Monthly Archives: April 2017


In June 2016 my wife and I stayed in Avignon for a week. The city of about 90,000 people is in Provence in Southern France. The city is dominated by the Palais Des Papes, a huge palace complex (actually it’s two palaces), and the River Rhone. Avignon is a modern city but, within the old city walls, it has a much more relaxed and historic feel. We stayed at an apartment in the centre of the old town, which was perfect for seeing the sites.

Avignon has an interesting history. For most of the fourteenth century it was home to the Popes in their self-imposed exile from Rome. As such Avignon was at the centre of events.

Across the Rhone lies Villeneuve Lez Avignon, a much smaller and relaxed town. It’s dominated by Fort Saint Andre. In the middle ages the Rhone was the border between France and The Holy Roman Empire, and the fort was built to protect the border.

Here are a few pictures from our stay there. We had a greta time and ‘d happily go back again. For a large city Avignon has a laid back feel to it, with a fantastic market and good restaurants. History buffs can find plenty to interest them too and the surrounding scenery is stunning.

The Rhone and the Pont Saint Benezet

The Rhone

The River Rhone flows outside Avignon. Avignon is in Provence, which in the middle ages was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Rhone was the border between The Empire and France, and it wasn’t until 1480 that Avignon became French territory. In the past the river was a major transport route, but was always prone to severe flooding. Barrages further down the river have reduced the problem, but not completely. We were able to go on a boat cruise at the start of our trip, but severe storms in other parts of Europe forced river traffic to close down during part of our stay.

Going Nowhere

The Pont Saint Benezet used to stretch across the Rhone, but the river often flooded and the bridge piers frequently collapsed. In the seventeenth century the city of Avignon finally gave up on the bridge, and the four piers in this picture are all that remain.

Pont Saint Benezet

This is all that’s left of the famous Pond Saint Benezet. Anyone’s who’s suffered French lessons in English schools will remember ‘Sur le pont D’Avignon’

Avignon and the Palais Des Papes


This is one of my favourite views of Avignon, taken from Villeneuve. The mountains in the background are the Chaine Des Alpilles.

Avignon was home to the Pope from 1309 to 1377. For political reasons Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, refused to move to Rome on his election and set up his throne in Avignon. The next six popes ruled from there too. The palace was still used by the church until the French Revolution, when much of the building became a barracks. By the end of the nineteenth century, it was in a poor state of repair, but the place has now been renovated. It is now a Unesco world heritage site.

Le Jardin De Doms

This natural outcrop of rock, Le Jardin De Doms, is one of the earliest inhabited parts of Avignon. Neolithic remains have been found there. The site is now home to peaceful gardens with amazing views over the Rhone.

The Virgin Mary on Cathédrale des Doms

This impressive statue of the Virgin Mary, is on top of the Cathédrale des Doms, next to the Palais Des Papes. It towers over the city and is visible for miles around.

The Walls of the Palais Des Papes

This picture is taken looking back along the battlements towards the Palais Des Papes.

Villeneuve Lez Avignon and Fort Saint Andre

Villeneuve Lez Avignon

Across the Rhone from Avignon is the small town of Villeneuve Lez Avignon. Towering over it is Fort Saint-Andre. Built in 1360, it’s role was to protect the boundary between France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Fort Saint Andre

This is the view of Fort Saint Andre from across the river in Avignon. The castle is a much more workmanlike, and warlike, building than the Palais Des Papes.


We came across this small chapel in Villeneuve Lez Avignon. Silly me, I forgot to make a note of it’s name.

In complete contrast to the grandeur of the Palais Des Papes is this old house in Villeneuve Lez Avignon.

Cold, Blow And A Haily Night

Hi there! Judging by your comments last week you enjoyed the article on Edward Fernley’s war experiences. I promise there will be more about him soon, plus some information about my other grandfather’s war service in the navy.

This week I was going to post an essay about my photo walk to Burythorpe, a little village a few miles from home.  I’d planned to do the walk earlier this week, but unfortunately winter decided to make a return visit for a few days.  We’ve had snow, hail and driving rain for most of the week. They’re probably not the best conditions for taking photographs of rolling countryside, and I didn’t think you’d want an essay full of depressing ‘tree in a blizzard’ photographs.

Instead, this Friday’s post will be of the French town of Avignon, which we visited last summer. I hope you like the photographs, and definitely no snow, I promise.

I mentioned last week that I was reading Mary Beard’s book about the Romans, SPQR. I’ve finished it now and really enjoyed it. I’m inspired to visit Rome now, although I don’t know whether that will be an option. Maybe I should have read an inspiring book on Scarborough: it would work out much cheaper. The closest I’ll probably get is a trip to the Roman fort that was sited about a mile from where we live. It’s not quite the Coliseum, but beggars can’t be choosers. Anyway, I’ll post a review of SPQR next week.

Take care until Friday, when we’ll take a trip to the sunny south of France.



Grandad Edward’s War

I’ve spent the last few months sifting through all the family documents that have survived the last 150 years. Amongst the usual birth, marriage and death certificates, family photo’s and newspaper cuttings, I’ve come across a collection of 20 or so documents that Edward Fernley kept from the end of the First World War. I’ve not had the opportunity to read through them all yet, but I’ve already found one or two fascinating one’s.

My grandfather, Edward Fernley, was called up for service in the army towards the end of World War One, in July 1918. Although he’d technically attested (sworn), his willingness  for service in 1915, his call-up was deferred, for some reason, for two and a half years.

Looking back he was one of the lucky one’s: called up too late to face hostilities. But he wouldn’t have known this at the time. Edward would have just been another name in the long list of the next wave of recruits to be sent to the trenches.

By the time his training was over the war was nearly at an end. Edward was posted overseas, and spent some time in Germany at the end of hostilities, but he didn’t have to fight. I suppose it was what would have been called ‘an easy war’.

I’m really pleased that this amazing collection of documents have survived. I’ll be writing about some of these in more detail later, but for now here’s a taster, of what’s to come.

Off to War

By the time Edward was called up, his tiny village of Charlesworth would have got used to seeing it’s young men march off to war. Edward would have just been one of many. Edward was called up into the 7th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, as the certificate below shows. This is the only formal document I have of Edward’s war service, and it’s a lucky survivor. The vast majority of ordinary soldiers first world war records were destroyed in a fire in London in 1942, so it’s now surprisingly difficult to trace their military service.

Transfer to the Reserve

This card was issued to my grandfather at the end of his army service. It shows he was attested (part of the process of joining the army) in 1915, but wasn’t actually called up for service until July 1918.

In the Naafi?

I can’t find my grandfather on this picture but, as it was in his possession, I guess these must have been some of his ‘pals’ from the Cheshire Regiment.

Keeping a Record

Amongst Edward’s collection of war memorabilia is a small battered notebook, with about 30 pages in it. This is the diary that Edward kept of his war service, and I’m genuinely excited about it. I think having a written first hand account is extremely rare. What makes it unusual too is that it’s a record of the last days of the war and it’s immediate aftermath. I can’t recall having seen many.

Edward's Diary

Here’s a tale to be told. I can’t wait to transcribe it.

Postcards Home

Amongst Edward’s war papers are at least a dozen postcards. Some of these he wrote and sent home to his wife and father, some he just appeared to have collected for their own sake.

Most of the cards are of Germany, where he was stationed, but one or two are official Cheshire Regiment cards, presumably produced for the troops to send back home.

Here are two of them. I think the one home to his wife is quite sweet, in a corny sort of way.


New Year's Card

This copy of a Cheshire Regiment New Year’s card is the one Edward Fernley sent home to my great grandfather, also named Edward. A short but sweet message.

Edward spent some of his army service in Germany. Bornheim is a suburb of Frankfurt. Clearly Edward is missing his wife, they were married just before he was called up for service.

Looking Back

Amongst the papers is a letter from one of Edwards fellow recruits. It was written after they’d both presumably finished their military service. I’ve no idea who J. Clarke is, but that’s something to look at in the future.

Looking Back

This letter, dated December 1919, is to ‘Ted’ (presumably my grandfather), from an old army comrade, J. Clark. The letter is reminiscing about their early service days. I think, by this time, Edward was out of the army.

Still Looking Back

I hope you liked last week’s book review on The Stone Book Quartet. A couple of people have said they’re interested in reading it, and I’ve already lent my copy out, so that’s a good start. At the moment I’m reading SPQR by Mary Beard. It’s a history of ancient Rome, which potentially could be quite a stuffy subject, but Mary Beard makes it come alive. She’s one of the liveliest and most engaging historians we have, and I’ll be reviewing SPQR on this blog in a few weeks.

It’s nice to see the nights getting lighter. Photographers talk of the golden hours, that  hour or so just around dawn and  sunset, when the light’s perfect for taking pictures. I’m hoping to be able to get out and make the most of this summer to get a good stock of pictures for future photo essays. I’m not sure about the dawn bit though, getting out of bed early isn’t one of my accomplishments.

Earlier this week, for one of my future photo essays, I was out along the route of the railway that ran from Malton to Driffield. The line’s been closed for 60 years now, but the old tunnel entrances and some of the line’s buildings are still standing. I think it will make a good photo essay: nature taking over where the railway used to be. My maternal grandfather was a railway man and my dad started out his working life making steam engines, so I’ve got a family attachment to the railways, as well as a sentimental one.

I might have said this before, but I can’t help getting drawn back to the past.  This Friday’s post, will be a glimpse back to the days of World War One. I’ve found some fascinating documents kept by my grandfather, Edward Fernley. They’re an interesting insight into the war, both for combatants and civilians. I’m lucky that these papers have survived, it’s not always the case. For example I know that my maternal grandfather, Wilfred Bradley, served in the navy, but unearthing his story will be a harder task. But it’s one that I’m determined to see through to the end.

I hope you enjoy this week’s post on on Friday, until then take care.



Review: The Stone Book Quartet

The Stone Book Quartet are four separate but linked short stories, written by Alan Garner. The stories are a fictionalised account of four generations of the author’s family, including Garner himself.  They are set in North East Cheshire, particularly the area round Alderley Edge, where Garner and his family originate from.

Each of the stories is told from the viewpoint of a child character in the story and features a key moment in their lives. These are often set against wider changes in society: two of the stories are set during the world wars.

Although the stories are based on single episodes in the characters lives, there are two main themes that run through the collection: continuity and change.

The changes are fairly  fundamental one’s. They include the rise of industrialisation and the end of cottage industries, the encroachment of new building on the rural landscape, the death of old crafts and the need for new ones. And all these changes are overshadowed by the effect of war. The effects of the Boer War and both world wars can be felt on individual characters and society as a whole.

Continuity is largely provided by the rural setting and the generations of Garner’s characters who are rooted in that setting. Some of the same characters appear across more than one story, sometimes at the centre of the story, sometimes at the edges. As well as the overall landscape and characters providing some continuity,  there are also  buildings and specific objects that link the generations, often in a startling way.

So, despite all the change and upheaval, there’s a sense that change only happens slowly. It’s almost as f there is something timeless that the changes can’t touch.

As in many of Garner’s stories, there is almost mystical and timeless element about them: time and the countryside are characters as much as the people. This feeling is added to by Garner’s prose, which is spare and precise: there’s not a word wasted.  Garner uses the local Cheshire dialect  widely in these stories, adding to the vivid sense of the setting. Using dialect in this way works well for this type of story, and  doesn’t make them difficult to understand. I’ve read plenty of stories where the use of dialect seems wooden, but Garner judges it perfectly.

Each of the stories is written from the viewpoint of the main child character. This limits the reader’s knowledge of events to what the character sees and what they understand of events.  This means the reader has some work to do piecing together events and working out their wider meaning. I enjoy books like this because they make me think: meaning isn’t handed to you on a plate. It also mirrors well how children see the world. I bet we can all remember overhearing grown-up conversations when we were younger and only partly understanding their meaning.

This isn’t just a children’s book though. It’s one of those rare books that adults and children alike can read and enjoy, each understanding it on a different level.

I love this book. For me it’s an excellent example of an imaginative way to write family history. Although the basic facts are there, it enhances them and makes the characters come alive in a way that old documents and photographs can’t.

If you’ve read The Stone Book Quartet,  let me know what you think. If you haven’t read, I hope this inspires you to give it a go.

Past, Present and Future

Thanks to everyone who read the Spring Special article last week. Over the months I’ve noticed that my photo-essays are the most popular items on the blog, and I have to admit they are the most enjoyable to write. The only thing missing from last week’s post was a picture of some ducklings. They hatched too late for publication day, but they arrived this weekend. Here’s a picture of the first brood of the year.

Spring Ducklings

The first spring ducklings. Everybody say awwwww!

As part of the family history project I’ve read a lot of ‘how to’ type books, to help me get the research part right. One of the most interesting and helpful has been Researching and Writing History by David Dymond. It’s basically a standard, but well-regarded, book for local historians, but it contained an interesting idea that made me think. Dymond suggested that one of the roles of local historians should be to record contemporary local events and places. Rather than just researching into the past, recording what’s going on around them is just as valid and useful.

Thinking about it, that makes good sense. Even in the early stages of  research I’ve found gaps in information which make it harder to fit together the pieces of our family history or find out what people were like.  More than once I’ve found myself saying ‘why didn’t they keep a copy of that?’ or ‘I wish they’d written that down.’

OK, so some of my older ancestors couldn’t write.  But the point is that leaving something behind, whether it’s a document, photograph or keepsake, makes it easier for future generations to understand us. Compared to the past we’re in a privileged position, we leave much more of a record behind us, even if it’s just a casually on social media. Blogging is a good example. It’s difficult to estimate how many blogs there are in the world and estimates vary, but it’s probably at least 150 million. A lot of those will be commercial blogs, but that still leaves tens of millions of people busily recording the world around them or writing about their interests. That’s an incredible record to leave behind: future historians won’t have a shortage of information to work on.

The only problem with this is that the majority of information we leave behind us is digital and is liable to disappear. This blog is only here as long as I pay for the hosting and domain name, and social media accounts get deleted. The sad fact is that a lot of the record we leave behind will be irrecoverable for future generations, even if it’s backed up. Just think of how much information is locked up forever in obsolete ‘floppy’ disks or on defunct programs.

The answer I’ve come up with is to  record a lot of my family research on paper. I’m also  going to start keeping a ‘hard’ copy of the blog. This still doesn’t guarantee it’s survival, but having electronic and hard copies will help. It’s also possible to deposit any records you want to leave behind with local or national organisations. For example local history societies,  universities and The Society of Genealogists, will take some documents and research. This ensures it’s preservation and allows it to be shared. This might sound daft: who’d be interested in a load of old random ’stuff’? But it’s this kind of information that’s really helpful for future generations to understand who we were.

This has also made me think about why I’m writing this blog. I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out a ‘story’ for the blog: a common theme that ties together all the different things I write about. The nearest I’ve got is that the photo essays are a record of  what I see around me, and the family history posts will be an attempt to recreate what my family saw around them.  It was more of problem fitting the book reviews into this theme. I mostly read and review old books, and I think that they’re another way of looking at the past: I still read for the plot and characters, but they’re also a historical record, especially where other sources don’t exist. For example, some of my ancestors were coal miners, and while I might not have too many details about what their lives were like, I can get some idea by reading Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence.

If this all sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry. The main reason I write this blog is to have fun with words and pictures. And I hope you enjoy it too.

On Friday this week I’m publishing a book review of Alan Garner’s Stone Book Quartet. These four short stories, published between 1976 and 1978, are the author’s way of recording his family history in a creative way. I think they’re magical and very moving stories, and I hope you enjoy them too.



Spring Special

Spring is Finally Here

After a really tedious winter, spring has finally come to my little corner of North Yorkshire. I always get an instant lift from the lighter nights and warmer days, and the countryside starts to wake up too. It’s been a particularly fine spring I think, and perfect photography weather. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of flowers, trees, wildlife and landscapes, and here are twelve of my favourites.

Lovely Landscapes

I’m very privileged to live in a photogenic part of the country, and I always think it looks at it best in the spring and early summer. Here’s a selection of sweeping landscapes, dramatic skies, rolling rivers and woodland pathways.

Derwent Valley

This early spring photograph looking down into the Derwent Valley was taken from one of our favourite spots in Menethorpe. Spring really has yet to get underway yet, but the landscape seems full of promise.

Spring Skies

This is taken from a bridleway connecting the Langton and Beverley roads. I couldn’t resist the chance to photograph the dramatic sky. Malton is in the distance.

River Scene

I walk past this old warehouse on the River Derwent in Malton nearly every day, but I seldom stop to look at it. It’s a shame really because it’s a lovely old building. At one time the Derwent was navigable as far upstream as Malton, and the town boasted a biscuit factory and brewery on its banks. Willow trees, like the one in the foreground to the left of the picture, are amongst the first trees to come into leaf every year. They are lovers of water and, before the advent of modern medicines, chewing willow bark was a cure for headache. Apparently they are a naturally occurring source of the same main ingredient found in aspirin.

Leafy Lane

I walk our dog along this path every so often. In winter it has quite a stark, skeletal feel to it. It’s just starting to get it’s summer covering of leaves and in three weeks or so you won’t be able to see the sky from this position.

Trees and Flowers

Apart from a few hardy early starters, like snowdrops, most trees and flowers have been dormant until a couple of weeks ago. Now. all of a sudden everything seems to be budding, sprouting and flowering.


Spring can’t happen without daffodils. These early bloomers are on a windswept hill near Malton.

Cherry Blossom

This cherry tree in blossom reminds me of the beautiful specimen we had in our front garden. Sadly it had to go last year as it’s roots had spread too far. Interesting but useless fact: Cherry Blossom boot polish is now the only shoe polish made in Britain, in a factory in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Budding Talent

I’ve spent ages photographing trees coming into bud over the past week or so. I’m fascinated by the way they suddenly break out into leaf.

It’s all About the Birds and the Bees

Most of North Yorkshire’s wildlife has been keeping a low profile during winter, but suddenly, they’ve all become busy again. Breeding, nesting, pollen collecting: there’s so much going on. it’s leaving me feeling exhausted.

Swan Necking

The swans are back on the pond! They’ve built their nest and are currently populating it with eggs – five at the latest count. Here they are in post coital mood: I did catch them in the act, but modesty forbids me to post that photo.

Mobile Home

On the way to the pub I stopped to take a photograph of a currant bush coming into flower. Even at this early part of spring the bush was filled with wildlife. This snail was right on the topmost branch and seemed to have parked there for the night.

Pollen Time

I wasn’t expecting bees yet, but the currant bush was full of them. I was lucky to get this picture, as my camera wasn’t set up for close-ups, but it’s still not a bad shot.


Rooks have to be some of the noisiest birds around. In summer it’s harder to see them, but in spring every tall tree seems to be festooned with rooks nests. I like rooks, they’re intelligent, sociable creatures and we often get them in the gardens near where we live. They’re one of the few birds who aren’t worried about the local cats.

Bird posing for the Camera

There were at least a dozen of these perching in this bush when I walked up to them. They all disappeared, except for this little fella who hung around to have his portrait taken. I’m not sure what it is, bird spotting isn’t my speciality!