Sunday 26 April 2015

You Want Some More? Well, Here's Some More!

Some more photos from the gardens of my fellow-villagers in Meldreth. I'm not sure how some of these didn't get into my two earlier posts.

Take care.

Friday 24 April 2015

Walking Into Spring

An afternoon spent at Fen Drayton Lakes, RSPB bird reserve, in Cambridgeshire. 

Some of the birds seen and/or heard: Sedge Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Egyptian Geese with goslings, Common Tern, Cuckoo.
Yes, I heard my first Cuckoo of the year!

Take care.

Wednesday 22 April 2015


On Sunday morning I was poking about taking photos in the vicinity of our parish church when a woman unexpectedly approached me. I feared that she was going to ask me if I was going to attend the morning service (which I was not), but instead she enquired if I was taking photographs (which I admitted I was).

"Wonderful", she said, "and will you be visiting the Open Gardens this afternoon?".  I said that I hoped to. At this the good lady invited me to take some pictures for her to include on the village website - "just one of each garden". And that's how I became the "official photographer" for the day.

So here's what I came up with:

Jim and Jane's garden in Bell Close
Just a small plot which I walk or cycle by almost every day and invariably get a friendly wave from Jane or Jim. Always best to keep an eye on what Jim's doing if you want to be successful growing vegetables, but he also finds time (and space) to grow some lovely flowers.

 Tricia and John's garden in Chiswick End
A really tiny garden which is full of interest despite only having been started from scratch in 2014. In such a tight space all the visitors soon get involved in conversation with each other and with the owners.

 In Flambards Close, Jim and Margaret's garden
Another garden which I pass by regularly, though I had no idea that there was such an extensive and beautiful garden hidden away behind the house.

 Julie and Peter at The Dumb Flea
The Dumb Flea used to be a pub many years ago, hence the weird and wonderful name of the house. This is where the lady I met at the church earlier in the day resides. When I arrived she was busy taking her grandchildren for hair-raising rides around the garden on her mobility scooter! 

"The Limes", Frances and Richard's garden
A large spacious garden, all beautifully manicured and full of interesting plants. Having walked around once, very slowly, I then walked around again and found plenty more to photograph.

"The Court", a garden tended by Annemarie and Nick,
but, I suspect, mainly owned and occupied by their children!
A huge and rambling garden where one would like to be five years old on an endless summer's day. Besides having all those boring adult things like flowers, lawns and trees, this garden has a slide, swings, a Nelly-The-Elephant water-fountain and loads of awesome places to hide! 

Take care.

Monday 20 April 2015

Meldreth Open Gardens

On Sunday some of the good people of Meldreth opened their gardens to the public in order to raise money for the village church. You-know-who went along to take a few photos, but ended up taking quite a lot. Here are some of them:

Take care.

Saturday 18 April 2015

A Learned And Likeable Fellow

John Stevens Henslow was, in his time, known as "the man who knows everything". He was not called this in jest or jealousy by unlearned men, but in admiration by his colleagues at Cambridge University. Not only that but the Reverend Professor Henslow left his own memorial, albeit one which, though much admired, does little to shout his name to visitors.

The admirers are those who seek out the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. Many come to wander among the trees and enjoy the flowers but few realise that, as they do so, they are reading a book. That book is a textbook of all that was known about botany at the time when Henslow became professor of that subject in the early nineteenth century. For the garden was designed to be a learning resource for his students.

The trees around the perimeter are carefully planted in family groups and a large part of the garden is laid out in what are known as the Systematic Beds which similarly group other plants. This allowed direct comparison to draw out the differences and similarities between plants. It was nothing less than a living book. So just who was this man who developed this instructive but beautiful garden?

Having graduated in 1818 Henslow went on to become Professor of Mineralogy just four years later. Then having taken holy orders, he was soon appointed Professor of Botany, a science which had increasingly interested him. At that time Botany was hardly studied at the University and the Botanic Garden was a tiny plot near the centre of the town.

As a teacher Henslow is said to have listened just as carefully to the newest student as to the most learned authority. He often invited his students to his house to discuss ideas in a less formal setting and he encouraged his students to learn for themselves through field work and indeed gardening. So when there came a chance to acquire a forty acre site (16 hectares) to develop a Botanic Garden he jumped at the chance. 

Henslow was an inspiration to many of the young men who came to study and one in particular became known as "the man who walks with Henslow". His name was Charles Darwin and he became fascinated by Henslow's work on plant families and the variations within them. One branch of Henslow's studies concerned what he called "monstrosities", but which we would nowadays call genetic mutation. All of which later influenced Darwin's work on the origin of species, of course.

The young Darwin
But Henslow had an even greater influence in that it was he who recommended Darwin as a suitable candidate to sail as the naturalist on The Beagle with Capt Fitzroy. 

Then in 1837, soon after Darwin had returned from his voyage, Henslow was appointed rector of the parish of Hitcham in Suffolk. Then, rather than appoint a curate to do the hard work for him, he immersed himself fully in village matters. Although he retained his post at the University he was more concerned with developing a village school, providing allotment gardens and improving farming methods within his parish. He gave talks to farmers on such delightful topics as the fermentation of manure.

As a Christian and a creationist, he could not support Darwin's theories, but nevertheless continued to encourage him and when necessary defend his right to publish his ideas. Henslow died in 1861 and is buried in Hitcham churchyard. There is a small, modest memorial to him in the church but surely the great garden he designed is his greatest legacy and I'm sure he would have approved of the way it has developed and is used today.

Take care.


Tuesday 7 April 2015

Name That Pub

That's rather a lot of pictures of pub signs. So here are some anecdotes about pub names for you:

  • Until the 1950s there was a pub in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, that was known as The Exhibition. However a colony of bees set up home in the wall of the pub which then changed its name to The Bees In The Wall, by which name it is known to this day.
  • In 2007 both The British Beer And Pub Association and The Campaign For Real Ale carried out surveys into the most common pub names in England. The BBPA makes the 1,2,3 - The Red Lion, The Royal Oak and White Hart while CAMRA reckons it's The Crown, The Red Lion and The Royal Oak. Possibly alcohol influenced their mathematics.

  • On Cambridge's Madingley Road their used to be a pub called the Man Loaded With Mischief. The sign depicted a man carrying a woman.
  • While we're being politically incorrect, there's a pub in Scotland called "The Black Bitch", which is apparently named in honour of a famous greyhound.
  • The Cambridge Blue, in, naturally enough, Cambridge, used to be known by the dreadfully punning name of The Dewdrop Inn - Do drop in - while in Brecon in Wales is The Cwm Inn. Cwm is Welsh for valley but it's also a pun, Come In of course.

  • The two Irish pubs in Mill Road, Cambridge, The White Swan and The Earl Of Beaconsfield, are known respectively as The Swimmer and The Beaky by many drinkers in the area.
  • My home village of Meldreth once boasted six pubs, one of which went by the remarkable and completely inexplicable name of The Dumb Flea. It may have once been either The Dun Fleece or The Earl Of Dumfries. Why on earth a pub in Cambridgeshire should be named after a Scottish earl is another question entirely. The road in which it stands is known as Chiswick End, in the 1881 census it was mistakenly recorded as Cheesecake End!
Perhaps my favourite pub name.

Take care.  

Friday 3 April 2015

We Need To Talk About Morris

Those of you who read my last, now rather distant, post about Thriplow's Daffodil Weekend, may have noticed that there were Morris dancers in attendance, doing their ancient and idiosyncratic thing. But just how ancient and how unique?

The dance is first mentioned in the mid-15th century, though with several rather random spellings. It's been suggested, probably correctly, that the name derives from Moorish Dance and, in this context, it would have meant that the dance appeared foreign and strange rather than having any real connection to the Medieval Muslims of al-Andalus. 

The earliest references seem to point to a dance which was performed in royal courts rather than in a more rustic setting. However by Shakespeare's time it was considered a country pastime. Here is the big problem in tracing the origins of any ancient dance: they not only moved between the various courts of Europe, so that sometimes French dancing was fashionable and at other times Italian or even English dance was the latest thing; but also they spread from the courts to less formal, rural settings throughout the land. Add to that fact that everyone adapted the dance to suit their own ideas and you can see it's starting to get complicated. But what did the wealthy and trendy do when their dances started to get jaded? That's right, they looked back to country dances for the necessary injection of freshness and vigour.
In 1600 it was recorded that the actor and morris dancer, Will Kempe, danced the 120 miles (190 Km) from London to Norwich. Whether this was for a bet or simply out of sheer exuberance is not clear, but he achieved the feat in nine days. In order that people would believe his story he published a leaflet about it entitled "Nine Daies Wonder". So if you've ever wondered about the origin of the phrase "a nine days' wonder" then you now have the answer to your puzzle.

The Puritans didn't like Morris Dancing, of course - did they like anything? - and sought to ban it. But it was the upheavals of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions that led to its gradual demise over most of the land. It survived in a few isolated pockets where, often as not, it was preserved by just one or two families who passed the tradition down through the generations.

Cecil Sharp
In 1899 a man called Cecil Sharp happened to be staying at his mother-in-law's house in the Cotswolds for Christmas. On December 26th he looked out from the window onto the snow-covered driveway when a curious procession presented itself. Several men dressed all in white and adorned with ribbons and bells lined up outside the house and danced, with much leaping in the air, to some sprightly but strange concertina music.

William "Merry" Kimber
Sharp was amazed and dashed out to question the musician, whose name was William Kimber, a local bricklayer. This inspired Sharp to get on his bicycle and travel the byways of England collecting tunes, dances and songs. He even ventured as far as The Appalachian Mountains where he encountered versions of those same songs which had crossed the Atlantic with the early settlers.

Kimber often accompanied Sharp on his talks and lectures around England, demonstrating the tunes and dances. They hoped to find a new generation to take up Morris Dancing - and they did, but perhaps not in the way they had envisaged.

In Marylebone in London a young woman from a wealthy family was working as a voluntary social worker with girls from the poorest backgrounds. Her name was Mary Neal and she set up the Esperance Club and was passionate to find something of beauty for her girls to do. And so it was that Morris Dancing, which had always been danced exclusively by men, and men from villages at that, came to be spread through the country by young girls from London.

Despite this, when the Morris Ring was formed, it stipulated that it should be done by men only. They came mainly from the middle classes and, in the south of England at least, concentrated almost exclusively on the Cotswold dances which had first attracted the attention of Cecil Sharp.

The tradition got a boost from the folk revival which took place in the fifties and sixties, though it took a long while to evolve from skiffle to songwriters to traditional song to folk rock, with many twists and turns along the way, until it eventually began to have much of an effect on traditional dance. Nowadays you'll find many female dancers and musicians amongst the ranks of many morris sides, none of whom will be at all shy about mentioning Mary Neal and her pivotal role in reviving the tradition!

There is now great variety within the broad church of English folk dance with many colourful and entertaining sides, some of which I've shown you in "By Stargoose And Hanglands". If you've missed them you can find them by clicking where it says "YouTube Videos" at the top of the page.
And here's another such video for you: 
            The Devil's Dyke Morris men dancing at Thriplow Daffodil Weekend recently.

Take care.

(The colour photos and video are mine but the black and white images have been borrowed from elsewhere)