Thursday 24 December 2015

Best Wishes

With thanks to everyone who reads and comments on "By Stargoose And Hanglands". 

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Let There Be Lights!

This post has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. Guaranteed.

Sometimes you just don't realise when you have something that's unique. I've seen these old street lights in Cambridge for years and never given them a second thought. At one time almost every city in England had their own design of street-lighting but, over the years, they've been swept away by inexorable progress. Cambridge's lights, though they are not as ancient as the buildings they illuminate, are a remarkable survival.

Cambridge used to be lit by gas lamps right up till the mid 1950s, despite them being inefficient and difficult to maintain. It was then decided to have a trial of electric lighting and various different designs were erected around the town. Nobody really seemed to like any of them and the council went to the Royal Fine Art Commission for advice.

They suggested the 77-year-old Sir Albert Richardson as a possible designer. He already had a reputation as someone who hated the modern lighting designs of the day and was photographed wagging his umbrella at certain lamps to which he had strong objections.

“The lighting in a city should be regulated by the city itself, by the condition and formation of the streets, by the buildings and houses, and certainly with regard for vistas and silhouettes”, he stated. 

The lights he came up with are known as "Richardson's Candles".  And Sir Albert certainly succeeded in his aims: the tall, slim design fits in well with the narrow streets both physically and aesthetically, the neo-classical look is perfect for outside the Fitzwilliam Museum's facade and many other college buildings have a strong accent on vertical lines.

They are so familiar to me that I didn't even realise that I'd photographed this one.
It's on the side of the University Bookshop, though I took the photo
because there's been a bookshop on the site continuously since the 1580s.

There's no denying that Richardson's design looks great - in the half-light or during the daytime! However the vertically-mounted florescent tubes, which were a daring innovation at the time, throw most of their light out sideways rather than down on to the streets below. They light the buildings beautifully, but it's dingy down here on the pavement. Very like the candles they're named after, they look lovely but aren't very practical.

That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum that the city's been wrestling with for over half a century. Some have been taken down and replaced with more modern designs, some have been knocked down by careless drivers and some, despite everything, remain.

From time to time there are articles about them in our local newspaper - they are going to be replaced, they will be retained, they might be adapted to use LED lights - but still the indecision goes on. For a city of enlightenment we seem to spend a lot of time muddling along in the twilight. 

Take care. 

Sunday 20 December 2015

"By Stargoose And Hanglands" - Calendar For 2016

A calendar for 2016, complete with the Old Anglo-Saxon names for the months
(for those who are interested in such things).

(Æftera Geola)
    Early morning at Amwell, Hertfordshire

    In Hatfield Forest, Essex

    Thriplow Daffodil Weekend, Cambridgeshire

    Meldreth Open Gardens, Cambridgeshire

    Topcliffe Mill, Cambridgeshire

    The beach at Hunstanton, Norfolk

    The big van-painting project, Ely Folk Music Festival, Cambridgeshire

    The gardens of Selwyn College, Cambridge

    Bedfordshire Steam Rally And Country Fayre

    University Botanic Gardens, Cambridge

    Titchwell, North Norfolk

(Ærra Geola)
    Early morning at Amwell, Hertfordshire

Take care.

Friday 18 December 2015

Autumn Leaves....

.....or rather it hasn't left at all.

I've just been sweeping up leaves in my back yard. All the rain we've had hasn't rotted them nor the wind blown them away. What's more I didn't even need to put a jacket on, as it's ridiculously mild today. On coming indoors I found some forgotten pictures from earlier in the year so here they are, reminders of the long, long Autumn season of 2015.

Take care.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Church Matters

A much-delayed post from the church at Much Hadham. 

Here's the problem: I have a glorious day to spend outside admiring the pastoral scenery of the pretty valley of the River Ash, but somehow I not only get caught up photographing a village street but then go into an dim old building with no views out at all. On the face of it it doesn't make sense. Though when the village is Much Hadham and the building is the magnificent medieval church then it's essential viewing.

In the churchyard my eye was attracted to this simple wooden cross marking the grave, I presume, of someone who couldn't afford a stone. At one time that must have meant the majority of the population; stone being hard to come by in this part of the world.

The church door has what must be one of the most battered and ancient door-handles that I've ever seen, though amazingly when you turn it you find it still works perfectly. Believe it or not there is an even older door, dating from about 1225 AD inside the body of the church. Unfortunately a combination of poor lighting and over-optimistic camera technique has robbed you of the chance to see it.

Once inside you find yourself in something more akin to a large urban church than one in a quiet rural parish. The reason for this must be the proximity of the Bishops of London whose palace was just next door. Despite the medieval artefacts and architecture one can't help but notice a more modern feature, namely the forest of colourful kneelers all decorated in cross-stitch by members of the congregation.

My mother embroidered a few such kneelers for her local church so I know how much work is involved. Indeed I designed one for her (you do it using graph paper) and even that isn't easy.

The church has some things you wouldn't normally find in an Anglican church, such as some modern wooden carvings representing the Stations of the Cross. These are present because the building is shared with the local Catholic congregation, something which wouldn't have been contemplated in the past but is a neat solution to spread the cost of maintaining the building and using it to its full potential.

There's also a very unusual west window, the design of which is based on an etching by the sculptor Henry Moore who lived locally.

There are two of these ancient chairs which are a rare survival of church furniture from the early 14th Century. It's thought that they might be part of an old sedilia, a set of three seats for the use of the clergy, but the middle one has been removed to leave two individual chairs.


The lights in the nave immediately catch the eye and date from the Arts and Crafts period.

On the way out I noticed something which I should have seen on the way in....'s a simple joke from the Seventeenth Century telling you to mind the step. In case you don't get the joke there's a modern sign on the door telling you, less poetically, the same thing:

Take care.

Monday 14 December 2015

A Walk: From Church 4 To Platform 2

Wednesday December 9th was as nice a day as you can hope to get at this time of year so I didn't have much trouble persuading my legs to take me out for a walk. It was a circular walk to the south of Newport in Essex and I've been feeding it to you, in what I hope are digestible chunks over the last four days.

If you've missed it you can catch up by going to these links:

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:

We finished last time loitering in a magical little wood just north of the hamlet of Rook End. Although you'd never guess it we're very close to Debden church, we just have a short walk alongside an arable field.

Long shadows were already being thrown by the low winter sun, even though it was only early afternoon. 

St Mary the Virgin and All Saints, Debden, is the fourth church we've passed today and stands a little apart from the village in its beautifully tranquil churchyard. Unfortunately there were builders working inside the church so I'll have to look inside on another occasion. It's a rather unusual structure in that it's quite a grand building but with a rather modest wooden spire; old pictures show it with an elegant steeple.

Down a narrow path I came across this disused building though what it is remains rather a mystery. It's the sort of time when you hope an old man, wearing Wellington boots and pushing his bicycle, will appear around the corner and tell you the complete history of the building, the whole village and what he got up to when he was a young lad. But, alas, no rustic sage was on hand. The building stands by a small stream but there was no evidence that water-power was part of the story. It's called "barn" on some maps but doesn't really look like one. If I had to hazard a, I really don't know.

Quite close by is what appears to be an ornamental lake, not an unusual feature on old estates.

My path then climbed up on a rough track through woodland and there, right at the edge of the wood was this strange little building which might be a some sort of shooting lodge. Again I really don't know.

Leaving the wood the view ahead shows the open arable country that's characteristic of large parts of East Anglia. The track to the right would lead me towards Waldegraves Farm.

These big round bales, with their plastic wrapping blowing in the wind,  made an unusual subject for my camera. They may well contain "haylage", a high-quality, low-moisture kind of silage made especially for feeding horses, as there is an equestrian business based at the farm.

The farm itself looked a prosperous, modern business (though you'll never get a farmer to admit that he's prosperous). On the other hand, as my father frequently pointed out "You never see a farmer riding a bike".

A long, downhill track then led me back to Newport, where I had started from some six hours and twelve and a half miles before. The path featured many of those wonderful, but often unphotographable, wide far-reaching panoramas that both thrill and frustrate the photographer in equal measure.

When I get to Newport, I thought, I'll spend some time exploring the area. When I got to Newport though I jumped straight on the first train to take me home. 

Walker's Log:

    Start: Newport, Essex 08.00

    End: Newport, Essex 14.10
    Distance walked: 12.5 miles (20 Km)
    Notable birds: Buzzard, Skylark, Bullfinch, flock of Fieldfares, flock of Yellowhammers.
    Mammals: Rabbit, Grey Squirrel. 
    Churches: Rickling, Quendon, Ugley, Debden. Also St Helen's Chapel at Wicken Bonhunt.

    People with dogs: 10
    Dogs with people: 14
    People just enjoying a walk: 0
    Cyclists: 2, one very sensibly pushing her bike up a hill!
    Horse riders: 0

I hope you've enjoyed the walk. I presented it in this way - 12.5 miles spread over 5 posts - to emphasise just how much there is to see in these overcrowded islands. I could easily have found more if I'd had a mind to; I didn't really explore Quendon or Debden and I by-passed Widdington entirely, to say nothing of Newport. I saw quite a few birds, but don't have the equipment to photograph them for you. Undoubtedly at other times of year there'd be many wild flowers to show you. I hope that those reading this blog will begin to realise that though this landscape may lack some of the glory of other parts of the world, no mountains, spectacular coast or even extreme weather, it's rich with history and interest. More story than glory!

Take care.

Sunday 13 December 2015

A Walk: From Peacock Tail To Rook End

On December 9th I went out on a walk in the North Essex countryside. I've been showing you the photos over the last three days. If you want to catch up you can do so here:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

This fine fellow was strutting his stuff near to a place marked on the map as Mole Hall, though unless you are extremely tall and nosey you might never see the Hall as it's hidden behind a high wall.

Ah, there it is! A magnificent old farmhouse standing within its huge moat. These moats are fairly common around large old farms and manor houses and served a practical purpose as well as scenic value. They would have been stocked with fish which supplemented the diet during the winter months. Also a large supply of water would be needed for the farm animals. And the notion of an Englishman's home being his castle also gave such dwellings enormous prestige.

Just across the lane, behind another high wall, is Swayne's Hall, rather less posh with just a big pond outside.

Although I had a day off work the labours of the fields continued without pause. They were taking advantage of this fine, settled period of weather to spray our food with delicious chemicals. The operator very considerately ceased his work while I passed by.

I often read blogs from North America which frequently feature pictures of old barns very like the one above. In this part of England there are few isolated structures standing in the fields, everything usually being concentrated near to the farmhouse. 

A little further along I came to a small cluster of cottages known as Rook End. This neat little sports car was standing nearby and has clearly not been used for a while.

Beyond Rook End I found a wonderful little bit of country. I love it when that happens - on the map it doesn't look very promising but when actually there everything conspires to create something a bit special.

The path ran parallel to a tiny stream cutting a steep-sided little valley through a strip of woodland. I crunched about through the leaves for a bit, seeking out possible photographs. Suddenly it occurred to me that, though my walk was nearly completed, I was still carrying my sandwiches. I soon found a comfy tree-stump to sit on.

There I was munching away and wondering why no one else was here enjoying this magical little place. Suddenly a small, energetic terrier came scurrying towards me. Then I heard a shrill whistle and the little dog was gone. Clearly I was not as alone as I'd thought!

There's just a short distance to go now. See you tomorrow.

Take care.