Following In The Footsteps Of The Green Man

Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun, are the quietest places under the sun.

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad

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We arrived in Clun last Tuesday in summer weather and headed for the Bridge Cafe. The little South Shropshire town was indeed quiet, although the young woman at the cafe apologised for still being in a bit of a confusion after the town’s two-day Green Man Festival. It was quite a do from all accounts, and the Green Man duly defeated the Ice Queen after heavy battling on the bridge.

One can easily imagine, too, that if the Green Man still lived anywhere, then it would be in the Clun Valley. The mysterious manifestation of spring renewal has ancient roots, possibly Celtic, or maybe older still, back in Stone Age. Trees and greenery have anyway long been reverenced in many cultures across the world. And you will certainly see his face peering from a garland of leaves among the carvings and gargoyles of many medieval churches.

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But I forgot to look for him at the parish church of St. George, our next stop up the hill from the cafe. I was too diverted with other finds there. Most particularly the graves of playwright John Osborne and his journalist wife, Helen Osborne. John Osborne blazed into the theatrical world with Look Back In Anger (1956) and The Entertainer (1957) changing British theatre forever. In fact he changed the air we breathed in post-war England, especially in the sixties when his plays were often performed. We grew up questioning establishment mores. These were the days of activism.

After his death, Helen honoured his wishes to hang on to their house, The Hurst, at nearby Clunton – this despite massive debts – and later ensured that it would serve future would-be writers. It is now one of the three homes of the world famous Arvon Foundation that nurtures creative writing and writers on its residential courses.

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Let me know where you’re working tomorrow night and I’ll come and see you

Inscription on John Osborne’s grave

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The church itself is very old, begun in the C12th, but added to in the C13th, C14th, and C17th centuries and considerably and carefully restored in 1877. It has some fine Norman arches, and a magnificent timber ceiling with added angels. Also in the porch are some interesting C18th and C19th boards announcing  donations by the well off to the poor of the parish. Beyond the acts of generosity, the public proclamation of them at the church door rather struck me as more of a bid to ensure holy favours for the donors.

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One of the most pleasing aspects of St. George’s are the fine views of the countryside from the churchyard. The town itself has a population of around 700.

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From the church it’s back down the hill and over the river, and up another hill into the main street where there is a butcher’s, a Spar supermarket, two inns, a gift shop, hair salon, hardwear store, cafe and (in the old town hall) a small museum. By the time we got there, after stopping to eat some very fine fish cakes in the Malt House Cafe, the summer weather had gone, so the following photos have lost their sunny lustre.

The museum is well worth a visit – mostly for its quirkiness. It is very much the community attic (and none the worse for that in my professional museum person’s opinion). It houses a melee of artefacts and memorabilia dating from 10,000 years ago (Mesolithic micro-flints used in the making of harpoons) to the silk dress worn by one Mrs Nora Bright in 1928. Hanging on the wall there is also a horrific mantrap (use illegal in England since 1827 apart from within houses at night to deter thieves). Alongside are spears and various agricultural implements, and in nearby Victorian display cases there’s an array of prehistoric flint tools, a Roman bead, and the once personal belongings of Clun’s inhabitants. Upstairs the display is more themed and mostly features military and war-time service uniforms with associated period objets. You can also rifle through three files of the town’s photographic collection – a must for those with tendencies to nosiness.

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Back into town:

 

We had saved the best of this visit until last. Because Clun also has a castle – or at least some very dramatic ruins thereof. The only problem was, by the time we reached it, the weather gods had opened the door and let winter back in. So much for the Green Man’s conquest of the Ice Queen. Not only was it too cold to explore – the sudden wind cutting us in half, but the light was very poor. So these next photos only give a quick view of this ancient Norman motte and bailey fortress. But just look at the scale of the earthworks – and think of the enforced human-power necessary to construct them.

Norman rule was all about domination of locals. The castle was built to control the rebellious souls of the Welsh Marches in the late C11th  by one of King William’s marcher lords, Picot de Say. In 1155 it passed by the marriage of Isabella de Say into the powerful Fitzalan dynasty (later known as the Earls of Arundel).

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English Heritage kindly provide a visual reconstruction for the year 1300 as drawn by Dominic Andrews, by which time life was less martial in aspect, and lords in castles also went in for pleasure gardens. You can see them in the right hand top corner. The castle also had its own farm (bottom right) and accommodation with associated trades for the soldiers and servants (left outer bailey).

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And with this final very green view of the Clun Valley and of St. George’s church, Dr. and Mrs. Farrell hotfooted it back to the car before it started to rain.

I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk. I’m thinking she might have paid Clun a wee visit during her Shropshire safari last summer.

The Little Church By The Sea

It stands beside the Wales Coast Path looking down on St. Bride’s Haven, a rocky cove with a long, long history. The church is also called St. Bride’s and is dedicated to St. Bridget of Kildare who, it is said, arrived on these shores from Ireland c500 CE.  The original chapel dedicated to her is long gone, though before it went, local fishermen used the place for curing herring, for which act of ecclesiastical disrespect, the herring have ever since steered clear of St. Brides Haven.

It’s a good, if fishy yarn.

The present church was probably  built by at least the 14th century, during which time it would have served the lords of the neighbouring medieval manor house known as The Abbey, and whose ruins may still be seen in the nearby woods. The old church was then thoroughly renovated in 1868, by which time it was very much the family church of the occupants of St. Bride’s Castle, a great baronial pile built by the Allen-Phillips family in 1830, but subsequently the second home of the Barons Kensington between 1880-1920. The latter marked their passing with monumental Celtic Crosses that rise starkly in the windy graveyard.

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Between the church and the beach there are the remains of a lime kiln. Lime burning was an important trade in Pembrokeshire from at least the 13th century, the resulting quick lime used to neutralize acidity of farm fields before sowing wheat and barley. It was also an essential material in the building trade – for the mixing of lime mortar and whitewash. For 500 hundred years ships landed on Pembrokeshire’s beaches, coming and going with the tides, and bringing in cargoes of limestone and culm (coal chippings and anthracite dust) to be burned in the kilns. It was a highly skilled process, and a dangerous one.

These days the ships seen off St. Bride’s Haven are oil tankers waiting their turn to put in at the great oil refineries of Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock. Their presence adds to the daily seascape below St. Bride’s Castle.

After the Barons Kensington sold up, the Castle became a sanatorium for sufferers of tuberculosis. Those poor souls who did not recover also have their graves in St. Bride’s graveyard. After World War Two it was a convalescent home. More recently the Castle and grounds have been given over to holiday apartments and cottages, the Castle’s public rooms – great hall, library, and billiard room – restored in English country house style for shared use by all the guests. And here we had our week’s family gathering (including cockerpoo puppy), staying in one of the cottages in the old walled garden. The only sounds were racketing rooks and jackdaws busy building their nests in the woods, and more distantly, the crash of surf on the cliffs at St. Bride’s Haven.

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At the start I mentioned that St. Bride’s Haven has a long, long history. So far, time-wise, I’ve only scratched the surface. Later I discovered that if I’d taken the coast path around the cove and behind the cottages I would have come upon an Iron Age hillfort (c 800 years BCE). And more ancient still, near this site had also been found Mesolithic tools (9,000-6,000 BCE). This Middle Stone Age era of the post Ice Age is distinguished by the making of tiny flint arrowheads called microliths – usually around 1 cm in size. These were then mounted on a wooden shaft to create a hunting harpoon. Mesolithic hunters were also very fond of shell fish, camping out at likely beaches as part of their seasonal food gathering round. They thus left archaeologists with that other very exciting prehistoric find – the shell midden. Some are enormous, and were possibly used for several generations.

So next time we go to St. Bride’s I have promised myself a  microlith ‘n midden hunt. It will make a change from gathering seashells.

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In which Six Go Potty In Pembroke With Cockerpoo Puppy  – holiday snaps #2

 

Jo’s Monday Walk

Please visit Jo for some captivating scenes of Portuguese fisher-folk and a very gentle walk.

March Square #21

And pop over to Becky’s for more March squares and circles in squares.

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St David’s Cathedral ~ Thursday’s Special

These ruins of the Bishop’s Palace at St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, South Wales stand on the site of the monastery of Menevia founded in the 6th century by St. David, patron saint of Wales (500-589 CE). The nearby cathedral (coming up below) was consecrated in 1131, but has undergone many phases of re-building, including major remedial work, first after an earthquake c 1247, and then after the devastation wrought under Cromwell’s Commonwealth of the 1650s. Welsh architect John Nash oversaw extensive repairs in 1793, but his work, proving substandard, made it necessary for the whole cathedral to undergo complete restoration by George Gilbert Scott in the late 19th century. A bit of a mash-up then, architecturally speaking – Gothic and Perpendicular not the least of it – but still an imposingly handsome building. It also hosts a very excellent cafeteria.

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St. David’s has long been a place of pilgrimage, papal decree stating in 1123 that two pilgrimages to St. David’s was the equivalent of one to Rome. England’s monarchs from William the Conqueror onwards hot-footed here, which probably accounts for the increasing grandeur of the Bishop’s Palace, still apparent today despite its ruinous state. After confession comfortable lodgings and some fine dining would doubtless be the next royal requirements.

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The cathedral’s presence confers city status on the community of St. David’s. This may seem a trifle curious for a place scarcely larger than a village. With a population of less than 2,000, it thus has the distinction of being the United Kingdom’s smallest city, and so by default the loveliest – its peninsula siting bounded by scenic coastlines west, north and south and its hinterland composed of rolling Pembrokeshire farmland. A good place to visit then, although perhaps best done out of season.

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P.S.  The daffodils on the cusp of opening in the header photo are the national flower of Wales and worn on St. David’s Day on the 1st of March.

Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

Round And Round The Circle In Bishops Castle With A Few Squares And A Steam Roller Thrown In

Bishops Castle is another favourite Farrell destination – a sleepy rural town in the Shropshire-Welsh borderland. It is full of quirky and ancient houses, though this one at the top of the town must surely take the prize for being the most smile-inducing. I thought this pared down photo would tick all Becky’s boxes (square ones naturally).

But I was sure you would like to see the full picture too:

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And the houses at the bottom of the town, sporting their Michaelmas Fair-Steam Rally banners:

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And a taste of the Steam Rally:

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You can see more about Bishops Castle at Summer Came Back On Saturday And Took Us To The Fair

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March Square 8

Winter On The Menai Strait ~ Soulful Sunday

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I’m posting this photo, taken one December morning on the North Wales island of Anglesey (Ynys Mon) to remind myself that winter in the British Isles can sometimes be blissful. In fact we have experienced perfect winter weather days on this island on several occasions – cold certainly, but utterly still and dazzlingly bright with hardly a cloud in the sky, only the calls of seabirds and waders echoing over the water.

Ynys Mon is of course an island brimming with spirits. It was the last stand of the Celtic Druids against the Romans (see Island of Old Ghosts); there are the cells and wells of early Christian hermits, and many a prehistoric chambered tomb dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. There are also all manner of mythical connotations too. In the centre of this shot you can see the Great Orme across the Menai Strait at Llandudno. It was named by the Vikings, the word orme deriving from the old Norse for a sea serpent. In this view you can well see why they came up with it.

All in all, then, I thought this view added up to a suitable contribution for Ali’s new meme: Soulful Sunday. Please visit her blog The Mindful Gardener – a must-go-to spot for anyone who loves gardens or gardening or marmalade flapjacks. There are also some glorious pictures of the Kent countryside in yesterday’s snow

The Mindful Gardener: Soulful Sunday

Look Out! Wildlife Breakout In Shrewsbury Yesterday

I don’t know what Charles Darwin would have thought about this particular piece of birthplace birthday commemoration on his behalf. Yesterday the passers by on Wyle Cop, one of Shrewsbury’s most ancient streets, either engaged at full throttle or looked thoroughly bemused. It was certainly an original idea to devote part of the road to a wildlife reserve (Wild Cop), and to turn an empty nearby shop into a rain forest wherein children could also pick up their wildlife activity sheets to fill in during half term week.

It turned out to be part of the town’s Darwin Festival – held throughout February both to mark the fact that Darwin was born in Shrewsbury (12 February 1809), and to celebrate ‘the origin of independent thinking.’ I’ll second that fine objective. We can’t have too much of it. Now for the animals:

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In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

Charles Darwin

Six Word Saturday

Our Council Chamber ~ Not Frozen In Time But Five Hundred Years Of Continuing Tradition

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This is Much Wenlock’s Guildhall, standing in the heart of the town next to the parish church. It was built in 1540 after the dissolution of Wenlock Priory, so marking the end of monastic rule and the growth of secular, civic administration. The ground floor was originally a corn market, and several weekly markets are still held there. The upper floor has a court room, now a museum and gallery, and a council chamber, where our Town Council continues to meet every month.

Surprisingly Much Wenlock has a prestigious civic history for what today seems a small and sleepy town. It was first granted borough status by a Charter from Edward IV in 1468. This was to mark his acknowledgement of the  “’laudable and acceptable services’ of his ‘liege men and residents of the town of Wenlock’ in his gaining of the crown.” Under the Charter the townspeople acquired a certain autonomy and could organise markets and fairs, and have their own officers – a Bailiff and Burgesses to oversee secular matters. The Prior still held sway though, effectively acting as lord of the manor. But after the Dissolution it was down to the Bailiff and Burgesses to run the town.

We will soon all know what these pillars of the community got up to – at least from 1495 to 1810. Extraordinarily, the Borough Minute Book covering 300 years of civic pronouncements and records has survived, and this year the Town Council raised funds to have it conserved and digitised. Now there are teams of volunteers working on the transcription of the entries. There are 800 pages, since the Burgesses who had the book made in 1495 were looking ahead. They were also using a newfangled material – paper. It was expensive stuff too, for during the conservation process it was discovered from the water marks that they had commissioned only the best from a maker in Italy.

The whole thing is quite breath-taking. Almost too much to imagine in our little town of two and half thousand souls; even when we were looking at the newly conserved Minute Book back in September when it was given its first public airing. Our very own half-millennium time machine of bureaucratic declarations and decisions. It will not be a pretty story either, not all of it anyway. There will be hangings, and the poor will be shoved from pillar to post, but within these pages we might also perceive the seeds of English democracy beginning to swell and take root.

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Thursday’s Special: tradition

A Giant Pineapple In The Garden?

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In the 18th century Britain’s landed rich expended their often questionably-gotten gains in the creation of pleasure parks around their grand houses. These were places for promenading, a little sporting activity (fishing, sailing, archery), for re-enactments of famous naval battles (if you had your own lake); there were ‘eye-catcher’ summer houses, grottos, fake ruins, and classical temples. It was also the era of wholesale removal of villages from the sight-lines of the gentry in the ‘big house’. Garden tunnels were also dug so the horticultural workforce could go about their labours largely unseen. Above all, these gardens were ‘show off’ places, and if you wanted the best, you employed the likes of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to design it.

Another show-off item was exotic fruit, especially the pineapple whose possession, in the flesh or as architectural motifs about the house, demonstrated your wealth and prestige. Here at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire there are both pineapples and the surviving landscape contrivances of Capability Brown. The park is magnificent, and Brown’s last stand as a garden designer. The National Trust owners encourage visitors to explore all of it, the Brown vistas currently being celebrated in 21st century style by a series of sculptural works by environmental artists Red Earth.

The Trust is also busy restoring the hall’s extensive walled gardens, and this is where you will find the extraordinary Giant Pink Pineapple Pavilion. It is the work of installation artists Heather and Ivan Morison; their own interpretation of the Georgian garden pleasure principle which included all manner of temporary structures for dining, conducting assignations, or communing with the great outdoors. I think the Georgians would have been suitably impressed, don’t you?

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday – with apologies, Debbie, for lots of extra words.

 

Views From the Morville Lych Gate

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The lych gate is of course the corpse gate, the covered entrance wherein the dead might be laid until a funeral could take place in the parish church. In the past there was often a several day wait for this essential ceremony, during which time the deceased must be shielded from bad weather, robbers and worse.

This particular lych gate stands on the path to Morville’s parish church of St. Gregory.  Morville, itself, is a small hamlet on the main road between Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth, and like Wenlock has a monastic past, although the church is all that remains of this period. I suspect that the fabric of the actual monastery may well have been re-purposed in the building of the next-door Morville Hall, which began hot on the heels of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

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In Saxon times the place was a thriving manor, and after the Norman invasion of 1066, continued to be so, its existing church and associated  lands bandied about as pieces of valuable real estate in deals between kings, earls and churchmen, its native inhabitants bound by fetters of superstitious dread and the obligation to provide wealth and labour for their overlords.

The Norman earl Roger de Montgomery took over Morville (along with most of Shropshire) in 1086. Here he had built a Benedictine monastery, an outpost for his more prestigious Shrewsbury Abbey some twenty miles away. He also had Wenlock’s Saxon priory remodelled on a monumental scale, and ordered the building of numerous other religious houses in every adjacent small community across the county.

I do not think this extensive building programme had much to do with piety. This was first and foremost about stamping Norman authority over the land. It was also an overlord’s means to control people, the wealth they created, and by the ordering of good works from the wealth accrued, so ensure his own place in heaven. It was his insurance policy in an era when everyone lived with a mortal terror of hell and the devil. As Baldrick in Black Adder might say it was a very cunning plan – political, physical and psychic control all of a piece – a top-down wealth management strategy.

If you go inside the church you may see, as you will in many old churches, the evidence of the psychic tyranny. The present building dates from the 1100s. Between the column arches on both sides of the nave, serpents slither down – an early medieval manifestation of ‘fake news’ perhaps? Imagine having them breathing down your neck every Sunday from infancy to grave. There was no opting out of the experience. Your very soul was in peril should you try to, and anyway this and the other snakes are endlessly hissing at the horrendous cost of becoming an outcast.

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Even when the service is over – the mysteries of it conducted in a language you do not know, you are sent on your way by this jolly trio, just to reinforce the sense of threat for the rest of the week:

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Today, the church in its country churchyard and the nearby hall  are quintessentially scenic. My senses tell me that this is a lovely spot. But I confess, too, that increasingly I struggle with the rustically picturesque and the meaning I take from it.

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For one thing, I still detect traces of susceptibility. The view of the hall, though presently owned by the National Trust, is still likely to induce a fit of the Downton Abbeys…P1010953

…that ultimately distasteful sense of nostalgia for a fake past of benign lords and grateful retainers. We may have Henry VIII to thank for loosening a little the stranglehold of the ruling elite, and broadening the class of major players to include merchants and professional men, but nearly five hundred years on, most of the country is still owned by small and powerful factions including the monarchy.

The fascinating thing is most of us don’t seem to notice, or realize how the way land continues to be controlled affects our lives in critically fundamental ways – the cost of a home – to buy or to rent – and the acceptance of ever-rising property ‘values’, the acceptance of mortgages for life. It is not for nothing that these holdings are referred to as ‘land banks’, or that any release of land for development is minutely managed to ensure maximum return from high priced, often poorly built, overcrowded properties.

We no longer have to plough milord’s fields, or give him our tithes in wheat and eggs, or bow to his whims, and tug forelocks, but the vestiges of feudalism are alive and well and residing in Britain, and more particularly, idling in its well-worn seats in the House of Lords, currently the focus of ‘a bit of a scandal’ as reported by the Electoral Reform Society. Of course we could do something about all this – if we really wanted to – if we stopped romancing about the past and started planning for a present that embraces everyone’s needs. It’s an interesting thought anyway.

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Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell