After Sunday’s bizarre experience with a paramotor wing over the garden during supper, here is a true exponent of the art of flight. Quite silent too.
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.
All of a sudden we’re having summer here in Shropshire, and it’s a case of catch-up at the allotment – not only with the jobs that could not be done over the cold, wet thrice snowy winter, but also trying to keep up with spring-sown plants that are romping every which way and need to be put somewhere. The ‘somewhere’ inevitably needs more preparation than I’d realised, and more digging than I’d hoped to do, given my no-dig pipe dream objectives. I’m beginning to think our Silurian Clag really needs total soil replacement – as in complete interment by a foot of decent loamy earth. And if that’s down to me, then that means making humungous quantities of compost. It could take years.
Yesterday I did five solid hours of labouring under the sun. The new plot by the polytunnel was alive with bee-hum. The bees were whizzing by with such greedy intent among the raspberry flowers, I could actually feel the air move as they passed me. Bbbzzzzzzzzoom. And then the birds were singing their hearts out – loud, louder, loudest – especially the blackbirds. Which reminded me to put netting over the strawberries. I ate my first sun-warmed strawberry yesterday – the best strawberry of all – that first one.
The five hours slipped away. Gardener’s time is of course quite different from everyone else’s. He Who Waits At The Farrell Establishment never knows when supper is happening. Also when I do decide to head for home the light is usually so diverting that I have to start taking photos. Besides, the raggedy old allotments are a wonderful place to be at sundown – when you have put the spade away and shut up the shed – the wide views over Wenlock; the scents of growing; the quietness of plants.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
…we have a forest of Granny’s Bonnets. How did so many of them blow in and settle here?
We do of course confess to a spot of guerrilla gardening on our boundary with the field, and this does involve a tacit understanding with any passing flower life that if we clear back the couch grass and other less interesting invaders outside our hedge, wall and fence, then they are welcome to drop in for the spring and summer season. Two years ago we had the profusion of opium poppies. Then there was a borage jungle. This year the aquilegias are claiming the stage.
Further along the boundary behind our old privies, creamy flowered comfrey has also arrived, and feverfew is a frequent visitor there too. Beyond the privies is the fence, upon which he-who-builds-sheds-and-binds-books likes to lean while ruminating on the next project. Here I have encouraged purple-spired toadflax, wild stock, pink campion, moon daisies and foxgloves to multiply and, in the past, scattered corn cockle seeds that now self-propagate and put on annual show. I also move any ‘spare’ herbaceous perennials out there too – especially plants of the late summer, clump-forming variety that will stand in when the wildflowers have gone their way: Rudbeckia, perennial sunflowers, Golden Rod, Michaelmas daisies, phlox and helenium.
It’s a sort of give-and-take gardening with borrowed landscape (and in every sense). It gives great pleasure, not only to us, but to anyone passing on the field path. You never quite know what will be happening out there. At present, too, the rapeseed blooms are providing a golden backdrop. Though not for too much longer because, even as I am writing this, the crop is busy setting seed. Then it will be on to the next scene at the guerrilla garden theatre. Us the ever-willing audience.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
Raynald’s Mansion has seen several phases of development. It began as a medieval hall. In 1600 it was given a face lift with a new frontage. And in 1680 it was made grander still with the addition of three bays. Its owners certainly knew how to make their presence felt in the town. Rather amazingly the house was still owned by members of the Raynald family into the late 20th century, and today it remains a private house. Directly across the street is our much treasured book shop, also housed in a very ancient building.
We have three tea rooms and a smoothie bar in Much Wenlock. Also two old pubs and three hotels, a Chinese Take-Away and an Indian restaurant. We’re well served all round.
Here’s more of the Square – on the right is the sixteenth century timbered Guild Hall where Town Council meetings are still held upstairs once a month and Rod and Viv’s vegetable market features downstairs several days a week. The parish church behind dates from the early Middle Ages. The Museum on the left used to be a market, and then it was the town cinema. Now it tells of Wenlock’s glorious past as the origin and the source of the modern Olympic Games.
The Wenlock Olympian Games began in 1852, founded by the town’s physician Doctor William Penny Brookes. He inspired Pierre de Courbetin who visited him here to pick his brains on who to run the games, and then went on to found the International Olympic Committee. One of the events in Penny Brookes Olympics included races on penny farthing bicycles. This chap (below) turned up at one of our Christmas Fairs a few years ago, and was attempting to mount his vehicle in a high wind. He never quite managed it, at least not while I was watching. But I did appreciate his fine bicycling costume.
All this squares in squares and circles in squares shenanigans is down to Becky. Here’s the place to find out more: March Square
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.
So much weather in June! The header photo rather sums up my feelings of rapid changeability – flowers in the garden one minute, then gone the next.
Here in the UK we’ve sweltered in temperatures above 34C. We’ve had prolonged drought. There have been cold winds. And now this week we’re having a ‘mini-monsoon’, the temperatures dropping so it feels and looks more like October. Yesterday along Wenlock Edge there was even fog, and this morning when I went outside to survey the plant life, it was to find autumnal spans of spiders’ webs glistening with raindrops, and the newly opened sunflower looking as if it wished to go back in its bud. It looked so forlorn staring at the place in the leaden sky where the sun should be.
On top of that, the last of the Teasing Georgia’s roses have been trashed and mashed, the foxgloves that were so stunning are all gone, and the allium seed heads (that look like floral fireworks ) are alive with the tiniest crab spiders, all busy being rather sinister despite being scarcely more than two millimetres across, and just out of their eggs. This first photo makes said arthropod look monster sized. For a better sense of scale look out for the spider on the second allium shot. It’s near the bottom edge, left of the flower stalk.
But all is not lost in the garden. The late spring flowers may have been washed away, but the spires of verbascum are just opening, the yellow doronicum is doing its best to stand in for the sun, and geranium Rozanne is now on parade until the first frosts. Of course, as things are going, that could be next week. Who knows?
Changing Seasons (versions 2 and 1)
Faithful followers of this blog will know that my home town of Much Wenlock was host to writer Henry James on three occasions. He came as guest of local worthies, the Milnes Gaskells who owned both the Prior’s House (which they called The Abbey) and Wenlock Priory ruins.
Adjoining the house is a beautiful ruin, part of the walls and windows and bases of the piers of the magnificent church administered by the predecessor of your host, the abbot. These relics are very desultory, but they are still abundant and testify to the great scale and the stately beauty of the abbey. You may lie upon the grass at the base of an ivied fragment and measure the great girth of the great stumps of the central columns, half smothered in soft creepers, and think how strange it is in that in this quiet hollow, in the midst of lonely hills, so exquisite and so elaborate a work of art should have arisen.
Henry James Portraits of Places
I imagine the Priory remains were more romantically ruinous in James’s time, lacking the custodial tidiness of English Heritage, whose property it now is. Those lofty Corsican pines in the background would have been saplings back in his day. All the same, at least once during his visits, the writer must have stood where I was standing when I took this photo – gazing through the old glass panes of The Abbey’s Great Hall, where, in the 1500s, the Prior of Wenlock did his most lavish entertaining.
Local legend has it that James was working on his novella The Turn of the Screw during one of his visits. We know from his accounts in Portraits of Places that he was struck by the antiquity of the place, and much interested in its ghost and tales of haunting that drove the household staff to spend the night in their homes. and not under The Abbey roof.
There’s more about Henry James and Wenlock in my earlier post When Henry James Came To Wenlock
By now you may be wondering how come I’m looking out of the Prior’s window. The Abbey is still privately owned, now the home of artist Louis de Wet. Last summer we were treated to a private tour by Gabriella de Wet : Going Behind The Scenes in Wenlock Abbey. There are more of Henry James’ descriptions in that post.
And now please head over to Lost in Translation where this week’s theme is windows. As you can see, my interpretation is somewhat oblique. Paula, though, presents us with some very unusual windows.
The Abbey, Much Wenlock, once the Prior’s Lodging. It boasts a host of windows: