Chatsworth Revisited In Sepia

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When it comes to horticultural bling, the gardens of England’s grand houses take a lot of beating. They were of course designed entirely for the purposes of showing off the fruits of questionable gains, whether acquired through creative accounting practices in the service of the monarch, strategic marriage alliances, political opportunism, slave owning or straight forward pillage.

And so it is that, along with the overbearing edifice large enough to house a small-town population, the surrounding designer parterres, avenues, arbours, grottos, fountains, cascades, Greek temples, and goodly cavalcade of deities and other mythological beings, could be seen to confer legitimacy, privilege and status on arriviste owners  and their subsequent offspring.

Here at Chatsworth, home of successive Dukes of Devonshire, the formal garden alone extended to one hundred acres. The earliest version was created in 1555 by Sir William Cavendish (he of creative accounting fame) and Bess of Hardwick. Over the next three centuries the layout became increasingly extravagant in a bid to complement the palatial makeovers effected on the house. In 1836 the 6th Duke appointed Joseph Paxton to re-design what were then termed the ‘Pleasure Grounds’, and it is Paxton’s influence that is most in evidence today.

In particular, he was charged with re-engineering the Emperor Fountain as seen in the photo above. For 160 years it was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, the jet having reached a record height of 295 feet (90 metres). It replaced the earlier Great Fountain, itself a wonder of hydro-engineering, until the 6th Duke thought Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia was intending to visit, and so had it mind to outdo the Tsar’s Peterhof Palace fountain. To me this seems incredibly rude, hospitality-wise, and in any case the Tsar never turned up, although the fountain continued to be named for the visit that never was.

…the Emperor Fountain is the spirit of novelty, dashing its endless variety to the skies…

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On the day we were there it was windy, which meant the fountain was turned down. Even so, it was doing much blowing about, and producing some very pleasing rainbow effects in the autumn sunshine, and in fact rather living up to the 6th Duke’s exuberant description of it. On the other hand, if you didn’t keep an eye on its movements as you wandered the lakeside lawns, it could also give you a surprise dousing.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Lawn Ornaments

And It’s Still Raining…

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Today, an errand that involved ordering shower room parts took us out of Shropshire and into Worcester. We’d been putting off going since Monday, the weather being so dire. But this morning the three-day deluge had reduced itself to heavy drizzle, so after a fortifying coffee, off we went.

I find bathroom showrooms dispiriting places for all sorts of reasons, but it had to be done, and mission completed, and the vile, multi-islanded Kidderminster bypass survived in both directions, we felt that soothing surroundings were needed. And since our route took us past Dudmaston Hall, which being National Trust has a very pleasant cafe, we decided to call in for lunch. And very nice it was too with the big log burning stove blazing away. (Anyone would think it was October.)

Afterwards we had a wander in the gardens. Many of the roses had been crushed and their stems battered down, but I thought they still looked beautiful in their way. So here are some more with their fallen petals, photos taken with Sue Judd at Words Visual in mind. Sue is a wiz in her studies of decay and transience.

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But it wasn’t all mayhem. One walled border that comprised mainly wild flower species – foxgloves and red centranthus in particular – was thriving in the rain.

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And out in the parkland among the buttercups there were some very contented cattle browsing lush meadow grasses.

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What’s Not To Love About Ledbury’s Market House?

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We English do well with our market towns, at least ones where developers were not let loose during the 1960s-70s era of replacement brutalist shop fronts. Ledbury in our neighbouring county of Herefordshire, and the town closest to our Eastnor cottage break at the end of March, is pretty nigh perfect. It has a long, long High Street composed of many 18th century and earlier facades, and in the centre is the Market House that began its civic life as piece of determined urban refurbishment 400 years ago.

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Town records show that the site where it stands had been a market place since 1122, but by the end of the 1500s the space had been encroached on by rows of tatty shops which greatly offended local trader, John Phillips. He set about raising funds through public subscription, and for the sum of £40 bought Shoppe Row and had it demolished. Work began on the Market House in 1617. The original plan included the building  small shops between the oak pillars while the upper storeys were to serve mainly for the storage of goods – corn, wool, hops for brewing and acorns used in the leather tanning trade.

However, all did not proceed as expected. In 1655 when John Phillips died the building work was still not completed, and there was no money left to finish the job. In fact it wasn’t until 1668 that local worthies came up with a cunning plan to raise the necessary funds. They helped themselves to £40 from two legacies that were meant to provide clothing for the town’s poor, but then drafted a new instruction: each year 12 poor citizens would have clothing paid for from the profits of the Market House. So it seems the civic misappropriation may be forgiven.

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The Market House had a fresh lease of life in the Victorian era when the present windows and staircase were installed. The upper floors then served as the town hall and meeting room. Further restoration work was carried out in 1939 and during the 1970s and 80s. But the most dramatic resuscitation project took place in 2006 when it was discovered that the oak stilts were under threat from ‘foot rot’ and boring wasps. Repairs involved raising the entire structure  2 feet (600mm) off the ground so  the builders could scrape out the damaged bases, and infill with a natural lime-grout mortar which is structurally strong, but does not seal in damp as modern cement does.

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And so the Market House survives well and into its 5th century, and is now used for meetings and exhibitions, its ‘downstairs’ still hosting weekly markets while at other times impressing all with its well-worn and pleasing venerability.

But as I said earlier, there is much more to look at up and down the town – intriguing alley ways with unusual shops, lots of cafes and restaurants, and a potential for a darn good hike up and down the High Street. There are some literary connections too – Poet Laureate John Masefield  (1878-1967) was born and lived here.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) also lived here during her formative years. In 1809 when she was three, her father Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, the owner of slave plantations in Jamaica, bought Hope End estate near the town. Elizabeth lived here until 1833 when family litigation and the abolition of the slave trade caused her father great financial losses, and thus the sale of Hope End and a move to Sidmouth in Devon.

Masefield is also well loved (and especially by me) for his children’s book ‘A Box of Delights’. I especially treasure his word ‘scrobbled’ meaning to be nabbed by the baddies. But now for some Ledbury views, including a glimpse of the writer himself, discovered in a quirky alley leading to the town Printers, who advertise themselves around the place with amusing posters. A town of delights then – old and new:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Lens-Artists: Something Different This week Tina asks us to show her something new or out of the ordinary.

 

Every Saturday one the Lens-Artists posts a new challenge.

Patti  https://pilotfishblog.com/

Ann-Christine aka Leya https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/

Amy  https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/

Tina  https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/

The Pink Pineapple Pavilion ~ Again

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April 1st, All Fools Day, and it flitted through my mind that it was just the day for paying the pink pineapple pavilion a second visit. It was anyway a piece of happenstance. We were driving back from the Malverns and the need for lunch was pressing. And, since you can pretty much rely on a National Trust property for a decent snack, we decided to call in at Berrington Hall.

The last time we were here it was a gloomy October day back in 2017 when Berrington was hosting all manner of art installations inspired by different aspects of the estate’s history. Taking photos then had proved a challenge so it was good to see the gardens full of sunshine. And though the pineapple may not be to everyone’s taste, I was quite pleased to see it was still in residence. And if it seems quite balmy, then it is probably not half as balmy as the kind of extravaganzas created by the overbearingly rich and idle during the 18th century. You can read more about this in the original post A Giant Pineapple In The Garden.

On Monday we were simply happy to have a quick mooch around the walled garden where the ancient apple orchard is currently being revivified, each tree carefully pruned and curated, with big name tags and the dates of species origins. So many varieties, and  these days you’re lucky to see six sorts in the supermarket. What treasures we deprive ourselves of and for no good reason. So full marks National Trust for taking pains to restore the garden and nurture these old varieties.

Now for some more garden views:

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Lens-Artists #39: Hello April   All thanks to Amy for this week’s challenge. Please pay the Lens-Artists a visit.

Patti https://pilotfishblog.com/
Ann-Christine aka Leya  https://lagottocattleya.wordpress.com/
Amy https://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/
Tina https://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/

Damson Blossom Profusion

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Here in Shropshire we are just this minute bursting with damson blossom. We also have our own variety – the Shropshire Prune, which has been around from at least Tudor times. The damson trees along the field boundaries and lining the country lanes are also reminders, or so local legend has it, that before chemical dyes were invented, damson growing was done on an industrial scale both here and in many parts of rural England, the fruit skins used to colour wool and leather. I’ve certainly seen old photos on a pub wall in nearby ‘Damson Valley’ of the fruit being harvested by the cartload and driven off to the local station. And whether for dyeing or not, there was certainly once a great demand for damsons in the commercial jam-making industry. These days people aren’t so keen on them, and each year the old tree at the allotment hangs in unpicked fruit. It is seems a great pity. Damsons are delicious, and they also make for excellent damson gin or vodka, so spreading their cheer through the darkest months. Chin-chin!

Spiky Squares #26

Reality T.V. And The Roman Town House And Disquieting Views Of The Past

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This 4th century Roman house is quite a landmark. It sits beside a rural crossroad below Wenlock Edge, and even though we know it is there, it always takes me by surprise whenever we drive that way to Shrewsbury – its time-slipped Mediterranean demeanour striking false notes in the midst of 21st century Shropshire farmland. But then this was once the style de nos jours across most of England – the way we were, almost fully Romanized, twenty to sixteen centuries ago.

And of course it is a re-creation, but then that is surprising in other ways. For a start it is built on the site of an actual Roman city, otherwise known as Wroxeter or Viroconium, and it is not usual for the heritage-powers-that-be to allow building work on their sites of international archaeological importance. For another, it is a product of a Channel 4 ‘Reality TV’ show broadcast in six episodes back in 2011. ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day ‘ was a piece of experimental archaeology turned mainstream viewing, in which a team of UK builders was set the task of building the town house using ONLY traditional Roman methods.

They had 6 months to master new skills, guided by a 2000 year old manual written by engineer Vitruvius, and under the watchful eye of project planner Professor Dai Morgan Evans, who had based the design on an actual building excavated at the site. By all accounts it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

These days Wroxeter is in the care of English Heritage and if you follow the link you can find out more about the once fourth largest Roman city in Britain. The site’s immense historical importance meant the town house project could only proceed by first creating a foundation raft that would protect the remains in the ground. Originally, too, it was intended that the house would have a limited time span. However, it is still with us, and we finally decided to make an actual visit in November last year – on Remembrance Sunday in fact, when many of us were pondering on quite another momentous historical event, the centenary of the end of World War One.

A strange case of mixed millennia then. The day was bright and blustery day with an icy wind blowing up the Craven Arms gap between the Shropshire Hills. As we peered into the re-created domestic quarters  (in much need of some serious house-keeping) we could hear the peeling bells of Shrewsbury’s churches several miles away. It sounded joyous too, this commemorative toll on so many million wasted lives.

And so it was one of those moments of complete chronological, if not ontological disorientation when you wonder what life, the universe and everything means. A ‘Who am I? Why am I?’ reaction. I took a few photos and fled back to the warmth of the visitor centre where there were two lovely young English Heritage women to chat to, and where one could also submit to the soothingly anodyne effect of graphics panels on topics Roman.

I came away thinking there are many versions of ‘reality’ that we buy into, man-made, manipulative and specious. Nonetheless, there are still some actual Roman remains at Wroxeter, the rising facade of the great Baths Basilica. And of course I remember a couple of weeks I spent here in the 1970s, a Prehistory and Archaeology undergrad, apparently gaining some required excavation skills in order to obtain my degree.

In fact I probably learned more from the gang of prisoners let out each day from their penal establishment. They worked close behind the line of us middle class student excavators, emptying our spoil buckets, barrowing the dirt into skips, all the while intent on shocking us with talk of lurid prison doings. One among them, though, grew so fascinated with the excavation process that he was promoted to the digging line and even worked through his lunch break. ‘I’m going to do this when I get out,’ he said, head down, trowel in hand, scrape-scraping away. Yes. That was a real reality glimpse. I learned a lot from that.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

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Lens-Artists: Architecture

Borderlands ~ Distance In Time And Space

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We’re in border country here – between the Shropshire Hills and Wales  and I’m standing inside a Bronze Age stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold, looking in a northerly direction. And if the circle is a little raggedy  after three millennia, then its location is surely still impressive.

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Here is the southerly view towards Corndon Hill on whose flanks are the remains of several prehistoric burial cairns. To the right are the hazy Welsh uplands.

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This westerly view towards Wales shows more of the Bronze Age circle. Several of the stones have been laid flat or damaged, and this apparently happened long ago. Perhaps when the land through the circle was being worked. You can see here the rig and furrow outlines of medieval fields. I think the climate must have been milder back then or they grew very tough crops.

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Now looking east, the furthermost ridge is one of Shropshire’s most mysterious and curiously named hillscapes: the Stiperstones with its lunar Manstone and Devil’s Chair outcrops. This ridge is formed from quartzite laid down some 480 million years ago.

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All these places loom darkly in local legends and folklore. I’ve told the story before of Mitchell, the wicked witch for whom Mitchell’s Fold is named. You can read about her grim deeds and sticky end in an earlier post: Witch Catching in the Shropshire Wilds which also comes with snow-scene photos courtesy of he who no longer uses his camera.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: In the distance

An Ancient African City ~ Great Zimbabwe

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Among the gold mines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers…a fortress built of stones of marvellous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them. This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it…and one of them is a tower more than twelve fathoms high. The natives of the country call these edifices Symbaoe, which according to their language signifies court.

Captain Vincente Pegado, Portuguese Garrison of Sofala, 1531

 

This scan of a photograph from our 1993 trip to Zimbabwe looks like one of those hand-coloured postcards from the days before colour film was invented – a fitting medium perhaps for these medieval ruins (and yes it’s probably appeared in earlier posts). Anyway by the time Captain Pegado was reporting from his base in Sofala, Great Zimbabwe had been in decline for a century and more.  It was begun in its stone-built phase by the cattle owning Shona people around 1200 CE. In its heyday (mid 14th century) it seems the rulers of Great Zimbabwe were controlling the passage of high value goods (certainly gold and copper, and probably also ivory, slaves, textiles) across the Zambezi valley, and exporting them by caravan to Sofala on Africa’s east coast (present day Mozambique).

By this time, Sofala had long been a trading centre for Zambezi and Limpopo gold, and was subject to the great Swahili city state of Kilwa to the north (present day Tanzania). Thus the merchants of Great Zimbabwe, through their contact with the Arab-Swahili dhow merchants, were part of a trading network that extended across the Indian Ocean to China, and north to the Arabian Gulf and thence into the Mediterranean and Europe where African gold was much in demand during the Middle Ages. This last factor was responsible for tempting the Portuguese around the Cape to come and fetch it for themselves, hence the presence of Captain Pegado in Sofala.

Great Zimbabwe inside the great enclosure

Of course when the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were re-discovered by Europeans in the late 19th century, specifically by one Carl Mauch, it was thought that the city could not possibly be the work of indigenous people. Surely it was the lost  kingdom of Ophir whence King Solomon received regular cargos of gold, silver, apes and peacocks. Even in the 1970s when Zimbabwe was still colonial Rhodesia, all the considerable evidence (revealed by a series of archaeologists over previous decades) that showed it was built by the local African people was officially censored by the Smith regime.

Quite apart from perverting the course of scholarship and its all round offensiveness, the stance seems somewhat odd when you discover that Great Zimbabwe was not a ‘one off’. There are scores of similar medieval stone-built complexes across southern Africa, including Chisvingo and others in Zimbabwe. When Great Zimbabwe fell into decline at the close of the 15th century, another centre of power grew up at Khame, near Bulawayo in Matabeleland. It was the capital of a royal dynasty that lasted some two hundred years, all of which is food for thought on days when one cares to re-adjust one’s picture of the history of African peoples before the white folks arrived.

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The stone built complex of Great Zimbabwe originally covered 1,800 acres (730 hectares). There were also several enclosures on the hilltop where I’m standing to take this photo, including one that revealed evidence of gold smelting. The gold items found on the site were worked into coiled wire, small rods and discs or cast into beads – all highly portable. Copper was also worked, either cast in soapstone moulds to produce ingots for trade, or made into ceremonial spears (ceremonial because unalloyed copper is too soft a metal to be militarily functional).

Finds that demonstrate the city’s external trading contacts include glass beads commonly used in the medieval Indian Ocean trade, glass shards from vessels made in the Near East (13th-15th century),  and pieces of Chinese celadon export ware from the Ming (1368-1644) and earlier dynasties.

The classic work on the excavations is Peter S Garlake’s Great Zimbabwe. It also makes detailed reference to related sites.

 

Lens-Artists #Cityscapes

The Ancient ‘Cloud’ hedge Of Brampton Bryan

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It’s 300 yards long too, so one can only imagine how much time and effort it takes to keep this yew hedge looking so fine. It surrounds the grounds of Brampton Bryan Hall, and its next-door predecessor, the ruined Brampton Bryan Castle. It and the whole village are remnants of the feudal past, the manorial Harley family having been in continuous residence here for 700 years. I have not been able to find out when the form of this hedge was first conceived, or who thought of doing it. Or, indeed, who has the job of trimming it.

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The village is in Herefordshire, but close to the borders of Wales and Shropshire. There is mention of a castle here in Domesday (1086) and of building work in the 13th century. Doubtless it played its part during the Norman domination of Britain. Four centuries later, during the Civil War it was subjected to two sieges by Royalist forces.

During the first attack of 1642 that lasted several weeks, the castle was held for the Roundhead cause by Lady Brilliana Harley (there’s a name to conjure with) along with a band of locals and 50 soldiers. Her husband, Sir Robert, statesman and member of the Long Parliament which sat throughout both Civil War periods, had left her ‘to man the fort’ while he was in London attending to parliamentary business.

There was something of a truce during 1643, but by this time Brilliana was ailing and she died of pneumonia in October 1643. In the following spring there was a second siege. This time the Royalist forces arrived with mines and more powerful artillery, and so had their way. The castle was sacked and burned, the three Harley children taken off to be imprisoned in Shrewsbury. But not long afterwards the Royalist cause was lost, and Sir Robert was paid the equivalent of £1 million in compensation for the destruction of his home.

Looking around the peaceful little village today, and at that apparently all-enduring hedge, it is hard to envisage the place as a battle ground. These days we have entered the Age of Quaint & Picturesque. Which reminds me, the hall grounds were used in scenes from the Merchant Ivory film of E M Forster’s Howard’s End.

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The parish church stands in front of the castle gatehouse, and my photo of the latter was taken looking over the churchyard wall. Built in the 1660s, it is one of only six churches built in England during the Commonwealth period. Timbers from the castle’s great hall were re-purposed here.

Time Square #16