As sure as God’s in Gloucester

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I could write about the beauty of the Cotswolds at any time of the year because there is always something to enjoy whatever the weather.  From cosy cottages to magnificent manor houses, castles and cathedrals, the Cotswold stone oozes strength and security, and promises a warm welcome.   The landscape too, never disappoints .  There are rolling hills, lush pastures, rivers, lakes and woodland enough to please anyone who enjoys the outdoors.  The towns and villages between them have enough festivals, events and attractions to keep locals and visitors entertained all year round.

But for history it is hard to beat Gloucester City.

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During the recent History Festival in the city, every aspect of its past was celebrated and I was lucky enough to go to many talks, walks and events.

Gloucester’s history goes back at least 2000 years.  In fact it was such an important place in Roman times that it was granted colonial status by Emperor Nerva.  This meant that the citizens of Gloucester had the same rights and privileges as the citizens of Rome.  There are parts of the Roman city walls still visible in the heart of the shopping centre.

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Some local historians believe that Christianity was brought to Gloucester by the Roman soldiers.  After the fall of the Roman Empire many of the soldiers did not return home but retired to villas around Gloucester.  It is thought that ‘churches’ grew from the grass roots up, with people getting together to celebrate and share their faith.

By Saxon times Briton had a Christian King, Alfred.  He was succeeded by his daughter, Aethelflaed, who was a major influence on Gloucester’s development.  She designed the layout of the city so that it was easily defended from invaders.  The basic layout still exists and is very easy to navigate.  There are four main roads; Northgate, Southgate, Eastgate and Westgate, which radiate out from ‘the Cross’.  The actual cross no longer exists but it used to be a very important focal point.  The monks of Greyfriars laid pipes from nearby Robinswood Hill, to provide fresh drinking water for the townsfolk.  Running off these four main roads are fascinating narrow lanes. Many with names alluding to the enormous influence of the church in the city.

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By the Middle Ages, Gloucester was among the most important towns in Britain along with London and Winchester.  King Edward the Confessor held his great councils in Gloucester every year.  And, after 1066, William the Conqueror continued the tradition.  It was here in Gloucester, probably at Kingsholm, that in 1085 William commissioned the Domesday Book as a comprehensive survey of the country.

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Gloucester’s strategic importance continued, and, as I wrote in an earlier blog,   the boy king Henry 111 was crowned in what was St Peter’s Abbey in 1216.  This is still the only coronation that has taken place outside London.

 

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Gloucester city went from strength to strength in the following centuries:  Iron ore, coal and timber were readily available nearby in the Forest of Dean, and Gloucester had a  busy inland port and ship canal.  This led to thriving business and trade.  Dry docks and large warehouses were built alongside the canal.   Then later, the railway made the movement of goods even easier.  I wrote about Butler’s Wharf once before and I am so glad that I saw it before it was damaged due to fire.  It has now been renovated and is starting a new life as small apartments which are currently for sale.

Warehouses

For me,  the best part of the History Festival was learning about all the fascinating characters who came from Gloucester and left their mark on the world.  It is almost unbelievable that just one relatively small city could have produced so many influential people.

As I have a daughter who lives in America, I was particularly interested in how far back our strong links  go.  For instance, did you know that the oldest bells in North America were made in a Gloucester foundry in 1744 by one of the Rudhall family?  Abraham Rudhall (1657-1736) was the first of a whole family of bell founders in Gloucester.  The peel of bells was transported, free as ballast,  by sailing ship, and hung in Old North Church in Boston.  These bells, which still ring out today, were rung by one of America’s greatest folk heroes – Paul Revere.   The bell tower actually played a crucial role in the American War of Independence.  A coded signal was arranged, one lantern in the tower would warn that British were advancing overland, while two lanterns meant they were coming by sea.  Paul Revere rode through the night to warn troops in Concord that the British were advancing overland from Boston.

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 Another Gloucester man, George Whitefield (1714-70), became an itinerant preacher and evangelist.  At Oxford University he met the Wesley brothers and joined their Christian Society, becoming a Methodist.  He travelled to America several times and was famous, although not always popular, for his preaching abilities.  He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and to this day he is more famous in the states than here in the UK.

Here is one man’s assessment of George Whitefield:

From time to time until his death his whole life was taken up in travelling and preaching not only in Britain but in Ireland and America.

Thirteen times altogether he did cross the Atlantic.

His journeyings by land amounted to tens of thousands of miles.  The number of sermons he preached almost exceeds belief – nine, ten, twelve, fourteen in a week – sometimes four in a day, on one occasion seven!

In churches – and when turned out of churches, in chapels, drawing rooms, barns, streets, fields; at early morning, noon and night, his voice was lifted up, proclaiming to rich and poor the glad tidings of salvation.

These labours were often carried on amidst opposition from Bishops and clergymen, magistrates, mobs and buffoons.  Again and again his life was in danger from the fury of wicked men.  He was abused, slandered, beaten, stoned.

His constitution was feeble and his sickness frequent; yet, not withstanding all, his zeal glowed with a flamewhich no flood of opposition could quench, and for thirty four years he toiled on, fearless and unflagging, in the service of his Lord.’

A third Gloucester man who is better known in the States than the UK is John Stafford Smith (1750-1836), the musician and composer.  He was the son of the Cathedral organist and he is best known for composing ‘The Anacreontic Song’.  This tune became very popular and in 1814 was set to a poem by Francis Key called “The Defense of Fort McHenry”.   In 1931 both the music and lyrics were adopted as the National Anthem of the United States with the title of ‘The Star-Spangled banner’.   John Stafford Smith is buried in Goucester and there is a memorial plaque to him in the Cathedral which is very well tended and has both the Union Flag of the UK and the Stars and Stripes flag of the USA above it.

There were many other fascinating men and women that I heard about during the history festival, including Hubert Cecil Booth (1871-1955).  He invented the vacuum cleaner.  His machines were used at the request of King Edward V11 to clean the carpets of Westminster Abbey for the Coronation in 1902.  I was surprised to learn that he was offered a Knighthood but turned it down!  He also designed ‘Great Wheels’ and suspension bridges.

But surely, the most amusing Gloucester character must be James (Jemmy) Wood (1756-1836).  Jemmy inherited Gloucester Old Bank in Westgate Street in 1802.  He was a mean and miserly man and such a shrewd businessman that he was one of the richest commoners in the land, a millionaire when he died.  It is said that he was the inspiration for the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’, a ‘Christmas Carol’.  Charles Dickens often visited his friend, the writer and social activist, Sir Arthur Helps, in Gloucester, so he would have known of Jemmy.  In fact he actually mentioned him by name in his book Our Mutual Friend.   It is said that there were crowds cheering in the streets of Gloucester on the day of Jemmy’s funeral.  I’m sure he must have been turning in his grave when most of his fortune was wasted on legal actions to sort out the disputes over his will!  The disputes were well documented and it is believed that they inspired Charles Dickens to write Bleak House.

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By the way, in case you were wondering, the title of this post is a very old proverb about Gloucester, which was well known and recorded from the Middle Ages right up to the 17th century.  It probably refers to the large number of churches which existed in the city.   By Tudor times, when the population of Gloucester was about 3000 people, there were 300 churches to cater for them!

I will leave you to enjoy some of the photos I took during the History Festival.

 

I have written several times about Gloucester and there are lots more photos on these posts.  You can see them by clicking on the word Gloucester in the tags and categories.

 

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

New training helicopters

This week marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and there will be celebrations held around the country as well as open days at many air force bases throughout the year.  I am very excited to be going to arguably the biggest and best airshow, at RAF Fairford in July.

 I clearly remember the celebrations which were held for the 50th anniversary of the RAF when I was invited to a very grand ball at RAF base which shall be nameless.  The evening was wonderful with a fabulous meal, terrific music and great company.  As the sun set everyone gathered outside for the grand finale.  There was to be a huge firework display ending with an illuminated framework displaying the RAF banner and title with 50th Anniversary underneath.  There were some very important guests there and of course everyone wanted to make a good impression.  However, once the smoke cleared and the display was fully alight there were gasps all round as the entire thing was upside down.  I have no idea how many heads rolled for the incompetence and the embarrassment of the station commander, but I expect there were a few!

I and my friends from college were often invited to social functions at the air force training school on the base as we were at an all-female teacher training college, and all of the trainee pilots and navigators in those days were young men. We were treated very well with transport, refreshments and dancing laid on and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  The men were very respectful and of course rules were strictly applied.  It may have been the swinging sixties but It seems like a different world from today.  Our college was run by a very strict order of nuns who watched over us girls like prison guards.  We were only allowed visitors at certain times and they were never allowed past the common room.  We were signed out by the nun who was on duty and she made sure we were all signed back in again before 11pm.  Similar rules applied at the RAF base too where the commanding officers were even more terrifying than the Mother Superior.

I seem to remember that training took place on small red and white Vickers Varsity planes. If you are interested in seeing how training planes have changed over the years there is information here.

I was recently at our local small airfield and was amazed to see several beautiful new helicopters. I am used to seeing Chinooks, air ambulances and the police helicopters flying around locally, but these were visibly striking.  Like giant bees they were a deep yellow and black with an all-round glass cockpit.  Fortunately, when the crew popped into the local pub for coffee and burgers, they explained that these were the brand new H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter training helicopters on route to the flying school.  A total of 32 of these helicopters are due to go into service this week to mark the RAF’s centenary.  They will provide 28000 flight hours for 266 students each year.  There are different types of training for different specialisms, basic, advanced and maritime, and according to the experts and the manufacturers, Airbus,

The innovations are superb, the flight dynamics are excellent, the Helionix instrumentation is incredibly intuitive and the platform will be an excellent lead in to Apache, Chinook, Merlin, Puma and Wildcat

Along with lots of other fascinated onlookers, I managed to take a few photos with my phone through the wire fencing, but they were not brilliant.  So, I got permission from the helpful media people at Airbus, who built these beautiful helicopters, to use some of their photos. I hope you like them as much as I do.  Many thanks to Alvaro Beteta.

 

 

Remembrance Sunday

Back of hotel

Following last week’s exciting trip to Spain, I had a marvellously luxurious weekend at the local Tewkesbury Park Hotel to celebrate a family birthday.  All of this travel and excitement is experimental for me as I have been a bit housebound over the last few years for various reasons.

While some of our group played golf and some had spa treatments or relaxed, I went for a stroll around the grounds with my camera.  Being set high on a hill there are amazing views, towards the Malvern Hills, Brecon Beacons, River Severn and Tewkesbury itself.

There is so much to see in Tewkesbury with its medieval buildings and alleys, and two powerful rivers, the Severn and the Avon, that meet there.  There is always lots of activity around the river, whether it be pleasure-boating or fishing.  Occasionally of course the rivers flood the town, but the locals are so used to it that they are very well prepared and cope brilliantly.

At the heart of the town is Tewkesbury Abbey.  There is so much history surrounding this abbey that it is worth visiting over and over again.  I used to take school groups there when I was teaching, or foreign visitors when I was involved in Global Footsteps.

There is also a fascinating history in the hotel site too.  I am one of those people who has to find out as much as I can about everywhere I go, so I started to delve.  I was thrilled to discover that recorded history goes back to when the park was enclosed between 1185 and 1187.  The park covered 200 acres then and was stocked with deer.  By the late 14th century there was a large medieval timber and stone manor house on the site, which was called Tewkesbury Lodge.  By 1540 records taken after the dissolution of the Monasteries showed that the deer park covered 80 acres with the rest being agricultural.  There are no records of deer at the park after that.

The original manor house was at times owned by the crown or by the abbey as well as private individuals including the Clare family who used it as a hunting lodge.

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But, one of the most fascinating owners for me was Edward, Baron Le Despenser, who died in his 30’s in 1375.  He has a beautiful monument known as ‘The Kneeling Knight’, in Tewkesbury Abbey, which I have often admired.  It seems unusual for a knight to be depicted kneeling above a chapel.

At some point the medieval house was demolished, and the present building was built in the 18th century by the Wall family.   The last private owner was Violet Sargeaunt who lived there from 1933 until her death in 1973.  Finally, a superb golf course was developed, which opened in 1976 and the hotel prospered alongside it.

I walked down to the heart-wrenching field that lies at the foot of the hotel’s driveway.  It is called Bloody Meadow and it recalls The Battle of Tewkesbury which brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York (white rose symbol) and the house of Lancaster (red rose symbol).  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, aged just 17.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with a Latin inscription which translates as,

“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.”

Grave of Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a spectacular carving which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sunne in splendour’.   It is admirable on the one hand that both winner and loser are remembered in the Abbey, but I find it rather gloating that the massive ‘sunne in splendour’ dominates the roofspace and ‘lords it’ forever over the poor defeated young prince.

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At the entrance to the ‘Bloody Meadow’, a commemorative plaque on the fence reads,

The field has been called the bloody meadow for more than 500 years, and tradition says that it is the meadow where so many were taken and slain.  This is possibly where Edward, Prince of Wales, met his death.  Other Lancastrians killed in the field almost certainly in the rout, include the Earl of Devonshire, The Marquis of Dorset and Sir William Rous.

The field is long and constricted, a death trap for men who are edging backwards whilst trying to avoid lethal blows.  How many fell is not recorded. Only important people were named.  Those who escaped the Bloody Meadow were faced with crossing the Mill Avon, and many drowned.

I took photos here but felt incredibly sad for the common soldiers who were buried in this meadow in anonymous pits while the nobles were interred in the Abbey and its graveyard.

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When I left the hotel, I stopped at the roundabout on the outskirts of Tewkesbury to marvel at the commemorative sculptures officially called the Arrivall.  I like to call them Victor and Vanquished.  This is a high vantage point from where the army of King Edward 1V could have seen the Duke of Somerset leading King Henry V1’s ill-fated army.

I have written about this sculpture before but on this day, being Remembrance Sunday, it was embellished with a ‘Lest we forget flag’, which somehow just reinforced the ongoing inevitability, futility, and tragedy of war for me.

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Victor represents the Yorkist army under Edward IV and is located on the roundabout itself. This part of the sculpture shows a horse and rider, the rider has a traditional lance with a pennant on top.

Vanquished, that represents the defeated Lancastrian army. This army was led by the Duke of Somerset, supporting Henry VI. Vanquished is a riderless horse, with its head bowed and a lance leaning on its back.

Here is a link for anyone seriously interested in the history of this fascinating area.

A Circular Walk

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Tramway Bridge in Stratford on Avon, now just for pedestrians

I lead quite a pedestrian life these days, but I am very grateful that I am still reasonably fit, and can still enjoy regular walks.  Today I am especially grateful, as this autumn is glorious in the Cotswolds.  The sun is shining through the trees in the woods where I take my little dog for her walks, and the ground is covered with golden leaves.

Another walk that I never tire of, and take as often as I can, is the circular walk beside the river Avon in Stratford.  As a teenager I used to walk to school along the old bridge built in 1822 for horse trams.  It is now a pedestrian bridge, which leads to Bancroft gardens and the town.  But if you turn left, instead of crossing the tramway bridge, you can take a beautiful walk alongside the river.  Here you will get the most spectacular views of the Shakespeare Theatre, and Holy Trinity Church, which is the burial place of William Shakespeare.  The path goes on past the ferry, weirs and the old mill, but there is a bridge which you can cross to get into the oldest part of the town.

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Weir on the Avon at Stratford

Whenever I have visitors, I take them to the Old Town to see some of the most beautiful places in Stratford.  I start at the British Legion memorial garden which is always peaceful and very moving.  There are several plaques on the wall about both World Wars.  There is also one of the most beautiful garden seats I have ever seen.  It is wrought in iron and has a design of soldiers marching amongst poppies.

WW1 memorial garden seat

British Legion memorial garden bench to remember the centenary of WW1

From there I walk past the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall.  The main part of this beautiful house was built in 1613!

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Halls Croft

I then turn left into Church Street and walk on to Chapel Lane where there are some of the oldest buildings in the town, which were built for the Guild of the Holy Cross. This guild virtually controlled the town in the middle ages.  First you see a row of almshouses for the poor and needy parishioners.

As a teenager I used to collect shopping for a wonderful old French lady who lived in one of the almshouses.  Inside, the rooms had solid oak floors which creaked, and low timbered ceilings.  I believe they were renovated in the 1980s and brought up to date inside, but the outside is thankfully unchanged.

Next door to the almshouses is the Guild Hall where you can visit Shakespeare’s actual schoolroom.  Then there is the Guild Chapel, with a history dating back to 1269!

Opposite the Guild Chapel is the site of New Place with its gorgeous gardens.  When Shakespeare bought New Place it was the second biggest house in Stratford.  It was his family’s home from 1597 until he died there in 1616.  Sadly, the house was demolished in the 18th century, but visitors can really connect with Shakespeare in the garden through imaginative artworks reflecting the plays.  It is believed that Shakespeare wrote the Tempest here and this summer there was wonderful artwork on that theme.

Nash's House next to New Place

Nash’s House next to New Place

On the other side of the road, on the High Street, is the oldest pub in the town.  The Garrick Inn, like many buildings in the old town, is a timber framed and dates back to the 1400’s.  It revels in its colourful history of plagues, fires, priest holes, and ghosts!

 

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House

Next door to the pub is Harvard House, where John Harvard was born in 1607.  He married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is preserved thanks to the work of Marie Corelli, the writer.  She lived in Stratford at the height of her fame and was passionate about preserving the old buildings in the town.  She bought Harvard House in a dilapidated state and was determined to save it.  In 1905, Marie met an American couple, Mr and Mrs Morris, who agreed to help pay for the restoration as a sign of friendship between UK and USA.   Between them, they donated the house to Harvard University, and, at the grand re-opening in October 1909, the American ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, declared it ‘free to all visiting sons of Harvard, and a rendezvous for all visiting Americans’.

I would probably go on to Shakespeare’s birthplace from here.  It really is worth going into the Birthplace Trust just to find out what Stratford was like in his day.

From there I would go back towards the theatre and the Bancroft Gardens and return to my car via the Tramway, picking up a whippy ice-cream on the way.

I have written other posts about Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, which you can read by clicking the links.  But for now, you can enjoy some of the photos from my last circular walk!

 

 

 

 

A crocodile in the corner

 

There is a fascinating corner of the Cotswold’s in Compton Abdale with a very unusual spring, which a respected builder from the nearby village of Hazleton built from Cotswold Stone in the 19th Century.  Presumably some local landowner paid for it.  The feature is shaped like a crocodile’s head and the spring water has been gushing out of the crocodile’s mouth ever since.  Some days after lots of heavy rain, it is a truly spectacular sight.

I wish I could capture the sound of the pure rushing water for you but my photos will have to do.

I marvel at the fact that nature produces a constant supply of fresh water for us here.  Would that other parts of the world were so lucky.

My corner of the world

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When I first arrived in my little corner of the Cotswold’s 50 years ago it was a very rural scene.   I lived on the edge of the countryside with farms and fields all around.  There was some post war prefabricated housing nearby, and a few ancient cottages.  There was one unobtrusive industrial area with factories linked to the aviation industry, and their offices were in a manor house which was known as Arle Court.  The manor was built in the mid1800s to replace the Butt family’s original Elizabethan house of the same name and it has a fascinating history.

Today the area around the manor house has become very built up with a supermarket and DIY store, a pet shop, a park and ride bus service, new housing, and an enormous car showroom and garage!  Most of the old factories have been converted and now house a private hospital, a gym, offices, and a film studio.

But when I go to the area these days, I make a point of taking a little detour to what can only be described as an oasis of peace and a little treasure trove of nature.   Despite everything around, there is still the stunning manor house set in 7 acres of beautiful formal gardens with a lake and woodland hiding it from the busy modern, commercial world.  It is called Manor By The Lake now and is a quirky hotel, perfect for weddings, special events and conferences.  The decor inside is simply gorgeous as you will see if you look on the website.

There are herons and ducks in the lake, woodpeckers galore in the gardens, and an abundance of wildlife in the woodland.  I used to be able to walk my dog there, but now it is all private and there are development plans afoot for the woodland.  I just hope that a little corner can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

 

The Cotswold Lion

The Cotswold Lion

 

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Cotswold Lions at Prinknash Abbey farm

‘In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold’
(12th century saying).

This week I am thinking about texture.  

There are two types of texture, actual texture which you can feel or touch, and visual texture which uses marks to give the illusion of a textured surface.  It fascinates me that the word texture originated from from the Latin textilis ~ woven, from texere ~ to weave and the 17th century word Textile has the same root.  A textile is literally ‘that which has been woven’.   So this weekend I set out to learn more about it.

There can’t be a more random selection of textures than stone, wool, water, grass and brass; however, there is a link!  And it is at the heart of this beautiful area I live in called the Cotswolds.

The Cotswold land is ideal for sheep grazing and in medieval times the Abbeys and Monasteries kept huge flocks of the native breed, which was, and still is, known as the Cotswold Lion, because it has a long shaggy mane over its eyes.  These are stocky animals that breed well and grow quickly.  Their wool is so long, fine, white and soft that it was known as the ‘golden fleece’ ~ because of the wealth it created, not the colour.

From the earliest times the wool itself was traded, but by the middle ages whole cottage industries grew up to process the wool into cloth.  The clothier and his family prepared the raw wool then gave it to his neighbours to be spun by the women and children.  It was then woven by men in their homes.  The weavers’ cottages had long, low windows in order to give maximum light to the looms.  After processing the cloth was extremely dense and almost waterproof due to the nap, which was ideal for the military, huntsmen and landowners.

The merchants who traded in this fine cloth became extremely wealthy. They used their wealth to build wonderful houses out of the local Cotswold stone and to build and furnish exquisite churches in the market towns and villages, with stained glass, stone carvings and brasses.

Yes, the rolling fields, honey coloured stone cottages, ancient mills and beautiful churches that make up our landscape are all here because of sheep.  The names of the villages such as Sheepscombe reflect the trade, and even our pubs and inns like the Fleece or the Ram are reminiscent of the wool trade.

I visited the church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Northleach today.  It is one of the largest and finest wool churches in England.  There are some fascinating brasses in this church with images of the merchants with sacks of wool or sheep as their footrest.  They date back to the 1400s.  One or two of the brasses were particularly interesting as they showed that women could be wealthy merchants too.  And, one particularly striking couple had their 15 children shown on the brass!

By the 16th century the industry was moving away from the small towns and villages to be nearer to the Stroud valley where the fast-flowing streams supplied the power to drive the fulling mills.  In its heyday, there were around 200 mills in the Stroud valley and many of them are still standing today.  They are converted for other industrial uses now or renovated into rather swish apartments.

I learned some fascinating facts today.  Who knew that subsequent to the ‘Burial in Wool acts of 1667 and 1668’, all bodies had to be buried in wool unless they died of plague.  This law was only repealed in 1814.  It stated that,

“No corps should be buried in anything other than what is made of sheep’s wool only; or put into any coffin lined or faced with any material but sheep’s wool, on pain of forfeiture of £5.”

The old saying – “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes”, came from being buried in a shroud of wool, and meant that “I am not dead!”

You may know that there is a large wool-stuffed cushion or seat covered in red cloth in the House of Lords.  This is called the Woolsack and is where the Lord Speaker sits during Parliamentary proceedings with the Mace on the woolsack behind him.  It was introduced by King Edward III (1327-77) and originally stuffed with English wool as a reminder of England’s traditional source of wealth – the wool trade.  There is also a larger woolsack where senior Judges sit during the State Opening of Parliament.

Here are some photos from Northleach where wealthy cloth merchant John Fortey paid for the church renovations

 

Here are some photos from Bibury where wool was treated on Rack isle

 

And lastly some photos from Nailsworth where the Fulling Mills refined the texture of the cloth.

 

And lastly, to the pub, The Fleece at Bretforton!

 

I could write so much more, but if you are interested I can recommend these very knowledgeable and interesting websites:

http://www.cotswoldjourneys.com/cotswolds-guide/the-cotswolds-wool-trade/

http://stroud-textile.org.uk/history/background-to-the-local-wool-industry/

 

Sands of Time

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A fascinating challenge this week ~ to share a photograph that signifies transitions and change, to explore the ways in which a single photograph can express time, while only showing us a small portion of any given moment.

I spotted this man building a sand sculpture at Gloucester Docks recently.  It was to celebrate the Tall Ships festival, which was taking place over the weekend.  He worked, oblivious to all around him, with patience and skill.  It was wonderful to see his pile of sand change into a beautiful work of art.  I was mesmerised.

I have written about Gloucester Docks before as it is one of my favourite places locally.  The whole area signifies transitions and change to me.  The wonderful old warehouses, which were once the thriving heart of business in the area are now recycled as accommodation for students, restaurants, museums, or offices.

The old Mariner’s Church in the background of my photo tells its own story  of how the area has changed over time.

In Victorian times a visitor to Gloucester would have found the docks teeming with sailors from all over the world as well as British emigrants preparing to set off for a new life in North America.

Spanish seamen brought onions to Gloucester and sold them in the streets to local housewives. A local newspaper account in 1860 describes the many nationalities that could be seen and heard at the Docks:

‘Here we see a Frenchman from the rich vine districts of Brittany, an Italian from the fertile plantations around Palermo or a swarthy Negro escaped from the Slave States of America. These, with a few Americans and a sprinkling of Norwegians, Danes, Dutchmen and Germans, compose the motley crews of the arrivals in our port’.

In those days, seamen and bargees were distinctively dressed and there was a social barrier between them and other citizens, especially on Sundays when citizens would wear their Sunday best to go to church.   It was decided by a local wealthy businessman that the mariners needed a chapel in which they could be welcomed regardless of language or dress.   And so it was that the simple Mariners Chapel was built in 1848, primarily for the workers at Gloucester Docks and crews of vessels moored there.

The first chaplain, Rev James Hollins, must have been an inspirational man.  He organised services in foreign languages when necessary, and used a portable organ for services on the quayside. There was a Sunday school for boatmen’s children. Religious tracts were given out in many languages, including Welsh, Hindustani and even Chinese. In its first five years, 2,000 copies of the Bible and over 14,000 leaflets in 12 different languages were distributed.

The local watermen and families were often uneducated and living very basic lives. Drunkenness and bad language were common social problems among them. In 1884, an old cheese warehouse with two flats was purchased nearby, for use as a meeting hall. Mariners church started up a coffee bar there, and gave reading and writing lessons. The hall also provided a place simply to relax.

Today this is where I take my granddaughter to a ‘mini-mariners’ playgroup.  it is also where the Galley serves hot lunches every Friday to the local homeless community, or anyone needing help for whatever reason.

Mariners is a proprietary church, independent of the local diocese.  It was set up specifically to meet the spiritual needs of the docks’ community.   There was no dress code and no language or social barrier.  Just a christian desire to help and support the community.  Today this work continues.

Enjoy some of my photos from the tall ships weekend.

 

I had quite a nautical June as I also went to Bristol Quays on a day trip.  The SS Great Britain is fully restored sitting proudly by pleasure boats, ferries and old warehouses now turned into luxury flats.

 

. “A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea”, written by Allan Cunningham, is one of the best British sea-songs, although written by a landsman.

A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea

A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast;
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While like the eagle free –
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.

“O for a soft and gentle wind!”
I heard a fair one cry:
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high;
And white waves heaving high, my lads,
The good ship tight and free –
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.

There’s tempest in yon horn’d moon,
And lightning in yon cloud:
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud;
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashes free –
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.

 

 

A Good Match

A Good Match

I was looking through my photos for this week’s photo challenge on the theme of a ‘good match’ when I came across some that I took last summer in Gloucester. I was there to enjoy the spectacular celebrations to commemorate the 800th Anniversary of the coronation of the 9-year-old King Henry 111.

In the Cathedral, there is a stained-glass window depicting the original event, which took place in St Peter’s Abbey on 28th October 1216.  It must have been overwhelming for the young Henry to go through this ceremony just 10 days after his father, King John, had died.

The celebrations started with a splendid procession through the streets led by Knights on horseback. This was followed by a spectacular performance of the anointing, enthronement and crowning of the boy King in what is now the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was decorated beautifully with pungent herbs, grasses and flowers which would have grown locally in medieval times. Walking on the herb-strewn stone floor created a heady aroma from the crushed rosemary and lavender.

A local schoolboy, Fraser Martin, played the part of the boy king. He was very majestic in the role and yet vulnerable looking.  In fact, everyone was dressed so beautifully and took the occasion so seriously, that the atmosphere was literally awe-inspiring and very moving.

There was entertainment in the cloisters after the ceremony and a medieval tournament in the grounds. The very authentic looking ‘Barons’ and ‘Knights’ put on a wonderful show of fighting with medieval weapons.  They really were a good match.

Henry 111 went on to rule for 56 years and 29 days until 1272.

 

 

Royal Numbers

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On 11th June 2016 our Queen will celebrate her official 90th Birthday and her husband, Prince Philip will be 95!  These are wonderful ages to reach and definitely worth celebrating.

London is already awash with flags and the celebrations start tomorrow.  Nobody covers royal events as well as the Daily Mail so do click to see the fabulous images of London bedecked.

I’m sure there are street parties planned for cities, towns and villages throughout the UK and beyond.  On my travels through the Cotswolds I have seen lots of bunting in the streets and flags flying from shops churches, public buildings of every sort, as well as private homes and gardens.

I went to Willersey yesterday which is a gorgeous little village.  It is quintessentially Cotswolds with its duck pond, village pubs, honey coloured stone houses, and beautiful cottage gardens.  It also has a village shop which has got to have the most helpful owner in the world.  My sister in law was desperate to buy some bread to take back to her caravan for tea so she popped into the only shop in the village.  Sadly, they had sold out of bread but the owner said,

 “wait a minute I’ve just used 2 slices out of my loaf, you can have the rest of that”

He then ran upstairs to his flat above the shop and returned with the remainder of his lovely crusty seed-topped brown bread!  Can you imagine getting that level of care and service in a city or town supermarket?

Willersey was like a model village perfectly dressed for a royal themed party.  There was bunting all over the pubs, and flags flying high in the summer breeze.  Several owners had really gone overboard with the decorations in their gardens as you can see from my photos below.  One in particular had a garden table and benches covered in union flags with more flags and bunting in the trees as well as a huge flag on a flagpole.  It looked beautiful against the poppies and colourful flowers in the border.

Willersey is holding a really royal party all afternoon and evening on Saturday 11th.  I do hope the weather stays fine for them.  There will be royal themed fancy dress and hats, races to the next village, themed picnics, and lots of musical entertainment.  There will also be a royal pageant and a whole village photo for the archives.  The day’s events will be rounded off by a Toast to the Queen and everyone writing a message in a giant card for Her Majesty.

It should be lots of fun.

A Tribute

W L Langsbury Printers front

It is quite normal these days to see small shops close down in High Streets up and down the land.  And, after a few weeks or maybe months, the passing shoppers don’t even notice they have gone or forget what was there before.  But just occasionally, a shop is so well loved by its regular customers that its closure is a genuine shock.

This was the case for me recently when I popped to W L Langsbury, the local printers in Suffolk Road.

I arrived to find a simple notice on the door saying, ‘closed due to bereavement’.  My heart missed a beat on reading this.  I hoped that it was not the lovely old printer who was known to me, and all of his regular customers, as Bill Langsbury and to his family as Lionel.

I used to pop in to Bill if I wanted anything special printed for school in my teaching days, before we had computers and photocopiers in the school office.  Then after retirement, when I became the secretary of our WI.  Many of our older members did not have email but they all needed monthly minutes and agendas as well as occasional newsletters.  I produced a master copy on my computer and then Bill printed out enough for everyone.  He did the job to perfection ~ quickly, efficiently and cheaply.  He took great delight in telling me that there is no VAT on newsletters.

It was always a joy to step inside the door of his shop.  The smell of metal, ink, wood and paper is a heady mixture, like a steam train in a timber yard.  It was for all the world like the living museums at Blist’s Hill or Beamish and yet the jobs got done if not immediately, always by the end of the day!  The machinery looked ancient, in fact one of the printing presses was a 1938 Heidelberg and it still worked perfectly.  On the walls there were pictures of Cheltenham in days gone by and posters from the 1940’s warning that ‘careless talk costs lives’! Almost every inch of wall and floor space in the front shop was used to store boxes of paper of all sizes and colours.  There was also a wonderful selection of notepads which Bill made himself from the paper offcuts.  These he sold for pennies and they were great for shopping lists or jotters.  Some were so old they still had the price in pre-decimal currency.

In the back room of the shop where the serious work was done there was a treasure trove of vintage wooden shelves and drawers full of cast metal numbers and lettering of different sizes and fonts.

High up on the walls was the ‘filing system’, which I am sure only Bill or his brother and workmate Ken could understand.  Beyond, there was a narrow hallway with a staircase leading to where Bill lived, above the shop.

I suppose I find all this a delight because my grandad had a general store in the 1950s after he left the army.  He and my grandma lived above the shop and I loved staying there.

But of course the shop would be nothing without the character of the printer himself.  I was full of admiration for him and the life he had lived over 83 years.  It is the living history that fascinates me.

Bill was born in Shepherd’s Bush, London, in December 1932 when King George V was on the throne. He moved to Ealing with his parents where his brother Ken was born in 1938.  There they lived through the short reign of King Edward V111 who abdicated in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee.    He was a young lad of 7 when the bombs started dropping on London during the Blitz of WW2 in the reign of King George V1.  When a neighbouring house was destroyed by the bombs his parents, Harry and Queenie Langsbury moved the family to Cheltenham for safety.

After a brief stay with in-laws they lived in a cottage behind the King’s Head Pub in the Lower High Street where Queenie worked.  The boys went to church 3 times on a Sundays and went to local schools.  Bill was a keen student and talented artist enjoying cartoon drawing.  So he went on to the art college which is where he learned his printing skills.  By this time our Queen Elizabeth 11 was on the throne.

Leaving college he got a printing job in a pharmaceutical company but he had an entrepreneurial streak.  He managed to save his money, and, with the help of his brother’s paper round money, he bought his own second hand printing press by the time he was 16 and set up business in the family home.

Bill did his National Service in the catering corps with the RAF in the early 1950’s and returned to Cheltenham where his mum had bought the terraced house in what was Andover Road and is now Suffolk Road.

At first Bill, aged just 24, was printing in the front room while the family lived in the rest.  However, Bill got so many orders that he took over the back room too and the family were relegated to upstairs.

Bill’s brother Ken married and moved on to have his own family.  Bill, staying single, lived with his mum until she died aged 93.

Eventually Bill had so much work that his brother Ken came to work with him.  It is wonderful to think that these two brothers got on so well that they worked together for over 40 years.  But you couldn’t not get on with Bill.  He was an eccentric, sweet, kind gentleman.  He loved his work, his shop and his machinery.  He lived a simple life with few mod cons and no visible luxuries, but he was always cheerful.  Printing was his passion.

In 2016 W L Langsbury Printer’s celebrates 60 years in business.  To commemorate this Bill produced a special edition of his letterpress Gloucester bold calendar, containing a selection of proverbs from a collection first published in 1640.

Bill worked a normal day in his printer’s shop on 14th January 2016.  He had a problem with his leg but didn’t bother anyone about it.  This was typical, as according to his brother, Bill had not visited a doctor between 1948 and 2015 and he only went in 1948 because the National Health Service had just started and his father took the boys for a free health check!  He ran a bath and sitting on the edge his kind heart finally and peacefully took its rest.  His brother found him there next morning.

The shop is now closed and the fittings will no doubt go to letterpress collectors or to auction.  I feel sad that this delightful, Dickensian shop with its vintage machinery, which is a feast for the senses, will be open no more.

But mostly I feel sad that Cheltenham has lost a truly irreplaceable character.  I, and many other customers I’m sure will miss him greatly.

Abstract

Abstract

400 celebration face of stars4

For All Time

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

What an enjoyable weekend I just spent in Stratford on Avon.  I was there to join in the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and to commemorate his death 400 years ago on 23 April 1616.

The town, where I lived during my teens, was festooned with flags and shields from almost every nation in the world.  There were banners with Shakespeare’s likeness waving high across the streets or pinned to railings.  There was blue and yellow bunting in side streets and blue and yellow market stalls along the waterside leading to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  Shakespeare’s colours of blue and yellow amuse me as in theatre superstition wearing blue and yellow means you will forget your lines! My school uniform at Shottery Manor in Stratford was mainly purple but with blue shirts and blue and yellow striped ties. We wore straw boaters in the summer months with a purple blue and yellow band round them.  In the winter we wore purple felt hats with the same coloured band round them. Wearing the hats at the wrong angle on the head was considered a very serious misdemeanour and a detention would surely follow if spotted.

The RSC put on a special celebration, Shakespeare Live!, in honour of the occasion.  It included Opera, Comedy, Ballet, Hip-hop, Poetry, and of course extracts from the plays.  I thought the whole evening was a resounding success.  It appealed to almost everyone whatever their age or tastes in entertainment.

The well-known, justifiably renowned and much-loved, stars who took part included Judi Dench who took the part of Titania falling in love with Bottom played by comedian Al Murray.  The costumes were brilliant, the set was great, and the acting was superb.  The overall effect was slick, professional and absolutely hilarious.  I loved it.  There is a wicker sculpture of Titania and Bottom outside the theatre in the new Stratford Garden.  The flowers in it are all mentioned in the plays and the effect should be quite impressive when they grow.

Among lots of memorable performances in Shakespeare Live!, the most moving I thought was Sir Ian McKellan’s rendition of a speech handwritten by Shakespeare for the character of Sir Thomas More.  I, like most people listening I imagine, had visions of the horrific ‘Jungle’ at Calais and the wretched scenes of migrants behind the barriers and fences, which have been erected along European borders to keep them out.  Sir Ian McKellen brought tears to my eyes with this speech.  You can hear an earlier rendition of it here

The whole speech is written at the end of this post and here is a link to the very relevant and learned Shakespeare Blog.

On Sunday and Monday I indulged myself by taking a walk along the river Avon and revisiting many of the houses and museums connected with Shakespeare.  The weather was changeable but I managed to get some reasonable photos, especially at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage where the garden is a riot of spring colour with flowers including daffodils, bluebells and tulips.  I also spent some time in the newly restored Swan Theatre with its amazing abstract sculpture, ‘For All Time’ created by Steven Follen.  This representation of a head, shown in photo at the top, is made of 2000 stainless steel stars suspended from the ceiling by fine wires to make the shape of a 3 metre tall human face.  It is surrounded by other stars which closely represent the position of the constellations on the day of Shakespeare’s birth.

There are two additional places to visit in Stratford now, which in previous years were not open to the public.  One is King Edward the Sixth School for Boys, which Shakespeare attended.  His actual schoolroom is open to the public with professional actors dressed in costume teaching Latin and chatting to visitors in character.  It was a surreal experience being inside the actual classroom.  I have been to the school before in the days when Mr Pratt was Headmaster, but it was a joy to visit the most ancient parts of the building, which have been beautifully restored.

The second is Harvard House where John Harvard was born in 1607.  This is a three story Elizabethan house almost opposite New Place, the house which Shakespeare bought in 1607.  It is remarkably authentic in its preservation and restoration, with lots of oak beams and areas of ancient wall paintings.  John Harvard eventually married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is owned by the American University but looked after by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  It is worth a visit just to see the Bible Box.  This is a beautifully carved oak box for storing the treasured Bible.  After Henry V111 declared that all bibles should be written in English (not Latin) so that they were accessible to ordinary folk who could read, it became fashionable for families to keep a Bible at home.  Wealthier families would store their bible in such a box.

Of course I visited Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare, his wife Anne, and other members of his family are buried.  It is traditional for all the dignitaries and important visitors who attend the bard’s birthday celebrations, to bring flowers to the grave.  At this time of year, when daffodils are still abundant, the sight and smell in the church is quite literally breathtaking.  There was a rather unusual floral tribute with Shakespeare’s dates on it.  It was standing on trestles with a huge candle at each corner.  It had been processed through the town earlier in the day looking rather coffin-like.

I have celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday in Stratford many times, most notably the 400th anniversary  one in 1964, but I have never before attended a commemoration of his death. It was odd as both events occurred on the same date.  But I have to say it was all very tasteful ~ well except for the countless people wearing Shakespeare masks?!

Do enjoy some of my photos below.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The Seven Ages of Man on Stained Glass in the Swan Theatre

Holy Trinity Church

King Edward Sixth School

Around The Town

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery ~ very close to my old school!

http://theshakespeareblog.com/2015/09/shakespeare-sir-thomas-more-and-the-immigrants/

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 

Kew dinnertime

Kew dinnertime

My photos for the weekly photo challenge come from my visit to Kew Gardens.  The weather was so glorious that visitors and school groups chose to eat outside in the beautiful surroundings.

Kew Gardens are in Richmond, London and we went there yesterday for a Spring time coach trip with Carers Gloucestershire.  This is a wonderful charity that can be a real lifeline for both carers and the cared-for.  For myself it provided a very rare opportunity to go somewhere beautiful with my husband and enjoy a stress free day.  The volunteers and staff of Carer’s Gloucestershire did everything they could to make the day as relaxing as possible.  I am deeply grateful to them for their organisation, their practical support and the funding that subsidised the trip.

The weather was glorious with blue skies and warm sunshine ~ just perfect for seeing the abundant cherry blossom, exotic magnolia and camellia, fabulous fritillaries, drifts of daffodils in the gardens, and woodlands blanketed in bluebells in this glorious and historic park.

Apart from the beautiful plants and impressive landscapes at Kew, we saw some lovely lakes with swans nesting, ducks flying or ambling about, and grumpy geese arguing with each other.  We also saw Jays, peacocks, and lots of noisy green parakeets, which have taken up residence in the trees and are the cause of lots of damage to fruits and buds we were told.

We loved the historic buildings and mock roman ruins situated near the gateways, which also sport beautiful sculptures.  My favourite was the Unicorn near the Victoria Gate.

There are some truly enormous glass buildings, including the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse, which was closed for restoration while we were there.  I can’t wait to see it when it opens.  But the Palm House, Orangery, and various conservatories were open to view.

Sadly, it was impossible to see everything in just one afternoon.  I walked miles as it was and only managed to see about a quarter of the gardens.  There is a road train which does a tour taking an hour and a half which would have been a good idea, but there is nothing better than just walking around soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park.

I really hope to be going back!

I have posted just some of my photos below, but if you want to read the fascinating history of Kew Gardens and how Henry V111 was involved in it click on

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8301243/A-history-of-Kew-Gardens.html

or http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens

Landscape ~ For ever, for everyone

Landscape ~ For ever, for everyone

 

Tailor of Gloucester Shop on left

The Tailor of Gloucester’s Shop recreated inside and out as illustrated by Beatrix Potter

Landscape is the theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge and it inspired me to get out and about on a literary trail with my little Panasonic camera.

So many of our great writers were, and still are, inspired by the landscape.  I know I have previously blogged about Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, and I have probably exhausted my readers with photos of Shakespeare’s Stratford on Avon, so just for a change, I set off for Gloucester, and The Tailor of Gloucester’s house in particular.

I chose this because 2016 marks the 150th birthday of Beatrix Potter who wrote a delightful story about the Tailor of Gloucester following her success with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. I am auditioning this month to be part of a community choir that will perform in the Everyman Theatre’s professional production of The Tailor of Gloucester and I could not be more excited.  The theatre, in my home town, is putting on the play to celebrate the 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the fact that a new Beatrix Potter story has been discovered. The new book, called The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, is to be published on 1 September 2016.

Beatrix Potter was passionately interested in conserving and protecting the landscape to be enjoyed by everyone.  She was a great supporter of, and benefactor to, what is now the National Trust, whose Motto is the title of this blog~ “For ever, for everyone”.  She was so generous to the trust in fact that when they moved their headquarters to the site of the Steam Museum in Swindon, they named it Heelis, which was Beatrix’s married name.  Altogether Beatrix bequeathed to the nation the 15 farms she had bought in the Lake District comprising over 4000 acres of land, farm buildings, cattle and flocks of rare Herdwick sheep.

The building which now represents the Tailor of Gloucester’s house and shop can be traced back to 1535.  It is in a historic cobbled street which leads through an ancient archway into the cathedral grounds.  Having been through many changes, the building was eventually bought by Beatrix Potter’s publisher, Frederick Warne and Co Ltd in 1978.  Using the illustrations which Beatrix did for the story, they replicated her vision of the inside and front of the building.  

While in the shop I read an account of the remarkable background to the story:

“The inspiration for this story came in May 1894 when Beatrix Potter was staying with her cousin, Caroline Hutton.  Whilst at the Hutton’s home, Harescombe Grange, which lies 5 miles South of Gloucester, Caroline told Beatrix the curious tale of a local tailor.  Closing the shop at Saturday lunchtime with a waistcoat cut out but not sewn together, he was surprised to discover when, on Monday morning he opened the shop again, that apart from one button hole, the waistcoat had been sewn together.  A tiny note was pinned to the button hole which read, ‘no more twist’.  Beatrix requested that they visit Gloucester the next day when she saw the tailor’s shop and sketched some of the city’s buildings.”

Spoiler Alert!

The actual event did of course have a much more logical prosaic explanation than the wonderfully magical one imagined by Miss Beatrix Potter.

There was an actual tailor in Gloucester called Mr Pritchard who worked in a building at the end of the lane leading to the Cathedral.  He was young and very keen to succeed.  He did have an order for a very important client which he had not managed to complete.  He left the garment all cut out when he closed up his shop on Saturday lunchtime ready to be finished on Monday.  However, his two assistants, knowing how worried he was about the garment, came back over the weekend and finished it beautifully for him.

Poor Mr Pritchard, who had obviously been worrying all weekend was amazed when he found the garment completed so beautifully.  In fact he was so surprised that he put a sign in the shop window saying he believed fairies had sewn the garment.

It was some time later that his assistants admitted their part in the mystery and his wife eventually broke the story.

But of course Beatrix had elaborated on the event as only she could, making it Christmas and the poor tailor ill.  It is believed that she actually used her Gloucester friend’s coachman, Percy Parton, as the model for her illustrations of the tailor.  Her other illustrations were drawings that she had done in and around Gloucester and Harescombe Grange.  The most identifiable picture is of College Court, the lovely old lane leading from Westgate Street to St Michael’s Gate, an ancient entrance to old Abbey, now the Cathedral precincts.

Beatrix chose number 9 College Court as the setting for her tailor’s shop and this is the building which Frederick Warne and Co Ltd purchased and restored just as Beatrix had imagined it in her illustrations.

Below are some of my photos from the actual shop.

 

Do enjoy some landscape photos from around the Cathedral Grounds and the Gloucester Docks close by the Tailor of Gloucester’s shop.

Getting Romantic in Stratford on Avon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we treated ourselves to a weekend in Stratford on Avon.  The weather was perfect; crisp and cold with a hint of frost in the mornings, and glorious sunshine in the afternoons.  Spring is such a beautiful season in the UK and it has definitely started early this year.

I could never tire of going to Stratford.  I always learn something new about the life and times of William Shakespeare, and new details about the town catch my eye, which are worth a photograph. I find Stratford such a stimulating, yet relaxing place, whatever my state of mind.

During Valentine’s weekend there were smatterings of snowdrops under the trees in the churchyard and along the banks of the River Avon. It seems appropriate that snowdrops were brought to England in the early 16th century, so maybe Shakespeare would have seen some of the first ones.

There were white doves circling the spire of Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried.  They sparkled in the winter sunshine reflecting the snowdrops below.

White Doves around steeple.JPG

At the entrance to the church I photographed the small Sanctuary Door and knocker.  This door is set into the massive 15th century doors.  I have passed through it countless times not realising its importance.  But I learned that anyone who held on to the ring in the knocker of the sanctuary door, would be let in and given protection for 37 days.  This was a custom started in Saxon times to protect poor people from the harsh penalties for crime, and even from lynch mobs.  It was upheld across the land and continued well through Shakespeare’s time until 1623.

There was also a striking streetlamp outside our hotel, which I had not noticed before.  It was donated to the town by the Government of Israel.  There are wonderful decorative statues and lamps all around the town, mostly donated by ambassadors from countries where Shakespeare is revered.

Lamp donated by Israely Govt

 We stayed in the Arden Hotel, which is right opposite the Shakespeare Theatre.  In fact the building was previously owned by the theatre along with many buildings along the Waterside.  Naturally many famous people have passed through its doors over the years and inside there are some wonderful photographic portraits of famous actors in role. Put your cursor over the pictures to find the names and roles.

So my Valentine weekend was a great success, perfect weather in a beautiful season in my heart’s true home.  In the Shakespeare Centre I came across a sketch of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife and mother of his children.  It is the only known likeness of Anne and she was very beautiful.  But she looks so sad.  I suddenly saw her as a real person whom Shakespeare must have loved and missed very much.

Sketch of Ann Hathaway from her lifetime.  The only one in existence

Enjoy some more of my photographs below.

 

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

P1080460

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.

 

 

 

Catching up

Reunited Arthur Beadle, Hugh Bradley and Me, 2015

I have never been to a reunion before but this gathering was one I could not miss.  It was to celebrate the 40 years that St Thomas More Primary School has been open.

Having worked there for 16 happy years, I was keen to meet up with old colleagues and past pupils.  I left in 2001 so I was also interested to see how much the building had changed to accommodate all the educational innovations that have taken place.

And change it had!  The entrance hall which used to be a small library, is now like a hotel lobby with a rather swish curved desk where the secretary works in an open plan office.  The hall and kitchen have not changed at all, but the classrooms were very different.  There seemed to be fewer desks and chairs for pupils and no large desk for the teacher.  But the biggest change for me was NO BLACKBOARD!  On the walls were white screens/boards, which presumable are linked to the bank of keyboards below.  No huge computers now either, just small tablets (of the electronic kind) for every child.  What a transition!

I was flooded with nostalgia at the memories of chalkdust, board rubbers and metre long board rulers, protractors etc.

In the corridor, there used to be a small special needs area for individuals or group who were struggling to keep up, or needed to be stretched.  Now, that area is used by language specialists to help the many children for whom English is not their first language.

Of course most of the old team who worked at the school still get together now and again for coffee mornings, walks and meals out.  But we don’t often get to see past pupils.  It was a revelation and a joy to see so many of them there.   Most of those who attended are now in their 30’s with careers and children of their own.  Without exception they all had many happy memories.

The highlight of the evening for me was being back together with the A team ~ The first Headteacher, Arthur Beadle, his deputy, Hugh Bradley, and myself, who made a great trio even if I say so myself. I followed Arthur to become the second Headteacher in the school.  Other highlights included seeing old photos on display, and being hugged by a tall handsome 36 year old man carrying his child.  He, who shall be nameless, apologized for being such a naughty boy when he was a pupil.  He remembered spending a lot of time outside the Head’s office door!  He now has his own business and is very successful so he must have learned something!