Friday, June 24, 2011

Your Paintings

A fantastic new resource has just been launched on the BBC’s website called Your Paintings that aspires to give access to every single oil painting in public collections. Its' certainly made a great start with more than 63000 records online so far!

The project came from the Public Catalogue Foundation, who have been going round county by county recording all the paintings in the institutions in each area in order to produce a book on those collections. They came to Bedfordshire thankfully before we had packed away all our collections and the glossy volume Oil Paintings in Public Ownership – Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire came out earlier this year.

As well as all of the oil paintings in Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, the county is represented by paintings from Bedford Borough Council, the John Bunyan Museum, Moot Hall, Wrest Park, and the University of Bedfordshire, as well as many others.

The Your Paintings website lets you browse through the paintings, search by Gallery or Collection, or search by artist - where each painter is beautifully represented by a painted portrait. Clicking on an artist can lead you on to a wealth of information that includes not only the usual biography and selection of works but also slideshows and links to BBC content on the iPlayer such as the programmes The Culture Show and Making Masterpieces.

An area we particularly like (and can't wait to explore fully!) is the Tagger feature. This allows users of the site to tag content in the pictures so that the subjects or details in the pictures can be searched on. This could be a simple as the keywords 'portrait' or 'landscape' or could get far more specific pointing out details like 'bonnet' or 'oak tree', or art historical genres such as 'Impressionism' or 'Vorticism'.

The possibilties are endless! The site gives you the opportunity to bring together pictures from all over the country in your personally constructed themes. And soon users will be able to create their very own guided tours too. Curators, Education departments, art enthusiasts and visitors alike will find this a valuable tool. Most importantly it should help to give the public a sense of ownership of their national and local collections, and get out and visit their museums and galleries. KP

Monday, June 20, 2011

On this day - the siege of Bedford Castle

On the 20th June 1224 the siege of Bedford Castle began. Most people in Bedford are familiar with Castle mound and the story of the siege. However - dig a little deeper into the story and our knowledge usually becomes a little sketchy...

Who built the Castle? How long was it there for? Who beseiged it? Why?

Even after a little digging, I've found out lots about the Castle that I didn't already know.

Who Built the Castle? When? Why?
The earliest Castle was built by Ralf de Tallebosc soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066. A large part of the existing Saxon town was flattened to make way for the castle, which in its earliest days would have been made of wood. The Castle was built because the incoming Normans needed a place to overlook the newly conquered town, to defend themselves from the town (if need be), to defend themselves and the town from other attackers and they needed a stronghold from where they could retreat into the coutryside.

Gradually the castle was rebuilt in stone, so that by 1130 it had a “strong and unshakeable keep”. By this time it was in the hands of the de Beauchamp family, who held the Barony of Bedford.

Under siege

The castle actually suffered several attacks before the great siege of 1224. The first of these was around 1137, when it was captured by King Stephen. During a siege in 1153 Prince Henry, soon to be King Henry II arrived in Bedford, delivered heavy plundering and left the castle in flames. St Paul's Church suffered some damage although we don't know how extensive this was. There was another siege in 1215, when King John sent Faukes de Breaute to capture it, following a minor rebellion that arose when the King refused to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta.

The Villian - Faukes de Breaute
King John gave Faukes de Breaute the castle and barony to thank him for his efforts. Faukes set about fortifying the castle and it is said that he pulled down St Paul’s Church to use the stone. Through the early 1220s, from his impregnable base, Faukes gained a reputation as an oppressive landlord and was eventually fined £3,000 by the King’s justices based at Dunstable.

Angry at the fine, Faukes sent his brother William to capture the three justices (although two escaped) and take them to the castle. The King (Henry III by this time) was furious and ordered Faukes to release the captured judge – when he refused the King ordered an attack on the castle.

Faukes had left the defence of the castle to his brother William so was safely out of the way when the attack came.

The final siege

Matthew Paris, a monk at St Albans Abbey, chronicled the Siege of Bedford some years later. The chronicles say that the siege lasted for 8 weeks, during which time the walls of the castle were bombarded daily with large lumps of stone flung from siege engines. Miners were used to dig underneath the castle walls and it was this that eventually led its destruction: on the 14th August the final walls collapsed when the tunnels were lit on fire, and the Keep was taken.

There my have been over 2500 men involved in the siege, coming from as far away as Cumberland in the north and Dorset in the south. Around 200 of them were killed. Most of the men inside the castle were hanged, although it is said that 3 were spared to serve as Knights Templar in the Holy Land.

The fall of the castle would have been a severe loss to the town as it would have been the town's biggest employer and the focus of town life. In the years since the siege the castle mound has had several uses. From the late 14th Century the ruins were used as a rubbish dump and in the 18th Century the top of the mound was used as a bowling green.

If you fancy finding out more about the siege why not go along to The Siege ,