Friday 30 September 2011

Late September

A song for my Granny, who passed away in 1993 at the age of 99. She lived quite near to my parents and one of us would visit her for an hour or so each evening.

When I'm feeling down
 and my head is full of worry
People that I'd like to talk to
 seem in too much hurry
When the dark clouds hide the sun
 and threaten to bring rain
I always know where I can go
 to make it shine again
And she...
Takes me back down leafy ways
Across the fields to distant days
And secret places she alone remembers
Things the world has left behind
Are painted clearly on her mind
In golden-yellow shades of late September

She talks about the war,
 times of grief and trouble
Times it seemed that life was simply
 years of endless struggle
Then she talks of better days
 that made it all worthwhile
Simple things remembered then
 come shining through her smile
And she...
Takes me back down leafy ways
Across the fields to distant days
And secret places she alone remembers
Things the world has left behind
Are painted clearly on her mind
In golden-yellow shades of late September

Then it's time for me to go
I'm working in the morning
I get up to say goodnight
I think she saw me yawning
"You must think I'm crazy", she says,
"Going on this way"
But it's the nearest thing to sanity
that I have heard all day,
When she...
 Takes me back down leafy ways
Across the fields to distant days
And secret places she alone remembers
Things the world has left behind
Are painted clearly on her mind
In golden-yellow shades of late September

One evening I was having a moan about someone that I considered stupid. Granny said, "When God was dishing out the brains He wasn't very even-handed, was He; we should just be thankful that we got our share."

Take care.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

The Museum Of Fen Edge Village Life

Whilst in Burwell at the end of last week I took the opportunity to visit The Burwell Museum Of Fen Edge Village Life. It does exactly "what it says on the tin", records the changing life in the fen edge villages. It's one of those places which runs on lots of enthusiasm and never quite enough money. It's absolutely crammed with exhibits; I'll just let the photos do the talking....

Windmill, shepherd's hut, barn, telephone box,
signpost, bus shelter, bench, stocks...

Beds, rocking horse, dolls, bricks, chamber pots...

Delivery bike, posters and signs

As if I would!!

Clay pipes, baccy, Oxo, Bisto, biscuits, treacle...

Never-to-be-repeated prices

Flour, colander, milk bottles, jars, scales, tins...

Eggs, eggs, eggs....

Seed-fiddle, drill, harrow, sheaves, scythe...

Tools, tools, tools...

Tractor and implement shed

The smallest room

Take care. And if you're ever in the vicinity take the time to visit the museum.  

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Seeing Double In Swaffham Prior

When I recently wrote about Grantchester Church I was asked by the Wayfarin' Stranger, aka Jim, to do more posts about the history and architecture of village churches. Well, Jim, looks like your wishes are about to be answered twice over. The village of Swaffham Prior, near Cambridge, has not one but two churches standing side by side in a single churchyard.

St Cyriac and St Julitta's (left) and St Mary's (right)

I always thought that this was a unique occurrence but a book about the local area says this was a fairly common arrangement in villages in southern England, while the leaflet I picked up in one of the churches claims that there were at least six villages in the Cambridge area where two churches once existed. Frustratingly in neither case are they more specific about the locations - a call for further investigations on my part. The situation usually occurred when there were two manors in a village, but over the centuries the high cost of maintaining two churches was normally so great that one was repaired while the other was left to fall down.

A kneeler shows the twin churches

In Swaffham Prior it seems that over the centuries the congregation transferred back and forth between the two, depending on which was in the best repair. In 1667 an Act of Parliament joined the two parishes and ordered that both churches should be maintained but it was not until the end of the 20th century that the two churches were in good condition.

Inside St Mary's

Both churches date from the 12th century and St Cyriac's may be the older of the two since it is on slightly higher ground and is more centrally placed in the churchyard. However it is St Mary's which is the one which is used today. It's a fine, well-proportioned building with a suitably rustic feel to it and there is some nice wood carving on the screen.

The tower is Norman and looks very ancient and sturdy with the kind of massive stonework one usually encounters in castles.

Gazing up into the mighty tower

But personally I love the atmosphere of the empty church of St Cyriac and St Julitta even though it was largely rebuilt in the 19th century. It is however in the Gothic style and has an air of timeless tranquility with the sun streaming in through the windows. In fact it is only the tower which is of any great age. 

St Cyriac and St Julitta

St Julitta was a Christian who lived at the time of the late Roman Empire in what is now Turkey. She fled with her three-year-old son, Cyriac, to avoid persecution but was captured, tortured and put to death. The boy was also slain. The cult of St Cyriac flourished in France and seems to have been imported  from there by the lords of the manor. There are no other churches dedicated to Cyriac in East Anglia though there are some in Cornwall.

The old bier is also stored in St Cyriac's.

To further confuse the puzzled visitor there are also two rather similar-looking windmills either side of the road as you leave the village.

Take care.

Sunday 25 September 2011

A Tragedy

In the village of Burwell in Cambridgeshire a tragedy occured which is recorded  eloquently in these extracts from the parish registers.

"At about 9 o'clock on the evening of September 8th 1727, fire broke out in a barn, in which a great number of persons were met together to see a puppet show. In the barn were a great many loads of new light straw. The barn was thatched with straw which was very dry, and the inner roof was covered with old dry cobwebs, so that the fire like lightening flew around the barn in an instant. There was but one small door, which was close nailed up, and could not easily be broken down. When it was opened, the passage was so narrow and everybody so impatient to escape that the door was presently blocked up, and most of those that did escape, which was but very few, were forced to crawl over the bodies of those that lay in a heap by the door."

"Seventy six perished immediately and two more died of their wounds within two days."

"The fire was occasioned by the negligence of a servant who set a candle and lanthorne in or near a heap of straw which lay in the barn. The servant's name was Richard Whittaker, from the parish of Hadstock in Essex, who was tried for the fact at an assize held in Cambridge on 27 March 1728 but was acquitted."

A  stone in Burwell churchyard is dedicated to the memory of those who perished.

Take care.

Friday 23 September 2011

Within Reach

The Cast
An Incredulous Welshman
 King Len Of Reach
Black Susan Of The Evil Eye
Blind Bob
The Prince Of Wales

Today I ventured out to the Fen Edge. In other words, to where the flattish bit of Cambridge-shire meets the very flat bit of the county. You need the eye of a local to spot the difference between the two. I once tried to show the hills of Cambridgeshire to a man from Wales; at first he couldn't see them at all and then, when they were pointed out to him, he refused to believe that anyone would give a name to such insignificant bumps.

A hill - Cambridgeshire style

The village of Reach sits right at the fen edge. Despite being miles from the sea Reach and the other fen edge villages were once ports which traded across the North Sea with the Low Countries. You can still see some of the evidence today, such as the old name for a dock on this street sign -

Boats arrived at Reach via Reach Lode, a canal dating from Roman times, which connected the village to the waterways of the fens.

The end of Reach Lode

The importance of the village meant that it was mentioned in many old charters and that's where we meet King Len. Len Warren was a caretaker at one of the Cambridge colleges and at some time during the 1960s he took it into his head that a Royal Charter from King John in 1201 gave independence to Reach and furthermore, he claimed, he was the rightful King. In 1966 he threatened to sell his kingdom to either Russia or America when he disagreed with proposed local boundary changes. Shortly afterwards he offered pirate radio stations, which had been operating from ships in the North Sea, free berth in Reach Lode! After several other outrageous threats and demands he finally wrote to the Prime Minister and offered his Kingdom back to the Queen. I'm sure his behaviour could have landed him in jail for treason in many countries but in England everyone just sat back and chuckled. 

"White Roses"

The oldest building in Reach today is the pretty cottage pictured above. It's known as White Roses and is thought to date from 1516. Surely the essence of rural England.

The White Horse

But in its day Reach was a bustling little port with seven pubs - anything to do with boats is always thirsty work! The white house at this end of the row of houses above was once the White Horse pub while the picture below shows the sign above the door of the former Bull Inn.

The Bull

And, believe it or not, there was a pub called Black Susan Of The Evil Eye! I wouldn't have thought the name would attract many customers.

The cottage is now called Black-Eyed Susan

Today there's only one pub, The Dyke's End, and on a warm September day it just looked too inviting.

Dyke's End

I ordered a pint of the local brew - very local indeed as the pub has its own "micro brewery". I took a seat and savoured the flavours, a great beer. The pub has been through many changes since its re-opening during the 1970s. But always it's been guided by the local community rather than the big breweries.

Inside the pub

Sitting and supping my thoughts turned to another independent character from these parts, Blind Bob, who ran a pub in a nearby fen edge village for many years despite being completely blind. He knew all his locals by their footsteps and could pull a pint as well as anybody. My pint was too good to last long and I returned an empty glass to the bar and turned to leave. My eye was attracted to a plaque on the wall which commemorated a visit by Prince Charles who had commended the villagers on keeping the pub at the heart of their community.

Oh, I should explain the name of the pub. It stands at the end of Devils Dyke a great earthwork built in the late sixth- or early seventh-century AD and running for some 7.5 miles across Cambridgeshire. It is even more impressive than Fleam Dyke which I wrote about in an earlier post. Along the best preserved section there is a vertical height difference of 35 feet between the bottom of the ditch and the top of the rampart. I left Reach by the path which runs along the top of the dyke. I plan to walk  the whole length of the dyke next spring when the wildflowers are at their best.
The Devils Dyke

Take care.

Saturday 17 September 2011


There's a lot of new building going on around the railway station in Cambridge; I spent some time taking a few pictures which are a bit different from my usual subject matter.

And that's how I missed my train!

Take care.