28 December 2019

A decade of blogging

This blog began on a more personal level than it now is; it was a way both to diarise for myself and to share with friends and family my various life adventures. Over the years, given the more sinister turn the online world of social media has taken, with the capturing and misuse of our personal information, I have become wary of sharing the more specific and intimate details of my life and so this blog has morphed into something that, instead, reflects some of the things that interest me. As the heading indicates, sconzani now contains ‘sprinklings of history, a smidgen of genealogy, a dash of art & a dusting of architecture, all mixed together with my eccentric fascinations’.

Still, as the decade comes to a close, I, like many other people, have been reflecting on the changes the last ten years have brought and I’ve found this blog invaluable for meandering through my own memories. I’ve chosen a blog from each of the last ten years as an example of where life has been taking me.

Way back on 2 November 2010, when I still lived in New Zealand, I began this blog with a post entitled ‘43 more sleeps’, about my forthcoming return to Cambodia, to spend – for the second time – my Christmas holidays volunteering as an English teacher at a local NGO. As we shall see, those volunteering stints changed my life.

2011: leaving behind my fabulous Auckland city view
By 10 April 2011, when I blogged ‘Dream. Plan. Do!’, huge changes were afoot: I was just days away from leaving Auckland to move to Cusco, Peru, where I lived and worked for the next 18 months, as Project manager for a British NGO operating in South America. As well as blogging about my very rewarding work, I wrote a lot about work trips to Colombia and Argentina; border runs to Bolivia to renew my Peru visa; and holiday time exploring much of Peru and Bolivia, and a little of Chile.

It’s been a joy looking through my 2012 blogs – so much exploring, so many lovely people, such fun times. Here’s just one example of the amazing festivals that seemed almost continuous in Peru: my blog from 21 July 2012 ‘Inti Raymi II’, about the local mid-winter solstice celebrations in Cusco.  

I left Peru at the end of 2012 but continued to work, for several months, for the same British NGO, as Development manager based in their Siem Reap office, in Cambodia. And then the need to sort out some financial issues in New Zealand drew me, unexpectedly, back to Auckland. I summarised that year in my blog ‘The year that was: 2013’, published on 31 December.  

2014 began in New Zealand and ended with me living in Cheshire, in England, lodging with a friend I’d worked with in Peru. In the months between I’d enjoyed a fabulous holiday in Morocco, a country that had long been on my wish list; visited friends in England; returned to New Zealand and, not able to settle down to life back in New Zealand, quit my job to return to England, with an amazing holiday in Tanzania on the return journey. On 24 October I published a blog entitled ‘Tanzania: Meeting the Maasai’, giving a taste of the incredible experience of spending time in a Maasai village.  

2015: exploring Chicago
You might by now be forgiven for thinking I have very itchy feet! During 2015, I decided I wanted to move (perhaps) permanently to Britain so, by the end of the year, I had returned to New Zealand, sold my apartment, packed up my belongings, and moved to Cardiff in Wales. And, never one to waste a journey, I had spent a week visiting my lovely friend Trudey in Wisconsin, burned shoe rubber exploring Chicago, and enjoyed a volunteering holiday in Nicaragua. Here’s a snippet from my time with Trudey and some of her women friends, ‘Wisconsin: Road trip to Washington Island’, published on 14 August 2015. What a hoot that day was!   

2016: 'Walking with Mary' in Draethen woods
And so to a more settled life in south Wales. It may not be as exotic as some of the places I’ve lived but, as a newcomer, I have found a great deal to explore and learn about. Early in 2016, I began a two-day-a-week two-year volunteering stint at the local environmental records centre, helping to extract and digitise the biological records of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gilham. Our team of volunteers also created a website documenting Mary’s life and achievements, and helped organise various public engagement events. Published on 4 April 2016, here’s one of my first Mary-inspired blogs, ‘Wherever I turn, there’s Mary’.   

For me, one of the major attractions of living in Britain is the sense of history that abounds here. Castles and cathedrals, Roman ruins and Iron age hill forts, even some of the houses I’ve lived in – there is so much that is old, full of characters and stories, and I delight in exploring, researching and writing about the historic things I see. Here’s an example from 30 April 2017: ‘Roman Wales: Caerwent’.    

Another wonderful thing about living here is being able to visit local friends: I particularly enjoy visits to my friend Jill, who lives in East Sussex and who shares my interest in the historic and in wildlife. And, of course, I blog about the amazing, fascinating, beautiful places we visit. In March 2018, one of the stunning places we explored was ‘Beautiful Bodiam’.   

I continue to find new and interesting objects, buildings, graves, ruins, and more in south Wales to explore, photograph and write about. Here, for example, is a piece from April this year about the opening of the pier at my local beach, ‘Penarth : the opening of the pier’.  

It’s impossible to know what the next decade will bring. The political and societal turmoil that has followed the 2016 Brexit vote seems to me to have diminished Britain and its people, and has led me to question whether I want to remain here. And reading through the events of the past ten years has certainly made my feet feel a little itchy again, so ... 

22 December 2019

London : capital lights

We’ve checked out some of London city’s amazing clocks (some famous examples here, some less well known here), and its design-rich historic guttering; now let’s focus on some of its historic sources of illumination.

There are two of these ornate lamp standards, commemorating the opening of Chelsea embankment in 1874, one at the west end of the embankment gardens and one just to the east of Albert Bridge

The design, by Timothy Butler, was originally submitted to the London Metropolitan Board of Works when it was looking for lamps to light the newly completed Thames Embankment but Vulliamy’s dolphin design (at right) was chosen instead. 

On the Chelsea embankment lamps two climbing figures of young boys, one passing a burning torch to the other, twist artfully around standards that are adorned at their bases with overflowing cornucopias. 

These delightful lamp standards were made in cast iron by a company in Coalbrookdale and sit on plain granite pedestals.

This next light is to be found on Chelsea Bridge, one of the many bridges that cross the Thames in central London. Constructed between 1934 and 1937, the listing on the Historic England website explains:

The bridge is painted mostly white with a red trim and greyish blue along the balustrades. It is embellished with five sets of lampposts, decorated with golden galleons, on either side of the bridge and smaller bulbs fixed into the swooping metal supports. There are heraldic designs on the four tall turrets at either end of the bridge: a golden galleon with two shields underneath (each marked with different symbols); crests of Middlesex and other counties around London; and a series of doves holding olive branches.

The lamp standards in the above photos were spotted in Whitehall (on the left) and at the entrance to Downing Street (on the right).

Surmounted by small gold crowns, these lamps cast their light along The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace.

And so to Buckingham Palace (the two photos above and the two immediately below) where, as you’d expect, even the lights on the external fences and gates are ornate, opulent and rich-looking. The Historic England listing says these lamps, both the candelabra and single lanterns, are part of the overall Victoria Memorial scheme designed by Sir Aston Webb and date from 1901-11.   

You would expect the World Heritage site that is Westminster Abbey to have magnificent everything and this is certainly true of its lamps.

It wasn’t easy to get a good look at the Palace of Westminster during my recent visit to London – the building was covered in the scaffolding required for its renovation and restoration, and the pavements surrounding it were awash with protesters. Luckily, when we rounded the corner, heading towards Westminster Bridge, I noticed a magnificent line of old trees and, near them, a row of 14 lamp standards running along next to the driveway. These cast-iron standards (one is shown below, left), with their ‘crown finialed globe lanterns’ were made c. 1860-67.  

On the right, above, is one of several lamps that grace the balustrades of Westminster BridgeDating from 1862, the cast-iron standards are surmounted by ‘twin bracketed octagonal lanterns and crowning lanterns - all with gilded finials’.

These beauties were found in the area surrounding the Tower of London complex, the blue-painted standard on the left adjacent to a nearby pathway, and the more ornate, crown-surmounted lanterns on the railings leading to the tourist entrance to the Tower.

Of course, most people looking at Tower Bridge are fascinated by its age, its architecture, the fact that its central roadway lifts to allow tall river traffic to pass through.... I also admired those things but my eyes were drawn to its handsome light fixtures. On the balustrades leading up to the bridge is this row of light-blue lamp standards that date from 1886-84. The coat of arms is that of the City of London, with the motto Domine dirige nos, roughly ‘Lord, guide us’ – in this case, safely across the bridge.

As the sun went down on our day of stomping around the streets of London, I caught sight of the iconic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral behind Southwark Bridge, where commuters were heading home from work and tourists paused to take photos along the Thames of the magnificent sights of this capital city, of lights and so much more.

10 December 2019

Grave matters : ‘The happiest man on earth’

Ninety-six years ago today, the self-proclaimed ‘happiest man on earth’ died in the Victorian seaside town of Penarth, in south Wales. I was intrigued when I read George Lewis Norris’s headstone in the graveyard of Penarth’s St Augustine Church and just had to find out more about him. The headstone reads:

Here lie the remains of
Overthorpe, 24 Plymouth Road, Penarth
Born 18th March 1852,
Died 10th December 1923
who lived and died the happiest man on earth, who was always busy doing good and trying to do good advising and helping those in trouble.

The first headlines that appeared when I searched the Welsh Newspapers website read ‘NORRIS CHEERED’ and ‘NORRIS UNSEATED’. I read on, dug deeper, and found a fascinating series of local events. Norris was both a champion of the poor and downtrodden, and a thorn in the side of the local authorities. I’ve summarised below the events of just two years, 1908-1910, taken from snippets in the local papers.

Evening Express, 1 February 1908, ‘”MOST INSOLENT LETTERS”’:
At the meeting of the Cardiff Board of Guardians [responsible for overseeing the functioning of the workhouse and local poor relief] to-day, the Clerk (Mr. Harris) reported that Mr. G. L. Norris had sent further correspondence concerning the price of bread and other necessities to the scattered homes at Penarth. Mr. Norris, it will be remembered, complained that the guardians paid more than they ought to, in the interests of ratepayers, for certain articles.
Norris waited outside the meeting room for four hours but the Board refused to see him.

Evening Express, 3 February 1908, Norris wrote to the newspaper:
Sir,—My Saturday's letter was addressed to the chairman and the 85 Cardiff guardians, and every guardian had a right to see the letter or hear it read. Ninety-nine per cent of the guardians had no chance of one or the other. The chairman read it himself, and because he could not answer a single line of the four foolscap pages said it was insolent, a very easy thing to say when you are beaten in argument. Fifty per cent of the guardians know absolutely nothing whatever of the business transacted in the board-room. That's what they tell me.
... If the order of things were reversed the ratepayers' pockets would be eased, and the poor, wretched persons whom I saw hanging round the door crying would have their stomachs filled.

There followed a series of letters and articles about the relative prices of bread of different loaf weights, in different towns, both contesting and supporting Norris’s claims of overpayment and the waste of ratepayers money, and Norris subsequently produced a circular outlining his concerns and claims.

Presumably it was the lack of response from the Board of Guardians and other persons in authority, combined with Norris’s desire to improve the plight of the local poor that prompted him, in April 1908, to stand for election in not one but all four of Penarth’s district council wards. Norris won two of those elections and chose to sit in the west ward, but the incumbent didn’t take his loss to Norris sitting down – he instituted legal action.

Evening Express, 14 June 1908

Evening Express, 16 June 1908:
Penarth was all agog this morning in expectation of pyrotechnics at the sitting of the Commission appointed to consider the petition to unseat Mr. George Lewis Norris, as member for the West Ward of the Penarth Urban District Council. Mr. Norris, the man of questions and motions, who has made things at Penarth very lively during the two short months he has held a seat on the council, delights to describe himself and his doings in the phraseology of the cricket world. He is, he avers, "100 (resolutions) not out," and he has frequently challenged the whole of the council and others to put him out.
To-day one of "the others," to wit, the man whom he defeated in the West Ward (Mr. W. L. Morris, who had held a seat on the local authority for twenty years), took a turn at trundling, backed by an array of legal talent, whilst Batter Norris stood up at the wickets alone and unaided.
It will be remembered that Mr. Norris contested the four wards of Penarth at the district council election in April, and was returned for two – the North and West. He decided to sit as the representative of the West Ward. Thereupon, the defeated candidate, Mr. W. L. Morris, petitioned against Mr. Norris's election, alleging bribery and treating. It was affirmed that, prior to the nomination of candidates for the election, Mr. Norris issued handbills stating that he was going to give away so many threepenny bits, so many pennies, and so many lIb. of cake to the people of Penarth.

Weekly Mail, 20 June 1908

Evening Express, 18 June 1908, ‘NORRIS UNSEATED’, an article relaying, word for word, the judgement of electoral commissioner Mr Morton Smith K.C., in which he found George Norris guilty of bribery at the recent local body elections and therefore declared Norris’s election void.

Evening Express, 4 July 1908, ‘MORE CAKE AT PENARTH’:
Keeping his promise that whether he lost his seat or held it he would make a free distribution of cake, Mr. G. L. Norris made many children happy at Penarth this afternoon by presenting a quarter of a lb. of the luxury to about 400 or 500 boys and girls.
At the conclusion of the "ceremony," Mr. Morris called for cheers for various persons, and, of course, the children responded with a will.
Mr. Norris says he intends holding a public meeting at the Park-hall, Cardiff, or Andrews-hall, Penarth, "as soon as the weather permits.” He also intends giving a similar quantity of cake to the children of the West Ward, and he stated that his action was against the chamber of trade, whilst he reiterated his defence to the election petition—that he never had any idea of becoming a candidate when he bestowed the gifts.

Evening Express, 19 August 1908, the ‘NORRIS CHEERED’ article. Not content with removing Norris from his council seat, the police then decided to charge him with four counts of offering voters inducements of three pence or a penny, if they were to vote for him. A crowd of children cheered Norris’s arrival at court – perhaps they were hoping for more cake! The case later broke down at the assizes, the Grand Jury throwing out the case against him.

Evening Express, 7 December 1908
Norris fires off a ‘sheath of telegrams’ to various officials, including this one to Prime Minster Asquith: 
To Prime Minster, London
Five prosecutions in five months, four miscarriages of justice. Norris improperly unseated. Public inquiry demanded. What about my seat? What about my costs? Who is going to refund?—Norris, Penarth

Though he did succeed in having a question about his treatment asked in parliament, George Norris neither regained his council seat nor was he awarded any financial compensation. He did, however, continue to agitate against the actions – or, perhaps, the inactions – of Penarth’s district council, challenging them over various administrative matters, including their unprofitable running of the town’s public baths. And he continued to show compassion towards the local people.

Evening Express, 24 August 1910, ‘Mr Geo. Norris Weeps’:
It was as prosecutor that Mr. G. L. Norris, the well-known Penarthite, appeared at the local juvenile court to-day. The defendants were Albert Howell, George Parkman, Francis Hooper, Bertie Davies, and Albert Saddler, all Penarth lads, who were charged with breaking and entering Mr. Norris's house in Plymouth-road, Penarth, and stealing watches, rings, brooches, and other jewellery.
It was evident that the prosecutor was touched by the sight of so many boys in such a grave position, for he wept profusely. The house was broken into on Friday last, and Police-constable Borston gave evidence of arrest, when each defendant is said to have made a statement admitting his oonnection with the affair, and most of them produced some of the missing articles. Many of the articles, however, had, it was stated, been given away or otherwise disposed of. ... a week's remand was granted.

The Welsh newspapers have not yet been digitised past 1919 so I wasn’t able to check for any obituary following George Norris’s death on 10 December 1923. I did, however, find two items in New Zealand newspapers. His death notice in The Press, of 25 June 1924, states that he was formerly a wine and spirit merchant’s manager and that he left his estate, with a gross value of £14,289 19s 2d, to the town of Penarth. And I particularly enjoyed this article about his will in the Evening Star, 18
June 1924:
Evening Express, 29 April 1908
Here lie the remains of G. L. Norris, who lived and died the happiest man on earth, who was always busy doing good and trying to do good, advising and helping those in trouble. G. L. Norris never knew his advice go wrong.
This is the epitaph with which the late Mr G. L. Norris, a Penarth celebrity, concludes his will, a quaint document by which he leaves over £14,000, chiefly for charitable and social purposes.
As it was his opinion that the great amount of deplorable poverty and destitution in the world was due to a want of proper training in the habit of thrift, Mr Norris left money for a “Good Character and Thrift Prize Fund,” the prizes to be savings bank books with deposits of 5s each. There are also swimming and other prizes offered to boys and girls who are to be kept informed of what is going by being able to see copies of the will hanging on the walls of the schoolrooms.
The prizes are to be distributed each year by the chairman or vice-chairman of the Penarth Urban Council on Mr Norris’s birthday, and at the distribution a sum not exceeding £l2 is to be spent on coffee, light refreshments, cigars, and cigarettes. Mr Norris bequeathed two boxes of cigars and two boxes of cigarettes annually “to be kept in the Penarth Council Chamber handy for any member who wants to smoke.”
Five pounds a year is to be given to the young couple about to be married whose joint bank books show the largest amount saved, and £3 a year to any man in the district “who will fat and kill the best and heaviest pig during the year.”
Mr Norris said he gave the latter prize “for the purpose of killing the silly, stupid, and ridiculous restrictions placed on pig killing by illogical and irresponsible cranks who could not, without the help of an experienced veterinary surgeon, possibly tell the difference between a young pig, a yelf, or a seven-year-old hog pig.”
Several prizes are offered for the cultivation of gardens and allotments by children and adults, but the donor placed a ban on people who bought German horse radish or Spanish onions. “I would doubly punish all members of the Government who in future allow these vegetables to come into the country,” added Mr Norris.

It seems to me that George Norris was a good-hearted man who was concerned about the level of poverty he saw about him and tried to do something about it, though perhaps not in the smartest of ways. Even commissioner Morton Smith described him, in the Evening Express, 18 June 1908, as 
a man of very peculiar temperament, and of an imaginative mind – in fact, a man who does not appreciate and regard things in the same way as others would, and does not in the least consider the affect of his language and his acts. In fact, the word “eccentric” describes the views I have formed about the respondent.

Three cheers for eccentricity, I say!

08 December 2019

London : clocking on

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some of London’s more famous clocks; today, I have a mixture of the less well known and the downright quirky.  

First up is Southwark Cathedral, a building that also featured in my recent blog about gutter hoppers. There is a long history of religious buildings on this site, from a 12th-century Augustinian priory to a church dedicated to St Mary Overie, a later church named St Saviour’s and, from 1905, the building’s current status as an Anglican cathedral, with much construction and renovation, many restorations and additions along the way. I have found no information about when the clock was added but, if you’re in the area, don’t set your watch by it – the clock has been showing 12 o’clock for at least the last 10 years!

I find the combination of clock and sundial on Chelsea’s Old Church simply fascinating and, if you look carefully, you can see that both methods are telling the same time, though I assume that would change when the clock is adjusted for daylight saving during the summer months. As you might also notice in the photo, the original sundial was dated 1692 but was remade in 1957. This is because, on the night of 16-17 April 1941, the church was completely destroyed by German bombs. According to the A London Inheritance website, Old Church was made anew, a faithful reconstruction of the original, and ‘The building was reconsecrated by the Bishop of London in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on 13 May 1958.’   

Now for something completely different. This is the Furniture and Arts Building, at 533 King’s Road in Chelsea. I have no information about the history of the building or its clock but, with that bright green paint job, it certainly does stand out in the urban landscape.     

Here’s another oddball, the clock on the World’s End Shop, at 430 King’s Road, Chelsea. We were on the opposite side of the road and my companions on this walk had gone inside a shop to check something out but I couldn’t take my eyes off the clock, the hands of which revolve constantly backwards at high speed on a face that has not 12 but 13 points. Apparently, the shop is owned by world famous fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and has a truly colourful history – you can see a pictorial history of the shop’s various incarnations on its website and read an article about it on the Fashion Pearls of Wisdom website here.  

Now back to something more traditional to finish, the clock on the National Audit Office building in Buckingham Palace Road. This stunning Art Deco building wasn’t always the National Audit Office: the Beauty of Transport website has the story:

... when it opened in 1939 this building was the Empire Terminal, headquarters and passenger check-in for Imperial Airways.

... A central clock tower of some 10 storeys is flanked by curved wings of five storeys, with pavilions at the ends.

... The Empire Terminal’s clock tower is still easily visible on the approach to Victoria station, and is sometimes confused with Victoria Coach Station by people who know only that they are looking for an Art Deco building in the vicinity.