the passage of people, vehicles and animals and running water, and are often hundreds of years old.

Geese on water with the Palladian Bridge in the background at Stowe

Who were the Whigs? 

The Whigs were an association of aristocratic men who in the 1670s demanded the exclusion of Charles II’s Catholic brother, James, from the royal succession.

One of a pair of Coade stone sphinxes at the south front portico of the house at Croome Park

What is Coade stone? 

First marketed at the turn of the 1770s, Coade stone was a remarkable new building material. Using a recipe which was not fully understood until the 1990s, its makers claimed to have produced the first ever ‘artificial stone’. Tough and hard-wearing, it offered new opportunities for fine-detailed decoration. Just as extraordinary as the stone was the person who sold it: Eleanor Coade, one of the few women to be acknowledged as a major influence on eighteenth century architecture.