The beautiful town of Warwick contains a history dating from the 6th century, having been continually habitated since then. The main tourist draw, Warwick Castle, was built in 1068 and the Earldom of Warwick was created in 1088. Originally the town was ruled by the Earls and walls were built around the town, East Gate and West Gate survive today.
I enjoyed my stay at the Lord Leycester Hotel, located on Jury Street very near to East Gate, which I could see when leaning out my guest room window. I could also see the top of a turret of Warwick Castle from my window, which stands just one street away. The hotel does not provide newly refurbished rooms, but I enjoyed the quirkiness of what had been two Georgian townhouses combined in 1927 to make a hotel.
Through the East Gate one happens upon Smith Street. This is one of the areas of Warwick that was not destroyed by the Great Fire of 1694. I enjoyed walking this little street many times as it was one of my favourite areas near to the hotel, and I chose to have my dinners at Roebucks Pub, which claims to be the oldest in Warwick. I like to have one place at each destination where I go everyday, to feel a bit at home. Usually it is a coffee shop, but in Warwick I chose Roebucks because it was one of the very rare places to eat that was quiet.
I often walk into restaurants and walk right out again because of the volume of the music or the acoustics being terrible creating too much noise of commotion. This pub had low ceilings and made for a peaceful setting. I would happen-in for an early dinner and spend much of my time writing there. The food was not great, the fish and chips were poor, their hamburger was very disappointing, but their steak w/chorizo was good. The service was mediocre, of the sort that they didn’t really anticipate tips and would assume me to be not a potential regular since I was clearly a traveler. I noticed a marked-improvement on my 4th visit, my first 3 visits did not even have a spec of recognition as a return customer despite it being a quiet place during my early meals. On my 4th visit the young man who served me actually seemed to care if everything was all right. My impression on other days was of a pub that employs casual students who don’t actually care about the pub, they just went through the motions of vending the items that were for sale with very little effort.
Two British icons in front of East Gate.
A very short walk the other way down Jury street (which becomes High Street) takes one to the West Gate, at which stands the Lord Leycester Hospital. This fun, wonky, tilting collection of 14th and 15th Century buildings was acquired by an Earl of Leycester in 1571 and made into a home for retired ex-servicemen and their wives, which it continues to be today.
Nowhere in it’s history did Lord Leycester Hospital house any kind of medical establishment. Perhaps the word hospital has had a transitional meaning over the years. I look it up and find that the latin word, hospes, referred to both guests and hosts around the 10th Century. We also get the word hospitality from this, and we do not associate that word with hospitals at all, although it would be good for a hospital to be hospitable, certainly. So this hospital was presumably a place where hosts and guests lived together and the title was perhaps given before the term hospital became widely used to refer to a place where medical treatment is given (by hosts to their guests).
I enjoy the lovely market area, part of it pedestrianised. It is a small area, Warwick has a population just over 30 thousand. Within this area is the Warwickshire Museum, where I learn a few interesting tidbits. Warwick was the only town in Warwickshire in 1066. The county prospered during the 13th Century and as many as 40 Castles had been built by the Normans here during the Middle Ages (C5th to C15th).
As many as 100 towns were reduced or abandoned during the 15th and 16th Centuries when many landowners changed from growing vegetables to keeping livestock. What had previously been rented farmer’s plots became more profitable grazing land.
During the Medieval times, there were three main groupings of society and belief of one’s standing was very strong. According to the museum, one of 15 people in Warwickshire were clergy during this time and the Church was England’s largest landowner, owning one fifth of all property. Aristocracy sat at the top of the hierarchy and comprised the smallest group, less than one percent. They made most of their income from renting out property.
The average person who worked for a living and was not generally a land owner, could be further divided into other classes such as merchants, famers and labourers. This, of course, is just a very brief summation.
I set out to visit Warwick Castle one weekday morning just as it was opening, as being a rather major destination I wanted to be able to spend some time there. One of England’s most impressive castles, it is truly a wondrous place inside and out. Within minutes I was overwhelmed by the hoards of school children well-entertained by the costumed performers and displays created by Tussauds Group. (Of Madame Tussauds, the wax museum people.) Amidst the screaming and shouting and general cacophony, I lasted less than 40 minutes before I fled the beautiful scene. For twenty of those minutes I had been trapped outside the main entrance of the Castle during a dramatic explanation of the Castle’s entry. It was interesting, I just had not expected to be standing in a group of several hundred young children while an actor had them making sounds on command. “EEEEEEWWWWW!” was the taught response for whenever he spoke “murder”, “OOOOOOHHHHHHH” the expected response for something else. Of course this participation was repeated and practiced to be as loud and as fervent as possible. The gate finally raised I ran past the crowds and quickly visited some of the living chambers but by the time I had done this the entire Castle was infiltrated and I made a hasty retreat out of the castle grounds to catch my breath in a nearby tea room.
I am not fond of crowds and of noise. Two fantastic years doing the JET programme in Japan where I taught alongside Japanese teachers in a Junior High School made me think that I could handle teaching. Not so, North Americans don’t sit quietly in little rows and wait for their honourable teacher to talk. Surprise. What was I thinking? (One of my later professional incarnations was as a Canadian high school teacher, I did my BED at OISE/University of Toronto nearly ten years ago. I taught casually for a short time in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I never got a contract, so I don’t really know how it would have gone. My partner and I had started a business and I stopped subbing when we started expanding and I didn’t have time to teach anymore anyway.)
“Did you have a nice day,” the staff member kind-of asks as I return my barely used audio guide. It had opened and she herself had furnished me with this MP3 player less than an hour ago and it was still morning, I basically ran in and ran out. Her question must be from auto-speak, who would pay an entry fee of nearly £20 ($30) and stay not even long enough to have walked the periphery, let alone looked at anything. Actually, if I was in a rush I suppose I would. I take it back. But I wasn’t in a rush until I was being chased. I am sure it’s lovely, just not for me, definitely not today. Perhaps on a weekend when there are families and holiday-makers in little groups rather than groups of several hundred excited screaming darlings swarming about.
Cream tea, the original comfort food. Traditionally prepared tea (loose), fresh scone, clotted cream, butter, and jam. Cream tea refers to this set, not just the drink. Afternoon tea is more elaborate, I wrote about it in Leicester, a future posting.
Warwick is well situated to use as a base for several days. If you enjoy walking or cycling, make sure to visit the tourist information office on Jury Street to pick-up their pamphlet guides and check-out my posting of English Countryside from Warwick to Royal Leamington Spa. Warwick is situated on the lovely river Avon and also the Grand Union Canal. From Warwick I also took a day trip to the spa town of Cheltenham (also a separate posting) and Stratford-upon-Avon (another posting). Kenilworth Castle is a very short drive or is walkably-nearby, and Coventry is perhaps only 25 minutes by car. Warwick is a lovely town and a strategic sight-seeing location.
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