December 28, 2020

White Rabbit

The church of St Mary in Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, is known for its wonderful carvings.  It also has literary connections. Perhaps the most famous is the link to Lewis Carroll, who is believed to have visited the church and seen a carving in the north choir aisle.

The depiction of a hare dates from medieval times, when it would have represented purity. However it's shown with a satchel and a scallop shell, so it could be a symbol of St James, and pilgrimage. St James’s shrine, at Santiago de Compostella in Spain, has been a destination for pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.

Whatever the reason for its inclusion, the hare bears a remarkable resemblance to the white rabbit as drawn by John Tenniel for his illustrations of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, published in 1865. 

In keeping with the literary theme, new stonework in early 2021 restorations will have characters from C S Lewis's books, including The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

June 09, 2017

Five clocks (four clocks and a sign, really)

Yes, it's a clock. Specifically it's the clock on the top of Scarborough railway station. It's a symbol from my teen years because it stands opposite the old Odeon Cinema (which is now the Stephen Joseph Theatre where Alan Aykbourn plays are always premiered) and many's the evening or afternoon that I've stood looking at this clock while waiting to meet a date. (You get to know it particularly well on the occasions that said date doesn't turn up.  How much longer do I leave it before I accept that I've been stood up?)

Scarborough station opened on Monday 7 July 1845, following the completion of the line from York. The station clock was added in about 1884, and was built by Potts of Leeds costing £110, or around £10,000 at today's prices.  The whole building is Grade II listed. Interestingly (and something I didn't know until I began my research) it has the longest station bench in the world, at a staggering 95 yards long.
It was needed to accommodate the hundreds of tourists who flocked to the town to drink the spa waters and enjoy the sea air.

You might have seen this wonderful thing before if you read my blogs regularly. It's clearly labelled with its date and purpose. What's a range you ask?  It's the thing you cook fish and chips in, and this was the clock that I used to stare at while waiting for my "six penn'orth of chips and scraps" at my local chippy.

The old range didn't meet modern catering hygiene standards and was replaced by a shining stainless steel construction a few years back. I can still remember the beautiful green and off-white sunray back plate in wonderful art deco style. I'm pleased to say that they kept the clock.

Except it isn't a clock, it's a timepiece. What's the difference?  A clock chimes. It has a bell. Indeed the word clock derives from various old Germanic, Celtic and French words for bell - like clocca and glocken.

Here's one for my transatlantic friends. It is, of course, the clock in the heart of Grand Central Station in New York. Grand Central is a rapid transit railroad station and you can find it at 42nd and Park. They use the word 'iconic' a lot these days but this thing truly is. Wikipedia says: "The four-faced brass clock on top of the information booth was designed by Henry Edward Bedford (1860–1932) and cast in Waterbury, Connecticut. Each of the four clock faces is made from opalescent glass, though urban legend has it that the faces are made of opal and that Sotheby's and Christie's have estimated their value to be between $10 million and $20 million."

You'll need to look very closely at this one even to spot the clock, let alone see why it's important. It's in the Nottinghamshire village of Gotham (pronounced Goat-um. Sorry to disappoint you.) and it's on the side of the bus depot.  Look really closely though......
Yes - it does say Gotham City and that is the bat symbol above the six!

Which brings us to five.
This one is self-explanatory. A horologist is a clock maker and repairer. Literally 'one who studies the hours'. I've always loved this sign. It's in the gorgeous Somerset village of Dunster and it's just so perfect for the shop. A huge pocket-watch hanging over the door.

So there you are.  Now the clocks are saying it's time for you to travel over to Tricky's FAST Blog to see other Fives this Friday.

June 02, 2017

Five from York

The Minster
 Yorkshire's a funny county. They do things slightly differently there. For example, they eat fruit cake with cheese. (Try it before you sneer!) And where everyone else calls the biggest church in an area a cathedral, York (and other Yorkshire towns) has a Minster. Apparently, according to the Internet, a Minster church is one that was established in Anglo-Saxon times and was attached to a monastery. (But that doesn't explain why Peterborough Cathedral isn't a Minster.) Anyhow, one of the most beautiful sights in York is the Minster. It's a lovely church and really is the heart of Yorkshire - a name they have given to one of the Minster's glorious stained glass windows. Only an outside view, I'm afraid, but you can make out the heart pretty much central to the photo.

Bars and gates
Talking of doing things differently - this is Micklegate Bar. It's one of the ways through the old city walls. (Incidentally, York has one of the most complete, original medieval city walls in the UK.) You might think it's called Micklegate because it's a gate, right? Well it isn't. Gate means street. Bar means gate. And mickle means small. So this is Little Street Gate. 

The Shambles
 The Shambles is one of York's best known streets. It has lots of claims to fame: Europe's most visited street; Europe's best preserved Medieval street; and most recently, the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. In fact you can hear lots of different languages as you walk along the narrow way: you don't understand a word until someone says "Diagon Alley", then continues talking in whatever native tongue they're using.

The word Shambles originates from the Medieval word shamel, which meant booth or bench. The street was the home of the butchers of York and the road has deep channels at each side where water could be sluiced through to wash away the blood and waste.

The street is so narrow, and the buildings overhang so far, that it's possible to shake hands across the road from the upper storeys.

Clifford's Tower
Clifford’s Tower is one of York's best known landmarks. It is part of the old York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England. It's a motte and bailey structure: the motte being the steep mound and the bailey being the flat area around the mound. Originally there was an 11th-century timber tower on top but it was burned down in 1190, when York’s Jewish community, some 150 strong, was besieged by a mob and forced to seek refuge inside. They committed mass suicide. The present limestone tower dates from the 13th century and was surrounded by a moat

The views from the top are stunning, although tourists don't care about walking in front of you while you're trying to capture it on video. And they seem to ignore the 'one way system' signs on the narrow, spiral staircases. Ho hum.

Lastly we're going back in time and forward at the same time. York was, of course, established by the Romans, who called it Eboracum. There are still remnants of the old Roman town. Stonegate, for example, has the original Roman street below it and anyone having to dig up the road soon finds Roman masonry. There's a Roman pillar stands opposite the Minster, marking the site of the basilica. It was found during repair excavations at the Minster in 1969 and erected nearby. Between the pillar and the Minster is one of my favourite public sculptures in the whole country. It's Constantine the Great by Philip Jackson; a life size bronze of the Emperor sitting in an elaborate chair and holding a broken sword. Constantine was declared emperor in York in the year 306.

OK so now you have to go and visit the wonderful Tricky over at FAST blog to see what other fives people have collected this week. 

May 26, 2017

Kirby Muxloe

William, Lord Hastings was a favourite of King Edward IV who made a small fortune during the Wars of the Roses and decided to spend it on a very impressive new house at Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire. The village was the site of an existing manor house belonging to his family, who also owned nearby Ashby de la Zouch Castle.

Unfortunately William's fortunes changed when Richard, Duke of Gloucester - later Richard III - seized the throne and took a dislike to  him. Richard had William's head chopped off, and work on the wonderful house stopped, with just one tower completed, in 1483.

Just one complete tower
However, what remains of the castle shows what a magnificent structure it was going to be. Built in the wonderful new material - brick - which was the height of fashion and very expensive at that time. The never finished gatehouse is probably the most impressive part still remaining. It has ornate brick work and dark patterns built in to the rich red courses that symbolise William in happier times.

Decorated in darker brick
A few technical terms: course means a horizontal row of bricks; diaper work is a pattern of bricks in a different colour from the main body, particularly in the form of a criss-cross design; bricks have short ends - headers - and long ends - stretchers; bond is the way in which headers and stretchers are mixed to create the overall pattern. Flemish bond has alternate headers and stretchers in a course, English bond has alternate courses of headers and stretchers. (More about bricks here)

Magnificent spiral stairs
Kirby Muxloe is surrounded by a moat, and there were gun ports built into the gateway. There's no evidence that these were ever planned to be defensive structures, however. They might just have been for show, as a display of William's position and power.

Now off you go over to Tricky's FAST Blog to see other Fives this Friday!

May 19, 2017

Five little challenges

A couple of weeks ago we visited Brodsworth Hall and I shared the garden with you. At the time I promised a return to take a look at the inside.  It's a fascinating place and I can't possibly do it justice in a single post, so I thought I'd approach it from a different angle. Let's take a look at the challenges of looking after a house of such an age and in such a dilapidated state. You'll be surprised how much it has in common with your own housekeeping - and how much is different.

Brodsworth has a unique way of pointing out the problems it faces in conserving the furniture and fabrics. Rather than making you squirm with tales of nastiness they have introduced wonderful, fluffy toy models of the pests living around the house. Like this "woolly bear", for example,which represents the larva of the carpet moth. As you can see from the photo within the photo - the real thing isn't quite so cute!

Let's face it, nobody enjoys dusting but leaving it in place in a historic house is not an option. Dust is not an innocuous substance that can be easily swept away with the wipe of a cloth. In fact, if it's been in place long enough its chemical properties change and it starts to stick. Meanwhile, those chemical changes can affect the object the dust lies on, damaging the surface. Cleaning is a careful process, because rough handling can cause more damage than the dust! You can see some of the tools they use in the photo.

Most of us, particularly those in older homes, have at some point suffered the arrival of the small, grey intruder Mus domesticus - the house mouse. They cause two sorts of damage - basically one from each end. Firstly, they gnaw. They'll eat their way through anything that poses a barrier for them. Their sharp teeth will go through most things and nothing is really safe. This includes cables, so there's an increased risk of fire. The other end, of course, produces some disgusting stuff. Did you know, for example, that mice pee constantly?  It's partly so they can tell where they are. When in doubt, follow the smelly trail home. But they also leave nasty little black packages. which aren't just dirty, they're corrosive.

One problem a large house faces is needing a lot of fireplaces. And a lot of fires means a lot of chimneys. But once the house starts to close down the chimneys aren't maintained and fall victim to bird nests.Then, when the nests are abandoned, the pests move in. One such is the golden spider beetle, and once it gets bored with nest material it is partial to wool, with ensuing damage to the house's carpets!

Then there's a problem you might not have expected. You might remember from the previous post that the last resident of the house, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, was fond of pets. You might also remember that we discussed the possible identity of Binkie Pippy, named on a headstone in the pet cemetery. Well, Binkie and Pippy were actually two animals, spaniels, and for a lot of their lives they were never allowed outside. So when English Heritage took over the house and began the programme of conservation they found a lot of 'evidence' of the dogs' presence. Dog urine is acidic, and there were many holes in curtains and carpets as well as extensive staining.

So, on that fragrant note, I suggest you drop by Tricky's FAST blog to see what more pleasant topics people have found this week!

May 12, 2017

Five things: the Cinque Ports

Entrance to Walmer Castle
There is a group of old towns on the south east coast of Britain called the Cinque Ports. The name is Norman French and means "five ports" because that's how many of them there originally were. Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich. New Romney, however,  was damaged by storms and its harbour silted up, so its place was taken by Rye, which was already associated with the group in a way described below.

The five initially joined forces to create a military and trade association to defend the area against potential threats from the English Channel but the arrangement is now completely ceremonial.

The first team must have been proud of the name because they never changed it, in spite of enrolling lots of other towns to support them. Rye (mentioned above) and Winchelsea, were designated "Antient Towns" and the many other places were deemed to be 'limbs' of the original five. At its height the Cinque Ports alliance included 42 towns and villages - but quarante-deux ports doesn't have the same ring to it.

Among them were Bekesbourne, Bulverhythe, Eastbourne, Bexhill-on-Sea, Pevensey, Reculver, Sarre, Walmer, Ramsgate, Brightlingsea, Birchington, St John's (part of Margate), Margate, Folkestone, Ringwould, Woodchurch, Kingsdown and West Hythe. (This is not an exhaustive list!)

Incidentally, it's pronounced "sink ports" not "sank" like proper French would be. But then, Happisburgh in Norfolk is pronounced "Hazebruh" so what does the south east coast know?

In 1155 the Cinque Ports received a Royal Charter to maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of need. The towns were expected to provide 57 ships for 15 days service each, but in exchange residents were exempt from a number of taxes and had various rights - one of which was the right to break into someone's property in order to build sea defences! They were also allowed to keep some of the salvage from shipwrecks. Such privileges made the area a haven for smugglers because the revenue men stayed out of their way. 

Over the years flood, high tides, the French and other marauding forces changed the coast in many ways. Erosion and geological movement mean that Sandwich, for example, is now three miles inland. Hastings harbour was sacked by the French in the 13th century and the town no longer acts as a port. (Though it's a lovely fishing town, but they haul the boats up onto the beach.)

In keeping with their current ceremonial status the Cinque Ports today have an official leader called the Lord Warden. The title has often been held by Prime Ministers or other big wigs. Pitt the Younger was Lord Warden in the 18th century and around 20 years later the role went to Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Winston Churchill was appointed, as was The Queen Mother. The current holder is Admiral of the Fleet Michael, Baron Boyce. One thing they all have in common is that the post gives them the right to live in Walmer Castle - though these days they tend to have a ceremonial annual week, rather than permanent residence.

Like lots of things in this fair country, the Cinque Ports are a remnant of an older time that are now completely irrelevant, but they impress younger countries who can’t trace their traditions back 200 years, let alone nearly 1,000. They’re pointless. But we can’t quite bear to get rid of them.

Now go over to Tricky's FAST blog to see more Fives on Friday. 

April 28, 2017


Brodsworth Hall - note the scaffolding
Just outside Doncaster there's a magnificent Victorian pile called Brodsworth Hall. To cut a long story short it fell on hard times after WWI and began to crumble gradually away so that, by the time English Heritage took it over in the 1990s, it was a faded remnant of its former glory.

In opposition to how most heritage organisation behave, EH decided to consolidate it 'as found' rather than restoring it. Today it's in the middle of a massive project to make it safe and suitable for visitors. It's wrapped in scaffolding and largely sheathed in plastic.

The gardens, however, are magnificent. Glorious sunshine gave me the chance to wander round and see them in their full wonder.  Here's some photos:
View to the hall across the fountain garden from under the laburnum arch. I'm determined to go back and see it when it's in flower. End of May should do it.
Round the back of the hall is a sweet little pet cemetery with carved headstones for the various animals. One says simply 'Polly parrot' while others give hints such as 'good boy', so I'm assuming that was a dog. There are no clues as to the species of Binkie Pippy, however. Sounds like a bunny to me!

The grounds are scattered with statuary and ghostly white figures in various degrees of dress stand around looking classical. I kind of liked this young lady feeding the pigeons. 

And then there was the real wildlife.  You get a hint of the colour from the fountain garden in this shot so the delightful robin isn't easy to spot, but he sat there singing his heart out for a while and seemed happy to have his photo taken. 

Now off you go over to Tricky's FAST blog to see the other Five on Friday posts. Happy weekend all.