Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Scandenavia: Norway Pt 1

Spent a wonderful weekend in Oslo. Norway is such a clean and beautiful country. The fjords are pristine, the city is colorful and the drive along the highways is very scenic.

One of the main reasons for me travelling to Norway is my interest in Charles XII of Sweden. Yes, Sweden. Norway, at the time, was not an independent nation and was constantly occupied by either Denmark or Sweden. In 1718, Charles led an army to Fredrikshald (now called Halden) which is 90 minutes southeast of Oslo. He was attempting to wrest the strategic fortress of Fredriksten from Danish-Norwegian control in a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the Great Northern War. Unfortunately, the king met his end in the trenches, a victim of a well placed bullet.
I wanted to see the site first hand as I use the time that is left to me here in Europe to uncover Sweden's "Warrior King".


Fredriksten Fortress. Quite a dominating position. It was built in the mid 17th century and continuously reworked until the late 20th century. Note the angular bastions which were designed to deflect cannon fire.

The outer defenses.

Prince Fredrik's Battery (1670-1760).

A view up from the battery. The white building is the bell tower which was used as a lookout post and as a means to raise the alarm when the enemy was sighted. The current tower is the third one on the site and dates from 1833.

A look down into the courtyard which shows the bakery, wellhouse and gatehouse. The fortress was self-sustained due to its position on top of several springs.

Charles' fleet was scattered by a Norwegian raid which forced him to pull back from his first siege attempt.

The lower magazine built in 1683.

The gate house.

A view from the closest ramparts out to the Charles XII memorial. It marks the approximate location of where he fell.

The memorial marker of Charles XII.

"Swedes and Norwegians in travelled memory". This marker is actually the 7th version. The previous six ranged from a basic wooden cross to an elaborate tower with marble reliefs. And all of them were in different locations!

A view from the marker back to the fortress ramparts. The stone pillars out front mark the location of the Swedish trenches. Contemporary sources indicate that the Swedes were under constant sniper fire as the trenches crept closer to the defenses. To bolster morale, the king always appeared amongst his troops and the night of November 30th (Dec 11 in today's calendar) was no different.

The 6th Memorial which is now located within the fortress itself. It was only used from 1935-1938 and was then replaced by the current one.

The first memorial (1723-1731) featured this marble tablet which is now embedded in the gate house entrance.
The Royal Palace. It was built in the early 19th century by Charles III John of Norway who was also King of Sweden. The two countries were united under the Swedish crown until 1905. The king's real name was Jean Bernadotte and he was the Marshal of the French army under Napoleon I. When the Swedish royal family died out, his distant claim made him heir apparent. His statue is in the foreground. 

The National Theatre.

Oslo Cathedral (1694). Quite a departure from the euro-gothic style.

Houses are constantly being renovated and repainted which makes Oslo a very colorful capital.

The Opera House. Visitors can climb the angled roof all the way to the top for spectacular views of Oslo. See the two pictures below...

A view from the ramparts of Akershus Fortress. More on that site in Part 2.

The Nobel Hall.

Plaza in front of City Hall.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

Off To Norway

Having done Ireland last month, it is now time to visit Norway. While I'm spending the weekend in Oslo, I'll be visiting Halden on Friday.

Halden is the site of Fredriksten Fortress which was built in the 1600s. One of the most critical events in Norwegian-Swedish history occured there on November 30, 1718 when King Karl XII of Sweden was killed outside the walls. Was it an inside job or an enemy bullet?
I will retrace the last steps of the King before visiting Sweden in May to track his beginnings.

To learn more about the last day of the king, you can read my post from November 30: Broken Dreams So Grand: The Death of Karl XII

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

History In Sheffield: Pt 15

My time in Sheffield is starting to run out!
I am hoping to hit 20 entries for this series...let's see!

There is no denying that Sheffield is an industrial city. From the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury's early business endeavours to WWII material production, the town/city expanded solely because of its ability for producing quality metalwork. It wasn't until the 1960s and 70s, when heavy industry began to fade, that the city started cleaning it's soot stained buildings and rediscovering the colors beneath (true story). Many factories were swept away. Kelham Island was fortunate enough to survive and has since been converted into a museum.

Kelham Island, as the name suggests, sits on a man-made island which dates from the 12th century. The first industry built on this location was an iron foundry in 1829. In 1899, this was replaced by a power station (those trams need to move somehow). These buildings house the current museum.

Workmen on the Sheffield arms.

A metal smelting pot...thingy. 1800s industry? I'm out of my element here!

 The River Don and Kelham Island.

England's largest surviving Bessemer Converter. The Bessemer process was invented by it's namesake in 1855. It was the first time that steel could be mass produced quickly and cheaply via an oxidation process. (I'm not an engineer or scientist either, sorry mom).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Visiting Pontefract Castle

It was Conisbrough one week and Pontefract the next. The castle tour continues! This entry summarizes my visit to Pontefract Castle, a loyal stronghold that witnessed several important events in English history: the death of a king, the adultery of a queen, treason and civil war.
To find out more, click on UK Tour: Castles!

Pontefract garners a mention in Shakespeare's Richard III:
Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the second here was hack'd to death;
And, for more slander to thy dismal seat,
We give thee up our guiltless blood to drink.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

History In Sheffield: Pt 14

"To their own shore came the World War"
The Sheffield Blitz
On the clear nights of December 12 and 15, 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed Sheffield. Tens of thousands of high explosives and incindiaries fell on the city in what became known as the Sheffield Blitz. Over 660 people were killed with thousands wounded or displaced. Entire sections around Fargate and Fitzalan Square were devastated including the Cathedral which lost its west end.
City Center. (photo courtesy of wikipedia commons)
Sheffield was an obvious target due to the number of metal forges in and around the city. It was the only city to have certain production machines capable of building parts for Spitfire engines. With Operation Sea Lion and the Battle for Britain, Germany realized Sheffield was an important strategic target. Mot of the forges were hit with many knocked out of commission for a period of time. None seemed to be completely eradicated.
If one looks closely, the scars of the Blitz can still be seen to this day. The best and easiest-to-find example is City Hall:
City Hall- a venue for concerts, shows and graduations.

Shrapnel damage can be seen on every column.

King George VI and Winston Churchill both visited Sheffield after the Blitz to bolster morale. I don't believe Sheffield was targeted any further during the war.
My own grandfather was an officer in the Luftwaffe, but he served in their ground forces fighting primarily on the south-east and eastern fronts.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Finding Richard III

Today marked a very busy visit to Leicester, current (and probably final) home of Richard III. There is plenty of history in the city besides the last Plantagenet king. This includes the burial site of Cardinal Wolsey and the ruins of a Roman bath house.
This post is split into two areas. To read about Cardinal Wolsey and Leicester Abbey, please click on UK Tour: Abbeys. To read about the rest of Leicester, including Richard, click on UK Tour: Leicester. Have at it!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

History In Sheffield: Pt 13

Georgian Sheffield!

It is no secret that my interest lies in medieval Sheffield with many of my posts in this ongoing series focusing on events/ locations from 1200-1600 CE. The city is known mainly for its Victorian era steel industry and I'll get to that...eventually. But what happened in between?

The first maps and prints of Sheffield date from the Georgian period (1714-1830). The town had yet to see a rapid increase in population and much of it was still rolling green fields. The area around the cathedral (then a parish church) and castle market was the central hub. Everything started to change when crucible steel was discovered here in the 1740s. Steel was melted in crucibles to give it strength and uniformity. Thus, the end product was of a much higher quality and Sheffield was on the path to becoming the "Steel City".

A local cutler named Thomas Boulsover invented silver plating in 1743 by fusing silver around a copper ingot. This greatly cut down on the raw material cost of using solid silver. This process eventually became known as Sheffield Plate. His marker can be found in Tudor Square:


With the discovery of new metal processes, Sheffield began building outwards. The Georgian legacy can still be seen today in a few select locations. Paradise Square (1), the largest concentration of Georgian buildings, is just across from Sheffield Cathedral. The oldest surviving brick building is "The Banker's House" (2). Simply get off the "Cathedral" Tram stop and walk behind the church to find yourself in Georgian Sheffield!
Aerial shot of what was once a prominent Georgian area. Photo courtsy of Google Maps.

Sheffield's first solid brick building was built in 1796. The oldest surviving brick/ Georgian house is "The Banker's House" from 1728.

Paradise Square saw the first five houses built in 1736. It wasn't until 1771 that the three other sides were also completed thus enclosing the "square". The square is now a car park. Ah, progress. 

A typical Georgian town house is, basically, a bunch of interposed rectangles. The only curvature tends to be found above the doorway. I've noticed that blue doors seem to be a prominent give away, but a variety of bright colors can be substituted. For example, Dublin, Ireland is full of colorful Georgian doors.

"The Leader House" was built by the Duke of Norfolk in 1770. It sits next to the Millenium Galleries and across from Sheffield Public Library.

A nice Georgian house just off of Fargate. Such a shame about its poor condition and an even worse paint job. Considering a large portion of this area was flattened by the Blitz in 1940, I'm surprised that it still stands!
Time to grab my powdered wig and continue exploring!