A Floral Dance

 

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St Lawrence Church at Sandhurst

One of the lovely things about the UK is the number of old churches that still exist at the heart of many communities.  And, now that we are experiencing the longest heatwave since 1976, they are literally and metaphorically the coolest places to visit.

Of course, congregations are shrinking and ageing.  Many people, today either don’t go to church at all, or, they go to the more vibrant ‘evangelical’ churches, of which there are many.

However, there is something quintessentially English about a country village church.  I have written previously about the Ivy Church at Ampney St Mary.

Congregations have an uphill struggle to maintain and repair these old buildings and are constantly putting on events to raise the necessary funds.  It is really hard work for small communities.  And, Sandhurst is a small village; but it has some rare treasures and a wealth of history within the grounds of its beautiful church.  So, this week it was a pleasure to support them by visiting St Lawrence Church For their flower festival. 

The festival was entitled, “Strictly Music and Dance”.  All the floral displays were based on the theme.  There was an amazing variety of music and dance styles represented from the old playground song, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’.

There has been a church on this site since the time of Henry 1st (1100-1135), when it belonged to St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.  The present church is partly 14th century but was mainly rebuilt in 1858.  It has some impressive features.

Outside there is a lychgate which was decorated with flowers, then at the entrance to the church the porch was surrounded by them.  Inside the porch was a magnificent display of sunflowers.  Once inside the door there is a truly remarkable baptismal font made of lead.  It is thought to have been made around 1135 near Bristol, out of lead mined in the Mendip hills.  It is beautifully engraved with scrolls and figures.  My favourite was the figure of Jesus.  Apparently, there are 6 fonts of this type in Gloucestershire so I must find the other 5.  It is exquisite.  This font was surrounded by flowers ‘A La Ronde’ to remind us of country dancing round the maypole on a village green.

There is also an antique carved oak pulpit from the time of King James 1st (1603-1625) which was surrounded by a sparkling floral display showing the glitz and glamour of Ballroom dancing.

One of the features of any old church is the stained glass and this little church has some beautiful examples.  But for me the most moving were a fairly recent one to commemorate the local men who died in WW1, and one to honour a young man from the village, Frederick Watts, who died in WW2.  I was very moved to meet an elderly lady at the church who knew this young man.  She told me that he was her brother’s playmate from childhood and she remembered him well.

It was quite difficult taking photos because of the backlight from the stained-glass windows but I hope you enjoy those I managed to take:

 

Lines of Enquiry

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Medieval Manuscripts lined up and chained

The WPC theme of lines gives me a chance to post an unlikely group of photos this week. The beautiful lines of the graceful giraffes as they stretch for their leaves, railway lines near my home, truck lines in the iron ore mine at Clearwell Caves, lines of books in the chained library at Hereford cathedral (above), and the lines of poppies weeping from the window there.

I have had a really interesting and enjoyable week getting out and about with some of my favourite people, to some truly fascinating places. I have learned a great deal and conquered a long-standing fear.

I will write individual posts about each place eventually but for now if anything grabs your interest do click on the links to delve deeper.

It started with a trip to my happy place, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is in Burford.

Burford is a lovely little Cotswold town which has almost everything you could want. Honey coloured cottages, grand town houses, a fast-flowing river, independent shops, great pubs and a very upmarket garden centre attract many visitors.  But I love the Wildlife Park.  I have been visiting the place almost since it opened in 1970, firstly with my children, then my grandchildren.  It really merits a blog post all to itself but that will have to wait.  Because…

As soon as I got home, I went on a very informative tree walk in my local woods, led by the council Tree Preservation officer. I went on the walk because I have been concerned about the ‘conservation’ work going on, which seems to consist mostly of chopping down trees, to my dismay.   However, after the officer explained the importance of allowing light in through the canopy in order to encourage growth lower down, and on the floor of the woodland, I understood why it was necessary.  And, walking there every day with my dog, I have seen just how much plant life has emerged since the opening up of the canopy.

My next adventure was on Wednesday.  I had volunteered to go on my grandson’s school trip to Clearwell caves. Now, most people who read my blog will know that I am claustrophobic.  Stupidly, I didn’t think the caves would actually be hundreds of feet deep and extremely dark.  There are also many tunnels that can be explored because the caves were mined for centuries for the iron and ochre embedded in the stone.  It soon became very obvious that we were meant to go a fair way down these tunnels with our small groups of young children.

It is amazing what we can do when we have to, and for me there is nothing more important than children, so I made a conscious decision to focus on my little group and make their trip worthwhile. And it worked!  We saw and learned so much history and geology.  While working to hide my fear from the children, I seemed to overcome it.

At the end of the week I had a rare day out with my husband and some very special friends. The weather was atrocious but it was our last chance to see the Weeping Window of poppies at Hereford Cathedral.  I had seen the poppies in the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation in the moat at the Tower of London in 2014.  It was installed to commemorate one hundred years since the First World War (1914-1918) began. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies represented a military fatality during that awful war.   Most of the poppies in that installation were sold to individuals to remember a family member who had fought or died in during those dreadful years.  The proceeds went to 6 charities.  But, a section of the installation called Wave and Weeping Window was retained and went on tour around the country. During the last month it has been near to us at Hereford Cathedral.

Hereford Cathedral is a most fascinating place. It is set in a beautiful area with lovely tranquil gardens and is a huge and imposing stone building.   Inside,  the Cathedral holds some truly rare treasures.  There are exquisite icons, tapestries and stained-glass windows, some by Tom Denny whom I have written about before.  There are shrines and tombs that have been the focus of pilgrimages for 800 years and more.  The Magna Carta of 1217, the Hereford Gospels from the 8th century, and the Mappa Mundi from the 1300s are all here.  This is the largest medieval map known to exist.  However, For me, the most fascinating thing in Hereford Cathedral is the 17th century Chained Library.  Although there are a few others in the UK this is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact. Can you imagine a time when books were so rare and precious that they had to be chained to a bookcase in order to keep them from being stolen?  Here they have 229 medieval manuscripts and they each have a chain attached at one end of the front cover.  The other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each bookshelf.  It is very ingenious because you can take a book down to read but you can’t remove it from the bookcase.  The strangest thing is that the books are all facing the ‘wrong’ way ~ that is with the spine at the back so that the reader does not get the chains tangled when the book is taken down.  Unfortunately, it means that one can’t see the title of the book so there is an elaborate numbered and alphabetical list on the end of each bookcase to show what books are where.

In the Cathedral square there is a lovely statue of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) the composer with his bike. He would have approved of the weeping window I’m sure.  I tried to attach a recording of Nimrod, from his Enigma Variations as it is so beautiful and appropriate. It is often played at remembrance services.  Unfortunately I could not get the attachment to play!

I hope you enjoy my eclectic mix of photos…

From the Wildlife Park

 

From Benhall Woods

 

From Clearwell Caves

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Deep underground the lines that carried the trucks full of iron or ochre

From Hereford Cathedral

From the Chained Library

A Thing of Beauty

Mothers Day Gifts 2018

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases: it will never pass into nothingness… by John Keats

Since I downsized from the house my children grew up in, I have let go of lots of possessions. There is simply no room for them in my new home, which is small verging on tiny.

At first, I found this ‘letting go’ hard, because every item tells a story. There was my late parents’ furniture and knick-knacks, as well as the paraphernalia that my adult children left behind when they move on with their lives.  But now I realise that the experience has actually been a positive one.  For, now that I am officially ‘old’, my mind is focussed on what I really value enough to keep.  And also, I’m aware that my children will have to dispose of it all when I’m gone!   So, these days I embrace William Morris’s golden rule:

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

My photos today are of several things that have pride of place in my home and are, in my opinion, truly beautiful. They make me happy whenever I look at them and each one has its story.

There is a pot by the local artist Molly Abbott, that is definitely not practical but is so beautiful and vibrant in colour and form.

Molly Abbott

Next there is a beautiful piece by Daffyd Rouse. It was given to me some years ago by my daughter in law.  She is a nurse now and was working for Headway at the time.  Headway is a charity that supports people with traumatic and acquired brain injuries.  One of her clients was Daffyd, a very creative and talented man.  Sadly, Daffyd had a motorbike accident in 2005, which took away his independence and left him with serious head injuries unable to pursue his love for art, prose and pottery.  He generously decided to sell his vast collection of work to raise money for charity which is how I became the proud owner of this pot.  Sadly Daffyd died aged just 65 in June 2014, but the beauty of his artwork will ensure that his story will never be forgotten.

Daffyn Rouse

And, last but not least, is the gift I received today for Mothering Sunday.

Claire Prenton 1

This could be a melancholy time if three of your children live abroad as mine do. However, I feel very lucky that in my case it often means that I get three mother’s days ~ the Spanish one and the American one as well as the UK one.

I don’t know how she does it, but my eldest daughter always manages to send a gift from the USA that arrives bang on time. So today I was very excited when the postman knocked!  Once I had opened the parcel I was thrilled to find an exquisite piece of ceramic art created by Claire Prenton.

Claire used to live in the Cotswolds, which is where she and my daughter became friends, when they worked together. Co-incidentally they both emigrated to the USA, Lisa to California via Vermont and Claire to Cincinnati via Seattle!  They both share a deep love and respect for nature and animals ~ although they do differ in that Claire adores her cats, while Lisa can’t live without a dog.

Claire makes the most exquisite and delicate porcelain pieces, which she embellishes with features from the natural world. Insects, birds, flowers, leaves and twigs, corals, pearls and shells feature in the ornamentation. You can see them here in her gallery. Last year Lisa sent me a beautifully decorated cup and this year she sent a plate from the same collection.  Claire tells me that her exquisite cup is tough enough for me to have my daily coffee in!  But, of course I love it so much that I will never use it in case I damage it.  I would rather just look at it and appreciate its beauty.

Lisa also sent me a beautiful card with an icon of the Madonna on.  I have loved and collected these for years so that was very thoughtful.  She also included a page from the colouring book which she has designed and created by hand,

Truly I feel blessed to be surrounded by such beauty and such love.

 

 

 

The scale of the tragedy

The scale of the tragedy

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26 foot Knife angel made of surrendered knives

We hear awful things about gun crime in the USA, which is really worrying.  In the UK we don’t have gun crime on the same scale because we do not have the right to own or carry guns thankfully.

However, knife crime is a serious problem here with even quite young teenagers taking knives out with them for ‘protection’.  The consequences for many young people and their families are tragic.

The government, police forces and traders have been working together to tackle the issue in many ways.  One of the ideas was an amnesty on knives that were handed in or placed in ‘surrender boxes’.  These are secure boxes that are placed in police stations and YMCAs amongst other places.

Recently I went to see what has happened to all the knives that have been handed in so far, and I was staggered.  Artist Alfie Bradley has created a 26-foot sculpture in the shape of an angel out of the 100,000 or so  that were surrendered nationwide.  It took him 2 years to create his memorial, which can be seen at Oswestry’s British Ironwork Centre.

The many coloured handles form the surface of the body of the angel, while the blades form the wings.   I can’t describe just how moving this sculpture is, as many of the knives have actually been used in crimes.  It has an expression of such tragedy on its face that it reflects the awful pain felt by those who suffer the consequences of knife crime.

The Knife Angel will be travelling around the country eventually to be displayed in other towns, but for now it is a thought-provoking entrance to the amazing artwork on show at the British Ironwork Centre.

I can recommend spending a day at the British Ironwork Centre.  It is in a beautiful, unspoilt area of the country and the displays of art and craftwork are spectacular.

Here are photos of some of the other pieces of iron art on display.  All are truly beautiful, but the gorilla is very interesting because it is entirely made of spoons donated by  children from many countries after an appeal by the magician Yuri Geller.

Curve

This week I am just posting some photos that I love for WPC on the theme of curve

The first batch are from Stratford on Avon taken this April at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and along the curve of the River Avon looking towardfs Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare and Anne are buried.

Next are some exquisite photos of Calla Lilies taken by a friend, Anne Bate-Wiliams, in her garden.  The curves are delicate and totally unmatched in the manufactured world for beauty I feel.

 

Lastly, some beautiful curves both natural and man-made that I spotted in Dorset.  The Ammonite-like decorative lampposts are in Lyme Regis and reflect the fact that many fossils are found on the Jurassic Coast.

The other photos are from Abbotsbury and Bennets Water garden

http://abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk/gardens/http://www.bennettswatergardens.com/

 

The Art of Love

The Art of Love

 

Keats quote on River Avon

As we will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this weekend, I thought I would post about my favourite Romantic poet.  Bless him, Keats died when he was only 25 years old but, in a truly inspired period of just three and a half years, he produced some 150 poems.  He said that love was his religion.  It is said that his best poetry was written in the last nine months of his life, when he was madly in love with Fanny Brawne, his neighbour in Hampstead where he had lived.

To follow the WPC theme for this week, which is “Life Imitates Art”, I have added an extract from one of his poems to a photo I took of the River Avon in Stratford, where I often took shade for whole summers on school holidays.

Keats (1795-1821) died in Rome when he was just twenty-five years old.  He had left his home in London’s Hampstead to seek a better climate, hoping this might cure him.  But he left behind some of the most exquisite and moving poetry ever written.

00000948Before he gave his life to poetry, he had qualified as a surgeon-apothecary at Guy’s Hospital in London.  But he had to give that up as his health was fading.  There is a beautiful bronze statue of him in the garden of the hospital, which was unveiled in 2007 by another wonderful poet, Andrew Motion.  I went to visit it with two of my dearest friends.

Keats famously said, “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject”.

He remains to this day one of the greatest of British poets.  Who knows what he could have achieved had he not died so young of TB. But what he left us, his beautiful poetry, will survive.  And, contrary to what he thought, he will never be forgotten.  In one of his later letters to Fanny he was obviously feeling despondent, as he wrote,

“If I should die,” said I to myself, “I have left no immortal work behind me-nothing to make my friends proud of my memory-that I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered”

But of course he is remembered and he was truly loved by Fanny although her family disapproved.  She wore the ring he gave her until the day she died.

He knew that whatever sorrows, difficulties or even tragedies we face in this world, there will always be beauty in nature and art.  He wrote about this in his exquisite heroic poem, Endymion

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its lovliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. 
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing 
A flowery band to bind us to the earth, 
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth 
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, 
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways 
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, 
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall 
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon, 
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon 
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils 
With the green world they live in; and clear rills 
That for themselves a cooling covert make 
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake, 
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms: …

There was a film called “Bright Star”, starring Abbie Cornish as Fanny, and Ben Whishaw as John Keats, released in 2009.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t say whether it does him justice.  But if you would like to see a clip the link is here.

Below are some photos I took in London while visiting Keats’ statue, Enjoy x

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day everyone x x x

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Henry Stephens invented Stephens Ink and Wood Stain which was used at the buildings of the Great Exhibition of 1851

 

 

 

 

 

Age of Kings

Age of Kings

Age of Kings Tibor Reich Red

Age of Kings Red

This is one of the most vibrant pieces of printed cotton I have ever seen.  It was made by Tibor Reich and I have one of the original panels, which were made for the opening of the Shakespeare Centre at Stratford on Avon in 1964.  The Centre was opened to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.

Tibor Reich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1916.  His father was a wealthy businessman who had a factory making decorative braids, ribbons and haberdashery for military ceremonial uniforms and folk costumes.  Here, the young Tibor learnt about textiles and colour.   As a child he visited the factory and was spellbound.  He once said, “Here I noticed cerise, kingfisher, very bright emeralds, flame reds and deep oranges…”

Following his parents’ divorce, Tibor went to live with his grandmother and immersed himself in drawing, painting and photography.  Until, in 1933 at the age of 17, Tibor went to Vienna to continue his studies.   Already artistic, his talents blossomed in the creative atmosphere of pre-war Vienna.  He studied textile design and technology as well as architecture and poster design.  But as Nazism spread, Tibor left Vienna for England, where he went to Leeds University to continue his studies in textile technology and woven design.

Tibor brought the vibrancy and colour of his homeland, of Hungarian folk music and peasant costumes, as well as the beauty of nature, to the UK in his work.  And, not long after leaving Leeds, he moved to Warwickshire and set up his own woven textile design business in Cliffords Mill using old hand looms that he repaired and renovated.

Being totally original, he quickly established a good reputation, and worked on the highest profile contracts.  In fact it is true to say he revolutionised textiles in post war Britain with his use of colour, pattern and texture.  By the 1950s Tibor’s textile weaving business was well established and he expanded into printed designs.  His projects included the Royal Yacht Britannia, Concorde, The Festival of Britain and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as it was then called.  Here he designed and created curtains, wall hangings and carpets each named after a Shakespearean character.

He also produced his own range of pottery called Tigo ware and designed a most unusual house for his family which was very innovative and modern.  I visited him here in the 60s as a teenager, with my mum who was in Stratford art circle and seemed to know everybody!   I was amazed by the huge onion shaped open fire which stood in the centre of the room and went right up through the house to the roof.  I had certainly never seen anything like it.  I visited again last week and took some photos.  I believe the house has been renovated and I didn’t see inside, but the garden with its earthen embankment is established now and the fir trees are huge, providing a very useful privacy screen.  Tibor did not like the idea of fences and walls, preferring natural boundaries.

In 1964 he helped to furnish the brand new Shakespeare Centre, which is in Henley Street adjoining Shakespeare’s birthplace, for its opening to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.  And this is where our paths crossed.

I have written before about the 1964 celebrations, which were undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life.  I worked at the Shakespeare Centre and the sights and sounds produced there I will never forget.  Shakespeare’s plays on a loop, pomanders and dried petals creating the perfumes of the Tudor age, all brought Shakespeare to life.  Added to that was the music of the age and Tibor Reich’s exquisite carpets, curtains, textile panels and wall hangings, some of which are still there today.

The tapestries and wall hangings evoked so brilliantly the scenes from the plays I loved, especially the Age of Kings panel.  This material, showing the kings from Shakespeare’s plays, was produced as stage curtains.  Panels of it were created in several vibrant colours, red, gold, orange, blue etc.  I am lucky enough to have the original red version as a wall hanging.  It was designed by Pamela Kay and made by Tibor Reich in 1964.  I also have a detail from A Tournament and an original of “garrick Jubilee”.

Recently, a new gold curtain was put up in the historic Becket chapel at Holy Trinity Church.  The chapel is dedicated to the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

I went to see it last week.  The golden fabric was commissioned for the chapel by The Friends of Holy Trinity Church and comes from the Tibor archive of 20th century design stored in Stratford and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

If you would like to see Tibor’s textile and pottery work for yourself there is a retrospective exhibition on from 29 January – August at the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER.  www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk

And you can even see a clip of Tibor Reich and see him at work here.

More of his work is on display at the Gordon Russell Design Museum in Broadway until 12 October, and at the V&A Museum in London.  The Tibor Reich family, son Alex and Grandson, Sam hold an archive too which they are currently using to relaunch the Tibor Ltd brand.  They are lucky enough to still live at Tibor House in Avenue Road, Stratford on Avon.  It is a beautiful tree lined road near the open countryside on the way to Warwick.

This year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  I know that the whole town of Stratford on Avon is busy preparing for the massive celebrations in April.  I can’t wait to be there to join in the festivities and see what Stratford can do to match or better the celebrations of 1964.

 

 

 

Happy with History and Heritage

In previous blogposts I’ve described my love of water and written about days at the seaside, by rivers, or admiring springs and waterfalls  and lakes that are special to me.  I could be happy near any of them.  Beside water I can relax and be at peace.  I am often inspired to write by the sheer beauty and elemental power of water.  But today I would like to bring canals and docks into the mix.

Being born near the great River Tyne, I have been fascinated from the earliest age by ships, bridges, and the industrial buildings that line the banks around docks, ports and quaysides.  Of course many have now been lost to us through disrepair.  Others have been restored as wonderful museums, like the Gloucester Waterways Museum, or art galleries like the Baltic Mill in Gateshead.  Many have been converted into luxury homes and offices like Butler’s Wharf on the River Thames in London.  But some have just aged gracefully, and stand majestically observing the changing world around them.

One such building, close to where I live, is the old ‘Llanthony Provender Mill’ or ‘Foster Brothers’ Oil and Cake Mill’ on Baker’s Quay.  It faces the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, which is served by Gloucester Docks.

Opening in 1862, the 6 storey warehouse played an important role in the industrial development at the docks in the late 19th century.  In fact it is listed by English Heritage because of its important place in Gloucester’s history.  Originally, the mill crushed linseed and cottonseed, extracting the oil from the seeds and then forming the remainder into seed cakes for cattle feed.  According to the civic society, the business remained in the hands of the Foster family for 4 generations, until 1945, when it was sold to West Midland Farmers as a storage and distribution depot.  In the last two decades much of the area has been bought up by developers and some areas have been dramatically changed by the building of the shopping centre and the College on opposite sides of the canal.  However, so much is unchanged, that the area has become a magnet for film makers who use Baker’s Quay as a film set.

Last year Tim Burton’s film, ‘Through the Looking Glass’, was filmed there.  It starred Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter.  It was an amazing sight with Tall Ships in the misty docks ~ very atmospheric.  Sadly I was not invited to be an extra on this occasion, disappointing as they filmed on my birthday!

The warehouses at the docks are all built of red brick several storeys high.  Inside there are wooden beams and cast iron pillars.  Outside they look very impressive with lots of small windows covered with metal bars.  Many of the warehouses still have faint painted signs showing their original dates, names and uses.  They were mainly for storing grain or salt and had wooden loading bays facing the quay.  Some have very impressive covered areas supported by pillars jutting out to the canal or quayside.

The docks area, the bridges, and the warehouses are utterly fascinating to me.  I have delighted in taking my grandchildren over there by car, bus or train over the years, then going on boat trips down the canal to Sharpness.  Thankfully I have taken lots of photos too as last weekend (3rd October) there was a dreadful fire which partially destroyed this wonderful historic building.   The local people are devastated by the loss of this much loved building, and local photographers and artists have been sharing their thoughts and feelings.

One local artist, Claudia Araceli was drawn to go over to the docks and paint that very building on the day that it was destroyed.  She was there until early evening completing a beautiful painting before leaving at 6.45pm.  The fire caught hold at 9pm and took fire crews all night to extinguish.

The photos at the top of this post show before and after the fire.  One was taken a couple of years ago when I took my grandchildren on a boat trip along the canal.  The other was taken this week after the fire.  Here is Claudia’s stupendous and serendipitous  painting IMG_8623

The gallery below is a general view of the Gloucester Docks area and some of the boats and buildings there.

Rhyme first published in 1844

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,

In a shower of rain;

He stepped in a puddle,

Right up to his middle,

And never went there again.

Victor and Vanquished ~ Symbol of The Battle of Tewkesbury

Victor Victor

This weekend there is a Medieval Festival taking place in the nearby market town of Tewkesbury.  It is an annual event which commemorates the Battle of Tewkesbury which took place here on 4th May 1471.  The main event is a very realistic re-enactment of the battle on the actual site.

The Battle of Tewkesbury brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York whose symbol was the red rose, and the house of Lancaster, whose symbol was the white rose.  The Yorkist King Edward 1V, was victorious while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry V1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with an inscription which reads,

“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a magnificent Red Rose carved, which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sun in splendour’.

Fittingly, both the victor and the vanquished are remembered in the Abbey.  They are also remembered by an impressive sculpture, which was installed on the Stonehills Roundabout at the Tewkesbury end of the A38 road to Gloucester last year.  The sculpture is called ‘Arrivall’ and consists of two timber framed horses 5m (16ft) tall.   One is a mounted knight, known as Victor, which is a symbol of the victorious Yorkist forces of King Edward IV.  On the opposite side of the roundabout stands the other sculpture, the riderless horse Vanquished, which is a symbol of the beaten Lancastrian forces.  His head is bowed in defeat and exhaustion from the battle.  The sculptures, made by Phil Bews from the Forest of Dean are of green oak, and the work took 2 years to complete.  Local schoolchildren and members of the community were invited to carve poppies on the horses’ legs in remembrance of the centenary of WW1 in 2014.

Both of the horses have lances with pennants which swing in the breeze.  These were made by a local company and donated free.  In fact the local people and business community raised almost all the £65,000 needed for this magnificent sculpture, which rather eerily faces the original battle site.

I took my life in my hands on this busy roundabout to get some photos.  I am looking forward to going back and getting more photos at different times of the year and in different weather conditions, at sunset and in moonlight.  But even in daylight I found the sculptures very impressive and strangely moving.

Doors Painted by Fr Stephen Horton OSB of Prinknash Abbey

Today I took my grandson to Prinknash Abbey for a snack in the wonderful café, and to play in the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of Our Lady and St Peter. I have written about the abbey several times before as it is a very special place for me.  I was thrilled to meet Fr Stephen Horton again, who painted all the beautiful doors above.

The Abbey is set high in the Cotswold Hills near Cranham and Painswick so the views are spectacular.  There is ancient woodland behind, and to the front, a clear view towards Gloucester with its magnificent Cathedral.  On a clear day you can see May Hill with its crown-shaped clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks are very good at forecasting the weather merely by looking at May Hill.  If the hill looks a misty blue they know there will be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees is lost in cloud, there will be a storm.

I discovered while working in the old ‘St Peter’s Grange’, which is now home to the monks again, that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague!  There is documentary evidence, as well as evidence inside, that some parts of the Grange were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge because there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put into positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia states, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  Vestments and stained glass were early specialities. They also made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  The monks still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks. who sadly passed away. created a huge wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  He also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  The abbey’s walled garden is still growing a variety of fruits.  Today there were ripe raspberries to pick.

As I said, we met Fr Stephen Horton OSB who is the Prior and Novice Master.  He is a prolific and very talented painter.   I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original water colour paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic, I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Apart from being a brilliant painter, Fr Stephen is also a great thinker who gives wonderful sermons.  He says that “the one journey that really matters is the journey inwards”.  On occasion I have asked him for copies of his notes as I want to study his words deeply.  He says monastic silence is, “an inner stillness like at the bottom of the ocean, where the force eight gale might be going on, but deep down you do come to a stability, an inner anchoring”.

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended Mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current ‘owner’ dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

This coming Saturday, 11th July is the Feast Day of St Benedict who lived in the 6th Century.  I have no doubt that the monks at Prinknash, who follow the rule of St Benedict, will be celebrating with a special meal and maybe a glass of wine.

Below I have added some of my photos of doors for the weekly photo challenge

Vivid Blue

I am awed by stained glass windows, and have an enormous collection of photos from around the world. But very close to home there is a window that fascinates me. It is in Gloucester Cathedral. It is quite a modern window and from a distance with a cursory glance, it can appear to be simply random shapes of blue glass. On closer inspection though, this window draws the viewer in rather as an icon does. It is a meditative experience to sit and really look at this window. Soon the shape of a man appears then you are drawn to the face. It has a haunting expression of deep understanding and empathy. It represents the face of Jesus.

The window was created and installed in 1992 by Thomas Denny.  It is mainly in vivid blue and white with splashes of red and yellow.  It is greatly affected obviously by the light coming from outside but it does appear to be in shadow when the viewer is at a distance, then as you get closer it gets brighter and quite mesmerises me!   Doubting Thomas and Jesus are the central characters of the middle window and the two side windows are a song of praise for creation based on psalm 148.

Thomas Denny, was born in London.  He trained in drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art. One day a friend asked him to consider creating a stained glass window for a church in Scotland (Killearn 1983).  So began a remarkable career that has produced over 30 stained glass windows in Cathedrals and Churches of this country. (Visit http://www.thomasdenny.co.uk for the full listing.) Tom’s love for painting and drawing, especially the things of nature, is evident in his windows.   All of Tom’s windows depict biblical themes and encourage the viewer to sit in silent meditation.  Look closely, feel the colours, take the time to let the details emerge, then reflect.  It is a spiritual experience.

Even closer to home there is a simple parish church in Warden Hill called St Christopher’s, which has a set of 10 stained glass windows by Thomas Denny.   Each of them is based on a parable from the Gospels.  The windows are linked by colour too with the colours from one window flowing into the next.  They are simply stunning and anyone can visit the church to see them.  If you are too far away you can click on this link to enjoy photos of the windows  http://www.tciwh.org.uk/index.php?page=windows

I had a go at making my own stained glass windows for my summerhouse/sanctuary in the garden at my previous home.  It broke my heart to leave it.  You can read all about it here.

Intricate and Artistic

Horse Sculpture at Ellenborough park

Horse Sculpture at Ellenborough park

Intricate Blog

Today I went to a May Bank Holiday Fete in a beautiful Cotswold village.  On the way back I had to pop in to Ellenborough Park, which is a beautiful hotel at the foot of Cleeve Hill near the Cotswold Way.  It is a gorgeous hotel, traditionally built in Cotswold stone.  It dates back to the 16th century and it shows!  It just oozes history.  I have a soft spot for the hotel because my youngest daughter was married there in a most romantic ceremony.

In front of the hotel, facing Cheltenham racecourse, there is a magnificent life-size sculpture ~ of a horse.  It is created from what looks like bronze wire and is very intricate!

I just love wire sculpture, especially natural subjects like horses and hares.  I have added a link to an amazing artist in case you would like to see more. http://www.ruperttill.com/retrospective.html

Cheltenham is famous for horse racing and of course the Cotswold countryside lends itself to lots of equine establishments and pastimes.  In 2011 the centenary of the Racecourse was celebrated with a Horse Parade with a difference.  10 Life size sculptures of horses were created and decorated to reflect their sponsors.  The horses were displayed in prominent places around the town before being auctioned at the racecourse for various charities.

Thousands of pounds were raised for a variety of charities.  Indeed Ellenborough Park raised £4,800 for a local cancer charity.  If you would like to see pictures of all the horses, they are here  http://www.cheltenhamartgallery.org.uk/Docs/horse%20parade%20auction%20leaflet_toprint.pdf

Scale

Fascinated by the photos on the Weekly Photo Challenge, I thought I would join in this week.  The prompt is ‘scale’ and I just had to post a photo of scale model of a hare.

In recent years there has been a spate of large scale ceramic or stone objects appearing in towns and cities of the UK. Having mentioned it to my daughter last night I know that they have been seen in the USA too. The first time I came across it was when my grandchildren, Ben and Rosie went to London and were photographed alongside large colourful elephants. Wallace and Gromit were in Bristol recently too.
Next I heard of a Gorilla festival in Torbay and Exeter. There was also a festival of decorated horses in Cheltenham in honour of the races. Then it was 5 foot tall hares in Cirencester.
Why hares you might wonder?
Well Cirencester was a very important place in Roman times. It was called Corinium and had very good road links to the rest of the UK, such as Ermin Way and the Fosse Way. In 1971 during an archeological dig in Beeches Road near to the River Churn, a Roman mosaic was discovered depicting a hare. The original is now on show in the Corinium Museum.  Hence the theme of hares for the festival. There were about 50 hares around the town. Most of them were 5 foot tall and decorated by local people including schoolchildren, members of the public, celebrities and artists. All of the large hares were named to reflect their sponsors.  One of the most beautiful hares, named Tess, was on display in the Corinium.

Here are some of the others for you to enjoy ~

A Living Poppy in a Doughnut

A Living Poppy

A Living Poppy

Before Christmas I wrote a post, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”, about the spectacular poppy installation at the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War 1.  I meant to follow it up with a post about a huge ‘living’ poppy that was created locally at GCHQ.  But 2014 ended as it had progressed, with accidents, emergencies and disasters of a medical, rather than domestic kind!  Now that my own personal Annus Horribilis has ended, and a new year has begun, I am determined to continue with my blog.  So here is my belated post on poppies and peace.

I have mentioned before that I live near ‘The Doughnut’, which is the local nickname for the building which houses the Government Communication Headquarters, GCHQ.   Being an important part of our country’s security service, we rarely find out what is happening inside the building.  They are brilliant at keeping things quiet!   So it was a great surprise to find that many of the workforce, past and present had taken part in what can only be described as a ‘happening’!

The Gloucestershire branch of the Royal British Legion wanted to do something special, unusual and spectacular, to mark the centenary of World War 1 and GCHQ personnel volunteered to help.  What they created was certainly spectacular and got quite a lot of press coverage although, unlike the Tower of London installation, no member of the public actually saw it for real!

A single giant poppy, representing ‘Remembrance of the past and hope for the future’, was created with military precision and great planning.  27 service people from the Royal Navy wore black uniforms to form the centre of the poppy. They were surrounded by 1308  GCHQ staff in red rain ponchos to form the petals.  73 other military personnel wearing green combat dress formed the stalk.  Altogether 100 military and 1308 civilian staff were involved and the completed poppy measured 38 metres in diameter with a 28 metre long stalk.  It took just over an hour to get everyone in position.  I read that the GCHQ’s brass band, ‘Top Secret Brass’, provided rousing music to keep everyone’s spirits up.   Aerial photographs were taken from a helicopter, and I am delighted to say that I have been given permission to use them in my blog.  You can also watch the creation of the poppy here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc5ijfpXwK0

Participants were invited to make a donation to take part and £1730 was raised. The used ponchos were donated to local charities namely a number of scout groups in the local area and Bloodbikes, a charity providing out of hours emergency medical courier service to Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties.

In view of the amount of blood transfusions my husband has had recently, I have to say that is a cause very close to my heart.

 

Blenheim Palace

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It wasn’t an auspicious start when we met the coach to travel to Woodstock on 27th November 2014.  It was a misty morning, dismal and damp with drizzle.  However as always the mood on the coach was sunny and light hearted; WI ladies are such good company.  We were heading off to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire to see the house decorated in “Glitter and Gold” for Christmas.  On the way we travelled through the lovely village of Bladon where most of the Spencer Churchill’s are buried at St Martin’s Church.

Blenheim palace is a Baroque masterpiece designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh, which took 17 years to complete.  On our tour we were told that the house was so perfect that it has never been extended or redesigned.  It was begun in 1704 thanks to Queen Anne who had just come to the throne.  John Churchill had been given the title, Duke of Marlborough by the previous monarch, William of Orange.  It was a particularly turbulent time in Europe and the Duke was recognised by most as a man of courage, stamina and will-power, as well as a brilliant military man.  He was leading the allied forces in Europe when there was a bloody and decisive battle at Blindheim, in Bavaria.  On August 13 1704, Marlborough and his men held back King Louis XIV’s troops and saved Vienna from a French attack.  This changed the course of history in Europe, protecting British interests.  The Queen was so pleased that she granted Marlborough the Manor and Honour of Woodstock and acres of gorgeous countryside as well as the promise of money to build a house as a fitting monument to his great victory.  The name Blindheim was then anglicised and became Blenheim.

This is an extract from the famous poem called The Battle of Blenheim by Robert Southey;

“It was the English,” Kaspar cried,
“Who put the French to rout;
But what they killed each other for
I could not well make out.
But everybody said,” quoth he,
“That ’twas a famous victory!

By the time we reached Blenheim via the long sweeping drive, the sun was shining and it was a perfect day to take in the impressive views of the grounds, the lakes, the bridge, and the breathtaking beauty and symmetry of the house itself.

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We were doubly fortunate because, not only was the house decked out for Christmas, but there was a spectacular art exhibition by the Chinese conceptual artist, Ai Weihei.  Being an outspoken social activist, Ai Weihei brings politics into his work and some of it was quite controversial.  However there were some really beautiful and thought provoking pieces.  I particularly liked the ‘Chandelier 2002’, which was made of glass crystals, lights, metal and scaffolding.  Being over 5 metres tall it hung glittering from the ceiling in the grand entrance.  I was not so keen on the piece called ‘He Xie, 2012’, in the red drawing room, which consisted of masses of porcelain crabs on the exquisite carpet.

IMG_5154   IMG_5160

We managed to see almost every room in the public parts of the house learning snippets as we dipped in and out of fascinating guided tours.  Every room was different and had objects of beauty to see, sculptures, furniture, china, silverware, paintings and spectacular tapestries.  We were amazed to see huge cases filled with small model soldiers complete with arms and vehicles displayed in battle formation from many wars.  It seems that Blenheim holds the National Collection of the British Model Soldier Society.

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On the first floor of the house we took a fascinating, if rather unnerving tour, called “Blenheim~the Untold Story”.  This was narrated by the ‘ghost’ of Grace Ridley who was the favoured servant of the first duchess, Sarah.  The voice of Grace led us from room to room mysteriously as she rattled through over 300 years of history and 11 Dukes of Marlborough.  It was certainly entertaining and informative.

On a very sad note, we learned that the 11th Duke had died just a few weeks ago on the 16th October this year at the age of 88.  He was a cousin of the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was also his godfather, and he was also distantly related to the late Princess Diana.  He inherited Blenheim in 1972 and devoted his life to preserving the Palace for the benefit of future generations.  His titles will now pass to his eldest son James, Marquess of Blandford, who was born in 1955.  It is an enormous responsibility which I certainly would not relish.  However there is a strong board of trustees to help him.

The late 11th Duke of Marlborough

The late 11th Duke of Marlborough

After exhausting the beauty of the house and enjoying a lovely lunch in the Water Terrace Café, one of several eating places at Blenheim, we ventured out into the open air to enjoy just some of the many formal gardens.  We saw the water terraces, the Italian garden and the secret garden which were beautiful.  We didn’t manage to visit the park with its cascades and the Temple of Diana, where Winston Churchill proposed to Clemmie.  Nor did we walk to the huge Column of Victory or Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge.  However we saw them in the distance and were thrilled by all we did see.  We all agreed we would be going back in the Spring.  And, we were amazed to learn that we could convert our day tickets into an annual pass which gives free entry for the next 12 months!

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2015 marks many important anniversaries linked to Sir Winston Churchill, including the 50th Anniversary of his death, and the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain ~ ‘his finest hour’.  There will be a special exhibition focussing on his life, from his birth at Blenheim Palace on 30th November 1874 to his days as our Prime Minister.  The room where he was born has been preserved just as it was and there is a case with his baby vest in it.  There are also 2 of his paintings and a lock of his hair.  Winston Churchill was the son of a younger brother of the 8thDuke.

There are many reasons I would like to revisit Blenheim Palace.  I would love to explore the gardens, lakes and the park.  I would also like to see the Column of Victory up close.  But I think we were very lucky to see the house decorated for Christmas with glitter and gold.  It was a very special day out.

“Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”

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The weather was atrocious when I finally managed to visit the Tower of London with a friend.  After an unseasonably warm October, November has arrived with a splash.  It rained non-stop while we were at the Tower.  Not gentle rain, or refreshing rain, but relentless, heavy, pounding rain, that ran in waves down the sloping entrance, soaking my shoes and the bottom of my trousers.  My daughter has this theory that if it is raining in Barcelona where she lives, it will be dry in London and vice versa.  She happened to ring me just as I was leaving the house clad in wellies and mac.  But as there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain in Barcelona, she said I wouldn’t need them so I changed.  She was wrong.  I got soaked!

Despite the rain, the Tower was packed with visitors and I was impressed by how cheerful and friendly they were.  Most of the people I spoke to in the extremely long queues were from London or nearby counties of Kent and Essex.  Some said they hadn’t been to the Tower since they were children on a school visit.  Others, like me, had made a day trip involving hours on public transport- coaches, trains, buses and the underground.  Travelling, walking, and queuing all in torrential rain.  All had made the effort because they were keen to see the installation officially called, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”, but generally known by the people as ~ The Poppies!

Poppies of course are an emotive symbol, used since the 1920s by the Royal British Legion to raise funds for their charitable work, ‘to the memory of the fallen and the future of the living’.   Although they are controversial, most people in the UK seem to wear them to show respect for those who fought and died in previous conflicts, and solidarity with those serving in the armed forces today.  The tradition was inspired by the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae. The story goes that when his friend, Alexis Helmer was killed at Ypres in 1915, the Canadian doctor, Major John McCrae, conducted the burial.  In his grief he was moved by the beauty of the wild red poppies growing amongst the horror of the graves.  The sight inspired McCrae to write this famous poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poppies forming the installation at the Tower, all 888,246 of them, were handmade under the direction of the ceramic artist Paul Cummins to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.  The artist reportedly said that he took his inspiration from the words of an unknown soldier from Derby who wrote that all his friends, indeed everyone he cared about, had been killed in that dreadful war.   He described, “Blood swept lands and seas of red, where angels dare to tread”.   The ceramic poppies, each representing a British or Commonwealth fatality in WW1, were ‘planted’ by volunteers in the moat around the Tower of London; not haphazardly, but artistically arranged by the stage designer, Tom Piper.   Now complete, they spill over battlements, around walls and out of windows, covering the grassy moat with a red river of biblical proportions.  There is a very appropriate poem which reflects not only the poppies but how I feel about the whole experience:

London by William Blake

I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls
.

The Journalist, Jonathan Jones has been criticised in some quarters of the media for his opinion that the poppies at the Tower of London are “fake, trite and inward-looking – a UKIP-style memorial”, theguardian.com, 28 October). I found his comments shocking, but thought provoking.

 My impression was of a river of blood flowing around the tower, but outside of the establishment in every sense of the word.  Inside, the building protects and reflects power, treasures, pomp, ceremony, privilege, and a dark side to our history ~ cruelty, torture, imprisonment and murder.

Significantly, many of the people, probably the majority, who came to see the poppies, stayed outside the Tower.  It costs quite a lot for an ordinary family to go inside!  (Happily almost the whole installation can be seen freely from outside.)  I think this is as it should be.  The ordinary people came, not to see the grandeur of the Tower, but to be a part of something spectacular yet stunning in its simplicity.  They stood good-humoured, all ages and nationalities, helping each other in the pouring rain, humanity at its best, honouring those who died.  It was beautiful.

I did go into the Tower but it felt alien, as if it had nothing to do with the poppies – except for the Beefeaters.  These men have all served at least 22 years in the forces, and must have attained at least the rank of Sergeant Major.  They were larger than life characters who wore their immaculate, gorgeous, yet slightly ridiculous uniforms with evident pride and aplomb.  Their uniforms were drenched.  The rain dripped off them like the tears shed by countless families of the fallen we were there to remember.  Somehow this fitted the mood and made it all real.  Did those young men stand firm and wear their rain-sodden, mud-soaked uniforms with pride on those dreadful battlefields?

There is some talk this week of leaving the poppies in situ for longer.  While I don’t agree with this I think it could be very moving to see them standing through the biting winds, mist, murk and mud of a British November.  They could then represent the poor, the homeless, the jobless and all the disadvantaged in this very unequal world.  If they stayed longer, through the cold, frost and snow of a harsh December, they could represent, the lonely, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly so often at the mercy of exhausted relatives or poorly paid and overworked “carers” in homes and hospitals.   Too many of them look forward to death as an escape from suffering, as so many of those young men must have done during WW1.

The juxtaposition of the simple poppies outside, and the Crown Jewels inside the Tower was revealing.  Considered precious, these ‘priceless’ treasures are displayed in glass cases watched over by security.   With soft lighting and controlled temperatures they are guarded in secure rooms sealed by impenetrable metal doors.  They reminded me of seeing the embalmed body of Lenin in his mausoleum in Red Square!  Would that our young soldiers had been so well cared for on the WW1 battlefields!

Unfortunately we seem to have learned little after a hundred years.  The most incongruous thing I saw during my visit was a sign, which said you could avoid the queues by paying for membership of something or other.  This is exactly what is wrong with our world.  Money can buy advantage in every sphere of life.  Those with money, power and influence can get the best seats in theatres, tables in restaurants, food, education, housing, healthcare, medical treatment, etc. etc.  You name it and you can have it if you have money.

The world is still run by a strange elite, a brotherhood, for they are mostly men, who make and adjust the rules to protect and promote their own interests and to feather their own nests.  The few prosper at the expense of the many who struggle daily to get and keep a home in which to live and raise their family, to feed, clothe and educate them, and try desperately to stay well enough to not need help in their old age.  Only when laws, rules and decisions are made, and actions taken to promote the common good, will the war have been worth it.  We are a long way from that yet.

 There may be no-one living now who actually fought in WW1, but there are countless families who treasure the memory of a relative who did, and this installation has given them an opportunity to remember them and to pass on their history to the next generation.   My own grandfather joined up at the start of the war aged just 14 years 8 months and was sent to France as a bugler in 1917, aged 17.  Thankfully he survived.  But, like many others, he never talked about his wartime experiences.  We found out about them when he died many years later and his comrades spoke at his funeral.  Since then I have researched his war record and it is astonishing what he went through.   To me he was always my lovely granddad who ran a corner shop and let me sit by the fire in the back of the shop eating out of date sweeties and chatting to my much loved granny.  I always respected and loved him, but now I admire him for his strength of character and I am proud to be descended from him.

I will finish by posting some photos taken by myself and friends and by quoting a comment sent in to the Guardian, which I agree with wholeheartedly:

“So perhaps the sea of poppies is not about the war of 1914-18, but about a very different conflict, which is still raging in 2014. I mean, of course, the conflict between those who want us to believe that everything is all right (even if some bad things happen) – that everything that was done in the last 100 years turned out okay in the end, and will continue to do so; and those who know in their hearts and minds that things are not okay – that the events of the past decade, whether about banking, climate change, poverty or war, are signals to us that we need to do things differently. Perhaps a dried-up castle moat full of enormously expensive fake flowers is a very potent symbol after all – just not the one the artist intended.”
Nick Moseley
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2817086/How-make-888-246-china-poppies-fired-glaze-Meet-unsung-heroes-glorious-artwork-captivating-Britain-Tower-tribute-WWI-fallen.html#v-3868841266001

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc5ijfpXwK0

 

 

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

 

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 3Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 10

In Gloucester Cathedral there is a new stained glass window created by Tom Denny, which is a memorial to the Gloucestershire poet, Ivor Gurney.  Like Will Harvey, whom I have written about before, he was a pupil and chorister at the Cathedral school before joining the Gloucestershire Regiment to serve in the First World War.  Indeed, they were great friends.  Gurney was a talented musician firstly, but in the thick of war, poetry became his creative outlet.   Like Will Harvey  he survived the war but was drastically changed by it.  So much so that his fragile mental health was totally destroyed, and he spent many years in a mental asylum where he eventually died before he was 50.  Gurney is buried at Twigworth, where his gravestone commemorates him as ‘poet composer of the Severn and Somme’.

Gurney’s poetry is beautiful and reflects his love for the Cotswolds, the countryside and the beauty of nature.  I’d like to share 2 of them with you that touch me deeply for different reasons.

Firstly, To His Love which is a poem thought to be written by Ivor Gurney when he thought his friend Will Harvey had been killed.

To His Love’

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

The second is The Bugle, written after Gurney returned from the war, a sadder and wiser man.  I include it as my grandfather was a bugler in WW1, and also because it speaks to me loudly of how ordinary life and commerce still goes on while soldiers suffer and die ‘out of sight, and out of mind.’ 

The Bugle

High over London
Victory floats
And high, high, high,
Harsh bugle notes
Rend and embronze the air.
Triumph is there
With sombre sunbeams mixed of Autumn rare.
Over and over the loud brass makes its cry,
Summons to exultancy
Of past in Victory.
Yet in the grey street women void of grace
Chatter of trifles,
Hurry to barter, wander aimlessly
The heedless town,
Men lose their souls in care of business,
As men had not been mown
Like corn swathes East of Ypres or the Somme
Never again home
Or beauty most beloved to see, for that
London Town might still be busy at
Its sordid cares
Traffic of wares.
O Town, O Town
In soldiers’ faces one might see the fear
That once again they should be called to bear
Arms, and to save England from her own.

There are many learned websites with information about Ivor Gurney, but my wish today is simply to share the beauty and poignancy of the new window and explain a little of its background.

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 2

There are 8 lights or panes overall and each reflects something from the life and writing of Ivor Gurney.  The notes are a precis of those that appear in the Cathedral by the window.

Light 1 ~ Glimmering Dusk ~ a figure walks at dusk in a Vale landscape.  there are dark pools of rain on the white road and May Hill can be seen in the distance.

Windows 1 & 2

Light 2 ~ The Stone Breaker ~ In Flanders a chance encounter with some road menders reminds Gurney of a much earlier meeting (“Oh years ago and near forgot”), in the fresh beauty of a summer’s early morning, in a landscape of Vale orchards.

Light 3 ~ Brimscombe ~ Gurney remembers a night-time walk through the fir trees of the steep-sided Brimscombe valley near Stroud.  The “pure clemency” of the moment enables him to forget the “blackness and pain” of France.

Windows 3 & 4

Light 4 ~ Severn Meadows ~This was written in March 1917 at Caulaincourt.  As the sun sets over Severn meadows, a figure, in the shadow of a willow, looks back at the river and the willows.

Light 5 ~ Pain ~ Gurney recalls the grey-white Somme battlefield.

“Pain, pain continual; pain unending;….

Grey monotony lending

Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes

An army of grey bedraggled scarecrows in rows

Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.

Seeing pitiful eyes of men foredone,

Or horses shot, too tired to merely stir,

Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.

…………………………………….

The amazed heart cries out to God.

Windows 5 & 6

Light 6 ~ To His Love ~ Probably drafted on the Somme battlefield, Gurney reacts to the news (false as it turns out) that his great friend, the poet Will Harvey, is presumed killed.  A couple walk on the Cotswold hills as their dead friend lies among the violets.

Light 7 ~ To God ~ In the intense suffering from mental illness, surely aggravated by his experiences on the battlefields, Gurney cries out for death, “I am praying for death, death, death”.

Windows 7 & 8

Light 8 ~ Song and Pain ~ A more optimistic end to the window as a figure emerges from an understanding of pain to enter “The House of Joy”.

As I stood and gazed at these incredibly beautiful but harrowing windows, there were people around me moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered.  Tom Denny is a wonderful artist. He has captured and honoured Gurney’s genius, his love of Gloucestershire, and his suffering in that dreadful war and in his mental distress.

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-153

https://wordpress.com/post/heavenhappens.me/4977

http://www.ivorgurney.org.uk/biography.htm

http://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/to-his-love-ivor-gurney/

Crucible 2 Sculpture Exhibition at Gloucester cathedral

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Today I went to Gloucester with a dear friend, the artist Anne Bate Williams.

We went to see the newly opened Crucible 2 exhibition of sculptures, which is set in and around this beautiful medieval Cathedral.  It was a warm, sunny day which made the experience even more enjoyable.

There were small groups of people around the Cathedral enjoying their lunchbreak.  Some were eating, some taking photographs and some rebellious types sitting on the sculptures!

The first sculpture we saw was a huge arm with a giant hand stretched upwards in a grassy space behind the Cathedral.  This is “Reach for the Stars” by K Armitage.  At the front there were some of confusing sculptures called Battersea 11 and 111.  But the huge “Sitting Couple on bench” by Chadwick was beautiful.

Cleverly placed in the beautiful grounds around the cathedral where children and passers-by can see them, are wonderful lifelike sculptures of animals including a giant bull, a beautiful hippo and its baby,  “Siberian Tiger” by Bugatti, as well as “Tortoise” and “Snail” by Cooper.  It was wonderful to see little children climbing onto the sculptures and I wondered if they expected them to move.

We were already impressed and excited before we even entered the Cathedral.  But once in the entrance, we were greeted by an arresting sculpture called “Pilgrim”, by D Backhouse.  The body is shrouded in white but the face is stunning in its beauty.

I won’t bore you by describing every one of the 100 sculptures, but I will add a link so that you can see some of them yourself. 

If you do live close enough to get to the exhibition, which is free, I would encourage you to come along.  It is on until 31st October and it will be worth the journey.  There are over 60 artists represented here.  Some are world famous like the local Damien Hirst, Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Antony Gormley and Kenneth Armitage.  But there are lots of less well known artists too.

Enjoy my gallery of photos from the exhibition…