February 24, 2017

Trent Washlands

Statue of St Modwen
by John Fortnum

The earliest written record of the town of Burton on Trent dates from the 7th century, when St Modwen built a chapel dedicated to Saint Andrew on an island in the river. She constructed a well nearby and the water was reputed to cure all ills.

Wikipedia tells us that Modwen, or Modwenna was an Irish noblewoman who became a nun. After setting up the chapel in Burton she and two fellow nuns made a pilgrimage to Rome. On their return they built a church at nearby Stapenhill dedicated to St Peter and St Paul.

View across the Washlands
In 874 the town was invaded by Vikings, who are believed to have destroyed St Modwen's chapel. Only a cherry orchard and yew trees mark the site today.

Sculpture representing the prow
of a viking ship
The Saxon earl Wulfric Sport later built an abbey on the banks of the river and included a shrine to St Modwen. It was the monks of that abbey who sank more wells in the surrounding marsh and began brewing beer - the trade for which the town is now best known.

Much of the town's early history, including the site of St Modwen's chapel, is now covered by a public park called the Washlands.  And dotted around the area are sculptures representing key figures and products.

Being a river town (they don't call it "on Trent" for nothing) Burton needs bridges, and the first one was built by the abbey monks, but their structure was replaced in 1864 by one that was strong enough to cope with the industrial traffic the town attracted by then. The Washlands are also crossed by a causeway that enables people from the Stapenhill area to walk to the centre of town, even when the river is in flood.

Like Marmite, for example. Apologies to any of my overseas readers who have never tasted the yeasty spread. It's a by-product of the brewing industry and, as the adverts say, you either love it or hate it. Personally I'm a fan. Anyone who knows it will instantly recognise the Marmite jar sculpture standing close to the washlands.

This has been a Five on Friday post, joining in with Amy at Love Made My Home. 

February 16, 2017

I fully admit that I have nothing prepared for this week's Five on Friday. It's been a tough week.

Here's five photos of post boxes.  I can't tell you much about them, other than where they are.
This one's in Bath.We stayed there for a long weekend a couple of years ago and walked past this between town and our hotel. It's Victorian, as you can see from the impression on the front. Pretty, huh?
We found this one a few weeks ago in Shrewsbury. It's right next to the Abbey (of Brother Cadfael fame) Also Victorian, but not the same design as the last pic. Taller and narrower. Someone on my Flickr feed has trumpeted this as being 'original' and warned against replica and fake 'Victorian' boxes in other parts of the country.  I'd hate to think the Bath one isn't real.
Oddly, this is just round the corner from the Shrewsbury Abbey model. I admit I've never seen a wall-mounted Victorian box before, so it might be what my Flickr pal was warning me about.
Another wall mounted version - this time a lot younger. It's in Castle Donington in Leicestershire. I love the way it's been given its own 'frame', presumably to give it enough space at the back to hold posted letters. Look at the size of its 'mouth'. Letters have clearly got much bigger since Victorian times.

I've saved the best till last. Ignore the ugly brickwork and very poor standard pointing. This one can be found in the old Cadbury village of Bournville just outside Birmingham. George Cadbury cared deeply about his work force and built a special village for them surrounding the factory. It offered much higher standards of living than were available in the city. Green open spaces, large houses, gardens, and relatively clean air.  The architecture was also tasteful, as shown by this wonderful post box. As far as I know it's unique.

Sorry this post's pathetic. I promise to try harder next week!

February 10, 2017

Snicket - or is it?

Compass Passage, Shrewsbury
Back when I was a young Anorak there was a short cut from our street to the centre of my village. It was a paved gap between two sets of houses and we always referred to it as "the snicket". I grew up in North Yorkshire, close to the east coast, but the word was my mother's, and she came from West Yorkshire; altogether closer to the spine of England. According to my recent research, snicket is actually a north western word, originating from the Lake District.

My part of the world is apparently more likely to call such an alleyway a ginnel*, although it's not a word I heard until I moved to South Yorkshire. A friend who now lives in Sheffield (South Yorkshire) but is originally from Derbyshire, calls them jennels, which is clearly from the same source.
* Pronounced like give, not like gin.

I currently live in the East Midlands where, I'm reliably informed by the OED, that the term for a passage between houses is a twitchel. Its earliest recorded use was from the 15th century in Nottingham, and it's believed to be a variant of the Old English word twichen, which was used in Anglo Saxon charters for a place where two roads met.

Back up north in Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne they call them chares, and evidence comes from a 13th century map of Gateshead that included the street Potter's Chare. However, if you head south to Oxfordshire you'll find the obviously related words tchure, chure and chewer. They're all probably corruptions of the Old English cierr, meaning turning.

And that brings us to Scotland, where they spoke a completely different language for many years and still sound as if they do in some parts of the country. Way up there alleyways are called wynds - pronounced like whined - and the origin might be similar to that of the word wind (as in to twist). Incidentally, narrow boat people talk about 'winding' when they turn a boat around. It's pronounced like the North Wind (doth blow, and we shall have snow, etc) and it takes a bit of getting used to when you first hear it regularly. But that's yet another glory of the English language!

Research from: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/10/regional-words-alleyway/

This has been a Five on Friday post.

February 03, 2017

History sculptures

One thing I love is public sculpture  that is, things that you find on the street, or the side of buildings, rather than having to go into a galery or museum to see.

Here, for Five on Friday, are a selection of statues or sculptures that commemorate something historical.

Jersey was the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by Germany during the second world war.  This is a sculpture commemorating the liberation. It stands in a square in St Helier where the advance parties of the Royal Navy and British Army landed to drive out the German forces.

The design met with severe criticism from some sources because it shows a group of figures releasing doves of peace. any pointed out that conditions under German rule had been so strict that people were close to starvation and any doves on teh island would have been eaten!

It's by Philip Jackson. One of my favourite sculptors.

This one stands on a traffic roundabout in Birmingham, outside the Castle Bromwich Jaguar (engine) factory. It's called Sentinel, and it shows a number of Spitfire planes (which had Jaguar engines) taking off. It's by Tim Tolkien, great grand nephew of the Lord of the Rings author.

This bronze by Shona Kinloch sits in the market place in Loughborough (which just won an award for being one of the best outdoor markets in the country - and it is) and represents much more than the town's connection with the hosiery industry.

From the national public art record.....
"According to the sculptor, the 'sock pattern echoes the zig-zag of the new bollards in the Market Place, while the surrounding Art Deco buildings (e.g. the Curzon Cinema) inspired his deco hair cut'. On the figure's right arm is an incised tattoo of a heart above the word 'Loughborough' set within a scroll motif. The bollard on which he sits is decorated with incised images from the history of the town: a railway track and train, representing Thomas Cook's first tourist excursion from Leicester to Loughborough in 1842, a canal and barge representing the introduction of the Soar Navigation and Leicester Navigation in the eighteenth century, factories and sheep for the woollen industry, one of local agriculturalist Robert Bakewell's longhorn cattle, bells to represent the town's bell-founding industry, and the towers, etc. of Loughborough University. The sculptor has also commemorated the year in which she began the piece with an image of the Hale Bop comet."

On the night of 14 October 1881 a terrible storm blew up off the east of Scotland that affected almost every fishing village along the coast.

The storm devastated the fishing fleet and 189 fishermen were drowned, many within sight of the shore. 129 were from Eyemouth, 24 from Burnmouth, 15 from Newhaven, 11 from Cove, 7 from Musselburgh, and 3 from Coldingham Shore (now called St Abbs) More than 70 women were widowed and 300 plus children left without fathers as a result.

This is one of a series of monuments that stand along the shore in the villages that lost their men. Erected to mark the 125th anniversary of the disaster. St Abbs Bronze sculpted by Jill Watson.

This photo fails to give any idea of the scale of this piece. It's huge: 35 feet high and 27 feet wide.

The sculpture in Tunstall, part of Stoke on Trent, stands at the centre of a new shopping precinct, which used to be the site of the old Wedgwood factory. It represents a shard of Roman pottery, carrying the potter's fingerprint, that was found in an underground kiln when the site was redeveloped. Truly this piece marks the centuries of pottery production in the area.

It's by sculptor Robert Erskine who very kindly contacted me after I posted this photo on Flickr wondering why it hadn't been made in ceramic. It wouldn't have worked, apparently, and certainly wouldn't have survived very long. The Tunstall Shard is stainless steel and should be good for a couple of centuries. It's also wonderful.