Before the arrival of the Romans in the First Century AD, Britain was home to an abundance of sophisticated and thriving cultures. And if proof were need, 3000 years before the Romans set foot on this soil, local tribes had the technology, language and organisational skills to create one of the worlds most iconic monuments - known today as Stonehenge

There's a lot that we believe we know about Stonehenge. We're almost certain, for example, that the great prehistoric monument was built in several phases spanning hundreds of years, from around 3000 BC to 1600 BC. We also know, that it was a construction project that tested ancient ingenuity and prehistoric technology to the limit.

Besides the question of how Stonehenge was built, understanding why Stonehenge was built is still one of the great mysteries of archaeology. However, modern technology has allowed us to discredit some early explanations of Stonehenge's purpose. We know that Stonehenge was not a Roman temple, and accurate dating has also shown that it was completed at least a thousand years before the Druids roamed the British Isles.

It required an army of workers to construct and perhaps even a garrison of soldiers to protect. These people were not farming or hunting, but relying on a surplus of food that only a settled and successful farming society could provide.

Two of Britain's leading archaeologists - Professor Timothy Darvill and Professor Geoff - are both world-renowned experts on Stonehenge. They believe that they have finally solved the riddle of these great standing stones.
"The whole purpose of Stonehenge is that it was a prehistoric Lourdes," says Wainwright. "People came here to be made well."
This is revolutionary stuff, and it comes from a reinterpretation of the stones of the henge and the bones buried nearby. Darvill and Wainwright believe the smaller bluestones in the centre of the circle, rather than the huge sarsen stones on the perimeter, hold the key to the purpose of Stonehenge.

The bluestones were dragged 250 km from the mountains of southwest Wales using Stone Age technology. That's some journey, and there must have been a very good reason for attempting it. Darvill and Wainwright believe the reason was the magical, healing powers imbued in the stones by their proximity to traditional healing springs.

The bones that have been excavated from around Stonehenge appear to back the theory up. "There's an amazing and unnatural concentration of skeletal trauma in the bones that were dug up around Stonehenge," says Darvill. "This was a place of pilgrimage for people...coming to get healed."

They believe that the ill and injured travelled to Stonehenge because the healing stones offered a final hope of a miracle cure or relief from insufferable pain.

While Darvill and Wainwright think the idea of Stonehenge as a prehistoric Lourdes is the most convincing theory for its construction yet, it's fair to say that the archaeological community is not completely convinced.
When the theory was first proposed at a talk in London in 2006, it was met with considerable support, but also one or two dropped jaws. And that's not surprising.

Prior to this 'bombshell', the most widely agreed theory to explain the great stone circle is that it was used as a gigantic calendar. Put simply, the site's alignment allows for the observation of astronomical events such as the summer and winter solstice. With that information, our ancient ancestors could establish exactly where they were in the cycle of the seasons and when the site would be at its most potent.

But would they really have put so much time and effort into the construction of something that today we take for granted? Many archaeologists believed they would as Stonehenge offered a way to establish calendar dates when no other method existed. Accurate dating allowed for more efficient and successful agriculture, as well as the marking of important religious and social events.

The most popular theory about the purpose of Stonehenge is one that has survived since serious archaeological work first began on the site. Along with modern day druids, they believe that Stonehenge was a place of worship.

However, an even more remarkable origin has been suggested Stonehenge theorists. To some open-minded enthusiasts in the excitable 1970s, Stonehenge was believed to have been a landing pad for extraterrestrial visitors!

It's fair to say that any archaeological evidence relating to this has yet to be unearthed.

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Throughout the pages of history the words ‘Paradis and ‘Eden’ have long been intertwined and often associated with each other. The origins of the word Eden is of no surprise forming part of the creation story within the Old Testament Genesis texts and the theodicy of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The word ‘Paradise’ however is Persian in origin meaning ‘walled enclosure’ or ‘hunting grounds’.

Although it's often used as a synonym for the Garden of Eden the word paradise also appears in the Old Testament but always in contexts other than a connection with this iconic place.

In the New Testament, the word 'paradise' refers to a heavenly kingdom restored on Earth - Matthew 5: 5 –‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, similar to what the Garden of Eden was meant to be.

Where is the Garden of Eden?

There have been a number of claims as to the actual geographic location of the Garden of Eden, though many of these have little or no connection to the text of Genesis. Most now put the Garden somewhere in the Middle East reinforcing the Persian connection.

Satellite photos have revealed two dry riverbeds flowing toward the Persian Gulf near where the Tigris and Euphrates also terminate. This would account for the four easterly flowing rivers as described in the Old Testaments location for the Garden in Genesis 2:10-14.
“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold…The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”
The exact identities of the Pishon and Havilah rivers are unknown, but the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are still with us today. In this theory, the Bible’s Gihon River would correspond with the Al-Qurnah in Iraq, and the Pishon River would correspond to the Wadi Al-Batin river system (also now called the Kuwait River). Now if we looked back to between 2,500 and 3000 years ago this dry and arid area would have once been the fertile central part of the Arabian Peninsula.

There is other evidence that points to this area being the place once known as the Garden of Eden and you will find it deep underground. If, as most scientists believe, oil is primarily the result of decomposing vegetation and animal matter, then would it be reasonable to believe that the area above it would once have been awash with plants and wildlife. Since the Garden was the epitome of perfection, it's reasonable to suggest that the decomposition of its lush organic materials would produce these vast stores of some of the earth’s highest grade oil.

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Although he is now credited with history’s ‘most recent’ discovery of the Americas (the 11th century Icelandic explorer Leif Ericson is currently the earliest documented European to set foot in mainland America) the fruits of his travels have also made him the accidental father of modern glasshouse production. A strange association indeed, but a feat that would never have been impossible were it not for his mis-calculation of the size of the Earth (in particular the Eurasian continent) and poor grasp of maritime navigation.

Inspired from works by Ptolemy, Pierre d’Ailly and the ‘Travels of Marco Polo’ Columbus wrongly concluded that Asia could be reached easier and far quicker by using a western route across the Atlantic.

His conviction was soon to become an obsession and so he began to petition the various European Royal heads of state in order to finance his ’Enterprise of the Indies’. Beginning first with Portugal, then France and even England, he was refused time after time mainly on the grounds of the huge costs that an exhibition like this would encounter. Eventually, after already rejecting him once before, it was Queen Isabella of Spain who granted him the commission he required, making his dream of finding a western route to Asia a reality.

History was sealed on August 3rd 1492 when a small fleet comprising of the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina set sail for the first of four voyages of discovery exploring the New World. However it was during his second voyage to the South American mainland that he stumbled across the indigenous Tupi-Guarani Indians.

This was the encounter that was to change the course of history, triggering a chain of events which for centuries captured imaginations across continental Europe. By doing so he set in motion a desire for massive investment and innovation, the like of which may never be seen again.

The Tupi-Guarani Indians were the dominant civilisation in the areas that Columbus visited, inhabiting the Brazilian coast from the mouth of the river Amazon, down to Cananéia, and including large sections of the Amazon basin. They enjoyed an advanced culture that practiced what we still regard as modern agricultural and horticultural techniques including the selective breeding of plants to increase flavour and yields. Unfortunately their culture also included a taste for human flesh, the dish of choice being captured prisoners of war.

Their whole culture and government was based on the act of cannibalism, and following a successful raid on a neighbouring tribe, prisoners would be brought back to the village to be fattened up. A few weeks later an elaborate party/ritual would be arranged, after which the prisoner is summarily executed by a blow to the back of the head. He was then skinned and cooked with seasonal fruits and vegetables. A small piece of flesh was then served to each member of the tribe so that they could gain the spiritual strength of the unfortunate victim.

Despite these rather gruesome eating habits the Tupi-Guarani Indians are also the first humans to encounter and domesticate the pineapple. This highly specialised fruit also has a unique characteristic, which in one way is quite poetic when you consider its ancestry. It has the only known source of bromelain, an enzyme that can digest protein. In other words the pineapple has quite literally flesh-eating properties. In fact over the years there have been numerous reports where eating pineapples has caused an itchy or burning sensation to the mouth. In extreme cases this has caused the lips and internal parts of the mouth to bleed.

Their first encounter with a pineapple occurred in November 1493 during the second voyage to the Caribbean region. After securing anchor off the volcanic island of Guadeloupe,

Columbus led a small party ashore to study what appeared to be a deserted tribal village. Among wooden pillars spiralled with serpent carvings, his crew found large pots filled with human body parts, accompanied nearby by several piles of freshly foraged fruits and vegetables. Undaunted or perhaps just extremely hungry, the party helped themselves to the non-human aspect to the meal, enjoying in particular a curious new fruit which they had found. They described it as having ‘…an abrasive, segmented exterior like a pine cone and a firm interior pulp like an apple...’ Luckily they were able to return to their ship before the tribesmen returned.

During his fourth and final voyage to the West Indies in 1502 Columbus made his way down to the Isla de Pinos off of the coat of Honduras. Here that he met, along with his brother Bartolomeo, native traders travelling with a large canoe filled with merchandise. It was described at the time to be ‘… as long as a galley…’ It’s believed that this was the moment local tribesmen first traded fresh pineapples to Europeans eventually reaching mainland Europe for the first time in November of that year.

The Renaissance Europe to which Columbus returned to was a civilization largely bereft of common sweets. Sugar refined from cane was a rare commodity and at the time had to be imported at great cost from both the Middle East and the Orient. Without modern methods of refrigeration or transportation, fresh fruit was also scarce with orchard-grown produce only available in limited numbers during their harvest periods.

Once safely returned to Europe, Columbus’s succulently sweet pineapple became an instant hit. Overnight it had become an item of both celebrity and curiosity for royal gourmets and professional horticulturist alike.

Unfortunately combining its notoriously short shelf life with a 1-2 month sea journey made obtaining the fruit for Europe almost an impossibility.

Its extreme rarity meant that the pineapple quickly became a symbol of wealth and luxury, but despite the best efforts of European gardeners it was nearly two centuries before they were able to mimic the perfect environment in which to grow and then bring to fruition a pineapple plant.

It was during the 1600s, when the pineapple was still regarded as a rare and coveted commodity that King Charles II of England actually commissioned an official portrait by Hendrick Danckerts to immortalize him in an act of royal privilege.

 The theme naturally was to have the King receiving a pineapple as a gift from his head gardener John Rose.

Of course today pineapple growing is big business with over 15 million tons of produce being harvested by 80 countries every year.

Each one sells for less than a couple of pounds, bought by people without a single thought as to the fascinating history of its origins.

And why not, even on his deathbed Columbus had no idea as to the value his pineapple brought to the world, but to be fair neither did he know what part of the world he had discovered it from.

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The chimpanzee’s diet consists mainly of fruits of all kinds. After an early morning feed, chimpanzees tend to spend the rest of the early part of the day relaxing. But they will continue to ‘graze’ by picking occasionally at any edible leaves, buds, berries or blossoms that they come across.

They tend to have a second – more intensive – feeding period later on in the day, usually around the end of the afternoon.

The chimpanzee will also eat insects as part of their diet, such as termites, ants and several species of insect larvae. If they find a nest of wild bees then they will often try to break it open to get at and eat the honey.

Chimpanzees get most of the moisture the need from the fruit they eat, but they are known to drink rain water from hollows in trees.

Biologists used to think that the chimpanzee only gathered its food and did not hunt other animals. It is now known that the chimpanzee does hunt a number of different mammals, especially other primates such as colobus, blue monkeys and baboons.

The chimpanzee will usually kill its victim by smashing its head on the ground. This is almost always done by one male who then eats his fill before sharing with the rest of the troop.

Special adaptation

The chimpanzee is skilled at stripping the leaves from a branch and then using it as a tool. Such sticks are used for digging out insects from their nests.

Alternatively, a chimpanzee will coat the stick with saliva and lay it in the path of soldier ants, which become stuck to the surface.

Chimpanzee habits

The chimpanzee lives in troops of between 25 and 80, each with a dominant male. Troop home ranges vary from 18 to 21 sq km in the forest, and 100 to 200 sq km in more open country. The ranges of the different troops often overlap one another within these habitats.

Active by day, the chimpanzee spends its nights asleep in a nest it makes in a tree, safe from predators. It may use the same nest for several nights if the troop is not on the move. The chimpanzee keeps its nest clean and makes sure that its droppings fall clear of the edge.

During the wet season, the chimpanzee spends a lot of time in trees, but in drier weather it spends the majority of its time on the ground.


Chimpanzees will breed all year round, whenever one of the females in a group comes into season. She may mate with several different males, who show no rivalry between themselves.

The female has a menstrual cycle similar to that of a human woman. However, unlike a woman, the female chimpanzee becomes sexually receptive every 36 days unless she is pregnant. She will give birth approximately every three years.

The mother will carry her offspring everywhere for the baby’s first five months. From there the young chimpanzee will remain dependent on its mother for at least two more years.

By the time the young chimpanzee is four years old, it will spend most of the time with others around its own age. From then until the age of eight or ten years old it will learn the locations of the best feeding places, and how to behave as a senior member of chimpanzee society.

Facts about Chimpanzees

1. There are actually two species of chimpanzee! The first is the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes whose native habitat is found in West and Central Africa. The second is the Bonobo, Pan paniscus whose native habitat is in forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

2. Chimpanzees are members of the Hominidae family, along with gorillas, humans, and orangutans.

3. The two chimpanzee species are the closest living relatives to humans. So close that it is believed that Chimpanzees split from the human branch of the family only about 4 to 6 million years ago! Research by Mary-Claire King in 1973 found 99% identical DNA between human beings and chimpanzees, although research since has modified that finding to about 94% - that is still pretty close though.

4. Chimpanzees are often portrayed as small friendly monkeys, but a fully grown adult can be as tall as 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) high, incredibly strong and potentially murderous!

5. The chimpanzee can suffers from many of the diseases that humans carry including malaria. This is believed to be due to the closeness of our genetic make up.

6. One of the most significant discoveries regarding chimpanzees is their use of tools. Recent research indicates that chimpanzee stone tool use dates to at least 4,300 years ago. Chimpanzee tool usage includes digging into termite mounds with a large stick tool, and then using a small stick that has been altered to "fish" the termites out. Further studies have revealed the use of such advanced tools as spears, with which common chimpanzees in Senegal sharpen with their teeth and use to spear Senegal Bush babies out of small holes in trees. Before the discovery of tool use in chimps, it was believed that humans were the only species to make and use tools, but several other tool-using species are now known.

7. The chimpanzee is one of only a handful of animals that can recognise itself in a mirror.

8. Chimpanzees construct arboreal night nests by lacing together branches from one or more trees. This nest building forms an important part of chimpanzee behaviour, especially in the case of mothers who teach this skill to infants. Nests consist of a mattress, supported on a strong foundation, and lined above with soft leaves and twigs and may be located at a height of 10 to 150 ft.

9. Chimps communicate in a manner similar to human. They use nonverbal and verbal communication, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Research into the chimpanzee brain has revealed that chimp communication activates an area of the chimp brain that is in the same position as Broca's area, a language center in the human brain.

10. Adult chimpanzees, particularly males, can be very aggressive. They are highly territorial and are known to kill other chimps.

11. Chimpanzees also engage in targeted hunting of lower order primates such as the red colobus monkey and bush babies. They use the meat from these kills as a "social tool" within their community.

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LONDON: The London Eye

If you are unfortunate enough to have not been born in the green and pleasant land that is known to all as England, then your first thoughts of Her Royal Highnesses' kingdom is likely to be the City of London. More specifically, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, and the London Eye!

Situated on the banks of the River Thames, the London Eye is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, visited by over 3.5 million people annually. Although a newcomer to the historic London Skyline, the London eye is the most popular paid tourist attraction in Great Britain.

When erected in 1999, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world at a height of 443 ft, until surpassed first by the 520 ft Star of Nanchang in 2006, and then the 541 ft Singapore Flyer in 2008. However, it is now described as 'the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel, as the London eye is supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the Nanchang and Singapore wheels!.

London Eye Facts

1. The wheel has 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules, designed and supplied by Leitner-Poma, are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors.

2. Each capsule represents one of the London Boroughs, weighs 10 tonnes and holds 25 people who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided.

3. The wheel rotates at 26 cm (10 in) per second (about 0.9 km/h or 0.6 mph) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes. It does not usually stop to take on passengers; the rotation rate is slow enough to allow passengers to walk on and off the moving capsules at ground level. It is, however, stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely.

4. The rim of the Eye is supported by tie rods and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting for the London Eye was redone with LED lighting from Color Kinetics in December 2006 to allow digital control of the lights as opposed to the manual replacement of gels over fluorescent tubes.

5. The wheel was designed by architects Frank Anatole, Nic Bailey, Steven Chilton, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, and the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks.

6. Mace were responsible for construction management, with Hollandia as the main steelwork contractor and Tilbury Douglas (now known as Interserve) as the civil contractor. Consulting engineers Tony Gee Partners designed the foundation works while Beckett Rankine designed the marine works.

7. The wheel was constructed in sections which were floated up the Thames on barges and assembled lying flat on piled platforms in the river. Once the wheel was complete it was lifted into an upright position by a strand jack system made by Enerpac. It was first raised at 2 degrees per hour until it reached 65 degrees, then left in that position for a week while engineers prepared for the second phase of the lift.

8. The total weight of steel in the Eye is 1,700 tonnes (1,870 short tons).

9. The project was European with major components coming from six countries: the steel was supplied from the UK and fabricated in The Netherlands by the Dutch company Hollandia, the cables came from Italy, the bearings came from Germany (FAG/Schaeffler Group), the spindle and hub were cast in the Czech Republic, the capsules were made by Poma in France (and the glass for these came from Italy), and the electrical components from the UK.

10. The London Eye was formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 31 December 1999, although it was not opened to the public until 9 March 2000 due to technical problems. Since its opening, the Eye has become a major landmark and tourist attraction.

11. Since 1 January 2005, the Eye has been the focal point of London's New Year celebrations, with 10-minute displays taking place involving fireworks fired from the wheel itself.

12. On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since its opening in March 2000.

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LONDON: The London Eye
LONDON: Tower Bridge

LONDON: The Tower of London

If you are unfortunate enough to have not been born in the green and pleasant land that is known to all as England, then your first thoughts of Her Royal Highnesses' kingdom is likely to be the City of London. More specifically, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, and the Tower of London!

The Tower of London 

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and is separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill.

It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence.

As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and currently as the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. From the early 14th century and up until the reign of Charles II, a procession would be led from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the coronation of a monarch.

In the absence of the monarch, the Constable of the Tower is in charge of the castle. This was a powerful and trusted position in the medieval period. In the late 15th century the castle was the prison of the Princes in the Tower. Under the Tudors, the Tower became used less as a royal residence, and despite attempts to refortify and repair the castle, its defences lagged behind developments to deal with artillery.

The peak period of the castle's use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries, when many figures who had fallen into disgrace, such as Elizabeth I before she became queen, were held within its walls.

This use has led to the phrase '...sent to the Tower'. Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death which was popularised by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the World Wars of the 20th century. Executions were more commonly held on the notorious Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period.

In the latter half of the 19th century, institutions such as the Royal Mint moved out of the castle to other locations, leaving many of the buildings within the tower's walls empty. Anthony Salvin and John Taylor took the opportunity to restore the Tower to what was felt to be its medieval appearance, clearing out many of the vacant post-medieval structures.

In the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage. After the Second World War, damage caused during the Blitz was repaired and the castle reopened to the public. Today the Tower of London is one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site.

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LONDON: The London Eye
LONDON: The Tower of London
LONDON: Tower Bridge


Hever Castle

Back in the early 1900’s when America seemed to be producing millionaires at an exponential rate, one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. Born to an enormously wealthy family whose fortune was built on fur trading, real estate and opium, William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919) was brought into this world with his life already mapped out. After suffering the traumatic experience of being sent away to Europe for his education he later returned to America to study law, although this wasn’t to be his chosen career. Once graduated, he took over the running of his father's considerable estates, and following in the family tradition also became a successful financier and statesman.

Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius
However, his life took an unexpected turn when in 1882 he was appointed ‘Minister to Italy’ by the then US President, Chester A. Arthur.

This was a position that required William Astor to once again leave his home land and spend the next three years of his life in Rome.

 It was during this time that he developed a passion for ancient Roman history, but this became an obsession after visiting the ruined city of Pompeii. Destroyed and buried during a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii had remained lost and buried for nearly 1700 years. It would have remained so had it not been accidentally rediscovered in 1748.

Italian gardens at Hever castle
It was the intoxicating nature of this place that had touched Williams Astor’s heart, a mixture of unavoidable tragedy balanced seductively with the haunting beauty of a civilisation frozen in time.

Inspired by what he saw, he developed an almost compulsive desire to obtain anything that reflected his feelings for the place.

It was here, surrounded by the outstanding beauty of classical architecture, that his plan for the perfect Edwardian pleasure garden was conceived. But there was just one problem; he had nowhere to build it.

In early 1890, five years after William returned from his appointment in Rome, his father John Jacob Astor III died leaving him a personal fortune so vast that it made him easily the richest man in America, if not the world. One year later, after a family feud got out of hand, he moved to England.

At first Astor settled in London renting Lansdown House for a few years, but eventually he purchased a country estate at Cliveden–on-Thames that would act as his main residence.

The search for a suitable property with which to fulfill his pompeiian dream continued though, but it was to be a further ten years before he eventually committed to Hever Castle.

At this time it was just a small dilapidated castle, you can imagine its state of disrepair especially as the previous owners used to overwinter their farm animals inside it on the ground floor. Astor immediately called for his collection of classical artifacts to be shipped over from Italy.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Although Hever Castle is not a ‘castle’ in the strictest sense of the word, it is by definition a fortified manor house.

Part of its protection was gained through the construction of the surrounding moats.

However, in order to guarantee these main lines of defence a constant supply of water was required; this was why the Castle was built here on low lying marsh land.

Unfortunately this meant that the romantic images of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn walking hand in hand across the beautifully manicured gardens would only have happened if they were prepared to wear waders!

Romantic image of an Edwardian Pleasure garden
It is difficult for us to understand today, but at the beginning of the 20th century the art of recreational gardening was still very much a pastime for the wealthy.

The Edwardian pleasure gardens (as they are known today) were the pinnacle of this art, an expression of culture, refinement and financial power. But it was the sheer scale of this project combined with an almost analytical attention to detail that put these gardens at Hever into a league of their own.

To give you some idea of the importance that Astor placed on his grand design, it took an entire year just to think it through and agree the plans.

William Waldorf Astor
In 1904 work commenced on such an unprecedented scale that it is unlikely ever to be equalled. William knew that he was creating something quite unique here and he took some unusual steps to protect his investment. While construction was in progress no visitors were allowed to stay over night.

This was to remove the temptation of guests slipping out under the cover of darkness for a crafty peek. His workmen, and there were over a thousand of them, were kept mostly on site.

Their accommodation, food, and more importantly beer were all provided at Astor’s expense and this helped to prevent them from wandering off and blabbing. If all else failed, he slept with a revolver under his pillow which was to be used as a last line of defence. This was particularly important for warding off horticultural intruders (presumably armed with sketchbook and pen) who may conspire to jump over the fence and steal his ideas.

Man-made lake in the grounds of Hever
If employing a thousand men to landscape a garden seems a little excessive then you would be right. The completed gardens that you see today probably took no more than between 250 and 300 craftsmen to finish.

The rest of the work force, which accounted for almost 800 men, were engaged in the creation of the magnificent man-made lake that you see just west of the castle. Imagine if you can thirty five acres of open marsh land dug down to 6ft just by hand and spade. Incredibly this feat of human engineering was completed in less than two years, but what makes this all the more fantastic is that because their food, beer and shelter were already provided, most of the labourers had to work unpaid!

Italian fountains at Hever
To supply the amount of block work and natural stone needed to complete the Italian gardens and beloved Pompeiian wall, Astor looked to the local quarries at Tunbridge Wells. Such was the amount required that two of these quarries were effectively emptied in trying to keep pace with the building work. What’s more remarkable is that every single piece of stone had to be transported here by horse and cart.

Some of the larger pieces as used in the Pergola Walk weighed upwards of several tonnes! Fortunately William Astor went to the trouble of installing a light steam railway around the garden perimeters, as well as several great steam engines to give his men a fighting chance.

Hever Castle
Nothing was going to stand in the way of completing his vision and that included spending the enormous sums required to get what he wanted. The cost of plants alone came in at around £25,000, that’s equivalent to approximately £1,000,000 in today’s money.

Despite the enormous practical challenges that William Astor faced, the words ‘…It can't be done…’ always managed to evaporate once enough resources were thrown at it.

An example of this was the need to supply mature trees for the strip of woodland that ran along Anne Boleyn’s walk. The solution to this was to take a team of men down to Ashdown forest, choose the trees which took his fancy and wait for them to be dug up and transported the 12 miles back to Hever. It was achieved but each tree took ten men and a team of four horses!

Hermits cave at Hever
Everything was thought out down to the last detail, even the ‘fashionable’ hermit's cave was artistically presented by the exposed roots of a gnarly old beech tree.

To further entertain his guests, a ‘live-in’ hermit was employed to partake in witty banter, but unfortunately there was a flaw in the plan. One of the hermits had developed a strong taste for beer, something that may have been picked up from working on Hever Lake. As it turned out he spent more time in the local King Henry VIII Inn than he did in his cave and as a result his entertaining stories and witty banter became increasingly rude as alcohol took effect. This was a rather unsettling experience, particularly for the fragile constitutions of Edwardian ladies. With the cave set precariously close to the hermit’s man-made pond it made feinting a dangerous and possibly life threatening response. Clearly believing that the drunk hadn’t experienced enough hardship in his life to successfully use in the role of hermit, William Astor decided that more training was required and so sacked him after just three weeks of employment.

Tudor effect extension to the castle at Hever
His ideas for Hever didn't just stop at the gardens; there was plenty of work to be done on the living quarters too. As with the garden, things had to be done exactly how he saw it no matter what the cost involved.

With Hever being on the small side, it was considered unsuitable for the style of entertaining he was accustomed to. To fit in with the period feel of the outer walls, he completely restored the Castle's interior before adding an interconnecting mock Tudor village. What is more remarkable is that before they could even consider starting with the building work there were two further obstacles that needed to be overcome. In true Astor fashion the road, which used to run alongside the castle and therefore directly in the path of his new building scheme, was completely removed and then re-laid almost a hundred yards away. But this pales into insignificance when compared to the successful diversion of the river Eden, a formidable task undertaken for the very same reason!

Roman fountain at the end of the Italian garden
Even after a century, the detail and workmanship still stands up to close inspection, but no more so than the superbly executed Pompeian wall that runs along the south facing side of the Italian gardens.

Littered with a collection of exquisite Roman artefacts, some of which are up to 2000 years old, what you see today is the realisation of one man's dream who had the power, money and more importantly the determination and drive to achieve it. But the greatest gift that Astor has given us is what we see here today. Because the gardens have now had a century to mature it is us, and not the man himself, who can experience the reality of William Astor’s dream, the pinnacle of Edwardian pleasure gardens as he envisioned over 120 years ago.


Of all the edible crops bought as young plants, pot grown tomato plants are by far the most popular. And why not. They are one of the easiest to grow, one of the most flavoursome, and one of the best cropping edible plant species by far!

Of course, buying tomato plants is one thing but what you need to know is how to look after them from this point onwards. And the first thing you need to be aware of is whether you are growing on greenhouse or outdoor tomato varieties. This will be on the label (please don't buy unlabelled tomato plants) when you purchase them.

How to plant outdoor tomato varieties

How to grow tomatoes
Your young tomato plants can be safely planted outside once the threat of frost is over. Like most garden plants, success is all in the preparation and tomatoes love a rich, free-draining soil that has had plenty of organic compost or well-rotted farm manure added.

Positioning is all important as your growing tomato crop will require as much sunlight as possible. You may also wish to avoid areas which are sheltered or near to potato crops as this will increase the risk of late blight. Give each plant a good 2 - 3 ft spacing, and make sure that adequate plant support is available as they grow - this will be a lot easier to put in place when the plants are small

When it come to planting - and as long as the young tomato plants are tall enough, try placing young tomatoes either on their side so that they are lying horizontally in a trench or up to their first set of leaves in a deep hole. With either situation, backfill the plants with soil and water in. Roots will develop all along the underground stems helping to produce bigger plants and bigger crops.

How to plant greenhouse tomato varieties

How to grow tomatoes
For greenhouse tomatoes first pick a recommended variety such as 'Santa', 'Matador', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Supersteak'.

Plant the young plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are planting into your greenhouse border make sure you have dug in plenty of organic compost during the winter.

If you have used the border before for tomatoes, it is better to change the soil or sterilise it before using it for tomatoes again. This will help avoid soil pests and root diseases becoming a problem. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a grow bag or pot just remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a grow bag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag.

Main image credit - Mason Masteka https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en
In text image - Dennis Brown https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
In text image - Tigris Lagoona https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en


An unusual fruit has come on to the market that is so new it has yet to be given a name. Only available through the high street food chain Marks and Spencer, it is best described as a pear disguised as an apple. The fruit is popularly dubbed by the media as a "papple", but its official name - for now – is T109.

The papple looks similar to and (almost) tastes like an apple, but it has the skin and texture of a pear. However, despite its obvious similarities to an apple, it is not an apple neither is it an apple hybrid. In fact it is no more of an apple than I am!

Soft fruit expert Shazad Rehman had this to say:

"...this is one of the most exciting new varieties of fruit we have seen for several years. We know our customers like to try new and interesting fruit and we hope this will be something they will really enjoy. It's got a lovely refreshing taste, perfect for snacking on, and a fun alternative to an apple a day..."

The papple is actually a member of the pear family Pyrus pyrifolia, native to China, Japan, and Korea.

This new variety was developed in New Zealand and is a cross between European and Asian pear varieties. It is this cross hybridization which resulted in a fruit similar to an apple.

What does a papple taste like?

Cutting open the papple's thin, orangey red skin will reveal a firm flesh, that drips with juice - as you would expect with a regular pear. The juicy flesh has pear- ish flavors to it, as well as being slightly gritty, and having a collapsing, pear-like consistency. Marks and Spencer state that the papple is has a very apple-like flavor, but I am not convinced, so the best to find out is to pay the £1.00 that the papple retails at and try it out for yourself.

Just remember - It has nothing to do with an apple!

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The garden shed is a familiar site in most people's gardens, and for those of us who do have one they probably won't give their shed much of a second thought beyond using them as storage. However, there is more about the humble shed than most people think about. 

Guest author Lorna Cannell has investigated further:

Sheds are used for many purposes. They can store garden tools and mowers, garden furniture and any useful items; or provide a space for potting plants or a quiet retreat.  However, if they are often poorly designed and positioned they can become an eyesore within the garden.

Sheds can vary greatly in construction and size from small, open sided structures to large sheds with large doors and windows, lighting and electrical points. In fact if you have the space, the budget as well as the correct planning permission, you can go the whole hog and construct a fully loaded, and insulated log cabin, suitable for use as a 'second' property!

Homes with small gardens may benefit from very small sheds such as a corner shed, vertical sheds and tool shed. Larger sheds can provide space for storage, hobbies or even out-buildings and offices.

Careful positioning of the shed can help to prevent it becoming an unwanted focal point within the garden.  

Screening with shrubs will help to soften the shed, so consider growing climbers or shrubs on the shed. 

Alternatively plant beds in the garden directly in the eye line between house and shed to screen the view.  

Trees can help to soften buildings such as sheds, or you may wish to position them behind other structures such as walls or garages.

It is best to position the shed with the apex roof sideways to soften its shape.

Painting the shed a dark colour will actually help to disguise the shed; believe it or not black works very well as it is not a dominant colour in the garden.

If you do not have space to tuck the shed into a handy corner of the garden, consider making the shed a focal point and choose a fancy design. Inexpensive sheds are available in kit form and are usually constructed from wood, metal and plastic. You will need to construct a strong base on which to sit the shed.

Metal sheds are constructed from metal sheathing attached to a metal frame, usually aluminium, galvanised steel or corrugated iron. 

This makes them lightweight and easy to construct. They have the advantage of being fire resistant, so may be more suitable for storing BBQ gases or combustible materials. 

However, they may be more prone to rust, can be easily dented and their lightweight designs makes them more susceptible to being damaged by strong winds. 

Plastic sheds are constructed from moulded plastics such as PVC and polyethylene. They are stronger, lighter and less likely to be damaged or dented than other types of shed. They also require little maintenance and are less expensive than metal sheds. However, the can look intrusive within the garden compared to sheds made from natural materials.

Wooden sheds have the advantage of blending well into the garden environment. However, wooden sheds require regular maintenance such as application of wood preservative to prevent splitting, rot and warping. Coloured wood stains can add another dimension to the shed and make it a focal point. the advantage of wooden sheds is that they can be easily adapted; windows can be cut in, shelves added and additions easily added.

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