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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Gloucester Cathedral - a political dynasty beneath your feet

Bones under the ledger stone

The unexpected discovery of an 8ft deep family burial vault in the North Transept of Gloucester Cathedral is a fascinating story for me.

Many of us have trodden over the ledger stones at Gloucester and elsewhere and wondered what is beneath.  As a child, I hoped that there was nothing underneath and that the actual burial was elsewhere – perhaps a way of persuading my 12 year old self that ‘morning chapel’ wasn’t taking place surrounded by dead bodies!

Now, of course, I love the idea of an intricate network of tunnels and rooms under the floor – most yet to be discovered.

The ledger stone

From the news reports the family name was Hyett – I can see on the ledger:

Benjamin Hyett & Elizabeth w…
daughter of Joseph Morwent
He dyed 1711 aged 62
She dyed 1708 aged 55
also their children
.. 1692 ..
.. 1706 ..
.. 1712 ..

And from on of the coffin lids:

Frances Hyett
Daughter of
…ny Hyett and Fran Hyett
Died Feby 16 1748?
Aged 9 Months

Inside the vault

A very brief scan of the internet shows a Charles Hyett (1677 or 1686 to 1738)  who had two sons - Benjamin Hyett II (1708 to 1762) and Nicholas Hyett (1709 to 1777). 

Charles’s father is recorded as Benjamin Hyett (1651 to 1711) who I think is our man – so at least one of Benjamin and Elizabeth’s children survived. 

Charles was MP for Gloucester between 1722 and 1727 and built Painswick House “to escape the smog of Gloucester” but he died not long after moving there.

Robins' painting
Benjamin II inherited Painswick House where he created the now famous Painswick Rococo Garden which was painted by Thomas Robins the Elder in 1748.

Nicholas was a lawyer and Justice of the Peace and one of “the last keepers and constables of the Castle of Gloucester”. 

Both Nicholas and Benjamin II failed in their attempts to follow their father’s footsteps into Parliament, but a long line of later descendants were more successful in this endeavour.

Press reports show Richard Clavering Hyett Dickinson (Lord Dickinson) as the living relative – and the grandson of Willoughby Hyett Dickinson, 1st Baron Dickinson of Painswick, who, like his ancestor Charles (and probably many other Hyetts)  was an MP. 

Painswick House
Back to the story, I think that I heard in a radio interview the new bishop of Gloucester – the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek- talking about renovations to the Bishop’s Palace and the installation of a new kitchen. Clearly her ‘new broom’ extends to the North Transept renovations and the installation of a lift – which is how this great discovery was made.

It is only by remaining current and fit for purpose in our ever-changing world that our great buildings will survive – and to survive, they need to do what they have always done – change!

My final hope is that the plan is to record the vault by camera and then close it up and leave the Hyetts just as they are.

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Monday, 2 November 2015

Ice Age engravings found in Jersey

The recent discovery in Jersey of fragments from stone slabs proves that, like us, settlers in the UK were tablet aficionados 14,000 years ago. Plus ├ža change... 

The dig uncovered stone engravings which are similar to those discovered on the continental mainland - which are also dated similarly - but are the first of their kind here and pre-date the earliest discovered art in Britain. 

The 'art' in question - for we are using the term a little loosely here - comprises a series of criss-crosses carved into tablets, and are significant in that they perhaps mark the point when our ancestors began to think in a more abstract way. 

Unlike at other Magdalenian sites where tablets have been discovered with representations of other horses and animals on them, the carvings consist exclusively of repeated lines, leading experts to surmise whether the artist in question is in fact a distant ancestor of Ed Miliband

The discoveries were made by archaeologists who have been patiently toiling away at the site - 'Les Varines' - for five consecutive summers. And Dr Conneller, a lecturer at the University of Manchester, is hopeful their labours will bear yet more fruit:

"We're hoping this is a hint of what is to come, because at some other sites you get hundreds of these pieces. What we've got at the moment is only a fragment of something much larger."

A fragment of something much larger indeed:- Dr Silvia Bello of the Natural History Museum is confident that the fragments are the real deal, revealing a shift in hunter-gatherer attitudes from the simplistic to the aesthetic:

"the stones ... show clear incised lines consistent with being made by stone tools, and they do not have any obvious functional role."

£180,000 has been invested by the Jersey States in the project - dubbed the Ice Age Island Project - and work resumes. 

We'll keep you updated as more discoveries, fingers crossed, follow.  

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Hat-doff to the BBC for pictures.

Sinister Catacombs of Odessa: the Lost Girl

Everybody knows about the Parisian catacombs, but the sprawling lesser-known maze beneath Odessa harbours a notoriety which continues to this day.

Urban exploration is a burgeoning pastime among young people and archaeologists who fancy themselves as Howard Carter types. E&G staff have been known to dabble in it during work hours, counting a Victorian swimming baths in Bristol as one of our favourite haunts.

Catacombs, however, are a different animal entirely. The Odessa tunnels in Ukraine span three levels, cover a staggering distance of 2,500 kilometres and have 1,000 (known) entrances.
So large are the catacombs, in fact, that they haven’t even been fully mapped.
Starting out as an isolated series of limestone mines in the 19th-century, local smugglers began connecting them in a macabre game of dot-to-dot that would eventually claim lives.

It is very difficult to convey in words just how dauntingly expansive a 2,500 kilometre network of tunnels is, especially when they often lead nowhere or double-back on themselves. Resembling enormous black bronchi (see map at top), the tunnels are arid and stifling; they provide no bearings or signposts for the lost.

Which compounds the tragedy of the case of a 19 year old girl who wandered, perhaps while intoxicated, into one of the entrances after having been to a New Year party in 2005. She was only discovered four months later by urban explorer hobbyists after police, having been informed that the girl was missing, refused to enter the catacombs should they suffer the same fate. One story has it that she was initially with a group of friends when she entered the tunnels and ran ahead to scare them. It was said that they went a different direction, and never saw her again. 

Despite the government having attempted to seal the known entrances in 1980, others are frequently being discovered. Along with explorers, the catacombs have become popular with derring-do teenagers and archaeologists who are intrigued by its history as a hiding place for civilians and officials in WWII.

The body of the lost girl, named Masha, was recovered two years after her disappearance, in 2007. Based on where her body lay it is believed she spent three days wandering the catacombs, trying to find her way out, before perishing of dehydration. Her case serves as a reminder of the dangers the catacombs of Odessa continue to pose to the carefree or ill-prepared. 

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