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

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/