Wednesday 28 January 2015

Assorted Information

A few random snippets from my travels around my home area.

Old Moot House
In the village of Rattlesden stands this fine old building which dates from about 1430. But long before that the Saxons met in the open air to debate important decisions relating to their communities at what they termed "moot hills". Later there were buildings constructed on these sites and they became known as "moot halls" but their purpose was much the same. However the landscape historian must beware of jumping to conclusions here because sometimes the halls were built at different locations to the original hills. 

Whether the Rattlesden Moot House is one such is a "moot point"! ("moot point" coming from the same root and meaning something which is debatable). Its position right next to the parish church suggests that the site is of ancient significance. It also served in the past as a Guild Hall, a building which fulfilled a similar role in being a central organisational hub for the settlement. By the way, notice the fancy barge-boards on the gable end.

The Master

Cambridge is famed for its many green open spaces: the lungs of the city. Parker's Piece is very close to the city centre and consists of 25 acres (about 10 hectares) of closely mown grass crossed diagonally by footpaths. It is known as the birthplace of modern soccer in that the rules adopted by the game were those formulated for games on the Piece. In the summer the same grass was used for cricket matches. One who learned his early cricket there was Jack Hobbs, who was born in the poorer part of Cambridge but went on to be one of England's finest batsmen and to eventually become Sir Jack. He is commemorated by a blue plaque affixed to the building known as Hobbs Pavilion on Parker's Piece, which also bears the weather vane above.
Those unfamiliar with cricket may need to know that "test matches" are what would otherwise be known as international games.

Reality Checkpoint
Standing in the centre of Parker's Piece is an ornate lamppost known as "Reality Checkpoint". I showed you this picture some years ago and said that I remembered it being brightly painted in psychedelic colours in the late 60's or early 70's, but I had no clue as to the origin of its name. I've now learned that it was painted and named by students at the Arts and Technology College, which was not part of the university and was in a working-class neighbourhood. It was to signify to the posh boys of the University that should they ever pass this point, and few of them ever did, they would be entering into the real world!

Mini Coffee Shop
I couldn't help but be amused by this Mini Coffee Shop spotted at Thriplow Daffodil Day last spring. It consists of a full-size Espresso machine crammed in the back of a mini van. They offered a wide range of coffees and the one I bought was excellent.

The Wild Man Of The Woods
You never know what's going to turn up in our old churches as the fragment of sculpture preserved in Woolpit Church proves. It is a representation of Wodehouse, Wodewose or the Wild Man of the Woods, a mythical man covered in hair and haunting the deep woodlands of medieval England. Carvings of him turn up in several churches, along with the Green Man, a similar sort of chap who is covered in leaves rather than hair. 

They both seem to symbolise everything unknown and frightening - death, madness, the dark forest....perhaps as a warning to church-goers to watch their step, say their prayers and behave themselves. Even so it seems rather odd to see these pagan-looking characters turning up in church.

Take care.


Sunday 25 January 2015

St Mary The Virgin, Saffron Walden.

It's difficult not to see it. For miles around the soaring spire appears on the horizon, beckoning you to come and investigate. When you make it to the town it appears in unexpected places as you walk the warren of winding narrow lanes. So it won't come as any surprise to learn that it's the biggest parish church in the county of Essex and that the spire stands at 193 feet (around 60 metres).

It's known that there was a Norman church here in 1130 AD and in all probability there had been a church of some sort on the site since St Cedd got busy converting pagans back in the seventh century. The Norman church was updated in the thirteenth century and was then rebuilt in (almost) its present form in the late fifteenth century. The "almost" is because the tower and spire had to be rebuilt in 1832.

The style of architecture which it exhibits so forcefully is known as "Perpendicular" and anyone who even glanced at the two photos above will be aware of the strong emphasis of the vertical lines of the columns, windows and walls. Everything soars heavenwards and the idea is so deeply embedded in our concept of how a church should be that it's hard to imagine churches any other way.  

As you might expect there are some fine stained-glass windows, particularly this one at the east end of the building.

But there are many windows which hold plain glass; though this one also has a single "medallion" depicting St Mary The Virgin, to whom to the building is dedicated. All this clear glass gives the interior a light, airy feel.

High up in the clerestory the low winter sunlight streamed in, illuminating the upper reaches of the structure, also drawing the eye towards heaven. If you're thinking that this church looks a bit like the one we saw at Lavenham, then very well done indeed! The master mason who worked on both buildings was John Wastell, who later went on to work at Canterbury Cathedral, Peterborough Cathedral and King's College Chapel in Cambridge.

Like almost all English parish churches the singing of hymns is accompanied by music from the organ. But this one has an additional and striking set of horns to blast out the melodies to the congregation. It's called a trompeta real or royal trumpet.

Speaking of royalty there's the arms of King Charles I displayed high up on the wall; a strange survival, it seems, in a town which was so overwhelmingly on the side of Cromwell during the Civil War. Maybe it was re-instated when Charles II came to the throne.

The crib was still in place despite it being mid-January.

Time for one last look around this beautiful example of the Perpendicular style of church architecture. In some ways it's almost too perfect; the interest in our churches is often found in the mix of different styles as churches have been adapted and re-modelled over the centuries and the odd quirky additions of succeeding generations. In Saffron Walden it seems as if they decided way back in 1500 AD that they had the building they wanted and just worked on keeping it that way.

Take care.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Not Like Lambs To The Slaughter

We've met this sheep before, but this morning it was proudly modelling the amber-and-black of our local football (soccer) team Cambridge United. English readers may well be aware of the significance of this, but for those of you from further afield let me explain:

Last night the heroic men of Cambridge held the mighty Manchester United to a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup. To say this was unexpected and unlikely is putting it mildly. A few facts:

Home Ground:  Manchester United - Old Trafford, capacity 75,731  
                         Cambridge United - Abbey Stadium, capacity 8,127
FA Cup winners:  Manchester United - 11 times
                            Cambridge United - never

League Champions: Manchester United - 20 times
                                 Cambridge United - never

Most paid for a player : Manchester United - Angel Di Maria £59,700,000 
                                     Cambridge United - Steve Claridge £190,000

And this is the sight which greeted the multi-millionaires of Manchester when they arrived to play Cambridge... wonder they didn't feel at home!

Take care.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Walden's Windows

Saffron Walden is a wondrous place for the watcher of windows, the glorifier of glass, the fan of fenestration, the devotee of the dormer, the collector of casements and indeed anyone who's an aficionado of apertures.

sparkly glass behind the glass

coloured glass for a coloured wall

a window display

church windows? No, a pub!

reflected windows

window shopping

a view right through

 tinted windows
pretty plaster

weird windows

tucked under the eaves

somebody's watching you!

Take care

Sunday 18 January 2015

Details And Doorways

A few little details collected 
in Saffron Walden 

strong sunlight
caused difficult but interesting
lighting and shadows

an old sign
  Established 1836"

decorative plasterwork,
known as pargetting,
is a feature of many old buildings

buildings of all ages and styles
   are present in the town...

...all sitting cheek by jowl
in the main street,
reminders of a long and fascinating history

the grand and ornate...

....and shall we be kind -
shabby chic ?

Antique shops
feature strongly...

...but many other businesses
have grand premises.

the locals in the park
show interest
in this strange man with the camera!

Take care

Saturday 17 January 2015

Saffron Walden

Cambridge is surrounded by a ring of market towns at a distance of fifteen to twenty miles from the city. Newmarket, Ely, St Ives, St Neots, Royston and Saffron Walden all had markets serving the local population, saving them the long journey to Cambridge. Among these towns Ely with its magnificent cathedral is the major magnet for tourists, but Saffron Walden despite lacking a cathedral would be equally worthy of their attention.

Other market towns which retain their medieval architecture are sleepy little places which the modern world has passed by. They had a period when they flourished - usually as a result wool production - then stagnated. Saffron Walden had its heyday too, but its still a busy place today.

The town was granted a market charter around 1300, though a market was in existence before that. Its wealth increased further during the boom years for wool and then, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the area became famous for growing the saffron crocus. 
                                                                                                              This little plant was the basis for the production of perfumes, medicines, dyes and even aphrodisiacs. It was so important to the economy of the area that the town became known as Saffron Walden.

The coat of arms of the town features saffron flowers surrounded by a castle wall. This is a fine example of a rebus, a type of visual pun which was very popular in medieval heraldry: it's a saffron walled-in, get it?

During the English Civil War the town was, like much of East Anglia, firmly on the side of the Roundheads and for a time Oliver Cromwell made his headquarters here, reputedly in The Sun Inn. 

The inn must have been a popular base for the soldiers of the New Model Army and, though the inn has closed, the military presence remains in the shape of ghostly soldiers who still haunt the rooms.

The equally ancient Cross Keys Hotel has more ghosts from the period, including soldiers and a lady who's said to have been Cromwell's mistress.

In later years the Puritan influence in the town gave way to the Quakers, who were instrumental in the further growth of the town. In particular the Gibson family, who were among the founders of Barclays Bank, contributed many fine buildings to the town, including the pretty little library above.

Needless to say, perhaps, this photogenic little town gave rise to lots of photos, which I'll be sharing with you soon. And the perceptive among you will have noticed a fine church in the first photo and, yes, we'll drop in there too. But before I go today I'd like to show you this... a corner of a large meadow known as The Common is this intriguing feature. It's a "turf maze". No one seems to know how old it is - apart from "very old" - or exactly how it was used. You can obviously always see where you are, unlike hedge mazes. My bet is that there was some kind of game played here, though just how it was played has been forgotten.

Take care