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.

kneeling knight

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.

medieval sunne in splendour

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/