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. 

April 21, 2017

Tanner or Barker

Samples of leather
The Anorak made a recent trip to a wonderful museum in the West Midands town of Walsall, dedicated to one of its traditional trades - leather making. There's a fascinating display there about the surnames that have developed from various skills involved in producing and using leather. Were any of your ancestors employed in leather making and use?

1 Leather production
There are lots of processes required in the production of leather and each one has resulted in surnames to identify the jobs. Such as:
Skinner - who skins the beasts
Tanner - who tans leather
Barker - another word for tanner
Currier - a leather dresser

2 Boots and shoes
Footwear is probably one of the commonest uses for leather, even today. It's given rise to a few names too.
Boot - one who made boots
Chaucer - a shoe maker: from the French word chaussure, meaning shoe

3 Other leather goods
And there are lots of other leather goods that all had their own specialist skills. For example:
Glover - who made gloves
Gant or Gaunt - another name for a glover, from the French gant
Bracegirdle - a belt maker
Purser - who made purses
Badger - a bag maker (and nothing to do with black and white animals at all!)

4 Saddlery
Making saddles and associated horse harness and tack was a very skilled job with lots of different styles for racing, hunting, and even side-saddles for the ladies.
Sadler - obviously one who made saddles
Burrell - less obviously a saddler, from the French bourrelier
Sellers - also from the French, sellier, or saddler

5 Associated metalwork
And to hold all the leather harness bits together you need lots of specially shaped metalwork, collectively known as lorinery. Walsall had plenty of associated lorinery factories that supplied the leather workers. Their skills also gave us some associated surnames.
Lorimer - a maker or dealer in lorinery
Buckler - made buckles
Sperrin - made spurs

And there you have it. Lots of hidden information in your name!  Now go across to Tricky's FAST blog to see other fives this Friday.

April 14, 2017

Shell Grotto

As promised last week we're paying another visit to Margate Shell Grotto. Here are five photos of the mysterious structure.
A view down the tunnel
There are a number of shell-decorated follies and grottoes in the UK but, unlike the majority, the grotto in Margate was created using native species - mainly mussels, cockles, whelks, limpets, scallops and oysters. Only four shells among the 4.6 million are exotic: two Caribbean queen conches and two Pacific giant clams.

This is just one of the weird things about the 104 feet long tunnel in Grotto Hill. The grotto takes the form of a winding passage that splits into two, forming a circle, then ending with a square space called the altar room. At the point where the path splits the ceiling rises to a dome with a gap at the top that allows some natural light to enter.

Looking up into the dome
The shells form a series of panels along the walls, each with complicated designs incorporating symbols and  pictograms that have been interpreted in several ways. Some people see little but attractive patterns, others have identified astrological signs, representations of ancient gods, phallic designs, and other mystical themes.

Detail from the Aries panel

According to local legend the grotto was discovered in 1835 when local landowner James Newlove decided to dig a duck pond. His son Joshua found a strange hole in the ground and James lowered him through it to see what lay beneath. The boy reported seeing pictures and a cave.  Estimates of its age vary from several thousand years, to Victorian folly.

Part of the 'skeleton' panel

Other ideas have included the suggestion that the site was prehistoric; it might have been a Templar Chapel; or Newlove built the tunnels himself. Whatever the truth, the grotto became a tourist attraction within a couple of years, earning Newlove a considerable income.

Detail of a pattern - with old graffiti!

It's been open to the public ever since, and it recently underwent a programme of restoration to prevent water damage. A new project was launched in 2012 to replace missing 'roundels'. Some parts of the patterns were created by fixing them to circles of slate, which have since fallen away. Those slates are now being repaired.

Now drop by Tricky's FAST blog to see other Five on Friday posts.

April 10, 2017


It's April, and the month began with such beautiful weather that I couldn't help but remember Robert Browning's poem Home Thoughts from Abroad:

O, to be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

Our recent trip south also reminded me of something my Dad used to say - that the seasons march up and down the country at approximate walking speed. The apple trees of the Kent orchards were all in beautiful blossom whereas here in the Midlands the buds had yet to break. On our return our local trees are catching up.

Of course, April's also the month in which the cuckoo is known to arrive and traditionally across England there used to be Cuckoo Fairs to mark the season change and the arrival of Spring. Many involved releasing a cuckoo from a basket, though in Marsden in West Yorkshire they used to build a fence around a cuckoo's nest to try to make it stay longer.

April 07, 2017

Margate 5

Sorry for a very brief Five this week. We've been away for my birthday.  Where?  Margate. (It's in Kent.) So here's five things from there.

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea.  Hundreds of men and women up and down the country risk their lives regularly in rough and hazardous seas to go to the help of others. There's a rescue boat near the harbour arm in Margate.

This clock is on the tower of the tourist information office, known as the Droit House, a building which used to act as the customs house and also the place where ships paid fees to enter the harbour.

The artist JMW Turner said Margate had the finest skies in all of Europe.  And I have to admit they've been pretty good this week.

Turner was a bit of a rogue and in later life lived in Margate with a Mrs Booth - seaside landlady. While there he was known as Mr Booth, even though he had a wife and children back home in London.  There's a sculpture on the harbour arm that's called Mrs Booth, and it's shaped like a souvenir shell lady - except it's MUCH bigger.

And finally - hidden in a back street away from the town centre is a mysterious cave. 104 feet long and decorated with 4.6 million shells. No-one knows who made it, when or why, but it was discovered in the 1830s and opened as a tourist attraction very shortly after. It deserves a post of its own - so watch out for more about it later.

This has been a very bitty Five on Friday post. Now head over to Tricky's FAST blog to see others that have been put together with much more care than mine!