Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rochester's Lightning on the Move

The English Electric Lightning which has stood at the gates to British Aerospace site at Rochester Airport for many years is currently being dismantled prior to a move to an new home at Bentwaters Cold War Museum.

The aircraft ZF581 was originally built in December 1967 as a Lightning F53 for the Royal Saudi Air Force.

It returned to the UK in 1986 and was eventually rescued from the scrap heap by British Aerospace in 2000. They spend a number of years restoring the aircraft before placing it on the gate at Rochester. The aircraft currently sports the livery of 56 Squadron Royal Air Force.

British Aerospace claim they can no longer afford the cost of maintenance which is apparently the reason for the move to Bentwaters.

The Lightning is widely acknowledged to be one of, if not the best fighter interceptors ever built. It had a top speed of over mach 2 and could climb to possibly as high as 80000 feet (the maximum ceiling was classified). It was the only aircraft fast enough to intercept Concorde.

Here is a video I found about the aircraft when it was still in operational service with the Royal Air Force for you to enjoy....

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

St George's Day in Gravesend

Happy St George's Day.

By some miracle, this year Gravesend Borough Council decided to spend some of our council tax to mark St George's Day and judging by the amount of people in town today it was money well spent.

This is like a breath of fresh air after more than a decade of New Labour rule when I often felt it was fine to be proudly Scottish, Welsh or Irish but you practically had to apologise for being English.

Anyway rant out of the way, we were treated to street musicians and performers from the Big Fish Arts group re-enacting the story of George and the Dragon in their own inimitable style...

First some music to get everyone in the mood for some serious dragon slaying.

Now enter the dragon.

Son, please don't feed the dragon!

Bring on brave St George to dispatch the evil dragon.

The dragon is quickly dispatched.

The dragon defeated. Now it's the turn of the saracen....

The performance lasted about half an hour and was much appreciated by the large crowd gathered in the sunshine.

Apart from the show in the street, the Council had arranged free arts and crafts for the children at the Tourist Information Centre adjacent to the aptly named St George's church pictured at the top of this post.

Here is my son's masterpiece.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another Royal Wedding

Unless you happen to have been living on Mars for the last few months you will no doubt be aware of the forthcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton next week.

Of course, this is certainly not the first Royal wedding and back in March 1863 one took place which brought the town of Gravesend, Kent to the attention of the world.

The wedding was between Prince Albert Edward, son of Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII, and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

To the consternation of Queen Victoria, Prince Edward was a playboy and lady's man (he had a string of mistresses during his lifetime). This was deemed inappropriate behaviour for the heir to the throne and it was decided to arrange a suitable marriage.

Prince Edward's sister Princess Victoria of Prussia was given the role of matchmaker and eventually nineteen year old "minor" royal Princess Alexandra was selected as a suitable bride. The wedding date was set for the 10th March 1863.

Preparations for the royal wedding were meticulous and said to have cost over a million pounds - a small fortune at the time. The nation and the Royal family had been in deep mourning for many years following the death of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert from typhoid and the wedding was seen as chance to finally move on.

On 28th February, the "Rose of Denmark" as Alexandra was popularly known, began her long journey to England. She left Copenhagen and proceeded to the port of Korsor where she boarded the Danish royal yacht Slesvig for the voyage to Hamburg. From there she passed through Hanover, Cologne and Brussels before arriving at the port of Antwerp.

On 5th March, Princess Alexandra boarded the British royal yacht Victoria and Albert for the voyage to Gravesend. The yacht was accompanied by a squadron of Royal Navy warships decked overall in bunting and flags and firing a twenty one gun salute.

On the morning of the 7th March the royal party reached the Kent coast. Guns were fired in welcome and local dignitaries from Margate sent by boat to greet the Princess. The Victoria and Albert proceeded into the Thames Estuary accompanied by a large flotilla of pleasure boats packed with well wishers.

The banks of the Thames were lined with spectators eager to catch a glimpse of the Princess. At 1120 in the morning on the 7th March the Victoria and Albert came safely alongside at the Terrace Pier, Gravesend to tumultuous applause from the gathered crowds.

At considerable expense the town corporation appointed a professional decorator to plan and co-ordinate the flags and bunting on the nearby houses. Stands for up to 1200 people were built at the pier entrance and garlanded arches erected every forty feet along the route of the royal procession through the town to Gravesend railway station.

At the same time the Victoria and Albert was making fast at the pier Prince Albert's royal train arrived at the station. The Prince was driven by carriage to the pier and went aboard to meet his future bride who incidentally he had only met a handful of times previously. The Prince is said to have kissed the Princess before disembarking.

The couple were greeted by the Bishop of Rochester and the lady mayoress presented the Princess with a large bouquet of flowers. As the royal couple walked along the pier sixty young Kentish girls dressed in red and white in honour of the Princess, strewed violets and primroses before them.

All the while church bells rang and guns were fired from naval ships in the river and from Tilbury Fort on the opposite bank of the Thames.

The royal couple and their entourage were taken by carriages to Gravesend station and from their proceeded slowly via London to Windsor Castle to meet Queen Victoria. All along the route massive crowds clamoured to see the Prince and Princess.

The wedding took place on 10th March at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle and Alexandra eventually became Queen consort on the death of Victoria in 1901.

Despite being more or less an arranged marriage and her husband's well documented affairs, it lasted over forty seven years.

Wonder how long William's and Kate's will last?...

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vaisakhi 2011 in Gravesend

The Sikh community paraded through the streets of Gravesend, Kent this Saturday, as they do every year in April, to mark the festival of Vaisakhi.

Vaisakhi is one of the most significant holidays in the Sikh calendar and also marks the start of the Hindu solar new year.

A new Gurdwara (Sikh temple) has been under construction in Gravesend for several years now and is expected to be completed soon. The first Sikh settlers arrived in Gravesend as early as the 1920's.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Leybourne Castle

Due to it's proximity to London and the English Channel, a large number of castles were built in Kent after the Norman invasion and again during the Tudor period.

Some of Kent's castles such as Rochester, Dover and Leeds are very well known around the world. Leybourne Castle (near Larkfield), however, is one that most people, even in Kent, will not have heard of before.

The first castle on the site is likely to have been built by the Normans shortly after the conquest in 1066. The manor of Leybourne was given to William the Conqueror's half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent.

It seems Odo was a very ambitious and somewhat unsavoury character who set his sights on buying his way into the papacy. This caused a rift with William and lead to his eventual imprisonment for a number of years and the forfeiture of his lands in Kent.

The confiscated land included the manor of Leybourne which passed initially to Sir William d'Arsick and then into the de Laibron family from Yorkshire in 1166.

The de Laibron name morphed into Lillebourne and eventually over time into de Leybourne. The de Leybournes were Knights who fought during the crusades as well as in campaigns against the Welsh and Scots.

Sir Roger de Leybourne was amongst the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 and was later captured during the siege of Rochester Castle. His estates were confiscated by King John but in 1216 he was able to buy them back again (for a hefty fee).

His son, also named Roger, inherited the estate in 1251 and built a stone castle at Leybourne in 1260. Roger served King Henry III for many years and is credited with saving the King's life at the battle of Evesham in 1265.

The estate remained in the de Leybourne family until the 1380's. It then passed via the Crown to the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary in London. The Abbey rented the estate to Sir Simon de Burley, Warden of the Cinque Ports who came to a rather unfortunate end when he was executed for treason in 1388.

The estate passed back to the crown following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. By this time the castle was in a poor state of repair and a farmhouse was built on the site.

The house was occupied by many different families over the ensuing centuries. In 1846 the owner at the time, Sir Joseph Hawley, founded a racing stud from which he produced four Derby winners. Quite an achievement.

The Hawleys remained at Leybourne until 1920 when it was purchased by Mrs Ogilvy.

In 1931 Mrs Ogilvy appointed architect Walter Godfrey to design a new arts and crafts style house. Godfrey boldly incorporated the ruins of the old castle into his plans as can be seen in the picture above.

In the 1980's the house was sold to footballer Nigel Short who made a number of unauthorised "improvements" to the listed building (without the knowledge or agreement of English Heritage).

Since the mid 90's the castle has had new owners who are now working to restore it back to a sound condition.

Here is another view of the castle from the rear.

The castle is not open to the public as it is a private residence but it can be seen from the grounds of the adjacent Leybourne church or from a public footpath which passes along the edge of the grounds towards the village of Ryarsh.

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