Days Out: Visiting Jorvik DIG, York

Over half term, the boy and I hot footed it up to York to check out the Jorvik Viking Festival. We went last year and had a tremendous time, but we’d missed a few things and needed to remedy that. Top of our list was a visit to Jorvik DIG. DIG is a hands-on archaeological adventure which gives kids the chance to try their hand at archaeology and discover some of the most exciting artefacts from over 2000 years of York’s history.

Days Out: Visiting Jorvik DIG, York

Jorvik DIG is located in St Saviour’s Church, a former Church of England church which was declared redundant in 1954 and later taken over and transformed into DIG by the York Archaeological Trust. DIG is part of a group of historical attractions in York which include the Jorvik Viking Centre and Barley Hall.

During the Jorvik Viking Festival, there’s such a lot going on in York, and local attractions put on extra events. DIG is no different, during the half term there were extra sessions, including the chance to make your own Viking poo (out of clay; but adding seeds, fish bones, worms and all kinds of grim things).

DIG advise that during weekends and school holidays, it’s best to book ahead. We didn’t do this, but we struck lucky and managed to get a slot later that afternoon; so we retired to a local café for lunch, which suited us just fine.

After lunch we went back to DIG and had a look around the upstairs, which was where the poo making workshop was. There was also a small play area for younger children. Downstairs there’s a hands on museum area where you can learn more about archaeology, how they date artefacts and you can look at some of the things which have been found in and around York. There’s also a replica Viking longboat, which is well worth a look at.

Days Out: Visiting Jorvik DIG, York

The big attraction was the tour, which is hourly. We were led into a room where a very knowledgeable guide talked to us about archaeology and about the kinds of things archaeologists do and look for. The children were then all given a trowel and we were introduced to the DIG Excavation Pits, which they were invited to excavate.

There are four pits; Roman York, Viking York, Medieval York and Victorian York. Each pit is based on excavations that have carried out over the past 30 years in York. Scraping back the sand and soil, you can unearth the remains of walls, pottery, shells and much more. The children get a good amount of time to dig away and see what they can find, and it’s all good fun.

Days Out: Visiting Jorvik DIG, York

Next we were led to a large table with boxes of artefacts; each family was asked to sort a box into categories; bones, shells, antlers, rocks, metal etc. We did fairly well at this, and all the while the guide was talking us through the things to look out for. We were also given a box of bones and asked to try and identify the animal they came from.

The highlight for my boy was poo. The guide passed around small fragments of fossilised Viking poo for us to hold and examine. She also held up a replica of the largest piece of fossilised Viking poo they had found during the excavations. It was impressive, if you’re into that kind of thing.

We were at Jorvik DIG for a good couple of hours. I was glad of it as it was an indoor attraction in the middle of a stormy February day. The boy had a great time and despite being sometimes reticent about joining in with things, he had a good go at everything put in front of him.

If you’re visiting York and taking in the historical sights with children; a visit to DIG is well worth the money. It does lack a café, but it’s only a couple of minutes away from several very good ones. The tickets are priced at £6.50-£7 per person, family tickets are available and your ticket is valid for a year; meaning you can return as often as you want.

For more information on Jorvik DIG, visit their website.

Days Out: Visiting Jorvik DIG, York

We paid for our tickets in full.

Days Out: Visiting Barley Hall, Medieval House, York

A couple of weeks ago we went to York for the day to have a look at the Viking Festival and we really packed a lot of history into our time there. As well as visiting the JORVIK Viking Centre, one of the things we did was visit Barley Hall; a medieval townhouse tucked away in the back streets of York.

Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse which was originally built around 1360 by the monks of Nostell Priory near Wakefield. Later it became a high status residence in York.

Days Out: Visiting Barley Hall, Medieval House, York

The first record of the Snawsell family living in Barley Hall in 1466. The Hall was the residence of someone of a very high status, and William Snawsell was a goldsmith and coiner, and later the Lord Mayor. In his household lived his wife and three children, who were attended to by around 12 servants. Barley Hall was later split into separate dwellings in the 16th or 17th century. Eventually it was bought by York Archaeological Trust in 1987 and restoration work began.

When Barley Hall was restored in 1987, York Archaeological Trust modeled the Hall on the household of the Snawsell family during the reign of Richard III. The Hall has high ceilings, exposed beams and replica furnishings throughout.

Days Out: Visiting Barley Hall, Medieval House, York

Today it is a popular museum for visitors and school children to learn more about domestic life in the medieval period. I really enjoy learning about domestic history, about how people lived and what they ate; so a visit to Barley Hall was right up my street.

The Great Hall is the biggest and most splendid room at Barley Hall. The family would sit at the raised table at the front of the Hall; with lower status people taking their place on the side tables.

Days Out: Visiting Barley Hall, Medieval House, York

My favourite areas were where the servants worked. The dairy and the larder were really interesting to me and I spent some time exploring them. Upstairs Barley Hall currently has a special exhibition – Magic and Mystery. There were lots of interactive activities for children to do, and lots to interest adults as well.

As well as interesting displays, there was a medieval dressing up box; a make your own wand activity and you’re challenged to find the magical properties of plants, stones and wood; plus add the correct stamp in your own booklet which you can take home and keep. I especially liked the section devoted to the uses of herbs for healing and in magic. We certainly learned a few things about medieval magic!

Days Out: Visiting Barley Hall, Medieval House, York

Barley Hall is not huge, but there’s enough to interest and entertain there. It’s great for children as the history is really hands on too. The exhibitions change from time to time, so it’s worth checking before you visit to see what’s on. It really is tucked away in the back streets though, so you might need a map to help you find it.

If you’ve got a little time on your hands and you’re in York, a visit to Barley Hall is an hour or two well spent!

For more information about Barley Hall, visit the website.

Days Out: Visiting Barley Hall, Medieval House, York

Six Children’s Books about Vikings

Fresh from our adventures at the JORVIK Viking Festival in York, we’ve been full of love for all things Viking. While we were there I popped into a bookshop and picked up a few more books about Vikings to add to our collection.

We do really enjoy picking a topic and reading all about it. I try and match it with the things he’s learning at school too, I’m so pleased that this term he’s learning about Vikings at school, because who doesn’t love a Viking?

Six Children’s Books about Vikings

Vikings and Invaders (Hysterical Histories) by Anita Ganeri is a brilliant book for young Viking fans. It is a press-out and play book which is packed with curriculum appropriate information, Viking facts and lots of play value. There are Vikings and invaders to press-out and play with. We particularly enjoyed reenacting Viking scenes and playing with the press-out long boat!

Six Children's Books about Vikings

Anglo-Saxons & Vikings (Usborne History of Britain) by Hazel Maskell and Dr Abigail Wheatley is a really comprehensive book which covers Anglo-Saxon society; through the invasion of the Vikings and right up to the Battle of Hastings. This is a very detailed book which is easy to flick through to look up the information you need. This book is highly recommended if you’re learning about Vikings.

The World of Vikings by Robert Macleod – This 80 page, colourfully illustrated history book is full of facts about the Viking age. Each page is lush with illustrations and images, which really bring the facts to life. With maps, timelines, photographs of relics and illustrations about what life was like for Vikings, it’s filled with detail which will really capture the imagination of readers. Read our full review here.

Everything Vikings: All the Incredible Facts and Fierce Fun You Can Plunder (National Geographic Kids) by Nadia Higgins. Do you think of Vikings and think hats with horns and flying dragons? You may well be wrong. This National Geographic Kids book is packed with Viking facts and illustrations.

Horrible Histories Vicious Vikings by Terry Deary andMartin Brown. You can’t have a children’s history book round up without including at least one Horrible Histories book. This series is well known for being interesting and exciting for kids, as well as fact-packed and engaging. Vicious Vikings is no different, with facts about Viking Gods in wedding dresses, corpses on trial and death by booby-trapped statues, there’s something for every young Viking fan!

The Story of the Vikings Sticker Book by Megan Cullis. Everyone loves a sticker book, and this is a really good one. Follow the incredible story of the Vikings as they terrorized the coastlines of Europe for over 300 years; from their infamous adventures overseas to the splendid treasures they left behind. This is a beautifully illustrated sticker book, packed with information and photographic stickers of Viking helmets and axes, necklaces, chess pieces and even shoes.

There are some fantastic non-fiction books about Vikings available. These are the ones we have read and enjoyed, have we missed any?

If you enjoyed this, you might also like our five books about dragons, five books about dinosaurs or five books about bears.

Six Children's Books about Vikings

Vintage Writers’ Essentials from IWM Shop

This month I’m starting an online food history course with the University of Reading, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time so I’m excited to be taking the plunge. Naturally I’m preparing for it in the best way I know how, not by reading relevant texts and getting up to speed, but by buying notebooks and stationery. This week I’ve picked up a few writers’ essentials which should see me though work and study over the next few months.

The Imperial War Museum Shop is one of my favourite places to find vintage style stationery and homeware and they’ve really come up trumps with this beautiful notebook.

Writers' Essentials

This lovely large leather bound journal is similar to the notebooks soldiers will have carried with them during the first and second world wars. It is stunning, the pages are hand stitched inside the leather cover and there is a band of leather to wrap around it to keep it all together.

The natural paper is thick and speckled, so it looks really authentic and almost handmade. The notebook has a real vintage feel about it too, just having it on my desk makes me feel happy. It’s beautiful and I know when I take this out to meetings or lectures to make notes that it will turn a lot of heads.

The large leather bound journal measures 15.5cm x 11cm and costs £20. It is a real statement piece of stationery and I’m very much in love with mine.

Writers' Essentials

It’s almost impossible for me to do any work without a brew by my side, and I couldn’t resist this mug with one of my favourite non-swears on it. Blimey is something I say quite a lot (and get ribbed for). I’ve always said it, but since becoming a mum I’ve toned down my “effing and jeffing” a bit and I’m all about the blimey and the crikey these days.

Writers' Essentials

There are two different versions of the non-sweary mug, Blimey and Crikey. Either would have suited me well. These porcelain mugs are the standard size for a proper cuppa and cost £9 each – perfect for fans of retro non-swears like me!

Writers' Essentials

I’ve got a few more bits to buy before my course starts, not least my text books, but I’m loving my vintage style writers’ essentials. I always think if you’ve got nice things to work with, then work seems like less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

You can find lots more vintage and retro stationery, books and other goodies on the IWM website.

Note: I was sent these writers’ essentials in return for a review, all images and opinions are my own.

Book Review: Churchill’s Cookbook

Since I received my very first Delia cookbook when I was a teenager I’ve been addicted to cookbooks. I have a particular fondness for cookbooks with a bit of history in them. I am by nature a fairly thrifty cook, so the household manuals and farmhouse cookbooks which have been handed down through my family are fascinating and incredibly precious to me. When I got my hands on a copy of Churchill’s Cookbook by Georgina Landemare, I knew I was in for an historical treat.

Published by the Imperial War Museum; Churchill’s Cookbook by Georgina Landemare is a 160 page snapshot of wartime dining for the upper classes. Georgina Landemare was cook to the Churchills throughout WW2 and was engaged by Churchill’s wife Clementine as she felt she would be able to make the best out of the rations available. Georgina Landemare was an accomplished but untrained cook who was heavily influenced by her husband Paul Landemare; a distinguished French Chef at the Ritz.

Churchill's Cookbook

The Churchill’s, although subject to the constraints of the ration book where in the lucky position of having a farm on their estate at Chartwell; giving them ready access to eggs, milk, cream, chicken, pork and most vegetables. Churchill’s Cookbook doesn’t tell the every day story of the struggles of working class ration book Britain. It is a fascinating read, with a chapter devoted to setting the scene; introducing Georgina and discussing the favourite foods of the household.

The book is divided into sections; soup, fish, eggs, poultry, meat, sauces, salads, vegetables, puddings, savouries, pastry, biscuits and cake. The 250+ recipes in the book are brief and simply written. I like old recipes because they tend to work with fewer ingredients and are generally (though not always) simpler.

I decided to try out some of the recipes myself. We liked the look of these “Bachelor’s Buttons” and I thought my son would enjoy baking them with me too. I’ve never really had much success with biscuits for some reason. I always either over or under bake them, so I put these to the test.

Churchill's Cookbook

The recipe was very straight-forward and it only took me a few minutes to whip up a batch. The recipe didn’t say when to add the vanilla essence so I added it with the egg and it didn’t say to set aside some sugar to roll them in prior to baking. I suspect during wartime they wouldn’t have just used the whole 3oz in the mixture and then rolled them liberally in another ounce or so of sugar; but that’s what I did.

I also didn’t know what a “medium” oven was, put popped them in my oven at 200º until they were starting to brown, this took around 10 minutes. My top tip would be to get them off the baking sheet very quickly whilst they’re piping hot, otherwise they stick. They were very delicious and as light as a feather. I’d definitely bake these again.

Churchill's Cookbook

I was a little surprised at the range of rich foodstuffs in this book, especially considering it was a wartime cookbook. I suspect the Prime Minister and his household may have had access to more than just his ration.

This book might raise a few eyebrows; with Georgina’s recipes including Cervelles Conought (curried brains). There are some delicious sounding and fairly frugal recipes I’ll be looking to try out over the coming months.

Winston Churchill was well-known for his hearty appetite and love of food. Churchill’s Cookbook gives a fascinating insight into what he ate during the Second World War. Indeed, Georgina was told by the Prime Minister on VE night that he could not have managed through the war without her. Fascinating stuff.

Churchill’s Cookbook by Georgina Landemare is available online and is priced at around £10.

Exploring the Wrecks of Westward Ho!

We’ve been visiting the beach at Westward Ho! for many years. It’s a stunning beach, around two miles of lovely sand, popular with surfers and a great beach for collecting shells. Like most beaches on the North Devon coast its character can often be changed by the winter (and summer) storms; the fierce waves shifting the stones and sand, hiding and revealing features.

When we last visited Westward Ho! in June 2014 there was nothing of particular interest to note, it was the same as it’s always been, sandy and flat, with a bank of stones against the shore. In February 2015 it was at first glance the same. We took a stroll along the beach hoping to collect some nice shells to take back to school when I spotted some pieces of wood sticking out from the sand.

I was really curious about what they were and they seemed to be attracting attention, so we walked over to have a closer look. What we found was the ancient hull of what is thought to be a barge trading on the Bristol Channel, but has also known locally as a ‘Viking Ship’ or ‘Spanish Galleon’, we called it a ‘Pirate Ship’ because the small boy is currently obsessing about pirates.

The wreck is an oak-framed vessel which is around 25 metres long and 7 metres wide. It is thought that the wreck could be one of two boats wrecked nearby, the ‘Salisbury’ of London, lost in March 1759 on Northam Burrows or the ‘Sally’ of Bristol, which was wrecked on Northam Sands in September 1769.

This large wreck isn’t visible very often, so it was a real privilege to be able to see it. It’s usually buried deep in the sand and it might be a number of years before we get to see it again. I took the opportunity to take some pictures of it for prosperity.

Westward Ho

Westward Ho

Westward Ho

A bit further along the beach we came across another wreck, this was much smaller than the first, measuring just over 15 metres in length. The remains of the wreck were not as complete as the first. This wreck is thought to date from the late 18th or early 19th century and is likely to be a Polacca Brig, a style of sailing boat which was used to trade limestone, coal and other goods across the North Devon coast, Taw Estuary and to the Bristol Channel.

Somewhere under Westward Ho! beach lies a third wreck, but that hadn’t been revealed to us by the shifting sands. We felt incredibly lucky to have seen the two skeleton wrecks which had been uncovered over the winter months and we’re hoping to visit again later in the year to see if they are still visible or not.

Note: All images are my own, they must not be used elsewhere without my written permission.

Things to do in Manchester: GMP Museum

Manchester is a great city to live and work in and it’s equally lovely to visit. There’s so much to see and do and we’re blessed with a rich and interesting history. Manchester has a wonderful selection of award winning museums to visit, The Museum of Science and Industry, The Peoples History Museum and Manchester Museum to name just three. There are a number of smaller, less well known museums dotted around Manchester. We visited the GMP Museum in January to find out more about the history of the Greater Manchester Police.

GMP Museum

The GMP Museum in located on Newton Street on the edge of Manchester’s Northern Quarter and is just a few minutes walk from Piccadilly. The GMP Museum is open on Tuesdays and has special events and different opening times during school holidays.

The museum has six main areas and is located in an old police station, so there are lots of original features, more of which later. We were given a tour by the lovely Katie who was very knowledgeable and engaging. First off my four year old was given a special police hat to wear and a police badge to wear during the tour, he loved this and I confess I had a bit of hat envy.

GMP museum

The first room we looked at was a special exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the first world war. We found out about the fascinating history of the ‘specials’ who took the place of policemen who had left to fight in the war. This room alone is worth a visit.

We then had a look around a room which showcased all the different uniforms in the GMP over time, from the very first uniforms, to really very lovely 1960s threads, to the modern day uniforms, which admittedly are less stylish but so much more practical. We looked at truncheons and handcuffs, did you know that a ladies truncheon was much smaller than the mens’ truncheons, so most WPCs used to hit assailants with their handbags. True story!

GMP Museum

We moved on to what was probably one of my favourite rooms, it housed a replica 1960s detectives desk as well as a fairly grim collection of murder weapons, interesting information about famous policemen and a couple of infamous criminals. They also had a corner dedicated to the Strangeways Riots which I remember well. They had a cell door which had been ripped off its hinges as well as an array of home-made weapons that were found after the riots.

GMP Museum
Home-made weapons from the Strangeways Riots

We then looked at police transport, we met a huge model horse, looked at a collection of motorbikes which were used over the years including a trail bike, as well as a huge collection of model cars which have been accurately painted as little replicas, the small boy loved these, he’s obsessed with police cars.

GMP Museum

We then moved to a really special part of the museum, they’ve got the original Victorian charge office. This was such a fascinating room, the original charge desk has been worn by years of people leaning on the desk while they’re being charged with various crimes. Katie talked us through the history of the room and some of the things that went on there. She then showed us the original police cells and even locked us inside one. They had two wooden beds, but on busy weekends each cell could house up to 12 prisoners, with small children being locked up with the adults. Men and women were kept separate, but it was a very grim thought being confined in the darkness, with children who had stolen a loaf of bread locked up with an adult who might have murdered someone, and once the cell doors swung shut it was very dark and very spooky.

GMP Museum

Thankfully we managed to escape being locked up for more than a minute and we ventured upstairs to see the courtroom. This wasn’t an original feature of this particular police station, but this courtroom had been moved in its entirety from Denton. It was a beautiful room, though very imposing. It’s fantastic that they’ve managed to save the courtroom and retain it as a resource in the museum.

GMP Museum

The GMP Museum is a great resource for kids to explore and learn about the history of the police and the criminal justice system. I remember visiting with school as a child and it made a very big impression on me. The exhibits are always changing, there are plans for some refurbishment and some of the exhibits will be expanding. It was a thoroughly interesting afternoon out, we all got something from it, we all learned a great deal and had fun doing so.

Find out more about the GMP Museum on their website.