31 December 2017

Christmas doors of Dorset

Not for me this modern trend for oversized flashing Santas on the front lawn or houses bedecked with dazzling lights that annoy the neighbours and drain the power grid. I much prefer the simplicity of a wonderfully wrought wreath, like these I spotted in Dorset during my Christmas holiday.

21 August 2017

Cardiff art: ‘People Like Us’

This is one of my favourite public artworks in Cardiff

It stands in one of the busiest areas of Cardiff Bay, amidst the cafes, restaurants and bars of Mermaid Quay, so I had to wait for a cold winter morning to get the photo, at right, with no people around.

The sculpture, called ‘People Like Us’ (‘Pobl Fel Ni’ in Welsh), is aptly named, as it certainly attracts people: they insinuate themselves amongst the figures for photos, lean next to the man as if engaging him in conversation, and children pat the dog as if it’s a favourite household pet.

‘People Like Us’ is a life-size bronze artwork by English sculptor John Clinch (1934 - 2001), whose intention was ‘to make something that somehow ‘gave a voice”’ to the diverse cultural and ethnic mix of people who have always lived and worked in the dockland area of Cardiff.

If the body structure of the male in this sculpture looks familiar, it’s because John Clinch also designed ‘From Pit To Port’, a sculpture celebrating Cardiff’s mining heritage that featured in a previous blog post here.

‘People Like Us’ is a much more personable sculpture I think, one that people can easily relate to, one that conveys a sense of rest and relaxation – the woman with her shoe off is a delightful touch.

I think John Clinch would be very pleased with how well his work is appreciated by those who visit Cardiff Bay.

23 July 2017

An ancient holloway

I mentioned in a recent post on my nature blog, earthstar, that, when out square-bashing for biological records with my friend Hilary, we found an ancient green lane, and this is it.

A local man whom we asked for directions when our maps weren’t quite precise enough told us this was part of a Roman road but that didn’t seem likely so I did some digging. I found a document online that maps out the Roman roads in southeast Wales and this lane is not included. Also, Roman roads are known to have a certain physical structure, to have a humped profile for better drainage, and generally to have been well formed, and this green lane was nothing like that.

Though probably not Roman, I was still convinced this path was an old one. 

Tracing the line on a map, you can easily see that the people who lived in the settlement of Llanmartin might have used the path to access what was once the old Llandevaud corn mill. The mill was marked as disused on the 1882-83 OS map, which implies that both the structure and the lane leading to it would date to the early 19th century, if not earlier.

But I had a feeling that this path was even older. 

I knew about ancient pathways called holloways from Robert Macfarlane’s excellent book The Old Ways: A journey on foot (Penguin, London, 2012), in which Macfarlane explains that holloway ‘comes from the Anglo-Saxon hol weg, and refers to a sunken path that has been grooved into the earth over centuries by the passage of feet, wheels and weather.’

I dug deeper and found references to an article that had been published about the path we had found: ‘An ancient green lane between Court Farm, Llanmartin, and Main Road at Llanbeder, Gwent via Mill Lane’ by Dr Mark Lewis, Senior Curator: Roman Archaeology at National Museum Wales, in the journal The Monmouthshire Antiquary (vol. XXXIII, 2017, pp.43-50). 

Luckily, Cardiff city library had a copy of the journal.

Lewis’s research into the green lane was, as you might expect, very thorough. He notes that the depth of this particular holloway ‘evidences the combined action of traffic and water over a very significant period of time’ and that the holloway ‘predates historic adjacent field boundaries’. 

He also notes that the lane traces part of a line between the early medieval sites of Llanbeder and Bishton, both of which were ‘ecclesiastical, episcopal holdings, held by the bishops of Llandaff before the Norman Conquest’, and he further speculates that the lane could have formed part of a network of lanes allowing access between ports on the Severn estuary and the ‘major historic and ancient east-west communication routes (the modern-day A48 and the Wentwood ridgeway)’. Lewis concludes by saying: ‘A medieval or early-medieval origin is very likely. Roman or pre-historic origins are possible’.

Though its exact age can never be known, the holloway was certainly a magical place to walk. I had a very real sense that we had been transported back in time, that we were walking in the footsteps of the ancients.

04 June 2017

Lullington: the smallest church in Britain

When I visited my friend Jill back in October 2014, she took me to see one of the loveliest churches I had ever seen, St Michaels and All Angels in Berwick. During my visit a few weeks ago, Jill took me to see another, just as lovely, and this one has the distinction of being the littlest church in the nation.

To reach it we walked from the picturesque town of Alfriston, along a public footpath, across the River Cuckmere, alongside fields of crops, and up a hill, with glorious views back towards Alfriston and across the Cuckmere Valley.

Veering off the fields, we passed through a small wooded area and then up a short path to a clearing and there it stood, the Church of the Good Shepherd ... or, at least, what’s left of it. The reason it’s the smallest church in Britain is because the church is really just the chancel of a much larger building that was destroyed by fire many centuries ago. You can see some of the stonework that marks the extent of the original church in my photo.

Measuring just 16 feet (5 metres) square, the church now seats around 20 people. Though it has no electricity for light or heating, regular services are still held there during the summer months. And, when extra people turn up, as frequently happens for the Harvest Festival, the congregation sits in the churchyard.

According to the British Listed buildings website, the church was probably built in the late 12th or early 13th century, of flint with a tiled roof. 

Initially, its isolated location made the church the perfect retreat for the monks of Alciston, but control was later handed over to the monastery at Battle Abbey. 

Later still, in 1251, the church was transferred to the Bishop of Chichester.

Nowadays, there are only a couple of houses near the church; they are all that remains of the village of Lullington, whose population was apparently much affected by the Black Death in the early 1330s.

Legend has it that the church, apart from the chancel, was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in the 1650s but there are no historical records to confirm that tale.

The Church of the Good Shepherd sits in a wonderfully tranquil setting and it’s a lovely walk to and from Alfriston, so I’d definitely recommend the stroll if you’re in the area. 

30 May 2017

It’s a sign: Lewes, 1

Judging by the number of signs on its buildings, I think it’s fair to say that the small East Sussex town of Lewes must have had more famous people per capita living within its boundaries over the centuries than any other town in Britain. And what an interesting assortment of people they have been.

First off, Albion Russell (1821-1888), who opened a boot and shoe shop in Lewes in 1861. He was joined by George Bromley in 1873 after Bromley married Russell’s daughter Elizabeth, and, if you know your shoe brands, then you’ll know the rest. Together they formed the now-famous and still highly successful high-end footwear-manufacturing partnership of Russell and Bromley.

Portrait of Richard Russell by Benjamin Wilson, in public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Next, there’s Dr Richard Russell F.R.S. (1687-1759) (I wonder if he was related to the bootmaker). In 1750, he was the author of a dissertation that prescribed the drinking of sea water as a cure for diseases of the lymphatic glands, and he further recommended that people should try the waters near Brighton, both for drinking and for bathing. The popularity of his ideas contributed to Brighton becoming a fashionable bathing resort, and there is also a plaque for him in Brighton.

Here’s another famous Lewes-born doctor, Gideon A. Mantell F.R.S. (1790-1852). 

The son of a shoemaker, Mantell was apprenticed to a local doctor in 1805 and was later awarded his diploma as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. 

In his spare time, Mantell was a keen amateur geologist and he and his wife Mary would take long walks collecting fossils. 

It was on one of these walks that Mantell discovered the fossilised bones of a prehistoric reptile he later named the Iguanodon (though rumour has it that Mary made the actual discovery!).

[Image of Mantell's Maidstone fossil Iguanodon, 1840, via Wikimedia Commons]

Thomas Matthew was a generous man. A Presbyterian and a woollen draper, in his will of 21 December 1688 he bequeathed his house, St Michael’s Court on Keere Hill, for the use and benefit of the poor (chiefly poor widows) of the parish of St Michael-in-Lewes. The local County Court later ordered that the building ‘should be used as a residence for six deserving poor widows or poor single women not less than fifty years of age’, and it continued to function as an almshouse until 1960. Nowadays, this early 18th-century flint building contains two substantial and rather expensive private houses.

At 12 Keere Street, there once lived an author called Eve Garnett (1900-1991). She wrote The Family from One End Street, thought to be based in Lewes, which won the Carnegie Medal for Best Children’s Book in 1938 (beating Tolkein’s The Hobbit) and is still considered a classic. Garnett was also an accomplished artist, illustrating many children’s books, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, and exhibiting at The Tate and the Lefevre Gallery. One of her paintings, ‘Lewes Gasworks from South Street’, is in the collections at the Barbican.

And last but most certainly not least – in fact, this last was a man of international fame, the man who wrote Common Sense and The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, the man who has been hailed as the intellectual inspiration behind the American war of independence, the great Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Just to be clear, Paine wasn’t born in Lewes but he did live in a house here, now called Bull House, from 1768 to 1774, at which time he was a plain old tobacconist and exciseman. Paine married Elizabeth Olive, the daughter of the owners of Bull House, in 1771 but then he left her in 1774, moved initially to London and subsequently to America to stir up revolution.

27 May 2017

Lewes: the church with a squint

We were wandering along the High Street at Cliffe when we saw this old stone and flint church dedicated to St Thomas à Becket and, as I can never resist an open door, we went in for a look.

The first thing I noticed was the strong musky smell of incense, next was the way the dim light filtering in through the stained-glass windows was creating kaleidoscopic rainbows on the stone floor. Looking up I marvelled at the dark wooden ceiling of the chancel and the huge organ pipes that dominated one side wall.

It was Jill who first noticed the squint, not something I’d heard of or seen before. This architectural feature, also known as a hagioscope, was incorporated into church structures where the view to the main altar was obscured, thus allowing an assistant priest to raise the Host at the same time as the priest at the main altar.

Jill had just finished explaining this to me when an elderly gentleman, with a shock of white hair and looking slightly dishevelled in his dark green robe, came shuffling in through a side door. He explained that this double squint had probably been used to allow lepers to observe the mass. It seems that what is now the chancel of the present church was originally the full extent of the building, a late-12th-century chapel of ease, and it may be that the squint allowed lepers, from a leper hospital built just outside the town walls, to witness the celebration of mass without actually entering the church.

However, the structure of the church has been much altered over the centuries: their website suggests that the church had at least one aisle by the 13th century, that there was major reconstruction work done in the 14th century, that the flint tower is of late-15th-centuy construction and that the whole building was restored in the 19th century, so it’s difficult to be sure how the squint was originally designed to work and it does look to have been cut into the 12th-century wall rather than being an integral part of it.

Unsure of the man's identity I asked our elderly guide if he was the priest and he said ‘Yes’, though he did seem a little uncertain about it. It was only later that I checked the church’s website and discovered we had indeed been chatting to the Reverend George Linnegar who, though now officially retired, continues his 54-year service as a priest. As well as celebrating Holy Communion every day at St Thomas's, it seems Brother George is also Chief Clock Winder and Door fixer ... but that’s another story by another blogger.

26 May 2017

Lewes: some street signs

I found much to love about Lewes during the day I spent there on my recent visit to East Sussex, as you will see in this and the blogs that follow.

Church Twitten
Move over road, street and boulevard, in Lewes we have the twitten. As the Oxford Dictionary defines it, a twitten is ‘a narrow path or passage between two walls or hedges’, and the word’s origin may be Low German, from the word tweite meaning lane or alley. If wiktionary and William Douglas Parish (from his 1875 book A dictionary of the Sussex dialect and collection of provincialisms in use in the county of Sussex) are to be believed, this is an exclusively Sussex word that is a corruption of betwixt and between. The word is obviously rather old as Church Twitten, and the many other twittens in Lewes, are the subject of a book by Kim Clark, The Twittens: The Saxon and Norman Lanes of Lewes (Pomegranate Press, 2012).

Pipe Passage
As well as the twitten, Lewes also has the passage, several of them in fact, leading hither and yon. 

This one had its own plaque explaining that Pipe Passage is ‘named after [a] 19th century clay pipe kiln’ and that the route ‘follows Saxon and Medieval access to [the] town wall defences’. 

I found out a little more:

... formerly Westgate Passage. It follows the line of the old town wall which still remains in this quarter of the town. A little way up Pipe Passage on the left is a small piece of ground between it and the town wall. It was formerly roofed over and was used as a workshop for making clay pipes, and the kiln for firing them still partially remains built into the north wall which owes its survival to the fact that it is a retaining wall for higher ground behind. [From N.E.S. Norris, ‘A Victorian Pipe Kiln in Lewes’, Journal of Post-Medieval Archaeology, Vol.4, Issue 1, 1970]

English’s Passage
What can I say? The story behind English’s Passage has eluded me. 

The alleyway itself is certainly very old as one of the buildings at the High Street end is heritage-listed and dates from the 16th century, and these old lanes and passages are all thought to date from Saxon or Norman times. 

The very picturesque row of cottages shown in my photo at right is not so old – the houses date from the early 19th century. They may perhaps have been built for the managers and overseers who worked at nearby Harvey’s Brewery. 

But the reason why this passage is named English’s will have to remain a mystery for now.

Cockshut Road
England would not be England without its weird, wonderful and sometimes downright rude place names. Just as Stonesfield in Oxfordshire has its Cockshoot Close and West End in Surrey has its Cocknmouth Close, so Lewes has Cockshut Road and, indeed, a Cockshut stream. The word Cockshut is actually pronounced Cock-chute by the locals and is apparently derived from a 13th-century Sussex word to describe a place where woodcocks or geese could be ensnared. The waterway, The Cockshut, is a tributary of the River Ouse and its course has been much altered over the years: back in the 12th century one of its branches flowed through the grounds of Lewes Priory and was used to cleanse the reredorter.

I do enjoy flushing out these fascinating dollops of local history.

21 May 2017

Sussex: The Long Man and the White Horse

No visit to my friend Jill in Sussex is complete without a drive past at least one of the enigmatic and incredibly large figures, inscribed on the local hills.

The origins of the Long Man of Wilmington have even the experts baffled. At around 230 feet tall, it was once thought to be the largest representation of the human form in the world. Some people speculate that it was carved out of the hillside by prehistoric man to scare away wolves, others that it was created by the monks of nearby Wilmington Priory. Perhaps he’s a figure from some ancient and primitive fertility cult, though the fact that he lacks any reproductive organs would seem to rule out that theory.

The sign on the hill overlooking the figure says that, during the Victorian period, ‘the shape was marked out with yellow bricks’, though those have since been replaced with concrete blocks. The intriguing thing to me is that whoever first marked out the shape was aware of the distortion created by the sloping angle of the hillside and compensated for it: the true shape of the Long Man is elongated so as to appear more normal from a distance.

The White Horse at Litlington is a true chalk figure, cut into the steep side of a hill in the Cuckmere Valley, and one of several large horse figures that adorn the hills of England, some ancient, some very modern. The origins of this particular figure are better documented: according to the National Trust, it was first cut into the downs by four men in 1836 and then re-carved in 1924 by a grandson of one of those men.

The horse is regularly restored by the National Trust, most recently in April this year, when volunteers first weeded the figure, then spread six tonnes of chalk over it to spruce it up. You can see the difference in its appearance in the two photographs below, one taken on a rather grey day in August 2014 and the other just last week.

09 May 2017

Grave matters: ‘To die whilst sitting on a seat’

While researching my previous post about Penarth Cemetery, I came across this odd little story in the old Welsh newspapers and my curiosity was immediately aroused. I had to find out more and, if possible, find the grave. Here’s the result.

Evening Express, 28 August 1907
Vice-Consul's Wish
An inquest was held at Penarth Police-station on Tuesday touching the death of John William Tornse [sic], the Norwegian Vice-Consul at Cardiff, who had been residing at Penarth.
Miss Jessie Maud Hart, nurse at the Cardiff Union Workhouse, stated that she was at Penarth on Sunday afternoon, and went for a walk across the cliffs. At about 6.10 she saw the deceased gentleman sitting on a seat. He appeared to have a kind of faint, and she ran to his assistance, to prevent him falling upon some stones at the side of the seat. In about five minutes he died.
A gentleman who was passing was despatched for Dr. Rees, who arrived at about 6.30. Witness laid the deceased upon a seat, with his head resting upon her lap. Dr. Rees stated that when he arrived the deceased was lying as described by the nurse. Death, which had taken place shortly before, was due to failure of the heart's action. The jury returned a verdict accordingly.
The doctor said that the deceased three days previously said that he would like to meet his death quietly, and suggested that he would like to go for a walk and sit upon a seat, where he might expire. It was strange that his wish should have been so minutely carried out.
The funeral will take place at Penarth Cemetery at four o'clock to-day (Wednesday).

So, who was this man who achieved his wish of wanting ‘to die whilst sitting on a seat’? Johann Wilhelm Tornøe was born on 27 January 1847 in Bergen, Norway to Johan Ernst Tornøe and Magdalene Christine Wiese. I’ve not found out anything about his early life but he appears to have become a career diplomat.

In 1888 Johann married Caroline Amelia Stromback (nee Harvey) in Kensington, in London. Caroline was then 23, eighteen years younger than Johann, and had been born in the English county of Kent.

The 1891 edition of The Australian handbook (incorporating New Zealand, Fiji, and New Guinea) and shippers' and importers' directory, which rather surprisingly includes all the consuls of foreign states then resident in London, lists John Wilhelm Tornoe as the Vice-Consul for Sweden and Norway. The electoral registers for 1890 and 1891 show him living at 106 Adelaide Road in Hampstead, though perhaps that was the address of the Consulate as the 1891 census shows he and his wife living as boarders, in Lansdowne Square, in the settlement of Brighton and Hove in Sussex.

Some time between 1891 and 1903, Johann made an upwards move, both in his career and his physical location, as he appears in Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotland, published in 1903, as the Consul for Sweden and Norway in Edinburgh, living at 68 Constitution Street, Leith.

By 1906 he had moved again, as the Evening Express of 13 June 1906 reports that

The Deputy-Lord Mayor of Cardiff (Councillor W. L. Yorath). accompanied by Alderman P. W. Carey, J.P., and the Town-clerk (Mr. J. L. Wheatley) to-day paid an official call on the Vice-Consul for Norway at Cardiff and Glamorgan (Mr. Johan Wilhelm Tornoe) at the Norwegian Consulate ...

It appears, though, that Johann was already hard at work a few weeks before his position was officially ratified by Edward VII as The London Gazette (20 July 1906) reports that on 9 July 1906 ‘The King has been pleased to approve of ... Mr Johan Wilhelm Tornoe, as Vice-Consul of Norway at Cardiff for the county of Glamorgan (with the exception of Swansea).’

His diplomatic service earned Johann official recognition from the governments of Norway and Sweden. He was made a Knight of the Order of St Olav by the Norwegian authorities, ‘as a reward for remarkable accomplishments on behalf of the country and humanity’, and from the Swedish government he was awarded The Royal Order of Vasa, ‘for service to state and society’.

As we have seen, Johann passed quietly away on 25 August 1907. It seems his wife was still residing in London at that time but, at some point, she also moved to Wales. Caroline survived her husband by almost 37 years, not passing away until 20 May 1944. Her death was registered in Cardiff and she is buried with Johann in Penarth Cemetery.

07 May 2017

Grave matters: Penarth Cemetery

Strange as it may seem, I miss not living near Cathays Cemetery, with its depth of history, its park-like grounds, its haven for flora and fauna, and its sense of peace and solitude. I have, however, discovered another cemetery, my local here in Penarth, though it’s only a fraction of the size of Cathays.

According to the Penarth Town Council website, five acres of land for the cemetery were acquired from the Right Honourable Robert George, Lord Windsor, Lord-Lieutenant of Glamorgan and Chief Commissioner of Public Works, on 2 March 1903, though the need for a new cemetery had been signalled many years earlier.

Prior to the opening of the town cemetery, most Penarth burials were in the graveyard around the Church of St Augustine. and as early as 1897 Reverend W. Sweet-Escott wrote to the district council pointing out the need for additional burial space (Evening Express, 20 March 1897). Somewhat surprisingly, the idea of a new cemetery proved to be quite a contentious issue. It wasn’t the cemetery itself that stirred up strong emotions but rather the decision as to whether or not the land would be consecrated, which would affect the cost of a burial. The Nonconformists were not against paying for tombstones, memorials or vaults but disputed the fact that they should have to pay a fee to a rector to perform the burial service.

The cemetery is not mentioned again in the newspapers until 1898, when Cardiff Council tried to amalgamate Penarth with Cardiff, something that was vehemently opposed by the ratepayers of Penarth. Even Cardiff’s promise to provide a new burial ground was not enough to persuade the good people of Penarth (and the town remains separate to this day). 

According to the report in the Evening Express, 21 February 1898,

Mr. A. Mackintosh said that the overtures of Cardiff were premature and pointed to no real advantage. With regard to the cemetery question, Penarth was rich enough to provide its own, and if Penarth people had to take their dead to Cardiff for burial it would simply be adding another terror to death. (Laughter.)

Penarth District Council finally decided to advertise for plans for a new cemetery in April 1901, restricting its call for tenders to Penarth and Cardiff architects only (Barry Dock News, 5 April 1901), though it would appear that nothing came of that advertisement as there is a further report in the Barry Dock News of 11 October 1901 stating that the Council had ‘resolved to re-write the bills of quantity for the proposed new cemetery, and advertise for tenders for same’. It seems much like council matters today – a lot of talk and bureaucracy but not much real action!

The first burial in the new cemetery finally took place in December 1903, and in 1928 the Council acquired a further 2½ acres to bring the total acreage to 7 and the number of burial spaces to 5000. More than one person can be buried in each space, of course, so the most recent burial total stands at over 10,500.

Howver, burial space is once again becoming an issue. On 28 March 2014, the Penarth Times reported that the cemetery was due to run out of burial space in three years – that’s right about now! – so the Council was looking into alternative methods of housing cremated remains. Columbaria, ‘scatter lawns’ and ‘above ground vaults’ were all under consideration, though I haven’t found any reference to a decision in more recent newspapers, and I haven’t noticed any new structures during my visits to the cemetery.

As with most old cemeteries, Penarth’s is an interesting place to explore, for the design and architecture of its buildings and its grave monuments, for the beauty of its wildflowers in the springtime, for the wildlife that inhabits its quiet spaces, and the view from the top of the hill is stunning. I will certainly be visiting again soon.