Thursday, 18 September 2014

Take Six

....or Take Five continued.


In one of the less salubrious parts of town I spotted this torn poster. It seems to have a sense of urgency though I've no idea what the original illustration(s) were advertising.


Even in the most cared-for gardens the voracious snail gets to work under cover of darkness. I rather like the patterns he's created here - but then it's not my garden!


When two ages clash....St Andrew's Church stands reflected in an office building. Like an ancient disciplinarian regarding the doings of the modern age! 


Wild flowers sometimes flourish in the most unexpected circumstances - like in this pile of builders' rubble - but none the less colourful for all that.


Jumping on your shadow is a fun thing to do,
                                                               a fun thing to do,
                                                                                      a fun thing to do!


Every bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen - Amy Winehouse

Take care.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Take Five

Much as I like planning day-trips to locations where I know that I'm going to find historically interesting and photogenic subjects, it's even better when I unexpectedly stumble on an odd visual surprise. So here are just five examples.....


I always have half an eye open for post boxes which, incidentally, can all be dated by their royal ciphers. So this George V box dates from 1910 to 1936. But what really attracted me were the brightly painted walls which set it off to such great effect. Everything, even the wheelie-bin in the passage, seem to be conspiring to make a picture from mundane objects.


In amongst the grandeur of historic buildings lurked this single flower which made me stop and take a photo. I love the curving stem as well as the light shining through the petals.


Sitting on the windowsill of an old mill building was this arrangement of old glass bottles. I don't even think some are particularly old but I liked the colour and texture.


This is glass too and similar colours to the old bottles, but there the comparison ends. It's a rather striking spiral staircase in one of Cambridge University's more modern structures.


And not far away from the previous picture is this scene leading out into one of the college gardens. If you have a retentive visual memory you may remember those pillars; I photographed them from a different angle but didn't notice the door through to the garden till I revisited. Maybe the door was shut first time. 

Take care.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Footnotes And Discoveries

From time to time, having shown you something of (I hope) interest, I get another take on the subject. So here are a few such:
(the links - the phrases which are printed in green - will take you back to the original posts if you click on them)


Some of you will be aware of my fascination with this huge incised boulder, a sculpture by Peter Randall-Page. The other day it was further embellished by a "little mermaid". I hope Mr Randall-Page would approve.

A long time ago I showed you a picture of a busy Cambridge street and explained that there was a tunnel leading under the road so that the students of Emmanuel College could move from one part of the college to another without having their lofty cogitations interrupted, and perhaps even terminated, by an encounter with a double-decker bus. The other day I investigated and found that, though the tunnel itself is rather unattractive, the steps leading down to it make a nice picture. You might notice that to the left of the steps there is a ramp so that even bikes can be pushed along underground.

And speaking of bikes.....

This used to be the scene at Cambridge railway station! Even more surreal than some of my "interpretations" of the cycles of that city. But now all is order and efficiency - a multi-storey park for bikes...


From the modern and functional to the ancient and flamboyant....(I'm really excited about this one!)......

A few posts ago we were at St Andrew's Church in Chesterton. I went there to look at the medieval wall paintings...I also found the plaque to the memory of Anna Maria Vassa, the daughter of a slave....and, while poking about, I spotted and photographed the royal coat of arms seen above.

It was hidden away in the gloom at the foot of the bell-tower but I photographed it anyway as I liked its exuberance and ornamentation. Yesterday I edited the photo on the computer. Now when I say "edited" I actually mean I pushed it to the absolute limit to see how much detail I could uncover by increasing the contrast and colour of a rather dingy image.

And there it was - at the top are the letters J2 and R which indicates that it was created during the reign of King James II, which dates it very precisely to between 1685 and 1688, the period of his brief time on the throne. This means that it's not only extremely old but also as rare as hen's teeth since very few coats of arms would have been commissioned during such a short period and of course even fewer would have survived.

The royal crest has undergone many subtle changes over the centuries. if you look at the central roundel you will see that the top-left and bottom right quadrants show the triple fleur-de-lys of France; this is because England maintained that it had a claim to the French throne during this period. At the bottom there's the English rose and the Scottish thistle celebrating the recent union of the two countries.


And finally......I said that I feared for the safety of the two model sheep which had appeared outside some Cambridge offices. They are just the kind of thing which appeals to the playful and imaginative side of the great minds which we have here at Cambridge University. The other Saturday morning I saw that the inevitable had been attempted; drunken sheep-rustlers had been at work. They hadn't quite succeeded in liberating the poor animal but they'll be back...they'll be back....

Take care.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Red Mount Chapel

Some of you may remember the odd-looking structure shown on the right. It's called Red Mount Chapel or more properly "The Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount". It stands in a park in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, and dates from 1485.

It was built to serve pilgrims making their way to the famous shrine at Walsingham. It was sited just outside the town walls so that those arriving late, after the town gates were locked, might find shelter for the night. At the top of the little tower is a chapel so that prayers could be offered before the next leg of the journey.

When I last visited in early March of this year it was beneath dull and overcast skies, not ideal for photography. The door was firmly locked and I'd been told that it was used as a store for all kinds of rubbish. 

On my way back from Wisbech recently - not a very direct route I'll admit but it's what you have to do if you rely, as I do, on public transport - I thought I'd see if I could get a better picture as I had nearly an hour to wait for the train.                                                                                                                                 

Not only did it look a lot better in the sunshine but, wonder of wonders, it was open to the public. It's actually now open from 1:00 till 4:00 on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from mid-May to mid-September. There was no admission charge though there was a jar for donations. 

The Chapel was built by one Robert Curraunt for the then Benedictine prior of Lynn, William Spynke. When the monasteries were dissolved during the 1530s the ownership of the building passed to the town council and it was subject to the indecision and neglect that one might expect from such a body at that time.

It was first of all partly dismantled, then used as a water-tower. Later it became a stable, an observatory and lastly a store-room. 

On the ground floor is what was once the chapel, then you ascend by some rather uneven brick stairs, curving around inside the thickness of the walls, to what is known as the Priest's Room.

This is believed to be where the vestments and other valuables were stored. A further set of stairs leads up to the crowning glory of the structure, the stone chapel built in 1506 in the shape of a cross.

The stained glass is a modern addition, designed by Colin Shewring, in the 1980s. It depicts a lily which is the symbol of the Virgin Mary.

"Aha!" thinks I looking upwards, "it's got a little fan vault, a miniature of the roof of King's College Chapel". But what I didn't know was that it was probably built by John Wastell, the man responsible for the King's ceiling as well as the Retrochoir at Peterborough.

Then it was time to descend another staircase - yes, it really does have one leading up and one leading down! - to the outside world, the twenty-first century and the 16.30 train.

Take care.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The End Of The Line

A couple of old posters advertising farm sales. Much as Fenland has prospered agriculturally since these lands were first drained, there have also been many casualties along the way. The social historian can tell much about farming practices from such material - the size of farms, the rate at which they were going out of business, the spread of mechanisation and so on. There are some interesting differences between these two, one from 1904 and the other from 1940. 

One thing that won't surprise anyone who can remember some of the untidy farms of yesteryear will be the "15 TONS SCRAP METAL" advertised in the second sale!

Take care.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Peckover House And Garden

Standing on North Brink, overlooking the River Nene, stands Peckover House. It exhibits all the features of a Georgian town house - symmetry, clean lines and elegant proportions. It was given to the National Trust together with its garden by the Peckover family in 1943. Shall we look at the garden first?

The garden is a glorious mix of the formal and informal, winding paths, hidden gazebos and, this summer, some interesting small sculptures. Let the garden speak for itself....

Now it's time to go inside the house, though I actually took rather more garden photos than I've shown you here; they may well surface on "By Stargoose And Hanglands" some time during the depths of winter.

The house was actually built in 1722, before there were any Peckovers in Wisbech. Jonathan Peckover came to the town in 1777 with the aim of establishing a small grocery business. He soon acquired a reputation for honesty and reliability which led to other businesses trusting him to take care of their takings. He became a sort of unofficial banker in a town that, at that time, lacked banks.

He soon realised that banking could become a profitable venture and set up a more business-like enterprise. During the 1790s he bought Peckover House from which he also operated his bank. The building was known as Bank House for many years.

Like many successful businessmen of that era, the Peckovers were Quakers. Their religious beliefs disqualified them from many other professions. The Quakers had no paid clergy, so religion offered no avenue for their skills. The military was not open to them as they were pacifists. Since they disagreed with the Church of England many professions such as Law and Medicine were also no go areas. That left business. And their reputation for fairness and honesty meant that many succeeded in that field.

Subsequent generations of the family supported many institutions in Wisbech including the Museum and the Working Men's Institute. Their philanthropy also extended to the campaign to abolish slavery, pacifism and the provision of educational facilities in the town.

In the 1890s the family sold off their banking interests but continued living in the house till 1943 when Alexandrina Peckover, the last descendant of Jonathan Peckover, gave the property to the National Trust. Unfortunately much of the best furniture was sold or given away and the Trust has had to re-furnish the rooms in the style of the day.

"Below stairs" though, most of the kitchen equipment was thought of as of little value so it remained in place. I was impressed with the fine kitchen range, which must have been, excuse the pun, top of the range in its day. Many of the surfaces were enamelled which must have made it easier to clean, though the many controls and dampers must have taken time to master.

And finally the Butler's pantry with its leaded sink. And so farewell to Peckover House and to Wisbech. For the time being at least.

Take care.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Museum Piece

Wisbech has a grand little museum which is well worth a visit. 
So lets visit!

In its day it was at the cutting-edge of museum innovation, being housed in purpose-built premises. But, like much of the town, its day was a while ago and the rest of the world has moved on without it.

You won't find any touch-screens or interactive displays in here. They just collect the items, put them in a case with a little label and leave the rest to your imagination. Hurray!

It's all in here somewhere! Stuffed specimens of local wildlife, fine porcelain, items dug up during the drainage of the fens, fossils, manuscripts, items crafted in far-off lands, stock from a village shop, woodworking tools, old army uniforms, crystal rock formations, coins from previous centuries, Victorian samplers, odd bits of furniture, agricultural tools, a Burmese buddha, mantraps, old photographs, Napoleon's breakfast service....

See? You thought I was making that one up. But here it is, apparently captured at the battle of Waterloo. 
"What did you do in the war, Daddy?" 
"Oh, I captured an enemy breakfast service!"

Very nice it looked though. And what's this.....?

Bird's Instant Whip! I used to like that when I was a lad. And Chivers jellies, made just a few miles away in Histon.

 There's a bust of Thomas Clarkson of course, the anti-slavery campaigner.

And the museum is rightly proud of having in its possession the original manuscript of "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. Though somehow I keep thinking about Mel Brookes' comment about Shakespeare - “A great writer? He was a dreadful writer. Every letter was cockeyed. He had the worst penmanship I ever saw in my life!"

Ah! The door from Wisbech jail - I couldn't get by without seeing that!

But seriously there's so much crammed in here in such a small space that I could happily spend a rainy day in here. But, hey, the sun is shining and it's one o'clock. That means that Peckover House and gardens are now open. I'll show you next time....

Take care.