Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Oxford weekend

On a rare weekend when my brother doesn't have to work on a Saturday we visited Oxford. The main attraction is probably the Ashmolean Museum and Art Gallery. Interesting but useless fact - Elias Ashmole, the founder of this collection, was born on the same street (Breadmarket Street) as Samuel Johnson in Lichfield.

The Ashmolean has recently re-opened after a massive refurbishment and has now literally doubled in size. The emphasis is now on the influence and interaction of Near Eastern and Western cultures. For example in the new main entrance a Boeotian (Macedonian cavalry) helmet is on display next to items from Egypt and Rome. I couldn’t see the several beautiful (probably only one of the few military objects that can be described as such) Greek Hoplite helmets I recall seeing on a previous visit.

Disappointingly the Roman room was temporary closed. The famous Cast Gallery is due to reopen this time next year. The Alfred Jewel is one particular highlight in the largest display of Anglo Saxon objects outside of the British Museum although when the Staffordshire Hoard goes on display this may change.

If you need to kill of a few brain cells after all this exposure to high culture, then there a number of interesting pubs nearby to the Ashmolean. First visited was the Eagle and Child. This pub is famous as the meeting of the literary group called the Inklings, members included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They met in the Rabbit Room, which at the time was the private room at the rear of the pub. The pub is full of character but unfortunately fails at the first hurdle - the beer. Even thought the pub displayed the Cask Mark my pint of real ale displayed clear sighs that the pipes hadn’t been cleaned for a while. Actually my brother pointed this out only after I’d nearly finished my pint. Not realising it, we emulated the Inklings by crossing the road to the Flag and Lamb pub. They switched venues in 1962.

The Flag and Lamb pub is a very welcoming pub serving when we were there Skinners from Cornwall and Palmers brewed in Bridport, Dorset. This seemed appropriate as the famous Dorset resident Thomas Hardy set a part of ‘Jude of Obscure’ in this pub.

If you’ve walked through Oxford then there is a far chance that you passed this church, St Michael at the North Gate. It is the city's oldest building. Originally built around 1000–1050, for a small fee you can climb the tower dating from 1040. The church and tower formed line with the town’s Saxon defense wall. William Morris, best remembered now for his textile designs married Jane Burden here in 1859.

View from the tower looking north towards the Ashmolean. and the site of  where the Oxford Martyrs were burnt at the stake.

View looking east to the Radcliffe camera (central domed building the distance)

The Oxford Martyrs Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, were tried for heresy in 1555 and were subsequently burnt at the stake for thir religious beliefs and teachings.

The martyrs were imprisoned at the former Borcardo prison near St Michael's church (at the north gate of the city walls).

The door of their cell in the tower of the church.

Rather than paying to go into one of the more famous colleges I’d recommend visiting Merton College
as it’s free to enter, the porters are friendly and helpful and there are numerous medieval buildings to look at, in particular the chapel and quad buildings.

Famous former Mertonians include:
John Wycliffe, theologian translator
Sir Thomas Bodley founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Roger Bannister first man in history to run the mile in less than 4 minutes
Kris Kristofferson, actor and musican
Frank Bough, dodgy British television presenter (remember him?)
T. S. Eliot, poet
J. R. R. Tolkien, author and Merton Professor of English

View taken from outside Merton College.

Date of visit: 12th December 2009

First thing Sunday I attended the Wargamer show in Birmingham, the last show of the year. I thought the show was disappointing with only a few big dealers in attendance. There were several empty gaming tables but this probably reflects the economic climate. I managed to walk round the show three times in less than twenty minutes (I like to browse).

I was quite restrained and 'only' bought a set of Foundry paints (buff for the ECW cavalry) and a box of the new Perry plastic WoTR range. These are a very nice with plenty of scope for modifications. I’m sure some people will moan about the having to assembly them (heads, limbs and weapons are separate) but these will give you almost limitless variations (slight exaggeration) especially when the metal range is launched. Picked up two books; one is a very interesting ACW book 'Battle of the Civil War - Generalship and Tactics in America 1861-65' illustrated by Peter Dennis which details the actual mechanics of a battle. It does exactly what it says on the tin. The other is Warlord Armies by Tim Newark with plenty of illustrations by artists like Angus McBride and Richard Hook. Next show I hope to attend will be at Alumwell in March.

Friday, 11 December 2009

ECW Metal Armoured Pikemen No.2, 3 & 4

I've now painted the reminder metal pikemen that will form part of my Newcastle’s Whitecoats regiment. The metal pikemen provide a necessary degree of variation to the blocks of pike. There are four figures in the metal pikeman `range`. An example of No. 1 can be seen here.

Metal Armoured Pikeman No.2
"An Armoured Pikeman carrying his pike at Porte, prior to bringing it down to charge." (All quotes are taken from the Warlord Games website.)

Metal Armoured Pikeman No, 3
"A classic front rank pikeman in back and breast, and tassets to protect his thighs. He has slung his helmet and has a sash suggesting a file leader."

Metal Armoured Pikeman No. 4
"Our Pikeman here is featured in the classic 'Charge for Horse' position, keeping low so the pike is presented at a horses chest, whilst he has his sword ready drawn. ...he is depicted shouting, and wears back, breast and tassets and a rather old fashioned style helmet."

This leaves me with only the remaining final command group left. Hopefully these should be completed by next week (if I can avoid shopping and the massive German market in Birmingham, that is).

Latest Newcastle's Whitecoats countdown:

64 down, 3 to go.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Marquis of Newcastle

Before starting work on these miniatures from Warlord Games I had a relatively limited knowledge of the English Civil War. One of the highlights of this hobby for me is uncovering details about the people involved, their life and times (reliving my childhood is a bonus). Their influence on history often still resonates through to the modern age.

The remarkable events of the English Civil War were determined by some of the extraordinary characters of the 17th century. One such individual was William Cavendish, the Marquis of Newcastle.

Newcastle was probably what we would now think of as a stereotypical Cavalier. He was born in 1593 into a wealthy northern family, being the grandson of the famous Bess of Hardwick. He could be described as a polymath as he was an outstanding swordsman, an amateur architect; he also wrote music, plays and poems to an accomplished level. During his lifetime he was known as an expert horseman and his riding school at Bolsover Castle still survives today. He knew the philosophers Hobbes and Descartes, the painter Van Dyck and was a patron and friend to Ben Jonson.

He was a man of principle but also surprisingly proud and sensitive. When the Bishops' Wars broke out in 1639, Newcastle lent the King the vast sum of £10,000 for his campaign and raised a volunteer unit known as the Prince of Wales' Troop. When he joined the army he came under the command of the Earl of Holland (this Holland is an area in south-east Lincolnshire). When these troops were deployed at the rear of the cavalry, Newcastle took offence and challenged Holland to a duel. Only the intervention of the King himself prevented any bloodshed.

Another example which gives us a helpful insight into the man is when after the battle of Adwalton Moor in June 1643, Newcastle's troops captured the wife of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Rather than use this to his advantage Newcastle had the lady escorted safely back to Hull to join her husband.

Newcastle was appointed Lord General (commander-in-chief) of the Northern Army in June 1642 mainly, I imagine, because of his contacts and money. Although generally lacking martial experience Cavendish was smart enough to surround himself with component professional military figures including Sir Marmaduke Langdale,George Goring and Lord Eythin, although his Lieutenant-General of Ordnance, William Davenant, was actually a poet.

It was Newcastle’s success in the northeast England against Lord Fairfax and his son that encouraged Parliament to form an alliance with the Scottish Covenanters. It is interesting to note that at Marston Moor he didn’t actually have any command duties. In fact during the battle Newcastle fought as a gentleman volunteer but it is thought that he was the last Royalist of high rank to leave the field.

A proper account of the battle can be found here and a few pictures of the battlefield here.

Prince Rupert partly blamed Newcastle for the defeat and there is some justification in this. It would appear that Rupert had intended to attack the numerical superior Parliament forces before they had time to organise themselves. Newcastle’s troops had arrived late because they had been looting the Parliamentarian baggage train left behind after the siege of York. Rupert’s aggressive Swedish style of fighting had previously proved effective against superior forces at Newark and it’s worth remembering that several Parliament commanders, including Fairfax himself, had left the field believing that they had lost before the tide of battle had finally turned in Parliament’s favour.

Reading about the man and considering that he had invested vast sums of money, fought for two years and had received little or no support from either the King, or indeed Prince Rupert, it is not too surprising that after the battle Newcastle decided enough was enough. This proud man could not, and would not, face the humiliation in court of losing his army so Newcastle resigned his command. Along with his family he left for the continent from Scarborough in self imposed exile with a party of 70 including Lord Eythin.

After the Restoration in 1660 Newcastle returned to England and was quickly invested as a Knight of the Garter. Later in 1665 he was created Duke of Newcastle. William Cavendish spent the last peaceful years of his life breeding horses and writing. He died, aged 84, at Welbeck Abbey on Christmas Day 1676 and was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey.

Latest Newcastle's Whitecoats countdown:
56 down, 8 to go.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Scots Frame Gun, Perry Miniatures

In between my painfully slow painting a legion of plastic EWC figures this small artillery piece from Warlord Games kept catching my eye. I believe it would be more accurately described as an organ or volley gun rather than a frame gun. From what I’ve read the frame gun, designed by Sir Alexander Hamilton, would be mounted on a wheeled frame similar to a tripod. Either way this would have been a pretty unpleasant anti-personnel light field gun.

The figures are nicely sculpted and paint up well. The figure shaking his fist has a face that is a picture of glee after delivering a successful volley.

The crew figures have been painted in subdued colours. Grey seems to have been the colour of choice for the Scots. I gave the officer a more slightly more colourful but still relatively plain blue line white coat.

After I’d glued the small barrel (from the Perry farmhouse set) to the base I noticed illustrations that show that it should be leather lined with a pull string making access easy and safe. I’ll try this next time using Green Stuff to replicate the effect. At least I’ve painted the straps to resemble rope rather than metal to decease to the likely hood of sparks.

I normally apply a first coat of high gloss then a semi-matt second coat so the figures don’t resemble Britains traditional lead soldiers. I remember reading years ago that high gloss varnish offers better protection than matt varnish although I don’t know this is true; matt varnish simply has additional flattening agents added which disperse incident light rays.

Whilst I was applying the final coat of matt varnish the spray can spluttered and died. 'No problem' I thought, I'll buy another can. However after I'd done this I had a mini crisis after applying the matt varnish. Left overnight I found the set looking like it had been dusted down with talcum powder. After a few choice Anglo-Saxon  expletives I decided to look for a remedy (if there was one) using the power of the internet. One forum suggested completely stripping the figures and starting again (no chance). I settled down and tried several different methods on various small areas of the figures.

Several sources suggested applying another coat of varnish, I again sprayed the figures with both gloss and matt versions but this made the problem worse. I then applied both matt and gloss varnish by brush to see if this would work - nope. Deciding to remove rather than add I then tried white spirit but this made little impact. Finally I used a cotton bud dipped in real turpintine on a small section and this seemed to work. Eventually and carefully I removed the offending cloudy layer. As acylic paints are water based and varnish is oil  based (I assume) the painting was unaffected (thankfully) avoiding a 'wicked witch of the west' effect - "I'm melting, I melting". If that would have happened I'd have thrown the figures out the window. The turps dissolved the plastic pot so I won't be using this on plastic miniatures.

I will be eventually be adding this little lot to my future Hamilton's Scottish forces.

Latest Newcastle's Whitecoats countdown:
39 down, 25 to go.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Worcester, Worcestershire

Another day trip to Worcestershire, this time to the city of Worcester itself.

The imposing cathedral contains a number of historical highlights including:
  • Chapel for the Worcestershire Regiment,
  • The tomb of the traditional historic baddie King John (boo hiss).
  • Prince Arthur's impressive grave. He was the older brother to the future Henry VIII.
  • 1st Earl of Dudley is buried in the east end of the cathedral.
  • Take a look at undercroft, largely unaltered since it was built.
  • There is a handsome bronze memorial to William, 2nd Duke of Hamilton biog here in the chancel. 
On the 3rd September the Duke was shot in the thigh during an attack on the Parliament guns at Perry Wood to the east of the city.  Hamilton died on the 12th from complications after refusing to have the leg removed by one of Cromwells surgeons. He died in the Commandery which was recently refurbished for £1.5m and now is truly awful. An empty shell. Dreadful. The audio guide will take you on several tours but if museum believes that people will repeatedly return to hear all the guides then I think they are gravely mistaken.

In the city there is an excellent regimental museum located above the town library,Worcestershire Regiment. The 'main' town museum was very disappointing but the regimental museum more than makes up for it. A number of highlights, for me at least, are the lifesize waxworks depicting soldiers from 29th and 36th Regiments, later the 1st and 2nd Battalions, of the Worcestershire Regiment.

You are greeted by the famous 18th C black musicans of the 29th Regiment of Foot, more details here

Further along you'll meet a soldier from the Peninsular Wars here

I was surprised to see numerous mentions of Dudley, the reason turned out that the Earl of Dudley was the Commander of the Yeomanry.
Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars were involved in the last great charge of the British cavalry at Huj, in November 1917 (more info here).

Earl of Dudley provided all the yeomanry with swords and other equipment to convert the infantry back into cavalry out of his own pocket.

The Yeomanry were last called out in 1842, against some of Dudley's striking miners and iron-workers.
When you consider that the miners were lucky to live in a building like this.

and the Earl of Dudley lived here, Witley Court (the church on the left was his chapel). it, for me, takes the gloss off the glamour of the Yeomanry. To give some balance at least the Earl did build a large hospital in the area.

Back to Worcester, Greyfrairs, a large medieval National Trust property that was thought be be part of the nearby priory (hence the name) but is now known be have been a private merchants home. It is very easy to imagine the soldiers literally running for their lives up this street after the battle of Worcester in 1651.

Local legend has it that Charles ran up this street out the back door of one building as Parliament troops stormed through the front door in a Brian Rix farce style. the building is now a restaurant next to the Swan with Two Nicks pub (very cheap beer). This pub, formerly just 'The Swan', dates as an inn from 1764. The building however, dates at least from 1551. In 1780, it was known as the Little Swan. In 1865, the veterans of the Battle of Waterloo held a fifty years anniversary of the great battle at the inn.

On the same street is the spiral entrance to the modern multi-storey car park which always reminds me of a massive WWII German observation post. I’m a fan of modern architecture (even the concrete stuff) but how anyone managed to get planning permission to build this structure in this particular street baffles me.

Further up Friar Street is the Cardinal Head pub which serves unusual Austrian beers. Nice but expensive way to end a visit to the city.

Pershore, Worcestershire

Another day trip, this time to the small Worcestershire market town of Pershore.

This small Worcestershire market town is located between Worcester and Evesham. We ended up there by mistake after taking a wrong turning but I'm glad we did as it's a very attractive place.

The main attraction is the old abbey buildings. The abbey was dissolved 1539 and the nave was demolished and sold off but the rest of the building was bought by the town and became the parish church.

View of the abbey buildings in what would have been the cloister. The flying buttresses were added in the 17th century after part of the north transept collapsed. The nave originally would have stretched well beyond the edge of the photo to the left

The interior of the cathedral is still quite awe inspiring.

16th C Savage family memorial.

Originally located in the nave and therefore outside, this effigy was moved inside to protect it from elements. This unknown knight is believed to have been a crusader in service of the abbey. If you look closely at the right armpit of this knight can may notice the three buckles used to secure the front and back armour. As far as I know this is the only example of this fixing method shown in existence.

Detail of hunting horn and mail mitten.

Near to the abbey buildings is St. Andrew's church. I noticed this detail on the tower. I suppose if you asked a medieval stonemason what the largest, most dangerous animal he know he might have replied "a bear" - give it a pair of wings and you have a nasty looking dragon. Looked like it was wearing a muzzle, well you can never be too careful with dragons!

Along the main street of Pershore we stopped off for a swift half at a real ale pub called the Brandy Cask. As we were leaving we noticed a plaque which stated that during the war a Wellington bomber crashed into the building killed five crew members. It was literally a sobering moment to read the info on the plaque.

A little further down the same street and and just outside the town is the old Pershore bridge. The modern (1920's) bridge was built because the older structure couldn't cope with the traffic. The older bridge is also the site of an interesting episode during the English Civil War.

The original bridge was partly demolished by Royalist soldiers on the 6th June 1644 with the lost of 40 men (seems an unusually high number to me but that's what the info panel said) including a certain Major Bridge. In fact if you look closely at the largest central arch (the part destroyed) it is possible to see that it is a different design and colour to the other arches. I tempted to try and build a model of this bridge but that would have to wait until next year.

Information board by bridge. There are several concrete blocks scattered near to the bridge. These are actual WWII anti-tank obstacles .

Hopefully these blog posts go a little way in showing that whenever you venture of the off the main tourist areas you'll be richly rewarded with little gems like Pershore.

Date of visit:7th November 2009

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Lichfield, Staffordshire

Brief update after a week off work through illness so very little painting has been done. After recovering I have been on a number of historical day trips with my brother. First up is the small Staffordshire city of Lichfield, notable for its three-spired cathedral and as the birthplace of Dr. Johnson.

Several highlights of the cathedral include:

Trinity stained glass window shows the rebuilding work undertaken to repair the centre spire which collapsed under bombardment during the war.

Located in the Chapter House is a original copy of the the Lichfield gospels, written 50 years before the more famous Book of Kells, saved after a local hid the book to prevent it ended up as fire lighter dring the siege. With this link you can look more closely at the book - St Chads Gospels Lichfield cathedral and even turn the pages.

Also in the chapter house is the Lichfield Angel, recently discovered (2003) and is a remarkable survival of early medieval sculpture. The carved limestone panel, which is dated to around 800 A.D still displays traces of the orginal paint.

Near the entrance to the charter house there are numerous markings either caused by iconoclasts or by Civil War troops sharpening their swords. The most obvious marks are on columns.

On the opposite side of the chancel and easily missed but worth seeing is Richard Bagot’s memorial (just to the left of the Trinity window). Although written in latin it describes how he was a "victim of the recent conspiracy of fanatics". He fought at Nasby and but later died of a gunshot wound to his right arm.
Richard Bagot's details - Sealed Knot

Further along is the Staffordshire regiment chapel with its unique (as far as I’m aware) South African memorial names are written on Zulu shields.

38th/Staffordshire Regiment chapel. Note the miniature Zulu shields attached to the metal railings. The soldiers names are actually written in the bands.

Names of those soldiers from the regiment killed during the Zulu Wars are written on the actual shields laces.

A few hundred yards outside the cathedral is another site connected with the siege.
View of the house on Dam Street outside which Lord Brooke was shot on St Chad's day (2nd March) 1643.

View from doorway of Brooke's house looking back towards the Cathedral with its rebuilt central spire. It wasn't a 'lucky shot' either by John Dyott, the Royalist sniper, using a fowling piece. A soldier who went to Brooke's assistance was also shot and wounded.

Remains of Lichfield 'castle'. Only diehard fans of castles would find this interesting (hence why I took this photo). This located further up the road on the right hand side in the above photograph. This is actually the base of the gatehouse which was being attacked with the demi culverin gun 'Black Bess'. Brooke was checking progress of this area of attack when he was shot.

Nearby in the Lichfield heritage centre contains the Blithfield Sallet, supposedly worn by a Richard Bagot. Apparently he fought and died for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth (1485).This family heirloom was later used as a funeral helm, hence an enlarged plume hole to accommodate a funeral crest. It is one of only three medieval German style sallets in Britain; the others are in Coventry and Durham

You can still drink in the hotel where Lillingstone's formed his regiment, the King's Head Tavern in Bird Street in 1705. In 1751 the regiment was numbered the 38th.

Samuel Johnson's birthplace musuem is definitely worth visiting if you're in the area (and it's free!) . And no, I'm not on commission with the local tourist board. 

Newcastle's Whitecoats countdown:
36 down, 28 to go.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Sconce Update - Part 4

The construction of this bastion is now finished. This has been primed black so now it only has to be painted and propped.

Close up of 'damaged section'. The breach is big enough to allow the 40mm square to pass through it. If, and more importantly, when I have the time (2011'ish I reckon)  I'll make a damaged corner bastion. Now back to the infantry.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sconce Update - Part 3

Just a quick work in progress to show latest work on the sconce - work has been delayed over the weekend because I've run out of coffee stirrers. Hopefully I should be able to pick so up on Tuesday when I nextg visit the gym).
Perry's Demi-Culverin (ECW 13) shown to give a sense of scale.

Plan view of bastion (ever so slightly out of focus)

Detail of wall section. I wanted to create crenellations and realised that it would be easier to create these using barbeque sticks rather than trying to do this using foam board.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

ECW Whitecoats update

Blimey I've actually managed to paint some more figures this week! Must be all this sunshine we're enjoying at the moment.

Via the internet I’ve been able to look with more detail into the history of Marquis of Newcastle himself. William Cavendish was a fascinating character. The more you read about him the more remarkable he seems but I’ll post further information when I’ve completed the regiment.

A couple of weeks ago I received several items from GMB Flags (currently no website unfortunately) and, as usual I wasn’t disappointed. The Osprey illustration of the Whitecoats at Marston Moor show them carrying a red flag with small white crosses. From GMB’s catalogue description I chose ECWP41 and it was exactly what I wanted. I’ll be painting the flag bearer from the metal Pike and Shotte command pack to show him carrying the plain red Colonial’s flag (easiest one to paint!)

After numerous recent purchases the Whitecoat regiment will now consist of :
6 x 4 musketeers = 24
9 x 4 pikemen = 36
1 command group = 4

Total = 64 (yep, that figure has increased)

Last picture taken with flash.

The final set up of the figures will be different  from that shown above. I intend to mix the figures wearing the berets with figures sporting more regular head wear although they will of course be wearing white coats.

Again apologies for the quality of the images. One of the problems with taking photographs on a basic mobile phone I suppose. It doesn’t help that they are taken under artificial light as I now leave home before sunrise and return after sunset. Hopefully I’ll have completed a few more figures by the weekend when I can take better images in natural sunlight.

I'll also managed to 'liberate' a number of wooden stirrers from a well known coffee range. They are are ideal 5 x 2mm by 160mm (approx) long. I plan on using these as boarding on the sconce project so hopefully I'll be the advance that project as well over the coming week.

Whitecoats countdown:
21 down, 43 to go.

Friday, 9 October 2009

ECW Metal Armoured Pikeman No.1 of 4

First off from the pack of Armoured Pikemen I bought earlier in the year and now a member of Newcastle’s Whitecoats regiment. The metal pikemen provide a necessary degree of variation to the blocks of pike.

It’s easy to see why a number of people still prefer metal figures as there seems to be more detail and definition than I’ve seen with any plastic minis.

Picked up the Fire and Brimstone set from Warlord Games this morning. They actually arrived Wednesday morning but I didn’t notice the delivery amidst the junk mail. I had inquired about them at the Derby show last week but one of the Warlord chaps had forgotten to bring them along. I ‘purchased’ them there as they said they would send them post free (which is nice). Decent customer service can make a vast difference to someone’s perception of a company.

Three figures in this set include: Cleric, Ranter and a Preacher. The Preacher’s face may be difficult to paint as he has his nose in the Bible. The ranter looks familiar as I’m sure his direct descendants hanging round in Dudley town centre on Saturday mornings.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sconce - Part 2

Quick update on the sconce project.
Apologies for the quality of the photographs, they were taken this morning before the sun had reached any of my rooms.
I'm pleased with the overall scale of the fort, the dimensions look 'right' although I'm still not sure about the height of the parapet yet. I'm undecided whether to have the gun ports cut into the parapet or leave the walls low so the cannon can point in any direction. Left low I could place gabions (purchased a few single items from Front Rank recently)inside to protect the guns and crew. Gun ports would be harder to make but they would look more impressive. I am tempted to have a go at the gun ports as time isn't a factor with this project.

The connecting wall section isn't quite right. I've been a bit too heavy handed with my craft knife as you can see with the figure base overhanging the parapet. I'm tempted to use this as a damaged section.