The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Monday, 26 June 2017

Dolly Shepherd

Last weekend we visited a local craft trail where the wonderful art of yarn bombing was on display. Trees, lamp posts and other street furniture had been wrapped in colourful knitting and crochet all on the theme of flight. Among the displays was one about a woman called Dolly Shepherd, who was a new name to me. 

A decorated tree dedicated to Dolly
Dolly Shepherd (1886-1983), born Elizabeth Shepherd, was a parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian era. Born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, as a teenager she went to work as a waitress in a North London cafe so she could afford to see a concert by the composer John Philip Sousa. While there she overheard two men talking about needing a girl to act as 'target' in their shooting act, and volunteered.

She immediately became known as a daredevil and, in 1905, she ascended to 4,000 feet on a trapeze slung below a hot air balloon, descending by parachute. This became a regular act, but on one occasion she made the descent with another girl whose chute failed to open.

Dolly carried the girl to the ground but the descent was too fast, and both were severely injured. Dolly was paralysed for many weeks but fought her way back to health and returned to her high flying act at a show in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire. 

She continued her flying tricks throughout her life and never showed fear. On one occasion she almost hit a steam train on her descent but the driver had the presence of mind to blow his whistle, and the blast diverted her into the nearby canal.

She flew with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died at the age of 96.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Kirby Muxloe

William Hastings was Edward IV's lord chamberlain and made a small fortune in the post. As a result he could afford to build himself a luxury home on the family estates in Leicestershire.

Hastings chose a plot of land at Kirby Muxloe where the family already had a manor house. The new fortified house was built entirely out of brick, an expensive and fashionable material only recently introduced to England. Hastings brought craftsmen from the Netherlands to make the bricks on site because too few people here knew the skill.

However, the house was never completed because Hastings fell foul of the ambitious Duke of Gloucester, later to be Richard III, who accused him of conspiracy and had him executed in 1483.

The land remained in the family's possession until 1630, but only one tower was ever finished, although it's still possible to see how impressive the house would have been. Most of what remains today is footings for the outer walls, but the gatehouse stands proudly to welcome you on site.

Although it was also never finished, the gatehouse shows how well designed the building was. You can still pick out the pattern of dark bricks (known as diaper work) on the frontage.

In addition the castle had gun ports and a moat to aid its defence.