Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A Garden In December

This was always going to be the trickiest month to photograph at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Of course, one hopes for a covering of snow or an all-day frost but that's not seeming likely at the moment. I also had the back-up option of cheating by confining myself to the Glasshouse Range. In the end  that didn't prove necessary and I had a pleasant afternoon wandering around outside, though rather curtailed by the early sunset.

Last vestiges of Autumn:

Winter colour:

Subdued tones:

A final Hurrah!

…..because I've managed to complete a whole year of monthly posts from the Botanic Gardens. I shall certainly renew my membership for 2019 though I haven't decided whether to continue with monthly posts or perhaps do something a little different.

Take care.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Taste Of The Town

When I said I might go to Mill Road Winter Fair to check out the bands and entertainment, my brother replied that he'd probably go to check out the street food. Good idea, Bro. So, though I did enjoy the music, I thought I'd show you some of the incredible edibles on offer.

I could go on but the sight of all this food is making me hungry! 

Take care.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

A Walk In The Park

As promised last time, in this post I'll show you some more of my wanderings in the park and farmland surrounding Knebworth House. 

The legacy of ancient footpaths and rights of way is maintained here, as in many other parts of the country, despite the all-powerful lords of the manor grabbing the area around their ancestral homes for their own recreation. Even today this is still rather inconvenient for the landowner, since the House depends for its survival on money from visitors to its adventure playground, dinosaur park, classic cars rallies and rock concerts, as well as those wishing to see the grandeur of the House and garden. All it can do is put up signs to ask walkers to stick to the public paths and, if they are tempted by other attractions, to pay up for a ticket.

The Church

I'd been warned that the church is often locked, but I was encouraged to see a couple entering by the lych-gate. It turned out that they were here to decorate the church for Advent and, as long as I removed my muddy boots, I'd be welcome to look around.

The gentleman was keen to point out the ornate carving on the pulpit - "seventeenth-century, Flemish" he said, and also informed me that the most notable feature was the side-chapel which was stuffed full of memorials to past owners of Knebworth House.

I had a good look around despite the feeling that I was interrupting some kind of family conversation between these cold, stony-faced ancestors.

The Lake

Like all good stately homes Knebworth has its ornamental lake, created by damming a small stream in the grounds. Unusually this one is at some distance from the House and surrounded by trees - not much chance of getting any help if some junior boatman got into trouble in the water.

The designated footpath skirts the lake without ever getting quite close enough to give unimpeded views. One wonders if this secluded spot would have appealed to the writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, as he sought inspiration for his novels. Or if the reclusive Lady Constance wandered here as she contemplated society's injustices.

The Deer

Besides signs telling me to stick to the footpaths I was also advised not to approach the deer as they are "wild animals". That's not quite true as they are confined by high fences to the park, but do live as wild animals nevertheless.

These are Red Deer, Britain's largest native species, and the stags can become aggressive, particularly during the Autumn rut, so I didn't approach too closely. Most of their testosterone-fired belligerence, however, is directed at other males and on occasion this can lead to the death of an old stag as he is deposed by a younger rival.

Monarch of the Glen no longer.

The Hamlets

The countryside hereabouts is bespeckled with small settlements of just a few houses, though often with the kind of Tolkien-esque names which demand investigation. Above is the pleasant hamlet of Nup End. But we can do better still....

These two isolated dwellings form the unforgettably-named Hogsnorton. Its name is nothing to do with snorting but much to do with hogs. The Domesday Book records this area as having pannage for two hundred swine. "Pannage" means woodland where that number of pigs could find sufficient food. So the name translates as "the northern farm where hogs are kept". It lies to the north-east of the village of Codicote meaning that the prevailing south-westerly winds would carry the unmistakeable piggy fragrance away from the houses.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Hogsnorton Lane which my detailed map, and a small sign erected by the county council, assures us is a "highway open to all traffic". Someone's havin' a laugh!

The Light

The leaves are mostly scattered by the wind now, with only a few obstinate oaks refusing to join in the seasonal striptease, but the oblique sun glancing off the land still provides beauty as we approach midwinter.

Apart from instructions to stay on the footpaths and beware of the deer, the signs on just about every footpath leading into Knebworth Park make one parting demand on the walker "Enjoy your day!" they chorus. Yes, I did.

Take care.

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Odd And The Rich

Today, Friday, I went for a walk in the grounds of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, a place where such diverse personalities as Winston Churchill and Freddie Mercury have strutted their stuff (the former - a friend of the well-connected Lytton family who owned the house for centuries, the latter - at one of the many outdoor rock festivals which have helped pay for the upkeep of the mansion in recent decades). The house is closed for the winter but the footpaths through the grounds are still open.

I'll show you some more of the walk in the next post but for now I'd like to tell you a little about some of the Lyttons. The house hasn't always looked like this; part of the old house is in there somewhere but the fantastic concoction we see today is the result of Victorian renovations carried out for Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton, whom a biographer once described as "that odd rich old woman". Besides the fantastical appearance of her abode she also carried out a lifelong argument with the vicar of the church which stands just a short distance away in the grounds.

Whatever the cause of the disagreement it led to her banning her own employees (most of the local people) from attending church. She even carried on the argument from beyond the grave as she had a mausoleum built on her own property rather than being interred in the churchyard with her ancestors. 

Whatever her other failings, her son Edward was greatly affected by his mother's death and ordered that her room must be preserved as it was at her death - and it's little changed to this day. Not that he was immune to his mother's quarrelsome temperament; when he married in 1827 she disapproved of the match and withdrew his allowance, forcing him to work for a living. He worked tirelessly at a writing career as well as being a politician but, despite considerable success in both careers, their extravagant lifestyle put the marriage under stress and the couple separated.

He wrote novels, plays and poetry in a wide variety of genres and though his work is largely forgotten today in his day he was regarded as one of England's foremost writers, much better known than the man who came often to stay at the house - and that man was Charles Dickens, no less. 

Even if you've never heard of Bulwer-Lytton's writing, you'll know some of the phrases which he introduced into the language - "the great unwashed", "pursuit of the almighty dollar" and "the pen is mightier than the sword" are all his. He also began one novel "It was a dark and stormy night...." and that has inspired not only Snoopy but also an annual competition for bad writing.

His wife - or rather his ex-wife - Rosina Bulwer Lytton also published a novel, "Cheveley, or the Man of Honour" which harshly lampooned her former husband. Then when he stood for parliament she spoke out against him with such venom that he had her committed to a lunatic asylum. Public protests led to her release but she continued her campaign against him for the rest of his days.

The couple had two children, one of whom, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, went on to become Viceroy of India. He and his wife Edith had five children who survived to adulthood, and it's their second daughter, Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton, who is probably the most interesting.

She was born in Vienna, then spent her early years in India before coming to the family home at Knebworth. She rejected the aristocratic lifestyle and became reclusive. When she inherited £1,000 she gave it to Mary Neal's Esperance Club for working-class girls from London's East End. Through this connection she got to know many of the Suffragettes who were conducting a militant campaign to gain women the right to vote.

At first she was very much against the violent protests of the Suffragettes, but was eventually persuaded that no other course of action would be effective. In 1909 she was imprisoned twice for throwing stones at Lloyd George's car, but the authorities released her when they realised that she was the daughter of the former Viceroy of India and had a brother in the House of Lords. While in jail she self-mutilated cutting the letter "V" into her chest. She had intended to carve the words "Votes For Women", from her chest to her face, but was prevented from doing so by the prison guards. Upon her release she wrote letters complaining of the inequality of treatment for persons of differing backgrounds.

The following year she rejoined the Suffragettes under the name Jane Warton, had her hair cut in an unflattering style and dressed in dowdy clothes. She then deliberately got herself arrested again and joined the hunger strikes, which imprisoned Suffragettes were using to protest at the way in which they were being treated as criminals rather than political prisoners. This time the prison had no idea that they were dealing with a member of the aristocracy and she was brutally force fed. Upon her release she wrote of the mistreatment she had received and though some MPs disbelieved her story they were quickly countered by her brother. Shortly afterwards she had a heart attack and several strokes which affected one side of her body. Undaunted she wrote an influential book on prison reform with her other hand.

When the Suffragettes ceased their militant campaign at the outbreak of the First World War she lent her support to Marie Stopes and her fight to establish birth control clinics. As her health declined further she went to live with her mother at Homewood, a house on the Knebworth estate surrounded on three sides by woodland but with views out over farmland. She died aged just 54 and lies in the family mausoleum built for her disputatious great grandmother.

Take care.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

A Garden In November

Stand by for more photographs of autumn colour on this November post from Cambridge University's Botanic Garden as the season continues in this part of the world.

The Garden is also the venue for a photography exhibition  which will continue until December 20th....

….the standard of photography is absolutely superb and can also be viewed here:

The sun is very low in the sky at this time of year making some shots impossible but also giving unusual effects at times....


A botanical joke:

Lots of children want to know if there are any deadly plants in the garden. Yes, indeed there are. In fact there's one so dangerous that if you lie down underneath it for just ten minutes you will certainly be dead. What is it?

A waterlily!

Take care.