Thursday, December 21, 2017

Annie's Tea Rooms - Walk - Thrupp

On Christmas Eve in 1874 there was a great railway disaster near Thrupp. Heavy snow lay on the ground, and a Great Western Train from London Paddington had added an extra coach at Oxford and left at 11:40 AM. The carriage was needed to deal with the crowds of people wanting to get to the Midlands for Christmas.

On passing Thrupp a wheel tyre on the additional coach broke and the carriage left the rails. The rest of the train plunged down an embankment beside the Oxford Canal. 31 passengers died in the crash, and over 60 were seriously injured.
We parked the car at Thrupp near Annie's Tea Room.
We crossed the Oxford Canal and then went under the railway. The line was busy with freight and passenger trains.
The path went through a plantation for a mile or so until emerging beside the meandering River Cherwell. The slim spire of the church in Kidlington could be seen across the fields and was visible for most of the walk. We crossed open meadows with horses, and after the village of Hampton Poyle, saw sheep and cows.
The route then took us to what remained of Hampton Gay. The 16th Century Manor House had burned down in 1887. There is still a farm with a number of cottages nearby.

By mistake, we went off the designated footpath at this point and ended up going under the railway through water and coming to a field with a notice saying 'Bull in this Field.' So we turned back and found the way we should have gone, by the church at Hampton Gay. The church is still used but is surrounded by fields with no driveway or road access. The path took us under the railway, alongside the River Cherwell.
The last part of the walk was along the canal towpath ending at the canal maintenance yard, and Annie's Tea Room  where we went in and enjoyed Sweet Potato Soup with bread and butter.

There were no boards or memorial to the 1874 railway disaster we could see anywhere.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Westgate Library Re-opens

A few weeks ago, the new Westgate shopping centre opened. And today the Westgate Library re-opened. There had been a much smaller library during the twenty months it was closed.

There was no great radical change in the structure of the building. The staircases and view from the upper balcony looked much the same.
Different community groups were performing music, and that will be a feature in future. We met George Haslam, and he told us he will performing there on 6th January at 7pm. There was a string quartet when we arrived, and a choir singing carols when we left. The music section has now moved upstairs, as have poetry and computing. If anything the Local History section upstairs has shrunk.
What was the music library is now a multi-purpose education and community space. There were educational electronic kits, and ozobots - little robots that obey commands given as a sequence of colours. The space can be used by people wanting to pass on their knowledge on any subject.
The windows facing Castle Street look new with the colourful stained glass books.
Some of the furniture also looked new. The shelves are not so regimented but have different configurations. The different book sections now have a picture with their name.

It is good to have the Westgate Library open again. The library in Oxford is a bigger draw for me than the shopping centre.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Elstow - John Bunyan's birthplace

I am working in Bedford this week. It gave me the chance to visit John Bunyan's birthplace, a village called Elstow - not far from Bedford.
The village has a green where there used to be monthly fairs with all kinds of entertainment from jousting to maypole dancing. The green was the inspiration for Vanity Fair in Pilgrim's Progress ... "at this fair there are at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.... Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood-red colour"

The stump of a Market Cross remains as testament, and the fine Moot House from the 15th Century.

Nearby is the Abbey Church of St Mary and St Helena. It was once the 7th richest Abbey in the Kingdom with a very extensive building. A reduced sized church still remains, and some ruined walls.

Inside the church is the original Wicket gate that John Bunyan immortalised in Pilgrim's Progress. A Wicket Gate is a pedestrian door or gate, particularly one built into a larger door.
In the church is a fine window showing scenes from Pilgrim's Progress, and an even finer window, shown above, showing scenes from John Bunyan's third book, 'The Holy War – The Losing and Taking Again of the Town of Man-soul.' It shows the evil forces to the left, in green, and the good forces to the right, both trying to take the town of a man's mind - the evil forces by force, and the good forces by invitation.
Pilgrims come in coaches and cars these days to visit the church and other places linked to John Bunyan. There are more from China and Japan than England. His allegorical book, Pilgrim's Progress, and his being jailed for what he believed, are greatly admired in those countries.

Over the church door is a seal from the time the Abbey was handed over to King Henry VIII's forces. It shows Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Saint Helena, who discovered the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
Elstow itself also has a fine row of houses, some dating back before John Bunyan. The village is also cut across by the very busy A421 Bedford Bypass, but you would hardly know it as the bridge over the road has such high walls.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Penny Lane and other roads we visited in Liverpool

In Penny Lane there is a sign with autographs
Of every person who's had the pleasure to have been
And somebody even left a picture of them self
it wasn't just a dream...

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes ...   
Down some steps to the Cavern beneath Matthew Street
tourists go and visit, drink a beer
watch a live band play or an old one filmed
love and atmosphere ...

in my ears and in my eyes ...
On the Town Hall balcony Sergeant Pepper's Band
photo holes for  people to play the part.
The children and the old men too, take a turn
in the pouring rain, very strange ...

in my ears and in my eyes ...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Whose house is this?

We found this house after driving along a very narrow lane. We needed to get a ticket from a National Trust hut which allowed us to enter at 2:25pm, and get in out of the rain. Inside was a blazing fire in a stove that has been pictured in some books by the person who lived here.
Most of the house was kept fairly dark to help preserve the fabrics and pictures. There were a lot of pictures, many by this person's brother and father, and even a hat and some clothes belonging to the person who lived here.
In the kitchen was a basket of vegetables picked from the garden that is also shown in books by the person who lived here.
That person wrote and illustrated this letter to a young friend. It was the start of what this person is most famous for. But they also kept prize winning sheep, and helped set up the early National Trust.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Quarry Bank

We arrived early at Quarry Bank and looked round before anything was open. This old cotton mill was run by the Greg family in the Bollin valley in Cheshire - just one their mills. The River Bollin turned the huge waterwheel that drove the first machines on this site before they converted to steam. That wheel is still working.
At 11am we got our tickets and crossed a bridge into the factory. The first floor was fairly empty - undergoing a revamp. Part of it was being prepared for the children's activities.

But we could hear the thump of the machines down below. First we saw the carding, and spinning machines. Then a lady showed us the same process on earlier wooden machines: from carding through spinning to weaving - first with a hand moved shuttle, then a faster flying shuttle.

After that we came into the largest machine room (showed above) where a volunteer had four weaving machines going together.
There was then a lot of history displays, but we had to dash to get to the apprentice's house for a booked tour at 12:15 to learn how these children lived.

The children worked 12 hour days in the mill, 13 as punishment if they were a minute late. Then had an hours schooling from 8-9pm. Mr Greg's wife was a Unitarian and made sure the girls also learned to read and write, not just the boys. Some of the detail of their lives came from two boys who ran home to London to see their mum.

The government were gradually tightening up on the hours of child labour, and eventually the apprentice house was closed down. The guide gave a very interesting, animated talk - accentuating some of the horrible history for the children in our audience. The children's lives in those days was very hard. They were picked for being fit and given a medical before starting. Many came from the workhouse. After a trial period, to make sure they were good workers, they could sign up for anything from 2 to 10 years. In return for work they got the board and lodging.
There are also some beautiful gardens at Quarry Bank, with recently restored glass houses, and waterside walks, and some houses to view in the workers village .

The National Trust were also restoring the Greg family home, to be re-opened in September, and building a new visitor centre.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dunham Massey

We passed a 500 year old Oak Tree on the path from the Carpark to the grounds and Manor House of Dunham Massey in Cheshire. It had seen a lot of changes on that site.
Inside we were given a tour and shown some of the owners of houses on this site. The earliest picture was of old Sir George Booth who rebuilt the house in the late 16th century, and then his grandson, young George Booth (above), who fought first on the side of Oliver Cromwell, and then deciding the new regime had got things wrong, on the royalist side. He got sent to the Tower of London until the restoration of the Monarchy under Charles II.
The present house was mostly built in 1770s, and then abandoned by the 7th Earl of Stamford in Victorian times, and that was the story the national Trust are telling this season - as a family attraction.

The Earl took for his second wife a circus performer called Catherine. The Cheshire set were against this marriage, as was Queen Victoria. Feeling rejected, the Earl and Catherine abandoned their house in Cheshire, taking some treasures with them, to their other 2 houses.

Outside children had a carnival theme with performers and tents to learn about Catherine's circus life, and inside they could discover more of what happened when the Earl left.
The downstairs servants area, with a cook, milk maid, and wash maid brings the place to life.
The 9th Earl of Stamford moved the family back to Dunham Massey and set about trying to create a grand house with a new elaborate front entrance. He was not altogether pleased with the result and fired the architect. Perhaps he wanted it even grander.

On his death in 1910 the house was given to his son Roger, the 10th Earl of Stamford, who tried to recover some of the former possessions of the house, including a Grinling Gibbons wood carved crucifixion seen in the library. He left it all to the National Trust.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Little Moreton Hall

We walked round Little Moreton Hall, a tudor timbered building, for the first hour, and then joined in one of the guided tours.
The building, situated in Cheshire, just south of Congleton, was clearly amazing, and the guide added to that with his enthusiasm and knowledge, taking us from the first building of the great hall in tudor times by Thomas Moreton, and how it got enlarged by his son and grandson, great entrepreneurs in the area. The family were royalists and lost a lot of their land during the  English Civil war, and the hall was rented out to tenant farmers until Victorian times,  when Sister Elizabeth Moreton took possession and set about restoring it.
There are recent discoveries such as the wall painting showing the story of Susanna and the Elders from the apocrypha.This is a unique collection of pictures like a medieval comic strip with the top missing.

"There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Jo′akim. And he took a wife named Susanna, the daughter of Hilki′ah, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord... (story continued)


Warwick Castle is not that far from us. We wished we had visited years ago when our children were young. Most of the visitors were young families, but it still has a lot for us oldies. Climbing the ramparts was exciting and gave some wonderful views.
The eagles flying display was the best falconry display I had ever seen. The falconer gave a great commentary. It brought tears to my eyes to see some of the birds fly - very moving.
We queued up with others to watch the War of the Roses between Yorkists, and Lancastrians. Some great riding and theatricality and a chance to relearn some history. Added to the drama was the team rivalry - half the crowd cheered for the whites and half for the reds.
The River running beneath the castle is a vision ...
as are parts of the town beyond the castle.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Beverley Minster

A few miles north of Hull is the town of Beverley.

What is quite remarkable is that there has been a religious building on the same spot in Beverley since St John of Beverley founded a monastery there around 700 AD.

Work on the present church began around 1220, and took about 200 years to complete.
Beverley Minster became a mixture of Gothic styles with a splendid perpendicular Gothic nave.

We visited on Maundy Thursday a few  hours before the Holy Communion service.
In one chapel was a cross with just a carved out space instead of a body.
In the neighbouring Percy Chapel, above the magnificent Percy Tomb, is a flag that shows the decay of years.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hull - The Humber Bridge

We didn't manage to get tickets for the Height of the Reeds sound journey where people walk over the Humber Bridge with headphones. That seems to be at the weekends anyway, and was sold out during April.
Instead we drove from Hull and parked the car near the visitor centre at Hessle, then crossed the Humber Bridge towards Lincolnshire under a grey sky. The wind was strong particularly near the large towers.
After coffees in a pub called The Sloop, in Barton, we walked to a viewing point where there were reeds.
We then walked under the bridge on the Viking Way. 
The wind was still strong on the walk back over the Humber Bridge, but the sky had brightened and there was some sun. Lovely! No need to go round by Goole.

My wife remembered exploring Hessle Foreshore in the sixties, and picking up bits of pottery. That was before the bridge was properly planned. Back then they sang ...

"Will they ever bridge the Humber? Will they ever span it o'er?
Is it always an exception to the rule?
Is it such a privilege to have a Humber Bridge?
Do we have to keep on going round by Goole?"