The Correct Scale for Artwork

Life Study, 2003

Life Study, 2003

The image above is a scan from a life drawing in pencil that I produced in 2003. This was one of several drawings that I recently had scanned professionally, because the original image size is simply too large (about 24” x 19”) for my equipment.

The issue of the “right size” at which to create artwork has concerned me several times over the years, and I generally haven’t received much guidance on the subject.

When I was growing up, there seemed to be a general attitude (even among my teachers) that the goal of producing artwork was to create a “pretty picture to hang on a wall”, so the “correct” size was simply that at which you wanted to be able to view the picture.

As I described in an earlier post, it was only when I arrived at Imperial College, and became the Publicity Officer of the H G Wells Society there, that I was faced with the requirement to produce artwork that was intended for reproduction. Thus, my original artwork didn’t automatically need to be the same size as the reproduced version.

Avoid Magnification

My initial drawings and paintings were created rather casually on a standard A4 pad, and it was only when I needed to reproduce those as posters that it dawned on me that the posters would be A3 size, i.e., double the size at which I’d created the artwork. In the case where I’d produced a black-and-white line drawing, as below, the result didn’t look too terrible, but some of the others looked quite bad when enlarged!

Comic Strip Artwork, 1981

Comic Strip Artwork, 1981

I learned a harsh lesson from that experience, and, since then, I’ve always endeavored to create my original artwork at a scale larger than 1:1, relative to the final displayed size.

Comic Strip Techniques

I did learn later that much artwork for magazine or newspaper reproduction, such as comic strips, is normally created at twice the size of the intended final reproduction. That was one of those “commercial techniques” that nobody bothered to teach me during my artistic training!

Vector Artwork & Infinite Scaling

In a post on my professional blog, The Two Types of Computer Graphics, I explained the fundamental difference between bitmap and vector representations in computer-based artwork. (Some seem to believe that such artwork is “computer-generated”, but that isn’t the case. Although the computer provides the hardware and software to record the image, it still requires a human artist to perform the actual drawing or painting.)

Whereas bitmap graphics are created on a matrix of pixels, and thus have fixed dimensions, vector artwork consists of shapes entirely described by mathematical functions, which have no predetermined dimensions. Thus, in principle at least, vector artwork can be rendered at any size with no loss of resolution. I featured an example of vector artwork in another recent post, and it’s shown again below. The forms consist entirely of geometric shapes, which the computer can render at any size, so there’s no loss of resolution (although lack of artist-provided detail becomes obvious as the image is magnified).

Egret Shock Wave, 2018

Egret Shock Wave, 2018

Size is Proportional to Time

Returning to the large life study shown at the top of this post, as I became more practiced at such drawings, I tended to make them larger, because that allowed me more control in areas where I wanted to include precise details (such as the face, as shown below in another similarly-sized drawing).

Life Study Detail, 2003

Life Study Detail, 2003

The price to be paid for choosing to produce larger drawings, of course, was that it took me far longer to shade the entire drawing satisfactorily! For that reason, I never actually produced many such drawings.

The advent of computer-based artwork, and the fact that we often now view artwork of all kinds on computer screens, requires artists to think more carefully about the “correct size” for their work; it’s no longer just a question of what will “look good” hanging on a wall!

Life Study, 2003

Life Study, 2003

The Last Day of Steam at Agecroft

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Last Day of Steam at Agecroft: Locomotives 1 and 2

The image above shows two steam locomotives that, on the day that I photographed them, were just being retired from active commercial service. On the basis of that description, you might think that this must have occurred some time during the 1940s or 1950s, but I’m not that old! In fact the date of the photo is Saturday, 12 September, 1981.

I mentioned in an earlier post that, during the summers I spent as an apprentice at Ferranti in Manchester, I was always on the lookout for interesting local places to visit at the weekends. These days, of course, such places are easy to locate—you just do a web search—but back then it was more difficult and more haphazard.

At some point during my first summer in Manchester, I must have spotted a notice somewhere advertising the Last Day of Steam at Agecroft Power Station. I didn’t have a car, which made it difficult to visit places that were not well-served by public transport. Fortunately though, as I learned from my A-Z street map, the power station was in Pendlebury, not too far from where I was living in Middleton, so I went along on the advertised day to see what was happening.

The map excerpt below, which is from a later 1992 edition of a Manchester street atlas, shows the location of the power station, near a railway line and a canal (for deliveries), and the River Irwell (for cooling water). The nearby Agecroft Colliery was the source for the station’s coal. The general appearance of the power station is shown in this BBC photo.

AgecroftPS1992Map

A Coal-Based Operation

As is well known (in the UK at least), British Rail had phased out steam traction in 1968, but that change didn’t apply to other users of steam locomotives in Britain. The locomotives at the power station were owned by the nationalized Central Electricity Generating Board, and, since the station was itself coal-fired, it made some sense to keep the locomotives in operation for as long as possible.

Three locomotives were being retired that day, and were giving joy rides to the public, as shown in these photos. They had all been built by the famous firm Robert Stephenson & Co., in 1948, so by steam locomotive standards, they were still relatively new. Locomotive No. 1 was painted red, and Locomotive No. 2 was blue. Those locomotives are both visible in the heading photo.

Locomotive No. 3 was painted green, and is shown steaming in my photo below.

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Last Day of Steam: Locomotive 3

My photo below shows a more general view of the Power Station, with Locomotive No. 2 hauling joyriders in a set of yellow carriages.

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Joy Rides at the Power Station, 1981

Unfortunately, my photographs are all somewhat too dark, so it’s difficult to see the locomotives well in them. The sky that day was very showery, so lighting conditions were changing rapidly, and my camera had only manual controls. Such concepts as High-Dynamic Range photography were unknown to me in those days, and in any case not available with the equipment that I had.

Fortunately, someone else called Dave Dixon took much better photographs of the same event, and has made them publicly available on Flickr here.

What’s Left Of It All

Not surprisingly, following their withdrawal from CEGB service, all 3 steam locomotives were bought for preservation, so they all still exist. The same cannot be said for any part of Agecroft Power Station itself, which was closed in 1993, and demolished in 1994. The entire site was redeveloped and is now the location of a prison.

My presence at that historic event was very much a matter of chance. It was another of many Manchester locations that I visited, but which have now completely vanished.

Last Day of Steam at Agecroft: Locomotives 1 and 2

Last Day of Steam at Agecroft: Locomotives 1 and 2

California’s Petrified Forest

"The Queen": a Live Oak growing through Fossilized Redwood at the Petrified Forest

“The Queen”: a Live Oak growing through Fossilized Redwood at the Petrified Forest

The photo above, which I took during a visit to California’s Petrified Forest, shows the interesting juxtaposition of a live tree growing through the trunk of a fossilized tree.

I mentioned in an earlier post that, before I ever visited California, my ideas of the state had been seriously distorted by representations in British media. As a result, I thought that the Napa Valley must surely be a desert with rows of vines growing arbitrarily in it! Similarly, my view of a “petrified forest” was that it must be a group of blasted trunks standing in an arid landscape.

As you can see in these pictures, the California petrified forest, which is situated in the mountains between Santa Rosa and Calistoga, bears no resemblance to my naïve expectation. On the contrary, the petrified trees are in the middle of a living forest.

The land in which the forest is situated is privately-owned, but can be visited at specified times, and on purchase of tickets. Full details of the forest’s history can be found here, at the owners’ official web site. The fossils were created by what must have been a devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Saint Helena, about 3.4 million years ago. The remains of Mount Saint Helena are still plainly visible from the forest’s location, as shown below.

Mount Saint Helena, seen from the Petrified Forest

Mount Saint Helena, seen from the Petrified Forest

Many of the trees caught in the eruption were species of redwood, which is historically interesting because redwoods are not now to be found so far inland. It’s unclear whether the change was due to altered climate, or to a change in the actual position of the California coastline. The photo below shows a closeup of a living oak tree, growing through the fossilized trunk of a redwood known as “The Queen”.

"The Queen": trunk of Fossilized Redwood

“The Queen”: trunk of Fossilized Redwood

Many other species of tree have been discovered in fossilized form among the redwoods, including one pine tree, oaks, alders, spruces, firs, and so on. The photo below shows living manzanita bushes (with red bark) growing among the moss-covered stumps of fossilized trees.

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Manzanitas growing next to Fossilized Stumps

Following the volcanic eruption, the entire area must have been barren, but most of it is now covered with modern vegetation. However, some of the ash deposited during the eruption is still uncovered today, and little grows in it. Part of one of these “ash fields” is visible below.

Part of the remaining Ash Field

Part of the remaining Ash Field

The fossilized forest was discovered in 1870, and its fame soon spread. In 1880, the author Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon nearby (writing about it in his book The Silverado Squatters), and one of the fossilized redwoods is now named for him, as below.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Tree

The Robert Louis Stevenson Tree

You can take a docent-guided tour around the forest, or else stroll around at your leisure. The tour covers about half a mile, and it’s not particularly difficult, but it’s probably best to avoid taking it during the hottest or wettest weather!

If you’re ever visiting Wine Country, then the Petrified Forest is worth a visit. The site was closed temporarily for cleanup following last year’s fires, but is now open again.

London’s Post Office Tower: My First & Only Visit

Cover of my School Study, 1971

Cover of my School Study, 1971

At the age of eleven, I produced the illustration above for the cover of a “London Study” that we were required to write and illustrate at school. The study was created in connection with our school visit to the capital city, which had taken place in May 1971, just before I drew the cover.

As you may expect (given my interests), my cover drawing emphasized modes of transport. Additionally, I chose as the centerpiece a striking modern building to which we had paid a surprise visit during the trip, and which had substantially impressed me. Little did I know at that time that it would probably be my only opportunity ever to visit that iconic building.

The building in my drawing was the recently-built Post Office Tower (now known as the BT Tower). Even before that first visit to London, I was well aware of the existence of that structure, which was feted as a prime example of Britain’s dedication to the anticipated “White Heat of Technology”. In addition to its role as an elevated mount for microwave antennas, the Tower offered public viewing galleries providing spectacular views over Central London. There was also the famous revolving restaurant, leased to Butlin’s, the famous operator of down-market holiday camps.

The Tower and its restaurant began to feature prominently in the pop culture of the time. An early “starring” role was in the comedy movie Smashing Time, where, during a party in the revolving restaurant, the rotation mechanism supposedly goes out of control, resulting in a power blackout all over London.

In the more mundane reality of 1971, our school class arrived in London and settled into a rather seedy hotel in Russell Square. One evening, our teacher surprised us by announcing an addition to our itinerary. We would be visiting the public viewing galleries of the Post Office Tower, to watch the sun go down over London, and the lights come on! Needless to say, we were thrilled, even though we had no inkling that that would be our only-ever chance to do that.

There were actually several public viewing gallery floors, some of which featured glazing, while others were exposed to the elements, except for metal safety grilles. Fortunately, the weather during the evening that we visited was not exceptionally windy!

Concretopia

I’m currently reading the book Concretopia, by John Grindrod, which provides a fascinating history of Britain’s postwar architectural projects, both public and private.

Cover of Concretopia Book

One chapter of the book is dedicated to what was originally called the Museum Radio Tower (referring to the nearby British Museum). It provides detailed descriptions of the decisions that led to the construction of the tower, and reveals that at least one floor is still filled with the original 1960s-era communications technology.

Due to subsequent changes both in communications technology and British government policies regarding state involvement in such industries, much of the original function for which the Tower was built has now been rendered obsolete or moved elsewhere, leaving the building as something of a huge museum piece (ironically, in view of its original name).

The Once-and-Only Visit

In October 1971, a few months after my school class visit, a bomb exploded in the roof of the men’s toilets at the Top of the Tower Restaurant. Initially it was assumed that the IRA was responsible, but in fact the attack was accomplished by an anarchist group.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the incident, but it drew attention to the security vulnerabilities created by allowing public access to the Tower. The result was that the public viewing galleries were immediately closed down, never to be reopened, and Butlins’ Top of the Tower restaurant was informed that its lease would not be renewed after that expired in 1980.

Nonetheless, the Tower continued to appear in the media as an instantly recognizable icon. At around the same time, it was supposedly attacked by a particularly unlikely monster—Kitten Kong [link plays video]—in the British TV comedy series The Goodies.

My younger brother took the same school trip to London two years after me, but it was already too late; the Tower’s public viewing galleries were closed, so he never got to see the London twilight from that unique vantage point.

The Unexpected Technologist

On that first visit to London in 1971, I had no notion that I personally would ever be a participant in the kind of exciting technological innovation signified by the Tower. In my family’s view, such advances were just something that “people like us” observed and marveled at, from a remote state of consumer ignorance.

I never anticipated, therefore, that I would return to London as an adult only ten years later, to begin my Electronics degree studies at Imperial College, University of London. I had to visit the University’s administration buildings in Bloomsbury to obtain my ID and other information, and there was that familiar building again, still looming over the area. (The University Senate House is also famous for its architectural style, but I’ll discuss that in a future post!)

My 1982 photo below, taken during my undergraduate days, offers an ancient-and-modern architectural contrast, showing the top of the Tower from a point near the Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury.

Post Office Tower & Bloomsbury, 1982

Post Office Tower & Bloomsbury, 1982

The Museum Tower

The photo below shows the Tower again, during a visit in 2010, now with its “BT” logo prominently on display. Externally, the tower looks little different from its appearance as built, and, given that it’s now a “listed building”, that is unlikely to change much in future.

BT Tower, 2010

BT Tower, 2010

For me, the Post Office Tower stands as a memorial to the optimistic aspirations of Britain’s forays into the “White Heat of Technology”. It seems that, unfortunately, the country’s “Natural Luddites” (which C P Snow claimed were dominant in the social and political elite) won the day after all.

Cover of my School Study, 1971

Cover of my School Study, 1971

A Californian in Manchester (or a Mancunian in California)

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

I took the photo above in August 1981, showing a “Californian” in Manchester, England. It’s not really Californian—of course—it’s just a “California style” tram that used to be operated by Manchester Corporation Tramways. Manchester abandoned its electric tramway system even earlier than most British cities, and this preserved car is the only surviving Manchester electric tram.

At the time of my photograph, the restoration of Car 765 had recently been completed, and it was giving rides to the public on a special track in Heaton Park. When riding that ancient tram, during a long-ago summer Sunday, I never even guessed that, within 10 years, I’d be riding modern trams (albeit called trolley cars) in the real California!

I described in a previous post how I accepted an offer of an apprenticeship in Electronic Engineering from Ferranti, in Manchester, and so moved there to start working for them in July 1981.

For all its (deserved) reputation as a grim Northern industrial city, Manchester nonetheless has a fascinating history, having been the cradle of an Industrial Revolution that massively changed the world. The city not only features many world-famous industrial landmarks, but was also the source of early reactions to the industrialization of society. For example, the German philosopher Friedrich Engels wrote his master work, The Condition of the Working Class in England, in the city in 1842-44. Engels met Karl Marx a few years later, and together they went on to promote Communism, which of course has had a substantial effect on the subsequent course of world history.

One among many “world’s firsts” located in Manchester is the oldest surviving purpose-built railway station; Liverpool Road Station, built in 1830 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and shown below in my 1983 photo.

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

Things to Come

In those days, Manchester was still in the process of shedding its industrial past (as fabulized later in the TV series Life on Mars). Despite the fascination of its history, Manchester for me couldn’t compare with the opportunity to live in London (to where I moved when I began my studies at Imperial College that Autumn). I lived and worked in Manchester for three summers, and I look back on those days now as a boldly-taken but rather shaky stepping-stone on the way to everything that has happened to me since.

I admit that the title of this post is stretching the truth a little, because I’m not really “Mancunian” (someone from Manchester), but I did live there for a while, during an interesting part of my life!

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Trilingualism & Beyond

Postbus & Cows, Engadin, Switzerland

Postbus & Cows, Engadin, Switzerland

I took the photo above during a 1998 visit to Switzerland. It’s a relatively typical scene in the villages of the Engadin region, with the Postbus trying to negotiate its way around a herd of cows just strolling down the street.

Visiting Switzerland is an interesting—even frustrating—experience from the linguistic viewpoint, because the country has four official languages (none of which is English). The languages are: French, German, Italian and Romansh, as shown in this map. Thus, many inhabitants of Switzerland are trilingual or more (they speak three or more languages). That’s fine for them, but for you as a visitor, it presents a difficulty. As soon as you want to speak to a stranger, the question immediately arises as to which language you should use!

In theory, the country is divided into linguistic regions, so it would be reasonable to choose the dominant language of the region in which you find yourself. (For example, in the westerly regions, French is the dominant language.) Unfortunately, as I discovered, that doesn’t always solve the problem.

Nonetheless, before arriving in Switzerland, I had naively thought that I was relatively well prepared for the experience, because I had learned two of those four languages at school…

Linguistically Prepared?

At the high school I attended in England, French was a mandatory O-level subject (along with Math, English Language and English Literature). The school was a typical British “comprehensive” and there was nothing particularly unusual about the O-level requirements. In general, pupils were expected to study at least one foreign language, and French was the usual choice.

We were also able to select 4 further O-level subjects based on our own preferences, of which one could be another language (but only one of those taught at the school: German, Russian and Latin). I chose to study German, and I passed my O-levels in both foreign languages.

At that time, I had no real idea about the direction that my future life might take, although the idea of perhaps working in Europe some day did appeal to me. Unfortunately, as things turned out, knowledge of French and German has proven to be of very limited usefulness to me, whereas knowledge of Spanish would have been very valuable!

In a Taxi in Zurich

As I mentioned above, I expected that my knowledge of French and German would be beneficial in Switzerland. The first night that we arrived in Zurich, we had to get a taxi from the airport to our hotel. I got into the taxi, and, figuring that I was in the German-speaking part of the country, I asked the driver to take us to the hotel in that language.

He returned my request with a confused look, so instead I tried English. Still no luck. Eventually I tried French, to which he smiled and nodded. It turned out that he wasn’t Swiss at all, but was in fact un colon from Morocco, where French is not an official language, but is widely taught.

Our driver seemed quite surprised that I was able to ask him in more than one language, and even accused me of being Canadian!

Arrival in Davos

Arrival in Davos Platz

Arrival in Davos Platz

We did eventually get to the hotel in Zurich, and stayed overnight before heading for Davos the following day. The photo above shows Mary and me on arrival in Davos, although we had actually traveled by Rhaetian Railway train, rather than the Postbus behind us.

Linguistically, I figured that Davos would be a “safe zone” for me, because surely now we were in the midst of the German-speaking portion of the country.

My relief turned out once again to be premature, because the version of German spoken in Switzerland was almost completely unintelligible to me. The people of that region speak Schwyzerdütsch, which is a very strong (unwritten) dialect, with substantially different pronunciation rules. Listening to a conversation between two locals, I could barely pick out more than a few words, and only then when I began to grasp the varying pronunciations.

Watch Your Gender

Nonetheless, most locals understood standard German, so I felt that at least I could ask for things in German if necessary. Unfortunately, that too turned out to have its pitfalls.

We couldn’t locate the main Post Office in Davos so, while buying gasoline, I asked the attendant for directions. I said to her, “Entschuldigen Sie mir, wo ist der Postamt?

The response was another very puzzled look (and if you speak German you’ll probably already have spotted my error). I then engaged in much hand-waving and explanations, along the lines of wanting to buy a stamp. Eventually, the attendant figured out my meaning, and, with a smile, explained that I should have said, “Wo ist das Postamt?”.

I’d got the gender wrong, which to me as an English speaker didn’t seem all that important, but clearly I was mistaken!

Don’t Learn Too Much!

At long last, just over a year ago, I decided to make the effort to begin learning (Latin American) Spanish, given that I’ve now lived for more than 30 years in California, which has a substantial Spanish-speaking population.

I called up a local tutor who was offering group lessons, and discussed whether she could help me. She asked whether I had ever learned any other foreign languages. I felt that mentioning my previous studies in French and German would be seen as beneficial, so I was surprised by the tutor’s negative response. “That’s going to confuse you”, was her claim.

I’d never before heard of the idea that it might be possible to learn too many languages! And yes, while learning Spanish I have sometimes resorted to the use of French words, but only in cases where I didn’t know the Spanish equivalent anyway! If I didn’t know French, then I’d just have had to use the English word in those cases.

I did some online research to determine whether there’s really any evidence for this odd notion that learning more than two languages is potentially confusing, or conversely, as I had believed, beneficial. I found several articles on the topic, such as here, here and here. On the whole, the consensus seems to be that, while it can lead to temporary confusion, in general knowing two languages makes it easier to learn a third.

So, yes, I still believe that I can safely say that Trilingualism is not something to be ashamed of!

Ruins of Yorkshire

 

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

The photo above, which I took during a visit in 2010, shows the still-impressive ruin of the West Front of Byland Abbey, in Yorkshire. Prior to its destruction, the most impressive feature of this facade would have been a huge rose window, the lower outline of which is still visible here. Apparently, that was the inspiration for a similar rose window in York Minster, which remains intact (although it narrowly escaped destruction in the 1984 fire, and required substantial renovation, as described here).

For my Yorkshire Day post this year, I wanted to draw attention once again to the remarkable assemblage of monastic ruins that exist in that county. There are, of course, also many military ruins, such as Scarborough Castle, but the religious buildings are perhaps less well-known.

Just to avoid any confusion regarding my intentions, I should make it clear again that I have no interest at all in religion. My interest in these buildings is and always has been architectural and historical.

I’ve mentioned my early experiences with these ruins in previous posts, and I must admit that I tended to take them for granted when growing up. I just assumed that there must be huge ruined churches lying around everywhere, and it was only later that I realized that this was a rare environment.

Illustrating the degree of integration of these ruins into the landscape, the photo below shows the modern remains of Byland Abbey’s gatehouse, the surviving arch of which stands over a public road.

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

A Long-Forgotten Social Disaster

The process by which all these huge religious institutions came to be abandoned and ruined is fairly well known, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which took place between 1536-40. The event occurred because King Henry VIII picked a fight with the Pope, over his desire to divorce one of his wives. The key to success, as he saw it, was to crush the power of the Catholic church in England. All the monasteries owed allegiance to the established church, so it seemed to him that abolishing them would not only be a way to reduce the church’s power, but also to grab the land and valuables owned by those institutions, and the income streams created by them.

As the extent of the remaining ruins suggest, the monasteries in Yorkshire formed a major part of the local economy and social organization, so their abolition and deliberate destruction must have been catastrophic. Although the King was able to seize the land and the monasteries’ treasures, his hoped-for income streams never materialized, because he had destroyed the organizations that were generating them! Henry sold off most of the seized land to his favored nobles, and then squandered the proceeds on his wars.

Rievaulx Abbey, also in Yorkshire, built one of the world’s first blast furnaces for iron, and it has been suggested that, if it had not been for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Industrial Revolution would have begun in Britain a century before it actually did.

In State Care

Following the Dissolution, the institutions’ land and buildings passed into private hands, and stayed that way for centuries.

Many abandoned religious buildings that were close to settlements gradually disappeared, as they were stripped for building stone. It was probably the relative isolation of the Yorkshire abbeys that permitted the survival of significant portions of the structures.

At the start of the Twentieth Century, the British Government began to take an interest in preserving what was left of the ruins, and eventually took most of them into state ownership, by purchasing them from the private owners.

Fountains Abbey: a Spectacular Setting

While the ruins of Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys are impressive, perhaps the Yorkshire ruin with the most ideal landscape setting is Fountains Abbey.

The photo below shows the ruin of the church at Fountains, in its breathtaking setting in Studley Royal Park. This was taken during a visit in 1977, and the individuals in the foreground are my mother and her friend.

Fountains Abbey, 1977

Fountains Abbey, 1977

In those days, the visitors’ car park was at the Studley Tea Rooms, which necessitated quite a long (but pleasant) walk alongside the River Skell to the actual ruins. The modern car park is closer to the ruin.

Fountains was somewhat unusual in that it was not purchased by the Ministry of Works at the same time as most of the other sites. It remained in private hands until 1966, when it was bought by the County Council. In 1982, the estate was transferred to the National Trust, and is now maintained by English Heritage.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire, and if the weather is reasonable, then all these ruins are well worth a visit!