The Review Blog – latest review

Well, not one of my reviews but this book is on my To Be Read pile. Looking forward to getting stuck into it!

This is the true story of Aethelflaed, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, daughter of Alfred the Great and was the only female leader of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom.




Have a read of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s fab review:


Abergavenny Castle



Bathed in glorious sunshine on an unusually warm October day, sits the curtain wall remains of Abergavenny Castle, Monmouthshire.  Difficult to believe that this romantic, proud ruin signifies the site of one of the most infamous massacres in the history of the Welsh Marches …


William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber probably goes down in history as one of the cruellest of the Marcher Lords. Christmas Day, 1175.   After luring a Welsh Lord, Seisyll ap Dyfnwal of Gwent – supposedly for blood revenge – to Abergavenny Castle on the pretext of a peace treaty and new beginnings (meaning the Welsh would have lain their weapons at the door and were thus defenceless), William and his men proceeded to cut down the Welsh royalty within the walls like that pictured above.  This included Seisyll’s eldest son and other notable Welsh leaders too; more than likely, a bloodthirsty attempt to weaken Welsh influence around Abergavenny.  Of course, we must always allow for the mindset of the day – nothing like our modern, more socially aware way of life (no, you cannot chop the head off the bloke driving the van that just cut you up on the ring road).  In this case however, as cruel as the massacre was, William – whether partaking himself or commanding his men – rode to the home of the slain Welsh lord before news reached his people, and slaughtered the seven-year-old son of the prince:


“In this case, once the guests were all assembled inside the great hall, the doors were barred and every single man was cut down. William and his attendants then hopped onto their swiftest horses and sped south a few miles to the country of Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, one of the slain. De Briouze arrived ahead of the news of the slaughter, found Seisyll’s wife, executed the youngest son, seven-year-old Cadwaladr, in her arms, and left the wife and mother to a fate unrecorded in the historical legend.”   Haltom, E.A. (2015) The Massacre at Abergavenny [accessed 2.11.16].



Gatehouse, later addition circa 1400 (photo source Emma Powell, Oct 2016)












Further ruins within curtain walls (photo source Emma Powell, Oct 2016).














View from adjacent car park overlooking Blorenge Mountain. The Castle ruins look down on flood plains, aptly named Castle Meadow with it’s rich biodiversity, bordered by the River Usk. (Photo source Emma Powell, Oct 2016).


Beautiful, tranquil and how one can imagine ‘how lovely it must have been’.  Hmmm … violence was abound, it was originally a defensive castle after all but thankfully now a visitor spot on the edge of a bustling market town.  Take time out in the ruins to relax, chill or whatever you please.

At least you know you’re safe!


References and recommended reading:,_4th_Lord_of_Bramber#Abergavenny_Massacre

Turnips. It’s all about the Turnips.


No, it’s not a selfie on a Monday morning but a good old traditional vegetable of the British countryside, the humble Turnip.  Yes, I’m giving it a capital T as I fear it is overlooked, under-estimated and its’ importance in Halloween completely ignored.  It deserves elevation to a proper noun, in my humble opinion 😉

Anyway, I digress.  So, here we are again, celebrating Halloween.  American style.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the American way; many young children enjoy the dressing up and the innocence of knocking on doors hoping for sweets.  I do live in hope that most of the population will realise this isn’t actually what Halloween is about.  Originally a pagan festival of celebrating life, honouring the dead and the cross-over into the darkest part of the year, one must remember how much superstition dictated the lives of our ancestors.  However, the celebration also respected the power of nature, gave thanks to food on their plates (entwined with Harvest celebrations) and a general understanding of gratitude.

Known as Samhain in Old Irish, Hop-tu-Naa in the Isle of Man, Calan Gaeaf in Wales and Kalan Gwav in Cornwall, one can see how these age-old names pre-date christianity.  Many pagan celebrations were overtaken by christianity to make them more acceptable in the eyes of the early church (namely Easter and Christmas here in the UK).  Most of these are now very commercialised, too much in my opinion, that the real meanings are lost in all the hype.  It takes a bit of internet digging around nowadays if you really want to know why kids dress up and knock on doors for sweets; why you get chocolate eggs in April or why Christmas is a time to get what you want (assuming you’ve outgrown the Santa theme).  Yes, have fun but also show remember to have gratitude.

So back to the humble Turnip, the once-used jack-o-lantern of old.  According to  The Oxford companion to American food and drink (p.269. Oxford University Press, 2007) immigrants to North America preferred the native pumpkin due to it being softer and easier to carve (did they even consider taking Turnips with them I wonder?!).  Apparently, pumpkin carving wasn’t officially recorded until 1837 anyway.  So the pumpkin may take all the glory but the Turnip is where it’s at!

I’ll stop going on about it now, especially as I don’t even like Turnip.  Here’s a couple of photos for you instead – if any of these knock at my door, I’ll just let the dog bark I think! 


I think old style costumes were much more authentic – and scary!


Sleep well …

History Snippet – St Anne’s Church, Syston



The gorgeous St Anne’s Church, Syston, Sth Gloucestershire on a sublime Sunday autumnal morning.  Who would have believed that this place of tranquility and beauty was the site of Cromwell’s troops firing at the door?!  The marks of which are still visible today …


The village of Syston – I am using the old spelling here, the modern day version is Siston although both are still used locally – lies just seven miles east of Bristol (the site of Bristol Castle).  Yet deep in the Sth Glos countryside, it is classified by South Gloucestershire Council (1989, 2010) as a Conservation Area due to its natural beauty and historical buildings. It is also just a few miles from the famous Battle of Lansdown 1643 (a Snippet about that can be found here, hence the reference to Cromwellian troops leaving their marks on the church door.

Local church information states that St Anne’s is built atop a hill, usually the indication of a much earlier pagan/Celtic place of worship.  To strengthen this idea, there is an ancient well, aptly named St Anne’s, at the rear of this hill next to a stream (Siston Brook) and what would have been a large pond serving the manor house, Siston Court:

siston court

The peace of the graveyard can be disturbed by the baying of Llamas on a neighbouring farm but it is a very tranquil place to sit and think.  Or take a load of photos like I did!  There are mighty graves, there are ornate graves and there are very old graves:


Past members of manorial families


Village dwellers from the 1700’s






20150906_160007 20150906_152510Once grand memorials surrounded by wrought iron designs now covered in ivy.  Unable to identify who, where and why but the once-upon-a-time wealth is obvious.




Gate from Siston Lane, unfortunately a very busy lane during rush hour and school runs.


Entrance gate walking down from the sloping graveyard


This would have once been a rather dominating view












The church itself was built in the early 11th century with later additions.  It has a lead font made in the time of King Rufus (1056-1100) and is one of only 38 in the country.  Unfortunately, the church was locked and I couldn’t get inside to have a look at this or the more elaborate tombs of previous lords of the manor.  The Domesday Book states that Syston had belonged to a Saxon named Anne but was in the hands of Roger de Berkeley after the Norman invasion.  Could this be who the church and well are named after?  The local church information page however, states the area is named after San-Tan, a pagan goddess of water, and this has come to be St Anne.  Whilst researching the internet, I could find no San Tan but then, this is only one of my ‘snippets’; perhaps some further research and digging deeper in archives might lead to further information.  If anyone knows of a pagan goddess with that name, feel free to let me know!

The church is wonderful and steeped in history.  It reminded me of fairy-tales, with its’ hidden doors, higgledy-piggledy buildings and aura of peace amongst the busy outskirts of Bristol.  A perfect place to step out of the rat-race and just … relax.  You don’t have to be religious to feel the special atmosphere at these places, despite Cromwell’s attempts at ruination!

20150906_152105 20150906_152618 20150906_155653 20150906_155746


Sources: [accessed 1.10.15] [accessed 1.101.5] [accessed 2.10.15] [accessed 2.101.5] [accessed 1.101.5]

And Wikipedia for basics!

Historical Heavyweights and the Real Force Behind Them

We’ve all heard of Richard III. Edward III. Henry IV etc etc but not so well-known are their women …




Three years ago I discovered a new author. I can’t remember how, a link on Facebook I expect. What caught my eye was the fact she was doing a book signing in Swindon, a couple of motorway junctions from me, so I decided to look up the book. I liked what I saw, a new type of read for me; my favourite genre (HF of course) but the main character was Anne Neville, wife of Richard III. The book being Virgin Widow. I realised I had hardly ever found anything to read about her so I promptly made the journey to Swindon, bought said book plus another about Eleanor of Aquitaine (Devil’s Consort) and had both signed by the author. In all my years of reading, this was my first effort at meeting the author for a book signing and I was surprisingly nervous. I had no need to worry, the author was Anne O’Brien and what an approachable and lovely lady she is.


anne ob


Her passion for her subject shines through and is animated on her face when discussing her characters. And so it should; her books are warm, succinct and full of meticulous research on subjects that aren’t necessarily widely known. I’ve since collected the novel about Alice Perrers (The King’s Concubine) and Elizabeth of Lancaster (The King’s Sister).

Anne’s books are like a breath of fresh air. Her characters had such influence on history but are always in the shadows of the main players, of which there are books aplenty. I imagine researching from primary and secondary sources for the likes of Alice Perrers, for example, is harder work than researching Alice’s man, Edward III. But Anne manages this with a smooth, interwoven flow of fiction to tell their stories. Alice Perrers is much more real to me now!

I’m yet to find another author who can so richly tell the story of our lesser-known characters in history, making them come alive, teaching readers how important they were and wanting to know more about them. Roll on the next book!





England before 1066!

Yes, there was a history 😉

My latest review is of a second instalment in a trilogy exploring the fantastic, albeit enigmatic, Emma, the Norman Queen of England.  A fantastic fictional read that intertwines fact and fiction and if you love history before the Conqueror, this is for you