Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two

Previously in Simeon’s life, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has run around Castle Park searching for spies, learned about the connection between Treasure Island and Bristol, earned himself a certificate, and had a rejuvenating rest. Now he is ready to tell the world about some of his other favourite things to do in the city. So, all aboard the Simeon Tour Bus. Enjoy the ride!

Stop One: Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Situated half a mile uphill from the city centre is the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which opened its doors to the public on 20th February 1905. The Edwardian Baroque building was built by the architect Sir Frank William Wills and funded by his cousin, Sir William Henry Wills (1830-1911). Some of the building suffered damages during the Second World War, but much of the original architecture remains. Initially, the museum intended to display antiquities and natural history, whilst a separate museum exhibited artwork. Due to lack of funds and the two world wars, a separate museum never materialised, and the building remains both a museum and an art gallery.

Expecting to see antiquities and natural history, Simeon was surprised to find a stone angel with a paint bucket over its head standing in the entrance hall. This is an artwork called Paint-Pot Angel by Bristol’s anonymous graffiti artist Banksy. It remains in the museum as a reminder of their successful Banksy versus Bristol exhibition held in 2009. If that was not confusing enough for the little gibbon, above the statue hung two frightening Chinese dragons. With fur standing on end, Simeon reassured himself they were not real but rather examples of carved wooden dragons used in Chinese temples during the Qing dynasty.

Further into the museum, Simeon discovered items from Ancient Egypt and Assyria, including amulets, weapons, masks and mummified cats. Many of these items were donated to the museum by Bristol-based travellers, such as, Amelia Edwards (1831-92), “the Godmother of Egyptology” who co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. Carved stone reliefs from the palace of King Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) of Assyria (now Iraq) found their way to the museum in 1905, but how they got from the Middle East to England remains uncertain.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has a vast collection of taxidermy (stuffed animals), although as Simeon quickly pointed out, they lack a gibbon. Some of these are in the ground floor gallery opened by Sir David Attenborough (b. 1926). These animals are examples of wildlife found in the marine and freshwater habitats of the South West of England. Included in the display are owls, falcons, oystercatchers, gulls, auks and ducks. Simeon found more British animals on the first floor of the museum, including a hedgehog, a dormouse, foxes, badgers, otters and many birds.

In the World Wildlife gallery are specimens from all over the world. Some of these were shot by trophy hunters in the early 1900s, for instance, a tiger shot by King George V (1865-1936) in Nepal in 1911. Others were once residents of Bristol Zoo whose bodies were carefully preserved after death. For most visitors, this is the closest they will get to a sloth, an echidna, a duck-billed platypus, a koala, a chimpanzee and many more animals. Simeon was not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved that there were no gibbons on display.

The highlight of the World Wildlife Gallery is Alfred the Gorilla. In 1930, Alfred came to Bristol Zoo as a baby, where he entertained visitors by throwing snowballs, wearing woolly jumpers, and recoiling in horror at men with beards. Alfred also had a fear of aeroplanes. When he died in 1948, the Daily Mail jumped to the assumption that a passing aeroplane frightened the gorilla to death. In reality, Alfred suffered from tuberculosis, a disease previously thought to only affect humans. Alfred’s body was mounted in the museum shortly after his death, but in 1956, he briefly escaped from the museum. A group of university students stole the stuffed creature from the museum as a prank. Three days later, Alfred was discovered sitting in the waiting room of the student health centre.

Hanging above the museum cafe (which Simeon thoroughly enjoyed visiting), the little gibbon was horrified to come face-to-face with a hideous creature. With hair standing on end, Simeon learned this was Doris, a life-size model of a prehistoric marine reptile called a Pliosaurus. Palaeontologists do not know what Doris, named after a Greek sea goddess, looked like for certain, but she is based on fossil remains found near Westbury in Wiltshire.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery owns several fossils of dinosaurs, including a Thecodontosaurus antiquus, which roamed Bristol and the surrounding areas about 210 million years ago. The museum also displays a pregnant ichthyosaur specimen. The bones of the baby form the smallest “sea dragon” found to date and prove that the creatures gave birth to their young rather than lay eggs. Also in the museum is a vast collection of minerals and rocks from Bristol and further afield.

The art gallery is located on the topmost floor of the museum. Initially, the museum wished to display local artists, but the collection quickly opened up to foreign artists from all eras. Paintings span from the Old European Masters of the 1400s, such as Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), through to the Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites of the 19th century, including Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98). The gallery also contains contemporary artworks and several ceramics.

Stop Two: Bristol Zoo

Having indulged in stuffed animals, Simeon thought it about time to visit the real things. So, next stop, Bristol Zoo. “Hurry!” shouted Simeon as he ran up the road towards Clifton. “We need to get there before they move all the animals to the Wild Place Project.” Bristol Zoo is closing in 2022 and moving to the Wild Place Project in South Gloucestershire

Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest zoo in the world. It was founded on 22nd July 1835 by Henry Riley (1797-1848), a British surgeon and naturalist from Bristol who led the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society. Many animals were shipped from across the world ready for the grand opening, but the first big attraction did not arrive until 1868. This was Zebi the elephant, who became well-known for removing and eating straw hats. Today, there are no longer elephants at the zoo, but Simeon did not mind; he was too enthralled by the lions.

Lions were first introduced to Bristol Zoo in 1900 when they erected a new house suitable for a family of large cats. Simeon admired the Asiatic lions from behind a wire fence, although they were not very active at the time. The female, Sonika, appeared to be fast asleep whilst Sahee watched over her. Asiatic lions are the most endangered large cat species in the world. They only live in the Gir forest in India, but Sonika and Sahee arrived in Bristol from other zoos rather than from the wild. Simeon was quick to point out that his fur was a similar colour to Sahee’s mane!

Simeon had already met Bristol Zoo’s first gorilla, albeit stuffed and mounted. Now the zoo is home to a family of eight western lowland gorillas. Jock the silverback, the dominant male, can make enough noise for people a couple of kilometres away to hear. Fortunately, he did not do that in Simeon’s presence. Three adult females, Kera, Kala and Touni, and three youngsters, Afia and Ayana and Hasani, live with Jock on Gorilla Island. In December 2020, Touni gave birth, taking the total of gorillas up to eight. The baby has yet to be named.

During the 1980s, Bristol Zoo developed several new exhibits. The Reptile House opened in 1981 and now houses a comprehensive list of reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, turtles, frogs, crocodiles, iguanas and tortoises. Simeon’s favourite tortoises were the Aldabra giant tortoises, which can live as long as 100 years and weigh up to 250kg. In 1983, the Monkey House opened, where mischief occurs daily. Simeon resisted the urge to play with the cheeky monkeys, macaques, lemurs and the two agile gibbons, Samuel and Duana.

Towards the end of the 1990s, the television presenter Professor David Bellamy (1933-2019) opened the Seal and Penguin Coast section of the zoo. The attraction provides the opportunity to view African penguins and seals both on land or underwater. Although penguins are very sociable animals, they were hiding during Simeon’s visit, but he enjoyed watching the seals swimming around the enclosure. The South American fur seals were almost hunted to extinction during the 20th century. Fortunately, they are now of least concern on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Simeon loved every aspect of Bristol Zoo, but if he was forced to choose a favourite animal, he would choose the meerkats. The charismatic mob of female meerkats, one of whom introduced herself to Simeon as Bubushka, frolicked in the warmth of their house, frequently coming up to the glass to greet visitors. Simeon admired the patience of the meerkat on lookout duty and was amused when two rested their heads on a ledge and appeared to fall asleep.

Relieved not to be mistaken for an escaping zoo animal, Simeon exited Bristol Zoo with dozens of lovely memories. Bristol Zoo allowed him to meet animals from all over the world, including red pandas, armadillos, flamingos, frogs, bats, stick insects, birds, sloths, mongooses, and so much more.

Stop Three: The New Room

The next stop on Simeon’s tour of Bristol is the “New Room”, which is actually very old. This is the oldest Methodist building in the world, dating to 1740. The building, which became a chapel, was built after two religious societies in Bristol asked the preacher John Wesley (1703-91) to create a new room where they could meet. Wesley arrived in Bristol in 1739 to continue the work of the evangelist George Whitefield (1714-70), who preached on the streets of Bristol. Today, the chapel has been restored to resemble how it looked in 1748, with the addition of pews, which were added in the 19th century. As well as a chapel, Wesley used the upper floors as his home. The space is now a museum dedicated to John and his brother Charles (1707-88).

On entering the chapel, Simeon was struck by the lack of windows on the ground floor. The only source of light comes from an octagonal skylight. Methodism, as the denomination became known, was not welcome by some people in Bristol. Mobs frequently attacked members of the congregation, so the lack of windows limited the amount of damage they could create during a service. The design of the building also made it difficult for anyone to reach the preacher. The pulpit is only accessible from the upper floor.

Services usually took place at 5 am before people went to work – far too early for Simeon! Worship began and ended with a song, usually written by Charles Wesley, who wrote an estimated 6,500 hymns during his lifetime. The organ in the chapel was given to the New Room in the 1930s. During the 18th century, congregations sang unaccompanied.

Wesley did not design the New Room as a church, nor did he intentionally separate from the Church of England. The term ‘Methodism’ was initially given to the group by those who disliked the religious society. The Methodist Church came into being after the death of John and Charles. As well as preaching, John Wesley aimed to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. He created food and clothing banks and argued for a national living wage. He founded affordable schools and encouraged uneducated adults to earn qualifications. Wesley also promoted cleanliness and taught people how to improve their health. He provided free medicine for the poor and improved the living conditions of those in prison. Wesley was a man before his time who campaigned against the slave trade and encouraged women to play a wider role in society.

Upstairs in the museum, Simeon explored the living quarters of John Wesley and his assistants. There were twelve small rooms and one large common room, which served as both a meeting space, dining area and study. Wesley only used two of the rooms for himself: a bedroom and a private study. Today, the rooms tell the story of the Wesley family, the start of Methodism, and life during the 18th century.

The first couple of rooms in the museum explain what life in Bristol was like before John Wesley arrived in 1739. Life for the poor was dismal in comparison to the rich. Simeon’s eyes widened, and his mouth salivated as he read how the rich used to dine. A meal typically lasted at least two hours, and each course consisted of between five and 25 dishes. Gentlemen always drank port with dessert, and the women drank sweet wine. For a brief moment, Simeon thought he would love to live like the rich of the 18th century, but the rest of the museum soon put that notion out of his mind.

Admittedly, Simeon felt a bit sceptical when he read John Wesley’s recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. “Abstain from all pickled, smoked or high-seasoned food.” (Simeon eyed his round little belly guiltily.) “Exercise is of greater service to your health than a hundred medicines.” (“But I only have little legs!” exclaimed Simeon.) “Those who read or write much should learn to do it standing.” (“I think not!” declared Simeon.)

The final few rooms of the museum focus on social injustices, particularly those concerning slavery, war, consumerism and politics. Wesley looked to God for inspiration and strength. He wished to promote equal treatment for women, care for animals, offer the best possible education, create a society based on values and not on profits, avoid engaging in wars, live simply and “be content with what plain nature requires”. (“What a good man,” said Simeon, admiringly.)

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

Stop Four: Tyntesfield

A week in Bristol is exciting, but sometimes it is nice to get away from the city crowds. So, Simeon travelled eight miles into the countryside to visit an ornate Victorian Gothic house called Tyntesfield and its extensive gardens. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Simeon only had access to a handful of ground floor rooms, which failed to tell him much about the house’s history. Fortunately, Simeon is a resourceful gibbon and has learned everything he wished to know from the National Trust guidebook and website.

The estate, formally known as Tyntes Place, became the possession of William Gibbs (1790-1875) in 1843. (That’s GIBBS, Simeon. Not GIBBON!) Gibbs hired the architect John Norton (1823-1904) to double the size of the house in the High Victorian Gothic style. He also purchased neighbouring estates upon which he built homes for his sons. Following his death, his descendants made a few changes to the interior of the building, for instance, installing electricity and central heating. Richard Gibbs (1928-2001), the last member of the family to live at Tyntesfield, died without an heir and the house was left neglected. In 2002, the National Trust acquired the house and surrounding land. Following an ambitious conservation programme, they restored Tyntesfield to its former glory.

William Gibbs earned his money through guano trade with Spain and South America. Guano, as Simeon is keen to tell you, is the dried excrement of seabirds, a popular fertiliser in the 19th century. Although Gibbs spent a lot of his wealth on Tyntesfield, he also contributed to many charities. Both Gibbs and his wife Matilda Blanche (1817-87) were deeply religious and funded several churches, including the chapel at Keble College, Oxford. Towards the end of his life, Gibbs commissioned Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99) to build a chapel next to Tyntesfield, which the family used for daily prayers and Sunday services.

Simeon entered the house through the cloister, decorated with encaustic tiles. This led through to the centre of the house, designed to create a sense of awe and grandeur. Here, the main staircase leads up to the first-floor family bedrooms, but Simeon could not visit them on this occasion. Fortunately, Simeon was permitted to look in the library, which contains over 2000 books on several subjects such as theology, science, fine art, history, poetry and gardening.

Gardening was a favourite activity of the last inhabitant of Tyntesfield. After William Gibbs died, his son Antony did not continue the family trading business. Instead, he focused on arts and crafts. Likewise, the next heir, George, took a different profession and became an influential politician, earning him the title of 1st Lord Wraxall. By the time Richard Gibbs, 2nd Lord Wraxall became the owner in 1949, the family’s wealth had reduced considerably. After shutting up many rooms, Richard focused on maintaining the estate grounds, particularly the Kitchen Garden.

Simeon thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Kitchen Garden, which continues to grow many fruits and vegetables. The little gibbon also ventured through fields of cows to locate some of the other formal gardens on the estate. His favourite was the rose garden, which ironically contains very few roses. The local deer have eaten most of the roses, but a pink American Pillar rose continues to thrive on the iron pergola.

Stop Five: Floating Harbour

Simeon’s tour of Bristol concludes at the Floating Harbour, which covers 70 acres of the city. It is referred to as “floating” because the water levels remain consistent and are not affected by the tides. Simeon explored the harbour many times on his previous visit to Bristol, but he could not resist a few walks along the water, looking at all the boats.

Naturally, Simeon believes his tour of Bristol is far superior than anyone else’s, as I am sure you agree. Nonetheless, he insisted on travelling on the “Toot Bus” to get a glimpse of all the places he had not the time to visit. Bristol’s sightseeing bus tour starts near the floating harbour then drives up to Bristol Zoo, passing Clifton Down Station along the way. The bus passes under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which Simeon bravely crossed on his last visit.

From the top deck of the bus, Simeon had a view of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain, as well as the other boats in the Floating Harbour. Before returning to the first bus stop, the bus drove Simeon to Temple Meads Station, which opened in 1840 as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway – another of Brunel’s inventions. Finally, the bus came to a halt outside Simeon’s apartment, where he indulged in a well-deserved rest.

Of course, a trip would not be complete for Simeon without sampling several restaurants, no matter what John Wesley says about abstaining from rich food – although the New Room’s cafe makes a mean marble cake! For pizza lovers, Simeon recommends The Stable, situated on the harbourside. The laidback restaurant serves up seriously good pizza with a wide range of toppings, alongside pints of beer, cider and crafted drinks.

Another of Simeon’s favourite places to eat is Bar + Block, a steakhouse on King Street. Whilst they specialise in steak, there are plenty of other options on the menu. Other places with large menus include The Berkeley and The Commercial Rooms, both owned by J. D. Wetherspoon. The Berkeley is situated in a former shopping arcade and contains a stained-glass dome and a small whispering gallery. The Commercial Rooms were once a gentlemen’s club and meeting place for the city’s merchants. The foundations were laid in 1810, and the Rooms opened for business the following year. In 1852, following the completion of the Great Western Railway, The Commercial Rooms became the first telegraph office in Bristol. The Rooms were taken over by Wetherspoons in 1995.

Those wishing to experience Bristol’s ultimate fine dining need to visit Browns, housed in a building that once belonged to Bristol Museum. Simeon enjoyed eating in the sophisticated establishment against a backdrop of enormous arched windows and original stone pillars. By the end of the meal, Simeon felt well and truly stuffed – both literally and figuratively. (Don’t expect this treatment all the time, Simeon!)

This concludes Simeon’s tour of Bristol. We hope you have enjoyed the ride. Do come again soon.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall in the harbourYou will get very wet.
  3. Watch out for people on bikes and electric scooters. Do not walk in cycle lanes.
  4. Do not feed the animals in the zoo. That is the zookeeper’s job.
  5. Be prepared for lots of walking. Bristol is not very car-friendly.
  6. Watch out for seagulls. They will try to steal your food.
  7. Be prepared for rainPack more than one pair of trousers.
  8. Pace yourself. There is so much to see. It is impossible to do it all in a day.
  9. Do not eat too much pickled, smoked or high-seasoned food. John Wesley would disapprove.
  10. Follow government guidelines regarding Covid-19. They are there for everyone’s safety.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One

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Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One

Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has returned to the South Western city of Bristol for more adventures. On his last trip, he visited the cathedral, Clifton Suspension Bridge, the SS Great Britain, Bristol Aquarium and the M Shed, but there was still so much left to explore. After patiently waiting out another Covid-19 lockdown, the double-vaccinated gibbon made his great escape in the back of a Vauxhall Corsa. Having returned from his latest adventure, Simeon wishes to tell you everything he discovered.

Broadmead and Castle Park

Simeon’s favourite way of exploring a city is by taking part in a Treasure Trail. Last year, Simeon solved a murder mystery, but this time, he received instructions about a TOP SECRET spy mission. An Eastern bloc spy ring called the “Trojans” had attacked the computers of Bristol businesses and were demanding a ransom of £10 million. The only way to avoid paying the ransom was to discover a four-digit code. Agent Simeon, under the code name “Achilles”, immediately started searching for clues and discovered some interesting facts about Bristol along the way.

The trail began in Broadmead, a street in the shopping district of the city. Originally called Brodemede as far back as 1383, the name may mean “broad meadow”, referring back to its pre-city times. Alternatively, it may refer to brodemedes, a type of cloth once woven in Bristol. In the 18th century, a shopping arcade was built in Broadmead, but the area received significant damages during the Second World War. Rebuilding began in the 1950s, and today, Broadmead is home to a shopping centre called Cabot Circus, which opened in September 2008.

In 1227, a man named Maurice de Gaunt founded a Dominican priory called Blackfriars on Broadmead. Its name describes the black hooded cloaks of the friars who inhabited the building. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, the friars surrendered the buildings and contents to Henry VIII (1491-1547). Two years later, William Chester, the Mayor of Bristol purchased the buildings from the king.

During the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the Smiths and Cutlers Company bought the old priory and leased parts of the buildings to other organisations, for instance, a workhouse for poor girls. During the 17th century, the Religious Society of Friends acquired the premises and became known as the Quaker Friars. Only part of the original priory remains standing today. During the 20th century, the building housed the Bristol Register Office. In recent years, it has become home to a restaurant.

Llywelyn ap Dafydd (c.1267-1287), the eldest son of the then Prince of Wales, was buried in the priory grounds after a four-year imprisonment in Bristol Castle. This information confused Simeon because he could not see a castle anywhere. The matter was soon cleared up after Simeon carefully crossed the road to Castle Park.

Situated in Castle Park is the partially excavated remains of the stone keep and two preserved vaulted chambers of Bristol Castle. It was built in the Norman era to protect the walled city of Bristol from attack. The original castle, a timber motte and bailey, was presumably built on the orders of William the Conqueror (1028-87). It was strategically placed between the River Avon and the River Frome and surrounded by an artificial moat.

The castle was later rebuilt in stone and became the possession of Robert of Gloucester (1090-1147), the half-brother of Empress Matilda (1102-67), the legitimate heir to the throne. During Matilda’s fight with her cousin, Stephen (1092-1154) over the English crown, Matilda appointed Robert as her trusted right-hand man. Bristol Castle became a notable location in the war. Stephen was briefly captured and imprisoned in the castle but released in exchange for other prisoners. When Stephen became king, he thought little of the city of Bristol and the castle remained Robert’s property.

When Robert of Gloucester died, the castle and title passed down to his son William (1116-83). Unfortunately, William fell foul of King Henry II (1133-89), who confiscated Bristol Castle, making it a possession of the crown. As a result, the castle became one of the most important in the country. King John’s (1166-1216) sons received their education at Bristol Castle, including the future Henry III (1207-72), who added a barbican, gate tower and great hall during his reign.

By the 16th century, Bristol Castle showed signs of neglect, as recorded by the English poet, John Leland (1503-52). He wrote a description of the castle, noting its dungeons, church and domestic quarters, but revealed, “Many towers still stand in both the courts, but they are all on the point of collapse.” Bristol Castle had fallen into disuse and, after the civil war, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) ordered the destruction of the castle in 1645.

The land on which the castle once stood is used as a public park today. In the centre stands the ruins of St Peter’s Church, which was bombed during the Bristol Blitz on the night of 24th November 1940. The church foundations date back to 1106, but the majority of the building was constructed in the 15th century. Excavations after the Second World War revealed St Peter’s may have been the first church built in Bristol.

The majority of the church walls are still standing, but the roof and interior suffered severe damages. Rather than demolish the rest of the building, the city maintains St Peter’s Church as a memory of the civilians who died during the Bristol Blitz. A plaque on the south wall of the church lists the 200 Bristolians who lost their lives on the night of the Blitz. Nearby, another plaque remembers the names of citizens from Bristol who died fighting against the Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

St Peter’s is not the only church destroyed during the Bristol Blitz. Temple Church in the Redcliffe district of the city, which Simeon visited towards the end of his trip, remains an empty shell and is protected by English Heritage. Fortunately, the unique bell tower survived the bombing. Constructed between 1441 and 1460, the tower leans towards the left due to subsidence. During the construction, builders noticed the lower sections sinking into the ground and attempted to correct it by building the upper section at a different angle. The reason for the subsidence was due to the soft alluvial clay beneath the foundations, which was compressed by the weight of the stone.

The destruction of the church revealed the foundations of a previous round nave from the 12th century. This belonged to the Knights Templar, who received the land from Robert of Gloucester. After the suppression of the Templars, the Knights Hospitaller took over the building in 1313. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the church became the property of the crown, but the Bristol Corporation managed to purchase it from the king in 1544.

Back on the spy trail, Simeon trekked through the Physic Garden running parallel to St Peter’s ruined nave. Replacing a neglected sensory garden, the Physic Garden was planted by the luxury fragrance brand Jo Malone London in 2015 as part of a global charity initiative to support people living with mental ill-health and physical disabilities. Designed to nourish and nurture, the garden is a peaceful haven for rehabilitation and recovery. Jo Malone London also supported the homelessness charity St Mungo’s to create the Putting Down Roots (PDR) programme, which encourages the homeless and jobless to help maintain the garden, earn qualifications in horticulture, and seek permanent employment.

Behind the church, Simeon was excited to discover a feature called Beside the Still Waters. Two Kilkenny limestone fountains sit in small ponds, which are joined together by a narrow channel of water. At one end, the carved stone resembles a pine cone, and at the other, the stone has a cinquefoil form, giving it the appearance of a garlic bulb. The feature was created by Peter Randall-Page (b.1954), who has public work on display in several locations, including London and Cambridge. Randall-Page focuses on the geometry of his designs, which he explains “is the theme on which nature plays her infinite variations”.

Simeon was intrigued to discover another sculpture nearby of a throne made of Normandy limestone. While inspecting it for clues for his spy mission, Simeon found giant footprints at the base of the throne. Simeon is now convinced that giants once roamed the city of Bristol, but this sculpture was commissioned in the early 1990s during the new landscaping of Castle Park. The sculptor is Rachel Fenner, who takes inspiration from ancient natural and archaeological sites of Britain.

With no time to worry about the existence of giants, Simeon hurried on through Castle Park – he had spies to catch! He even resisted climbing the five Silver Birch trees planted in memory of the five D-Day landing beaches, code-named Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah and Omaha. Nor did Simeon notice the memorial trees for Anne Frank and the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the centre of the park stands another sculpture, which Simeon paused at to sniff for clues. Unveiled by the Bristol Civic Society in 1993 to provide drinking water, the bronze fish fountain was created by ceramic artist Kate Malone. The water spouts, which poured out of the mouths of the fish, were later turned off when they failed the updated Water Regulations Advisory Scheme. Plans to refurbish the fountain are underway, so hopefully Malone’s work will function once again.

Whilst combing through the rest of Castle Park for clues, Simeon spotted a couple more things of note, such as several bird and bug boxes hanging on a wall. Opposite this, an S-shaped footbridge takes people across the Floating Harbour to the Finzels Reach development. The bridge opened in 2017 and, in Simeon’s opinion, is far more attractive than some of the industrial-style bridges. Unfortunately, Simeon did not have time to cross the bridge – he had spies to catch – but he was able to enjoy the experience later in the week.

Situated on the harbour is a floating ballast seed garden called Seeds of Change. Ballasts were frequently unloaded from trading ships in the harbour between 1680 and 1900. They often contained seeds of plants from all the countries the ships had visited, some of which flourished after arriving in Bristol. In 2007, Bristol invited Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves (b.1961) to exhibit her work in an exhibition at the Arnolfini gallery. During her stay, Alves dug up some of the remaining ballasts and extracted the seeds, which she grew and displayed in the gallery.

In 2010, Bristol invited Alves back to the city to develop a permanent ballast garden. A disused barge in the Floating Harbour was selected as the location of the garden, and with the help of German designer Gitta Gschwendtner, Alves chose several plants grown from seeds by participating schools and organisations. These plants arrived in Bristol from all over the world and include figs, asphodels and squirting cucumbers. Admittedly, the Seeds of Change garden did not look all that impressive to Simeon, but many new plants may flourish between now and September. 

Having collected all the clues he needed from Castle Park, Simeon returned to Broadmead, where he enjoyed following a snake-like blue line along the pavement. Along the way, he rested his weary legs on stone spheres decorated with blue mosaic tiles. This installation refers to Bristol’s famous blue glass, produced in the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. ‘Bristol Blue’ glass was mostly used for medicine bottles, and the landscaping firm Reckless Orchard recycled many of these to create the blue bricks seen along Broadmead.

Great work, Simeon! You have managed to solve all the clues, worked out the code and stopped the Trojans. Simeon patted himself on the back and set off in search of some well-deserved tea and cake.

Treasure Island Trail

Being the adventurous little gibbon that he is, Simeon sought out another treasure trail to follow around Bristol. Put together by the Long John Silver Trust, the trail takes intrepid explorers around parts of Bristol’s harbour to celebrate the city’s connection with Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-94) classic novel Treasure Island (1882). Simeon’s task was to locate eight wooden barrels, upon which he would learn a bit about both the book and the city.

Simeon located the first barrel outside the old Merchant Venturers’ Almshouses. Built in 1699, the houses accommodated many sailors, including William Williams, the first person to introduce a pirate treasure map in his book The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, a Seaman. Stevenson incorporated the idea for his novel, which involved pirates, treasure hunting and a young lad from Bristol.

Treasure Island begins at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the Bristol Channel, where an old sailor named Billy Bones warns the innkeeper’s son, Jim Hawkins, to keep a lookout for “a one-legged seafaring man”. On Simeon’s walk through Bristol, he came across the Llandoger Trow, a historic public house built in 1664. It is this building that inspired Stevenson to invent the Admiral Benbow Inn. It is also where English writer Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) met Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721), a Scottish privateer who spent four months stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. Intrigued by Selkirk’s story, Defoe wrote one of the first English novels, Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk may also be the inspiration for Stevenson’s character Ben Gunn.

In the book, a blind beggar visits Billy Bones to give him “the black spot”. This is a summons to share a map leading to buried treasure. Shortly after, Bones suffers a stroke and dies, and the beggar and other men attack the inn in search of the map. Jim finds the treasure map first and escapes. After sharing his find with Squire Trelawney and Dr Livesey, they secure a ship called the Hispaniola to seek the treasure, but first, they need to hire a crew. In a fictional Bristol pub called The Spy-Glass, they meet the landlord, Long John Silver, who offers his services as a cook. Jim is a bit wary because Silver only has one leg, and he recalls Billy Bones’ warning. 

Stevenson described The Spy-Glass as having a spy hole through which people could warn others of the presence of press gangs or slave traders. In Bristol, Simeon came across a pub called The-Hole-in-the-Wall, the only known pub in the country to have a spy hole feature. It is likely Stevenson based The Spy-Glass on this pub, which has other similar features, including doors leading on to separate streets so that patrons could make a swift exit. Fortunately, Simeon did not see any one-legged seafaring men in the area.

The Treasure Island Trail took Simeon to Redcliffe Wharf, where he learned of the many barrels loaded onto and taken off ships in the harbour. In the book, Jim Hawkins finds himself trapped in a barrel when he overhears Long John Silver’s plans to find and keep the treasure for himself. Simeon shuddered at the thought of getting trapped inside one of the barrels on the trail. Fortunately, they also function as plant pots, so there was no danger of Simeon falling in.

On the trail, Simeon heard about a real-life pirate who grew up in the Redcliffe district. Edward Teach (1680-1718), better known as Blackbeard, served on an English ship in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), after which he became a notorious pirate. He attacked merchant ships and stole their goods, weapons and valuables. Fortunately, there is no record of Blackbeard killing anyone. (“Phew!” thought Simeon.) Blackbeard’s second-in-command, Israel Hands, also known as Basilica Hands, inspired Stevenson’s character of the same name, a villainous sidekick of Long John Silver.

Simeon thoroughly enjoyed the Treasure Trail spy mission and the Treasure Island Trail. It was a lot of walking for such a small gibbon but he learned a lot of information about Bristol. Simeon still had several days to enjoy in the city, but first, he needed a nice long rest. He will tell you about the rest of his trip next week. See you then!

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights


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Simeon’s Bristol Highlights

Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has been off on his adventures again, this time to the South Western city of Bristol. Steeped in history, Bristol lies on the rivers Frome and Avon and gets its name from the Old English Brycgstow, meaning “the place at the bridge”.

Bristol made the news in June when Black Lives Matter rioters tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston (1636-1721) and deposited it in Bristol Harbour. Although honoured for his involvement with schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches, it has recently come to light that Colston trafficked around 80,000 men, women and children during the Slave Trade.

Whilst Bristol cannot escape its historical connection with the Slave Trade, Simeon discovered there are plenty of positive facts about the city and many places to visit. Twinned with Bordeaux, France and Hanover, Germany, Bristol is amongst the most popular cities for tourists in England. After spending an enjoyable, albeit wet, week in Bristol, Simeon is keen to tell you about his favourite attractions.

Bristol Old City

With the help of a murder mystery trail provided by Treasure Trails, Simeon explored the cobbled streets of the old city, containing buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The trail began outside the former Everard’s Printing Works, which was built in 1900 and decorated in the Pre-Raphaelite art nouveau style by William Neatby. Although most of the building has since been demolished, the arts and crafts facade has been preserved.

Around the corner, whilst visually less impressive, is another notable building. Built in 1857 to resemble the Library of St Mark, Venice, it has been occupied by Lloyds Bank Limited since 1892. Before then, a different building stood on the site known as the Bush coaching inn. This inn featured in Charles Dickens’ (1812-70) first novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (aka The Pickwick Papers).

The most impressive building Simeon came across on the trail was the old Exchange building. Built between 1741 and 1743 by John Wood the Elder (1704-54), the architecture includes Corinthian columns and an arched doorway over which sits a frieze of human and animal heads. Merchants of all types traded in the building, including coffeehouses and taverns. The Bristol Slave Trade used the building in the 18th century.

Outside the Exchange are four bronze tables representing the type of tables used at trade fairs. Known as “nails”, the tables were made with flat tops and raised edges to prevent coins falling onto the floor. Each copper nail is slightly different in design and date between the reign of Elizabeth I (b.1553. r.1558-1603) and 1631.

The three-handed clock on the facade of the building most amused Simeon. One hand shows the hours, one the minute according to Greenwich Mean Time, and the third tells the local time in Bristol. Bristol is 2º 35′ west of Greenwich, making it ten minutes behind London. Due to problems, such as sticking to train timetables, Bristol eventually adopted GMT.

The Exchange is now home to St Nicholas Market, established in 1743. It is the oldest market in Bristol and ranks amongst the top ten markets in the United Kingdom. Open every day except Sundays, the market is home to over 60 independent retailers, including food stalls, jewellery makers, clothing brands and gift shops.

The Murder Mystery trail took Simeon along the quayside where the Bristol Merchant Navy Memorial stands. Unveiled by Princess Anne (b.1950) in 2001, the memorial lists the names of those who lost their lives at sea. It also records the ships lost during the two World Wars.

At the end of the trail, Simeon came across the Christmas Steps next to The Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, whose stained glass window depicts the nativity scene. “Three Kings” references the Biblical magi and “Cologne” refers to the church of the same name in the German city. The origin of the name “Christmas Steps” is uncertain, but one theory suggests it relates to the window of this church.

The steep steps were constructed in 1699 and lead to a small street containing grade II listed buildings. One of these buildings is The Sugar Loaf Public House, established around 1700. Another now houses a unique cafe, Chance and Counters, where customers can eat and drink while spending a couple of hours playing board games.

Bristol Cathedral

On the College Green, not far from Bristol Harbour, stands a gothic cathedral. Formally the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Bristol Cathedral belongs to the Church of England, as it has done since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Founded in 1140, the original building contained St Augustine’s Abbey, but much of the structure collapsed in the 16th century. Today’s gothic building includes a nave built by George Edmund Street (1824-81) and two towers that were added in 1888 by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97).

In 1549, Henry VIII (1491-1547) raised the building, or what was left of it after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, to the rank of Cathedral of a new Diocese of Bristol and dedicated it to the Holy Trinity. Paul Bush (1490-1558) became the first bishop of Bristol; his grave lies on the north side of the choir.

Not much is known about life at the abbey before it became a cathedral. A mob destroyed early records during the 1831 Bristol riots, as well as part of the building. Several benefactors helped to rebuild the nave, which opened in 1877. Ten years later, Taylor’s Bell Foundry cast new bells for the north-west tower.

Inside the cathedral, the vaulting of the nave and choir impressed Simeon. The architecture allows the aisles to make use of the full height of the ceiling, which is brightly lit by the daylight coming in through the tall stained-glass windows. The original windows, including a rose window on the west facade, were produced by Hardman & co, during the restoration in the 19th century. Unfortunately, many of the windows shattered during the Blitz (1940-41). Bristolian Arnold Wathen Robinson (1888-1955) produced the windows that are in place today. These designs honour several people, including St. John’s Ambulance, the British Red Cross, the Women’s Voluntary Service and the Home Guard. Plans to remove one window dedicated to Edward Colston are underway.

Cabot Tower

Although temporarily closed, Simeon says it is worth walking (he was carried) up to Cabot Tower to enjoy the views from the top of Brandon Hill. Since 1980, Brandon Hill is looked after by the Avon Wildlife Trust who have their headquarters within the parkland. The area is a breeding ground for butterflies, frogs, newts and birds, such as jays and bullfinches. Simeon also met a squirrel while having a rest by the tower.

Cabot Tower was erected in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s (c.1450-c.1500) journey from Bristol to Canada. Born in Italy, Cabot came to England to seek financial backing for an expedition across the Atlantic. Henry VII (1457-1509) gave Cabot a royal patent stating that all his expeditions should begin in Bristol, which was the second-largest seaport in England at the time.

The first expedition returned early due to bad weather but Cabot’s second expedition proved to be more fruitful. In 1497, Cabot set off on a small ship named Matthew of Bristol with a crew of 20 men. On the 24th June, Cabot’s ship made landfall somewhere off the coast of North America, now believed to be Newfoundland. At this time, Cabot decided to go no further and returned to England to report his findings. Although Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) is famous for colonising the Americas, Cabot Tower recognises Cabot as the first European to reach North America.

In May 1498, Cabot set off on a third expedition, this time with a fleet of five ships. Bad weather forced one ship to dock in Ireland, but the other four carried on sailing. No one heard from them again. Whether Cabot died at sea or if he found land is unknown. His son, Sebastiano (c.1474-1557), continued his father’s work, seeking the Northwest Passage through North America for the king.

Cabot Tower is 105 feet high, making it approximately 334 feet above sea level. The red sandstone structure contains a spiral staircase leading to balconies from which Bristol Harbor is visible. The tower, designed by William Venn Gough (1842-1918), is supported by buttresses and is topped by an octagonal spire upon which a ball finial and winged figure sit.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Not to be missed is the Clifton Suspension Bridge across the Avon Gorge, which links the Bristol suburb Clifton with Leigh Woods, North Somerset. Intrepid Simeon traversed the 1,352 ft (412 m) bridge at 254 ft (74.67m) above water to reach the visitor’s centre on the Leigh Wood’s side.

The visitor’s centre contains a small but informative exhibition about the history of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which opened in 1864. The idea to build a bridge “from Clifton to Leigh Down” to ease traffic in Bristol came from the will of a wealthy wine merchant, William Vick (d.1754). He left £1,000 to the Society of Merchant Venturers, instructing them to invest it until it had reached £10,000, after which they should have enough money to build the bridge across the Avon Gorge.

Vick’s visions were impractical for the time because the technology to build such a bridge did not yet exist. Forty years later, Vick’s wishes resurfaced, and the aptly-named William Bridges published the first design idea. Unfortunately, war broke out with France and the plans were laid to one side.

In 1820, a proposal for a suspension bridge across the Avon Gorge developed. This type of bridge is much cheaper to produce than a stone bridge and quicker to build. In 1829, the Merchant Venturers launched a competition to design an “Iron Suspension Bridge at Clifton Down”, which received around 22 entrees. Only five were considered practical, but the designers lacked expertise. Instead, the committee approached Thomas Telford (1757-1834), “the father of Civil Engineers”, to provide input.

Telford, famous for his Menai Bridge, advised them not to use the competition entries and promptly produced a design of his own. The plans far exceeded the amount of money proposed by Vick’s; therefore, the committee put forward a request to raise more money for the project. Meanwhile, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), one of the competition entrants, proposed an alternative idea costing £10,000 less than Telford’s designs.

Brunel’s design met approval with the locals who also began to propose alternative ideas. In 1830, the committee decided to hold another design competition, which Brunel and other designers readily entered. Of the thirteen designs entered, Brunel came second to an entry by Smith & Hawkes of Birmingham. Unhappy with this result, Brunel tweaked his design and persuaded the judges to grant him the winner.

Unfortunately, many hurdles needed overcoming before work could begin on the bridge. The project was £20,000 short of the necessary funds, and plans to raise the sum came to a standstill due to riots prompted by the House of Lord’s rejection of the Reform Act. Work eventually commenced in 1835, as recorded in Brunel’s diary: “Clifton Bridge – my first child, my darling is actually going on – recommenced week last Monday – Glorious!”

The construction of the bridge progressed slowly over the following few years, but it cost a lot more than initially expected. Work came to a standstill once again in 1843 when Brunel reported they needed a further £36,348 but methods of raising this amount were scarce. By 1853, the Society of Merchant Ventures believed “the idea of completing the Bridge is now wholly abandoned.”

When Brunel died in 1859, locals wanted to demolish the beginnings of the bridge, which they considered to be “monuments of failure”. Fortunately, before this could happen, railway development works in London resulted in the demolition of Brunel’s Hungerford Suspension Bridge, and those in charge donated the material to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. With renewed hope, the committee quickly raised £35,000 and completed the bridge by 1864.

Although Brunel did not live to see the finished product, his “child” remains one of the most iconic structures in the area. Despite being built with horse and carts in mind, more than 4,000,000 cars cross the bridge each year. Regular inspection and maintenance keep the bridge safe, but the key reason it has survived to the 21st century is due to Brunel’s superb engineering.

The visitor’s centre provides more details about the construction of the bridge and the people involved. For £5, visitors can learn everything they want about the bridge and its designer as well as use interactive screens to test their knowledge of engineering. On a nice day, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is a lovely place to enjoy stunning views and take photographs.

SS Great Britain

Clifton Suspension Bridge is not Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s only achievement in Bristol; the other, located in the Great Western Dockyard, is a ship that changed the world. SS Great Britain, which claims to be Bristol’s number one tourist attraction, was the first iron-hulled, screw-propelled passenger liner ever made. After launching in 1843, she had a long and eventful life at sea until she found herself back in the very dry dock of her origin. 

When launched, SS Great Britain was the biggest and most technologically advanced ship in the world. Brunel meticulously planned each element of the vessel down to the minutest details to make her suitable for sailing from Bristol to New York. She could sail the distance in 13 days, although not always without problems. On her maiden voyage, the propeller suffered damages but, on her fifth voyage, SS Great Britain collided with a lighthouse and ran aground on the coast of Northern Ireland. Fortunately, after a few alterations, SS Great Britain soon sailed again.

Fitted with a new engine, SS Great Britain set off from Liverpool on 21st August 1852 with 630 passengers destined for Melbourne, Australia. She could complete the journey in 60 days, which was much faster than any sailing ship. A large proportion of the Australian population can trace their ancestry to migrants who arrived on the SS Great Britain.

After many successful years sailing back and forth between Britain and Australia, Antony Gibbs & Sons converted SS Great Britain into a “windjammer”. Between 1882 and 1886, she carried wheat and coal between America and England, often through turbulent waters. These storms eventually damaged SS Great Britain, forcing her to seek shelter in the Falkland Islands.

SS Great Britain spent the rest of her working life as a storage hulk for the Falkland Islands Company until she became too old for use. In 1937, the company abandoned her in Sparrow Cove where she received visits from curious penguins and local children. By the time naval architect Reverend Dr Ewan Corlett (1923-2005) rescued the ship, only a rusting hulk remained.

Corlett arranged for SS Great Britain to return to her birthplace in Bristol. She eventually arrived in the Great Western Dockyard on 19th July 1970, 127 years after her launch. Extensive restoration work has returned the ship to her former glory. Using passenger diaries from SS Great Britain’s first few trips, the team has created a fairly accurate representation of both the exterior and interior of the ship.

Simeon thoroughly enjoyed exploring SS Great Britain, beginning with the top deck where the crew kept animals for use as food products during the journeys. One passenger diary entry listed the number of animals on board the ship in 1864: “one cow, three bullocks, 150 sheep, 30 pigs, 500 chickens, 400 ducks, 100 geese and 50 turkeys.” Most of these animals helped to feed the first-class passengers, but the steerage or third-class passengers received little more than broken water biscuits.

As Simeon discovered, the steerage class lived in the cheaper accommodation below decks in small berths containing bunk beds. Crammed together with only a narrow aisle between bunks, the steerage class had little privacy, ventilation or natural light. Simeon decided steerage class was not for him and headed to the kitchens where cooks prepared luxurious food for the first-class passengers.

Simeon found the first-class section of the ship much more to his standards. As well as slightly larger sleeping areas, first-class passengers had a wide choice of meals, which they ate in the decorated Dining Saloon. Between meals, the passengers found ways to entertain themselves, including putting on amateur theatrical or musical performances. Charades, bible-reading classes, Sunday schools, language lessons and a variety of games prevented anyone becoming bored. Although they could go up on deck for fresh air, the first-class also had a Promenade Saloon where passengers could walk if unable to go outside.

As well as the steerage and first-class accommodations, Simeon visited the noisy Engine Room, the Galley, the Cargo Deck, the Holding Bridge and the Dry Dock. The latter is a specially created roofed-dock that protects the SS Great Britain‘s iron hull. Travelling over a million miles in salty seawater caused the metal to corrode, leading to holes. Despite no longer being in the water, the hull would continue to deteriorate without prevention. 

The Dry Dock is a giant dehumidification chamber that removes 80% of the humidity from the air, making it the same level of dryness as the Arizona Desert and protects SS Great Britain from further damage. Visitors can enter the dock to get a close up look at the ship’s propellor and appreciate the size and shape of her enormous hull.

A trip to SS Great Britain includes two museums as well as the ship. The Dockyard Museum, which leads onto the top deck, provides all the details about the ship’s construction, journeys and restoration. The other museum, Being Brunel, tells the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel from his birth to his death. SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge belong to a long list of Brunel’s achievements, including two more ships, the Great Western Railway and several bridges. 

Bristol Harbour

A visit to SS Great Britain makes it impossible to miss Bristol’s harbour. Nicknamed the Floating Harbour because the water level remains constant regardless of the tides, it covers an area of 70 acres, which tour boats regularly sail around. Aboard the Tower Belle owned by Bristol Packet Boat Trips, Simeon sailed past former workshops and warehouses that now contain restaurants, nightclubs and museums.

Commentary supplied by the captain of the boat taught Simeon about past and present life in the harbour. Along the way, Simeon had good views of SS Great Britain, old industrial cranes, and a replica of Matthew, which John Cabot sailed on in 1497.

Bristol Aquarium

Sticking to the water theme, Bristol Aquarium is a short walk from Bristol Harbour and is home to hundreds of sea creatures. Visitors explore the wonders of the oceans in seven themed zones. Piranhas from the Amazon, Cichlids from Africa, and Clown Fish (Nemo) and Regal Tangs (Dory) from the tropics are among the popular attractions.

Simeon particularly enjoyed watching the terrapin turtles in Turtle Bay and watching the sharks and Honeycomb Moray Eels eat their lunch. The jellyfish and rays provided a peaceful ambience, whereas the faster fish added an element of excitement. Simeon’s favourite section, of course, was the Urban Jungle where he felt at home with the foreign trees and plants, for example, the banana plant (Musa basjoo) and cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa).

Whilst the aquarium is a fun place to visit, it is also a place of learning and development. Bristol aquarium specialises in breeding seahorses, but they also have juvenile pipefish and sharks in their nursery. They take great care of their creatures and nurse any poorly ones back to good health. Many of the fish came to the aquarium as donations, but others are rescuees from dirty or unsafe waters. Many of these are eventually re-homed thanks to the aquarium’s support of marine conservation.

M Shed

On the harbourside sits the M Shed, a museum devoted to the history of Bristol and its people. Situated in one of the former dockside sheds named simply after letters of the alphabet, the museum covers everything from life in the harbour to the development of the city over several centuries. Simeon enjoyed learning about different periods of history and looking at the hundreds of exhibits.

The largest single item on display is the green Bristol Lodekka bus, used between 1949 and 1968. Specially designed to pass under all the bridges in Bristol, it could carry up to 73 passengers. Other vehicles in the museum include a fully restored Type T Tourer, the fastest solid-tyred bicycle from 1883 and a “Flying Flea”. The latter is the English name of Henri Mignet’s (1839-1965) aircraft Pou De Ciel. These were sold as kits for amateur flyers to assemble. Bristol engineer Harry Dolman (1897-1977) was the first person in England to build one of the planes, which he named the Blue Finch.

The M Shed needs more than one visit to appreciate fully; there is so much information, it is impossible to take it all in on one trip. The Slave Trade is impossible to ignore, but the museum curators have dealt with it in a sensitive, educational manner. Stories about housewives who boycotted sugar in protest of the Slave Trade and those who protested for equal rights demonstrate how the Bristolians overcame their ignoble past.

The museum refers to Bristol’s International Balloon Fiesta, which attracts hundreds of people each year. Those lucky enough to see the balloons flying over the Clifton Suspension Bridge are in the perfect position for awe-inspiring photographs – weather permitting. Simeon was disappointed he was not in Bristol for the fiesta, but he did catch sight of a couple of hot air balloons once or twice.

Of course, the balloons were not the only thing Simeon was unable to see; it is hard to fit everything into one week for such a little gibbon. Covid-19 restrictions also limited the number of places he could visit, but Simeon has a list of places he would like to see during his next trip to Bristol: Bristol Zoo, the Red Lodge Museum, the Georgian House Museum, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, and John Wesley’s Chapel.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall off Clifton Suspension Bridge. It is a long way down.
  3. Do not fall in the harbour. You will get very wet.
  4. Be respectful in the Cathedral. It is a place of worship.
  5. Pace yourself when climbing Brandon Hill. There are plenty of benches along the pathways.
  6. Watch out for people on bikes. Do not walk in cycle lanes.
  7. Do not touch the creatures in the aquarium. Particularly the terrapins, they have powerful jaws.
  8. Be prepared for rain. Pack more than one pair of trousers.
  9. Look out for Banksy. A couple of his works are in Bristol.
  10. Follow social distancing rules. They are there for everyone’s safety.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York

Simeon Conquers York

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It has been some time since Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has had an adventure. After months of self-isolation, Simeon braved the outdoors, travelling 200 miles from London to York, the city of Romans, Vikings and Chocolate. Known for its city walls and magnificent Minster, York is situated on two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, and was founded in around 71 AD. With so much history, York was the perfect city for Simeon to explore and he would love to tell you all about it.

Day One

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Having left London at precisely 6:06 am, Simeon arrived at Ebor Cottage, York around 10:30 am (he stopped on the way for breakfast, naturally). The cottage gets its name from Eboracum, the name the Roman’s gave the city when they arrived in 71 AD, which possibly means “place of the yew trees”. Before the Roman conquest of Britain, the area was inhabited by a tribe called the Brigantes, a name which translates into contemporary English as “highlanders”. The Brigantes were unhappy about their land being taken by the Romans, who had built a wooden fortress and surrounded it with stone walls, however, it was not until AD 306 that they retaliated.

The Brigantes were temporarily subdued by Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus (c205-306) and his son Constantine (272-337), however, victory did not come without a price. Constantius Chlorus was fatally wounded in battle and passed away in his headquarters at Eboracum. His son immediately seized power, becoming Emperor on what is now the site of York Minster. Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, was the first Christian emperor of Rome and brought Christianity to Western Europe.

It did not take Simeon long to unpack his bags before he was racing off to the city centre. What better way to see the city than on a City Sightseeing bus? The open-topped bus took Simeon on a circular route around the city of York, telling him about all the sites and places to visit. Afterwards, Simeon decided to explore some of the city by himself, walking the remaining Roman walls, visiting the many gates and “bars”. The bars are actually gateways to the city that were built into the walls. The gates, on the other hand, are the streets. The term comes from the Old Norse word “gata”, which means “road” or “path”.

The bus tour began in Exhibition Square in front of York Art Gallery. Here, Simeon resisted the temptation to play in the fountains by the statue of William Etty (1787-1849), a member of the Royal Academy of Arts who was born in York. Next door is a grand building called the King’s Manor, where Charles I (1600-49) set up his headquarters during the English Civil War. On the other side of the road is Bootham Bar, one of the four main entrances to the medieval city and the oldest gateway in York dating back to the 11th century. The other bars are Monk, Walmgate and Micklegate.

Monk Bar was built in the 14th and 15th century and now houses the Richard III Experience. The second storey was added by Richard III (1452-85) in 1484. It features a portcullis, which is no longer used, and a series of holes in the walls from which guards could drop missiles onto attackers. Stone figures have been added to the top of the building to represent men throwing boulders onto their victims below. During its history, Monk Bar has been used as a prison and a police station and boasts two garderobes (medieval toilets).

Walmgate Bar is the most complete of the four bars and dates to around the 12th century, although it has had many additions over the centuries. The arch is the oldest part but the portcullis and gates are from the 15th century. The century before, a Barbican (extended wall) was built in front of the Bar. This meant attackers had to get through two gates before entering the city. Damages from cannonballs can still be seen on some parts of the Bar from the time the city was besieged by Parliamentarians in 1644.

“Off with his head and set it on York gates; so York may overlook the town of York.”
– Queen Mary in Shakespeare’s Henry VI

Micklegate Bar was once the most important of York’s gateways. At three storeys high, it was the place where severed heads of traitors were displayed on pikes and pecked at by crows. Sometimes, rotten heads were left up there for almost a decade. Despite its gruesome history, Micklegate Bar was the traditional entry for royalty, dignitaries and important visitors. They could not enter without permission and this rule is still in place today. If the current monarch wishes to enter the city through Micklegate Bar, they must first receive permission from the Lord Mayor of York.

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Clifford’s Tower

The bus took Simeon past lots of interesting places, some ancient, some old and some new-ish. After William the Conqueror (1028-87) invaded York, he built a wooden castle on a raised mound in 1068. Of course, a wooden structure would not last forever, so 200 years later Henry III (1207-72) replaced it with a stone castle, of which one tower remains today. Simeon got a good view of this structure, known as Clifford’s Tower, which was built between 1244 and 1270.

Clifford’s Tower is usually open to the public, however, due to lockdown restrictions, it was closed when Simeon visited. Luckily, the bus tour was able to tell Simeon a little about it. Known by the locals as the “Eye of York”, the 15-metre high building stands on a conical mound and provides stunning views across the city. It contains two floors, the top which once included a chapel and private apartments, however, it is now mostly roofless. At first glance, the tower may appear to be round, however, it was actually built in a quadrilobate design made up of four round bastions and two turrets.

The bus continued on past the War Memorial Gardens, which are relatively new in comparison to the majority of York. The garden was first opened in 1925 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Great War. In the centre stands a war memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and other memorials have been added since to commemorate the Second World War and the Korean War.

Another garden allegedly contains the grave of Dick Turpin (1705-39): “Richard Palmer alias Richard Turpin, notorious highwayman and horse stealer. Executed at Tyburn, April 7th 1739″. Dick Turpin was an infamous highwayman from Essex who fled to York under the pseudonym John Palmer. After a fight with a local man, his true identity was revealed and he was hung in the Knavesmire, a marshy area outside of the city walls. Many now believe Turpin’s body does not lie under the gravestone in York, however, others have recorded paranormal activity in the area. Simeon decided not to visit the gravestone and peered at it nervously from the bus in case he saw the rumoured ghostly figure on horseback.

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After Simeon’s bus journey came to an end, he was eager to explore some of the sights and immediately rushed up the steps at Botham Bar to walk along the Roman walls. Walking where the Romans once trod, Simeon came across some of the places he saw from the bus plus several other places.

The walls do not encircle the whole of York because the River Foss and the boggy land made some areas impenetrable. At the beginning of the 14th century, however, a bridge known as Layerthorpe Bridge was built across the river to increase trade. Those who crossed the bridge were required to pay a toll. It was eventually demolished and replaced in 1996 by two bridges that are used today.

The area surrounding the location of Layerthorpe Bridge has become known as Jewbury due to a Jewish cemetery that once stood there. In the 12th century, York had the largest Jewish community in England, however, in 1190 many of the Jews were forced to take their own lives at Clifford’s Tower. Later, in 1290, the remaining Jews were expelled from England by Edward I (1239-1307).

Later, Simeon came across Fishergate while walking along the wall. Whilst it was not one of the original bars, the gateway was added in medieval times. Inscribed above the central arch is the commemoration of the knighthood bestowed by Henry VII (1457-1509) in 1487 upon William Todd, the Lord Mayor of York. The tower above the gateway was used as a place to imprison Roman Catholics during the reigns of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and James I (1566-1625). It was also briefly used as a place to incarcerate the mentally ill.

By this point in Simeon’s journey, he was feeling rather worn out and decided not to walk the remaining parts of the wall. This may also have been because he had spied The Postern Gate, a pub built next to the Fishergate Postern medieval tower!

Day Two

More exploring was on the cards for Simeon, this time with the help of a York Minster Area Trail put together by Treasure Trails. The trail contained 19 clues that led Simeon around York, solving hints to work out who murdered the (fictional) novice campanologist, Terry Bell. Along the way, Simeon learnt even more about the City of York.

The York Minster Area Trail began beside a Roman column that once stood in the great hall of an ancient fortress. When the building was destroyed, the column was buried, which preserved it until 1969 when it was eventually found. The trail then led Simeon to Dean’s Park where he met Gerald the Minster Cat along the way. Gerald suggested Simeon look for clues in small places, so he did, including inside a post box! Gerald warned Simeon not to appear suspicious because York Minster has its own police force. Gerald also told Simeon the Minster’s full name is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York.

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As Simeon rapidly crossed off his list of suspects, he ventured down many interestingly named streets: Chapter House Street, St. Saviourgate, Swinegate and Coffee Yard to name a few. Simeon’s favourite street, however, was Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Ironically, this is the name of the shortest street in York and only contains three buildings: 1, 1a and 1 1/2. It was first recorded in 1505 as Whitnourwhatnourgate, meaning “Neither whit nor what street” or “Neither one thing nor the other”. The locals, however, claim it means “What a street!”

Simeon’s second favourite street is actually the most famous in York. The Shambles, which has been taken over by Harry Potter shops, is a very narrow street that gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels, meaning “flesh-shelves”, due to the number of butchers that once traded there. Some of the shops still have the hooks or “shammels” upon which meat was displayed.

Despite being the best-preserved medieval street in England, literature and film fans have likened the street to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling (b.1965). Some claim the street was actually the inspiration for the fictional alley, however, the author denies this and states she has never visited The Shambles. Nonetheless, Harry Potter fans have moved in, opening shops such as The Shop That Must Not Be Named, World of Wizardry, The Boy Wizard and The Potions Cauldron. Fortunately, the street still contains a few of the more traditional shops selling clothes, sweets, fudge, accessories and gifts.

Partway down The Shambles is a shrine dedicated to Saint Margaret Clitherow. Also known as “the pearl of York”, Margaret Clitherow (1556-85) was a butcher’s wife who converted to Catholicism in 1574 at a time when it was banned in England. Despite being fined and imprisoned multiple times by the Church of England for not attending Sunday services, Clitherow maintained her Catholic faith, celebrating mass in a rented house. She allegedly helped to hide some of the priests who were being persecuted, for which she was arrested in 1585. Refusing to plead neither guilty nor innocent, Clitherow was tortured then executed on Good Friday by being crushed to death by a door. This was a form of peine forte et dure (hard and forceful punishment) given to those who refused to plead in which the defendant was slowly crushed by a gradual accumulation of heavy stones or weights upon their body.

Margaret Clitherow was one of a few notable names Simeon came across while searching for the murderer of (fictional) Terry Bell. While walking down Stonegate, Simeon came across the house in which the infamous Guido “Guy” Fawkes (1570-1606) was born. His date of birth is not known, however, records reveal Fawkes was baptised on 13th April 1570 at St Michael le Belfry church in York. He attended St Peter’s School but left the city when he was 21 to fight in the Catholic Spanish army. When he returned to England he went straight to London to help plot the murder of James I. As the majority know, Fawkes was caught with several barrels of gunpowder in the cellar under parliament, after which he was arrested and hung, drawn and quartered.

Other names that cropped up during Simeon’s search of the city included George Hudson (1800-71) the Lord Mayor of York known as the “Railway King” for bringing the railway to York, and Yorkshireman Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), later the Bishop of Exeter, who published the first complete printed English Bible in 1535. Simeon found the location of the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in York where John Wesley (1703-91) conducted the opening service on Sunday 15th July 1759.

After two hours of deciphering clues, Simeon had solved the murder mystery. As a reward, he treated himself to a Yorkshire pudding at newly opened restaurant Forest.

Day Three

Simeon was not overly impressed with the downpour he woke up to but at least the York Minster, which he intended to visit would have a roof. York Minster, however, had not always been the stable building that it is now. Foundations under the building, which can be seen in the undercroft, date from around AD71 and once belonged to a Roman Fortress, which was later destroyed. It was some time before Christianity arrived in York and the first known Church on or near the site was a wooden structure erected around AD627 and was the location of the baptism of King Edwin (586-633) when he converted to Christianity. The wooden building was soon replaced with a stone version, where King Edwin was buried in AD633, however, it was destroyed by William the Conqueror’s forces in 1069.

Despite having destroyed the first stone church, William the Conqueror gave the Archbishop of York, Thomas of Bayeux (d.1100), permission to build a new church on the Roman foundations. Over the following 250 years, the church was added to by various kings and archbishops, which explains the differences in architectural styles. The original tower collapsed in 1407 and a stronger one built, therefore, the Minster was not consecrated until 3rd July 1472. Future disasters destroyed parts of the Minster, such as fires in 1829 and 1840, and subsidence in 1967, however, rescue missions have saved the Minster, which still stands in all its beauty.

“The Minster is a symphony in stone.”
– John David, Master Mason

As Simeon entered the Minster, his breath was taken away by the enormity of the Gothic Nave. Staring up at the ceiling, Simeon spotted the seven key ceiling bosses that the Victorians recreated after the loss of the original ceiling. Each boss illustrates an event in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Simeon was a little disconcerted by the golden dragon head that peers down into the Nave. No one knows its true purpose but some suggest it may have been used to lift up a heavy font lid.

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The Nave can fit up to 1,500 people, however, on Simeon’s visit, only a few people were allowed to enter at a time. The lack of crowds made it easier for Simeon to study the building carefully, which is when he discovered a series of headless statues on either side of the west entrance. “What a strange sight,” thought Simeon. “Their heads have fallen off.” Their heads, however, had not fallen off, they had been purposefully made without them.

During the Reformation, the Minster was purged of any traces of Roman Catholicism, which resulted in the decapitation of several statues. To symbolise this event, twelve headless statues were created in 2005 by Terry Hammill (b.1941) and are known as the “Semaphore Saints”. Each statue signs a different letter and when placed together, they read “Christ is here”.

Due to repair works, Simeon could not enter the northern sections of the Minster, nor could he see the great organ and its 5,403 pipes, which were hidden by scaffolding. Social distancing prevented Simeon from climbing the tall tower, however, he did not mind too much because he was so busy marvelling at the many stained glass windows. In the Nave, Simeon enjoyed studying the Tree of Jesse Window, which shows the genealogy of Jesus. Simeon’s favourite window, however, was in the Lady Chapel.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Great East Window

The Great East Window was created between 1405-8 by John Thornton (c1385- after 1433) for a fee of £46 and tells the story of the world from its beginning as told in the Book of Genesis, to its end as told in Revelations. Simeon could not see from standing on the ground, but the top piece of glass depicts God with the words “Ego sum Alpha et Omega“, which means “I am Alpha and Omega of all things”. A guide showed a close up of the glass on a tablet and pointed out the amusing graffiti left by conservators that read “top, centre” as though they would forget where it goes! It took conservators 92,400 hours to clean and protect all 311 glass panels.

Descending underground, Simeon braved the crypt, which contained some of the original Norman architecture. A disconcerting doomstone showed a carving of Hell in which lost souls were being pushed into a cauldron and boiled alive by demons. Needless to say, Simeon did not stay down there for long.

Before leaving the Minster, Simeon spent some time in the South Transept, which is the oldest part of the present building. Ironically, it has the newest roof because its old roof was destroyed when it was struck by lightning in 1984. Four years later, the roof had been rebuilt and Blue Peter set up a competition for children to design six of the new bosses on the theme of important events of the 20th century. The winning designs include the moon landing and the raising of Henry VIII’s (1419-1547) ship the Mary Rose. Another of the bosses, although not one of the competition entries, represents the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill. Simeon was slightly disappointed that his favourite song, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, was not featured.

The round window in the South Transept dates back to 1250, however, the stained glass was installed in 1515. Made up of a pattern of red and white roses, the window commemorated the union of the House of Lancaster and the House of York through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). Strangely, the window features the red roses of Lancaster and the red and white Tudor rose, however, there are no white York roses. Miraculously, the Rose Window survived the lightning strike of 1984, however, it suffered 40,000 cracks in 8,000 pieces of glass. It would have been impossible to replace every panel of 16th-century glass, therefore, a special resin was produced to seal each crack.

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The wet weather put a bit of a damper on the rest of Simeon’s day, so to avoid the raindrops, he took the opportunity to explore a few shops, including those in the Shambles. Being a little gibbon with short legs, however, meant Simeon soon tired and needed refreshments. Fortunately, a stone’s throw away from Lendal bridge where Simeon had found himself, was a French Bistro called Rustique, where Simeon enjoyed steak and chips.

Day Four

From the moment he arrived in York, Simeon was keen to meet the Vikings and he finally got a chance at the Jorvik Viking Centre near Coppergate Shopping Centre. Jorvik (YOR-vik) was the name the Vikings gave to the city, from which the name York developed. In fact, the Vikings are responsible for many place names in Britain. The suffix -ness, for example, means headland, and -by means village or farm, as in Whitby: “white farm”.

Upon arriving at Jorvik, Simeon was ushered down a set of stairs, 9 metres underground to where the Viking street level once was. Years of debris and rubbish has caused the ground level to rise, however, this has been beneficial as the waterlogged soil helped to preserve the Viking village, which otherwise would have rotted to dust. Under a glass floor are the remains of two houses, which were discovered when foundations were being built for the shopping centre. Whilst the houses seem quite small, even to Simeon, they would have been the homes of large, extended families.

Formerly the Anglo-Saxon capital of Northumbria, York/Jorvik was captured by the Vikings in AD866. Under Viking rule, the city expanded and became a populous trading centre where many came to work or settle. The Vikings remained the rulers of Jorvik until AD954 when the Norwegian leader Eric Bloodaxe (885-954) was exiled from the land and possibly assassinated. Back under Anglo-Saxon control, York continued to develop, eventually becoming one of the largest cities in the new kingdom, England.

After a brief talk from a Viking (the face mask made his costume seem less authentic but Simeon did not mind), Simeon boarded the Ride Experience for a journey through a recreated Viking village featuring realistic, moving models, sounds and smells. The audio guide explained to Simeon that the Vikings arrived by sea from Scandinavia bringing with them all sorts of goods to trade, including animal pelts, whalebone and amber.

Simeon was a little concerned to see a woman tied up and even more perturbed to learn this was a common scene in Viking areas. When Vikings raided a village, they often took people captive as slaves. This woman, called Brónach, was captured in Ireland and was being taken to market to be sold. The market also sold food, including meat and fruit, clothes, and animals. Most people worked from their houses and Simeon passed a blacksmith, a cobbler, a weaver and a fisherman on his journey around the village.

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© 2012-2020 York Archaeological Trust

Whilst travelling through the market, Simeon saw a disabled lady trying to cross the road. Initially mistaking her for an elderly woman with a crutch, Simeon learnt the lady was called Leoba and moved to Jorvik when she was young. Now aged 46, which was quite old at that time, her health was beginning to deteriorate. Modelled on a skeleton that was discovered under Coppergate, Leoba had defects in her hip, knee and spine, which caused her to walk with a limp. At 5 ft 2in tall, Leoba had a widespread degenerative joint disease and traces of lead and strontium have been found on her skeleton.

Leoba was not the only Viking suffering from a physical condition that Simeon met on his trip. The leatherworker, Mord, had painfully clawed hands due to suffering from “Viking Disease”. Now known as Dupuytren’s contracture, the hand deformity occurs when the tissue under the palm of the hand begins to knot, causing the fingers to become bent.

After passing a man trying to use a cesspit (toilet), Simeon came to the final two scenes of the ride. The first revealed some of the pagan Vikings converted to Christianity. In Scandinavia, the Vikings worshipped Norse gods, such as Odin, Thor, Frey and Freya, however, they chose to leave those beliefs behind and adopt the religion of their new land. Viking monuments have been found in churches across York and several Viking rulers, including Guthfrith (d.895) and Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014), were buried in York Minster. Evidence of Pre-Christian stories has also been discovered in York, including the story of Sigurðr the dragon-slayer.

After the ride came to an end, Simeon had the opportunity to view two rooms full of Viking artefacts that were discovered below the surface of Coppergate. These included bones, weapons, knives, coins, clothing and the largest fossilised human faeces. Fortunately, there were no smells in this part of the museum!

After a cup of tea at Lucky Days Cafe on Church Street, Simeon was keen to make the most of the good weather and headed to the Museum Gardens to explore the 10 acres of land that once belonged to St Mary’s Abbey. Throughout the grounds are the remains of the Benedictine abbey that was founded in 1055 and dedicated to Saint Olaf II of Norway (995-1030). After the Norman invasion, the abbey was granted to a group of monks from Whitby. The remaining ruins date from the 1260s when the abbey was expanded to create a defensive wall. The abbey was converted into a palace after Henry VIII banned all monasteries in the 1530s. The palace, however, was seldom used and soon fell into disrepair.

Some of the remains were once part of St Leonard’s Hospital, which shared the grounds with St Mary’s Abbey until the Reformation. The hospital was founded shortly after 1100 to replace a former hospital that had been damaged by fire. The hospital, which looked like a church, cared for the sick, poor and elderly, however, they could be denied treatment for refusing to confess their sins and partake in regular prayers and rituals.

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To one side of the abbey and hospital ruins is a medieval building that has stood the test of time. Known as a Hospitium, the 14th-century building would have once housed guests to the abbey who were not allowed to stay in the main abbey with the monks. Whereas the abbey and hospital were destroyed, the Hospitium has gone through several uses and, although fell to disrepair a few times, was saved by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 1828. Today it can be hired for weddings, parties and special events.

On the opposite side of the park is the Yorkshire Museum, which was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country. Designed by William Wilkins (1778-1839) in the neo-classical Greek Revival style, the museum opened in 1830 and is home to several collections, including geology, archaeology, natural history and palaeontology. Unfortunately, the Yorkshire Museum was still in lockdown at the time of Simeon’s visit.

Simeon’s favourite part of the garden was the botanical section, which has won the Gold Award at the Yorkshire in Bloom competition three years running. There are several themes throughout the garden, such as the Prairie Border, which contains the native flora of the American prairie, the Fern Garden, and the Oriental Border, with plants from China and Japan. Simeon liked the Butterfly Border best, which contains several perennial plants that are full of nectar and other plants on which butterflies like to hibernate.

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After leaving the garden, Simeon found himself by the River Ouse and went for a long walk up one side and down the other (actually, he was lazy and was carried the entire time!). All the walking (?!) made Simeon very tired and he was glad to find a cocktail bar on Coney Street with views of the river. After enjoying a burger at Revolution, Simeon returned to his cottage where he promptly fell asleep, dreaming of fighting Vikings in a garden full of flowers.

Day Five

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Before travelling to York, Simeon was told the city was nicknamed the Chocolate City and today he was determined to find out why. In King’s Square, a building has been devoted to York’s Chocolate Story, so using his nose, Simeon followed the scent of chocolate through the city until he found the correct building. Inside, Simeon joined his tour guide outside a make-shift shop to begin his journey through the history of chocolate.

York’s Chocolate Story has been told in the city since 2012 and begins by travelling back to around 1900 BC when the earliest evidence of humans consuming the cacao bean has been recorded. Simeon felt right at home in a room decorated to look like the Amazon rainforest and had to resist swinging from the trees but was soon captivated by the film about the origins of chocolate.

Simeon learnt that drinking chocolate has a much longer history than coffee, almost equalling the enduring history of tea. It is believed the cacao bean was discovered by the Mokaya people in the north of the Amazon rainforest who took it to other places in South and Central America. In Aztec societies, only the upper class were allowed to drink chocolate and in Mayan myths, chocolate was believed to be a gift from the gods.

Unfortunately, the way chocolate made its way to Europe paints the 16th-century explorers in a bad light. The Spanish were the first to discover the cacao-based drinks of the South American natives and were keen to trade with them. Girolamo Benzoni (1519-70) described the chocolate drink as “somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body without intoxicating”. Whilst the natives agreed to trade with the Spanish, it was in part due to the Spanish colonisation of Central and South America. In other words, the natives may not have had a choice.

It was the Europeans that first added sugar to cocoa to make the chocolate drinks sweeter. Due to the cost of both the beans and sugar, chocolate was initially a drink for the rich. In 17th-century Britain, chocolate houses began to appear in the cities where the elite would congregate to drink the precious liquid. To make more money, however, dealers began to sell compressed “cakes” of cocoa powder, which people could buy to make chocolate drinks in their own homes.

Mary Tuke (1695-1752), a Quaker, was one of the key sellers of cocoa in York. In a grocery store on Walmgate, Tuke sold the “cakes” by weight, which people would take home and add to hot milk or water. This was the precursor to the chocolate bar, which was eventually created by J. S. Fry & Sons of Bristol in 1847. When Mary Tuke died, the family business was handed down to her nephew William (1732-1822) who, in turn, passed it down the family line until it was sold to Henry Isaac Rowntree (1837-83) in 1862.

Simeon had heard of Rowntrees and is particularly fond of their fruit pastilles, so was keen to learn more. The Rowntrees company was founded by Joseph Rowntree (1801-59) who moved from Scarborough to York where he established his grocer’s shop at 28 Pavement. As a Quaker, Rowntree knew the Tuke family as well as other Quakers, such as his apprentice George Cadbury (1839-1922) who eventually set up his own chocolate factory in Birmingham. Joseph’s youngest son, Henry, worked for the Tuke’s cocoa production, and it was to him the Tukes sold their business.

Henry Rowntree died shortly after Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles launched, which saved the company from bankruptcy, and Henry’s brother Joseph (1836-1925) took over the business. Rowntrees, however, was not the only chocolate company in York. Terry’s, most associated with the Terry’s Chocolate Orange, was established in York by Robert Berry and William Bayldon in 1767. Initially known as Berry’s, they sold rock cocoa and lozenges, claiming they had many health benefits. Joseph Terry (1793-1850), a relative of Berry, joined the company at its Saint Helen’s Square (named after Constantine the Great’s mother) premises in 1824 and eventually took over the business, renaming it Joseph Terry and Company. Since 1993, Terry’s has been owned by Kraft Foods.

Craven’s, initially a sugar confectionery company famed for humbugs and other boiled sweets, is another chocolate company from York. The business had been set up by Thomas Craven and was run by his wife Mary Ann Hick (1829-1900) after his death in 1862. Craven’s main factory was at Coppergate and was known as the “French Almond Works” as this was their key product. It is on this site that the Viking remains were found and where the Jorvik Viking Centre has been situated since 1984.

Simeon was overjoyed to receive some chocolate samples to try. He was feeling rather hungry after learning about different chocolate bars. Yorkie, for example, was made by Rowntrees in the 1970s to compete with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Several names were considered, such as “Trek”, “O’Hara” and “Jones”, before they decided to name it “Yorkie” after the city of its birth. When it was first launched, Yorkie was targetted at men, hence the sexist slogan “It’s not for girls.”

Terry’s Chocolate Orange is Terry’s best-known product, however, they also developed the Chocolate Apple and the Chocolate Lemon, although neither were successful. Rowntrees, on the other hand, have had several successes, such as Polos, Smarties and the Chocolate Crisp, now known as KitKat. Now owned by Nestlé, who purchased Rowntrees in 1988, KitKats are the most sold chocolate bar around the world. In Japan, they are particularly loved due to the similarity in name to the phrase “Kitto Katsu” (you will surely win) and gifted as good luck presents. Different countries have developed alternative flavours of KitKat, such as honeycomb in Australia and a twelve-finger KitKat in New Zealand. Japan, however, has produced hundreds of flavours, including, strawberry, green tea, melon, and cheese. (“Yuck!” says Simeon.)

Simeon’s favourite part of the Chocolate Story was making his own chocolate lolly. Naturally, it did not last long. He was hungry after learning all about chocolate!

“No city in England is better furnished with provisions of every kind, not any so cheap, the river being so navigable, and so near the sea, the merchants here trade directly to what part of the world they will.”
– Daniel Defoe, 1724

With an entire afternoon at his leisure, Simeon decided to head to the River Ouse where he walked (was carried) yesterday. This time, however, Simeon was hoping to go on the river.

Near Lendel Bridge, Simeon boarded the York Sightseeing Cruise and set off on a 45-minute trip up and down the River Ouse. Simeon was not too sure whether he would enjoy the trip because it was quite breezy but, after adapting his facemask into a headscarf, he sat back and enjoyed the ride. The captain of the boat told the passengers about the history of York, pointing out famous landmarks that Simeon could see from the upper deck. The captain was full of fascinating facts about the history of flooding and trade on the river. Simeon enjoyed seeing all the views but fell about laughing when he saw a converted ice cream van-boat floating on the river!

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Back on land, Simeon was momentarily startled by a cat on the balcony of a nearby building. After being reassured the cat was a statue, Simeon learned there were several cats all over the city. The originals had been placed there to ward of rats and mice. Using a map supplied by the York Lucky Cats glass shop, Simeon set off on the York Lucky Cat Trail, determined to find them all. Craning his neck to look up at the tall buildings, Simeon found the majority of the hidden cats. His favourite was the ghost cat coming out of the wall of the Golden Fleece Pub. The pub is allegedly haunted and has reported the sightings of several ghosts. Lady Alice Peckett has been seen wandering the corridors, Geoff Monroe haunts the third floor, and a small child hides behind the entrance to the pub. Two ghosts have been reported by the bar: One-Eyed Jack and a Grumpy Old Man, who crouches in an alcove.

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Simeon decided The Golden Fleece was not the place for him, however, he was rather hungry after chasing cats all over York. Thankfully, he had spotted a restaurant called D’Vine in Swinegate and ordered himself a large pizza!

Day Six

Simeon, the little explorer, decided to step outside of York and travel through the North York Moors to the seaside town of Whitby. The journey, which took just over an hour, led Simeon up and down some steep hills and he was pleased when he caught sight of the River Esk, which headed out to the North Sea.

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The little gibbon was keen to see the ruins of Whitby Abbey on top of the East Cliff and was grateful someone was willing to carry him up the 199 steps. The abbey was founded in AD657 by the Northumbrian King Oswiu (612-670) in commemoration of his victory over the pagan king of Mercia. It was a double monastery, meaning it housed both men and women, and it soon became a place of learning. It is said a cowherd called Cædmon (657-684) was miraculously transformed into a poet while staying there. Simeon returned to sea level following the more gentle path known as “Cædmon’s Trod”.

Whitby Abbey was destroyed by Vikings in a series of raids, however, after 1066, it was rebuilt as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Peter and St Hilda. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair when Henry VIII ordered its closure in 1539. The ruins of the abbey inspired the setting of Bram Stoker’s (1847-1912) Dracula and there is a museum based on the story on the quayside.

Having conquered the East Cliff, Simeon was determined to climb the West (with help) to see the whalebone replica and the statue of Captain James Cook (1728-79) whose ship, HMS Endeavour, was built in Whitby and known by the locals as the Whitby Cat. Simeon saw a scaled-down replica of the ship in the harbour called the Bark Endeavour Whitby. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum can be found on Grape Lane, however, Simeon was eager to walk on the grade II listed West Pier, which ran parallel to the East Pier. Both piers have a lighthouse and a beacon to help guide ships in the dark. On the West Pier, a horn is sounded every 30 seconds if the piers become hidden by thick fog.

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Before returning to York, Simeon had time for some local scampi at the award-winning fish and chip shop Quayside.

Day Seven

Simeon’s trip to York has come to an end and, whilst it was sad to leave, he has lots of great memories that will last him a lifetime. As he settled into his car seat for the long journey home (via Stamford for refreshments), Simeon tried to pick out his favourite part of York. Was it making a chocolate lolly or was it visiting Jorvik? What about the Minster or the Treasure Trail? Do not forget the boat trip and the bus tour! “It is impossible to choose a favourite,” thought Simeon. “I’ll have to tell everyone about ALL of it.” And so, he did.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Buy a map. There is so much to see and so many streets, so be careful you do not get lost.
  3. Wear a mask. Obey all social distancing measures.
  4. Do not eat too much chocolate. You will get a tummy ache.
  5. Do not fall into the river. It is deep and you will get wet.
  6. Do not try to fight the Vikings. They are actors and wax models.
  7. Visit The Shambles in the evening if you want to take photographs. It is too crowded during the day.
  8. Do not fall off the Roman Walls. Not all sections have railings.
  9. Be respectful in the Minster. It is a place of worship.
  10. Pace yourself. There is so much to see. It is impossible to do it all in a day.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure

Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure

Ahoy there, Simeon! The Cutty Sark restoration team have come across a strange document wedged in behind the ship’s figurehead. A map of an island and set of directions allude to “The Green Witch Treasure”. But which witch? Do they mean Greenwich? And what treasure? Can you follow the trail for a spell and see where it leads – and maybe you’ll earn some bounty in return?

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After receiving a copy of the map and directions from Treasure Trails, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) wasted no time in getting himself to Greenwich to discover the mystery of “The Green Witch Treasure”. (Naturally this included a trip on the Emirates Airline and the Thames Clipper; after all, he is a very adventurous gibbon.) From the Cutty Sark to the Royal Observatory, Simeon raked over the ground, climbed up steep hills (he was carried) and investigated several buildings. He studied the Meridian line, appreciated the architectural beauty of the Queen’s House, Naval College, and the Maritime Museum, and resisted the temptation to jump into the River Thames (it was a hot day). Eventually, Simeon unearthed the location of the treasure but, along the way, he found and learnt about the hidden treasures of Greenwich.

Greenwich, located 5.5 miles from the heart of London, is notable for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Merdian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. It was the birthplace of many of the Tudor Royals, who once spent time at the Palace of Placentia. During the reign of Charles II (1630-85), the palace was demolished and a new building erected, now used by the University of Greenwich.

With reference to a place named Gronewic in a Saxon charter of 918 AD, it is believed the area of Greenwich has been populated for over 1000 years. It is recorded as Grenviz in the Domesday Book of 1086, and later as Grenewych in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of 1291.

As Simeon discovered at the top of Greenwich Park after a long uphill walk, the ground is full of huge mounds and craters, making it appear as though they were the foundations of an old house. Further research reveals these are tumuli, also known as barrows or burial mounds. These are thought to be early Bronze Age barrows (3000 BC), which were later appropriated by the Saxons in the 6th century AD.

During the reign of Æthelred II (the Unready; 966-1016), a Danish fleet (i.e. Viking) anchored on the River Thames and camped on the hill in Greenwich for three years. During this time, they attacked the county of Kent and took the Archbishop of Canterbury as their prisoner. This was Archbishop Alphege (or Ælfheah; 935-1012), who was kept prisoner for seven months until he was stoned to death for his refusal to allow his ransom of 3,000 pieces of silver to be paid.

Shortly into Simeon’s treasure trail, he entered St. Alfege Passage and came across a church bearing the sign “open”. Being the lazy little gibbon that he is, Simeon decided it was a great opportunity for a rest but what he found inside was so interesting that he barely sat down at all! The church is built on the site where Saint Alfege was allegedly killed and a memorial stone marks the spot inscribed with the words “He who dies for justice, dies for Christ.”

The current building, which is undergoing restoration work, was not the first church on the site. No one knows when the first was built but records state the second building was built during the 13th century. It is highly likely that Henry VIII (1491-1547) and other Tudor royals were baptised in this church and one of the stained glass windows depicts this event.

Another stained glass window depicts Thomas Tallis (1505-85), the “father of English church music”. He was the organist at St. Alfege Church during the reigns of four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI (1537-53), Mary I (1516-55) and Elizabeth I (1533-1603). On display is an old organ that may date to Tallis’ time. This was replaced after the Second World War, however, the current organ was transferred to the church from Eton College in the year 2000.

The second church building was destroyed in 1710 when a gale caused the medieval roof to collapse. A new church was proposed and Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), was chosen to be the architect. The building was completed by 1714, however, on 19th March 1941, an incendiary bomb hit the roof of the church and destroyed a lot of the architecture. In 1946, rebuilding began but many of the original features had to be replaced.

Fortunately, much of the altar survived the bombing during the Second World War. The iron rails were designed by Jean Tijou, a French Huguenot ironworker who also produced screens for Hampton Court and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original trompe l’œil painting around the alter by James Thornhill, famed for his work in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, had to be carefully restored.

There were many things that caught Simeon’s eye around the church, including a Coventry Cross made from the medieval nails of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II. Simeon enjoyed seeing the stained glass depicting Thomas Tallis and Henry VIII’s baptism. There were also windows commemorating the marriage of Princess Mary (1496- 1533), the fourth child of Henry VII (1457-1509), to the Earl of Suffolk, and General Charles George Gordon (1833-85), who was baptised there in 1833.

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At the back of the church is a memorial to General James Wolfe (1727-59), who is also remembered with a statue at the top of Greenwich Park. General Wolfe was 32 when he died after leading his troops to victory at the siege of Quebec in 1759. Wolfe, who had moved to Greenwich in 1738, worshipped at St. Alfege Church and is subsequently buried in a vault in the crypt. Thomas Tallis is also buried in the crypt, as is Sir John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823), the “father of Lloyds of London”, and Samuel Enderby (1719-97), the founder of Samuel Enderby & Sons. Other famous worshippers at St. Alfege’s include Reverend John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal; MP for Canterbury Sir James Creed (1695-1762), for whom the steep street Simeon climbed is named; and Sir John Lethieullier (1633-1719), a sheriff of London. In Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) novel Our Mutual Friend, a wedding takes place in St. Alfege Church.

Up near the statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park is Charles II’s Royal Observatory. Initially, this was the site of a tower erected by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447), the half-brother of Henry V (1386-1422). It was at this observatory that the Greenwich Meridian was determined. A prime meridian and its antimeridian create a full circle that divides the planet into two sections: the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere. The Greenwich Meridian passes through the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana and Antarctica. There is an opportunity to stand on the spot that the (invisible) line passes through, however, Simeon was in too much of a hurry to find his buried treasure to stop and join the crowds of people awaiting their turn.

From the highest point in Greenwich Park, the only hill overlooking the Thames on the eastern approach to London, there is a magnificent view over London. Simeon spotted the towers of Canary Wharf in the background, however, he was most impressed with the buildings at the bottom of the hill. One of these buildings is called the Queen’s House and was commissioned by the wife of James I (1566-1625), Queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619). The house, designed by Inigo Jones (1573-1652), is one of the surviving buildings belonging to Greenwich Palace. Unfortunately, Anne did not live to see the final outcome and Charles I (1600-49) gave the completed house to his wife Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-69).

The Queen’s House did not remain Queen Henrietta Maria’s house for long due to the English Civil War, which began in 1641. During this time, Greenwich Palace was used as a prisoner-of-war camp as well as a biscuit factory. Later, throughout the Interregnum (1649-1660) the palace and park were seized for the Lord Protector’s use as a mansion. By the time of the Restoration, the remains of the old Palace of Placentia had been pulled down and Charles II began to oversee the construction of new buildings, including the aforementioned Royal Observatory.

Prince James (1633-1701), the Duke of York and future king, was the person to propose the idea of creating a Royal Naval Hospital in the buildings closest to the Thames, however, it was not until his daughter Mary (1662-94) was on the throne that the work began. The construction of the hospital was eventually finished in 1696.

A century later, the Queen’s House, as it is still known, was transformed into the Royal Naval Asylum, a school for children orphaned by war, by George III (1738-1820). This was later amalgamated with the Greenwich Hospital School before eventually being renamed the Royal Hospital School by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1892. As well as the Queen’s House, the school inhabited the building next door, which is now the National Maritime Museum.

The National Maritime Museum was opened during the reign of George V (1865-1936). The Royal Hospital was moved to Suffolk so that the museum could inhabit the buildings in Greenwich. Forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and Royal Museums Greenwich, the museum contains some of the most important items in relation to the history of Britain at sea. The two million items include maritime art, maps, naval manuscripts and navigational instruments. Two of Britain’s greatest seamen are also celebrated in the museum: Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and Captain James Cook (1728-79). Although the museum is free to enter, Simeon passed up the opportunity in favour of finding his hidden treasure.

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Despite his persistence in continuing the treasure trail, Simeon had time to give a cursory glance to the granite statue of William IV (1765-1837) at the back of the museum. The statue was made by Samuel Nixon (1804-1854) and represents the King in the uniform of a high admiral. Although this statue is impressive, another artwork had caught Simeon’s eye.

Situated on a plinth outside the new Sammy Ofer Wing of the National Maritime Museum is Yinka Shonibare MBE’s (b.1962) Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010). Originally commissioned for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, this scaled-down replica of Nelson’s HMS Victory sits protected from the elements in a large, corked glass bottle. HMS Victory was the ship on which the war hero died during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. The impressive ship had 80 cannons and 37 sails, although they would not have been as richly decorated as the sails in the model. Shonibare chose to use a pattern inspired by Indonesian batik, which was mass-produced by Dutch traders during Nelson’s lifetime. This alludes to the negative usage of ships such as these, which enabled colonialism, industrialisation, and the misuse of cultural appropriation. Today, this model is one of the most photographed artworks in London.

At the exit of Greenwich Park near Park Row, our little friend was distracted by several enormous anchors. Each one was once used upon a British ship and they now serve as a memorial to the ships used between the 18th and 20th century. Early seafarers would have used stone, wood or lead to make their anchors, however, as seen here, they soon discovered that iron served the best purpose.

The most common shape of an anchor is known as the Admiralty-pattern and consists of a shank with a stock and ring at one end and a crown with flukes at the other. A length of cable would lower the anchor by its ring into the water and the flukes on the crown would dig into the seabed, eventually pinning the ship in place. Anchors on display include an Admiralty-pattern recovered off the coast of Sheerness in Kent dating to approximately 1750, an Admiralty-pattern from the Kathrena Anne (1805), a single-fluke anchor from 1820, and a 4-tonne anchor from the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert (1899).

The one that intrigued Simeon the most was the bright red and yellow, many-toothed cutterhead from a cutter suction dredger. Although more than heavy enough to be used as an anchor, the cutterhead’s purpose was to remove materials from the seabed in land reclamation projects in the Far East. It eventually became obsolete in 1995.

Simeon’s treasure trail eventually led him to the riverfront where Thames Clippers and other boats sail throughout the day. From Greenwich Pier, a number of riverboat services take passengers to Westminster via Canary Wharf, the Tower of London and Embankment. For those who wish to travel to the opposite bank of the Thames, a foot tunnel was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie (1839-1917) and opened in 1902. The tunnel exits in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs, which was once home to the West India Docks. The entrance to the tunnel can be found inside a glass-domed shaft beside the famous Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship built in 1869 that has been preserved on dry land for the benefit of visitors and conserving British maritime history. Although a major fire destroyed a large part of the ship in 2007, a restoration team returned the Cutty Sark to her former glory.

Simeon, of course, had no time to pay the interior of the Cutty Sark a visit, however, he was content to view the impressive ship from the outside. From there, Simeon had a great view of Nannie Dee, the ship’s figurehead, which has been attributed to carver Fredrick Hellyer of Blackwall. The Cutty Sark was named after Nannie Dee, who’s nickname was Cutty-sark, a term that means “short undergarment”. Her story can be found in the poem Tam o’ Shanter (1791) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96).

Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie
Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches)
Wad ever graced a dance of witches!
– Tam o’ Shanter

The figurehead is completely white, with hair flowing back as though moving at speed. In her outstretched left hand is a clump of long black hair from the tail of a horse. In the poem, Tam has come across a group of dancing witches and falls in love with Nannie Dee. Whilst watching them from afar, he forgets himself and calls out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!” Alerted to his presence, the witches chase him and, although he survives, Nannie Dee managed to grab hold of his horse’s tail and pull it off before he had crossed the river to safety.

“Fascinating,” thought Simeon. “But on with the trail!”

Eventually, Simeon located the position of his much sought after treasure. Completely elated, he was not concerned that he never found out who the elusive “Green Witch” was; perhaps she was Nannie Dee? On his two and a half-mile trek, Simeon enjoyed discovering the history of Greenwich and finding some hidden gems. As well as seeing all the historical buildings and taking in the view from the top of Greenwich Park, Simeon had the opportunity to have photos taken with various statues, explore the town centre and admire the Georgian houses while he was being carried up Croom’s Hill. He was also able to walk through Greenwich Market and look at (but not buy) a range of wares.

It is believed that a market has existed in Greenwich since the 14th century. The present market, however, dates back to 1700 when a charter was agreed by Lord Henry, Earl of Romney (1641-1704) that the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital could hold a market every Wednesday and Saturday. Today, the market runs daily and is surrounded by Grade 2 listed buildings. In the early 1900s, a roof was added to the market place so that sellers could have a dry place to sell their articles at all times of the year. Selling predominantly antiques, fashion and food, the market opens daily at 10am.

Treasure Trails allows people to explore areas around the United Kingdom at their own pace whilst solving clues in order to find fictional treasure or solve a murder mystery. Simeon thoroughly enjoyed the Greenwich Treasure Trail and wholly recommends it, although be aware that there is a rather steep hill. Thanks to the intricate trail, Simeon and friends discovered things about Greenwich that they would have otherwise missed. To top it all, Simeon is now the owner of yet another Treasure Trail certificate!

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Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

Simeon Investigates Covent Garden

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Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) was beyond excited to receive a letter from Treasure Trails with a number of clues to solve a mysterious murder in the heart of London. Famous detective novelist Lotta Twist (fictional but don’t tell Simeon!) has died under baffling circumstances and it was up to Simeon, with a little help from his friends, to work out which suspect was the murderer and what weapon they used.

After hunting high and low between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, Simeon solved the mystery but, along the way, he discovered many exciting streets and buildings. Of course, the biggest and most popular of all was Covent Garden’s central square, London’s main theatre and entertainment area. The Covent Garden Piazza is full of luxury shops, street entertainers, market stalls and hundreds of excited tourists; and amongst them, was a little wide-eyed detective, Simeon.

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Apple Market, Covent Garden Market traders inside Inigo Jones’ “handsomest barn in England”.

Covent Garden is the name of a district in the capital that stretches from St Martin’s Lane near Trafalgar Square and Drury Lane, towards Camden. Although it is now a popular shopping and tourist area, it used to be famous for the former fruit-and-vegetable market in the central square. Simeon was intrigued to discover the market stalls selling homemade wares was still known as Apple Market.

The history of Covent Garden dates back to 400 AD when the area near St Martin’s-in-the Fields was used as a Roman gravesite. Excavations have also suggested that there were Anglo-Saxon settlements nearby. From around 600 AD, the land stretching from Trafalgar Square to Aldwych was a trading town called Lundenwic, however, during the reign of the King of Wessex, Alfred the Great (c.847-899), the boundaries of the capital were shifted and the town was abandoned, eventually becoming a field.

A document dating from 1200 AD states that the land became the property of the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St Peter, now known as Westminster Abbey. Over the next century, a square garden, approximately 40 acres long, was gradually established, combining orchards, meadows, pastures and arable land. Adopting the Anglo-French word for a religious community, the quadrangle became known as “a garden called Covent Garden”. The name has stuck ever since.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, meant the land belonging to Westminster Abbey, including Covent Garden, became the possession of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Just over a decade later, however, Henry’s son Edward VI (1537-53) granted the land to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The Russell family, who were eventually elevated to the Dukes of Bedford, held the land until 1918.

The land, including Covent Garden, did not remain farmland under the Russell family’s ownership. In 1630, Francis Russell, the 4th Earl, commissioned the English architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) to build a church (St Paul’s Church) and houses around a large square. Initially, these houses attracted the wealthy, however, they lost their appeal after a market was set up in the square, coffee houses and taverns were opened, and prostitutes moved in.

As a result, due to the seedy establishments, Covent Garden became known as a red-light district and gentlemen had a wide choice of brothels to visit in the area. Things improved after a more permanent trading centre was built in 1830. Later, in 1913, the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell (1858-1940) agreed to sell his estate to the MP Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley (1863-1937) for £2 million. Not long after, it was sold in 1918 to the Beecham family for £250,000.

The Beecham family, the proprietors of Beecham Estates and Pills Limited, managed the properties around Covent Garden until 1924 when they gradually began to sell them off. By 1962, the main bulk of the district, including the market place became the property of the newly founded Covent Garden Authority at a cost of £3,925,000. Since then, redevelopments have been undertaken and the main market building was opened as the shopping centre it is today in 1980.

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Simeon was intrigued to discover the original rules, orders and bye-laws of the market on the wall of one of the tunnels leading into the centre of the market place. Despite the warnings of various penalties, it appears the rules are no longer enforced.

Notice is hereby given that in persuance of the Act of Parliament passed in the ninth year of the Reign of King George the fourth entitled “An Act for the Improvement and Regulation of Covent Garden Market” the several Rules, Orders and Byelawes hereunder written have been constituted, provided and ordained for the purpose in the said Act mentioned. Dated this 22nd Day of May 1924

Simeon thought it rather naughty of the stallholders to disobey the rules that were clearly stated on the wooden sign. “No Fruit, Flowers, Vegetables, Roots, Herbs or other thing shall be placed, pitched, exposed for sale, or sold in any part of the said Market on a Sunday.” Well, that’s a 40 shilling penalty everyone should be paying, deemed Simeon in disgust.

“No person shall sleep or lie down on any Stand, Footpath or Gangway in the said Market or on the said Terrace or Steps leading thereto.” Just as well Simeon did not need a nap, otherwise, that would have cost him five shillings.

“No person shall carry, use or have any lighted Candle or other Light except in a Lanthern …” Try telling that to the fire juggler!

Of course, these rules were written when the market sold fruit and vegetables and not the hand-crafted commodities of today. Covent Garden now boasts some of the best luxury clothes shops in London, including Chanel, Mulberry UK and Sass & Belle. There are also independent stores, such as Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop, which sells creative, theatrical and educational toys that nurture storytelling.

Opposite the Covent Garden piazza is Jubilee Hall, which contains Jubilee Market, the only market in London to be wholly owned by traders. The market opened in 1904 and was later taken over by the traders in order to save the building from bankruptcy. Along with the rest of Covent Garden, Jubilee Hall was renovated in 1985 and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926) on 5th August 1987.

The stalls in Jubilee Market change from day-to-day. On Mondays, the market offers a whole range of antiques. Sold by professional antique dealers, collectables can be found from every era and style, including Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, fine china and old books. From Tuesday until Friday, the market describes itself as a General Market. During this period, traders can sell anything they wish and shoppers can find bargains on plants, greeting cards, beauty products, clothes and souvenirs.

The weekends at Jubilee Market are devoted to the arts and crafts. Traders show off their creative skills and sell their art to the public. The term “Art” in this case is rather broad and visitors can expect to find anything from hand-painted items, jewellery and fashion to metal sculptures, fossils and minerals.

Whilst the market place is the main attraction, Simeon’s murder mystery trail took him up and down streets and alleyways that were just as exciting. As well as solving clues, Simeon discovered many interesting things about Covent Garden, including statues, noteworthy buildings and famous people associated with the area.

One of the first buildings that caught Simeon’s attention looked at first to be a regular sandwich shop: Pret a Manger. The building’s history, or rather the site’s history, on the other hand, is much more noteworthy. A green, circular plaque situated on the upper level of the building reveals that this was the site of the Old Slaughters Coffee House. Whilst the plaque and present building are in Cranbourne Street, the original address of the coffee house was 77 St Martin’s Lane. The building was destroyed when Cranbourne Street was built in 1843.

The Old Slaughters Coffee House was opened by Thomas Slaughter in 1692. It was frequented by game players who would meet to partake in chess, draughts and whist amongst other things. For a time, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), the American polymath and founding father of the United States, was one of the establishment’s regular players. It was also popular with artists, including, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Louis-François Roubillac (1702-62). The English dramatist Henry Fielding (1707-54) was another regular patron of the coffee shop. Incidentally, Fielding lived in the area and came up with the idea of the Bow Street Runners, an early form of the Police Force. Eventually, Britain’s first Police Station was opened on Bow Street and manned by Robert Peel (1788-1850).

The coffee shop’s claim to fame is for its use as a meeting house for discussions that resulted in the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later the RSPCA) in 1824. The meeting was organised by the Reverend Arthur Broome (1779-1837) and chaired by the MP Sir Thomas Foxwell Buxton (1786-1845). Amongst the eight attendees was William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who was also responsible for the abolition of the slave trade.

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Almost opposite the site of the Old Slaughters Coffee House is a memorial to the writer and playwright Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976). Unveiled by her grandson Matthew Prichard amongst others on 18th November 2012, the book-shaped sculpture by Ben Twiston-Davies celebrates the 60th anniversary and 25,000 London performances of Christie’s play The Mousetrap.

The memorial provides a brief biography of Agatha Christie née Miller who was born on 15th September 1890 in Torquay, Devon. She was educated at home, which helped to develop her lifelong passion for writing and reading. She also developed an interest in poisons, which secured her with a position as pharmaceutical dispenser during the First World War. This, in turn, provided her with considerable knowledge to use in her novels.

Agatha married her first husband, Archibald “Archie” (1889-1962) on Christmas Eve 1914 in Bristol whilst he was on leave from the army. In 1919, their only child Rosalind Margaret Hicks was born – the future mother of Matthew Prichard and unveiler of this statue. Unfortunately, Agatha and Archie’s marriage was not to last after he fell in love with another woman. In 1930, however, Christie met Max Mallowan (1904-78) who she subsequently married.

Due to being an archaeologist, Mallowan was required to travel extensively, particularly in the Middle East. Christie accompanied her husband and the places she visited became the settings for some of her murder mysteries.

At the time the memorial was erected, Agatha Christie’s books had sold over two billion copies in 100 languages. She is famous for her characters Hercule Poirot, the all-knowing Belgian detective, and Miss Jane Marple, the all-seeing village spinster. The Mousetrap, amongst many other plays and books, shot to fame during Christie’s lifetime making her one of the most successful and best-loved writers of all time. Agatha Christie was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971, five years before she died on 12th January 1976.

Almost immediately around the corner from Agatha Christie’s memorial is the St Martin’s Theatre where The Mousetrap has been performed continually since March 1974. Having moved there from the Ambassadors Theatre on Charing Cross Road, the play is now the longest-running production in the world.

Opposite the theatre is another building Simeon found of interest. Situated in a narrow, slightly triangular building is The Ivy, a restaurant popular with celebrities and theatregoers. It was opened as an Italian cafe in 1917 by Abele Giandolini “Monsieur Abel”. Over the years, it has become the haunt of many famous names, including, Laurence Olivier (1907-89), Vivien Leigh (1913-67), Marlene Dietrich (1901-92), Terence Rattigan (1911-77) and Noël Coward (1899-1973).

In 1950, The Ivy was sold to Bernard Walsh who made it part of a chain of fish restaurants. The establishment changed hands twice more before closing in 1989. Fortunately, it was saved from permanent closure by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin who renovated the building and reopened it the following year. Today, The Ivy is owned by multi-millionaire Richard Caring (b.1948).

The Ivy can seat up to 100 guests at a time, plus a further 60 in the private dining area on the first floor. No mobile phones or cameras are allowed in the building and there is a strict dress code. Simeon, wearing absolutely nothing, decided not to try his luck in securing a table for lunch.

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There are many other pubs and restaurants around Covent Garden and, if Simeon had been a drinker, his murder mystery trail could easily have turned into a pub crawl! According to Trip Advisor, some of the best bars and pubs in the area are The Kings Arms, Mr Fogg’s Tavern (named after the fictional explorer Phileas Fogg), Crown and Anchor, Lady of the Grapes and The Long Acre Bar & Kitchen. Some of these establishments are easy to find, whereas others are hidden away in the city’s courtyards and backstreets.

The Lamb and Flag (formerly The Coopers Arms) was established on Rose Street in 1833. Despite being small and out of the way, the pub earned a reputation for staging bare-knuckle prize fights, earning it the nickname “The Bucket of Blood”. The covered alleyway (mind your head!) to the side of the building also has a sinister history. It was here that the English poet John Dryden (1631-1700) was attacked by thugs in 1679. It is believed the 2nd Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (1647-80) was responsible for hiring the thugs. There had been a long-standing conflict between the two men.

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Simeon enjoyed investigating all the little alleyways and discovering where they led. Whilst trying to solve a mystery, Simeon also unearthed other mysteries, for example, Monty Python’s house. Simeon’s first question was, “Why did a python named Monty have a house in Neal’s Yard?” His second question, after establishing that Monty Python is a British surreal comedy group who created the sketch comedy television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “How can ‘Monty Python’ have a plaque stating that the filmmaker ‘lived here 1976-1987’?”

The answer: Rather than commemorating a person as the plaque implies, it is indicating the location of the Monty Python studios in Neal’s Yard. This is where the British surreal comedy group created their BBC sketch show, which first aired on 5th October 1969. Broadcast until 1974, the series was written and performed by a group of six people known as “the Pythons”: Graham Chapman (1941-89), John Cleese (b.1939), Terry Gilliam (b.1940), Eric Idle (b.1943), Terry Jones (b.1942), and Michael Palin (b.1943). The show pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, influencing British comedy of the future.

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As well as being part of Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard and the surrounding streets are also known as Seven Dials. This is a junction where seven streets converge, forming a circular space at the centre. The land originally belonged to the estate of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, however, in the 1690s Thomas Neale (1641-99) designed a new layout consisting of six residential roads to replace the open farmland. Although the plan was for six roads, Neale added in a seventh road in order to own and lease out more properties. This area was used as the setting for Agatha Christie’s The Seven Dials Mystery (1929).

“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…”
– Charles Dickens

In the centre of Seven Dials is a sundial column, however, because the original plan was for six roads, there are only six faces or dials. The column itself is said to be the gnomon (the piece that casts the shadow) of the seventh dial. The original column was built by the stonemason Edward Pierce who based the design on a Doric column. Today, a replica sits in its place. The column itself is 20 feet high, however, it is sat on top of an 8-foot plinth, making it appear even taller.

Intrigued about the sundial, Simeon was pleased to discover a plaque on the wall of a nearby pub containing instructions for using the dial to tell the time. “The Sundials show local apparent solar time. To convert this to Greenwich Mean Time (G.M.T) use the graph below. Find today’s date and add or deduct the number of minutes shown (+ or – on the graph) to the time showing on the sundials to obtain G.M.T. ” Each of the faces is accurate to within ten seconds. It is impossible to get a totally accurate reading because the sundial is positioned to the west of Greenwich, thus making it 3.048 seconds behind G.M.T.

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There is so much more to discover around Covent Garden and Simeon, being only a little gibbon, had only enough energy to walk up and down a few of the streets. Nonetheless, there are a couple more highlights Simeon wishes to mention. The first is a beautiful statue of a ballerina opposite the Royal Opera House.

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Also situated near the Royal Ballet School, Young Dancer by Italian-born British sculptor Enzo Plazzotta (1921-81) is a statue of a ballerina sitting on a stool while lacing up her shoes. Plazzotta is remembered for his fascination with movement and portraying this with bronze. Although this particular model is not in the process of moving, ballet and dance were Plazzotta’s favourite subjects. This statue was unveiled in 1988, seven years after the artist’s death. There are a number of other sculptures by Plazzotta around the capital, including, Crucifixion outside Westminster Abbey, Jéte (a ballet movement) near the Tate Modern, a homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man in Belgrave Square, and Camargue Horses near the Barbican.

Whilst Simeon enjoyed posing with the young dancer, his favourite thing about his trail through Covent Garden was knowing he was walking in the footsteps of famous and important people of the past. Many names have already been mentioned, however, before he reached the Covent Garden Market, Simeon found one more person to add to his list.

Along Henrietta Street above what is now the designer men’s shoe and clothes shop Oliver Sweeney, is where the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) stayed between 1813 and 14. In 1813, Jane’s older brother Henry lost his wife Eliza after a long and debilitating illness. After her death, Henry moved into the rooms above Tilson’s Bank on Henrietta Street, which is where Jane and her niece Fanny Knight visited him.

While she was visiting her brother, Jane took the opportunity to do some shopping, writing to her sister, “I hope that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear’s that will tempt me to buy it. If I do it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it . . . It will be a great pleasure to me. Don’t say a word. I only wish you could choose it too. I shall send twenty yards.” The shop she mentioned was also on Henrietta Street. Today, a plaque marks the apartments in which she stayed.

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Where’s Simeon?

Simeon (and friends) thoroughly enjoyed the murder mystery trail around Covent Garden set by Treasure Trails. This was not the first trail the little gibbon has completed, nor will it be the last. The trails allow you to solve fictional murders or find buried treasure, at the same time as discovering the hidden secrets of cities and towns around the United Kingdom. There are over 1000 trails to choose from that provide a fun way to explore all parts of the country.

Simeon has learnt that Convent Garden is not only a market but a whole district. He found hidden alleyways, beautiful statues, impressive buildings and interesting historical facts but, most importantly, he caught the killer. Simeon highly recommends Treasure Trails and cannot wait to go on his next adventure. I wonder where that will be?

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Catch up with Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

Simeon Encounters Antwerp

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Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has been off on his travels once again. Having caught the travel bug on his trip to Amsterdam in 2018, Simeon could not wait to go on another trip abroad. This March, our fluffy little friend braved the Eurostar for his second holiday on foreign soil and he is eager to tell you all about it. So, here it is, Simeon’s review of a city like no other: Antwerp.

Antwerp is a city in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium. Also known as Anvers in French, it is the most populous city in the country and lies approximately 25 miles north of the capital city Brussels. Situated on the River Scheldt, the Port of Antwerp is one of the biggest in the world, ranking second in Europe, Rotterdam in the Netherlands coming first.

Having travelled over 200 miles via Eurostar and train, Simeon got his first glimpse of Antwerp after emerging from the Premetro at the Groenplaats. The Groenplaats or ‘Green Place’ is one of Antwerp’s most prominent squares located in the heart of the city’s historic district. Ironically, there is nothing green about the cobblestoned square on top of an underground car park surrounded by cafes. The name stems from the cemetery that stood on the site until the 18th-century when Emperor Joseph II (1741-90) abolished cemeteries inside the city walls.

For Simeon, the first glimpse of Antwerp was rather overwhelming, having emerged from the underground to a world surrounded by Baroque buildings, an impressive cathedral and a Hilton hotel. In all the excitement, our little friend almost missed the bronze statue of Antwerp’s famous painter standing in the centre!

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In 1843, a crucifix that once stood in the Groenplaats was replaced by a statue of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) who lived in Antwerp from 1587 until his death in 1640. By far the most celebrated artist in the city, the statue was commissioned in 1840 in honour of the bicentennial of Rubens’ death. The sculptor, Willem Geefs (1805-83), depicted the bearded artist standing with his paint palette and distinguished hat at his feet. Although some critics complained that the statue appeared to be discarding his artistic emblems on the floor, Geefs’ intention was for Rubens to be remembered as a human being rather than the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition.
Rubens is not the only notable statue in the city; around the corner in the Grote Markt with its back to the Stadhuis van Antwerpen (city hall) is the Brabofontein, which tells a legendary tale from the Middle Ages. Simeon, a lover of fairytales, was enchanted to discover the story behind the intriguing statue.

Once upon a time, let’s say 2000 years ago, Antwerp was only a small settlement in the Roman empire, however, it was under threat from a huge giant of Russian descent. (Cue Simeon gasping) Druon Antigoon, as he was called, had built a large castle along the River Scheldt and was demanding a toll from every ship that wanted to pass by. Unfortunately, not everyone was rich enough or willing to hand over half of their cargo, which angered the giant. As a punishment, Druon Antigoon cut off the hands of sailors who refused to pay and threw them into the river. (Cue Simeon quaking in fear)

One day, a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo was sailing along the river when he came upon the giant’s fortress. “Fee, fie, foe, fum, I smell the blood of an Italian man,” shouted Druon Antigoon. (Simeon added that bit) Just as he had done with all the previous sailors, the giant demanded Brabo to give him half of the ship’s cargo. Brabo refused but before the giant could chop off his hands, Brabo challenged him to duel. (Cue Simeon’s hair standing on end)

Brabo rushed at Druon Antigoon with his sword held high, (Cue Simeon covering his eyes) and just like in the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll the vorpal blade went snicker-snack! Brabo chopped off the giant’s head and hand and threw them both into the river for good measure. Thus, Antwerp was saved from the giant and they all lived happily ever after. (Cue Simeon cheering)

Regardless of the accuracy of this myth – who knows, there could be an element of truth – according to Dutch etymology, the city’s name Antwerpen was derived from this event. The name is made up of two Flemish words: (h)ant” (hand) and “werpen” (launch), which allude to Brabo throwing Druon Antigoon’s hand into the river. Other etymologists, or spoilsports as Simeon calls them, maintain that Antwerp is a combination of “anda” (at) and “werpum” (wharf), regarding its location on the River Scheldt.

The legend of Brabo is very symbolic in Antwerp, particularly after the temporary downfall of the city in the 18th-century. In 1585, Dutch authorities closed the River Scheldt, requiring a toll from any passing boat. As a result, the city began to diminish in size until it lost its status as one of the world’s largest and most powerful cities. Recalling the legend of Brabo and the giant, the Dutch finally stopped demanding tolls in 1863 and the city began to grow once more.

As a reminder of the near ruin of the city, local sculptor Jef Lambeaux (1852-1908) presented the city council with a design for a new fountain celebrating the reopening of the river. The fountain portrays Brabo throwing the giant’s hand in the river. Brabo stands on top of a column decorated with water spouting sea animals, mermaids and a dragon-like monster. Druon Antigoon’s body and head lie at the bottom.

The fountain was inaugurated in 1887 and is turned on every summer with water spurting out from the various elements of the statue. Since it was March, the fountain was not in operation, which was just as well because Simeon had found a comfy place to sit on the rocks surrounding the base of the fountain!

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Simeon’s favourite statue in Antwerp is a fairly recent addition. Titled Nello and Patrasche, a sculpture of a boy and a dog lying on the ground partially covered by a blanket of cobblestones can be found on Handschoenmarkt, in front of the cathedral. Designed by Batist Vermeulen (‘Tist’), the boy and dog appear to be sleeping, or at least that is what Simeon thinks. The characters come from the 1872 novel A Dog of Flanders by the English author Marie Louise de la Ramée (1839-1908) under the pseudonym Ouida. The story, despite being popular in Antwerp at Christmas time, is rather sad and not for the likes of tender-hearted gibbons, so cover your ears, Simeon!

“One day, Nello and Jehan Daas find a dog who was almost beaten to death, and name him Patrasche. Due to the good care of Jehan Daas, the dog recovers, and from then on, Nello and Patrasche are inseparable. Since they are very poor, Nello has to help his grandfather by selling milk. Patrasche helps Nello pull their cart into town each morning.

Nello falls in love with Aloise, the daughter of Nicholas Cogez, a well-off man in the village, but Nicholas doesn’t want his daughter to have a poor sweetheart. Although Nello is illiterate, he is very talented in drawing. He enters a junior drawing contest in Antwerp, hoping to win the first prize, 200 francs per year. However, the jury selects somebody else.

Afterwards, he is accused of causing a fire by Nicholas (the fire occurred on his property) and his grandfather dies. His life becomes even more desperate. Having no place to stay, Nello wishes to go to the cathedral of Antwerp (to see Rubens’ The Elevation of the Cross and The Descent of the Cross), but the exhibition held inside the building is only for paying customers and he’s out of money. On the night of Christmas Eve, he and Patrasche go to Antwerp and, by chance, find the door to the church open. The next morning, the boy and his dog are found frozen to death in front of the triptych.”

On a happier note, the statue is popular with tourists and is a favourite destination for selfie-takers.

Simeon saw all three of these statues on his first tour of the city, however, during his four-night stay, he packed in so many of Antwerp’s other great attractions. Antwerp, particularly the Old Town, is full of museums that explore an extensive history of the city, culture and inhabitants. Of this large number of places to visit, Simeon would like to recommend three museums in particular. The first on his list is the home-turned-museum/gallery of Antwerp’s most famous resident, Rubens.

My dear friend Rubens,
Would you be so good as to admit the bearer of this letter to the wonders of your home: your paintings, the marble sculptures, and the other works of art in your house and studio? It will be a great delight for him.
Your dear friend Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresac, 16th August 1626

In a street named Wapper, Rubenshuis (The Rubens’ House) is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., except on Monday, for a fee of €10 per adult. This is the house Peter Paul Rubens bought in 1610 with his first wife Isabella Brant (1591-1626), where he lived and worked until his death in 1640. Originally, the building was not as large as it is today, however, Rubens designed and enlarged sections, adding a studio, portico and a garden pavilion. Unfortunately, the garden and courtyard are undergoing restoration work and will not be open to the public until 2028.

Initially a typical Antwerpen house, Rubens developed it into a building that resembled an Italian palazzo. Not only was it an unparalleled home, but it was also the perfect location for Rubens’ internationally admired collection of paintings and classical sculpture. Despite the current renovations, the building retains its original mid-17th-century appearance, however, only a fraction of Rubens’ accumulation of art remains, the rest has been dispersed to museums and galleries throughout the world.

Disappointingly, very little is explained about Rubens’ day to day life in the house and the majority of artworks are by his contemporaries rather than himself. Nonetheless, there is a copy of the portrait Rubens produced of his second wife Helena Fourment (1614-73) whom he married when she was only sixteen. There is also one of Rubens’ four self-portraits, which he painted around the same time he married Helena, aged 53.

Simeon particularly enjoyed seeing Singerie, an oil painting by the Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). It shows a group of monkeys dressed in clothes mimicking human behaviour. Brueghel was a good friend of Rubens, which is probably how this painting came to be in his possession.

Simeon’s advice: Pick up a free guide book at the ticket desk, which provides you with detailed information about the highlights in each room.

Through labour and perseverance.
– Plantin’s motto

With rooms set out as they may have been 400 years ago, the Museum Plantin-Moretus reveals the lives of the Plantin-Moretus family and the printing press Christophe Plantin (1520-89) and Jan Moretus (1543-1610) set up in the mid-16th-century. Now a Unesco world heritage site, for €8 visitors can experience the building’s creaking oak planks and panels, see an impressive collection of books and art, and the oldest printing presses in the world.

Christophe Plantin was a bookbinder from France who published his first book in 1555. In 1576, Plantin relocated his family and printing works to the Vrijdagmarkt in Antwerp, converting the house into a beautiful mansion. Here, he also set up his printing office, the Officina Plantiniana, which quickly became an international publishing firm and ranked among the top of Europe’s industrial leaders.

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In the heart of the mansion is the old printing shop, which was first used in 1580 until its last owner, Edward Moretus, sold the house to the City of Antwerp in 1876. The museum contains the two oldest printing presses in the world, dating from around 1600 and six other presses that are still in working order. Thousands of tiny lead type can be seen in wooden type cases, which, as Simeon learnt, were assembled in reverse on a chase before being put on the press.

Simeon’s advice: The museum takes approximately two hours to see in full. For those in a rush, by following the highlights on the map provided, it is possible to limit your visit to one hour. The entry bracelet allows visitors to come in and out of the museum throughout the day, so feel free to take a coffee break.

“A surprising museum in the heart of Antwerp”

Rubens was not the only artist and art collector to live in Antwerp. On Keizerstraat sits the houses of two key figures during the Baroque era, which have been combined to create the Snijders&Rockoxhuis, a museum open to the public every day except Mondays. Nicolaas Rockox (1560-1640), the burgemeester (mayor), and Frans Snijders (1579-1657), a painter of still life and animals, were next door neighbours for twenty years. Carefully restored and containing a number of artworks by Snijder and his contemporaries, the museum provides an insight into domestic environments of the 17th-century.

Nicolaas Rockox and his wife Adriana Perez both lived on Keizerstraat before they were married and remained in Adriana’s family home for a short while after their wedding. Eventually, they jointly purchased their beautiful house, known as Den Gulden Rinck, where they remained for the rest of their lives. After Rockox’s death, his nephew Adriaan van Heetvelde inherited the house with the condition that when there were no further heirs, it was to be sold on behalf of the poor. After changing hands numerous times, it was purchased by the non-profit association Artiestenfonds and converted into a museum of ‘neo’ or revival styles of art. Today, the museum is owned by KBC who are endeavouring to preserve the Flemish cultural heritage and have restored both houses to their original interior.

Visitors are provided with an iPad to take with them around the museum, which provides both an audio and visual guide. The audio guide describes the lives of Rockox and Snijders whilst the iPad contributes additional information about every artwork and object in the house. Simeon enjoyed learning about his favourite paintings in more detail and looking at the musical instruments on the top floor.

Simeon’s advice: All the information found on the iPads can be downloaded from their website to read later.

A little known fact about Simeon is that he thinks he is an aficionado of beautiful buildings, particularly churches (really he’s just a fan). Antwerp during the 17th-century was shaped by a large number of churches, however, during French Revolutionary rule, all but five monumental churches were destroyed. Fortunately, this was plenty enough to satiate Simeon’s intense desire to explore and he was able to visit four plus one of the newer churches.

Unmissable from nearly every section of Antwerp’s Old Town is the enormous Roman Catholic Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) whose 400 ft steeple towers over the surrounding buildings. It took labourers 169 years (1352-1521) to build the tallest cathedral in the Low Countries, comprising of a short and long tower, seven naves and numerous buttresses. The interior, however, is but a shadow of its 16th-century opulence having suffered a fire in 1533 and various destruction during the “Iconoclastic Fury” (1566) and Calvinist “purification” (1581-1585). Initially, on every pillar was a decorated altarpiece, however, only a handful survived.

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Thanks to the aid of Archduke Albert (1559-1621), the Infanta Isabella (1566-1633) and the Counter-Reformation, glory was restored to the cathedral and Rubens was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox to paint a new altarpiece, Descent from the Cross (1611-14), which can still be seen in place today. The triptych depicts three Biblical scenes: the expectant Virgin Mary, Christ being lowered from the cross, and the elderly Simeon (not the gibbon) in the Temple.

Other works by Rubens can also be found in the cathedral, for instance, Resurrection of Christ (1611-12) and Assumption of the Virgin (1625-26). Statues are also prevalent in the building, including two life-size limestone statues of Saints Peter and Paul designed by Johannes van Mildert (1588-1638) and a contemporary statue of burnished bronze, The Man Who Bears the Cross, which Jan Fabre (b.1958) produced in 2015. For a fee of €6, all this and more can be admired by the public.

On the outskirts of the Old Town, just off the Mechelspleintje (Mechelen square) is the Neo-Gothic Sint-Joris Kerk (the Church of St George). Built in 1853, the church was a replacement for its 13th-century predecessor that had been destroyed by the French in 1798. Despite being tiny in comparison to the cathedral, the architect included two impressive towers approximately 50 metres in height, and a statue of Saint George on a triangular pediment.

The interior of the church was mostly the work of Godfried Guffens (1823-1901) and Jan Swert (1820-79) who spent thirty years or so lavishly decorating the church with mural paintings. Mostly images of Jesus suffering on the cross, these symbolically represent the fight and hardships of the churches in Antwerp during the French Revolution.

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Simeon was most impressed with the large Merklin organ dated 1867, which has three keyboards and 1208 pipes. Although Simeon was not able to hear it played, it reportedly has beautiful acoustics and remains to be one of the best-preserved concert instruments in the city. The organ sits in front of a large stained glass window, looked down upon by two musical saints, Saint Cecilia, the patroness of musicians and Saint Gregory.

Located on the Hendrik Conscience square opposite the Erfgoedbibliotheek (Heritage Library) is the most important Baroque church in the Low Countries, Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk (St Charles Borromeo’s Church). Consecrated in 1621, the church is a result of the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuit Order, and Antwerp’s number one painter, Rubens. The artist made considerable contributions to the facade, including the coat of arms featuring the “IHS” emblem of the Jesuits, and filled the interior with 39 ceiling paintings and three altarpieces.

Alas, a fire in 1718 destroyed the original ceiling and the altarpieces were moved to the Habsburg imperial collection in Vienna. Today, a smaller altarpiece by Rubens, Return of the Holy Family, commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox is one of the highlights inside the church.

Simeon’s favourite part of the church was the balcony from which he could look down upon the main body and altar. Two small altars can be found at either end of the balcony and, in the middle, visitors get a close up look of the huge organ.

Sint-Jacobskerk (St James’s Church) on Lange Nieuwstraat is the place to go for fans of Rubens. Only a short walk from Rubens’ house, St James’s was his parish church, which he began attending before the building was completed. The first stone of the Gothic church was laid in 1491 and the last some 150 years later. Today, the church is undergoing renovations, so to Simeon, it still did not look complete!

As was the fate of all churches in the area, the interior of the church was destroyed by Calvinist iconoclasts in 1566 but, fortunately, Baroque decorations were found to replace the majority of the damaged altars. The high altar was sculpted in marble and wood by at least four artists and is thought to cost as much as 17,874 guilders, which was roughly seventy times the annual wage of a master craftsman.

Being Rubens’ parish church, Sint-Jacobskerk is home to his resting place. One of the small, fairly modest chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary, contains Rubens’ remains which lie under an altarpiece produced by his own hand. Rubens, a rather modest man himself, was offered the chapel as his burial ground whilst he was on his death bed. Rather than accepting the generous offer, he replied that he would only be buried there if his family believed he was worthy of such an honour. Naturally, his grave is now the biggest attraction at St James’s and there is a small fee required to gain entry to the church.

The final church Simeon visited was Sint Pauluskerk (St Paul’s Church) a former Dominican church on the corner of Veemarkt and Zwartzustersstraat. Originally part of a large Dominican abbey, the church has a number of Baroque altars, over 200 statues and 50 paintings by artists such as Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Rubens, and Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641).

Rubens was commissioned by the Dominicans to paint three large altarpieces and one of the fifteen paintings that make up the Rosary Cycle, Flagellation of Christ. Unfortunately, since the church building was not completed until 1634, Rubens never got to see his work in place because the altarpieces took many more years to finish and were, therefore, installed long after his death.

Visitors are welcome to view the treasures belonging to the church, including a number of reliquaries, chalices, ceremonial robes, sculptures and ornaments. One reliquary is said to contain a thorn from the crown Jesus wore at his crucifixion.

There are, of course, so many more places to visit in Antwerp but there is only so much a small gibbon can pack into a short trip. Buildings, such as Antwerpen-Centraal railway station, are worth admiring for their architecture. There is also the River Scheldt to walk along where you can see stunning sunsets in the evenings. Next to the station is Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest in the world, established on 21st July 1843, which Simeon did not visit for fear they would not let him back out again!

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Of course, you cannot go to Belgium without sampling some chocolate and Antwerp has a great number of chocolate shops. Simeon’s favourite was Elisa Pralines in the Grote Markt, which sells hundreds of handmade chocolates. They also sell Antwerpen specialities, such as Antwerpse Handjes, which are biscuits in the shape of little hands.

Another Antwerpen speciality is Tripel D’anvers, a Belgian beer made in Antwerp that is “bold, generous and [has] plenty of attitude.” Simeon suggests ordering this in Antwerp’s oldest pub Quinten Matsijs, which is 450 years old. Named after the Flemish painter (1466–1530), the building dates from 1565 and has been the hangout of many Flemish writers, painters and poets. As well as beer, they serve Gezoden worst, an Antwerp speciality of boiled pork sausages with fine herbs, served in bouillon.

While in Antwerp, Simeon was never far away from a cafe or restaurant. There is something to suit every person and mealtime. For cakes and chocolate products, Simeon suggests Sofie Sucrée and for a light bite while museum visiting, Rubens Inn, which is located next to Rubenshuis. For those wishing to be waited upon, there is the t’ Hof van Eden (literally the Garden of Eden) on the Groenplaats, which has an extensive menu. For quick bites or “fast food”, Simeon recommends JACK Premium Burgers established by Jilles “Jack” D’Hulster who wanted to “do a simple thing well, and do it properly.” Alternatively, pop into Panos, which launched its famous sausage roll in 1982. And, for those who are sceptical about trying “foreign” food, there’s always a McDonalds or Starbucks around the corner.

Having exhausted himself by sharing all his memories of Antwerp, Simeon bids you farewell and bon voyage or Goede reis, and leaves you with his top tips.

Simeon’s Top Tips

1. Check museum opening times before you visit. Most museums are not open on Mondays.
2. Be quiet in the churches. Some people have come to pray and do not wish to be disturbed by noisy tourists.
3. Save money and walk. Although there is a tram system, everything in the Old Town is within walking distance.
4. Take a raincoat. Particularly if you are travelling in March.
5. Pace yourself. There is so much to see and you need time to take it all in.
6. Try some Antwerp/Belgium delicacies. There’s more than chocolates, biscuits, waffles and beer.
7. Do not eat too much chocolate. Seriously, it will not make your tummy feel good.
8. Do not cross the road on a red light. They do not like you doing that over there.
9. Do not fall into the river. It is deep and you will get wet.
10. No need to learn French. They speak Flemish Dutch in Antwerp.

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Read all about Simeon’s other adventures:
Simeon Goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea

Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea

44583368_10214999823220473_1332140611444146176_nCan you believe that Simeon had been abroad but had never seen the sea? The red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) knew he had to rectify that, so took advantage of the pleasant, late-October sunshine and travelled to Essex’s famous seaside, Southend-on-Sea. With a map produced by Treasure Trails to help him, Simeon was ready to explore.

Southend-on-Sea, more commonly known as Southend, lies on the north side of the Thames Estuary, approximately 40 miles from Central London. With a train service running directly to the capital, Southend has been a popular holiday and day trip destination for millions of people. Originally a handful of fishermen’s huts, the old village has developed into a large, commercial town, now home to the world’s longest pier, an airport and an amusement park.

Adventure Island, formerly known as Peter Pan’s Playground, lies either side of the entrance to the pier on Southend’s seafront. The area began as a seaside garden, appropriately named Sunken Gardens, in 1918, adding a couple of children’s rides two years later. It was not until 1976, when the site was extensively redeveloped, that it earned the title “amusement park”. Since then, the playground has expanded, regularly adding new rides, such as its first roller coaster Green Scream in 1999.

Simeon decided to give the amusement park a miss, the sight of the 97-degree drop on one of the newest rides making his stomach churn. Besides, he did not reach the height requirement to even ride the gentlest mini rides. Simeon was far more interested in the crashing waves and sandy beach.

Southend-on-Sea’s foreshore has been registered as a protected nature reserve due to its importance to migrating birds, particularly in the winter. Every year, Southend welcomes local and international birds to its beaches where they find food to survive the cold months. Southend and the rest of the Thames Estuary support the fifth largest amount of wintering waterfowl of any estuary in the United Kingdom. An estimated 153,000 birds flock to the muddy foreshore, which is full of burrowing creatures such as worms, cockles and mussels.

Along the sea walls and under the water are a number of different creatures. Crabs congregate in sheltered areas, including rock pools or under pebbles. Sea sponges and anemones are often found attached to the underside of the pier along with typical plant life that attracts many waterfowl. Under the sea, a rare plant called eelgrass has flourished, drawing the attention of Dark-bellied Brent Geese who particularly like the delicacy.

Other birds that are often found along the coastline at Southend are the common gull, black-headed gull, grey plover, ringed plover and shelduck. With protection, the natural landscape produces enough plants and sea creatures to feed these species and more.

Simeon was a little disappointed that it was not quite the winter season when he visited Southend and, therefore, was not able to meet the winter visitors. Nonetheless, he was intrigued to find out about the environment along the Essex coastline. Although hiding on the day of his visit, the Thames Estuary is home to Harbour Seals and, during the summer, the occasional Harbour Porpoise.

Those who travel to Southend purposely to see the wildlife do not have to rely on luck, good weather or time of year, instead they can visit Sealife Adventure along the Eastern Esplanade. Seemingly the number one aquarium in the south-east, Sealife Adventure is filled with fish, turtles and a walk-through tunnel shark tank.

As well as nature, Southend-on-Sea is full of history, some forgotten and some that have left their mark. There are a few things that Southend is particularly famous for; one is a traditional seaside delicacy – ice cream. Walking down to the seafront from the town centre, Simeon passed a few benches dedicated in memory to local inhabitants. One, however, stood out above the others: In Loving Memory Of Tony Rossi Founder Of Southend’s Famous Ice Cream. Died 7th August 1977.

On the Western Esplanade, beach-goers can be found taking refreshment at the original Rossi’s Ice Cream parlour. The shop was founded in 1932 by the Italian immigrant Fioravanti Figliolini and has remained open ever since. The famous name Rossi came about when Figliolini joined forces with Tony Rossi, another Italian immigrant. Although Figliolini eventually took over the business, he kept the easy-to-remember name and spread the ice cream establishment to Weymouth in Devon. Unfortunately, this entrepreneur has been forgotten, whilst Toni Rossi receives all the accolades.

“The Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier”
– Sir John Betjeman (1906-84)

Whilst Rossi may be popular, there is no doubt that Southend’s greatest attraction is the pier. At 1.34 miles (2.16 km), Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world. Due to its length, a train regularly transports people from one end to another, although it is possible to walk. Simeon decided he would much rather look at the pier from the beach than join the crowds on the decking. Due to it being October, and thus almost Halloween, the train had temporarily been transformed into a spooky ghost train.

Now a Grade II listed building, the construction of the current pier began in 1887 based on designs by James Brunlees (1816-92). Prior to that, a wooden pier had been in place since the 1830s, however, the growing influx of visitors from London took its toll on the oak-wood timber. The new pier was built with iron piles to make it a much sturdier and endurable structure.

In 1927, the pier was extended further in order to accommodate larger steamboats and was officially opened by Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902-42) on 8th July 1929. Ten years later, however, it was closed to the public and overtaken by the Royal Navy for use during the Second World War. The pier was renamed HMS Leigh and the seafront from Southend to Chalkwell was given the title HMS Westcliff.

Despite surviving the war, the pier has had a succession of disasters that threatened to destroy the world famous structure. In the late 1940s and 50s, many additions were made, including cafes and a theatre. Unfortunately, much of this was lost during a fire in 1959. Later, a fire in 1976 destroyed most of the pier head followed by another fire the very next year. Some of the ruins can still be seen at the very end of the pier.

In 1980, the pier was condemned, however, protests and a grant from the Historic Buildings Committee allowed the pier to be repaired. After two decades of success, the pier head was redeveloped to accommodate the growing number of visitors and a lifeboat station was opened, which features the RNLI museum.

Everything was going well until 2005 when another blaze destroyed almost half the pier. Fortunately, no one was hurt and a lot of the structure was able to be salvaged, allowing the pier to reopen to the public by the end of the year. Two years later, Southend Pier was voted Pier of the Year and continues to thrive to this very day.

Redevelopments since the last fire are still in progress and the public has been encouraged to help with an “Adopt a Plank” scheme. For £100, people can have their name engraved on a plaque on the pier and their money goes towards the funds for the redevelopment programme.

Whilst most people come to Southend for the sea, it is not the only geological feature, the entire landscape from Southend towards Benfleet is made up of tall and slightly unstable cliffs. Simeon’s tour of the area took him down the pedestrianised section of the cliff to the seafront then back up through the recently developed Cliff Gardens.

Although Simeon walked up the paved slopes, there is the option of using the famous Southend Cliff Railway, which operates during the summer months. Constructed in 1912 by Waygood and Company, the single car funicular takes 12 people at a time up and down the 57 ft (17m) cliff for a fare of 50p each way.

By walking up through the cliff gardens, the hard work and steadfast dedication to nature can be witnessed by the carefully cut grass and well-maintained flower beds. The development process began at the beginning of the 20th century, coinciding with the opening of the Southend Cliff Railway.

Features were gradually added to the garden until 1939 when it evolved into the layout that remains today. These gardens are an important example of an English seaside resort and continue to be one of the best-loved characteristics of Southend.

44625138_10214999828380602_1999576643751903232_nIn 1921, a war memorial was unveiled in memory of the 1338 men of Southend-on-Sea who lost their lives during the Great War. Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens (1869-1944), it features painted stone flags on either side of a tall column. On the grass in front of the memorial, slabs of paving stones spell out the words “Lest We Forget.”

The names of “our glorious dead” were recorded on a tablet in the refectory at Prittlewell Priory. Prittlewell was the original name of the village, the Southend area being at the “south end” of the village. Prittlewell Priory was established in the 12th century by monks of the Cluniac Order, later becoming a private residence after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Gradually, parts of the estate were sold off and developed into High Street and the terraces. With the arrival of the trains from London in the 19th century and a visit from Queen consort to George IV, Princess Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), the remains of the Priory’s land was quickly redeveloped, eventually becoming the seaside resort it is today.

The name Prittlewell is remembered in Prittlewell Square, the oldest park in Southend-on-Sea. The entrance is marked with a clock donated by a local jeweller and philanthropist Robert Arthur Jones (1849-1925), who was the last owner of Prittlewell Priory and was responsible for the selling of the majority of the land. Today, Prittlewell Square contains a pond surrounded by well-kept lawns. Along the circular pathway, benches are dedicated to lost loved ones who lived in the area.

Positioned high on the cliffs, overlooking the charming Cliff Gardens and views over the Thames Estuary are a number of different establishments. One is the Westcliff Hotel built in 1891 and still running today. Over time it has been popular with celebrities, such as Billy Connolly and the Chelsea Football team and, more recently, has become a venue for weddings. There is, however, an older, more famous hotel in the area.

After parts of Prittlewell Priory were sold off, the Royal Hotel and Terrace was constructed between 1791 and 1793, however, it got its name much later. As already mentioned, Princess Caroline visited the area in 1803, staying in terrace rooms numbers 7 to 9. The hotel was renamed in commemoration of her visit.

Shortly after, the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) was remembered in 1805 with a ball in his honour given by his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton (1765-1815). The hotel was also used throughout the 19th century for special events and meetings, particularly by companies involved with the building of the pier and railway.

During the Second World War, the houses in the terrace were used as the headquarters of the Naval Control Service for the Organisation of Convoys. As a result, the hotel could no longer function and it was not until 1978 that it was fully restored to its former glory.

Another famous building upon the cliffs is the Cliffs Pavilion, which opened in 1964. Originally, a 500-seat art deco theatre was planned during the 1930s, however, the start of World War II put an end to its construction. Over a decade after the end of the war, construction began again but with very different plans. Today, the contemporary looking building contains a 1630-seat auditorium, bar and restaurant and puts on numerous plays and performances every year. Over the years, famous acts have included Paul McCartney, Oasis, Gloria Gaynor, The Drifters and Glen Campbell.

Further back from the cliff edge is a smaller but more intriguing theatre. The Clifftown Theatre, with a 150-seat auditorium, is located in a converted gothic church. The religious building was originally opened as a United Reformed Church in 1865 – a plaque on the side of the building from 1889 remembers the preacher and the architect, both whose surnames were Hamilton. Whilst the addition of a war memorial hall in the 1920s suggests the church initially flourished, it soon fell into desolation. After remaining empty for many years, it went under a four-year refurbishment, finally opening in 2008 as a state-of-the-art theatre. Since the Clifftown Theatre gave it a new purpose, the old church building has been awarded a Conservation Award from the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council Design Awards as a result of the “subtle integration into the street-scene, the intimate theatre space and the care taken to retain and record historic features”.

As Simeon discovered, Southend-on-Sea is much more than a seaside town to visit on sunny days. The area is steeped in history and is home to a wealth of naturally occurring features and marine life. Simeon’s two-mile round tour covered a large amount of Southend’s past and present, however, there is bound to be so much more out there to discover.

Whether you explore Southend via Treasure Trail, like Simeon, or come to relax on the beach, have a thrill in the fairground or have a shopping spree, you are guaranteed to experience one of the greatest natural seasides in Britain. No matter who you are or what you do, there is so much to discover if you are willing to look. Read the plaques around the town, look into the history of various buildings, walk along the quieter roads, what will you discover?

Certificate

 

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

Read more of Simeon’s adventures:
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Bloomsbury
Rainham Hall

 

Simeon Visits Rainham Hall

A historic house with a difference

44410791_1941816782551260_493275576606392320_nThere is no stopping Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please); he has got his taste for adventure and is determined to explore. Simeon has now experienced his first National Trust property and is eager to tell everybody about it. Situated in Rainham, Essex, next to St Helen and St Giles Church, is a three storey brown and red-bricked Grade II listed building. Built in the 18th century, Rainham Hall has been open to the public for three years and Simeon thought it was about time he visited it for himself.

With 3-acres of public garden and the cosy Stables Cafe, located in the old stable and coach house, Rainham Hall is a pleasant, quiet place for individuals and families to visit. The house, which had fallen into disrepair shortly after the Second World War, has been refurbished and is safe for all to enter. Sadly, a lot of the house’s history and records have been lost, however, Simeon managed to discover many interesting things.

 

Rainham Hall was built in 1729 by the merchant Captain John Harle (1688-1742) who wished to settle down on land after years at sea. Originally hailing from South Shields, near Newcastle, Harle married a wealthy widow from Stepney, London, Mary Tibbington. Although retiring from the sea, Harle wanted to continue trading, meaning he needed to settle somewhere on the coast or by a river. Rainham, on the River Ingreborne, was the ideal place for the man.

Originally consisting of 11-acres of land, Harle purchased Rainham Wharf, where he dredged the river to clear a trade route to London. He built a house for himself and his wife next to the parish church but close enough to the river so that he could use his outbuildings for his trading company. The house was built in the Dutch domestic Queen Anne style, which was still popular at the time, despite the monarch’s death in 1714.

During the 18th-century, it was typical to use oak for wooden features in buildings, however, the staircase in the Hall is built out of the reddish-brown timber, mahogany. This may have been a cheaper option but the most likely reason for Harle’s choice was its connection with merchant ships. Mahogany was the wood used on the ships and it is thought that Harle may have taken the wood from those that had fallen into disuse.

It is thought that when Captain Harle lived in the house the colours of the walls were a mix of blueish grey, blue and dark olive green, however, the house has since had over 50 tenants and has been decorated several times. Today, the walls of the main staircase are painted a pale blue and feature a trompe-l’œil painting – a deceptive painting that appears three-dimensional. This painting dates to at least 1780, when Sarah Chambers, John Harle’s daughter-in-law, lived at the Hall. It features a Vitruvian scroll surrounded by a decorative floral pattern.

Most of the fireplaces are made from blue-grey marble and some, such as those of the upper floors, are decorated with Delft-blue tiles. This fits in well with the “blue room”, which was apparently once green. The rest of the rooms are now a mix of the different variety of paint schemes that the house has seen over the past couple of centuries.

In the entrance hall, an old dumbwaiter is hidden behind a false wall panel, which visitors can open and peer in. This would have helped staff transfer items from the cellar to the rooms above without having to struggle with the narrow staircases.

Rainham Hall remained in the Harle family until 1895, when it lay abandoned for a couple of decades. In 1917, the Hall was purchased by the property developer and art historian Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner (1861-1924) who, although never lived there himself, made the building habitable. With knowledge of interior design, Mulliner modernised many of the rooms, moved the kitchen to the cellar and modified the stables so that they could accommodate motor cars. Today, the kitchen has been moved back to its original location, mostly due to the unsafe conditions of the cellar.

Outside the property, Colonel Mulliner installed wrought iron gates and railings, which, amazingly, were never requisitioned during the war years like most other railings in the area. In fact, it is the war years that gave Rainham Hall a significant purpose.

Unfortunately, due to the number of people who have lived in Rainham Hall, there is a lack of original furniture and the purpose of each room can only be speculated. Fortunately, there is a lot more evidence of the building’s use in the 20th century, as shown in Rainham Hall’s 2018 exhibition Remembering the Day Nursery at Rainham Hall. In 1942, the building was requisitioned by the Essex County Council to be set up as a nursery. This allowed mothers the time to go out to work while their husbands were away at war. From 1943 to 1954, the Hall became the daytime home of dozens of young children.

“There cannot be many buildings of such historical value that can boast of having hundreds of tiny feet trotting through their grand hall!”
– Nurse Dorothy, Havering Echo, 12 January 1971

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Simeon gets to know one of the Rainham Hall residents

The exhibition focuses on the memories of seven former nursery attendees, including quotes and photographs that they were able to provide. The house itself has been set out to resemble what it may have looked like to these children. Old toys are dotted about on window sills and examples of games and other playthings are located in display cabinets in various rooms.

Children of the war years would not have had much access to toys at home, therefore, coming to the nursery every day was a great treat for many. A questionnaire in one room offers visitors the chance to reminisce about the toys they remember from their own nursery. Some people may even recognise a few of the items on show.

Historic photographs show the children enjoying the gardens and going for long walks in the sunshine. The nursery could have up to 45 children at a time and it must have been difficult for the nurses to keep everyone satisfied and in check, however, the young faces all look happy and well cared for. In one of the rooms downstairs, possibly the matron’s office, a continuous film shows the children playing together in the house, dancing, acting and getting up to all sorts of mischief that only children are able to find themselves in.

The nursery’s first matron has been identified as Miss Rhoda Violet Carter (d. 1954). She was 40 years old when she took up the post, which was advertised in the Chelmsford ChronicleShe came all the way from Teesside to take up the post that paid £200 a year. The trained nursery assistants, of which there were two at a time, were given an annual salary of £135.

Matron Carter left her position in 1944 after getting married. It is not certain who took over her post but nursery attendants and local sources have been able to name a few other women involved with the running of the place. It is believed a Mrs Hart was the Matron in the late 1940s and a Mrs E. Walker in the 1950s. During the latter’s time, a Nurse Dorothy was present at the nursery. Photographs provided by the children who once attended the nursery have helped to identify another helper, Miss Esme Withers.

One room of the Hall contains photographs belonging to Roger and Janice Cunningham who both attended the nursery. This was something they discovered when they first began dating; they had been too young during the war to remember each other, however, they each have many memories of the nursery,

Roger and Janice married at the church of St Helen and St Giles, right next to Rainham Hall. A brief video shows the couple walking through the graveyard and exploring the newly opened Hall, reminiscing about their childhood. Photographs from between 1946 and 1950 show the blond-haired Janice and the boisterous Roger playing with the other children in the large garden.

The majority of the rooms in Rainham Hall have been decked out with items similar to those that may have been there during the nursery’s time. These are based on the memories of the seven nursery attendees who had been interviewed for this purpose. On the ground floor, the exhibition explains the purpose of the nursery and why it was set up. It also introduces the members of staff that are known to have worked there.

At the back of the house is the reconstructed kitchen. This, of course, was not where it would have been during the war, since Colonel Mulliner had moved it to the basement, however, it has been set out to resemble a typical kitchen from the war era. On the table are examples of magazines containing recipes, for example, Woolton Pie, and rationing instructions.

“Potatoes new, potatoes old
Potato in a salad cold
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried
Potatoes whole, potato pied
Enjoy them all, including chips,
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships.”
– The Song of Potato Pete

In one of the magazines is the children’s song The Song of Potato Pete, which was written to encourage people to eat what they could grow in their own gardens. This song is no longer known by children, or adults for that matter, but many well-known nursery rhymes were adapted to add references to life during the Second World War. Old Mother Hubbard, for example, is worried about food shortages and the woman in There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe is busy looking after the masses of children who have been evacuated to the countryside.

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“I much prefer bananas.”

Items that were obtainable during the war fill the wooden shelves on one side of the kitchen. On the counter sits a bottle of malt extract that visitors are welcome to taste; Simeon had his first, and hopefully last, morsel of the stuff.

Upstairs, more examples of items that may have been available to the children of the nursery are on display. Visitors are also introduced to clothes rationing with a list of what each child was allowed to have. It was rare for them to have more than a couple of outfits and, of course, there were no disposable nappies. These had to be boil washed and used again.

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Simeon enjoyed hearing the stories.

An audio device allows visitors to listen to parts of the interviews with the old nursery attendees. This can be listened to by holding an old-fashioned telephone up to your ear. For those hard of hearing, some of the words have been printed next to the phones and additional quotes can be found dotted around the building.

Whilst the exhibition mostly focuses on the function of the building as a nursery, the dangers and horrors of war cannot be overlooked. Being on the edge of London, Rainham had its share of bomb attacks. Sadly, many people lost their lives during this time, including children. A wall containing an old map of the area, plotted with the places bombs landed, remembers the names and families of these children. In some instances, entire families were wiped out in one blast, which goes to show how lucky many people were to survive the war.

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Sweet dreams …

Although children enjoyed attending and felt safe at Rainham Hall, there was always the risk of an air raid. Nonetheless, life had to go on as normally as possible, which for children included education, games and naps. Tiny camp beds can be found in one of the rooms on the second floor. They do not look all that comfortable – Simeon can confirm they are not – however, they sufficed for the children at the time.

Just as they are today, children were educated through play and songs, learning the alphabet with pictures, chanting “A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for carrot …” Before televisions were around, the radio provided children with stories on programmes such as Listen with Mother; “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” An old record player gives visitors the opportunity to listen to a few of these episodes.

Simeon enjoyed discovering the Rainham Hall nursery and learning a little about childhood during the war years. Unfortunately, the National Trust, who owns the property, relies on old records, of which there are very few, and the memories of people associated with the place. As a result, the exhibition lacks a concise history of the Hall and the nursery, which is a great shame because it was such an integral part of the lives of women and children during the war.

The staff at Rainham Hall encourage anyone with memories or knowledge about Rainham Hall to contact them with details. Any small piece of information is useful to help build up the history of the building and its inhabitants and, perhaps, inspire future exhibitions.

If you wish to visit the exhibition Remembering the Day Nursery at Rainham Hall, which Simeon highly recommends, you do not have much time left. The exhibition will finish on 31st December 2018 to make way for their next display in the new year. Entry to the house costs £6, although National Trust members can visit for free. The garden and cafe are accessible on days that the house is open (Wednesday – Sunday).

Simeon wishes you all a good visit.

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Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures

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Simeon gears up for the trail with a cup of tea at Leon

Earlier this year, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) went on an adventure to Amsterdam. Ever since Simeon has had a strong urge to travel but never the opportunity. So, it was with great excitement and enthusiasm when Simeon was invited to take part in a Treasure Trail around the area of Bloomsbury in Greater London. The intrepid explorer spent the day traipsing around gardens and squares as well as admiring the statues and blue plaques of people associated with the area. Napping on the way home thoroughly exhausted, Simeon smiled in his sleep, looking forward to telling everyone he meets about the things he learnt in Bloomsbury.

Bloomsbury is an area within the London Borough of Camden and stretches from Euston Road to Holborn. Associated with art, education and medicine, Bloomsbury is home to many hospitals, including Great Ormond Street, as well as museums and educational establishments, such as the British Museum and the Senate House Library. It is also a fashionable residential area with many parks, squares and quiet places, which makes a change from the rest of the bustling city.

As Simeon discovered, many notable people have lived in Bloomsbury over the past few centuries, however, its origin dates back as far as the 13th century. In 1210, William de Blemond, a Norman landowner purchased the land, building himself a manor house on the property. The name Bloomsbury is derived from Blemondisberi, which means “manor of Blemond”.

For a long time, Bloomsbury remained a rural area, which was acquired by Edward III (1312-77) in the late 14th-century and passed on to the London Charterhouse Carthusian Monks. However, after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th-century, Henry VIII (1491-1547) granted it to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton (1505-50). The land was passed down the Wriothesley line until it reached the 4th Earl of Southampton (1607-67), who is responsible for the development of Bloomsbury Square. The majority of the urban district, however, was laid out by the property developer James Burton (1761-1837), who also lived in the area. He has been recorded as possibly the most significant builder of Georgian London and it is with thanks to him that Bloomsbury has become the place it is today.

Bloomsbury is particularly known for its magnificent green squares of which there are at least ten. Simeon, being only a little gibbon, did not have the time nor energy to explore them all, however, the ones he did visit left a favourable impression in his stuffed head.

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Russell Square Gardens

To begin the trail, Simeon started at Russell Square Underground Station where, a short walk to the left, lies Russell Square Gardens. This is one of the largest gardens in Bloomsbury and is named after the surname of the Dukes of Bedford who helped to develop the area. Initially laid out in 1804, the gardens are surrounded by large terraced houses, which were originally aimed at upper-middle-class families. Today, the gardens contain a fountain, which was installed in 2002 during a re-landscaping project to make the square look more like the original plans drawn out by the 18th-century landscaper, Humphry Repton (1752–1818).

Of course, Simeon could not go to Bloomsbury and not visit Bloomsbury Square, one of the earliest squares developed in London. Built in the 1660s and originally named Southampton Square after the 4th Earl of Southampton, the square now contains a small playground for young children, which includes a multicoloured roundabout that Simeon just had to try out.

Since 2011, Bloomsbury Square has become a physic garden with the help of 30 children from the Eleanor Palmer Primary School. In honour of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), an Irish physician and naturalist, who lived in the area for half a century, the pupils planted a number of plants and flowers with medicinal properties that doctors used during the 17th-century. These include lavender, rosemary, milk thistle and sage.

Other well-known people also lived in the vicinity of Bloomsbury Square, including Isaac D’Israeli (1766-1848), a writer and scholar most famous for being the father of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81). Another author who lived nearby, although only for a year (1902) was the American Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) whose best-known work is most probably The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

A smaller garden, surrounded by the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery,  the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine and Great Ormond Street Hospital, is titled Queen’s Square on account of the large statue of a queen standing at one end of the gardens. Mistakenly believed to be Queen Anne (1665-1714), the area was known as Queen Anne’s Square until the statue was identified as Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), the wife of George III (1738-1820). The king of Great Britain and Ireland was treated for mental illness in one of the buildings around Queen’s Square towards the end of his reign.

Like most squares built in the 18th-century, Queen’s Square was originally a fashionable area, popular with people such as Frances Reynolds (1729-1807), the sister of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) of the Royal Academy of Art, however, a hundred years later, the place was mostly inhabited by refugees, diverse booksellers and charity organisations. With occupiers unable to afford the running costs of the mansions, the buildings were gradually converted into hospitals.

zeppelin-plaque-queens-squareOn the lawn towards the centre of the square is a concrete circle indicating where a Zeppelin bomb landed during the First World War. A plaque states that on the night of 8th September 1915, a bomb exploded on that very spot, whilst residents slept, unaware of the danger. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The British Museum is not the only notable museum in Bloomsbury; on the north side of Brunswick Square is the Foundling Museum, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital set up by Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1741. The museum was established in 1998 and contains over 100 paintings, including those by  William Hogarth (1697-1764), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), Joshua Reynolds and Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1702-62). These artists, as well as many others, donated their work to the Hospital as a way of raising funds for the home for parentless children. Members of the public were allowed to view the artworks for a small fee, thus effectively becoming Britain’s first art gallery.

A grand statue of Thomas Coram sits outside the entrance to the museum, between the building and Brunswick Square, which was once land belonging to the hospital. The Square is a public garden approximately 3 acres in size and is popular with the wildlife, particularly birds. The three plane trees – one is predicted to be over 200 years old – contain bird boxes to encourage the feathered-friends to nest. Frequently seen are magpies, great tits, wrens, jays and a whole host of other birds.

Brunswick Square is named after, Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), the wife of George IV (1762-1830). She was the queen consort at the time the square was completed by James Burton in 1802, although she most likely did not have any personal association with the area.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) used Brunswick Square as the setting of Mr and Mrs John Knightley’s residence in her novel Emma (1815). This, of course, was a work of fiction, however, a number of famous faces have lived around the square since its conception. John Ruskin (1819-1900) the Victorian critic, for example, was born at 54 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square and E.M. Forster (1879-1970), famous for short stories such as A Room with a View (1908) and A Passage to India (1924) lived at number 26 during the 1930s.

On the north side, a few houses down from the Foundling Museum lived three members of the Bloomsbury Group: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) and Duncan Grant (1885-1978) during 1911-12. The Bloomsbury Group, named after the area the majority of members lived, was a group of English writers, artists and intellectuals who regularly met up during the early 20th-century. “The Bloomsberries promoted one another’s work and careers …”

Other artists and writers who lived around the square include John Leech (1817-64), the illustrator of several Charles Dickens novels, and J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), the author famous for creating Peter Pan. Charles Dickens (1812-70) lived nearby at 48 Doughty Street in a Georgian terraced house with his family from 1837 until 1839. although he only stayed here for a brief period of time, number 48 is open to the public in the form of the Charles Dickens Museum.

Further down the road from Brunswick Square is a large open space for children, which covers 7 acres of land that once belonged to the Foundling Hospital. This was the original site of the Hospital until the 1920s when it was relocated. The site was due to be developed to match the rest of the urban area, however, Harold Harmsworth, 1st

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Simeon stuck in the railings at Coram’s Field. Serves him right for trespassing!

Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940) had a vision of the area being converted into a safe place for children to play and donated a generous amount of money to the project. Appropriately titled Coram’s Field after the founder of the Foundling Hospital who made many children’s lives better, the park is still very popular with youngsters today.

Inside the iron gates are a large children’s playground, sand pits, and a duck pond. There are also places for parents to sit, such as a cafe, whilst they are accompanying their children. No person over the age of 16 may enter the premises without a child, thus making it a safe place for children to be children. Simeon was disappointed that he could not enter for, although he is only young, he did not count as a child!

Simeon’s tour of Bloomsbury went from one square to the next, however, in-between each one, the wide-eyed gibbon noticed many statues and blue plaques on houses belonging to some very famous names. Already mentioned are the statues of Thomas Coram and Queen Charlotte, but there are a few others worthy of note. Situated near Charlotte in Queen’s Square is a bust of Lord Wolfson of Marylebone (1927-2010). This was erected shortly after his death to mark his success as a businessman and philanthropist. Leonard Wolfson, who was knighted in 1977, was the chairman of the Wolfson Foundation established by his father. The charity awards grants to support the fields of science and medicine, health, education and the arts and humanities. It is only appropriate, therefore, that he be remembered in the presence of a few of the establishments he helped.

Simeon was intrigued to discover a statue of a cat in the Alf Barrett Playground hidden away on Old Gloucester Street. The cat, named Humphry, sits facing a bench dedicated to his maker, Marcia Stolway (1958-92). Humphry was the name of the cat that frequented the Mary Ward Centre in Queen’s Square where Marcia studied sculpture. Originally, the statue of Humphry the ginger cat was placed in Queen’s Square but it felt more appropriate for him to be by the children’s playground around people more likely to appreciate him. Sadly, Marcia died in 1992 at the age of 34 after suffering for a while from epilepsy. Humphry died the very same year, therefore, the statue and bench honour two remarkable characters from the area.

It is difficult to note all of the famous people who have ever lived in Bloomsbury because there have been and continue to be so many. English Heritage blue plaques appear on almost every street, revealing who lived there. Charles Dickens had a plaque outside his house, now a museum, and further down the road, a plaque exposed the former residence of Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), a Victorian poet. Also in Doughty Street, Vera Brittain (1883-1970) an English Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse and Winifred Holtby (1898-1935), a feminist writer both lived at 52. Around the corner, another plaque marks the house in which Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), an American poet, once stayed.

Other notable names from the area include Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Virginia Woolf’s sister; Randolph Caldecott (1846-88), illustrator; Charles Darwin (1809-82); Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), novelist; and William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), poet. Some people only stayed for a fleeting visit to Bloomsbury, such as Bob Marley (1945-81), who stayed 6 months, and Vladimir Ilych Lenin (1870-1924), who lived there in 1908. Of course, there have been celebrities in more recent years, including Ricky Gervais (b1961) and Catherine Tate (b1968).

40025974_2186415471615923_6074413791951454208_nIf Simeon were to have a favourite of all the blue plaques, it would be the one revealing the residence of “The White Rabbit”. Whether or not Simeon realises this is not a real rabbit still remains unconfirmed but the codename belonged to the secret agent Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas (1902-64) who was a British Special Operations Executive agent in the Second World War. After his successful war work, Yeo-Thomas was invited to be one of the important witnesses at the Nuremberg War Trials and Buchenwald Trial. Following a successful career and being awarded the George Cross amongst several other medals, Yeo-Thomas, unfortunately, succumbed to a brain haemorrhage at the age of 62. It was not until 2010 that his London flat was recognised by an English Heritage blue plaque but, from now on, everyone who passes will know of “The White Rabbit” and his importance in the war.

Simeon came to the end of his trail satisfied that he had discovered the Bloomsbury Treasures. It is amazing to discover how much history can be contained in one area. The trail was created by Treasure Trails who provide a series of clues and directions that take you around Bloomsbury and make people look more closely at their surroundings. Providing a fun and educational day out, Treasure Trails have over 1000 trails for places all over Britain. Like Simeon, prepare to be amazed by interesting knowledge and details that usually get overlooked. Treasure Trails can be purchased online from their website for £6.99 and are suitable for children and adults.

“Where will my next adventure take me?” Simeon wonders. Hopefully, he will find out in the not so distant future.

Bloomsbury Treasures