Monday 15 July 2024

Young St James (And Old St Andrew)

I said last time that I'd show you Waresley's  Church of St James the Great. But there's somewhere else we should visit first.

Down at the end of Vicarage Road, just past the vicarage but before it peters out into a footpath leading between modern farm buildings, there's an almost hidden gate. It's lurking on the left of the above photo, under the deep shade of the trees.

Step through that gate and you'll find yourself in a narrow avenue of trees, at the end of which stands a tall cross.

The lines of trees mark the walls of the old church of St Andrew and the cross is where the altar once stood, while hidden in the undergrowth are graves of some of the former villagers.

Little is known about the original church except that, after years of neglect, it was blown down in a gale in 1724. It was rebuilt four years later in imitation of the chapel at Cambridge's Pembroke College.

That church lasted till 1855 when Octavius Duncombe decided to build a new church in a more central position. The old churchyard continued to be used for a while, though there's nothing to suggest it's been used for many a year. It must be a spooky old place on a foggy night!

Back at the other end of Vicarage Road we find the new church - St James the Great. Before we find our way inside there's something else to see - look over to the extreme left of the photo above....

....and you'll see another village pump installed by Mr Duncombe for the benefit of the people at this end of the village. There's an inscription to the right of the pump...


We go in through some modern glass doors, installed to commemorate the millennium. I rather like the wooden door handles which form a floating cross when both doors are closed. 

If you're Octavius Duncombe and you want a new church right at the centre of your domain, you don't skimp on the project but you employ one of the leading church architects of the day. William Butterfield was one of nine children whose family ran a chemist's shop. He started out as an apprentice builder, but then studied architecture and soon ran his own business, becoming one of the most sought-after designers of ecclesiastical buildings.

My brother liked this window, as well he might: it's attributed to Edward Burne-Jones, one of the leading designers of the day. The stained glass here is said to be contemporary with the rest of the building, which means it's a very early work by Burne-Jones, before he and William Morris began making stained glass windows. However it is known that Burne-Jones sketched many designs for windows at that time and I'm guessing that this window is based on one of those early efforts.

Unusually, we do know who designed the font - as well as the pews and all the other fittings - none other than William Butterfield himself. He wanted the church to be "complete in itself and not at the mercy of posterity to be pierced and patched and adorned hereafter".

Some adornment is of course inevitable, and it seems to me that the architect left a few areas of blank wall to house monuments to the departed. This is the memorial to Lady E Caroline Duncombe, Octavius's wife.

The chancel is the most elaborately decorated part of the church. "Structural polychromy" is the architectural term and it was pioneered by Butterfield for his interpretation of the Gothic Revival. What it means in plain English is the use of many colours in the construction of the building, rather than painting it afterwards. Here the architect has used ceramic tiles to beautify the chancel.

It's worth having a closer look at the Mothers' Union banner which stands in the corner. Just about every MU branch has one displayed in their local church and, despite their frequency, I think this is the first one I've ever featured on the blog. I'm not alone; it's rare to find mention of them anywhere - a much neglected aspect of folk art.

The impressive east window is attributed to Gibbs. Again it was put in when the church was first built and was probably chosen by Butterfield.

From everything we hear it seems that William Butterfield wanted to have complete control over what the finished church should look like. Also you will have gathered that Octavius Duncombe was a man who expected to get his own way. So one can only imagine the conversations that might have taken place between the two men when, just as the church was nearing completion, Octavius decided that the church should have a mausoleum for his family attached to it. You'll have to decide for yourself who won the argument.

Here it is and experts agree that though it was not part of the original plan it must have been designed by Butterfield. But if Duncombe had expected something along the lines of other mausoleums in the area he must have been disappointed with this mean little effort. Inside there's no room for any monuments, just a slab covering the entrance to the family vault. And you remember that the architect had said that he wanted no piercings and patchings? He was true to his word for he built no door leading from the church to the new extension.

Or maybe I'm imagining all this and both men were happy with the outcome.

Take care.

Saturday 13 July 2024

Where's Waresley?

2000 AD
Founded 975 AD
242 souls
of which 39 children
oldest resident 96 years
youngest resident 3 months
102 dwellings
church of St James the Great
two burial grounds
six farms
public house Duncombe Arms
garden centre

Not an enormous place then. And not one that you're likely to go to unless you're visiting the garden centre. I live less than ten miles away and I'd not been before, but Les and some friends went to buy plants there last week and reported that it was a pretty little village. So we'll start at the garden centre then....

This lively statue was on display. I'm not sure if it was for sale, but British garden centres sell most things these days - plants and garden furniture of course, but also toys, books, BBQs, cakes and there's a café here too.

Just a short distance along the road stands the church of St James. We'll get to that by-and-by but, as it's not raining at the moment, we'll look around the village first.

A row of thatched houses stand opposite the church. They are not quite as ancient as they look, dating from the mid nineteenth century. That's later than you'd expect for buildings with thatched roofs, though it doesn't make them any less attractive.

The building above is the village pub, the Duncombe Arms, also dating from the mid nineteenth century. Sadly, like many village inns, it closed down recently and now stands empty. Pictures online show it decorated with hanging baskets of flowers and looking very welcoming. Lets hope someone rescues it.

Just outside the former pub there's a very ornate wrought iron lamppost, commemorating the sixtieth year of Queen Victoria's reign.

A little further down Manor Farm Road are two more mid nineteenth century cottages. Like all the other buildings I've shown you these are Listed Buildings of historic and cultural interest. The official listing notes that the tiled roof is a modern addition, so maybe these were once thatched too.

A few more steps brings you opposite another thatched house.

We're soon at the corner of Manor Farm Road. This style of sign was common not long ago but most have been replaced by more modern forms.

By the entrance to Waresley Hall you can find the village water pump. Again it dates from the mid nineteenth century - just what was going on here in the 1850s that meant that so much building was taking place? We'll make our way back towards the pub and the church, then we'll turn down Vicarage Road where I'll tell you all about it.

So here we are - and guess what we're looking at? Yes, more mid nineteenth century work echoing olde English styles of domestic architecture, this one with the addition of a straw fox standing proudly on the roofline. That garden wall is worth a closer look....

There's been a village here since at least Saxon times and probably longer. From the Middle Ages until 1930 the whole of the village belonged to a single landowner, with everyone who lived here working on the estate. In the 1830s it was bought by Charles Duncombe, 1st Baron Feversham, who passed it on to his youngest son, Octavius. It was Octavius who built much of the village we see today. He passed it on to his children till the land was split up and sold off in the 1930s.

If you were a working woman or man in Waresley (or in many other similar settlements) at any time in the past ten centuries your quality of life depended largely upon the character of "the lord and lady at the big house". A heartless and ruthless one could turn you out of your house and job, leaving you and your family destitute. On the other hand a generous, forward-thinking landowner might invest in your village, raising the standard of housing and infrastructure.

Even if your local lord was of the generous sort, you'd still work very long hours for very little pay and you'd live with the threat of eviction always a possibility. Surprisingly though, men and women like Octavius were not all that rare and "estate villages" like this exist all over the country. Showing off ones estate - the house, parkland, gardens, local church and also the housing provided for workers - was how these people enhanced their reputation among the constant stream of similarly wealthy visitors they welcomed to their homes. It was when they lived at a distance from the lands they might have owned, holdings in such places as Ireland, the Highlands of Scotland, the colonies or the mining areas of Britain, that the real trouble started.

And we'll leave you with this little soul, grazing in a meadow opposite the church. We'll have a look at the church in the next post, though you'll probably have guessed by now that that was paid for by Octavius Duncombe too. 

Take care.

Sunday 7 July 2024

The Hunt

I've been out on a hunting trip. Shooting with a camera, you understand, not using sophisticated weaponry against defenceless creatures. But perhaps it satisfies some deep-seated urge to hunt, lurking yet in the human DNA from stone-age times.

This handsome plant is Purple Loosestrife which is a native wild flower in the UK. It occurs naturally in wet places and is here seen growing at the edge of a reedbed in a local nature reserve. The poet John Clare called it "Long Purples", a name which Shakespeare used for the Early Purple Orchid - that's poets for you. In the language of flowers it's supposed to represent persistence and it's certainly persistent if you grow it in the garden, being able to grow from any small pieces of root left in the soil and also enthusiastically self-seeding. In North America it's a troublesome invasive.

The Chiffchaff is persistent too, endlessly repeating its two-note song from a high branch. Some of them now survive our British winters and no longer bother to migrate. Presumably the female of the species is charmed by his minimalist serenade; she can often be found lower down in the bushes, listening intently.


There were several Hoverflies on the wing, all looking to a greater or lesser extent like wasps or bees. "Batesian mimicry" is the proper term for it - looking hard and dangerous while being harmless, as practiced by teenage boys everywhere. They are the gardener's friend; the adults are tireless pollinators and the larvae feed on aphids.

I'd hoped to see dragonflies and damselflies, but it was probably a bit cold and too breezy. But this small patch of reeds was in the sun and sheltered from the wind, and here I found a few damselflies.

I think these are Azure Damselflies.

Another little Hoverfly, doing what Hoverflies do best - hovering! They are surprisingly easy to photograph like this.

Soon these Hemp Agrimony flowers will be attracting all sorts of insects, including butterflies. That's always assuming that we eventually get some warmer weather.

It's just as well there's no family back at the cave waiting for the hunter to return from his foray in the wilderness. Not much meat to be had from a Chiffchaff and a couple of hoverflies and damselflies!


Here's a wee tale about hunting. Robin Williamson was once a member of the Incredible String Band and has since had a musical career as weird and varied as anyone I can think of. Some work I love and some completely passes me by. At one time he decided to learn the harp in the style of the bards of old Ireland. Here he is playing that harp and recounting a very old story in his own inimitable way. 

Take care.

Saturday 29 June 2024

Tractor Time

It's time once again for the vintage tractors of Cambridgeshire to take to the road 
to raise money for the National Health Service
 - and to delight boys and girls of all ages.

We met up with them in the nearby village of Barrington
 where we saw them passing the church.

Here comes the convoy!

All very nice on a sunny day at the end of June
but not so much fun ploughing in winter. 

Somebody remarked, when I visited a steam show last year
that they never saw any women driving the machines.

These two photos show that they enjoy the old machines
just as much as the menfolk.

I like it that many of the tractors look as though they've just come off the farm.

A happy young man.

"Now woss that big owd bit o' tackle then?"

The puttering procession continues through the village.

Hey, that's cheating - having a cab!

Our Dad used to drive one like this on the farm,
though with a muck scraper on the back rather than a union flag.
Of course he drove other tractors, 
but somehow the little red Fergie was always called "Ted's tractor"

Dad passed away in 2010, but today 29th June 2024 would have been his 100th birthday.

Carrying on past the village green.

Down to the far end where they will park up on the green for their lunch break.

There were around a hundred tractors, as well as support vehicles,
but somehow there was space for everyone.

Then you can all gather round and talk about tractors!

Or just relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Meanwhile the photographer can wander about and notice those little details
that aren't obvious when they're rattling by along the road.


Or poke their lenses at greasy engines 
and pretend they understand what they're looking at.

And you can meet a real live bear
collecting money for Addenbrooke's Hospital!

Ted Hagger,
our Dad.

Take care.