I’m sorry Andrew et al – you’re a Goth band 😉
I’m sorry Andrew et al – you’re a Goth band 😉
When I first stepped into Goth way back in 1985, I hadn’t considered the impact it would have on my life. (This picture was taken about 4 years ago and I have to admit, not my best!) Looking back, for me, it has been on a way of dressing but a state of mind – a lifestyle that means you can still be Goth even when you’re in pink fluffy PJ’s and watching EastEnders… sometimes…
Since being a 15 year old Goth thing decades ago, I have ditched the black (several times) added in some screamingly awful pastel shades a la Haircut 100 (eeeek!) Moved into vintage, rockabilly, vintage again, back into Goth, went steampunk for a couple of (very lost) years but decided that brown could stay where the heck it was and black soon made a triumphant return.
Thank the darkness for that!
Now as an elder Goth (I only found this term this year and like it) I’ve started to delve deeper into the roots of my beloved sub culture to figure out what it’s all about. What it means to me at least, and hopefully, to a lot of other Goths too.
Back in the day, I stuck steadfast to The Cure and Sisters of Mercy without actually knowing why (my guilty pleasure was Rick Astley at the time) and only layers of black fish nets, ribbed tube skirts and patent brogues rather than running over the moors shouting Heathcliff which is probably where I’m at now. Then, I thought I needed to do was hang around Carnaby Street and pout a lot on street corners. I certainly didn’t know what I was aiming for/rebelling against/delete as appropriate. To me, I looked cool in black, but that soon changed…
I had always hated novels and thanks to my educational years, I was put off Dickens for much of my adult life, yet now I can been seen, with booted leg hanging over the side of a winged back chair in an average coaching Inn indulging in Great Expectations and the like. For me, nothing is as Goth as social decline, poverty and Victorian workhouses. Now I have become obsessive about literature. From Mary Shelley to Wilkie Collins and HG Wells, I feast my eyes and mind on billowing shirts, riding boots, anguish and oversized castles. Now, this is the Goth I spent years painstakingly trying to define!
There aren’t a great many of us around, I have come to notice. I look longingly across the aisles of my local Asda in the hope I might catch a glimpse of a ruffled shirt or frock coat, but I never do. I agonisingly scan the Facebook pages for Victorian groups for like-minded souls, but so far, I have found few.
When I’ve not parading the supermarket aisles, I can often be found drifting around old houses (sometimes with the roof still attached) and drafty castles (thank you National Trust) on my days off from being a PR professional. (You will find some of my recent adventures below.) I travel the length of the country in search of barren estates, wild, rambling hillsides and a decent tea room. All of which, you will find in this blog as it fills up…
In short, I hope you like this blog and I would be delighted if you could join me as I don camera, tails and hat and wander the rambles of England in search of our Victorian Gothic heritage. Throughout, my mind will drift back to the roots of our glorious subculture and I might ask a few weird questions (not the ‘how did I get here’ ones) and I will expect you to answer them as I will need to hear some Goth voices (and not just the ones inside my head…)
Until the next post….
With love and Absinthe,
Leased to the childhood friend and whipping boy of Charles I, William Murray, Ham House in Richmond, Surrey, is said to be one of the very last examples of 17th century decadence and influence. Built for the luxurious to show off how loaded they were, it still stands today as proud as it was built to be in 1610.
Surrounded by wildly overgrown woods and romantic gardens, it peaks out between the bushes along the River Thames and intrigues passers-by on the water. Imposing and quite brutal close up, amongst the most popular of the National Trust’s collection, Ham House is a place I go back to again and again.
Murray had been (yes, you did read that right,) the favourite whipping boy of the young Charles and was given the slave’s role of being at the mercy of corporal punishment on behalf of the little prince when caught being naughty. Not a hugely fabulous job for a child. These days, more than shocking.
Yet the punishment was still meant for the littler master rather than the slave, as it was thought that as the boys had usually formed a strong and emotional bond. The mere fact that their slave friend was being flogged for something they had done instead of him, was seen to be punishment enough and thus a deterrent to misbehaviours in future.
It wasn’t ever seen as a position of detriment but rather a role that the poorer classes would aspire to. It was a chance to get close to royal position and in some cases (only some mind) whipping boys were graciously provided for in later life, especially if the friendship had been strong between the boys and the little master became king. Hence Ham House was given to Murray for his ‘former employment.’
One place where I do like to hang out the most inside the house is the great staircase where guests would be greeted from the main door.
You can imagine the family sweeping down the great darkly clad stairs to a fanfare of well… what ever you fancied. The heavily dusty black chandeliers swing in a ghost like manner from the centre of the stair well.
It is simply breathtaking and for a Goth, the ideal area to hang out for several hours at a time.
Second best place to hang out is the green room off from the long hall on the first floor of the building. The room is like a privy closet in Hampton Court full of deep green cladded walls decorated with miniatures of people you will recognise and those you won’t.
The room is tiny but ornate in gold leaf and detail. Another great place to hang out is the library which is usually the first place to close when there is a lack of volunteers so Spring or Summer is often better to see this room which is the master’s study.
Wander around the endless volumes of Victorian literature and guess how many copies you can find of Pickwick Papers while you’re at it…
The house both interior and exteriors have been used to depict other notable buildings on recent years. More recently, the exterior was used as one of the scene of Kensington Palace for Young Victoria (2009) and the interior used as the boarding school in the 2011 film, Never Let Me Go.
Ham House is one of the rare National Trust properties open all year round, although the opening times of the house do vary but to only a few daylight hours during the winter. The cafe is worth a visit, especially on a darkly Victorian day as it has an open fire in one of the upper floors where you can while away the afternoon surrounded by antique books on poetry and the occult.
Goth points: I am giving Ham House 7 out of 10 simply because I find the best time to visit is in the dead of winter when there are only a few brave dog walkers along the river path around.
Best to visit in the colder, darker days as because it is baron walking up to the gates of the house in the biting cold, I imagine it puts the less hardened visitors off. The National Trust volunteers stand outside looking blue in the biting wind that seems to howl relentlessly around the grounds. It is ideal for a wintry walk amongst the hundreds of aging trees and walled gardens.
More information and visiting hours and access can be found HERE
Salisbury Cathedral has got to be one of the most stunning Gothic places to visit in the West of the UK.
Massive, imposing and just about as creepy as they get, this beautiful Cathedral might not house the most Gothic of notables (although you will find the stone for Ted Heath here) yet this place with its medieval past and present needs to be a must on your Gothic trail.
You will find, four copies of the Magna Carta (one of which was almost successfully stolen in 2018) as well as one of the oldest surviving clocks in the world which has been ticking since 1386.
Having no hands or face (clocks didn’t have such things originally) it actually looks nothing like a clock, yet it’s endearing and it will have you staring at it for a long time! It has been moved a couple of times during renovations and the like, and even spent a few decades in the loft (if Cathedrals have lofts) until it was restored and brought back to the public in the 1950’s.
Salisbury hasn’t had the best of press in recent months (I shan’t go into detail here) and this historic and beautiful city has struggled to maintain its appeal. Christmas was unusually quiet for this giant market town and despite all efforts to keep up the free park and ride into town, the locals have seen a decline in the town’s popularity.
I would strongly encourage to visit this gem of a city. Goth or non-Goth alike. The cobbled streets and dainty Victorian shop fronts mixed in with streets of Tudor buildings, you will be pushed on what to step back and wonder at first.
There is so much to see in the town or Salisbury, but for the purposes of this blog post, let’s stick to the ever so Goth Cathedral…
The initial stones were layed in 1220 and the whole building took 38 year to complete into pretty much what you see today.
If you are like me and love nothing better than wistfully gazing across the graves of darkly romantic and tortured historic figures, you might be a little disappointed with Salisbury Cathedral as apart from a Prime Minister who resided not far from the Cathedral itself, there are very few interesting people buried here, unless you love Bishops.
The only interesting character here (and most interested tomb) is that of Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford who might not strike any bells with you so far, but was the nephew of the doomed Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII.
Apart from being the nephew of the King’s favourite wife, he was probably best remembered for whipping up the displeasure of Queen Elizabeth I’s because he kept marrying his wives in secret.
His first wife was Lady Catherine Grey, the pretty and younger sister of the infamous Lady Jane Grey who met her death being beheaded after only being
on the throne for 9 days.
Seymour spent his far share in the Tower of London also during his life but avoided any grizzly endings unlike those of the people around him.
He and his male relatives spent most of their lives dodging persecution and arrest of one level or another for many years.
Goth Points: I love that the cathedral is open to the public 365 days a year. Like all cathedrals should be (with a cafe in the walls of the place open too.) So I’m giving it 8 out of 10.
Opening times: can be found HERE. I strongly recommend checking the site before you go. Due to the fact that it’s 800 years old and holds the Magna Carta, opening times to the public might be restricted because of tours.
For any years, Christmases at home were dull affairs. As a Goth teenager, actually all I wanted to do was sit in my bedroom and play records. I couldn’t sit at the phone and call my Goth friends because the only phone in the house sat at a telephone table in the front room and the world and his wife were in there. Everyone would be able to hear you sharing your teenage angst, finding rather funny no doubt. Yuk.
As I got older and had my own Christmases and older still and have my own children, I figured out that if my son wanted to sit in his bedroom and eat nothing but curry for Christmas dinner, then that was fine by me. Of course these days, he can chat all day long to a mate in Denmark over the net and I don’t have to worry about a massive phone bill!
So, as an elder Goth, what does Christmas mean to me now? It’s a questions I have often pondered over. I guess my ideal Christmas would be nestled in a Welsh cottage half way up a mountain surrounded by howling winds and snow drifts with nothing but a large roaring open fire and a first edition collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories and a candle to read them by. I would sit in my black finery with a ruff at my neck and ease myself back into the corners of my leather wing backed chair and with my wolf at my side, read Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe until the morning light against the backdrop of the whistling wind and owl hoots in the forest near by.
So, what’s the reality? Well, I might get a turn at the family turn table so I can whack on a couple of Clannad records but Nine Inch Nails would be out of the question – even their slightly commercial concept album would be considered too racy for the rest of the normals to bear. So, I would have my Dickensian Christmas inside my head and ignore the fact I can hear Paul McCartney on every channel and wish for my idyllic Christmas for the following year…
So, do I have any advice for Goths for Christmas? Yes, I think I do. When you are a teenager, I guess you have to play along with whatever the rest of the world wants you to do. There’s nothing truly around that These days, one can talk to one’s friends anywhere any time, so things have certainly changed, possibly for the better. I would have loved to have had something like Pinterest in my hand so I could spend hours gazing at darkly Gothic frocks, black heels and accessories and dress myself up like something from a Bronte novel in my head. I think what I am trying to say is, is that Christmas can be anything you want it to be.
For me, it was always about the Winter Solstice. The closing of one season and the start of another. I would have loved to have decked my house in black tinsel, glowing candles and ghost stories.
I think there is much more you can do these days within the realms of creativity. Long gone at the days of running through heaps of black eye liner around your room for a Gothic feel.
Many you have a beautifully dark Goth Christmas and a gracefully peaceful New Year.
Delving into the depths of History (I have become a fan of all things Medieval) you can see that Goth, for example, was always waiting to happen. We certainly didn’t have to wait for the Victorians to come along and spice it all up for us, although I will admit, Mary Shelley did help…
There have been many such groupings in modern times, such as the rockers in 1950s America or the punks in the UK in the 1970s. One very distinctive group is the goths, which developed from the punk subculture. But where punk had been a mix of how to get dressed in the dark, pissed, Goth brought with it an element of grace and decadence. It was glamour with a hint of TB about it. We could be intellectual and poetic. We could swoon over Vampire novels and listen to dark B sides of Bauhaus without coming over all necessary. This was Goth. It was to the world of fashion and music what Shakespeare was to the Elizabethans. Sheer deep and endlessly brilliant.
Generalisations are often dangerous, especially when describing a group such as goths where members have a strong desire to express themselves individually. It was no wonder that Steampunk (when Goth discovered brown) grew out of it giving a home to many elder goths who felt that wearing too much black over a certain age might be too horrifying to small children. Personally, I did agree with this on principle but only to a point. I soon went back to complete out and out Goth again after a couple of weak months of being Steampunk. To me, brown was no substitute where black had been such a loyal friend.
The color black is extremely common in goth style – there is no argument about it. It can be represented in clothing, dyed hair, and black make-up including painted finger nails.(I must admit, I went the other way and had white blonde hair in a Louise Brooks page-boy hair cut. I went for the black nails but never got on with the black lipstick – yuk!)
It should be noted that this applies to both males and females. There is no one particular reason why black but I had always imagined it was something to do with the years of mourning with Queen Victoria bestowed upon after the death of Prince Albert. That might be the ‘lighter’ way of looking at it though.
Some of argued that it represents a certain morbidity inherent in the culture. For others it is simply that they like the way it looks. Yet there is something about black that is luxurious and classy. Goths look to me, beautiful, thoughtful and polite creatures. At least, I have always discovered this myself. Never nasty (rarely) always caring and on the whole, cheerful. It always annoyed me how society considered goths as depressed and morbid – I often feel my most cheerful when I am decked in my black!
The only thing that saddens me, as a goth of the 80’s and beyond was the decrease in goth shops and places to hang out. During its era, the Batcave was out-of-bounds to me (on many levels, but geographically, it was challenging.) I loved hanging out looking deathly around the stream of goth shops in Carnaby Street in London around the early to mid 80’s. They have since been replaced with up market boutiques for the masses of tourists who come to our city and want what they can get back home – lots of pastels and labels and not an ounce of black creativity in sight…
One of my favourite places is Kate’s Clothing )and no, I’m not an affiliate.) It’s difficult to find clothing (as possibly like you, I would much rather drift around a physical shop!) which is not going to be overly expensive, but Kate’s in the UK appears to do the job just fine.
If you know of anywhere either on or off-line for Goth clothing, especially in the UK, I would love to hear about it. If you are in the U.S, leave your expert knowledge too for other readers…. 😉
Peace and darkness
More darkness in your life? Read my next post here….
Reading Jillian Venter’s Gothic Charm School it has allowed me to look back over my life as a Goth over the last (mumbles in her mittens here) 30 years – good grief!
Even when I have been through other phases of my life (hippie at college – it has to be done, Princess Diana flick and matching wardrobe to pastel queen) I have always been Goth. Why? Because Goth is more than just dying your hair black, wearing black and listening to The Cure (backwards) it is actually a state of mind in the sense that you are drawn to the beauty of darkness in the world, especially in history.
Back in the mid eighties when the world was swooning over Michael J Fox and Back The The Future (yes, I was a fan too) I found a comfort in wearing black. A few of my friends (boys) where dolling up in black drain pipes and winklepickers that went on into infinity. My friend Doc introduced me to The Sisters of Mercy and The Cure.
I had already built up quite a fancy for Simple Minds and U2 but I was after something more darker. In those days we didn’t really go to clubs. In our little village, there was nothing to do. A bus came through once a week. There were pubs which were oldly worldly and full of jodpurs and tweed so it wasn’t the place for Goths. The only thing we could do was catch lifts off our parents to go to the nearest train station (five miles away) and head up to London to hang around Camden and Carnaby Street. The Batcave was a place we only dreamed about. In a small village in Surrey, there we were. Very small and not in the right setting.
We had records and leather thongs around our wrists but really, that was as much as we could do to express ourselves. TOTPs on a Thursday night or even The Tube were shows we could watch if The Mission were going to be on, yet for us, we had to make do with what ever mainstream was punching out into the airwaves at the time. Thankfully we had John Peel on a Friday night on Radio 1 to fill our brains with the alternative and the off beat stuff like The Three Johns and The Cocteau Twins. It was no wonder that many Goths like us at the time were longing for Bauhaus but made do with Aha.
Even during my Princess Diana years (minus the smiling and waving and collecting flowers from small children phase) I loved nothing than spending a miserable Sunday with my box set of Penny Dreadful and wishing I was Eva Green. It is an art form – a way of seeing the world so it is not surprising that during these states of navy blue suits, I would often have days of Goth.
To be drawn to Goth doesn’t mean to say you are about to take your own life and that all loved ones around you need to take flight and call social services. It isn’t like that. It’s a warm family of black cladded people who enjoy beautiful literature like Jayne Eyre and adore weekends drifting around places like Haworth (Bronte country) and Glastonbury. We adore Gothic architecture (see wonderful gothic Wells Cathedral here) and dream of wild romantic yet brooding drifters coming into our lives reciting the works of Shelley and Byron. We’re not giving up on life, we are embracing it.
It’s okay to be Goth no matter what age, where you are and what you are doing with your life. You are amongst friends. We are out there for you.
Goth points: 5 out of 10.
Free to visit but you can donate a fiver if you want to. You will feel the need to.
Great if you have a dog – I have never been to a Cathedral which was dog friendly before, but in Wells, everyone loves dogs. Your dog will be happy to be here and be welcomed everywhere!
What’s it like? It is supposed to be the earliest example of Gothic church architecture in the UK. A truly Gothic place to visit, quite literally! Built between 12th and the 15th century, it may not have the grimness that many London Gothic places to visit will have, but it is set in a mysterious part of the country which you will want to come back to again and again. Although you will rather get the impression that the place might only have been built in the last 10 years, especially when you’re met by the scissors archway towards the altar. You’ll be scratching your head at it, yet this marvel of a structure has been there for several hundred years. It’s cool. Dark areas? Not so many but you will love creeping up the warped stone staircase towards the
Medieval village and streets are wistful to walk around, especially on a warm summer’s evening or in the late Autumn. Best bits: Go to Vicar’s Close – the oldest habitual street in the world (or at least, Europe!) Cobbled and full of mystery it was originally built for the choir of the cathedral so that they would have a short walk to their place of worship without being distracted by the outside world!
Next reads: Gothic Places to Vist – Hampton Court Palace
When I started seeking out all things dark and alternative back in about 1985, I think the first thing I wanted to do was hang out with other like-minded Goths.
Public schools, especially in Surrey were full of spindly youths in faded drain pipes and long fringes listening to albums like U2’s October and bands like The Alarm in their dormitories, so for me, I was in good company.
My school was an all girl’s independent school in the well to do area of leafy Ashtead in Surrey. Knocked down around 15 years ago due to a lack of local interest (which to this day, still surprised me) Parsons Mead was, during the mid 1980’s full of moody girls papering their walls with posters of Bauhaus and Adam Ant.
The problem with private schools is there is usually more to rebel against. Having parents with careers in the city with little or no time for their fledgling teens, we were grouped together in a sort of black cladded mingle of forgotten girls who smoked too much and loved pouting about their misplaced parents. The music at the time only fuelled our misery. With the Gothic look and alternative subculture now in full swing, it was like being given your life on a plate.
We were taking Goth to a whole new level. We were white middle class kids who really didn’t have anything to be depressed about. We had good educations, money and a future – something that most kids didn’t have in those days, yet we loved to think we were being hard done by, and Gothic culture of the time gave us visual status. We were in and refused to let go.
On a Saturday afternoon, we were spoilt for choice. Being only a stones throw away from Epsom train station, it was only about 30 minutes and several stops before we were London. Then it was a carefully constructed decision of where to go and look sullen – was it to be Carnaby Street or Camden Town.
For me, Carnaby was the place. In those days, it was wall to wall goth shops that spilled out on to the street. In fact, they oozed so much black stock onto the pavement, it was usually a challenge to find the actual shop front door. Towards the back end of the 80’s, shops that once sold winklepickers with points that went into infinity started selling plastic fetish wear which, for a public school Goth, was not my scene at all. Yet, this was a place to get knocked off band tees and a slimy Chinese lunch. If it wasn’t raining, we would hang out at either end of the street but actually not buy anything because we had spent all our money on train fares.
If we felt flush and wanted to splash out, then we would hit the markets, but you had to know where to go. Second hand shops were in their masses back in the mid 80’s, long before they cottoned on that they could mark up stuff for a higher price. We were the young set who found these thrift shops and bought loud designer Mary Quant style stuff from the 70’s and recrafted to make it our own. So long as it was black (I loved silver threads and glitter like Glam Rock on a bad day) you could rip the sleeves off things, sew on black bows and lace and suddenly it looked like something else. We were creative in those days when jumble sales and markets were still cheap.
Home of Henry VIII (once Cardinal Wolsey was out-of-the-way) and venue for his marriage to Katherine Parr on the morning of the 12 July 1543. As the sixth wife of the aging King, she made a shrewd move to marry the monarch. encouraging the King to make peace with Mary and Elizabeth, his daughters, Katherine proved herself every bit of the doting Queen required by her Lord and country.
Hampton Court gets a sturdy 7 out of 10. Arrive here after dark (last entry is as late at 4.15pm) on a miserable stormy day and you get the full effect of impending darkness which cloaks the dimly lit palace in each of the royal rooms. Sadly Henry’s quarters are no more, but you can still enjoy a Gothy wander around the richly dressed private rooms of William and Mary.
Best bet is to buy yourself a Historic Royal Palaces membership card so you can get in for nothing as many times as you like throughout the year or as a one off visit, you are likely to buy an adult ticket for just less than £20. The members card will get you into events like the Food Festival (second weekend in December) where you can enjoy a 16th Century market of food and wares.
On a miserable wet November afternoon when it is likely to be empty. For the full 16th Century experience, go towards the end of November and beginning of December when the Palace is decked out in candles, orange peel, cinnamon sticks and pine cones. It’s beautiful.
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