20 September, 2014

Camberley and Bagshot

It took more than two hours to travel the 29 miles between London and Camberley.  I really do need my own wheels!

I was just in time for lunch so had a chicken pie in the Surrey Arms.  The chicken pie challenge rules were not quite complete as the chicken pie was described on the menu as 'open' so really chicken cobbler with a puff pastry crust in a blue cheese and bacon sauce.   The Blue cheese and bacon sauce made it delicious but the crowning moment was that the chicken was a whole breast and perhaps a little bit more so gets a good 4 stars in the challenge.

The Surrey Heath Museum is small but interesting with helpful staff.  A basic chronological account of Surrey Heath.

There is a large Army staff college in the town and the junior officers (perhaps the heirs to Miss J Hunter-Dunn's subaltern) were walking around the town in blazers and ties.  A lot of others seemed to be military staff too.

Bagshot was closed when I called but is home to the Earl and Countess of Wessex at Bagshot Park.  I like to think that if they run out of something they pop down to the village co-operative store.  I'm sure they would always get their dividend!

18 July, 2014

Loose connections with Shakespeare at Stratford.

Stratford Upon Avon is a town that could hold it's own in the tourist stakes even without its most famous son, the bard of Avon. However it was home to William Shakespeare and makes the most of its heritage, even if some of the places have a rather loose connection. Anne Hathaway's Cottage has more connection than some of the places being the place where Shakespeare's future wife lived.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage
Nash's house and New Place are loosely connected in that Nash's House was where Shakespeare's Lawyer lived: New Place is simply the site converted into a garden - Shakespeare lived there.  Shakespeare's granddaughter married the man who owned Hall Place.  All these places are under the care of the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust.  I did visit the birthplace but it was so crowded I came out again - through the inevitable gift shop.

The highlight of my visit was an unofficial tour of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  My tour included below the stage and the picture shows the old box office of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre which is now on a lifting mechanism over a doorway.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is really two theatres in one and, in spite of appearances really dates from 2010 when it was re-opened to the public with more seats and better sight lines.  The oldest theatre is the Swan theatre the shell of which is Victorian.  The interior is a completely up to date theatre with a modular stage that can be at any height or depth.  The second theatre is inside the shell of the 1932 Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and this theatre is bigger but has the same facilities.  Most of the shared services, such as costumes, properties, wigs lighting and sound are shared.  Actors dressing rooms have a little balcony overlooking the river and actors must love coming to Stratford even if only for the facilities.  Many of the actors have signed their autographs on the wall backstage!

08 July, 2014

Lots of locks - a visit to Hatton Locks.

Just outside Stratford upon Avon there is a huge flight of locks with a cafe in the middle. there are 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal and the flight rises 45 meters in around two miles. This must be quite testing for the leisure boaters who have to get out and operate the gates manually. The Canal and Rivers Trust Website states that the locks were constructed in 1799 "to carry locally mined coal to the power stations and factories of the Black Country". I don't think there were many power stations around in 1799 personally but I am happy to be proved wrong. There are heritage buildings nearby now used for canal operational purposes such as offices etc. There is also a sculpture of a dragonfly in one of the pools. You can see Warwick church tower from the locks and the breakfast at the cafe is well worth it. With many thanks to Craig and Andy for this visit.

01 July, 2014

Library of Birmingham v the Birmingham Library

Compare and contrast two libraries with the word 'Birmingham' in the name.
The wonderful Shakespeare Room in the golden dome
Library of Birmingham "Rewriting the book"
New Dates from September 2013
Free and open to all
Beautiful building with gold dome on top 
Light airy and spacious
General public library facilities, fiction, non-fiction and reference works
Significant collection of Shakespeare's works, Boulton and Watt Archive and others
Birmingham Library memorial stone
Birmingham Library
 Old dates from 1779, and moved to its present location in 1899
Subscription- open to all subscribers - £40 PA
19th century building with co-operative hall on top
Windowless room in semi basement
Fiction, non-fiction and reference works
Significant collection of 19th and early 20th century novels

30 June, 2014


So is Redditch the worst town in the whole world? Conversation in the ticket office - Me: "Single to Five Ways please." Booking clerk: "Single? Not return?" Me: "Are you kidding me?" Apparently most of the tattoo needles used in the world are made in Redditch and, judging by the art on display under rolled up sleeves and summer dresses quite a lot of them stay there. However good the needles are, the work done with them ranges from brilliant to bleurrgh. There are two pieces of art about needle making in the town centre

 and a mural composed of tattoo imagery, of a rather traditional kind.
Redditch also made Royal Enfield motorbikes but there is hardly any trace of this industry now and I could only find the Wetherspoons pub called the Royal Enfield. Other than that there's not much to tell. Redditch was designated a new town in 1964 and Gues Keen and Nettlefold, or GKN, have their HQ in Redditch. Redditch Co-operative Homes is one of the main social landlords in Redditch and, if I ever go back, I will try to get their story.

14 June, 2014

Suffolk Villages Part 3 - Long Fenton, Cavendish and Clare

The same full day out, another post. Long Fenton is remarkable for having an unusually wide high street, a department store with the biggest collection of Portmeirion pottery my companions had ever seen and a church with tons of medieval glass. Not to mention an old almshouse, a detached lady chapel with a unique internal cloister and two halls, Kentwell Hall in private ownership and Melford hall the property of the National Trust.

Begining in the Street there is an unusual building - a Railway Passengers Insurance Office!
So if you need insurance as a railway passenger - and who doesn't these days - you know where to come.

Melford Hall stands beside the elongated village green - a Tudor bricky pile with a rather nice gatehouse. I didn't go in but enjoyed what I could see from the green. On the green was also a ruinous conduit house very overgrown.
The church has a great collection of medieval stained glass which includes a tiny piece with three hares. Each hare has two ears but there are only three ears between them. Thought to represent the trinity (similarly to the diagram of the Anasthasian Creed - Est-est-est) it may be an even more ancient symbol. The glass is the glory of the church but another feature separates the church even from the other wealthy wool churches of East Anglia.  This church has a detached lady chapel with an internal ambulatory.
The chapel was used as a schoolroom from the 17th century and a multiplication table on the wall date from this period. The stone carving and woodwork around the ambulatory are very fine. Cavendish had a lovely group of almshouses near the plain looking church (equipped for a concert when we called)
and one of the vintage cars appeared to have broken down.
Clare is a bigger village than Cavendish and had some fine houses, some with later facades.
There was also a very old house serving as the village museum. The Sundial on the Church admonishes us to go about our business in the daylight hours

10 June, 2014

Suffolk villages Part 2 Lavenham

When towns fall on hard times they are can be well preserved.   Lavenham is one such town that saw great prosperity from wool in Medieval times but had nothing else to fall back on and so is preserved in aspic.   However one can, if one has space on one's phone, download the Love Lavenham App from the wifi phone kiosk in the high street.  So it's really quite up to date.  Obviously there are some 18th century and more modern houses but the medieval street pattern remains.  So inspiring was the sunshine and the black and white houses, although some were painted in traditional pigments such as Suffolk Pink (made with waste blood) that I decided to black and white the pictures too.   Not all the buildings were black and white, some, no doubt inspired by Mexico were a bright orange.   Some others were a deep shade of crimson.   All were very photogenic.  There was a vintage car rally taking place on the day with lots of pre-war Morris cars thundering along the Suffolk lanes.   Combined with medieval buildings these went very well in pin sharp black and white.
vintage car
Lavenham guildhall is the property of the National Trust and is splendid. The New Hall Museum is also splendid There is a fine market cross too. All these buildings bring the past to life Lavenham Church of St Peter and St Paul is well worth seeing. It has all you would expect in a wool church with parclose screens and miseriecords all of the very finest quality.
I could have spent a lot more time in Lavenham.

09 June, 2014

Suffolk Villages Part 1 Monk's Eleigh and Kettlebaston

In some of the stormiest weather I have ever experienced. Thankfully I was sitting in a car while this was going on and by the time it was time to get out the rain had stopped. With grateful thanks to R and A for kind hospitality. Our first call was Monk's Eleigh, a pretty village with an old pump on the green The church is very old with some furnishings dating from the 17th century including a wooden collecting box dated 1636 and the Royal arms from the reign of Queen Anne. While my companions and I were in the church a man and a woman came in and started to chat. They suggested we should visit Kettlebaston church which had an icon on display. I thought it would be an unnecessary distraction on the route to Lavenham but I was in for a surprise. After the twisty Suffolk roads, some little more than tracks, we saw our first sight of Kettlebaston, a decaying thatched cottage tumbled down and with vegetation growing out of the roof. The village is home to about 30 people and is typically secluded and quiet. The Church was set back behind a thick hedge of yews to keep out of sight the Anglo Catholic practices that went on in there. Apparently the Minister there for many years until the 1960s took down all the state notices, refused to keep registers and refused to recognise the Archdeacon. This clergyman said a Roman Catholic mass every day. The church still bears the signs of Anglo Catholic practises, with a statue of Jesus showing his heart on top of the Stuart holy table! The font is very early (1200) and there are some broken alabaster carvings. Kettlebaston Church also has an icon outside, which appears to depict a woman kneeling before Christ.    This is the real glory of the church and the village.

08 June, 2014

Wandsworth Prison Museum

Part of Wandsworth Heritage Festival. The prison museum is in a shed outside Wandsworth Prison the former Surrey House of Correction. Dark and foreboding on the outside Peter Hitchens has a view of what goes on inside. However the museum is small but fairly good with a film set reproduction of a gallows which is the highlight. There are also prison uniforms, old prison mechanisms like locks and cell bells and other artefacts of interest. No real photographic opportunities though.

03 June, 2014

Fashion Street

The novel "A Kid for Two Farthings" by Wolf Mankowitz takes place in Fashion Street. Here is a picture of fashion street for you It looks like not a lot has changed since the 1950s, except perhaps the inhabitants.

27 May, 2014

Great British Tattoo Show

I've not been to the Alexandra Palace on a sunny day before but the views are fantastic. When you visit the Great British Tattoo Show one must expect to see huge numbers of artists and their creations but also lots of tattooed people. A Bank holiday visit did not disappoint but unfortunately my camera battery gave out long before Zombie Boy took to the stage. I did get some good shots of artists at work and samples of the tattooist's art as well as the urban lingerie and streetwear fashion show. So what happens at a tattoo show? Well lots and lots of people get tattooed, lots of artists work and artists enter their work into competitions and the winner is judged. Here is part of a line up for judging. and the line up of judges Of course while they are getting tattooed the men usually put on a scowling face that they hope says 'I'm a big hard geezer and I'm feeling nothing'. However it's a fixed expression that really says 'I am desperately trying not to wince in pain in case it ruins the artwork'. Both tattooist and subject need a steady hand. There are also vintage car displays, entertainment in the form of fashion shows,fire eaters anything spectacular really as well as general tomfoolery. The compere, Paul Sweeney a slightly built man (in the red shirt in the above pic) asked if somebody in the crowd could bench press him! Nobody rose to the challenge this time alas but I would have liked to have seen that. I also met a friend there which was unexpected but good fun.

24 May, 2014

Tunbridge Wells

Nothing to be disgusted about here although the Church of King Charles the Martyr has a controversial dedication to say the least. I don't think you could have an 'Oliver Cromwell Church' in the Church of England. The church was closed when I called and I didn't want to hang around until Evensong at 1830 so went on my way without seeing the beautiful plaster ceilings or the odd layout. Tunbridge Wells is all very civilised and they were having a food festival in the Pantiles which is the original shopping centre dating from the 17th century. The Church is at the north end and was built in 1676. The Pantiles is also where the chalybeate well is found. Unfortunately today it had dried up so there was no dipper to give you a drink from the spa. I wonder when it will flow again? As you can see from the residues chalybeate water is rich in iron salts so is basically the panacea. One thing I did notice since my last visit (pre blog) is that Beau Nash is now commemorated in Tunbridge Wells. Any mention of him was notable by its absence when I last called but now there are some reminders. It may have been scurrilous but in Tunbridge Wells they accused Nash of cheating at cards and perhaps this is the reason for his sending to coventry. They seem to have forgiven him after 200 years. I spent some time in the north end of the town, rather less refined, and had a nice meal in a pub with the obligatory camp barman. The North end is not without its points of interest. The museum was showing some gainsborough and Reynolds portraits of which the attendant was very proud. Calverley Gardens and grounds also make a fine place to sunbathe.

20 May, 2014

Oxford Street and the roof garden at John Lewis.

When people ask me if I want to go to Oxford Street I normally reply that I'd love too but I'm having red hot needles pushed under my fingernails that day and that will be much more pleasurable. I can't stand the place - it has all the shops you get in Bromley and is crowded to the point of madness. However when John Lewis recreate their first shop and open their roof garden to the public I am rather compelled to go. John Lewis started life as a draper's apprentice but when he mastered the trade branched out on his own. His son John Spedan Lewis entered the family business but after a fall from his horse where he had to spend two years recovering, tried to involve the workers in the control of the business. He did this by settling shares on employees as part of their remuneration and eventually all the workforce became partners in the business. The term Partnership is a misnomer as the company is really a PLC but all the employees are owners. I'm still not convinced it's really a co-op but I think they try quite hard at democracy, but also too at paternalism. The roof garden was lovely though.

17 May, 2014

Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the Most Glorious and Undivided Trinity - Trinity House

Trinity House had one of its rare open days today so I went along to see it. Commemorating 500 years this year, Trinity house is the lighthouse authority for England, Wales and the Channel Islands but also looks after mariners and their dependents who have fallen on hard times. They inspect local navigation aids too. Their palatial hall is not often open but was used as the Austrian House during the Olympics of 2012. Today however was access some areas and notices exhorted visitors 'Do not attempt to open this door'. As you would expect all is of the finest quality - there are Trompe-l'œil ceilings and painted ceilings, wonderful carpets and all in all a tremendous place to carry out the business of preserving life at sea.

14 May, 2014

The Cambridge Vampire - Ronald Seth tells this story so it must be true...

Although he chooses some odd names for the characters and some odd phrasing as we shall see. In the late 1920s a a Peter Grimes (let the reader understand the name) lived in Peterhouse College, Cambridge and had ground floor rooms overlooking the disused graveyard of St Mary the less (or Little St Mary's Church) from the west end. One night he didn't sleep due to scratching on his windows and a fellow student told him about the reputed vampire in the churchyard - the only one left in England. There was nothing near the window to cause any scratching, no trees or bushes and anyway the scratching stopped when he turned the light on. A friend suggested that mice might be a possibility but the scratching sounded like glass so mice behind the skirtings were unlikely to make that noise.

A picture of the west end of the churchyard today - note the vampiric looking cat. 

 Anyway poor Peter Grimes got teased about this as it became common knowledge. But thankfully the scratching also died down. Come the day before All Saints Day, called, with no prayer book justification, all hallows even, when the dead are reputed to walk the earth (although how would they know what day it was when they are not bound by time as we are?). Grimes went to bed as normal but the scratching began again. This time when he put the light on it didn't stop. Grimes found himself drawn to the window, or so he said whilst in hospital in a state of severe shock. He thought it was the boys from the town making a nuisance of themselves, or a fellow collegian having a 'rag' [practical joke]. He went to the window and the scratching intensified, and started to be accompanied by grunts as if the entity was becoming excited. Grimes shouted at the thing to go away or he would call the porter. the thing became more excited at his words. Grime's hand went to the window catch and found himself opening the window. A clawed hand grabbed his wrist more like an eagle's talons than fingers. He caught a glance at the creature's face which had intense eyes and a mouth with two large fangs protruding from it. Grimes stated it could not be a mask. The marks on his wrist lasted a year and, until he graduated (in Seth's words) he was 'as nervous as a highly strung hare'. And here is a picture of the range of rooms in Peterhouse College viewed from the church yard.

10 May, 2014

Ely - warts and all.

It is certainly true that I once saw a tourist information site that said Ely was a meteorite in the middle of the fens that made sure that Ely women were exceptionally buxom and Ely men especially well endowed. I must say that the Ely women and men looked perfectly normal to me. And it isn't a meteorite, it's a block of Kimmeridge clay. Anyway Ely lies about 20m above the normal fenland although the fenland is shrinking year by year as it dries out.  Ely is the setting for the story in Tales of the Unexpected called 'the Flypaper' by Elizabeth Taylor (no not that one).  From that era at the very beginning of Thatcher's reign, it has the atmosphere of a sleepy cathedral town where nothing much happens, surrounded by fenland where anything could happen.  You'll have to watch the thing yourself on youtube but it is a genuinely terrifying story and the look of fright and hopelessness as the protagonists sit down to tea needs to be seen to be believed. Ely's riverside has now been developed with cocktail bars and all sorts of thatchery things, including some interactive works of light sculpture (it sez 'ere) like this one called Sluice.

 Ely's most famous resident is Oliver Cromwell once the Lord Protector of England. The Tourist information centre is set up in his old house. However he only inherited it from his uncle in 1636 together with property in the East of England and the right of farming taxes for the bishop. THe house is truly old and dates from the 13th Century, with some wall paintings concealed behind panelling in the parlour where an introductory film is shown. From there we move into the kitchen where we look at Elizabeth Cromwell's recipes. I definitely want to make a sack posset containing as it does cream and sherry. Then it is up to the bedroom where we get to try on puritan hats, helmets, clothes and stuff, while hearing about how the church was changed by Charles. Moving on into an armoury we learn about the civil war and the equipment of Cromwell's soldiers. We arrive in the study and have to decide if Cromwell is a hero or a villain. Perhaps I'm a little too balanced because, although he did some good things, and a lot of our freedoms today were hard won by the civil war, I think the circumstances of the 17th Century caused a lot of desparation: the stuarts were particularly bad rulers and anybody would have wanted to rise against them. If anybody doubts me compare the Stuarts with the Hanoverians. We see Cromwell die in White Hall and learn that his head is buried in Sidney Sussex College. So overall, Cromwell's house is an interesting hour. Not so the Ely Museum, the former bishop's gaol again from the 13th Century. The Court in classical style looks better than this ordinary looking house. The exhibits are chronological and rather a lot is made of the use of the building as a gaol. The culmination of Ely is it's cathedral with octagon, tower tours and stained glass museum. I arrived there rather too late to take any advantage of it so contented myself with looking at the sculptures and some of the window glass. Hans Feibusch and Jonathan Clarke have sculptures in the lobby. Hans Feibusch's Christus @The arms outstretched in welcome show the wounds of crucifixion; the face shows the strength of the compassion with which Christ looks on the world.' Jonathan Clarke's The Way of Life 'is made of cast aluminium and has nine sections, each differently jointed. Like the journey of faith, its path is irregular and unpredictable; and just as the journey is sometimes hard, sometimes joyful, the surface texture and colour also vary.' Some of the windows were dedicated to commercial concerns in the town. I noticed Barclays Bank and British Railways Board. The cathedral outside is stunning too.

There was no evensong in the Cathedral today so I had to go elsewhere for that, which was a big disappointment.  Still it gave me more material to blog.  Watch this space.