A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ToonSarah

In Metro-Land

Ruislip

Ruislip is a pleasant suburb in north west London, with an ancient village at its heart which was mentioned in the Doomsday Book. It is also the town where I grew up, and where my parents continued to live until old age and ill health necessitated a move away for the last few years of their lives.

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Domesday Book info in the library

When the Doomsday Book was written, in 1086, Ruislip was known as Rislepe, ‘leaping place on the river where rushes grow’, and (as I was always told as a child) had more pigs than human inhabitants. These pigs roamed the extensive woodlands, and Ruislip Woods remain to this day, although smaller than they once were.

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With my sister by Ruislip Duck Pond
- I am on the right

The village grew up around the 13th century parish church dedicated to St Martin. The barns belonging to the former Manor Farm, just to the north of the church, still stand. Nearby is the village duck-pond, where as a child I loved to throw bread to the ducks.

Ruislip remained quite small, and rural, until the coming of the Metropolitan railway at the start of the 20th century. At first the new line and station were used mainly by Londoners wanting to escape to the country for a day, but soon the charms of living here lured many to move out to the suburbs, and development in Ruislip mushroomed. The population rose from 6,217 in 1911, to 72,791 in 1961, and growth was especially fast in the 1930s, as the many houses from this era testify.

This was the period of Metro-Land, a vision of a suburban idyll developed as part of a Metropolitan Railway advertising campaign designed to lure workers away from their cramped homes in Central London and out to a supposed ‘paradise’ that was rural in appearance and lifestyle and yet was in easy reach of their jobs in the capital.

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Metroland poster
- (from wikicommons)

The notion was simple: the railway would buy the farmers' fields that lay either side of the newly expanding railway line and build on them. But while the posters that formed the bulk of the campaign showed a sylvan landscape where ladies in hats picked flowers and drifted through sun-speckled meadows, and families picnicked in perpetual sunshine, of course the building programme destroyed the very landscape that these posters seemed to sell. Meanwhile, the occasional attractive mock-Tudor house shown in those same posters was the exception rather than the norm – most of the construction being of functional brick and pebble-dash terraces.

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Typical 1930s terraced housing

I lived for ten years of my childhood in such a house – a comfortable if uninspiring family home in a street of many more such. But we were happy there, and it was a vast improvement on the tiny flat in Regents Park where my parents had started their married life together. The Metro-Land lifestyle was later immortalised by the poet John Betjeman:

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Ruislip Gardens station today

‘Gaily into Ruislip Gardens
Runs the red electric train,
With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's
Daintily alights Elaine;
Hurries down the concrete station
With a frown of concentration,
Out into the outskirt's edges
Where a few surviving hedges
Keep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesex again.’

Ruislip Gardens was my home from the age of four to fourteen, and I would often watch those red trains (or the 1960s maroon equivalents) from my bedroom window, as I waited for my father (not Elaine!) to alight and come home from work.

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Our (2nd) Ruislip home

Later my parents were able to buy a house in Ruislip proper that more closely fitted the mock Tudor poster image, an attractive early 1930s house. Living here as a teenager, and starting to take an interest in the history of Ruislip (now that we lived nearer to its historic heart), I was fascinated by the anecdotes of a neighbour, a woman then in her seventies, who had lived here since the street was first developed. She remembered having to wear rubber boots to walk across the fields that separated her house from the station, changing there into smart ‘town shoes’ and leaving the boots and a lantern with the station-master, to be collected on her return for the night-time walk home. Those fields have long since been covered by other streets and other houses, and even today development is on-going, with some of the larger houses built in the 1930s being pulled down to make way for modern apartments or smaller family homes.

But something of that earlier sense of living a little apart from the hustle of the city remains, and the modern-day equivalents of Betjeman’s Elaine still alight from tube trains each evening and breathe, no doubt, a sigh of relief at being somewhere calmer and quieter. For me, a city-lover, Ruislip now seems too quiet and remote from the action to appeal as a possible home, but I still have that same sense of a slower pace of life whenever I visit and I can understand why Ruislip still lures people to move here with a desire to experience that Metro-Land lifestyle.

And the ancient heart of the former village is still there...

St Martin’s Church

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St Martin's Church

The church of St Martin’s was built in 1245 and probably stands on the site of earlier wooden and Norman stone churches. A stone from the latter was found in the grounds, and some Norman stones appear to have been incorporated in this structure, as well as Roman tiles indicating that prior to all the churches a pagan temple may have stood here.

The name St. Martin is believed to have been given to the church by the Benedictine monks of the Bec Abbey, after Martin of Tours, a saint in Normandy. Ruislip had been given to the Abbey of Le Bec-Hellouin in 1087 by a Norman lord, Ernulf de Hesdin, who himself had acquired this land after the Norman Conquest. The present structure is of flint and stone, and has a bell tower added in the 15th century. This houses eight bells which are still rung every Sunday, I believe.

Inside there are some medieval wall-paintings, a priest’s door and two ancient wooden chests. The pulpit is from the 17th century and the stained glass from the 19th and 20th. I always look too for the memorial to Lady Mary Bankes, which bears this inscription:
‘To the memory of LADY MARY BANKES, the only daughter of Ralph Hawtry, of Riselip, in the county of Middlesex, esq, the wife and widow of the Honourable Sir John Bankes, knight, late Lord Chief Justice of his Majesty's Court of Common Pleas, and of the Privy Council of his Majesty King Charles I, of blessed memory, who, having had the honour to have borne with a constancy and courage above her sex a noble proportion of the late calamities, and the restitution of the government, with great peace of mind laid down her most desired life the 11th day of April 1661. Sir Ralph Bankes her son and heir hath dedicated this. She had four sons: 1. Sir Ralph; 2. Jerome; 3. Charles; 4. William (since dead without issue), and six daughters.’

My first school in Ruislip, which I went to from the ages of five to eleven, was named for Lady Mary – Lady Bankes School. The school’s crest bears an image of a castle, intended to represent Corfe Castle in Dorset. Lady Mary Bankes grew up in Ruislip as a member of the local ‘big’ family, the Hawtreys, and married into the Bankes family who owned the castle in the small village of Corfe. Following the death of her husband during the Civil War, she bravely and successfully defended the castle during a siege in 1643. However, during a second siege in 1646 an act of betrayal by a member of her garrison led to the castle’s capture by the Parliamentarians. They allowed her to go free out of respect for her bravery, but deliberately demolished the castle resulting in the dramatic ruin which today dominates that village.

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St Martin's Church details

St Martin’s was substantially restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1870 and the lych-gates added at that point, which do set off the building rather nicely. It is today a protected building, having received Grade B listed status as an Anglican church in 1950. Located at the top of the busy High Street, both it and its churchyard are a peaceful haven from the bustle of shopping and well worth turning aside to visit. Unfortunately when I was last there a small weekday service was in progress (this is a very active parish church as well as a historic site) so I had to content myself with just one shot of the interior taken from the porch. I will have to go back!

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Inside the church, and detail of the lychgate

Almshouses

Backing on to the churchyard of St Martin’s Church is a row of 16th century almshouses. Originally this was a single dwelling, built in 1570 and serving as the parish house. It was converted in 1616 into ten small alms- or church houses (five at the front, five at the back, each with one room downstairs and one up) to provide accommodation for the poor and needy of the parish.

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The almshouses from the churchyard

The block was known as the Church House, and there are many old references in the parish accounts to its inhabitants, which give an idea of the need for such a facility:
'June 1665 – Widow Fearne of the Church House, several times in her sickness, 13s 0d
Mar 1666 – Paid to John Bates for carrying 50 bavins (bundles of kindling) to Widow Fearnes, 1s 9d
1726 – Moving three women to the Church House, my cart horse, 15s 0d
Paid the carpenter taking down the beds and setting them up, 3s 0d.'

In 1787 the vestry agreed to give poor families living in the Church House ‘a bed and bolster, a pair of blankets, a pair of sheets and a rug each’. In 1789 it was decided that more room was needed to accommodate the poor and destitute, so a purpose-build workhouse was constructed on a site near Copse Wood. But poor families continued to live here too, for some time at least.

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The almshouses from Eastcote Road

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Window detail

In 1938 four of the tiny cottages were knocked together to form a house for the verger, and in the 1950s the middle four were also knocked together, this time to accommodate the curate. These were used until the mid 1970s, but the buildings were by then in a bad state of repair and threatened with demolition. They were saved however, modernised, and now form four flats and a maisonette owned by a Housing Association.

Manor Farm: the Great Barn

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West side of the Great Barn

There was a farm on this site (at the northern end of what is today Ruislip High Street) from the 9th century until relatively recently, and several buildings remain from various periods in that farm’s existence. Of these the Great Barn is the most impressive and the most noteworthy. It dates from the latter part of the 13th century, around 1280, and is the second largest barn in Middlesex (the largest is in Harmondsworth, near Heathrow Airport), being 120 ft (36.6 metres) long and 32 ft (9.75m) wide. It was built with oak, probably from nearby Ruislip Woods, in a design known as an aisled barn, with smaller out-shoots running alongside the main supports under a single roof.

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East side of the Great Barn

The barn has been very well-preserved over the centuries and, along with the rest of the Manor Farm site, was restored with Lottery funding in 2007/2008. It is regularly used for local events, including crafts and farmers’ markets. It makes an impressive setting and the bustle of human activity is dwarfed by, and therefore serves only to emphasise, its great size. But we are very lucky to have it. At the start of the 20th century there were plans to develop this site for housing and all of Ruislip’s historic buildings, with the exception of St Martin’s Church, would have been lost. Amazingly (even for those days I think), no one seemed to oppose these plans, and it was only the intervention of the First World War that halted building work before it had barely begun. When, in 1919, work was able to resume, it was significantly reduced in scale owing to the poor economic situation of those times, and before the historic buildings had been affected the Royal Society of the Arts had stepped in and designated a number of buildings in Ruislip that should be preserved, including not only this barn but other buildings on the Manor Farm site and beyond, such as the old post office.

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The great doors of the Great Barn

Manor Farm: the Little Barn

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The raised threshing floor

Very near the Great Barn is another, somewhat smaller but still impressive. This is the Little Barn or Tithe Barn, and since 1937 has been the unusual location for Ruislip Library – a library I once worked in (many years ago!)

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Old beams in the Little Barn roof

This barn is of more recent origin, having been built in the 16th century, and is a Grade II listed building. Despite its conversion into a library, and the further modernisation that took place in 2007, its original role is still very apparent in its high beamed roof (with many original timbers) and other features, such as the slightly raised floor at one end – the former threshing floor. The windows have heraldic shields, one of which is of Kings College Cambridge, the estate’s earlier owners.

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The library from the bowling green

Just south of the Little Barn is a bowling green, on the site of the farm’s former rick-yard. Looking across this towards the library it is not too difficult to imagine the rural scene that was the norm here until just eighty or so years ago.

Manor Farm: the house

The third of the larger buildings on the Manor Farm site is Manor Farm House itself. This is an early 16th century house that was built of the site of a motte-and-bailey castle. The latter is thought to have been a wooden structure dating from soon after the Norman Conquest, built for Ernulf de Hesdin who had been given control of the manor of Ruislip in recognition of his loyalty to William the Conqueror. This castle in turn was built within an earthwork, possibly from the 9th century, that has been traced in an almost complete circle round the old village of Ruislip.

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Manor Farm House and moat

The castle does not appear in the 1086 Domesday Book and so could have been demolished or changed significantly by that time. But it is known that at some point a priory was also built within the moated area, under the aegis of the Benedictine Bec Abbey of Normandy. The Abbey had been granted Ruislip by Ernulf de Hesdin around 1087 and held it for 300 years.

The site was appropriated by the Crown and granted to King’s College in 1451, and the priory abandoned, falling into ruins. Those ruins would still have been here, however, when the Manor House was built between 1506 and 1511 over a number of building seasons, from Easter to Michaelmas. The house was built in the latest style of the period and was designed to showcase the wealth of the owner, with a decorative frontage and moulded ceiling beams.

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Manor Farm house seen from the cow byre

The house served two purposes: courthouse and farmhouse. Courts were held here until 1925, and the farm remained until the 1930s. Court cases were heard twice a year in the main hall of the house. Two types of court were held:
Court Leet – cases involving land disputes, assaults and minor offences;
Court Baron – administrative matters, deeds, wills etc.

Of course the house has been somewhat altered over the years. In the 18th and 19th centuries the windows and doorways were replaced and an extended kitchen was installed, with the latter being replaced in 1958 when the house was modernised. Today it serves as a meeting place for various community groups, such as the Women’s Institute, and can be hired for conferences. The line of the old moat can still be traced around the garden.

The Duck Pond

At the southern end of the Manor Farm complex is the duck pond. I have many happy memories of coming here as child to feed the ducks – a valued treat.

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The Duck Pond

The pond though was not originally intended for ducks but for the farm’s horses, who would have been washed down here. Today the pond has given its name to the twice weekly Farmers’ and Food markets that take place in and around the Great Barn – the Duck Pond Markets.

The River Pinn

The River Pinn gives Ruislip its name, albeit indirectly. Ruislip derives from "Rush leap", a reference to the rushes that lined the river and the fact that here it was just narrow enough to be leapt over – although I have to say that I would not attempt such a feat! Maybe it has widened over the years?

The River Pinn rises on Harrow Weald Common and flows through Pinner and Eastcote before reaching Ruislip, and from here flows on to Ickenham and Uxbridge, where it passes through the grounds of RAF Uxbridge and Brunel University. It then continues on to Cowley where it joins the Frays River (a branch of the Colne) at Yiewsley. In total it is about 12 miles (19 kilometres) in length. In the past it has been prone to flooding (I remember one year in particular, probably around 1973 or 74, when several nearby streets were closed because of it), but some work has been carried out in recent years to reduce this.

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River Pinn, Kings College Fields

In the centre of Ruislip it flows through a fairly narrow strip of green space, with a pleasant walk alongside it, and to the east through the open spaces of King’s College Playing Fields (named for the former owners of the land in this part of Ruislip). This walk is part of the longer Celandine Walk, which follows the entire length of the river. But even if you don’t want to do the longer walk, a stroll by the river is a relaxing way to spend an hour or so in Ruislip.

Ruislip Woods

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Park Wood

Ruislip may be largely a built-up area today but a significant vestige of its rural roots remains in the large tract of woodland to its north. This is the largest block of ancient semi-natural woodland in Greater London and is important enough to have been designated a National Nature Reserve.

These woods are the remnant of ancient woodland after land was cleared for settlement and crops in medieval times. They consist of four separate woods: Park Wood, Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood and Bayhurst Wood. The woods were mention in the Domesday Book of 1086, when they provided foraging for pigs and timber for building and firewood. Later, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Tower of London in 1339, Windsor Castle in 1344, the Palace of Westminster in 1346 and the manor of the Black Prince in Kennington. They were coppiced on rotation throughout the years with the timber sold to local tanneries. By the time King's College took ownership of the manor, after it was confiscated from the Abbey, the woods were let for sport, with pheasants kept for shooting.

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Park Wood

Today the woods are crisscrossed with footpaths and bridleways, and many locals (and some from further afield) enjoy walking and riding here. There is a large variety of tree, plant and animal species. The most common trees are hornbeam, oak and beech – in particular, the mixture of hornbeam and beech in Bayhurst Wood is considered unusual. The information board below gives some idea of the extent of the woods still standing here.

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Sign in Park Wood

Modernist houses

In Park Avenue, near the woods, a row of three houses stands out from the rest. A whole estate of these Modernist style houses was planed for this part of Ruislip, but these three were the only ones to have been built. They were designed by the partnership of Connell, Ward & Lucas and completed between 1935 and 1938. They are now Grade II listed, meaning that they are considered of special architectural and historic interest.

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Modernist houses in Park Avenue

The Polish War Memorial

If a local is giving you driving directions to Ruislip it is quite likely that they will tell you to leave the main A40 road out of London ‘at the Polish War Memorial’. This impressive memorial has stood at this junction since 1948 when it was erected to commemorate the contribution of the Polish Air Force to the Allied victory in the Second World War, and to honour those who died. Many of those Polish airmen had been based at nearby Northolt Airport, and many chose to stay on in west London after the war, not wanting to return home to Soviet-occupied Poland.

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The Polish War Memorial

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The memorial was designed by Mieczysław Lubelski, who had been interned in a concentration camp during the war. It is made from Portland stone and Polish granite, with bronze lettering and a bronze eagle, the symbol of the Polish Air Force.

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I hope you have enjoyed this little wander through my one-time home - a typical and unremarkable London suburb at first glance, but with plenty of history for those who seek it out.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:03 Archived in England Tagged churches buildings trees architecture london history river houses woods family world_war_two Comments (18)

Cracking the code

Bletchley Park

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Sign at Bletchley Park

We have been meaning to visit Bletchley Park for some time, our desire to do so increased by seeing ‘The Imitation Game’ a few years ago, and finally we went – and immediately decided to return soon! There is so much to see here, and luckily entrance tickets are valid for a year, so a repeat visit makes even more sense.

Background history

In 1938 the mansion of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire became the base for a small group of people from MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School. Tensions in Europe were growing, and their job was to set up and run intelligence activity from the house, chosen for its location near to, but not in, London. When tensions seemed to ease the base was closed down, but reopened when war broke out. The work that was undertaken here became vital to the Allied war effort, with ground-breaking inventions which shaped the future of computing science – a perfect illustration of the old adage about necessity being the mother of invention!

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Signage at Bletchley Park

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Signage

Today this site is rightly regarded as a hugely significant part of the history of Britain’s role in World War Two, but it might not have been. In the early 1990s there were plans to demolish Bletchley Park and build housing here, as part of the ever-growing new town of Milton Keynes on whose southern fringes it now lies. After public outcry and campaigning Milton Keynes Council was persuaded to declare most of Bletchley Park a conservation area. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed and in 1994 opened the site to the public as a museum. With financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and from commercial and private sponsors, the museum has gradually grown to become a major attraction – and is continuing to expand and develop additional parts of the site.

Introductory displays

As soon as we arrived, parked the car and started to walk towards the building housing the entrance and visitors centre we were left in doubt where we were, as the stylish signage echoes the coding theme.

We exchanged our pre-purchased online tickets for actual paper ones at the desk and were given a map of the site. The obvious place to start was with the exhibits in the visitor centre, where we watched a short introductory film tells the story of the part played during WW2 by those working at Bletchley Park. There was one of the famous German Enigma machines in a display case (we were to learn much more about these during the course of our visit) and an overview of the processes followed in deciphering enemy messages.

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Enigma machine

The Enigma machines used a system of rotors to scramble the 26 letters of the alphabet. Its settings were changed daily, based on secret key lists, while some other settings were changed for each message. The receiving station needed to know and use the exact settings employed by the transmitting station to successfully decrypt a message. Much of the work at Bletchley Park focused on identifying the encryption settings each day in order to decipher and translate the messages sent by the German army, air-force and navy.

After exploring these displays, we took a break over a coffee in the café here and studied the map we had been given. It was already clear that we couldn’t see everything on this first visit so we determined our priorities and set off to look around.

The lake

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View of the Mansion from the lakeside path

Walking around the small lake in the centre of Bletchley Park you can get a good overview of the layout and see how a family estate was transformed into a top-secret base. The mansion lies across the water, looking every bit the small-scale stately home it once was, but scattered on either side are the many huts, wooden and brick, that were built to house the various operations – first just a couple, then growing in number as the war progressed and the work carried out here became ever more critical to the war effort.

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Brick huts by the lakeside

Information boards at intervals describe daily life for the staff working here – the hardships (long shifts, spartan conditions (especially in the winter months) and the impossibility of telling anyone, even close family, what you were doing) – but also the small pleasures of games of tennis, skating on the lake in winter, forming friendships and romances.

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The lake with heron and bluebells

The Mansion

The ground floor of the Mansion, as the old house at the heart of the estate is known, is open to visitors and has a number of rooms of interest. We were welcomed on entering by a docent who told us that photography was allowed, if not for commercial purposes, and recommended that we look up at the ceilings as they are quite varied and attractive – he was right!

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The ceiling of one of the Mansion's rooms

The office of Commander Alastair Denniston, head of the British Government Code and Cypher School (known as GC&CS), has been recreated in great detail in the Mansion, and was our first taste of the way in which the atmosphere of those war years has been so effectively captured here. In-trays are full, piles of papers lie on the desks, pencils at the ready, typewriters with sheets inserted. On the notice board are announcements of a dance and a concert (social activities were seen as very important in keeping morale high), and a reminder to ‘carry your identity card always’.

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Commander Alastair Denniston's office in the Mansion

A sign describes a historic meeting which took place in this room in February 1941, which it credits as ‘the beginning of the United Kingdom / United States special relationship’. Four US military personnel came to Bletchley Park to discuss an exchange of information on Japanese and German codes and cyphers. This was some months before the US was to enter the war, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even those working here were unaware of the visit, apart from Dennison, his senior team and his personal assistant, recruited to the meeting to ‘pour glasses of sherry’.

The library at the other end of the hallway is similarly recreated to show as it would have looked when in use as a Naval Intelligence office. There are cigarette stubs in the ashtrays and empty, coffee-stained cups beside them. Hats and coats hang on the coat-stand and a cardigan is draped over the back of a chair with a handbag carelessly left on its seat. As elsewhere, the re-creation is based on old photographs and accounts of those who once worked here.

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In the library

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Other rooms in the Mansion are used for exhibitions, one of which is devoted to the Roll of Honour which lists all those believed to have worked in signals intelligence during World War Two, both at Bletchley Park and at other locations. There are photos of a few of them, sound recordings of the memories of just a handful, and an online resource which relatives can use to search for information on ancestors who worked here.

There was also a special temporary exhibition on the work of one of the most significant of the codebreakers, Bill Tutte, whose research in the field of graph theory was of enormous importance in the development of the techniques used here. I have to say though that the explanations of his work and its application to codebreaking were well over my head! I therefore quote Wikipedia on the significance of his achievements:
‘During the Second World War, he made a brilliant and fundamental advance in cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher, a major Nazi German cipher system which was used for top-secret communications within the Wehrmacht High Command. The high-level, strategic nature of the intelligence obtained from Tutte's crucial breakthrough, in the bulk decrypting of Lorenz-enciphered messages specifically, contributed greatly, and perhaps even decisively, to the defeat of Nazi Germany.’

The garages

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Stable block, and Sunbeam Tourer detail

Behind the Mansion are the garages in what was once the stable block, which house several interesting vehicles. They include a Sunbeam Tourer used in the 2001 film ‘Enigma’ starring Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott, which we hadn’t seen but which sounds interesting – I plan to look out for it.

There is also a 1938 Austin Ambulance, used for the same film and also for the TV series ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’, which I have seen. It tells the story of a young evacuee and stars John Thaw. Both vehicles were donated to Bletchley Park by the film company, owned by Mick Jagger, which made ‘Enigma’.

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1938 Austin Ambulance

The cottages

Next to the garages is a row of cottages around a stable-yard, presumably built to house staff when this was still a family estate. These were the location for some of the early codebreaking successes, before the various huts were built to accommodate the fast-growing operations here. It was in these cottages that Enigma was first cracked by an all-British team including Dilly Knox, Mavis Lever and Alan Turing. They aren't open to the public - I got the impression that they are in use as private residences.

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The Cottages

Hut 3

The highlights of our visit for me were the codebreaking huts, numbered 3 and 6. In these huts Enigma messages sent by the German Army and Air Force were decrypted, translated and analysed for vital intelligence. They have been brilliantly restored and presented in a fashion that recreates the war-time atmosphere, bringing to life the world of the codebreakers in a way that makes the huts seem almost haunted by them. The rooms are ‘dressed’ to resemble what they once were when the codebreakers worked there, and as you enter each you can hear the voices of actors engaged in realistic conversations about their work, and also their off-duty lives. In some rooms there are also projections of actors on the walls, but I think I found those where there was only audio the most effective of all.

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Corridor and desk in Hut 3

A sign as you enter Hut 3 explains:
‘You are now standing in one of the most secret areas of BP where deciphered messages were translated and analysed. Early on in the war the resulting intelligence was sent to MI6 and a limited number of senior army and RAF personnel. The evocative sights and sounds will help you to imagine what happened here. The scenes are set in 1940-41, and are based on the words and memories of BP veterans.’

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Teleprinter office, Hut 3

One of the larger rooms is that which housed the Watch, where a sign explains:
‘Work at BP went on round the clock. In this room there were four Watchkeepers on each shift, led by Watch 1. Most were civilian experts on German, able to fill any gaps in the deciphered messages before translating them. As they had no military experience, special Military Advisers helped compile the final reports.’

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The Watch

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In the Watch

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Hut 6

This was perhaps the beating heart of Bletchley Park. According to its sign,
‘Some of the most important codebreaking of the war took place in this hut. Little survives to tell us what it looked like inside, but the hut itself remains a witness to those tense times. Images, props, sounds and words are based on Veterans’ recollections and photographs taken later in WW2. They help to conjure up events here on just one date – 28 February 1941 – the day a crucial enemy cipher was broken.’

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A room in Hut 6

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The corner of an office, Hut 6

To capture the sound, as well the images, of this hut I shot some bits of video in a few of the rooms, which I later edited together:

We took a break at this point to eat a light lunch in Hut 4 which was formerly a WW2 naval intelligence codebreaking hut, but which now houses the café. Then we continued our explorations in another of the restored huts.

Hut 8

While the work in Huts 3 and 6 was focused on German army and air-force messages, Hut 8 was devoted to cracking the even tougher to decode naval messages. It was here that the famous Alan Turing did his most famous work, concentrating on this more complex Naval Enigma because ‘no one else was doing anything about it and I could have it to myself.’ Turing devised a number of techniques to speed up the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish Bombe method, which used a machine (a forerunner of today’s computers) to work out the settings for the Enigma machine. This work ultimately enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic, and in so doing helped to win, and to shorten, the war. His office in Hut 8 has been recreated exactly as it would have looked in World War Two.

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Alan Turing's office

Other parts of this hut are devoted to hand-on ‘experiments’ illustrating ideas about probability and chance, and explaining how these are critical to an understanding of codebreaking. The codebreakers looked for what they called ‘cribs’ – predictable repeated phrases (e.g. weather reports) which could give a clue to the day’s encryption settings.

Huts 11 and 11A

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In the window of one of the huts

Our final stop for the day was in the huts which housed the Bombe machines, developed by Alan Turing from some earlier Polish ones which had been shared with the Allies at the outbreak of war. The machines featured multiple drums representing the rotors of an Enigma machine, which could whizz through all the different possible permutations for the settings each day. Hundreds of these machines were operated by Wrens, here and in outstations in other parts of the country. It was boring and oppressive work, with the women running the machines during long shifts in dark, stuffy rooms, as the displays here make clear.

By now though the museum was getting busier, including with several school groups, and it was harder both to study the displays and to take photos. We found it difficult to follow the detailed explanations of the technology behind the Bombes, so decided in the end to leave this section and the other remaining buildings until the future visit we had already determined to make.

But if you can’t wait till then to find out more about the Bombes, check out the museum’s website’s description of its Bombe Breakthrough exhibits.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:25 Archived in England Tagged lakes architecture history museum details world_war_two Comments (15)

Britain’s maritime legacy

Greenwich

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View over Greenwich and beyond

When people ask on forums where they might go on a day trip within easy reach of central London I often suggest that they look no further than Greenwich.

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River view from a Clipper

It offers history in abundance, elegant buildings, fascinating museums, an attractive market, bars and restaurants to suit all tastes – all in a lovely riverside setting. And to crown it all, you can stand on the Greenwich Meridian, from which the world’s time and all east/west distances are measured.

You can travel to Greenwich by water (river bus or sightseeing cruise) or rail in less than an hour from central London. And a day wouldn’t be enough to see and do everything here, so you will be spoiled for choice.

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Greenwich Pier

My own favourite way to travel is by Clipper, the river buses that ply the Thames. They cost a fraction of the tourist sightseeing cruises and while you don’t get the commentary that those offer you don’t pay their high prices either. You can catch the boats from several points including on the South Bank (near the London Eye) and by the Tower of London.

Seating on board is plentiful (maybe less so during the rush hour) and there is a snack bar where you can buy coffees, beer and wine, crisps and chocolate etc. The boats are fully wheelchair accessible and there are accessible toilets on board. All in all, this is a very comfortable way to travel.

The boats arrive at a pier right next to the famous Cutty Sark, so that’s as good a place as any to start our explorations.

The Cutty Sark

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The Cutty Sark

This beautiful ship was built in Scotland in 1869 as a tea clipper – the fast sailing ships which brought tea from China to Europe. Every season merchants competed to be the first with the new crops by employing the fastest ships, so the Cutty Sark was designed for speed – her owner John Willis had ambitions for her to be the swiftest of all the clippers. Between 1870 and 1878 she made eight voyages between London and Shanghai, taking manufactured goods and wine, spirits and beer to be sold in China and returning with her precious cargo of tea. But she never did win that annual race to be first with the new season’s tea.

By the end of that decade steamships had started to dominate the tea trade as they were able to use the newly opened Suez Canal (sailing ships needed to stay in the open sea to get the trade winds). So the Cutty Sark started to take different cargoes around the world: coal from Nagasaki in Japan to Shanghai; jute from Manila to New York; and jute, castor oil, tea and the Australian mail from Calcutta to Melbourne in March 1881. The 1880s and ‘90s saw her mainly carrying wool from Australia, and she established herself as the fastest vessel, the ‘last chance’ ship to make the English wool sales each January. But steamships moved into this trade too. For a while the Cutty Sark was under Portuguese ownership, sailing between Oporto, Rio, New Orleans and Lisbon, before returning to Britain in 1923 when she was bought by Wilfred Dowman who restored the ship to a close approximation of her appearance as a tea and wool clipper. She was used as a training ship for cadets but her condition and usefulness gradually declined. In 1954 however she was taken over by the National Maritime Museum who brought her to Greenwich where she has remained ever since.

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The Cutty Sark seen in the distance from a Greenwich street

She sits in a dry dock here, as she has done since she was towed here. Initially restored then, and opened to the public, she was again thoroughly restored between 2006 and 2012, a process that was held back for a while by a major fire. Luckily some of her most ornate parts, such as the figurehead, were not on board at the time because of the restoration process, so these escaped the blaze.

It is some years since I was on board, but I remember especially the large collection of figureheads which fascinated me as a child and continued to do so as an adult. These date mainly from the 19th century and came from a variety of merchant vessels. They portray characters from history, legend and literature, such as Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce, Disraeli, Hiawatha and Sir Lancelot. The Royal Museums of Greenwich website explains more:

‘Figureheads are carved wooden sculptures which decorate the prow of a sailing ship, and were thought to represent the vessel’s spirit. It was believed that they offered the crew protection from the harsh seas and safeguarded their homeward journey. The figureheads were also used to identify a ship—one of a range of subjects would be chosen, reflecting the name of the ship from mid-18th century onwards.

The figureheads in The Cutty Sark Collection were produced by professional figurehead carvers, who lived and worked by the docks. Hard woods, such as oak or teak, were used and might have been treated with resins to increase the figure’s resistance to water, rot and wear. They were lovingly cared for by the crew, who took great pride in the appearance of their ship and its figurehead. The superstitions of seamen meant that the figurehead held great significance to those on board and they would go to great lengths to protect it.’

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The Cutty Sark figurehead on a stormy day

The Cutty Sark’s own figurehead is a young witch named ‘Nannie’ who was a character in the poem 'Tam O'Shanter', by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. In this poem the witch chases Tam dressed only a ‘cutty sark’—an archaic Scottish name for a short nightdress. You can read the full story on the Maritime Museum’s website.

Old Royal Naval College

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The Royal Naval College

The river bank in Greenwich is dominated by the stunningly elegant buildings of the Old Royal Naval College. And don’t just take my word for it – UNESCO described this as the ‘finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape ensemble in the British Isles’!

The buildings were the work of Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul’s Cathedral and many of the City’s churches. One look at the domes that crown the main buildings tells you that – they are so reminiscent of his most famous work. They were built between 1696 and 1712 to house the Greenwich Hospital, a home for disabled sailors, on the site of the former Greenwich Palace. The latter was a Tudor royal palace – the out-of-town pleasure palace of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Queen Elizabeth I was born here and loved it too, but under the Stuarts it fell into disuse and, by the middle of the 17th century, into disrepair.

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More views of the Royal Naval College

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The domes are very reminiscent of St Paul's Cathedral, Wren's most famous work

The new buildings were the naval equivalent of the Chelsea Hospital for retired soldiers. Wren gave his services free of charge, as did his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor, because of the charitable nature of the project. His design was the result of restrictions imposed by the then queen, Queen Mary II, who didn’t want her view of the river from the Queen’s House to be blocked – hence the division into two main blocks and the consequent very pleasing symmetry. You can see in my photo below how the Queen’s House, nearer the camera, can peep between these two blocks to see the river beyond.

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The Queen's House and Royal Naval College from the park

Greenwich Hospital was closed in 1869 as with more peaceful times there were fewer seamen in need of the facility. The buildings were taken over by the Royal Naval College which needed to expand from its original Portsmouth base. For over 100 years sailors trained here, at first just men and then from 1939 onwards, women from the Women’s Royal Naval Service – the so-called WRENS. In later years there was even a training facility for nuclear-powered submarines which necessitated a small nuclear reactor on the site (unknown to local residents in Greenwich who might not have been keen to have such a thing on their doorstep). The college closed in 1998 as the numbers in the Navy were declining and sailors could now be trained alongside their Army and Air Force equivalents in the Joint Service College at Shrivenham.

Today the college is maintained and run by a charitable foundation which provides access to the three main attractions, the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, Painted Hall and Chapel. All are open daily with free admission, and there are also regular events held here. Even if you aren’t coming to see any particular sight or attend any event, a stroll around the grounds is a real pleasure, especially on a sunny day when the architecture is to be seen at its best and the river sparkles in the background.

The Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College

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The Painted Hall

This hall is one of my favourite sights in Greenwich, and I never tire of introducing visitors to its glories (although on my most recent visit that wasn’t possible as it was undergoing major restoration during the summer of 2018). It was built by Wren to serve as the dining room for the naval veterans. After its completion in 1703 James Thornhill was commissioned to paint the walls and ceiling, and instructed to include many references to the importance of the navy in Britain’s fortunes.

Thornhill was paid only £3 per square yard for the ceiling, and just £1 per square yard for the walls. However, he did receive a knighthood in 1720 (the first English artist to receive this honour) and is generally considered to have created the finest painted architectural interior by an English artist. The work took him 19 years and as a result of his achievement here the Painted Hall was felt to be now far too grand for its intended purpose! Instead it became a visitor attraction - one of London’s first tourist attractions in fact. ‘Respectable’ visitors were admitted for 3d (the equivalent of about £1.80) and could hire one of the resident Pensioners to give them a guided tour.

It was also a place for significant events to be held. For instance, in 1806, 3 months after the Battle of Trafalgar, the body of Horatio Nelson was brought to lie in state here. A side room today is devoted to Nelson memorabilia. Between 1824 and 1936 it was home to a naval art gallery, displaying about 300 naval-themed paintings.

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Domed ceiling in the entrance of the Painted Hall

But back to Thornhill and his artistic masterpiece. On my first visit here, a few years ago now, I realised that I had seen the hall some weeks earlier in a BBC history programme about the Georgian monarchs, but had not registered then where it was. A happy coincidence, as I was able to recall some interesting information from the programme to share with our weekend guests. Well, I thought it was interesting! If you would also like to know more about the paintings (and don’t have the ‘benefit’ of my half-remembered explanations!) you can book a place on the daily tour (free, at 11.15 am) or pick up a leaflet for just 50 pence. This will explain all the scenes and the mythology and symbolism attached to them. On the main ceiling, for instance:

‘Enthroned in heaven are King William and Queen Mary. Above, the sun god Apollo sheds his light, while Peace, with her doves and lambs, hands an olive branch to William. He in turn hands the red cap of liberty to the kneeling figure of Europe.’

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William and Mary

On the ceiling of the upper hall is Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs. The TV programme I saw pointed out that Thornhill had relegated the old regime to the ceilings and in doing that had portrayed them as aloof and out of reach of ordinary people.

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George I and family

In contrast, the new king, George I, is shown on the far wall of this upper hall as a family man, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Appearances are deceptive however; the truth is that he and his oldest son, also called George, hated each other, and there is a hint of this in the posing of the two figures, as the younger George turns pointedly away from his father (wearing a blue cloak towards the lower right corner of my photo). Also notable is the man standing in that bottom right corner by the pillar looking out at the viewer, as this is Thornhill himself.

Royal Naval College chapel

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The Chapel at the Royal Naval College

Facing the Painted Hall across a lawn is its symmetrical partner, the chapel dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Its neoclassical interior was the work of James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Newton, and is considered one of Britain's finest 18th century interiors.

The intricate mouldings of the ceiling are picked out in Wedgewood blue, a restful contrast to the splendours of the Painted Hall’s decoration. It was designed by the master plasterer John Papworth and its intricate central ornaments carved, rather than cast in moulds.

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Chapel ceiling

Much of the rest of the decoration follows a maritime theme, appropriate for the worshippers for whom it was built, the inhabitants of the Royal Hospital for Seamen. There is a ship’s anchor design in the centre of the black and white floor and wood carvings on the pews that resemble ropes.

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Showing the painting above the altar

The painting above the altar is by an American artist, Benjamin West. It depicts St. Paul on the island of Malta, where he miraculously survived being bitten by a snake. According to the account in the Acts of the Apostles, the weather was cold and wet, and the Maltese showed their hospitality by lighting a fire for Paul. As he gathered firewood, and laid it on the fire, a viper attached itself to his hand. He shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill-effects from the bite.

Various monuments in the vestibule commemorate the achievements of great sea-farers. Of these the most prominent is the marble Franklin Memorial which commemorates Sir John Franklin and the crews of the ships Erebus and Terror who lost their lives in the famous ill-fated 1845 expedition searching for the North West Passage.

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Detail of the Franklin Memorial, and statue of Charity

Also in the vestibule are four statues representing the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, and Meekness. My photo is of the statue of Charity. An inscription on the base of the statue reads: 'Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.'

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Carving details in the chapel

National Maritime Museum

This museum is located in a wing that had been added to the Royal Naval School in the 19th century, which was converted for its new purpose after the college left Greenwich in 1933, being finally completed only in 1951 (delayed no doubt by the war). It also has a new wing, the Sammy Ofer Wing, added in 2011 to house special exhibitions, a café and a library.

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The National Maritime Museum

The museum tells the story of the history of Britain at sea, including maritime art, maps and map-making, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments. Its separate wing at the Greenwich Observatory focuses on time-keeping and astronomy. The children’s gallery has lots of hands-on fun, including loading cargo, a galley where you can ‘prepare food’ and a canon to shoot at a pirate ship. Other galleries cover a range of sea-faring themes including exploration, naval warfare and trade. One area focuses on maritime London, looking at life on the Thames, the growth of the docklands and how institutions like Lloyd’s of London and the Baltic Exchange were formed. Another celebrates the life of Lord Nelson and victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Figureheads collection

I particularly like the display of ships’ figureheads dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, when the art of carving these was at its height. In the same area is the gilded state barge which was built for Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1732.

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Details of Prince Frederick's Barge

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Prince Frederick's Barge, and statue of William IV outside the museum

There’s a pleasant café here too (at the rear), with outside tables which afford a lovely view of Greenwich Park – worth a refreshment stop even if you aren’t visiting the museum. While here, have a look at (well, you won’t be able to miss!) Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’. This was originally commissioned by the Greater London Authority for the Fourth Plinth project and was unveiled in Trafalgar Square in May 2010. It now has a permanent home here outside the Sammy Ofer Wing.

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Nelson's Ship in a Bottle

The Queen’s House

The Queen’s House was designed by Inigo Jones, who had studied Roman and Renaissance architecture in Italy, and is considered England’s first Classical building. His design reflects the Renaissance ideals of mathematical, classical proportion and harmony – for example the Great Hall here is a perfect cube. Much of its original splendour has been lost over the centuries, but you can still see the ceiling of the Queen’s Bedchamber painted in the ‘grotesque’ style, the wrought-iron balustrade of the Tulip Stairs (which was the first centrally unsupported spiral staircase in Britain), the painted woodwork of the Great Hall and its impressive geometrically-patterned black and white marble floor.

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The Queen's House

The house was built for Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I, who wanted a pavilion at Greenwich to serve as a place of private retreat and hospitality. The story is that the king gave it to her as a gift to apologise for swearing in front of her after she had accidentally killed one of his favourite dogs during a hunt. She however died before it could be finished and work only restarted when James's son Charles I gave Greenwich to his queen, Henrietta Maria. It was finished in 1638.

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A ceiling in the Queen's House

The house is supposedly haunted and a famous ‘photograph of a ghost’ was taken on the Tulip Staircase. You can see this photo and read all about it on the website: https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/queens-house-ghost

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The Tulip Staircase in the Queen's House

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Another view of the staircase, and a decorative detail

The house holds a significant collection of paintings, including works by Gainsborough, Hogarth and Reynolds among others. One highlight is the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, which has recently been restored to reveal the original colours after centuries of dirt and discoloration. It portrays the queen as a ruler in command of the seas and has been instrumental in shaping our vision of her.

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The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I

The Queen’s House website explains:

‘Like many Tudor portraits, it is packed with meaning and metaphor. Elizabeth’s upright posture, open arms and clear gaze speak of vitality and strength. She is draped in pearls – symbols of chastity and the Moon.

Numerous suns are embroidered in gold on her skirt and sleeves, to signify power and enlightenment. She rests her hand on a globe, with her fingers over the New World, and above can be seen a covered imperial crown: both signal her potency as a ruler, not just of England but also as a monarch with overseas ambitions.’

The Royal Observatory

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The Royal Observatory's Flamsteed House on the hill

Crowning the hill that forms Greenwich Park is the Royal Observatory and the nearby Planetarium. The original part of the observatory is Flamsteed House (1675–76), which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. The ‘Time and Longitude’ gallery tells the story of the quest to find longitude at sea in the age before satellite navigation. You can also see the Astronomers Royal's apartments and the Octagon Room designed for the observation of celestial events such as eclipses, comets and planetary movements.

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The Royal Observatory South Building

On top of Flamsteed House is one of the world's earliest public time signals, the bright red Time Ball, which is visible from some distance as my photo above attests. This was added to signal the time to ships on the Thames and to Londoners in general. It was first used in 1833 and still operates today. Every day at 12.55 the time ball rises half way up its mast; at 12.58 it rises all the way to the top; and at 13.00 exactly, the ball falls, thus providing a signal to anyone who happens to be looking. Of course, you need to know to be looking, so you have to have a rough idea of the time already for this to be of help!

In front of Flamsteed House is the Meridian Courtyard. Here you can stand on the world-famous Greenwich Meridian Line, which represents the Prime Meridian of the World, 0º of longitude. Every spot on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from this line, which divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth just as the Equator divides the northern and southern ones.

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The set of measures

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Standing on the Meridian Line

It has always seemed a bit unfair to me that you have to pay for this, probably because (puts on ‘grumpy old woman’ voice) when I was a child you could enter the courtyard and stand on the line freely. So I was gratified on a recent visit to find that you don't have to go far to be able do just that. If you look to the right of the courtyard gate (through which everyone will be peering for a glimpse of the line) you will see an old clock on the wall (an early example of an electronic clock) and below it a set of standard British measures.

To the right of these is a black metal kissing gate, leading to a narrow path that runs below the observatory's courtyard. You only have to walk a couple of metres along this to see the line running down the wall and crossing the path in front of you. Space is tight for photography but it's perfectly possible to stand on the line and get that souvenir shot, as my Virtual Tourist friend from Estonia, Mare, demonstrates.

I should add that I'm not for a minute recommending that you don't visit the observatory, which is very good, but if you don't have time for that or aren't very interested, at least you don't have to miss out on seeing the famous Meridian Line.

By the way, you don't even have to visit Greenwich to stand on the Meridian. This map shows other locations in the UK where it is marked.

As well as enjoying all that the Observatory has to offer, a climb up the hill in Greenwich Park is rewarded with some wonderful views as you can see. The elegant buildings of the Old Naval College, the Queen’s House and the Maritime Museum lie at the foot of the hill. The Thames flows beyond, with lots of river traffic coming and going. And on the far bank rise the dramatic skyscrapers of London’s Docklands. Further to your left (the west) you can see some of the buildings of the City, the Shard and even the London Eye.

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View from the hill

But if you can’t manage the hill, there are still good views to be had along the river bank, as my photo below shows.

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Canary Wharf from Greenwich

Greenwich Market

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Entrance to the market

As a contrast to all the history that surrounds you at Greenwich I think it is fun to spend some time in the lovely market. This is tucked between some of the streets in the town centre and has a variety of stalls but with three main focuses: crafts, antiques and street food.

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Wood turner

On one visit we bought a beautiful hand-turned wooden bowl as a wedding gift for friends. Each of these pieces is unique, so they aren’t cheap, but they are well worth the price. The same applies to some other of the crafts-people selling here, but you can also get lower-priced jewellery and pretty items for the home.

One of my most interesting purchases here, from one of the antique stalls, was a photo album which really captured my imagination. It dates from the 1930s and shows the travels of an English couple (I assume) in north Africa, pre-war Germany and the Mediterranean.

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Old photo album

I was so intrigued by this that I scanned all the photos and created a website in the hopes of tracing some information about those captured in them: http://sarahwilkie8.wix.com/travel-1930s-style. So far, sadly, no one has been able to identify them although one friend did point me towards some ships’ passenger inventories of the time which unfortunately failed to come up with any likely names.

At one end of the market there is a cluster of food stalls selling the cuisines of several countries: Brazilian churros, Indian street food, Ethiopean vegetarian dishes, sushi, noodles and much more.

Around the edge of the market are some interesting little shops with goods likely to appeal to those who also enjoy the market – more crafts, quirky fashions, art and items for the home. I can happily spend several hours (and more than a few pounds) here! There is also a good pub, the Coach and Horses, where I have had several pleasant lunches. As well as a cosy interior it has some tables outside in the market.

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In the market

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The Coach and Horses

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Inside the Coach and Horses

The O2

To the north of this main centre of Greenwich is an area called, unsurprisingly, North Greenwich. Here you will find the (currently named) O2 arena. In the run up to the year 2000 a number of Millennium projects were planned for London. Despite some teething problems, most people agreed that the new bridge was a great success, once it stopped wobbling, and of course everyone enjoyed the fireworks! But the biggest project, the Millennium Dome, was something of a PR and financial disaster – failing to capture the public’s imagination and attract the visitor numbers that would have covered the cost of building it. Perhaps that was because of the rather didactic nature of the exhibition it housed, the Millennium Experience. This was intended to be a World’s Fair style showcase of British life and achievement, but most of its 14 zones were lacking in content and rather dull (I know – I took my mother-in-law along and we were neither of us wildly excited by it, though I remember feeling that it was not as bad as some of the media had suggested).

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Looking north east from Greenwich Park
The Millennium Dome / O2 is visible centre left

The building itself also received mixed but largely unenthusiastic reactions. It is an interesting one however, its design full of symbolism. A huge white (today rather grey) ‘tent’ is supported by twelve yellow poles, one for each month of the year or each hour of the clock face – a nod to the nearby Greenwich Meridian and the importance of time to this part of the country. And it is 365 metres in diameter, one for each day of a (non Leap) year.

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View from the upper tier of the O2 -
tennis tournament

After the end of 2000 the exhibitions were dismantled, and for a while just the roof of the dome remained, a bit of a white elephant. There was much debate about what to do with it, and many more disparaging remarks. Eventually though it was developed as a sports and entertainment complex, with multiple venues sited under the main roof and a network of restaurants, shops, offices and housing around it. Today it is home to a cinema, bowling alley, a number of chain restaurants and an arena that hosts sporting and music events. In a fairly recent development you can also climb the roof for a view of London with a difference (and no, I haven’t done that – yet!!) But we did come here a year or so back to see the Masters tennis event, and were impressed by the excellent views even from our upper tier seats, so I think we’ll be back to see the rejuvenated Dome again.

There is even more to do in Greenwich than I have included here, as I haven’t talked about sights I am yet to visit (such as the Fan Museum). But I hope I have convinced you that it is well worth the trip from central London to spend a day here!

Posted by ToonSarah 02:04 Archived in England Tagged art skylines boats architecture london park history views church market river city museum science Comments (17)

On England’s east coast

A visit to Suffolk

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On the banks of the Deben in Waldringfield

We recently spent a couple of days on the coast of Suffolk in the region of England known as East Anglia, catching up with old friends and enjoying some October sunshine. We visited a few of the coastal towns, staying overnight in one of them, Aldeburgh. Although we weren’t here for long it reminded us of what we like about this county – its shingle beaches, boating communities and big skies.

Woodbridge

We left our home in Ealing just after breakfast, having waited for the worst of the rush hour to pass, and braved the northern stretches of the M25, which wasn’t as bad as it sometimes is. We then took the A12 up past Chelmsford and Colchester, and on towards Ipswich. We were due to meet our friends at a pub in Waldringfield, on the River Deben east of Ipswich, but we were early (having factored in possible hold-ups) so carried on a short distance further to Woodbridge, in search of coffee.

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Old door, and boat decoration, Woodbridge

Woodbridge also lies on the Deben and is best known for its Tide Mill. We were here many years ago and had vague memories of good views down by the river, so once we’d parked the car we headed in that direction.

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Woodbridge Tide Mill

The Tide Mill has stood here on the banks of the Deben for over 800 years. The earliest record of a mill on this site dates back to 1170. It was owned by the Augustinian Priors for around 350 years until Henry VIII confiscated it, and for the next 28 years it was in royal ownership before being sold by Elizabeth I and passing to private ownership.

When it closed in 1957 it was the last commercially working tide mill in England. The building was saved in 1968 and restored, before being opened to the public in 1973. It is now one of only two tide mills in the country still producing stone-ground wholemeal flour.

Even if we had had time to visit though we would not have been able to, as in October it opens only at weekends and the school holidays (and not at all from November to March). But our Thursday visit to Woodbridge was serendipitous in another respect, as this turned out to be the only day of the week when the cheerful red Suffolk Coffee Pod visits the town. It was parked down by the tide mill, with several tables and chairs set out on the river bank offering gorgeous views downstream. One table was vacant, the smell of strong espresso hung in the air – we had found our perfect spot!

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Woodbridge Tide Mill and River Deben
You can see the bright red Coffee Pod in front of the mill!

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The view from our coffee spot

After finishing our coffee we had a brief stroll along the river before walking back to our car for the short drive back south to Waldringfield.

Waldringfield

Our friends had booked a table for lunch at the Maybush Inn, which like the tide mill in Woodbridge has a lovely location right on the River Deben. We had a leisurely meal in the conservatory overlooking the decking, which was crowded on this exceptionally warm October day, and with views beyond to the river.

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On the banks of the Deben in Waldringfield

After lunch we went our separate ways – our friends to their homes on the outskirts of Ipswich and Chris and I driving north again towards Aldeburgh, where we had booked a room for the night.

Aldeburgh

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The beach at Aldeburgh

Unlike Woodbridge, Aldeburgh sits right on the North Sea coast, with a long shingle (pebble) beach typical of this coastline. This beach still has a working fishing fleet – you will see the boats pulled up on the shore and traditional black huts selling fresh fish and shellfish.

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On the beach at Aldeburgh

In the 16th century this was a leading seaport, with a flourishing ship-building industry. Much of the Tudor town has been lost to the sea but the Moot Hall, dating from 1520, still stands opposite the White Lion Hotel where we stayed. Today it serves as the town museum and houses the Town Clerk’s office. A sign explains that this once stood in the centre of the town but the two streets and four rows of houses to its east have long been washed away.

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The Moot Hall
(now a museum)

Having checked into the White Lion we went out again to explore. We took lots of photos on the beach opposite, where another photographer had set up a photo of a chair perched in the pebbles near the water’s edge – I have no idea why but we made use of his staged photo opp nevertheless!

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On the beach at Aldeburgh

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The Scallop from a distance

We then walked north along the sea front towards the Scallop, a four-metre high stainless steel scallop shell which sits on the shingle. This is the work of renowned local artist, Maggi Hambling, and is a tribute to local composer Benjamin Britten. The shell is pierced with the words, ‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned’, from his opera, Peter Grimes.

Interestingly, the Scallop looks different from different angles – from the distance as we approached it appeared more like a beached whale than a shell.

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The Scallop

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Details of the Scallop

We had dinner that evening in the White Lion’s Brasserie Bleu (hotel guests get a 10% discount), preceded by a drink in the bar (excellent local gin, Fishers, by the way). The meal was delicious, especially my locally caught dressed crab.

After a good night’s sleep in our small but cosy room, and a yummy breakfast, we checked out of the White Lion. We took a few more photos on and around the beach near the hotel.

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Fishing hut

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Boats on the beach

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Beach details

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Old house near the beach, and statue of Snooks the dog

The statue of Snooks is a tribute to a local GP, Dr Robin Acheson, and his wife Nora, also a GP. Snooks, who followed his master as he made his calls and became a familiar sight around the town, got his name because the family ate tinned snook (a sort of fish) from Africa during the Second World War.

We then returned to the car to drive the few miles south to Orford.

Orford

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View of Orford village from the Quay

Orford sits on the River Alde, which separates the village from Orford Ness, a long shingle spit formed by longshore drift along the coast from places further north – I have already mentioned the erosion at Aldeburgh, and Dunwich to the north has also been badly affected with most of its 13th century buildings, including eight churches now either totally lost to the sea or in ruins because of it. Orford Ness is a protected area and designated National Nature Reserve. It can be visited by ferry but even if we had had the time I don’t think these were operating due to high winds.

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Orford Quay

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At Orford Quay

We parked in a ‘pay and display’ car park near Orford Quay which lies just beyond the main part of the village, along the river. Despite the wind, which made it hard to hold the camera still and to keep my hair out of my eyes, there were some more great photo opps here, with distant views of the Orford Ness lighthouse, some battered old boats and views inland towards the village.

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Orford Ness lighthouse

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By the river in Orford

We walked a short distance along the river then returned to the quay where we found welcome refuge from the wind in the Riverside Tearoom, with good espresso and great views from our window table.

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Orford Castle from the Quay, and fishing hut near the Riverside Tearoom

Returning to the car we drove back up into the village where we were fortunate to find roadside parking. We took a stroll through the village, passing the church which is dedicated to St Bartholomew. The main structure was built in the 14th century, but it was the 12th century chancel ruins attached which caught my eye, and my lens.

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St Bartholomew's church

We didn’t go inside the church but instead continued to the castle keep. Orford Castle was built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II to consolidate his power in the region, but only the keep still stands, surrounded by the earth-covered works of the outer fortifications.

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Orford Castle

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Sign and gatepost at the castle

We decided not to explore the castle fully, nor to linger any longer in Orford, as we knew the roads back to and around London (the dreaded M25!) would be busy on a Friday afternoon. Instead we planned to stop for lunch somewhere further south, to break the journey, and settled on Dedham, just off the A12 on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Dedham

Dedham is a fairly substantial and very attractive village which has given its name to the surrounding countryside on the banks of the River Stour – Dedham Vale. This area is also popularly known as Constable Country, after the famous artist John Constable who captured these landscapes in his work (most famously at Flatford Mill in East Bergholt, the scene of the Haywain). Constable was a pupil at the local grammar school, walking here along the river valley from Flatford Mill which his father, a corn merchant, owned.

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Building details in Dedham

We parked at the far end of the main street and strolled back, checking out the various hostelries with a view to lunch. We had intended to eat in one of the pubs, but after two good meals yesterday and a cooked breakfast, were not as hungry as we might have been. So when the Essex Rose tea house caught our eye, with its extensive menu of lighter meals, we opted for that and were very happy with our choice – friendly service, good granary bread for the sandwiches and refreshing Tiptree juices.

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Pub sign, and the Essex Rose

After lunch we visited the church of St. Mary the Virgin opposite the tea rooms. This was built in the latter part of the 15th century, the last medieval 'wool church' (that is, financed through the donations of rich wool merchants and farmers) to be completed in the country.

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St. Mary the Virgin, Dedham

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Porch detail, St. Mary the Virgin

Today the church was decorated for the harvest festival and featured what must be the best such decorations I have come across. In one corner a whole tableau had been created, with hay cart, fruit and vegetables, and animals (chickens, sheep, hares – none of them real, I should add!)

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Inside St. Mary the Virgin

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Harvest Festival time at St. Mary the Virgin

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'The Ascension' by Constable, and family memorial

Whatever the season the church is still worth a visit. Its most noteworthy feature is a painting by Constable of ‘The Ascension’, which a sign explains is ‘the best of only three religious paintings by John Constable, all of which were painted for churches in his native Stour Valley.’ The sign goes on to tell how the painting was commissioned by a cousin of Constable’s, Edward Alston, in order to gain favour with the Archdeacon of Canterbury who was responsible for licensing public houses – guess what, Alston was a brewer! But the archdeacon refused the license and later died, so Alston reneged on the contract with Constable. This was a considerable financial blow (the commission was worth £200) but he did still finish the painting – although, as the sign points out, the lower half ‘shows less commitment than the upper.’

I was also intrigued by one of the memorials which commemorated not only a local family but also ‘their dear nurse and friend’.

After leaving the church we decided that it was high time we hit the road again, trying to beat the worst of the Friday afternoon traffic around London. We failed! So it was a less than enjoyable drive home, but worth it for the very pleasant time we had spent in Suffolk.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:35 Archived in England Tagged churches art boats castles coast history village river sculpture seaside Comments (15)

A university city

Cambridge

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King's College chapel from the Backs

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge (often shortened here to ‘Oxbridge’) are known the world over for the quality of the education they provide, their many illustrious alumni and their long history. They dominate the towns in which they are based, giving each a unique atmosphere. Both towns are within easy reach of London and make for an interesting day trip from the capital.

I recently spent a day in Cambridge exploring with friends (former work colleagues) who moved there some years ago. One works (and volunteers) at several of the colleges, and studied here too, at Clare College, so has privileged free entry to several of the paid-for sights (and can take in a visitor – me!) In a day it was of course only possible to visit a handful of the colleges but those we went to were beautiful, made more so by the wonderful September sun.

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Punting on the Cam near King's College

Incidentally, I learned from my unofficial guides that this is a great month to visit. There are slightly fewer tourists than in mid-summer, and the students are yet to return en masse after their long break, though there are some around. The college gardens are at their best – efforts are made to ensure that flower displays peak twice a year, in May for graduation and in September for new arrivals. How much the students notice and appreciate this is probably up for debate!

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New Court, St John's College

So join us on our walk around some of these historic colleges.

Getting to Cambridge

I took the train to Cambridge from London’s Kings Cross station – fast (non-stopping) trains take about 50 minutes. I was met at the station by my friends, and as it is some way from the town centre we caught a bus together. Their excellent suggestion was to start with coffee and a chat about the plan for the day.

Fitzbillies

Fitzbillies is truly a Cambridge institution, having been here since 1920, on the same corner site (although it has since expanded to take over the neighbouring property too). It is famous especially for its Chelsea buns – sweet, sticky, gooey cinnamon-laden swirls of yeasty dough.

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Fitzbillies

The bakery was founded by two brothers, Ernest and Arthur Mason, who used their demob money on return from the First World War to buy the shop. The Art Nouveau frontage they installed is still here (on the left in my photo above). The shop thrived and was run by the Masons until 1958, when they sold it to a Mr and Mrs Day. This was an era of enthusiastic cake consumption – Chelsea buns for parties and picnics, iced fancies for afternoon tea, and ornate creations for special occasions such as weddings. But by the 1980s supermarkets provided competition and could sell their cakes more cheaply than a family-run business such as Fitzbillies. The business went bankrupt, and the building was gutted by a fire in 1998, but it was bought, restored and reopened, trading successfully until 2011 when it went bankrupt again.

It was saved through the twin 21st century powers of social media and celebrity! A former Cambridge resident, now working in marketing in London, saw a tweet from the famous writer/actor/comedian Stephen Fry bemoaning the closure of a favourite bakery, and stepped in to save it along with her husband. So Fitzbillies is once more a thriving family-run business, and their Chelsea buns are as popular as ever!

So of course we had to order Chelsea buns with our coffees, justifying our indulgence a little by opting to share two between the three of us. And they were delicious, definitely living up to their fame! Then, fortified, we set off on our walk.

Pembroke College

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Old Court, Pembroke College

The first college we went to was Pembroke, on the corner opposite Fitzbillies. As with most of the colleges, only the grounds and chapel can be visited.

The college was founded in 1347 by Marie de St Pol, Countess of Pembroke, and is the third oldest of the Cambridge colleges, and the oldest still on its original site. It was the first to have its own Chapel – that chapel is today known as the Old Library, having been replaced by a later one (more of that in a minute!) The college originally occupied just one court on the corner of Pembroke and Trumpington Streets, but in the 17th century it started to expand into what became known as Ivy Court (the original being of course Old Court) and in the 19th beyond this again, with the addition of a new library and several other buildings around what is known today as Library Lawn.

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Another view of Old Court

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Library Lawn with its statue of William Pitt, a former student

Meanwhile in the latter part of the 17th century a new chapel was commissioned, as the result of a vow made by a former student, Matthew Wren, now Bishop of Ely. While imprisoned in the Tower of London during the Civil War the bishop vowed that, if released, he would build a new chapel for his college, Pembroke. On release he proceeded to fulfil his vow, and chose as his architect his own nephew, Christopher. Thus this chapel, which was consecrated in 1665, became the first completed work of Christopher Wren, later to be Sir Christopher Wren. The east end of the chapel was later extended by George Gilbert Scott Junior, in 1880 – you can see the lighter stonework in the photo below.

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The chapel from Library Lawn

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Inside the chapel of Pembroke College

One modern addition, when we visited, can be seen on the right of the aisle in my first photo of the interior above. This curved cross is known as the Cross of the Migrants and was made by a carpenter from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Francesco Tuccio. He used some timbers from one of the many migrant boats which attempted the crossing to Lampedusa in 2016. The cross serves as a memorial to the 3,000 migrants who died in the Mediterranean that year. A sign adds that it is ‘also a challenge to us as citizens, voters, Christians, human beings.’ There is another similar cross made by Tuccio in 2013 in the British Museum: the Lampedusa cross. And you can read more about what inspired him to start making these crosses in this article from the BBC.

Fitzwilliam Museum

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Entrance to the Fitzwilliam Museum

From Pembroke College we walked a little further along Trumpington Street, passing Peterhouse College, to see the recently refurbished Fitzwilliam Museum (as an aside, you can see now how Fitzbillies got its name!) The museum was founded in 1816 by Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, who bequeathed to the University of Cambridge his works of art and his library, together with funds to house them, in order to further ‘the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation’. The collection has increased over the years, with art and artefacts from all over the world, and is now considered one of the best small museums in Europe.

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Portico ceiling

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Restored entrance hall

The refurbishment of the museum has focused on the restoration of the stunning Victorian entrance hall known as The Founder's Entrance. We only went into the entrance hall to admire, and photograph, its grandeur – a visit to the museum itself could otherwise have taken up most of our day and is perhaps better left to a less clement day.

Queens’ College

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On St Botolph's Church

Retracing our steps down Trumpington Street and back past Fitzbillies and past St Botolph’s Church we turned down Silver Street to visit our next college, Queens’. This is one of the colleges for which a charge is made to visit, but Members of the University of Cambridge, such as my friend, and residents of the city, can enter free of charge and take one guest – so no need for us to pay!

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Door detail, Queens'

Queens’ is one of the oldest and the largest colleges of the university, and was founded in 1448 by Lancastrian queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. It was subsequently re-founded, in 1465, by the rival Yorkist queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. This dual foundation is the reason why the college is always known as Queens’, never Queen’s.

Entering through the Great Gate we came first to Old Court, built between 1448 and 1451. The Old Library, on the right as you enter, is one of the earliest purpose-built libraries in Cambridge and has what looks like a beautiful and elaborate sundial but is in fact known as a moondial. This tells not only the time of day but also the current sign of the zodiac, month and much more – see this full explanation on the college website: Reading the Dial.

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Old Court moondial and clock, Queens'

On our way through to the next court, the Cloister Court, we could see into, but not enter, the Old Hall, part of the original college. It was hard to get photos through the glass because of all the reflections of the lighting in the passageway, but I did my best, helped by one of my friends who tried to shade the light, with some success. The hall has a beautiful painted ceiling, a 19th century restoration which removed a flat ceiling that had been added in the early 18th. The left-hand portrait at the far end is Erasmus, who once studied here, and the central figure one of the foundresses, Elizabeth Woodville, while on the right is Sir Thomas Smith, a 16th century diplomat and former Fellow of Queens’.

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Old Hall, Queens' College

The Cloister Court is named for its cloisters which were built in the 1490s to link the Old Court with other college buildings nearer the river.

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Cloister Court

Adjacent to Old Court is Walnut Tree Court, named for the tree that grows on its lawn. The one we see today is a replacement for an earlier one in the same position, standing on the line of a former monastery wall. The court was built in 1616–18. On its north side (left on my photo below) is the college chapel, which we didn’t go into (I believe it may have been closed).

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Walnut Tree Court

Instead we walked back through Cloister Court to the river and the famous Mathematical Bridge. The is a story attached to this bridge, which links the two halves of Queens’ College. It is said that the bridge was designed and built by Sir Isaac Newton without the use of nuts or bolts, and that later some students or fellows tried to take it apart and put it back together. They were unable to do so and had to resort to holding the bridge together with nuts and bolts. Sadly perhaps, this story is a myth - the bridge was built in 1749 by James Essex the Younger to the design of the master carpenter William Etheridge, 22 years after the death of Newton. This doesn’t stop the Mathematical Bridge from being one of the most photographed sights in Cambridge and of course I had to take some pictures too, waiting for punters to pass under it and position their boats in aesthetically pleasing spots!

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The Mathematical Bridge

Incidentally, punting on the Cam is a traditional and very popular activity here. You can hire a boat to punt yourself, or join an organised tour where the guide punts for you. The sound of the commentary on these tours drifts up as you watch from one of the many bridges or walk along the river banks – so much so that it can distract somewhat from the beautiful views. Punting was first introduced in the early 20th century and was quickly embraced by the students as a leisure activity, and more recently by visitors to the city keen to experience it as they do.

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Punting under the Mathematical Bridge

We decided to break for lunch at this point and had a very pleasant meal at the nearby Anchor pub, which I somehow omitted to photograph! It has a terrace overlooking the Cam, which on this sunny day was completely full, but we secured a table only just inside the door so we still had the view but were out of the sun, which was maybe a good thing as it was pretty hot for September. The pub dates back to 1864 and is associated with the rock band Pink Floyd – Syd Barrett was a regular here and the band played here several times.

King’s College

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King's College from the Backs

After our lunch we continued our explorations, crossing back over the Cam to walk along what are known as The Backs, the green lawns on the far side of the river to the town, from where you get excellent views of several of the colleges – and none more so than King’s.

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On King's College Bridge

We crossed back over the river at King’s College Bridge. This took us to the lawn immediately behind the main college buildings, dominant among them the famous King’s College Chapel.

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King's College Lawn with Chapel, Gatehouse and Screen

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Above the Gatehouse, King's College

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Entrance to King's College Chapel

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Exterior details of the Chapel

When I was a child my mother would always insist on listening to (and in later years watching) the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s on Christmas Eve, despite being the most unreligious person I know! That pause for beautiful music amidst the frenetic preparations for the big day was as much part of our family’s Christmas traditions as Mum’s recipe for Christmas pudding and the timing of the opening of gifts (always after breakfast!) So I loved being able to visit the chapel where these services are held.

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In King's College Chapel

As with Queens’, my friend’s membership of the university allowed us free access to the chapel and grounds of the college (otherwise the charge is £10). The chapel alone is worth a trip to Cambridge in my view – it is stunning!

The chapel was founded, like the college itself, by Henry VI. But the king didn’t live to see the work completed, being murdered in the Tower of London in 1471 when little more than the foundations had been built. Work continued rather half-heartedly under Edward IV and somewhat more enthusiastically under Richard III who gave instructions that 'the building should go on with all possible despatch' and to 'press workmen and all possible hands, provide materials and imprison anyone who opposed or delayed'. By the end of his reign the first six bays of the Chapel had reached full height and the first five bays were roofed with oak and lead and were in use.

But it was under the Tudors, first Henry VII and then Henry VIII, to finish the work, and they did so in a grand style. The main structure and the vaulting (the chapel has the world's largest fan vaulted ceiling) were funded by Henry VII – partly during his reign and partly through his will. It was Henry VIII who oversaw the fan vaulting, which was built in just three years between 1512 and 1515, and later the glazing and most of the woodwork. The most striking example of the latter is the rood screen, which separates the nave from the altar and supports the chapel organ. This was erected in 1532–36 by Henry VIII in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and you can see both their initials carved on it. It is considered an exceptional example of early Renaissance architecture.

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Henry VIII's initials carved in the rood screen

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Arms of Henry VIII, King's College Chapel

The Tudors were of course a royal family under pressure – recently come to the throne as a result of victory in the Wars of the Roses, and facing ongoing challenges from other claimants. Asserting their authority was highly important, and where better to do so than in the building of this magnificent chapel?

Much of the decoration here, therefore, has little to do with Christianity and much to do with the power of the ruling family. The arms of Henry VII appear above the entrance and are repeated all around the walls of the nave, below the choir. A feature on the university website describes them:

‘Each shield (or escutcheon) is flanked by heraldic “supporters”: a dragon on the left and a greyhound on the right. Carved from pale limestone, the slender greyhounds have collars set with jewels, marking them out as favoured members of a wealthy household. All the shields have holes in their left-hand corners. This is a reference to jousting: a knight would pass his lance through the hole in the shield in order to defend himself while tilting at his opponent.’

The greyhound is the symbol of the Beaufort family (Henry’s mother was a Beaufort) while the dragon is the emblem of the Tudors. It struck me how each pair of animals is posed slightly differently – I haven’t found any mention of this online, so it perhaps has no particular significance other than to demonstrate the skill of Henry VII’s master mason John Wastell and his chief carver Thomas Stockton, or even to relieve their boredom at creating multiple copies of their master’s arms!

Elsewhere you will see the crowned Tudor rose, the crowned portcullis (another Beaufort family emblem), and the crowned fleur de lis for his titular kingship of France. Look at my photo of the fan vaulted ceiling – roses and portcullises sit at the highest intersections.

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Fan vaulted ceiling, King's College Chapel

You have to look quite closely to find any religious symbols in the stonework, like the small instrument-playing angels I spotted high on the walls of the chancel.

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Carving of angel, King's College Chapel

The stained glass windows here are magnificent, and these do have a religious theme, depicting scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. Even here though the politics of the time crept in. I found the following intriguing explanation in a Telegraph newspaper review of a book about the windows:

‘Henry VII studded the windows with stubby hawthorn bushes that symbolised his victory at Bosworth Field. As Henry VIII careered from one wife to another, the glaziers were called on to make subtle alterations to the windows: for example, Anne Boleyn's falcon badge was quietly translated into Jane Seymour's phoenix. … Henry was Solomon. Henry was Moses. Henry was David brandishing the head of a papal Goliath. Renaissance buildings, Tudor galleons and more naturalistic techniques humanised the illustrations.’

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Stained glass windows

Amazingly most of the original early 16th century windows, including the great east window behind the altar, survived both the ravages of Cromwell during the Commonwealth and the bombs of World War Two when most was taken out and stored safely elsewhere.

The only later window is the west one, added in 1879, but it holds its own among all the others.

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West window, King's College Chapel

The painting above the altar is the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens, originally painted in 1634 for the Convent of the White Nuns at Louvain in Belgium. It was installed here in 1968, an operation that involved lowering the sanctuary floor and which was therefore not without controversy – especially as the painting is not considered one of Rubens’ best and as it clashes in style with the stunning east window immediately above it.

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East window, and Adoration of the Magi by Rubens

To the right of the altar a small side chapel serves as a memorial to those from the college (scholars, fellows, masters, staff etc.) who died in the two world wars. One very notable name to look for, near the top left of the WW1 commemorative plaque, is that of the famous war poet Rupert Brooke who died in 1915, aged just 18, from sepsis while with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. His most famous poem is The Soldier:

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WWI memorial plaque

‘If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.’

I don’t think any number of photos can replicate the overall impression you get standing in this chapel, so do look at this virtual tour on the Kings College website to get the full effect.

More colleges and other sights

From Kings we walked past the Old Schools which house the Cambridge University offices and formerly housed the Cambridge University Library. My photos are of the entrance gate on the west side in a building designed by George Gilbert Scott (also responsible for the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial, among many others).

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The Old Schools

We walked through Senate Passage and emerged on to Kings Parade by Senate House. This is where all the university degree ceremonies are held. It was designed and built by James Gibbs in 1722–1730 , in a neo-classical style using Portland stone.

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Senate House from Senate Passage

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Senate House from King's Parade

We passed, but didn’t go into, Gonville and Caius College, named for its two founders. Gonville, Rector of Terrington St Clement in Norfolk, first founded the College as Gonville Hall in 1348. When it went into decline in the 16th century a former student and Fellow, John Keys, who also spelled his name as the Latin Caius, came to the rescue and re-founded his old College of Gonville Hall as ‘Gonville and Caius College’. My assumption is that the two stone figures above the Great Gate which show men holding buildings must be Gonville and Caius, and the third, in bishop’s robes, would perhaps be William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich, who executed Gonville’s will and appointed the first Master of the college (he also, incidentally, set up his own college, Trinity, which we will come to shortly).

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Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Next on our route was Great St Mary’s, the university church. Although we didn’t, it’s possible to climb the 123 steps of the tower for views of the city. The present church was constructed between 1478 and 1519, replacing two earlier ones on this sit, and the tower finished later, in 1608. There have been various restorations over the centuries including one by George Gilbert Scott in 1850-51, and most recently during the last century.

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Great St Mary’s, the university church

We continued our walk north along Trinity Street, passing the Great Gate of Trinity College which was built at the beginning of the 16th century. Above the gate is a carving of King Henry VIII who founded the College in 1546 – one of the very last acts of his life. It was formed by amalgamating two existing colleges, King’s Hall and Michaelhouse. Look carefully at the carving on my photo below – Henry is holding a chair or table leg in his right hand! It is thought that this was substituted for the original sword, but no one knows when, or how, although it seems likely to have been a student prank.

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Trinity College - statue of Henry VIII

Students, presumably freshers (first year undergraduates), were arriving here and I spotted these men in traditional bowler hats welcoming them at the old wooden gate.

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At Trinity College

St John’s College

A little further on we came to another Great Gate, that of St John’s College.

The statue above it is of St John the Evangelist, with an eagle (his traditional symbol and an emblem of the College). He carries a poisoned chalice with a snake twined around it, representing the legend that once, while at Ephesus, John was given a cup of poisoned wine to drink. Before drinking, he blessed the cup and the poison departed the cup in the form of a serpent.

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Above the Great Gate, St John’s College

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First Court, St John’s College

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St John’s College Chapel
from Trinity Street

Passing through the gate we were in the college’s First Court, from where we had good views of the college chapel’s impressive tower, the tallest building in Cambridge, which we had already seen in front of us as we walked along Trinity Street.

Front Court dates from the early 16th century though it has been considerably altered over the centuries, especially on the north side where this chapel was built. The chapel is relatively new by Cambridge standards, having been built between 1866 and 1869 to replace a smaller medieval chapel which dated back to the 13th century. The architect was Sir George Gilbert Scott (his name crops up a lot when you read about the college buildings of Cambridge!)

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St John’s College Chapel

The main part of chapel was closed so we could only peer at it from the entrance area through a wrought iron screen. I would like to be able to say that I didn’t see the ‘no photos’ sign until after I had taken this one!

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St John’s College Chapel

We carried on into Second Court, which was built from 1598 to 1602 and is far more intact than First Court, with a symmetry to its Tudor buildings.

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Looking back at the chapel from Second Court

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In Second Court

On the far side of the Second Court (the west) is another imposing gate, a copy of the Great Gate. Above the archway is a statue of Mary Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, who financed the building of the court, which was added in 1671. I was taken by the little faces set into the archway – all different and all rather gargoyle-like in their ugliness!

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Statue of Mary Talbot

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Carving details

We walked through Third Court and little Kitchen Court, and from there out on to the Wren Bridge over the Cam. As the name suggests, the bridge was based on designs by Sir Christopher Wren, albeit for a bridge intended for a different place. I liked the goat-like statues adorning the gateway to this bridge.

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In Kitchen Court, and on the Wren Bridge

The Wren Bridge is the perfect vantage point for views and photos of Cambridge’s best-known bridge, the Bridge of Sighs. This was built in 1831 and is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, presumably because both are covered. University legend however has it that the bridge is named for the sighs of students as they walk from their rooms in one of the courts on the Backs (New Court, River Court, Cripps Court) to their tutors' offices.

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The Bridge of Sighs

On the far side of the Cam we had a lovely view of New Court, the first college court to be built on this side of the river. It was built between 1826 and 1831 in the Gothic Revival style, to accommodate the growing number of students. It has the flamboyance typical of that style, and in the September sunshine and with beautiful flower beds outside, looked like a very grand stately home.

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New Court, St John's College

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New Court from the Wren Bridge

The Round Church

St John’s was the last college that we visited. Feet were growing weary and I had a train to catch. So we decided to catch a bus back to the main city centre bus terminus from where I could catch a second bus to the station and my friends one to their home.

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The Round Church

We found a pleasant spot in which to wait for our bus, outside the Round Church (more properly the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). This is one of just four medieval round churches still in use in England. It was originally built in 1130, modelled on the 4th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and although it has seen many structural changes since then a sign outside proclaimed it the oldest church in Cambridge.

A fitting place perhaps to end our walk around this historic city.

Posted by ToonSarah 10:36 Archived in England Tagged bridges buildings architecture history city museum university chapel Comments (16)

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