Looking Down On Lamu

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I’ve written of our long ago Christmas stay on Lamu Island HERE. We stayed in Shela village, an ancient Swahili settlement, two miles along the beach from the more ancient Stone Town, now a World Heritage Site. Our rooftop room in the Island Hotel gave me wall to wall views of surrounding village rooftops. The smartly made-over ones tend to belong to Europeans who have come to the island to lotus eat or to run small hotels.

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Lamu lies just off the Kenya mainland near the Somali border. It was once one of a chain of Swahili city states situated along East Africa’s Indian Ocean seaboard from Kismayu in the north, to Kilwa down in Mozambique, and including the islands of Zanzibar. These Bantu-Arab settlements had their origins around 800-900 CE, and their growing wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages depended on the Arab dhow trade – the exchange of African slaves, ivory, leopard skins, mangrove poles for oriental silks and rugs, porcelain, dates, treasure chests. Kilwa was also the nexus for the export of African gold from the Shona city of Great Zimbabwe.

The ocean trade depended on the cycle of monsoon winds to carry the dhows to and from the Persian Gulf. If winds were missed then, crews were stranded for months along Africa’s shores, though this gave the captains a chance to repair storm-ravaged boats, and crews the spare time to do some concentrated liaising with the locals. This, then, was the world of Sinbad (Sendebada in KiSwahili), the Basra merchant-adventurer who made many such voyages in a bid to restore his fortunes. His stories, too, have their origins in the 9th century, around the time many of the city states were making their first appearance as permanent harbour-settlements built of quarried coral rag.

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Now that the Arab dhow trade is long gone, and the prosperity of the Swahili city states pretty much forgotten, Lamu islanders’ main income tends to be tourism related. The recent trend, then, of private European investment in small, perfectly formed guest houses, involving the thoughtful restoration of the many of the old merchant houses, is probably no bad thing. In recent years, too, there has also been great community enthusiasm to find new ways to promote and share the island’s unique cultural heritage with visitors.

Lamu’s Stone Town has long and famously hosted the religious Maulid Festival, celebrating the birth of Mohammed, but there are many secular events through the year, including the famous New Year’s Day dhow race; donkey racing; sport fishing contests, and cultural, art, yoga and food festivals. In many ways it may remain a deeply conservative community but, by all accounts, still very much a welcoming one. And apart from anything else, in over twenty years I have not forgotten the absolute deliciousness of Lamu’s fish samosas and mango smoothies.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Looking Up In Zanzibar ~ From The Old Africa Album

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…a gateway to Africa. Through its portals passed not only slaves, spices and ivory, but also missionaries, explorers and conquerors.

Abdul Sheriff, Professor of History, Dar es Salaam University

 

In the last of our eight years in East Africa I was taken to Zanzibar as a birthday treat. I can’t imagine a more wonderful gift.  It was the end of October, the beginning of the hot season on the Indian Ocean. But there was an air of quietness too. Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s revered first president had just died. He had done his best by his nation while being shunned by western powers. This was because he said things like:

“No nation has the right to make decisions for another nation; no people for another people.”

And: “We, in Africa, have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism than we have of being ‘taught’ democracy. Both are rooted in our past – in the traditional society which produced us.”

And: “You cannot develop people. You must allow people to develop themselves.”

And also: “Democracy is not a bottle of Coca-Cola which you can import. Democracy should develop according to that particular country”.

In the days before independence he also told his British rulers: “In Tanganyika we believe that only evil, godless men would make the colour of a man’s skin the criteria for granting him civil rights.”

A man who got right to the point then.

We arrived mid way through the thirty days of national mourning, but even so, and despite being the descendant citizens of the former colonial power in question, we were treated with gracious hospitality as we wandered the shadowy alleys of Stone Town.

Here’s more about the island and Swahili culture from an earlier post:

Zanzibar  – it’s all in the name – the Indian Ocean shores where Arab merchants met with African farmers and created a new people: the Swahili. In the Arabic Kilwa chronicles of the Middle Ages, the word Zanj denotes non-Muslim black people, and the word bar means coast, and the term back then referred to much of the East African seaboard – to wherever the dhow traders seasonally put in to haggle with Bantu farmers for ivory, leopard skins, rhino horn, iron, ambergris and mangrove poles.  These, then,  are the shores of the Sindbad (Sendebada) tales, but today the term ‘coast of the blacks’ survives only in the name of the Zanzibar archipelago (Unguja and Pemba Islands), now part of Tanzania.

These days too, Zanzibar Island, more properly known as Unguja, is seen as the heartland of Swahili culture, and the place where the purest form of KiSwahili is spoken. Once, though, there were many other powerful Swahili centres – independent city states that included Manda, Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa in Kenya, and Sofala far to the south in Mozambique. Such states, with stone towns built of coral rag, began evolving from at least the early 800s CE (Manda),  by which time KiSwahili was already a fully developed language, albeit with many regional forms.

You can see the rest of this post HERE

 

Roof Squares 19

Old Allotment Shed And Artichoke

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This was my shed when I took up allotmenting eleven years ago. He who builds sheds stopped it leaking and leaning into a complete state of collapse, and I and the snails and mice were very glad of it for several years. But then two years ago I left behind the plot it stands on to concentrate on my polytunnel plot. No one has taken it over, and this year it is doing a good imitation of the prairie with elephant’s eye high grass and thistles. Rather sad after all the hours of digging I did there. But at least the shed is still standing, and this year,  the greengage tree that stands over it has quite a bit of fruit in the making. The artichoke, though, was eaten long ago.

Traces of the Past: Black & White Sunday  Please visit Paula to see her dramatic seascape

Columbine Roofs?

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Well they look like pagoda roofs to me. But the other interesting thing is that these bumble bees are breaking into the flowers through the rooftops, drilling into the nectar stores at the end of the flower tubes. This, I learn, is a habit of short-tongued bees, stealing the stash from the long-tongued bumbles (Bombus hortorum) who usually visit columbine flowers more politely, using the front door.

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Roof Squares 17  Please drop in on Becky – for a very novel roof, and a brilliant round-up of everyone’s roof offerings

The Linden Walk ~ A Leafy Arcade

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This is my absolutely favourite Much Wenlock place (apart from home and the allotment), and it’s just across the road from the house. The Linden Walk borders the Gaskell (Linden) Field, and until the 1960s, steam trains would have been chuffing past just a few metres to the right of the tree cutting sign. In Victorian times there used to be an Olympic Special that every year brought in hundreds of spectators to watch the July Olympian Games masterminded by the town’s doctor, William Penny Brookes. The handsome station was only a hundred yards behind the point where I’m standing to take this photo.

Dr Brookes was also responsible for bringing the railway to Wenlock and for nagging his friends into helping him plant this double row of lime trees (Tilia x europaea). This was done in the 1860s, and I wonder if he foresaw then how lovely it would be. I’m guessing he would. He was a man of  vision and a great believer in devising means to cultivate both the physical and mental well being of the townsfolk.

Apart from being a physician, he was also a keen botanist and, before taking over the town’s medical practice from his father, he had studied herbalism at the University of Padua. Doubtless he would have known that preparations of lime flowers have strong sedative and pain relieving properties, a remedy to be treated with some caution.

I’m also sure he had in mind the blissful effect of simply wandering beneath an avenue of limes on a hot June day, absorbing the soothing green shade and breathing in the delicious fragrance of the trees’ inconspicuous cascades of blossom. Now the trees are at peak leafiness they create a continuous arcaded canopy. The small hermaphroditic flowers also produce nectar which means there are bees. Blackbirds and squirrels forage round the roots. There is birdcall in the treetops, and even though the tree cutting sign suggests the barking of chainsaws, there was only quietness when I took the photo.  The trimmers of the lime trees’ epicormic growth must have gone to lunch. You can see the effect they have had if you compare the trees with those in the second photo taken the day before. While the overgrowth is boskily attractive it can get out of hand; limes are prone to fungal diseases, and so are probably best protected by improving ventilation.

In fact the continued good health of the Linden Walk it taken very seriously. Cricket club supporters and bowling club members are no longer allowed to drive their cars along the avenue as they were wont to do, an activity that threatened to compact the tree roots. In fact we’ve been told by a Professor of Lime Trees that the trees could live another 150 years if we look after them. What a treasure Dr Brookes left behind – for us and a few more generations yet.

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Six Word Saturday

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Wednesday Walk Into Wenlock ~ Ancient Remains And Some Animals

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I’m standing on the path we call the ‘long way’ into town, otherwise locally known as the Cutlins. It cuts across the meadow between what was once the railway station (shades of decimating Beeching man again) and the Wenlock Priory ruins. The cottages you can see in the middle ground front onto Sheinton Street. Many date from medieval times, and originally they would have been shops with heavy wooden shutters. When the shop was open for business the shutters came down to make trestle counter tops. Behind each of the commercial frontages were workshops and living quarters, and then a long strip of land for cultivation or the keeping of livestock, still surviving today as domestic back gardens.

These gardens backing onto the field, then, are the town’s last surviving evidence of medieval burgage plots. Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the town that grew up around Wenlock Priory was ruled by the Prior. The Pilgrim Trade (to visit the relics of St Milburga, the Saxon princess whose family founded the 7th century religious house over whose remains the later, grander Cluniac Priory was built) made Wenlock a prosperous place. By 1247 there was a merchant elite known as burgesses. They paid the Priory one shilling a year to rent the burgage plots.

The trades they operated there included carpentry, shoe making, tool making, tailoring, the provision of legal and secretarial services. Other trades that grew up in and around the town included breweries, tanneries, lime burning, quarrying and the making of paper, nails, and clay pipes. All in all, it would have been a pretty foul-smelling place. Not the bucolic scene we enjoy today.

The Priory is hidden behind the trees at the foot of the path, the burgage plots to the right out of shot:

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And after stopping to look at the new Highland calf, at the foot of the path near the Priory I met a lamb. It felt like a meeting of minds – a slightly odd Little Bo Peep moment:

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And finally a glimpse of the Priory ruins: surviving remains of a dissolved roof – which, incidentally, is exactly what happened once Henry VIII’s monastic re-purposers had stripped off the protective and very valuable lead from such premises:

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New Works For Old ~ From Foundry To Teddy Bear Factory And More Besides

We’re standing on a riverbank just upstream from the Iron Bridge, at the foot of the Coal Brook that once powered the furnaces of the Coalbrookdale Company (the place where coke-fuelled iron casting was invented in 1709), and across the road from a little lane surprisingly called Paradise, which long ago was my daily route to work. As retail parks go, then, this site of re-purposed industrial workshops, it is pretty unusual.

The roof-lit buildings once belonged to the Severn Foundry. They were built in 1901  when Alfred Darby II, last of the dynasty of Coalbrookdale ironmasters, was company chairman. By this time the business was contracting – that is to say, it was moving away from heavy industry to more domestic production, and operating only within the Coalbrookdale Valley. Even so, in 1900 the company still employed 1,100 men, a huge workforce for a small semi-rural community.

The reasons for the new foundry, built on the site of an old timber yard, seem rather remarkable now. Demand for its products came from unexpected quarters in faraway London.  From the late C19th the then new London County Council had begun clearing the city’s slum dwellings and putting up council houses – this in response to the passing of the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890. Requirements for improved living standards included cast-iron fireplaces and gas cookers, both of which were produced by the Coalbrookdale Company.

Iron founding is of course a dangerous, if highly skilled trade. The pouring of red hot molten metal from handheld crucibles into moulds provided plenty of scope for industrial accidents.  The workforce undoubtedly benefited from the better lighting conditions of these roof-lit premises. Although not for long. The London County Council contract was short-lived, and the foundry closed in 1917. Thereafter, the former industrial prosperity of Severn Gorge and the Shropshire Coalfield went into rapid decline, and the foundry buildings were left empty…

…until 1930 when, in another odd twist, along came Merrythought – a small family business producing high quality soft toys and handmade mohair teddies. They took over the foundry buildings and, also benefiting from the well-lit workshops, went into production. By 1940 they were employing 200 workers, mostly women. And yes, those noses and paws are all hand-stitched with, it is said, much pursing of lips by fastidious craftswomen who liked to get the job done without inflicting too much pain to their creations.

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And the firm is still going – into the fourth generation, and run by the two elder daughters of the previous chairman, Oliver Holmes, a man with great flair and drive, who sadly died before his time. The company is Britain’s last surviving teddy bear maker. It has had to fight to hold its own against competition from cheap soft toy producers and now specialises in limited edition bears, which it also sells in the Teddy Bear Shop just round the corner from the factory. The shop was the brainchild of my sister – back in the 1980s when she was running the Ironbridge Gorge Museums’ shops and did a deal with Oliver, who until that time only traded through the famous London toy store Hamleys.

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Recently, after Oliver Holmes’ death, Merrythought developed the former foundry site, providing new retail spaces in all the buildings not needed for teddy bear production. So now we have a fine little art gallery specialising in prints and print-making equipment, an antiques centre with riverside cafe, a bespoke kitchen fitters, and a small Co-Op store. Oh yes, and the Teddy Bear Shop just around the corner, with Guardsman Bear outside the door, overseeing Paradise.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

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Ironbridge Cooling Tower As Seen From Under Another Severn Bridge

I’m standing under the Albert Edward Bridge to take this photo. It was built in 1863 and opened the following year, named for Queen Victoria’s eldest long before he became the totally notorious  King Edward VII.

You might also say the Albert Edward Bridge is the ugly great great grandchild of Darby’s Iron Bridge just downstream; and the end of the line too – in all senses. It is the last large cast iron railway bridge to be built in the UK, and originally carried the Severn Junction Railway across the river to meet up with the Severn Valley Railway (one of England’s loveliest lines decimated by Mr. Beeching in the 1960s). In more recent times it was used to carry coal to the power station.

It may not be as striking as its ground-breaking elder (and it certainly proved very hard to photograph) but it has much in common with Darby’s bridge. Designed by Sir John Fowler, the single 200 foot span comprises 4 cast iron ribs, each of 9 parts bolted together. The moulds for the spans were prepared nearby at the Darby family’s Coalbrookdale Company ironworks. The steel deck that you can see in the photo was installed in 1933, replacing the original timber and wrought iron deck.

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Now that the power station has run out of steam, one wonders what will become of Albert Edward. Fortunately it is a Grade II listed building  so it will be preserved. At least one hopes it will.  Also the local Telford Steam Railway enthusiasts have their sights set on it to extend their rather limited rail track, and since there is presently a 5mph speed limit on the bridge due to its age, one can conjure a slow and splendid steam-train trundle across the Gorge to Buildwas – poop-poop!

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Roof Squares 12 Not quite a roof, I know, but I was standing under it for the header shot. Please pop over to Becky’s for a plethora of rooftops.