So there I was idly browsing A History of England in 100 Places - From Stonehenge to the Gherkin by John Julius Norwich, published by John Murray...
....whilst also admiring the illustrations by Ed Kluz. The latter, I would venture to suggest, deserves a bigger mention than his name in 6pt on the end flap of the dust jacket, because Ed's lino-cut-like drawings throughout, adding as they do a modern edge to our ancient monuments, give this book that extra eye-catching something.
Anyway I came across that illustration above and thought 'I'm sure I know that place...but it can't be, ' until I turned back to discover it was...entry number 30, Launceston Castle. Good heavens, we park our car 'neath its ramparts every Saturday when we go out for a read of the newspapers and coffee in Jericho's, what's that doing in this book.
And we have never walked up there..and we still haven't actually, but we will do very soon.
A typical Norman motte-and-bailey affair built on a natural mound and begun by William the Conqueror's half-brother within a year or so of the Conquest with some thirteenth century additions, and apparently the focal point of a bit of a rebellion over the Book of Common Prayer. Not something I wager would exercise the locals too strenuously these days perhaps, but they were a zealous Cornish-speaking crowd back in the 1540s and, making head nor tail of English, were most reluctant to surrender their more intelligible Latin forms of worship. Anyway there was a bit of conflagration down Helston way which resulted in twenty-eight Cornishmen good and true being brought to Launceston Castle for some hanging, followed by a bit of drawing and quartering.
Pitchforks at the ready the Cornish set off for Exeter to rally more support, but the Exonians were too busy standing in the queue outside Waterstone's waiting for James Corden to sign his book and were having none of it. There was a good old fashioned five-week long seige until the cavalry arrived in the form of the First Earl of Bedford, the Cornish rebels were finally routed in a valiant last stand at Launceston and the bloodshed was so horrendous it seems few returned home.
So my thanks to John Julius Norwich for enlightening me about my doorstep with his wonderful doorstop of a book (500 pages), and you'll find the other ninety-nine moments of telling you things you may not know about your own UK doorstep herein. It's a chronological, rather than a geographically ordered, trek of devotion around the famous as well as the lesser-known and more unusual corners of the British Isles, so your SatNav will earn its keep, and written in John Julius Norwich's typically warm and engaging style. Plus you will discover some very useful facts along the way...yes, the Romans did wear underpants, that's right George 1st couldn't string a sentence together, as we suspected Lord Nelson was 'vain,moody and something of an exhibitionist', and contrary to what we would all like to think Thomas Crapper actually only invented the floating ballcock not the rest of the flushing toilet.
Still we wandered on through the streets of Launceston wondering why we had never walked up to the castle before and trying to imagine some drawing and quartering in progress, but only came across the town band out playing carols...
and this rather macabre polar bear automaton with the saddest, maddest, panic-stricken countenance and swivelling its head from side to side in very melancholy fashion wondering what on earth was going on....
... before slipping into our favoured window seat in Jericho's with the papers, and 'neath the castle ramparts again.
How little we know our own doorstep after all this time.