A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about churches

And did those feet …?

Glastonbury

large_8af27f20-096f-11eb-83b2-53b8cf3968a6.JPG
Glastonbury Tor

Long, long before it was home to one of the world’s most famous music festivals, Glastonbury was a place of pilgrimage not for music fans but for those seeking a more mystical experience. The ruined abbey is associated with Joseph of Arimathea, who is said to have arrived in Glastonbury and stuck his staff into the ground, when it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn. There are also links to the Holy Grail and King Arthur. On the edge of the town Glastonbury Tor rises above the Somerset Levels, it too associated with Arthurian legend.

All of this has led to the town becoming a magnet not only for tourists but also for New Agers, hippies and followers of various Pagan cults. On its streets, everyday shops rub shoulders with those selling crystals and tarot cards, while tourists in practical anoraks and walking shoes mingle with local farmers in wellies and with more recently arrived and more colourfully dressed residents.

Glastonbury Abbey

large_P1250999.JPG
Glastonbury Abbey - the ruins of the Great Church

Glastonbury Abbey was founded in the 7th century on a site previously occupied by both Roman and Saxon settlements. It was enlarged in the 10th century and destroyed by a major fire in 1184, but subsequently rebuilt. By the 14th century it was one of the richest and most powerful monasteries in England, but like other such places in Britain it was dissolved by Henry VIII and fell into ruin.

Those are the basic facts, but many myths have grown up around the abbey. In medieval times a Christian legend claimed that it had been founded by Joseph of Arimathea in the 1st century. Joseph was a follower of Christ who undertook his burial after his crucifixion. The legends tell how Joseph travelled to Britain, bringing with him the Holy Grail – the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. It is said that he pushed his staff into the ground while he lay down to sleep and it miraculously took root and became a leafy, flowering thorn tree.

e4fdb3d0-098e-11eb-9fdd-97bdb9ae157e.jpg
The Holy Thorn

e5c91a20-098e-11eb-9ecb-a57d3286e942.jpg
The Holy Thorn and St Patrick's Chapel

The thorn tree that can be seen in the abbey grounds is said to be a cutting from the direct descendent of this tree which grows on nearby Wearyall Hill. The abbey’s website tells the story in more detail:

‘By the 1530s, not long before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, three thorn trees grew on Wearyall Hill (sometimes known as Wirral Hill) about 1km south-west of Glastonbury. The trees were very unusual because they flowered twice - once in the spring around Easter, and a second time at Christmas. Not surprisingly, they were seen as holy thorns. In the Civil Wars of the 17th century Puritan soldiers cut down the only remaining thorn because they saw it as an object of superstition. However, local people had kept cuttings, and it is from these that the thorn now growing in the abbey grounds is believed to descend. It continues to flower around Easter and again at Christmas.

The holy thorn has become part of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea. According to this story, when Joseph arrived in Glastonbury with his twelve companions he climbed Wearyall Hill, whose name derives from his proclaiming 'we are weary all'. He planted his staff in the ground whilst he rested. The following morning the staff had taken root, and it grew into the miraculous thorn tree.’

Some versions of the legend say that the risen Christ accompanied Joseph on his journey to Britain. It is thought that this is what inspired the opening lines of William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’:

‘And did those feet, in ancient times,
Walk upon England’s mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?’

I should add though that some scholars find this an unlikely source for Blake, arguing that the tradition that Jesus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to Britain only arose in the early 20th century.

Visiting the abbey

Much of the abbey is in ruins although a couple of buildings are still intact. We visited on a cool but bright September morning, great for photographing what remains of the arches, windows and other features.

Near the entrance is St Patrick's Chapel which was founded by Abbot Richard Beere in 1500 and is still used for worship today. One of the many legends associated with Glastonbury is that St Patrick is buried here. This legend recounts that it was from Glastonbury that Patrick set out to convert the Irish and that he returned here at the end of his life to die. Hence the dedication of this chapel to the saint.

The chapel was restored in 2009/2010 and the wall paintings and stained glass, which I loved, date from then despite their traditional appearance. They include two depictions of St Patrick - one in the stained glass behind the altar which shows him standing above a snake (he is popularly held to have banished all snakes from Ireland) and the other a wall painting showing him with a wolfhound.

P1250986.JPGP1250989.JPG
Images of St Patrick

large_P1250988.JPG
In St Patrick's Chapel

From here we went to explore the ruins of the Great Church. In places these still stand quite tall and it is easy to imagine how impressive the building must once have been. In other places there are simply lines of stone in the grass, marking the foundations.

large_P1260013.JPG

P1260002.JPGP1250995.JPG
The ruins of the Great Church

P1250998.JPG
Arthur's tomb

In the centre a rectangle is marked out and a sign identifies it as the site of King Arthur’s tomb. It reads:

‘In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his queen were said to have been found on the south side of the Lady Chapel. On 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of king Edward I and Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb on this site. This tomb survived until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.’

Today the authenticity of this find is disputed, with most historians suggesting that it was a publicity stunt undertaken to raise funds to repair the Abbey, which had been badly damaged by the fire of 1184. Nevertheless, the link with Arthur persists to this day and draws many to visit Glastonbury.

large_P1260014.JPG
The Great Church from the monastery ruins

We walked through the ruins of the monastery, none of the walls rising to a height of more than a foot or two, to reach the much more substantial Abbot’s Kitchen. This is the only surviving part of the Abbot’s house and is a sign of how different the abbot’s life would have been to that of the monks. While they lived a life of abstinence and poverty, he had a magnificent house, as befitted the abbot of the second richest abbey in the country (eclipsed only by Westminster). His kitchen needed to be able to cater to the many great visitors who came to the abbey, including Henry VII for whom a special apartment was added to the house.

large_P1260020.JPG
The Abbot's Kitchen

large_P1260023.JPG
Gargoyle on the Abbot's Kitchen

This is considered to be one of the best-preserved medieval kitchens in Europe. It has four great fireplaces, one in each corner, and a central chimney to draw out the smoke. Its high ceiling allowed the head chef to stand on a raised gallery to supervise the work of the rest of the cooks and servants as they prepared feasts worthy of their VIP guests.

P1260015.JPG

P1260017.JPG
In the Abbot's Kitchen

P1260016.JPG
The ceiling of the Abbot's Kitchen

Between the kitchen and the entrance area lies the Lady Chapel. This is somewhat more intact than the Great Church (most of its walls still stand) and it’s easier to visualise the original structure.

P1260031.JPGP1260029.JPG
The Lady Chapel

The walls would once have been painted in ochre, red, blue, green and white, with gold leaf details. Some traces of paint still remain around the carved arches. The abbey website says that the paintwork ‘almost certainly dates to 1184-99 - probably to 1184-89’.

5b96e0c0-098f-11eb-9ecb-a57d3286e942.jpg
Carvings on the Lady Chapel

P1260028.jpg

P1260032.jpg

In the crypt below the chapel is a well known as St Joseph’s Well. This was in existence long before the chapel was built, and may date back to Roman times, but (perhaps because of its age) it became incorporated into the various legends linking Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury. It was consequently a place of pilgrimage right through to the 16th century, when many miracles and cures were said to have taken place following offerings made here.

Glastonbury, the town

After leaving the abbey we walked through the town, enjoying the atmosphere and taking a few photos of the more interesting characters on the streets.

large_P1260080.JPG

P1260034.JPGP1260040.JPG
Seen in Glastonbury

In non-COVID times I might have been tempted to browse some of the shops, but as it was I just went into one to buy a pretty birthday card for my sister.

P1260035.JPG
Sign in a Glastonbury shop

Glastonbury Tor

Our destination was Glastonbury Tor which lies to the east of the abbey. To get there we followed a path past some houses and then up and across the fields, climbing steadily.

P1260045.JPG
In a garden on the way to Glastonbury Tor

P1260071.JPG
Seen on the way to Glastonbury Tor

P1260049.JPG
Seen on the path to Glastonbury Tor

This terraced conical hill has long been associated with tales of King Arthur. It is thought that the Ancient Britons called it Ynys yr Afalon, leading to a belief that this is the fabled Isle of Avalon of Arthurian myth. Certainly it was once an island, rising above the shallow sea that used to cover what are now the Somerset Levels. It was crowned by a church, St Michael’s, built from wood in the 11th or 12th centuries, and some other Saxon buildings, possibly cells for hermit monks. That church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1275 and replaced by a stone one, of which only the tower remains – the remainder of the church was demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries.

large_P1260061.JPG

large_P1260059.JPG
Glastonbury Tor

As to the links with Arthur, some say that this is the likely hiding place of the Holy Grail, making the Tor a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Other stories grew up around the tor too, perhaps because there is something mystical in the way it rises above the plains, especially on a misty day. Some have said it holds the door to the land of the fairies, others the door to the land of the dead.

But for most visitors to Glastonbury the hill represents something much more simple – the challenge to climb it and the reward of great views when you do. I have made the climb several times in the past, when my legs were much younger, but on this occasion I decided it was enough to have climbed halfway and I left Chris, who had never been here before, to finish alone.

P1260077.JPGP1260060.JPG
Token hung in a tree, and carved stone near the point where I gave up the climb!

The Somerset Levels

After lunch in the town we drove a little to the east, to a nature reserve on the Levels, and had a rather windswept walk. The hides were closed because of the pandemic so we couldn’t get very close to the birds we saw out on the water. Nevertheless, I got a decent collection of photos, and the dragonflies were far more obliging than the birds!

P1260098.JPG

P1260091.JPG

P1260093.JPG

P1260104.JPG

P1260107.JPG

At Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve

Later in our stay in Somerset we had a lovely short walk near Deerleap, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, and I took some shots of the wonderful views across the Levels towards Glastonbury Tor, so I will finish this entry with one of those images.

large_P1260161.JPG
View of the Somerset Levels and Glastonbury Tor from the Mendips

Posted by ToonSarah 03:35 Archived in England Tagged landscapes churches england history ruins views abbey legends glastonbury street_photography covid_19 Comments (11)

A Breath of Fresh Air

Grinton

large_P1110613.jpg
Swaledale

The Yorkshire Dales are one of the loveliest parts of England, and Swaledale one of the loveliest dales, though less well known than its neighbour to the south, Wensleydale. Near the head of Swaledale is the quiet village of Grinton. It isn’t particularly on the tourist trail, though connoisseurs of the English countryside may find their way here, as may fans of the James Herriot books which were set near this part of Yorkshire.

We know it however as the village where my father-in-law, John, spent several happy years as a boy, having been evacuated here to escape the war-time bombing of Tyneside. Although a city boy by birth, he fell in love with the beautiful countryside and the rural way of life, and continued to visit here regularly for the rest of his life, bringing us with him on many occasions. When he died in 2009 we followed his wishes and scattered his ashes on the moor above Grinton. Thus the place that had meant so much to him became his final resting place.

large_40266b90-57ce-11e9-89ef-57573ef164df.JPG
Grinton Moor

The house where John lived as a boy was home to a gamekeeper, Billy Holland, and his wife. Nowadays it has become part of the pub next door to form the Bridge Inn, and we visit annually to meet up with the Hollands’ two daughters and their husbands, bringing John’s two sisters, May (who was also evacuated here) and Gloria (just a baby during the war and considered too young to leave her mother). It’s a chance for that generation to reminisce about the old days and for us to enjoy their stories.

large_4699059-The_Bridge_Inn_Grinton_Grinton.jpg
The Bridge Inn

P1000236.jpg
May, Chris and Gloria outside the Bridge Inn

Some years ago my mother-in-law Teresa captured John’s stories as part of the BBC’s ‘People’s War’ project in a piece they called ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’, and I’ve included some extracts here. I hope you enjoy them as much as we have done and will come to understand just why this place meant so much to John, and why his memory will live on here for all of us.

St. Andrew's Church

large_4699047-St_Andrews_Church_Grinton_Grinton.jpg
St. Andrew's Church

I have seen this church referred to as “the Cathedral of the Dale”, which sounds very grand for what is simply a rather peaceful old parish church. The oldest part of the Church is Norman, showing that there has been a church here for over 900 years, and it is thought that there may even have been a Saxon Church here prior to that.

Most of the present-day building though dates from the fourteen to sixteenth centuries. Although I have been there several times, it is only now, researching for this page, that I have found out much about it.

The original Norman church was only the nave to the Chancel steps of the current church with the aisles being added in the 16th Century. The font, a small window in the west wall and the chancel arch are all that now remain of the original Norman church.

The wood screen in the chancel was carved in the 14th century. The Lepers’ squint, a small window in the screen, was designed to allow those who suffered from leprosy and were not allowed in to the church to see what was happening and take part in the service.

The church floor is 3 to 4 feet lower than the churchyard level. It is the original level of the church. The height difference is apparently due to all the burials over the last 900 years which have raised the churchyard by this amount.

The 1718 inscription over the pulpit is the date when the pews were installed. Until then there were no seats, the parishioners sat or knelt on the floor. It was only during the Reformation period that pews were installed in churches. The tower was also a 16th century addition.

P81900351.jpg

4699053-John_in_the_village_church_Grinton.jpg
John in St Andrews Church

My father-in-law had many happy memories of this church. In ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ he said:
‘Mrs. Holland played the organ in the local church so we found ourselves at services three times on a Sunday. Sometimes I was allowed to pump up the organ for her. I was also in the choir and sang solo until my voice broke. I never thought then that one day I would return to Grinton with my family, visit the church, see the organ and sit in a pew reminiscing.’

Grinton Moor

P1110617.jpg
Swaledale

Swaledale’s scenery is characterised by its green valley dotted with trees; fields above dotted with white sheep and separated by the traditional drystone walls; and windswept heather moorland beyond these. This landscape may look in places like nature at its wildest but in truth was created by a combination of traditional farming practices and lead mining.

While sheep farmers gradually enclosed the lower slopes to create this characteristic mosaic of dry-stone walled compartments and stone field barns, the spoil heaps and scars of the lead mining industry are responsible for much of the barren and bleaker parts of the dale especially on the moorland. You will also see occasional ruined stone mine buildings up on these moors.

Swaledale is part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the moors are therefore protected. There are many footpaths crisscrossing the moors, and a walk up here will certainly blow the city cobwebs away!

My photo below shows the special spot above Grinton where Chris scattered his father’s ashes. The purple heather makes a fitting resting place for a man who loved this landscape and who came to feel so at home here as a young boy.

large_4699049-Grinton_Moor_Grinton.jpg
Grinton Moor

Here are some more extracts from ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’

‘We arrived in Grinton, Swaledale, ten miles west of Richmond, Yorkshire, into the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. I knew nothing about the countryside at that time. George and I were billeted with a young, newly married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Holland....

The house where I lived is now part of the Bridge Hotel. The first memory of the village was the silence and the lack of noise from trams, trains, ships’ hooters and the like. Also the sound of unfamiliar birds each morning. We had no timepiece in the bedroom and consequently always being hungry I found I was first up each morning! The house was a big, two-storied building adjoining the Bridge Hotel at the side and the back so there was no back entrance. … It fronted the main road to Reeth, a village about a mile away. It had three steps down leading to a sunken patio. The door led to a cosy living room with a coal fire. Here we took our meals and relaxed in the evenings listening to the battery-operated wireless, or, in the case of Mr. Holland, dozing by the fire. Sometimes he would be nursing George and the two of them would be fast asleep in the wooden slatted rocking chair!

IMG_0229a.jpg
Chris and May at the Bridge Inn

P1110610.jpg
In the Bridge Inn
- I believe this is the
former Sunday Parlour

Paraffin lamps provided the lighting (there being no gas or electricity) and the cooking was done on two primus stoves or on the grill above the coal fire. There was a highly polished fender surrounding the fire.

A door to the left led to the Sunday Parlour. It was rarely used at any other time. On a rack in the corner were Mr. Holland’s two 12 bore shot guns, (he was employed as shepherd/acting gamekeeper) and later a 303 calibre Enfield rifle, which was supplied when he joined the LDV (later to become the Home Guard). Also in the rack was a selection of walking sticks and umbrellas.

To the right leading off the living room was the kitchen. This had a sink (cold water only). The two primus stoves stood on a bench. Off the kitchen was a walk-in pantry. The shelves held a number of the previous year’s storage jars of home-made jams and chutneys. It also had a stone slab for “perishables”. The milk was delivered in a churn from where the milkman used a dipper to measure the required amount into Mrs. Holland’s large enamel milk jug. The milk float had rubber tyres and was pulled by a horse.

A staircase led to the three bedrooms upstairs. At one time the third bedroom was occupied by an elderly lady from London. She was kind to me but didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mr. and Mrs. Holland and returned to London soon afterwards. We all went to bed by the light of a candle. My household chores commenced early each morning when I primed the two stoves and lit the fire, which I set with cowlings (a form of dried heather) and coal…

The nearest school, Fremington, was located about one mile to the north but only catered for children up to the age of eleven, so they had no facilities for a couple of us. One of the Government slogans at that time was ‘Dig for Victory’ so the schoolteacher put us to work growing vegetables in the school garden. Mr. Holland and I dug up the Vicar’s tennis court and we planted more vegetables. The fresh air gave us quite an appetite and we were very well fed. We developed muscles and in the summer sported healthy suntans….

At first George was homesick and set off to walk to Gateshead regularly but his legs didn’t carry him very far and I was able to bring him back. I remember Mr. Holland sitting some evenings with George, teaching him to read and write. George was a great favourite in the village. When not at school he would sit with his legs dangling over the bridge which spanned the river singing some of the bawdy songs the cattle drovers had taught him in Gateshead. This greatly amused the villagers although I suspect they couldn’t understand his Geordie accent.…

large_P1110616.jpg
On Grinton Moor

There were no buses at all but our entertainments included an occasional silent film show given by the Vicar — usually featuring Charlie Chaplin — a great favourite. We listened avidly to the battery radio as we had no gas or electricity. Once Gateshead Council arranged for us to be taken to the Zetland Cinema in Richmond — another treat! The film was ‘Pinnochio’.

They also arranged for my mother, two younger members of the family and my cousin to visit us twice. Each week we wrote letters home and each week we received a postal order for 6d [2.5p in today’s decimal currency]. Of this, I got 2d, George and May also 2d. Mr. Holland cut a slot in an empty Fynnon Salts tin and this was for my savings. Other outings included trips with Mrs. Holland to the Women’s Institute. They had a small library on the premises so I spent the time reading. I remember on one occasion Mrs. Holland discovered me reading a book she considered unsuitable so she removed it.

She bottled all sorts of jams and preserves, some of which were donated to the local Fayres. The recipes were taken from Mr. Woolton’s radio programme. He was the Minister of Food. Sometimes I was allowed to go on her bike for the shopping in Reeth. Another treat was to ride pillion when Mr. Holland and I mended the fencing. Other times I was allowed to visit his four gun dogs which were kennelled away from the house….

The Vicar had an orchard from where we were allowed to pick up and eat the windfall fruit. What we couldn’t eat my pal and I squirreled away in the hollow of an old tree. We also tickled trout in the beck. The Vicar was the only person in the village (apart from the Post Office) who owned a telephone. He was also the A.R.P. warden and one occasion he went around the village with a hand-bell to announce that a land-mine had been dropped on Grinton Moor leaving a huge crater but not doing any damage. The following day I went up and picked up a piece of shrapnel and a length of multi-coloured parachute cord. I was fascinated.

large_P1110614.jpg
On Grinton Moor

Life in 1941 carried on as usual but the outstanding memory of it was the winter. This was particularly severe. Mr. Holland’s sheep were kept up on the moors and during the winter they would take shelter in the lee of the dry-stone walls and fences. Unfortunately this was where the snow drifted and a considerable time was spent digging them out. Mr. Holland and the dogs knew exactly where to look for them and consequently we managed to save the majority. But as the winter dragged on we were digging out dead sheep. These we attached to the spade with rope and dragged by the horns to a nearby bog where they immediately sank. This I found very upsetting and exhausting but Mrs. Holland had a meal ready for us with home-made stout to wash it down with! Sheer heaven.

By 1942 I was well and truly a Yorkshireman and delighted in it. I even spoke their dialect. ... Unfortunately Gateshead Council decided I was now old enough to be bombed so they instructed me to return home. I was nearing school-leaving age (14) and was required to collect my School-leaving Certificate and find a job. My brother and sister were too young to remain on their own so they returned home with me. I don’t remember much of the parting except that it happened very quickly and my elder brother came to collect us, but I did not feel I had said a proper “goodbye” to Mr. and Mrs. Holland and my friends....’

large_3e5e55c0-57ce-11e9-89ef-57573ef164df.JPG
On Grinton Moor

I hope some of you will have enjoyed reading these first-hand reminiscences about the war years and what it was like for a city boy to find himself living in such a very different environment. Although of course things have changed since then in Grinton, life still moves at a slower pace in this corner of England and the village that John knew is still very recognisable – and well worth a visit.

IMG_0749.JPG
Grinton Lodge with sheep

P1110608.jpg
Swaledale sheep and dry walls

And if you do come, have a meal or a drink in the Bridge Inn and raise a glass to John and the family which welcomed him and George into their home, just as so many other families welcomed the children of strangers during those years.

P81800341.jpg
Sunday dinner at the Bridge Inn
- when my in-laws were still with us

Posted by ToonSarah 11:07 Archived in England Tagged landscapes churches history views village family war_and_peace world_war_two Comments (20)

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.

867758236808920-Descriptive_..ry_Ruislip.jpg
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.

cdcc7490-796f-11e9-a26f-dfd720689d17.jpg
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.

8dccaa20-796c-11e9-8dd6-73a3bce45b92.jpg
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.

392626826808957-Typical_1930..ip_Ruislip.jpg
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:

6808956-Ruislip_Gardens_station_today_Ruislip.jpg
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.

IMG_3333.JPG
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

6808898-St_Martins_Church_Ruislip.jpg
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.

6808900-Detail_Ruislip.jpg6808902-Above_the_main_door_Ruislip.jpg
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!

6808899-Inside_the_church_Ruislip.jpg6808901-Above_the_lych_gate_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_178262316808906-Almshouses_f..rd_Ruislip.jpg
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.

6808904-Almshouses_from_Eastcote_Road_Ruislip.jpg
The almshouses from Eastcote Road

6808905-Window_detail_Ruislip.jpg
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

large_6808907-West_side_of_the_barn_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_6808908-East_side_of_the_barn_Ruislip.jpg
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.

6808909-The_great_doors_Ruislip.jpg
The great doors of the Great Barn

Manor Farm: the Little Barn

P1000146.jpg
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!)

6808921-Old_beams_in_the_roof_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_35921226808918-The_library_..en_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_6808925-Manor_Farm_House_and_moat_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_997156366808927-The_farm_hou..re_Ruislip.jpg
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.

6808933-The_Duck_Pond_Ruislip.jpg

6808936-The_Duck_Pond_Ruislip.jpg

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.

285145696808942-River_Pinn_K..ds_Ruislip.jpg6808941-A_walk_by_the_Pinn_Ruislip.jpg
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

large_6808950-Entrance_to_Park_Wood_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_255578356808952-Near_the_ent..od_Ruislip.jpg
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.

large_P1000171b.jpg
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.

808102306808958-Much_rarer_1..ve_Ruislip.jpg
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.

6808947-Detail_of_the_memorial_Ruislip.jpg
The Polish War Memorial

6808948-Polish_War_Memorial_Ruislip.jpg

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.

********************************

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)

On England’s east coast

A visit to Suffolk

large_P1010962.jpg
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.

P1010960.jpgP1010959.jpg
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.

large_P1010952.JPG
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!

large_P1010956.jpg
Woodbridge Tide Mill and River Deben
You can see the bright red Coffee Pod in front of the mill!

large_P1010947.jpg
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.

P1010961.jpg
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

large_P1150766.jpg
large_P1150795.jpg
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.

P1150759.jpg

P1150773.jpg

P1150761.jpg

P1150776.jpgP1150775.JPG
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.

P1150790.jpg

P1150796.jpg

P1150797.jpg

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!

P1150763.jpg
P1150770.jpg
On the beach at Aldeburgh

P1150777.jpg
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.

large_P1150782.jpg
large_P1150783.jpg
large_P1150781.jpg
The Scallop

large_P1150787.JPG
large_P1150785.jpg
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.

large_P1150793.jpg
Fishing hut

P1150806.jpgP1150804.jpg
Boats on the beach

P1150807.JPGP1150801.jpg
Beach details

P1150810.jpgP1150808.jpg
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

large_P1150828.jpg
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.

large_P1150813.jpg
Orford Quay

large_P1150811.jpg
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.

large_P1150812.jpg
Orford Ness lighthouse

P1150819.jpg

P1150820.jpg

P1150823.jpg

P1150825.jpg
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.

P1150827.jpgP1150829.jpg
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.

P1150835.jpg
large_P1150831.jpg
P1150834.jpgP1150833.jpg
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.

P1150843.jpgP1150844.jpg
Orford Castle

P1150842.jpgP1150846.jpg
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.

P1150850.jpgP1150851.jpg
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.

P1150848.jpgP1150849.jpg
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.

P1150847.jpg
St. Mary the Virgin, Dedham

P1150853.jpg
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!)

P1150860.jpgP1150856.jpg
Inside St. Mary the Virgin

P1150861.jpg
large_P1150859.jpg
P1150858.jpg
Harvest Festival time at St. Mary the Virgin

P1150862.jpgP1150855.jpg
'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)

Exploring Rotherhithe

London

large_IMG_2500c.jpg
River view from Rotherhithe

In my previous entry I promised to write more about Rotherhithe. On that occasion we skipped exploring this area as we had visited just a few years ago with my Virtual Tourist friend Regina. But there is plenty to see in this small corner of London, as I hope to show you now.

The Brunel Museum

IMG_2504.JPG
The Brunel Museum

This small museum in Rotherhithe tells the story of the building of the Thames Tunnel by two of England’s greatest and best known engineers – Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The museum is located in the engine house built in 1842 to accommodate steam engines that drove the pumps to keep the Thames Tunnel dry.

When it first opened in 1843 the Thames Tunnel was described as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It was the first tunnel to be built with a tunneling shield under a navigable river and became an overnight tourist attraction. In those early days of the explosion of engineering techniques, every new achievement was a minor miracle and to the Victorians who flocked here the sight of the tunnel disappearing under the river would have been as impressive as the photos we see from outer space are to us – perhaps more so, because they could themselves walk through the tunnel whereas we can only marvel at the depths of the universe on TV or on our computer screens!

As I looked at the old pictures and read about the tunnel I imagined how those who visited must have felt. Were they scared to walk under the river for the first time or just excited?

The website explains, ‘On opening day 50,000 people walked through the tunnel paying a penny each. Within the first ten weeks 1,000,000 people had walked through. These were staggering numbers that any attraction would be delighted with today but bear in mind this was 1843 when the population of London was 2,000,000 people.’

IMG_2506.JPG
In the Brunel Museum

But this was never intended to be a tourist attraction, but rather a working transport link to carry cargo under the river and relieve the busy ferries. A bridge wasn’t practical here, as it would have to be very tall to allow sailing ships to pass underneath (and the technology to raise and lower a bridge did not yet exist). So Brunel proposed a tunnel and developed a special technique, using a tunneling shield to support the tunnel’s walls and roof. You can read more about how the tunnel was built, and all the difficulties they experienced, on the museum’s website.

However, the ramps needed to allow carts to pass through were never built, as the money ran out, so it remained a tourist novelty for a while. Later it was used for trains, and in recent years it has been reopened for use by a London Overground extension (yes, I know tunneling under the Thames isn’t exactly ‘over ground’ but that’s the name of the network!)

The museum has some interesting old pictures of the tunnel during and after construction, and informative panels about the work, as well as the lives of the two Brunels. But it isn’t large and you can see more or less everything in 15 minutes or so. When you’ve finished you can browse the bookshop (also small), have a drink in the café (ditto) or simply relax in the small square in which the museum sits. In this square you will see the shaft dug by Brunel to access the tunnel works, which after the tunnel was completed was turned into the Rotherhithe Grand Entrance Hall. It can’t be visited except on one of the museum’s twice weekly guided walks. Oh, and check out the benches in the square which are shaped like some of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s bridges.

Rotherhithe Picture Research Library (Sands Films)

large_IMG_2512.JPG
In Rotherhithe Picture Research Library

P1000286.JPG
Through a window

This is an amazing place – a treasure trove of images to support anyone researching costume, accessories, furniture and interiors etc. for plays or films. The collection consists of thousands of large loosely bound books classified by themes, countries and historical periods. There is a large collection of period costumes for hire which are regularly used by film companies, and also a costume workshop. The website lists many films and TV productions which have used costumes from Sands Films.

Now, almost certainly you are not a film, TV or theatre researcher, costume designer or similar! But don’t let that put you off visiting. For one thing, the building that houses it itself oozes history – a granary dating back to 1784, with thick wooden beams bleached by age holding up a rickety ceiling. For another, interspersed among the work desks and shelves of books are panels showing examples of embroidery and costume that were created from images held here, including slippers worn by Keira Knightly in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and a waistcoat from the film ‘Young Victoria displayed alongside the original from which it was faithfully copied.

IMG_2514.JPG
Keira Knightly's slippers

IMG_2509.JPG
Young Victoria waistcoat -
original on the left, copy on the right

I think however that these exhibits were there on a long-term but not permanent basis when we visited (the website then referred to them being ‘currently’ on display, with no dates specified) so if you are going just to see these, check first. However I would recommend a visit in any case as it’s an intriguing space in its own right.

St Mary the Virgin church

IMG_2516.JPG
Plaque on the church wall

Unfortunately on several different visits we have been unable to go inside this historic church, as the doors have always been locked, but I can share some information here nevertheless. The church is closely associated with the Pilgrim Fathers. Some of the pilgrims first went aboard the Mayflower when it was moored on the Thames a short distance from here, and the Master of the Ship, Christopher Jones, was from Rotherhithe. His children were baptised at St Mary's and his body buried in the churchyard, although the exact spot isn’t known. The tablet commemorating the 250th anniversary of his burial is inside the church so I have never seen it. But there is a blue plaque on the outside of the tower. This was unveiled on Thanksgiving Day (25th November) 2004 by a descendant of the Pilgrim Fathers. You will see such plaques all over London – they indicate that someone of note once lived in the building, or in another building on the same site.

The plaque reads:

Sailing of the Mayflower
In 1620 the Mayflower sailed from
Rotherhithe on the first stage of
its epic voyage to America

In command was Captain
Christopher Jones
of Rotherhithe

The church was built in 1715 but has naturally changed a lot over the years. The photos of the interior on the website show that the old box pews and galleries that were the norm back then were removed as part of the late 19th century ‘modernisation’ of the church, but the ceiling and pillars especially seem to retain something of the elegance of that earlier age.

There is a striking modern sculpture in the churchyard. It isn’t labelled, and the church website makes no mention of it, but fortunately Google came up with the answer as to what it is – a memorial to the master of the Mayflower, Captain Christopher Jones, which was sculpted in 1995 by Jamie Sargeant. A stylised figure of St Christopher looks back to the Old World while the child in his arms looks forward to its future in the New.

IMG_2518a.JPGIMG_2517.JPG
St Mary's church, and memorial to Captain Jones

The Bluecoat School

Opposite the church is the building that once housed the charity school associated with it. This is one of a number of bluecoat schools in London. The name comes from the costume formerly worn by the pupils. These schools date back to Tudor times and the long blue coat is a relic of the ordinary attire of schoolboys and apprentices of that time. Blue was a favoured colour for charity school children because in Tudor and Stuart times it was the cheapest available dye for clothing. Blue-dyed materials were economical, implying a humble status, and they were therefore avoided by gentlemen and the aristocracy.

large_IMG_2519.JPG
The Bluecoat School

The photo above was taken in 2013. If you compare it with the more recent one in my previous entry in this blog, London Bridge to Rotherhithe, and the one below, you will see that the statues have been restored in the meantime, and the girl has lost her white apron!

The plaque on the building reads:
‘ST MARY ROTHERHITHE
FREE SCHOOL founded by Peter Hill and Robert Bell in 1613.
CHARITY SCHOOL instituted 1742
Removed here 1797.
Supported by Voluntary Contributions’

P1000276.JPG
The Bluecoat girl today

Peter Hill was a master mariner to teach eight children, ‘sons of seafaring men'. Robert Bell was a friend of the rector of that time. Hill lived to the age of 80 and when he died left a bequest of £3 a year to the master, which was supplemented through church collections. A late 19th century rector of the parish, the Reverend Edward Beck, recalled that,

‘The Churchwardens stood at the church door at the close of the service with a Charity boy and girl at their side clothed in the quaint dress of the time, and a goodly collection was gathered in the old painted plates bearing the inscription “Remember the poor Charity children for God’s sake and your own.”’

He also described how the 40 boys and 25 girls who attended the school at that time were clothed yearly and ‘taught the principles of the Christian religion’. All were taught to read and write, and boys were taught to ‘cast accounts’, while girls were taught to knit and sew. One of the Girls would be taken into the School House, lodged, boarded and instructed in household work, ‘in order to render her more completely fit for service’.

Either side of the plaque you can see the typical statues of children, a boy and a girl, dressed in their blue uniforms, which distinguish these schools. This building is today used as offices, but some bluecoat schools still remain as such. Nowadays though, most of these establishments are bluecoat schools in name only, having long ago abandoned the cassock-like bluecoats, knee breeches and stockings in favour of a more modern uniform. However, a number of schools still retain the traditional bluecoat costume for special occasions, and pupils at the most famous bluecoat school of all, Christ's Hospital (in Sussex), wear it at all times, keeping alive a tradition that dates back to the mid 16th century.

The Mayflower pub

This cosy little pub claims to be the oldest on the Thames! It is certainly old, having been established in 1621, just a year after the Pilgrim Fathers left on their historic voyage. Although it is well known that they sailed from Plymouth, and named their new settlement after that town, not everyone knows that their first departure point was Rotherhithe, very near this pub – hence the name, the Mayflower.

IMG_2507a.JPGP1000285.JPG
The Mayflower pub, and its wind vane

The pub’s website explains:

‘In July 1620, the Mayflower ship took on board 65 passengers from its London homeport of Rotherhithe on the River Thames. Rumour has it that Captain Christopher Jones cunningly moored here to avoid paying taxes further down the river. The Mayflower journeyed onwards to Southampton for supplies and to rendezvous with the Speedwell but after many delays, false starts and a devastating leak, the Speedwell’s journey with The Mayflower was abandoned. On 6th September 1620, Captain Jones, along with 102 passengers and approximately 30 crew members, set sail from Plymouth on what William Bradford described as "a prosperous wind”.

After sighting land on 11th November, 1620, strong winter seas forced the Rotherhithe captain to anchor at Cape Cod, much further North than the original destination of Virginia. To establish legal order in their new homeland the settlers agreed, whilst on-board, to write and sign "The Mayflower Compact"; the first written framework of government in what is now the United States.

Captain Jones later returned to London on the Mayflower, arriving at the home port of Rotherhithe on 6th May 1621. He died less than a year later and was buried at St. Mary's church in Rotherhithe, close to the mooring point of the Mayflower where she lay to rest in the Thames, no longer useful as a ship.’

The pub has a welcoming if small interior for chilly days (there was a real fire when we last visited in poor weather) and an outside garden terrace overlooking the river, although space in the latter is at a premium when the sun shines, especially at weekends.

The Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket

Near the Thames in Rotherhithe is this intriguing sculpture. If you like your art to tell a story, this one is for you. Created by Peter McClean’s in 1991, it shows a 17th century pilgrim such as might have sailed with the Mayflower. He is looking over the shoulder of a newsboy who is reading a 1930s paper, the Sunbeam Weekly, which tells the story of the Mayflower and also of modern America – look out for the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building among the ‘illustrations’, along with cars, a train and a plane, a rodeo rider and more.

IMG_2502a.jpgIMG_8326.jpg
The Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket

At their feet a Staffordshire terrier begs for attention. Be sure to look in the pilgrim’s pocket – the sculptor has created a little joke, as he carries a London A-Z atlas dated 1620, as well as a crucifix and (inexplicably, to me at least) a lobster’s claw!

Surrey Quays

The nearest station to this area is unsurprisingly Rotherhithe, part of the London Overground network. But a short walk south will bring you to Canada Water, a Tube station (Jubilee line). If you decide on this route you can take a short detour to the east to pick up the paths that follow the waterside of Surrey Quays.

large_IMG_2496a.JPG
Bridge, Surrey Quays

London’s docklands have changed so much in recent years, and Surrey Quays are a good example of those changes. Everyone knows the tall skyscrapers of Canary Wharf but this quiet residential area is also Docklands. Until 1970 this was the site of the Surrey Commercial Docks – so called because this was once the border between the counties of Surrey and Kent. Many would have liked the area to retain the name of Surrey Docks, but perhaps those who developed the site and built the pleasant-looking family houses that line its waterways felt that ‘Quays’ sounded less industrial?

IMG_2492.JPG
Surrey Quays

Whatever the reason, they’ve created a tranquil corner of London where I imagine it is a pleasure to live. The canals have something of a look of Amsterdam, with their distinctive bridges. But the ducks are those you will see on any park lake in England – mainly mallards, coots and moorhens, and I also once spotted a couple of tufted ducks and another species I couldn’t identify.

And look at the cute duck houses that sit on one stretch of water.

IMG_2498.JPG
Duck house, Surrey Quays

The names of other docks in this area reflected the many countries with which England traded, their ships arriving regularly in the Port of London to off-load their goods and pick up others – Greenland Dock, Russia Dock, Canada Water. A walk around this part of London will conjure up the ghosts of a very different city, when trade by sea drove the economy of the capital rather than trade in currencies and stocks.

Canada Water Library

IMG_2475.JPG

You may not want to necessarily visit a library while in London, and in any case would not need to travel so far from the centre to do so, but if you’re at all interested in modern architecture and the design of public buildings, this one is worth the detour. It naturally has everything you would expect of a modern library – plenty of computer access, wifi, study space, a small café, and of course books.

But what makes it stand out is its design, which was carefully thought out to make the most of the water-side setting while compensating for the fact that the space allocated to the library in this development was rather smaller than the local council (Southwark) would have liked. The architect’s solution? To build an inverted pyramid, so that the upper floors could be larger than the small ground floor footprint of the building. This design makes for a striking building from outside, and when you get inside, the beautiful curved staircase is just as striking.

If you’re interested in the history of the old docks in this part of London the top floor has a series of panels on the wall which tell the story. But bear in mind that this is the quiet study area of the library, so you’ll need to explore in relative silence.

IMG_2478.JPGIMG_2480.JPG
IMG_2487.JPGIMG_2482.JPG
In Canada Water Library

The café has lovely views of the water outside and would make a good place in which to relax before making the journey back to the centre of town from the nearby Tube station.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:48 Archived in England Tagged churches architecture london water monument history river houses museum sculpture libraries Comments (6)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 » Next