Penshurst Place transforms into the Palace of Whitehall for ITV1’s new drama

The Great Fire image © ITV

The Great Fire Image © ITV

Have you seen the ITV1 adverts for The Great Fire? This new four-part historical drama starts tomorrow night and I’m incredibly excited as Penshurst Place, my local historical haunt, has been used for the scenes set at the Palace of Whitehall.

Built in 1341 Penshurst Place was already 300 years old at the time of the fire of London and Ben Thomas, General Manager of Penshurst Place, says ‘using later additions to the house and gardens as a historical backdrop for The Great Fire provided an authenticity to this wonderful drama that is hard to find.’ Filming took place between the 12th and 15th March and, although I didn’t know it, many highly recognisable actors such as Charles Dance, Andrew Buchan (think Broadchurch, Garrows Law, Nowhere Boy) Rose Leslie (Utopia, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey) and Perdita Weeks (The Invisible Woman, Flight of the Storks) were working just minutes away from me.

The Great Fire at Penshurst Gardens image © ITV

The Great Fire at Penshurst Gardens – image © ITV

Lucy McLeod at Penshurst kindly sent me a copy of the press release which says the drama ‘is set against the decadent backdrop of King Charles II’s court’ and ‘tells the story of the humble baker Thomas Farriner and his fabled involvement in the Great Fire’.  A quote from Douglas Rae, the executive producer, adds that ‘in 1666 London was the greatest city in the world with a population of 300,000. In just four days, The Great Fire destroyed nearly half the city and threatened the monarchy.’ Cue four, sixty minute episodes filled with sumptuous costumes, scandal, romance and drama and you have my idea of tv heaven.

For those of you who haven’t seen the trailer yet, you can find it at

Now I know I might be slightly biased but Penshurst Place is a stunning building surrounded by beautiful gardens and this isn’t the first time its been used as a film location. Scenes for Merlin, The Other Boleyn Girl and Anne of the Thousand Days have all been filmed here and, earlier this year, it also provided a setting for Wolf Hall which is due to be broadcast next year.

Fans of Harry Potter may also like to know that the Long Gallery provided some great floor creaks for the film’s sound recordists. Now that’s something I must remember to tell my boys.

The Great Fire starts at 9pm on Thursday 16th October on ITV1 and will be shown over four consecutive days.

Penshurst Place at night image © Penshurst Place and Gardens

Penshurst Place at night image ©Penshurst Place and Gardens





The Winged Devils of Faversham

Gargoyle carved by William Warren webAs I ambled along Preston Street in Faversham, feeling rather relieved the family trip to the dentist had been a relatively calm experience, I happened to look up and see these two gorgeous gargoyles. I’ve admired them many times but have never stopped to look at them properly. Of course, I didn’t have my work camera with me and the sun was shining in my eyes but hopefully I’ve blown the images up enough for you to see their detailing too.

Gargoyle carved byt William Warren 2

According to the Faversham town website, The Stationery Shoppe’s beautiful Tudor frontage is actually a replica installed in the 1920’s. The gargoyles, however, were carved by William Warren, a renowned wood-carver, who also undertook commissions at the Houses of Parliament.

Clutched tightly in the gargoyles claws are the coats of arms for  Faversham and Faversham Abbey.

The Stationery Shoppe Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie) 2014

A Love Token for Molly Stone at Maidstone Museum

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

‘Dear Molly Stone is all my own’.  The message is simple, the declaration clear and how cherished it must have been.

During the 17th and 18th centuries engraved coins were a popular love token.  This one is a favourite of Giles Guthrie, the Collections Manager at Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery, who explained that love tokens ‘are coins that have been engraved or altered and then given as a keepsake to a sweetheart. A popular decoration was a ship or soldier, often signifying a parting.  Some were beautifully crafted and some not so but all were made with the same intent and with the same message – love- that is why I like them.’

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust


Sadly we have no idea who R.Y was or if he was reunited with this sweetheart but the romantic in me would like to think so.

Maidstone Museum has a fantastic collection of coins and gambling tokens amongst its 660,000 object collection and you can find further visitor information here.




Angela Buckley visits Rochester to talk about ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous’ Criminals

Fancy hearing about some deadly plots and criminal crackpots? Then head over to the Dot Cafe, Rochester at 6.30pm on Monday 29 September to hear Angela Buckley talking about ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous’ criminals. I’ve already got my ticket, don’t forget to grab yours!

Originally posted on Victorian Supersleuth:


I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the Rochester Literature Festival, especially as the theme of ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know’ is perfect for sharing stories from Detective Caminada’s casebook. In his tireless fight against crime in the seedy underworld of 19th century Manchester, Jerome Caminada encountered many criminals, many of whom were seriously mad, bad and downright dangerous.

Rev SilvertonEarly in his career, Caminada tackled the insidious and cunningly deceptive quack doctors who preyed on innocent people’s fears for their health within the fragile environment of diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, and a staggeringly short life expectancy of just 18 years. The worst of these charlatans was the Rev Edward Silverton, an expert conman who duped countless victims into buying his miraculous ‘Food of Foods’ in a desperate effort to improve their chances of survival.

Other bad and highly dangerous adversaries of the determined detective included the notorious ‘scuttlers’ (street fighters), who were completely ruthless and defended their ‘territory’ with a fierce loyalty that often descended into madness, as they clashed in terrifying battles with rival gangs. Caminada also faced bands of anarchists, many of whom became embroiled in violent clashes as they resisted arrest, and certainly not least of all, the Fenians, who threatened national security and put the population at serious risk.

At the height of his career and in his signature case, the Manchester Cab Mystery, Detective Caminada brought Charlie Parton to justice. Aged just 18 years old, he drugged his victims in an attempt to rob them and when he poisoned businessman, John Fletcher, Caminada tracked him down using all the brilliant powers of deduction of Sherlock Holmes.

Image 7aHowever, in the 30 years of Jerome Caminada’s long career as a detective, one man stands out as the most dangerous of all: his lifelong rival and violent thief, Bob Horridge. He would stop at nothing to keep one step ahead of the police, which proved almost fatal, on many occasions, for Caminada and his colleagues. The arch enemies faced each other in a final confrontation, from which only one man could emerge alive.


I will be talking about the ‘mad, bad & dangerous’ criminals faced by Detective Caminada, at the Rochester Literature Festival at 6.30 pm on Monday 29 September 2014 at the Dot Café, Rochester. Please do come along!


History Snap: Carriages waiting for the ball?


A queue of carriages waiting to deliver their bejewelled occupants to the ball or the inside of the Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum? Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie) 2014

Inside of the Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum in Maidstone, Kent.             Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie) 2014



The 12th Earl of Moray and his 19thC Carriage of Heartbreak

The 12th Earl of Moray's 19th Century Coach. Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

The 12th Earl of Moray’s 19th Century Coach at Maidstone’s Carriage Museum. Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Every woman wishes to travel in style on her honeymoon and the 12th Earl of Moray was determined that his new wife would enjoy every comfort. Described as ‘six feet in stature, dark complexioned and handsome’ the honourable John Stewart had organised a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe for his honeymoon and commissioned a stylish, black travelling coach for the trip.



Coat of arms displayed on the 12th Earl of Moray's Coach. Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Coat of arms displayed on the 12th Earl of Moray’s Coach. Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

As a solider and politician he was engaged to the daughter of the Earl of Elgin during the 1830’s and six magnificent white horses had been bought to pull their coach. But, for some reason, the longed for marriage didn’t take place and the heartbroken Earl is said to have had the horses shot. He ordered the coach to be withdrawn from sight and it was taken to the coach house where it sat, unused, for the next 120 years.In 1951, the coach was finally moved to the Tyrwhitt Drake Carriage Museum in Maidstone where it now sits is stately but subdued grandeur. Even its window shutters are drawn against enquiring eyes and, as I stood looking at it, the romantic in me couldn’t help but feel sad for the Earl who largely withdrew from public life while he was still in his thirties.

Even in earlier life is seems the Earl wasn’t a fan of the limelight and despite acting as an MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight between 1825 and 1826 he was a lax attender at Parliament. In 1859, at the age of 62, he succeeded his elder brother, who was apparently insane from childhood, to the peerage and took control of his family extensive estates in north-east Scotland.

Remaining unmarried, the honourable John Stewart died in November 1867, having ‘for many years taken no part whatsoever in public affairs.’ I just hope he wasn’t alone.


DSC_0580-001PS. Despite its low key appearance, the Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages (which is also known as the Maidstone Carriage Museum) is well worth a visit. It covers two large floors and is said to be one of the finest in Europe. The museum’s attendant is very friendly and keen to point out features that a visitor may otherwise overlook.

It’s also a bargain at £5 for a family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) and there’s plenty for the children to see including a Mayor’s carriage decorated with the only crest featuring a dinosaur, lots of carved animals – including dragons and snakes – an original ice cream cart and Queen Victoria’s pony cart which was pulled by her beloved donkey, Zora.

The museum is located in Mill Street, Maidstone, Kent (opposite the Archbishops Palace and next to a public car park) and you can find full visitor information here.

I hope you enjoy it too.

The History Magpie’s Top 10 Blog Posts

Capture Twitterversary 2The image of a piece of cake topped with a sparkling candle has just dropped into my inbox. Apparently I’ve been on twitter for two years – yikes that has gone fast – and I have to say it’s been great.  Some people may love Facebook but I’m definitely a twitter fan. During that time, I’ve learnt a lot and procrastinated quite a bit (yes, I’ve seen your funny pictures) but, most importantly, chatted with some very friendly people.

Being a homeworker can sometimes be a little lonely, so having a virtual hang out is fantastic and I get to ‘meet’ people I never would spoken to have in the real world.  There are far too many of you to mention by name but I’m thankful to everyone who takes the time to say hello and, if your reading this post, it’s more than likely that you are one of them so that includes you.

And to celebrate, I’m putting the virtual kettle on and sharing my top ten blog posts with you.  I’d love to hear which one is your favourite.


PS Don’t forget you can chat to me at @rachaelhale1

Image © Tunbridge Wells Museum, Kent

Image © Tunbridge Wells Museum, Kent



A 19th Century Dolls’ House Designed to Dazzle, Tunbridge Wells Museum, Kent






Image © Maidstone Museum, Kent

Image © Maidstone Museum, Kent



A Rare 17th Century Beaded Christening Basket, Maidstone Museum, Kent




Image ©Penshurst Place, Kent

Image ©Penshurst Place, Kent



A 17thC Gem Encrusted Pietra Dura Cabinet, Penshurst Place, Kent






Image © English Heritage - Down House, Kent.

Image © English Heritage – Down House, Kent.



The Darwins arrive at Down House, Kent.




Image © Matt Ball

Image © Matt Ball



Behind the Scenes of ‘The Sevenoaks Memorial Project’, Kent




Image © Tunbridge Wells Museum

Image © Tunbridge Wells Museum



Bringing Back The Glory to Grosvenor and Hilbert Park – Writer Carolyn Gray reveals all



Image ©Sevenoaks Museum, Kent

Image ©Sevenoaks Museum, Kent




A WWII Egg Box, Sevenoaks, Kent






Image supplied by Angela Buckley

Image of Jerome Caminada supplied by Angela Buckley



Who was ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes’? Author Angela Buckley reveals all.







©Rachael Hale (aka The History Magpie)

©Rachael Hale (aka The History Magpie)



Why is the porcupine part of the Sidney family crest? Penshurst, Kent







©Rachael Hale (aka The History Magpie)

©Rachael Hale (aka The History Magpie)



The Secrets of Queen Victoria’s Armchair, Walmer Castle, Kent





Which one did you like most? I’d love to know so do please drop a quick line in my comment box.

See you soon.


Sarah Salway talks about Kent’s gardens and ‘Digging Up Paradise’


Sarah speaking at her book launch Image ©Sarah Salway

Sarah speaking at her book launch Image ©Sarah Salway

Sarah Salway didn’t intend to write a book about Kent’s public gardens, or become the Canterbury Laureate,  but when the special opportunity arose she grabbed it.

As part of her role Sarah carried out a literary tour of Kent’s public gardens, which has now been turned into a unique book featuring history, plants and poetry, and she has kindly dropped by to share some of the personal stories behind it.

Hello Sarah,

You’re well known as a journalist, novelist and poet so how did you end up writing a book about gardening?

I have always been interested in gardens – as opposed to gardening! I didn’t really have much choice as a child as my mother was a garden historian and the herb gardens at home were open to the public. When I was studying at the London College of Fashion, I went to evening classes on garden history, and kept up the interest ever since. For a writer, they are such a rich source of stories – from the plants to the gardeners to the space itself. Just think how many plots pivet on secrets told in gardens!

Peony border at Penshurst Place - Image ©Sarah Salway

Peony border at Penshurst Place – Image ©Sarah Salway

How did you decide which gardens to include?

It was so hard. They had to be open to public (even for a few days of the year) as I wanted the public engagement element. I wanted 26 so I had to lose some of the gardens I had visited and really loved, but I tried to get a selection of different gardens. I really could have made this book ten times as long for Kent alone, and I love that people are now contacting me to tell me of a lovely garden I have missed out. I hope that they will write their own poems for that garden! But seriously, it does hurt that I couldn’t include all the gardens.

Are you a lover of useful herbs and plants like your mother, the garden historian and writer Elizabeth Peplow, or are you more fond of the ornamental?

Useful, I would say. We have an allotment at Hawkenbury and some of the herbs and vegetables are just so beautiful. The colour of beetroot leaves is just stunning and some herbs like fennel are just magic. When I put flowers in a pot I will always put herbs in too BUT having watched the Big Allotment Show on television recently, I’m trying to grow more flowers to cut. And edible flowers too, of course. I love all the stories too.

So, when you look at plants do you primarily see their colour and shape or do you think of their stories, their folklore and medicinal use?

I do tend to, I read quite a lot but I’m not an expert really and so that has been one of the joys of visiting the gardens and learning so much first-hand. I visited St Johns Jerusalem and Will Gould the gardener was walking me around with me and he showed me Queen Anne’s Lace. Of course I’ve seen it lots of times but what I didn’t know was that right in the middle is a spot of red and it’s called Queen Anne’s Lace because apparently that was a drop of blood from her finger when she was making lace. I keep looking at the booklet of 18th century recipes I picked up at Quebec House and wondering if I’m brave enough to try some of them. I love the idea of making my own wines – is that medicinal?

Chartwell view - Image ©Sarah Salway

Chartwell view – Image ©Sarah Salway

You visited many public gardens and parks whilst doing your research, when you first arrived what did you do?

I always did advance reading but when I got there, I tried to rely on my own intuition as to what particularly caught my interest about the garden. With some of the gardens I went round with the gardener or owner but I always tried to walk around by myself too. At first I just walked around and tried to see what was catching my eye. It may be there were connections between them so if I particularly noticed one red plant, I might then see a tree with red bark and then I would start to look for other red things. Sometimes it would be a puzzle. Why was this tree planted here? Or if I had read about a particularly interesting personality connected with the garden, I might try to imagine the garden from their point of view.

Did you write when you were there?

Always, always. I’m a big believer in my writer’s journal so I would write as many notes as I could and I always tried to find a place to sit down that spoke to me. I remember my garden history tutor saying that if you see a bench in a garden, you should sit on it because it has been put there for a particular reason, that’s the view someone wants you to see. It’s a good tip because you are getting an idea of how the garden can be viewed. Other times I’d lie out on the grass, or sit by a wall. I also took lots of photos.

elephant topiaryOn your blog, you say that you discovered stories that surprised you and made you laugh and cry – do you have a favourite?

For another project I’ve been doing a lot of research on WW1 soldiers, so I was particularly moved by the Belgian soldiers who ended up at Quex House and Gardens. I could really understand how working in the garden must have helped their recovery, it must have felt like a green tranquil paradise after the battlefields and also perhaps a useful gap between their experiences in the war and returning home. The story of one soldier stayed with me. He didn’t say a word during the two years he was at Quex (although he seemed happy there) but started talking again the minute he set foot back on Belgian soil. But there were so many. I think my favourite discovery was the crocus circle at Canterbury Cathedral that was the exact spot where the rose window would be if the tower fell. My favourite mystery has to be whether there were elephants at lovely Chilham Castle!

The labyrinth at Tudeley - Image ©Sarah Salway

The labyrinth at Tudeley – Image ©Sarah Salway

You also said that the garden at Chilham Castle gave you goosebumps, why is that?

Garden design is normally thought to be mostly about plants, but the more I learn the more I realise it is about how it can shape our emotional responses. At Chilham, there’s an eastern avenue of sweet chestnut trees tthat were planted in alignment with the rising sun, and apparently two yew trees have been found miles away that follow this line completely. They follow the prehistoric tracks now called the Pilgrim’s Way. There’s something so satisfying about that. We try to control so much of our environment nowadays almost by fighting it, and it’s humbling to sit in a garden and realise how we have always needed nature for our spiritual needs.

Of all the gardens you visited, which one would you like to own and why?

Good question. I think it has to be St John’s Jerusalem, which – perhaps not surprisingly – is one of the smallest gardens I visited. It has a lovely wild quality that feels so serene. The moat helps, I had daydreams of having a small wooden rowing boat and going for picnics, rather like Ratty and Mole!
But most of all, I came away with such enormous respect for the hard work and generosity of all the people who owned and ran these gardens in real life. I am sure they have little time for floating around on a boat. Or indeed daydreaming. It’s a wonderful thing they are doing for all of us.

Digging Up Paradise by Sarah Salway - Image ©Sarah Salway

Digging Up Paradise by Sarah Salway – Image ©Sarah Salway

‘Digging up Paradise’ reveals your own creative responses to the gardens. Did you find other writers’ literary responses to gardens influenced you in any way?

Yes, I think so. There is some brilliant pure garden writing but it was the nature garden writers and poets that made me look much closer than I had been doing. I also think that some of the nature writing is some of the bravest writing now. We can become quite cynical and worried about talking about the spiritual side of things and when they talk about the spirit of a place , it made me realise that’s what I was interested in – what does this place, this garden, mean and, wider still, where is our place in the world. It’s a search for what matters to us.

And finally, Digging up Paradise is unique mix of history, plants and poetry – where can people find it?

You can buy it from the publisher’s website – Or of course, order it from any good bookshop.