Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Church The Saxons Built


A perfect little Saxon church, not hidden away in the depths of the countryside as you might imagine, but in Bengeo on the outskirts of Hertford, the county town of Hertfordshire, just twenty miles from central London. Of course it's seen a few changes in a thousand years but the basic plan and construction are as near to the original church as any you'll see.


On the doorpost as you enter you may notice this odd little circle scratched into the stone work. It's not just the work of idle hands waiting for the church to open though. In the centre there used to be a spike which cast a shadow on to the stone, like a sun dial. It's a medieval Mass Dial, the radial scratches indicating the time of the next mass - an essential thing in days when no one had watches.


The door posts themselves are thought to be Saxon survivals, but the door itself is "newer", dating from the fourteenth century!


Inside everything is as plain and simple as can be. At one time box pews were in place though these were a later addition as in the early church everyone was expected to stand for services. The chairs, covered by plastic sheets, are strictly for our soft modern society, for the church is still used for some services and also weddings and occasional concerts - the acoustics are said to be very good. There is however a larger modern church nearby which is the main church in the parish.


Aha! Longtime readers of this blog will be saying, "That looks like a medieval wall painting, whitewashed over in the seventeenth century and recently re-discovered". And they would be dead right. There were other paintings too which are badly faded and as I was examining one, trying to make sense of the faint outlines, a gentleman acting as a steward to show people around the building, produced a watercolour painting done at the time when these works were uncovered. It showed how much detail had been lost forever.


He also drew my attention to the crudely carved face on one side of the chancel arch. Its purpose now lost in the mists of time.


The chancel arch may also be from the Saxon period. The work might appear rather rough-hewn and basic - but it's still standing after 1,000-odd years!


The piscina (where the communion vessels are washed) dates from the 12th or 13th century.


The tiny stained-glass window in the chancel is however the work of the Victorian restorers. At that time the church was neglected and semi-ruinous and it was only through the efforts of a family living nearby that the church was saved. Luckily though funds were limited so, although the building was saved, much of the church was unaltered.


I left the church to continue my walk (more of that net time) but there's time to show you a couple of random shots, also taken in Hertford, later in the day as I walked to get my train.


The gentleman depicted above is the Rev Samuel Stone who was born in Hertford and went on to become the co-founder of Hartford, Connecticut.


And standing nearby is what's called "The Old Verger's House" which is thought to be the oldest domestic building in the town. It dates from around 1450.


Take care.



Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Pedalling Placidly On

As you travel by rail from my home village towards Baldock there's a line of low, bare chalky hills on your left hand side. If you were to take a bicycle and pedal laboriously to the top of those hills you'd find yourself in an intricate landscape of small villages, even smaller hamlets (that are usually called "ends" or "greens" in this part of the country) and isolated farms. All of these are connected by a confusing network of quiet roads, lanes and bridleways just waiting to be explored.


We're now just out of Baldock, following a bridleway leading steadily uphill and already we're among flowery meadows.


Those of you with long memories may recall that I once wrote about the writer George Orwell getting off the train at Baldock and walking to Wallington, where he'd rented an old cottage. This is the road he would have travelled. Did he tramp along feeling he'd never get there? Or did he relish the clean air and the sense of isolation?


As I arrived in the village the trees formed a triumphal arch over the road and, bless them, they'd strung up flags around the village hall! No, it was probably more to do with the recent royal wedding than my unannounced arrival.


Just outside Wallington there's a view out across the wide fields of the chalk edge. I pedalled on, through Redhill and then to Rushden and Southern Green, for the very good reason that I'd never been there before, despite having passed nearby on numerous occasions.


Like many secluded, out-of-the-way places, the once tumbledown cottages have been snapped up by wealthy buyers and turned into impossibly pretty rural retreats. Without this influx these places would be more or less deserted as modern farming employs so few people.


The road became a lane, the lane became a track, and the track became a bridleway leading through a small wood. In case anyone's concerned, yes you are allowed to cycle on bridleways in this country as long as you are considerate towards horse-riders.


I was glad to see the farm as I needed to get on to its approach road to make my way down towards Blagrove Common.


Blagrove is not as extensive as perhaps the photo makes it look and it appears to just be a rather unkempt grassy field. To discover its charms you need to get down to ground level...


Orchids. The common is a small area that has never been ploughed or indeed properly drained and the natural vegetation still flourishes. There are Early Marsh Orchids, Southern Marsh Orchids and Common Spotted Orchids here and plenty of hybrids too. Added to that is the fact that both pale and darker forms exist, so sorting them out is a job for experts. 


I was happy to have a brief look at them, verify that they did indeed look different and leave it at that.


My route then followed almost forgotten sunken lanes with just occasional glimpses out between the hedgerows. Buzzards patrolled above the tree-tops, I think they were looking to raid any unattended birds' nests. The Rooks thought so anyway and soon saw the bigger bird off.


This gorgeous little Tortoiseshell butterfly posed for a few brief moments atop the thistle, just long enough for one photo. Meadow Browns were also abundant but were even less co-operative, flitting incessantly between flowers as if spoilt for choice. 


Near Therfield I was surprised to see this Pyramidal Orchid blooming. They should be here on these chalk hills but this was the first I'd noticed. 


And so to the last leg of my journey, the rough track leading mostly downhill towards the town of Royston, with far-reaching views across the flat countryside of Cambridgeshire.



Take care.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Mary And Dan

A chance today to go back to the lives of two people we heard about in previous posts, two people who led entirely different lives, separated by three centuries but just a few miles geographically.

Mary Plomer (1575 - 1605) 


If you read the post "Pastoral Scenes" you may remember the little church at Radwell which, I said, had an interesting memorial to Mary Plomer inside. Well, lets pop inside and see it.


And here it is standing in the chancel. Mary died, aged just thirty, shortly after the birth of her eleventh child. Ten of her children are represented kneeling at her feet, boys on the left of the picture, girls on the right. Two of the boys are set back a little behind the others which was the conventional way of showing that they had pre-deceased their mother. 

The eleventh child was depicted by an effigy held in Mary's arms, old photos show it, but it's now been removed for safe-keeping. This child was shown wrapped in a Chrisom cloth, which babies wore for a month after their baptism to protect the mark of the cross which had been made with the Chrisom oil. This practice ceased in 1552 when the Church decided that it was just a superstition, though it clearly carried on a few more years in this part of rural Hertfordshire.

Mary is shown holding an hourglass, a symbol of mortality and passing time. Sad that Mary's time passed all too quickly.










Dan Albone (1860-1906) 


Some of you may remember the remarkable, though largely unknown, Dan Albone from Biggleswade, inventor of the modern bicycle and the agricultural tractor. After introducing him to you I found myself in Biggleswade again while walking the valley of the River Ivel and here I found another memorial to him and what's more I came across more information about the man and it seems I sold him short as he achieved even more in his short life than I knew.


You see I have a strong childhood memory of crouching down by the back door of my childhood home while my Dad fixed his bike. First he turned the bike upside down, which in itself was something I'd never seen before. Then he got some spanners and proceeded to take the wheel apart - and there they were, something I'd never suspected before. Little shiny silver balls called ball-bearings. Fascinating to a small boy. Of course I didn't know at the time but that was one of Dan Albone's ideas; he invented the ball-bearing, without which the cyclist's life would run a lot less smoothly.

In his youth Dan broke many records on his innovative bikes and later went on to form one of the first cycling clubs. His home in Biggleswade became a gathering point for cyclists from all over Europe who came to see the latest inventions and get advice and help.


The world's first tandem.
Designed by Wilson & Albone 1886
As well as the child-seat that I mentioned a few weeks ago he also invented the parcel carrier for the postal service. Oh, and he was one of the first people to tinker with the idea of fitting a motor to a bike, even coming up with a motorised bike especially designed for female riders - it had the power source mounted on the back wheel, well away from the voluminous skirts of the day.

And one day, while looking at one of his agricultural tractors it suddenly struck him that such a machine could be covered in iron plates for use by the army. Thus was born the first armoured car.

While cyclists, farmers, military men, motorists, motorcyclists, mums and postal workers had much to thank Dan for, there was one person who didn't always appreciate Dan's sudden inspirations - his wife was often awakened in the early hours of the morning by him leaping out of bed to rush down to his workshop to try out some new idea!


Take care.


Based largely on the internet article: http://www.biggleswadehistory.org.uk/research/people/dan-albone/


Thursday, 14 June 2018

A Garden In June

Time for our monthly trip to Cambridge University Botanic Garden. I seem to have done rather better at remembering to photograph the little identifying labels this time. Sometimes I like to know what I'm looking at, but other times I just want to absorb the beauty without worrying about the names. Anyway this is what caught my eye as I wandered around....


Hypericum olympicum (Mount Olympus St. John's wort)


A few waterlilies are appearing just now.


I don't know what this is called.
Maybe someone will tell me.


The main "lake" seen from the rockery
with the lawn and many fine trees beyond.


Cistus ladanifer Gum Rockrose
photographed along with one of the many varieties of Cranesbill


A glimpse of the fountain
through the flowers and grasses.
This part of the garden is actually a lot more formal
than this shot makes it appear.


Echeveria secunda (?)
These were growing in the Systematic Beds
where plants are grouped together in their families for teaching purposes.
I find these Beds fascinating,
 though of course many of the plants are similar to their neighbours.
But every so often a complete surprise turns up -
a plant that looks nothing like the rest of a group.


Santolina chamaecyparissus Cotton Lavender


Drosanthemum candens


Aloe polyphylla  Spiral Aloe


The wetland vegetation is flourishing alongside the stream.


Four of the many varieties of roses on display.


Take care.



Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Nature's Notebook

If you're interested in nature it's best to take notes when you're out and about.
Nowadays, especially since the advent of digital cameras,
it's easier and often more helpful to take pictures
 rather than carry about a notebook and pencil. 
Sometimes you just want to remember what you've seen,
but often you need to get out the reference books when you get home
to figure out exactly what species you've encountered.

Silverweed

This was the first flower I learned to identify. Lots of it grew alongside the path in
the garden of the house where I grew up. I suppose
I was attracted then by its silvery leaves, as I still am.
I asked the name and was told it was called Silverweed. 
I must have been about four or five years old.


Sainfoin 

Sainfoin used to be used as a forage crop for working horses
 and is supposed to have several health-giving properties.


Speckled Wood

If you spot a butterfly flitting about in the dappled sunlight beneath trees
 it's nearly always a Speckled Wood. Other butterflies much prefer to be in the sun.


Red Campion

It's not really red, is it? But it brightens up many a woodland and wayside,
coming into flower just as the bluebells are dying off.
Sometimes there's a super-colourful overlap of the two.


White Campion

And Red Campion also has a white cousin
not quite as showy but still an attractive addition to many roadside verges.


Musk Beetle
 or more likely a female thick legged flower beetle
(see Louise's comment below)

There are quite a few metallic-green beetles,
some of which aren't in my book -
that's my excuse anyway!


Orchid

It's always exciting to find wild orchids in flower,
even when they're in places where you expect to find them!
They can also be tricky to identify as some are quite similar
and, just to add to the confusion, they hybridise with each other.


Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chasers are so called because they are, well, scarce.
It would be nice to say that I knew what I was photographing
but I didn't realise what I'd got till I saw the photo on the screen.


Yellow Rattle

When our hay fields were full of wild flowers
 the one the farmers really wanted to get rid of was Yellow Rattle.
Nowadays when conservationists are trying to recreate wild flower meadows
the first thing they reintroduce is Yellow Rattle.
How so?
Yellow Rattle is semi-parasitic on grasses and diminishes the yield of hay
which is why farmers hated it so.
But if you kill of some of the grass, that leaves space for other wildflowers to grow,
so it's invaluable when trying to make a flowery meadow.


Azure Damselfly

Pretty common, but uncommonly pretty.
Come on, insects are not supposed to be that beautiful.
Exquisite.


White Bryony (bryonia dionica) 

One of those flowers which it's so easy to pass by,
though its bright red berries are very eye-catching later in the year. 
For this reason some people call it Red Bryony.
Confusingly there's a closely related species bryonia alba, which
translates as "white bryony", the name by which it is known in N America,
and that has black berries.
And, wouldn't you just know it, we have a Black Bryony too
which also has red berries!

I hope you're taking notes!



Take care.