The Green Man still features in May Day festivities in Shropshire’s country towns and villages. It seems timely for some gender parity?
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
She is most usually known by the Roman version of her name: Sabrina goddess of the River Severn. I told her story in the previous post, but thought this close up view fitted the bill for Paula’s ‘pick a word’ at this week’s Thursday’s Special. The five prompts are: confined, jazzy, patulous, momentous and serene. So I’m going for the first and last – Sabrina serene but confined to her plinth in a pool in Shrewbury’s Dingle.
It also seems she is confined in other ways too.
The statue was the work of Birmingham sculptor Peter Hollins (1800-1886), and made for Shropshire worthy, the Earl of Bradford in 1846. I thought she was carved from stone, but a little googling reveals that the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association National Recording Project ( who knew of such a body?) thinks she may be cast in some sort of metal and then covered with plaster. They also say she is afflicted with a biological growth – so that has ‘patulous’ covered too, though they don’t say what it is. I’m wondering if it’s responsible for the vaguely luminous areas. Poor nymph.
The scarcely legible quotation underneath her comes from John Milton’s Comus , a mask in which Sabrina is one of the main characters. This work also has Shropshire connections having had its premier showing at Ludlow Castle in 1634, presented before another worthy, ‘the Earl of Bridgewater, then President of Wales.’
listen where thou art sitting
under the glassie, cool, translucent wave,
in twisted braids of lilies knitting
the loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
listen for dear honour’s sake,
goddess of the silver lake,
listen and save.
And if you find these words far too gluey and overwrought, then here’s an edgier Sabrina yarn, though I must warn you – it does not end well. It was the Public Monuments entry that put me on to it. It begins with a church spire – specifically the one atop St Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury and also one of the tallest spires in England. This church has graced the town’s skyline for over 500 years, although parts of it are far older than this, dating back to Saxon times c AD 960. Also some of its stones were apparently cut by Roman masons, and carted in from the abandoned Roman city of Wroxeter some miles away.
I think you might call the spire momentous – even before we get to what happens next. It is over 200 feet tall.
Enter one Robert Cadman, steeplejack and mender of weather cocks. It is the winter of 1739, time of the Great Frost, and Cadman has been employed to put right St. Mary’s weather cock that has been blown askew. He duly does the job, but he has further plans for the church spire. For Robert Cadman is also a stuntman and, for his daring descent from the cupola of London’s St Paul’s cathedral, blowing a trumpet while sliding down a rope, he has already earned the nickname ‘Icarus of the Rope’.
He has handbills printed and spread about the town:
The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury From Its First Foundation to the Present Time, Comprising a Recital of Occurrences and Remarkable Events, for Above Twelve Hundred Years, Volume 1, 1837
The River Severn is frozen solid, and so the Great Frost becomes an occasion for fun and festivities. An engraving of the time shows skaters and people playing table tennis out on the frozen river; there are tents; there are sheep being roasted; several of the great Severn trow sailing barges are ice-bound; there’s even a printing press out there too. All in all, then, Sabrina is providing the perfect arena for the spectacle Cadman has planned.
He attaches an 800 foot rope (240 metres) through a window on St. Mary’s spire. The other end is anchored across the river at Gay Meadow – (well out of shot on the right of the next photo). The show begins with Cadman’s walk up the rope towards the spire:
His usual act is to ascend bare-chested, performing all kinds of stunts as he goes. When he performed in Derby this walk took around an hour. The return descent, or flight as it was termed then (since there was apparently quite a yen for this kind of flying in the early 18th century), would be swift. For this part of the act our intrepid performer puts on a wooden breastplate which has a groove cut down the middle. He then lies on the rope and hurtles down, headfirst, blowing a trumpet, and accompanied by a stream of smoke as his breastplate burns with the friction of the rope. Whew!
But on this day, when Cadman reaches the spire, he decides the rope is too tight and signals across the river for it to be loosened. There is a misunderstanding. The rope is tightened, and half-way down, the rope snaps – whipping up in horrible coils as Cadman hits the iron-hard ground, his body apparently rebounding several feet in the air. Accounts have it that Cadman’s wife, who has been moving among the crowd of spectators collecting money, runs stricken to his corpse, throwing away the money as she goes.
Robert Cadman was buried at the foot of the spire and the sorry tale is commemorated in a plaque by the main door of St Mary’s church:
Let this small Monument record the name
of Cadman, and to future time proclaim
How by’n attempt to fly from this high spire
across the Sabrine stream he did acquire
His fatal end. ‘Twas not for want of skill
Or courage to perform the task he fell,
No, no, a faulty Cord being drawn too tight
Harried his Soul on high to take her flight
Which bid the Body here beneath good Night
Feb.ry 2nd 1739 aged 28
And now just to restore some sense of serenity, here are some shots of St. Mary’s interior. The church is now redundant, but it does have a very good cafe. It also contains some wonderfully ancient stained glass windows. The final image of the set is the Jesse window above the altar and dates from between 1330 and 1350.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Christmas morning and we find ourselves in a general pilgrimage of families and dogs. We have all had the same idea: to trek along Anglesey’s Newborough Beach to Ynys Llanddwyn, the island sanctuary of Dwynwen, Welsh patron saint of lovers.
As you can see, the day was brilliant, but down on the shore the wind was bitingly cold. It was a challenge to take photos, but taken they must be. For one thing, the views across the Menai Strait to the mainland’s Llŷn Peninsula were mesmerizing, and had to be captured.
For another, there were some rather shocking scenes of coastal erosion. I promise, though, when we reach the island I will tell you the story of Dwynwen.
First things first. Newborough Beach is some two miles long and ends at the promontory that forms Llanddwyn Island. It is famous for its dunes which apparently arrived there in the great storm of 1331. It was the Feast of St Nich0las (December 6) when the disaster struck, and on that day the wind and sea rose to such a pitch that they drove, from the shores across the Strait, great mounds of sand and deposited them on the once fertile fields and dwellings of the medieval Newborough.
Ever since, many of the dunes have continued to shift, although there have been various strategies to stabilize them. In the sixteenth century marram grass was planted, and this gave rise to a successful local industry wherein the grass was cropped to weave into mats and baskets. Far more recently, in the 1940s, the Forestry Commission planted the promontory with conifers. The small forest that has thrived there since is home to ravens and red squirrels.
Now, though, there are new threats from the weather. Last winter severe storms lashed the Welsh coast, causing great damage and much local concern about a future where rising sea levels and erratic storms are likely to figure more prominently.
It is a simple demonstration of the power of weather, and instead of arguing about its precise causes we should perhaps be wondering what is best to be done. At the present, the people of Newborough are doing just that. There is an on-going public consultation as to how the forest and nearby salt marsh may be protected. This whole corner of Anglesey is a much treasured resource to locals and visitors alike.
Meanwhile, sister Jo’s labrador Molly is hardly concerned with matters of coastal erosion. Nothing a dog likes more than sand in its paws, wind in its ears, some smelly crabs and dead fish to nose, and also to lay claim to everyone else’s stick.
She always wins. ALWAYS. Bad luck, Graham.
When we reach the crossing place to the island, the tide is still too high to walk across. So we ponder the rocky deposits of pillow lava, that were apparently blown up from undersea volcanic eruptions in the Precambrian era, and wonder if Dwynwen really did choose this exposed promontory for her sanctuary some fifteen hundred years ago. There is no doubting the elevating beauty of the place.
And so, as I promised, to Dwynwen’s story. She lived in the fifth century CE, and was one of Prince Brychan’s twenty four daughters. She fell in love with a young man called Maelon Dafodrill who apparently returned her feelings. Yet in a fit of caprice, Dwynwen refused his proposal of marriage. Some say it was because she wished to remain chaste. Others say it was because her father had arranged for her to marry another man. For his part, Maelon made his displeasure at the refusal known by spreading tales that cast doubt on Dwynwen’s honour.
In a frenzy of anguish, she thus took herself off alone to a wood where she prayed to be cured of her passion. And so it was that an angel appeared to her in a dream and gave her a potion that not only erased her feelings of love, but also transformed the spurned lover into a block of ice. Heaven also granted her three wishes. Dwynwen thus asked that Maelon be unfrozen. She then requested that if any true-hearted lover invoked her name, they should be granted their heart’s desire or relieved of their painful emotions. Finally, she sought never to be married, and thence withdrew from the world, founding a convent on Llanddwyn Island which, after her death in 465, became a place of pilgrimage. Her feast day is 25 January, and is celebrated by many in Wales with cards and flowers in the same way Saint Valentine’s Day is marked in many European countries.
And so unable to complete our own pilgrimage and reach the island with its ruined church, we retraced our steps, thinking more profanely of a turkey to be roasted, presents to be opened, and a glass of champagne to drink.
And it was under this patch of marram grass, as we left the beach, that my Kodak EasyShare gave up the ghost. You could say, then, that this post is its last post. Just as well I still have the memory…
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk
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We spent our Christmas with my sister, Jo, and chap, Bob, and their labrador Molly, staying in a cottage in the grounds of Henllys Hall on Anglesey. These huge sculpted dogs guard the entrance drive to the cottages, and are caught here in light shadow with the sun on the scene behind them. I find them intrinsically noble, and they unavoidably remind me of the story of the great dog Gelert, owned by the thirteenth century Welsh prince, Llywelyn of Gwynnedd. But beware, this tale does not end well. Here it is.
One day Llywelyn went hunting with his court, leaving his faithful hound, Gelert, to guard the stronghold, and in particular to watch over the Prince’s young motherless son who was still only an infant. At sunset when Llywelyn returned to his castle, Gelert rushed to meet his master, but something was horribly wrong. The dog’s muzzle was all smeared with blood. Filled with alarm, Llywelyn ran to his son’s chamber and, seeing the cot upturned, and bed clothes strewn about and streaked in blood, he leapt to conclusions, and drawing his sword, he killed his beloved dog. As the dog yelped his last, so a child’s cry rang out from under the cot. When Llywelyn ran to right it, he found his son quite safe beneath. But he also found the corpse of a large wolf that Gelert had killed to save the child. Filled with remorse, Llywelyn built a cairn of stones to honour his faithful friend, and the place where it may be seen is at Beddgelert (grave of Gelert), beside the River Glaslyn, on the road to Porthmadog.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
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