Monday, 31 October 2011

As I Rode Out...

Just a few more intriguing oddities that caught my attention as I pedalled my bicycle through the backroads of England.

The Old Guildhall

In the village of Whittlesford stands this imposing medieval building known as The Old Guildhall. The guilds were an important part of medieval life. There were two sorts of guilds: craft guilds, which were organisations formed by various trades to maintain standards and fair dealing, and also social guilds which gave assistance to the poor. They also helped with building roads, bridges and other things which were for the public good. But they became victims of their own success and were seen as a source of possible rebellion. In 1547 an act was passed which confiscated their lands and wealth. Many of the craft guilds escaped since they had influence in high places but the social guilds perished and many poor people found no help when they most needed it.


Most of those lovely cottages which I've photographed have walls made of "clunch", which is just relatively hard bands within the chalk which forms the low hills of southern England. As it is rather susceptible to frost-damage it is usually concealed beneath a layer of plaster, but here you can see the bare bones of the building. The advantages of clunch is that is very easily carved and shaped so the blocks could be cut very accurately. The delicate carving seen in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral is also of clunch so this humble cottage has a rather superior ecclesiastical relation.

Famous Son Of Barley

When cycling through the village of Barley I came upon this monument to Thomas Willett who was born in the village in 1605 and went on to become the first mayor of New York. The same plaque also celebrated a famous geneticist and two Archbishops who hailed from this small place. We don't all be country bumpkins and village idiots, see.

Staddle Stones

In an earlier post I talked about an old granary and explained how they were raised off the ground on mushroom-shaped stones. I said I'd show you a picture of some, but of course they turned out not to be as plentiful as I imagined. But here at last is a splendid example of a granary standing on staddle-stones (even if the name on the side does say, probably incorrectly, "Staddle Barn"). You can see that a mouse or rat would find it difficult to get in - the steps are a modern addition.

A Sign Of The Times

And a rather sad sign; another pub has closed down leaving only its now empty sign. This one has become a private house, others have been transformed into restaurants, Chinese take-aways or offices. A pub near here which had the splendid name of "The Olde English Gentleman" now serves Indian food. 'Nuff said.

"Slasher's Shop"

This little building used to strike fear into the heart of every small boy for miles around; for here resided "Slasher" Osbourne, the demon barber. Old Fred, for that was his real name, had a regular clientele of aged farm-workers who liked "a decent haircut". The short-back-and-sides was the speciality of the house, and Fred could certainly cut it short. I even heard one of his farming friends say "If 'e'd cut it any shorter I wouldn't a been able ter shut me eyes!".
But show some sympathy, dear reader, this was the late nineteen-sixties - The Beatles, The Rolling Stones - every schoolboy tried to let his hair grow a little over his collar. Then mother would send you off to get a haircut at that nice Mr Osbourne's. I remember trying to grow my side burns and was quite proud of my efforts. Fred seemed to show some enthusiasm for the project as well, "Would sir like the sideboards on or off?" he enquired and to my surprise he left well alone and carried on shaving the rest of my head. By the time he got to the other side however he'd forgotten all about our plans and shaved the other sideburn off regardless.
 They used to say that one brave boy went in and announced that he wanted a Beatle haircut. He got a short back and sides. "That's not how the Beatles have their hair", he complained. "They will if they come in 'ere" said Fred.

Take care.


  1. Too good, John! There is much here for comment, but I'll try to keep it short. Re: the sons of Barley, we have the same presumption in the US, where people try to equate ignorance (or worse, simply residence) with stupidity. Some of us are proud to be "country bumpkins" AND to show up the "city slickers." On the sign of the times, it especially hurts when a spot you favor closes to be taken over by a business you have no use for whatever. And your barber, I believe he has outlets all over the globe. Jim :-)

  2. Interesting how the wealthy took away the wealth earned by the tradesmen. Hmmm. Not much has changed, methinks. Loved your story about Fred's haircuts.

  3. Loved that Fred story! I think his twin lived here--everyone got the same cut no matter what they requested. Great post, Cousin!

  4. Interesting photographs and information John. I am particularly interested in that word 'clunch' because it is a dialect word in Lincolnshire and it means someone who plays their cards close to their chest and never reveals anything. I can't see how it relates to your form of clunch though.

  5. I was tentatively putting a tune to your title--though a bit of investigation suggests that many versions of the lyrics I half remember substitue "roved" for "rode"---the scrap of melody will doubtless replay in my head today.
    No matter, a most interesting post. I like the idea of the staddle-stones---even the most enterprising rodent must have found those a bit slippery!

  6. That olde pub sign is so pretty and ornate it's a pity to see it just hanging up there without any signage - I had a good laugh while reading about Fred the Slasher - he sound like a real character!

  7. What a fun ride to explore the back road to find interesting scenes. Clunch is first to me as building material: the wall made of clunch is so attractive. The mushroom-shaped stones sustaining the hut is lovely. And, you are good at story-telling. I think I know how the young felt after the haircut, but anyway hair grows soon. Thank you for sharing these unique things I can’t see in person.


  8. Thank you, dear commentators!
    I love the idea of Slasher being part of an international business with outlets across the globe. At least he's now known in USA, UK, Australia and Japan!
    Clunch: I'm only guessing here but because clunch could be so easily worked the blocks could be cut to fit exactly with no spaces between. Could this be the connection with not revealing anything?
    "As I rode (or roved) out" is a frequent first line to old songs, particularly from Ireland.

  9. Some wonderful old buildings and I love the story of Fred - it started my day with a smile.


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