Saturday 31 August 2019

August Flower, August Tree

I recently paid a visit to the Botanic Garden in Cambridge in order to photograph, and hopefully learn a little, about any flower and tree that caught my eye. At this time of year I'm rather spoilt for choice with everything growing vigorously thanks to our fickle climate which has mixed warm days and rainy days in a way that has frustrated holiday-makers but suited many plants just fine.

Love-Lies-Bleeding - Amaranthus Caudatus

What's in a name? Amaranth or Amaranthus or Tassel Flower or Tampala or Flaming Fountain or Joseph's Coat or Fountain Flower or Molten Flower or Prince's Feather or Summer Poinsettia or Love-Lies-Bleeding? To be fair these names are sometimes reserved for close relatives of a complex group of flowers. Things could be worse: another closely related plant goes by the charming name of Pigweed.

This, I think, is the form known as Prince's Feather. Its Latin name is curious indeed.....

Hypochondriacus ?......what did it do to get a name like that? 

Most of the Amaranth family come from Central and South America. The Incas made great use of the plant eating the leaves and the flowers, extracting a dye from the flowers, as well as using it during religious ceremonies. 

In the Victorian "Language of Flowers" it's supposed to represent hopeless love.

Caucasian Elm - Zelkova carpinifolia

The zelkovas are a small, distinct genus within the Elm family of trees. These trees were far more widespread about 6,000 years ago but now exist in just a few isolated areas in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. What makes things worse is the fact that the timber from these trees is very valuable being light, strong, flexible, rot resistant and attractive. Add in more frequent droughts and pressure on its home range from industrialisation and tourism and you have a tree under threat.

There are attempts to save the tree by setting up national parks, and presumably growing trees in parks and botanic gardens will also have a part to play. As you can see from just looking at the bottom portion of the trunk it's a very distinctive tree. It gets even more interesting as we progress upwards....

It soon develops into multiple branches which, rather than spread outwards, continue to zoom upwards towards the sky.

The second part of its name, carpinifolia, means "having leaves like a hornbeam", which indeed it has. I rather wish I'd taken a close-up of the light shining through the leaf as it reveals the structural details. (Zoom in if you want to see).

Just like the English Elms, which I remember from before they succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease, they appear to throw up "suckers" from their roots which, once the roots have spread out beyond the parent tree, will grow into clones,

And nearby is another Caucasian Elm which may well have developed in this way.

Take care.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

The Proud And The Diffident

The walk in the countryside between Anstey and Meesden which yielded the photos of Fields And Farms in the last post also included visits to two churches, one for each village, and two very different buildings they were.

St George's at Anstey stands commandingly and impressively above the winding village street. It's a big, complex church which deserves more space and photos than I can include here. But before we get to the church itself.....

The churchyard is entered by an ancient "lychgate". It may look quaint and picturesque, but the purpose of such covered gateways is somewhat macabre. In the days when most people died at home, their bodies would be wrapped in a shroud and then left in the lychgate to await burial. At sometime in history a portion of this particular gate was converted into a lock-up for miscreants.

A closer look reveals that the carpenter who made the structure did not stint with the amount of timber used for the job!

Once inside one is immediately aware of the visual and practical problems created by the cruciform plan around a central tower; the relatively low, rounded Norman arches, which support the great weight of the tower, effectively separate the chancel from the nave. This was of little importance in medieval times, when those two parts of the church were kept separate, often with a solid screen between the two. Many churches that were built on this plan were redesigned with a new tower at the west end, but not here.

If you want to see the chancel properly you need to pass beneath the central tower. The choir stalls are particularly interesting.

Back sometime in the 1300s a carpenter took his planes and chisels and fashioned these seats from the raw oak. They've been doing their job quietly for around seven-hundred years now - though not so quietly a few days ago when one of the tip-up seats slipped through my fingers and fell into place with an ear-splitting thump! Fortunately no damage was done to either the seat or my fingers.

The strangely carved ledges beneath the seats are known as misericords and provided a handy little ledge to rest on while standing through long services. But it's down at the other end of the church where there are even stranger carvings to be seen....

The font is adorned with mermen holding their tails - and each merman having two tails! Now, if you've been reading this blog for a while you might be thinking that you've seen this before. Back in July, 2016, I showed you a very similar one at the little St Peter's Church in Cambridge. There are just two fonts like this in the whole of the country (quite possibly the whole world) and you've now seen both.

But at the other extremity of my roughly elliptical walk there was a very different church awaiting me....

If you go to Meesden looking for St Mary's church you probably won't find it. You have to take one of the minor roads out of the village, look for a little painted sign, negotiate a five-bar gate, then tramp off down a stony track. You still can't see the church, but just as you're thinking you might be on someone's private drive.....

….you discover the church, hiding away among the trees. You wouldn't expect to see much here, in fact in such an out-of-the-way place you'd probably expect it to be locked.

Round on the south side of the church you'll find the entrance - and what an entrance it is! This glorious little porch dates from just before the Reformation, which put an end to such architectural frivolities. All the authorities on the subject date the porch as being entirely from the sixteenth century, but luckily I'd read a post on David Gouldstone's blog "Icknield Indagations" in which he points out that an old picture in the church shows it without the fancy upper portion. What's more if you look closely the bricks at the top are larger (and newer) than the rest of the porch. So it appears that the ornate top is a Victorian addition, though one good enough to have fooled all the experts except that clever Mr Gouldstone. Thanks, David.

Inside there's more to see, though some things were destroyed and replaced by the Victorian renovators.

They didn't get rid of the memorial to Robert Younge, who stares down rather disapprovingly as he has since his death in 1626. It's been repainted but the bright colours are authentic enough. In our modern age it's tempting to associate bright colours with cheap plastics, though in the past bright paints and dyes were only available to the very wealthy and were therefore seen as very desirable.

There's a rather rustic little organ....

......and I liked the neatly converted-to-electric lamps. But there's something older and more interesting on the floor of the chancel....

This small, rectangular area is decorated with mosaic tiles, each one precisely shaped to fit the pattern. They are a bit worn as they have every right to be having survived around seven hundred years. As you look closer you find that some are stamped with patterns and with coats of arms.

Who would have thought there'd be something so rare, beautiful and valuable hiding away down one of Hertfordshire's innumerable back roads? 

Take care.

Thursday 22 August 2019

Fields And Farms

The Hertfordshire villages of Anstey and Meesden are a little off the beaten track and must look much the same as they did a hundred years ago. The countryside in between them is prime farmland traversed by footpaths and bridleways. Come and see.....

I notice that the signpost on that first photo says "MEESDEN 1½" which makes me wonder how come I walked 7 miles there and back. But if I'd travelled in a straight line I wouldn't have seen so much of the scenery.

Take care.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

More From The Collection

The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, that is. Just a few random items that caught my eye as I wandered round, some from Shuttleworth's time and some later additions.

Sopwith Triplane (1916)

This was a state-of-the-art fighter plane when it was introduced in 1916, but such was speed of innovation in flying during the Great War that by 1917 it had been superseded by the Sopwith Camel. Test pilot Harry Hawker was so confident in the Triplane's design that within three minutes of take-off on its maiden flight he did three successive loops! Most of these aircraft were manufactured in Clayton & Shuttleworth's factory, the one above though is a reproduction of the original plane, but one which won the approval of Sir Thomas Sopwith himself.

1903 Marot-Gardon Quadricycle

In the early days of the internal combustion engine all sorts of wacky vehicles were designed as manufacturers sought the way forward - including this four-wheeled motorbike with the pillion seat at the front! The firm of Marot-Gardon made several designs of motorised tricycles and quadricycles which used to take part in road races alongside the cars of the day.

Allis-Chalmers (Model B) 1950

These little tractors were made in the United States from 1937 onwards and over the following two decades 127,100 were produced. From 1947 they were also manufactured in England, initially from parts made in the US but later made wholly in this country. This charming machine was found in a barn a few miles away and was restored by one of the engineers employed here.

Arvo Triplane IV (a replica of the 1910 plane)

This remarkable machine is a copy of a plane made in the early years of the twentieth century. Early models were merely development prototypes as the pioneers of aviation refined their art, but by the time this Model IV was built it was good enough to use at the flying school at Brooklands but, as it says on the information board, "several times coming into intimate contact with the sewage farm". 

This copy was built for use in the film "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines". As it is largely true to the original plane and flies really well it was purchased for the Collection and can sometimes be seen flying sedately over the fields of Old Warden on calm days. 

Ivel Cycle Woks (Est 1880)

Some of you may remember that I wrote a bit about Dan Albone in an earlier post. He lived just down the road at Biggleswade and was a cycle-enthusiast who came up with many inventions which led to him building the first modern bicycles. This is a reproduction of his premises and displays a range of cycles showing the improvements which took place during his short but productive lifetime.

Mignet HM.14 Pou-de-Ciel

Suspended on wires from the roof of one of the hangars is this sweet little "Pou-de-Ciel" (literally "Louse of the Sky", but usually rather freely translated as "Flying Flea"). From 1920 onwards Frenchman Henri Mignet strove to develop a small plane which enthusiasts could build at home, leading to the HM.14 in 1933. Mignet flew the plane successfully and published the plans, resulting in many planes being built worldwide. 

However many of these home-built aircraft began to crash, getting into dives which the pilots were unable to pull out of. This led to the planes being grounded or banned in many countries. It was later proved that the accidents were caused by the builders incorporating design features of their own, such as putting in larger engines or modifying the wings. The Pou-de-Ciel never lived down the bad publicity, though thousands of micro-light aircraft of basically similar design have been built and flown since.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vc (1941)

"Spitfire" - just the name of it was enough to get small boys of my generation excited as we ran around the playground with arms outstretched enacting air battles! This particular plane was flown out of Duxford by No. 310 (Czech) Squadron escorting USAAF bombers of the 91st Bombardment Group which included the famous "Memphis Belle". It has recently been completely stripped down and returned to its original wartime specifications. 

Take care.

Monday 19 August 2019

Down London Way

The main road from London to Cambridge used to pass right through Melbourn, though within my lifetime a by-pass has been built around the village and a whole new motorway, the M11, provides another link to the capital city. Nowadays I stroll along Melbourn High Street as part of one of my regular walks.

As you can see it's fairly peaceful early on a Sunday morning, but there are reminders of its busy past...

An old milestone is set, none too squarely, into a wall that I pass and several of the larger houses have names like The Old Rose, which betray their former importance as roadside inns.

And the rather quaint residence above bears the name of Turnpike Cottage, harking back to the days when travellers would have paid a small toll to use this section of road, the money thus collected being used for the upkeep of the highway. This system, which was introduced in the seventeenth century, was a huge improvement over the previous piecemeal road repairs carried out sporadically by local authorities.

A little farther along I come across a sign for London Way. But it doesn't refer to the old turnpike road as you might think, but to a minor track now used by purely local traffic.

It starts off as a roughly-surfaced track beneath overhanging trees and is wide enough to suggest that it's been a major road in fairly recent times, but that's deceiving. This lower section is used by farms and some building companies who have premises a little way off the track.

The further you go the rougher and narrower it gets and you also realise that you're in a sunken road with banks rising above head-height on either side. This usually denotes a very old road indeed. These "holloways" as they're sometimes called may date back a thousand years or more. Occasionally you'll hear it said that the Saxons constructed their roads like this and used them to mark boundaries. 

However most of the sunken roads, in this part of the country at least, occur in hillier parts of the county and the steeper the hill, the deeper the roadway. They are almost certainly caused by erosion. Rainwater soon found the ruts made by waggon wheels and washed any loose soil downslope, gradually lowering the road-surface below the surrounding fields.
The fact that boundaries, which are known to survive from Saxon times, follow these sunken ways just shows how very ancient some of these routes must be.

But was this rural byway ever the main route to London. Well, yes - and no! Before the turnpike system regularised the roads people tended to go where they could. Roads became flooded, muddy or impassable and travellers, of necessity, took to the higher ground along any route that was open to them. And I think that's what would have happened here and this was just one of the possible ways to London.

I met this peaceable old soul along the track who seemed to be taking herself for a walk. I'm pretty certain she's a Lurcher, a type of dog originally bred by gypsies to hunt rabbits and hares.

Eventually my track "comes up for air" and, no longer restricted by high banks, gives views out over the recently harvested fields. And soon it rejoins the modern London road.

But my footsteps may have been traversing a path which dates from a time before people ever troubled themselves with which way it was to "dear old London town", before London was a place of any importance at all. And the evidence for that lies just to one side of the track, just before its highest point.

This is Grinnel Hill, a Bronze Age burial mound, that's probably around 3,000 years old. So maybe this same path I walk today, wearing my lightweight boots and carrying my camera and binoculars, was once walked by a prehistoric tribe on their way to bury their former chieftain. Makes you think.

Take care.