This is the fifth post in the so-called “Month of Posts”; part of a personal challenge that I have set myself on reaching three years of this blog existence. The idea of this post – and its title – has been sat in the draft section of my blog for almost three years; during this time it has gained the distinction of oldest draft and each time I dug into one of the older ideas I always felt slightly guilty when scrolling past this title. But today is the day on which this draft becomes a fully fledged post and sees the light of day.
So, what is this post all about? The simple answer is: squirrels.
This can be traced back to the spring of 2018 when I visited Compton Castle, near Torbay. I went with my daughter and we spent time having a nose around the National Trust property, through the building and the garden, whilst also enjoying the opportunity to dress-up in the clothes available. Unluckily on this day the cafe was not open, but during this period I held a personal grudge against the Trust for its insistence on not serving plain scones (which put a whole dampener on the cream tea I would have to conclude a National Trust visit).
We undertook one of the excellent little trails that are provided for children at these types of properties; this particular one involved the finding of little fluffy squirrel dolls around the home. It was whilst we were collecting the necessary clues that we realised that Compton Castle was incredibly obsessed with squirrels. They were everywhere, being carved into wooden pews in the chapel and seemingly proudly promoted.
The reason for this is due to Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Gilbert was one of the “sea-dogs” of the Elizabethan period, many of which coming from Devon (also including the likes of Sir Francis Drake of St. Budeaux fame). The National Trust page states:
The squirrel is significant to Compton Castle as it was the name of the ship Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed to colonise Newfoundland in 1583 in the name of Queen Elizabeth I.
Newfoundland was one of numerous places that were claimed for Elizabeth. During his epic circumnavigation of the globe, Drake also claimed lands as far away as California for the English crown. It was during the early stages of the growth of English imperialism, with the most notable colony coming in the form of Roanoke in modern-day Virginia. This colony, however, was abandoned in the 1580s, leading to many conspiracies about what happened to the colonists there. Ultimately, Elizabeth did not live to see any successful colonial ventures, however, during her successor’s reign (James I) the settlements of Jamestown (established 1607) and Plymouth (established 1620) were created.
Just as Compton Castle is lovingly obsessed with the squirrel, Gilbert was likewise obsessed with the ship Squirrel. In 1583, having claimed Newfoundland, he remained on board the ship despite pleas from others for him to go on board the larger (and therefore more safe) Golden Hind. Even despite placing his foot on a nail (which needed bandaging) and the raging storms of the sea, Gilbert remained on Squirrel. The Wikipedia page notes:
Despite the persuasions of others, who wished him to take to the larger vessel, Gilbert stayed put and was observed sitting in the stern of his frigate, reading a book.
Ultimately, as predicted by others, Squirrel was overwhelmed and sunk in a storm, thereby killing Gilbert in the process.