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/

 

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.

 

 

Vivid Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

To His Love’

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

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

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

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

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

The Bugle

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

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

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 2

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

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

Windows 1 & 2

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

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

Windows 3 & 4

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

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

“Pain, pain continual; pain unending;….

Grey monotony lending

Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes

An army of grey bedraggled scarecrows in rows

Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.

Seeing pitiful eyes of men foredone,

Or horses shot, too tired to merely stir,

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

…………………………………….

The amazed heart cries out to God.

Windows 5 & 6

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

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

Windows 7 & 8

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

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

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-153

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

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

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