Wednesday, 25 April 2012

This is the second in my 'armchair historian' articles.

 When Prince Richard was born, his elder brother Edward was three years old and had just been settled into Ludlow Castle to put the fear of God into the turbulent Welsh. He was a golden haired child, anxious to be a good king, intelligent, virtuous, scared of the dark and suffering badly from toothache.
Ludlow Castle stands on high ground overlooking the River Teme. In its day it was large and spacious, new apartments were built for the Prince and sanitary arrangements were adequate – one tower had a privy on each floor. There were rooms of all sizes – a Great Hall, two chapels, towers, battlements, leg-aching stone steps, kitchens and store rooms, windows overlooking the Teme and a magnificent view in every direction – woods, hills and meadows, open fields, common land and a winding blue river.
So much to recommend it, but even so the thought of that tiny boy within Ludlow’s cold walls can still cause a shiver. It was a dark castle and once the light had faded only candles and flares could relieve the gloom. There was little furniture except for trestle tables, benches and the occasional stool, huge beds in rooms with bunched up curtains and rushes on the floor, rooms leading into one another separated only by hangings blowing in the chill winds that whipped across the hills from Wales.
The Castle seems so spacious, even when full of summer tourists, but in the Middle Ages there was no privacy: people slept where they could – on the spiral staircase, on the hard floor, crouched in window seats – snatching what rest was possible between the cold and damp and constant noise and smell of horses, dogs and men. A hard, bleak place to be when snow fell on the battlements and the Teme was frozen or when icy rain lashed against the stone walls and the wind howled across the hills or when thick, damp fog crept through the narrow windows. No doubt roaring fires, the prayers of his priests and the company of his guardians may have comforted the little boy, but even so it must have been a hard life and there were few women at the Castle.

 I had spent several summers staying near the pretty town of Bewdley in Worcestershire and thought myself familiar with its old streets, picturesque river, soft hills and green fields. The most exciting thing to have shattered the calm of centuries seems to have been during World War II when there were sightings of German parachutists landing in the woods and guns were fired and church bells rung frantically in warning. Germans or bales of hay blowing high?  Bewdley’s veterans know the truth.

 So, casually reading a book about the Princes in the Tower * I was startled to see a reference in the book to Tickenhill Manor in Bewdley as being the summer holiday home of Prince Edward. Here, it seems, he came with his retinue while the Castle had its annual clean up and floors were scrubbed, knives sharpened and the ditches cleaned of sewage.

 I had to find it, know exactly where it was, re-create its life in my own mind.

 As usual, I drew a blank at first. Certainly Tickenhill is mentioned as being a royal residence for the Yorkist and Tudor monarchs. Certainly there are reports of a five hundred year old beam which is all that is left of the original building. Certainly it was used, just a few years after Edward’s disappearance, as the funeral stop-over for poor Prince Arthur who died of the sweating sickness at Ludlow, so leaving the realm and his Spanish bride, Catherine, to the mercies of Bluff King Hal. I scoured second hand bookshops, enlisted the kind help of the Richard III Society, but no – not a mention of my Princes. Also, the exact location of Tickenhill itself was more than a bit in doubt.

 Summer came again and I was once more in the area, this time with a friend who is more than content to go armchair detecting with me. We set off in a car, which was perhaps a mistake, with an armful of maps and our intuition. What were we looking for? All the wrong things as it later turned out – a high hill, a landmark, a ruin, an old sign, a road name – any of these would have helped. A group of hikers was glad to share maps, suggestions and brief companionship with us, but as daylight darkened we were still far from finding Tickenhill.

 In the end we did find it – close to the town, not at all in the hills which had seemed so right. An old pamphlet was unearthed in a dusty room – and there was Tickenhill, upgraded to a Palace by this document, with clear directions to the location, now a private residence and not a ruin at all.

 We trudged round there but it didn’t feel right. An elegant old house in a quiet, residential area. Within the imposing gates large dogs growled unpleasantly. Something was missing – the vibes that had led me to Water Lane in Shrewsbury when I was searching for the birthplace of Richard, Duke of York – they were not here.

 And yet – this was certainly the site of Tickenhill which, in Saxon times, meant ‘hill of the goats’ I could imagine the goats with no trouble and when I thought about Prince Edward I could see him there – just – fishing in streams, safe away from bandits, plagues and wicked uncles, content for the day. And yet ... maybe, after all, Tickenhill is still a quest to be finished.
From Ludlow to Bewdley it is not far, even on horseback, and although a generation later someone described the route as ‘the foulest, cold, windy and rainy day and the worst way I have ever seen,’ he was travelling in winter and was part of a funeral procession. In summer it might have been better.

 *Alison Weir ‘The Princes in the Tower’




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