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Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

Britain’s most historic towns

This excellent Channel Four series reached part four on 28th April as Dr. Alice Roberts came to Norwich, showing streets, civic buildings and even a pub that I have previously visited, describing it as Britain’s most “Tudor” town. She began by describing Henry VII as “violently seizing” the English throne (or at least watching whilst his uncle Jasper and the Earl of Oxford violently seized it for him).

As the “Tudor” century progressed, she changed into a red woollen dress and explained how the sumptuary laws would have prevented her from wearing other colours and fabrics. Henry VIII’s attempts to obtain an annulment were mentioned, as was Kett’s Rebellion on Mousehold Heath under Edward VI. The Marian Persecution was described in detail and some of her victims in Norwich were named, most of them being burned at the “Lollards’ Pit”, where a pub by that name now standsLollardsPit.jpg. As we mentioned earlier, Robert Kett’s nephew Francis suffered the same fate decades later.

Dr. Roberts then spoke about the “Strangers”, religious refugees from the Low Countries who boosted the weaving industry, bringing canaries with them. Her next subject was Morris dancing as the jester Will Kemp argued with Shakespeare and danced his way up from London to the Norwich Guildhall over nine days. She was then ducked three times in the Wensum as an example of the punishment of a scold from Elizabeth I’s time.

Other shows in this series have covered Chester, York and Winchester whilst Cheltenham and Belfast will be covered in future episodes, each covering a town that epitomises a particular era in our history.

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