November On And Over The Edge: The Changing Seasons

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For  most of November it’s been rain and gloom on the weather front, and hate and smear in the mass media. When it comes to the upcoming general election it feels like a no-win situation. We’re dying for it to be done with, but horrified by the possible result. I further give my position away when I say the only bright spot this last week was when Channel 4 ‘emptied chaired’ Boris Johnson who refused to take part in the leaders’ climate crisis debate and replaced him, as they said they would do, with an ice sculpture. This served to generate the Twitter hashtag #BorisIsAMelt which in turn made me laugh out loud, and briefly lifted the spirits.

And then on Friday the sun came out so we popped over to nearby Ironbridge and turned it into a proper outing, mooching and lunching. And then yesterday, though Wenlock was again lost in murk, when we drove out of town into Corvedale there was the sun floodlighting the valley through a thin gauze of mist. Goodness! Sun – two days running. So we went to the off-season opening at Wildegoose Nursery where we had last been in August when the walled garden was alive with butterflies and all round floral brilliance. Yesterday it was transformed to muted tones, here and there lit up by plumes of ornamental grasses as they caught the sun. The place is pure magic however it comes, and especially its magnificent glasshouse. Yesterday it was hosting a special course of Christmas wreath making plus some arty works from our much loved 2020 Gallery (even though it’s moved from Wenlock to Ludlow).

And so making the most of November’s sunny intervals, the following photos are mostly from the last couple of days: first off, yesterday at Wildegoose Nursery:

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Ironbridge 29th November:

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And on home territory earlier in the month: fog over the garden fence and brighter vistas in and around the Linden Walk and Wenlock Priory parkland…

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: November 2019

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Doors, Drawers, Selfie, Some Different Drawers And A Mystery

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These photos were taken in one of the National Trust’s more unusual heritage properties – Sunnycroft in Wellington, Shropshire – an example of an English suburban middle class villa built by a brewer in 1880. To begin with, then, this small-town gentleman’s residence started out fairly modestly but in 1899 a widow, one Mary Jane Slaney, bought the house and set about creating her own miniature version of an upper class estate. This is what the National Trust has to say:

An estate in miniature  (from the National Trust Site)

Mrs Slaney aspired to have a home, garden and estate that had all the essential features of the much larger grand estates of the time, but much smaller in scale. She added a lodge at the top of the drive, a coach house and stables, kennels, glasshouses and an impressive conservatory.

The five acre garden today is half of its original size yet it retains all the key elements of a Victorian garden and grounds such as a paddock, orchard, and formal rose garden as well as herbaceous borders.

But perhaps the most interesting feature of the house, and this is not without a distinct touch of the Miss Havershams, is that it was lived in by three generations of the same family up until 1997 when the whole place plus contents was handed over to the National Trust. It is thus an extraordinary glimpse into family life over 98 years, all the domestic stuff – clothes, personal possessions, contents of the pantry, the medicine cupboard – still to be seen.

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You can see more of Sunnycroft’s family possessions in the National Trust collection here.

Now, since I’m sure you’re curious, here are some views of the house, first showing the 1899 added ‘grand entrance’, and then the side elevation from across the croquet lawn:

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And finally a teaser – who remembers what this is?

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Doors and Drawers

Of Winter Past ~ Windmill Hill 2017

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Some forecasters are telling us to look out, bad weather is on the way, and especially come UK election day on the 12th December. I’m hoping they’ll be wrong. Meanwhile, and in response to Tina’s cold  theme @Lens-Artists, here are views around Wenlock taken in early December two years ago. It had its scenic moments, but caught us out too. We’ve grown rather used to mild, wet winters. The header photo was taken in a bit of blizzard, as was the next photo on the Linden Walk.

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But there were ‘Christmas Card’ vistas too – and especially out in the Wenlock Priory parkland:

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And all was very quiet around the town:

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And along the old railway line:

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Lens-Artists: Cold

The Night Ploughing

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It was the strangest thing – to look out on the nightscape behind the house where there are no roads or houses as far as the Edge, which itself drops a thousand feet through near vertical woodland to farm fields below on the Shropshire flatlands, and see what looked like searchlights moving doggedly through the darkness. The sight induces a frisson of fear. Iron Curtain watch towers spring to mind; H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds: are these Martian invaders patrolling the hinterland? Have the Thought Police hacked into my anti-establishment cogitations and are now tracking me down?

Of course a second later, common sense regained, I knew exactly what was going on, though it was still surprising – this spot of nocturnal November farming, presumably intent on finishing the job before the next round of deluge. The two tractors had been out working on Townsend Meadow since early afternoon. One tractor was ploughing. I watched it moving up and down the field, the glint of steel blades, the rig periodically disappearing from view over the brow of the hill. The other tractor was working back and forth across the ploughed-in wheat stubble, it equipped with high-tech agri-gear fore and aft – (and I’m assuming) seed drilling and then harrowing.  I’ve yet to discover what crop was being sown. Doubtless there will be shoots any time now.

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But in the meantime, on my most-days slither and slide along the path to the allotment, I’m astonished how very spirit-lowering is the lustreless expanse of darkly sodden earth after months of pale and textured gold. No more taking short cuts across the field or fossicking for pot shards and clay pipe bits either. I’ve also noticed that the tenant who currently has the field in hand, has reduced the strip of uncultivated headland between our home boundaries and the crop by a good 2 or 3 metres. We always understood that the headland was there as a flash-flood reducing measure, to say nothing of providing a swath of bio-diversity. Only time and heavy rainstorms will reveal the consequences or not of this little development.

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The day before ploughing and drilling – 3rd November.

 

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Shropshire’s Most Unsettling Hillscape: The Stiperstones

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Well, the name alone is enough to set the nerves jangling. Stiperstones. There’s more than a hint of menace here, and local Shropshire folk will tell you exactly what that menace is. They will say that when the mist settles on this ridge of strange and craggy outcrops, that the devil has come, returned to his quartzite throne to preside over a gathering of witches and evil spirits.

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These photos were all taken on a summer’s day, though it’s hard to believe looking at them here. For more about that particular visit and more about the Stiperstones go here.

Lens-Artists: creepy  Ann-Christine has set the challenge this week. She has posted some marvellously creepy images. Please take a look.

Further Lines Of Enquiry In Townsend Meadow

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In the last post I featured the clay tobacco pipe gleanings that I’ve been picking up from Townsend Meadow, the broken stems and bowls of pipes discarded by haymakers, harvesters and ploughmen of times past. Or dropped by lime burners, tanners and quarrymen on their way to restore lost bodily fluids in one of Wenlock’s many inns. But there’s another explanation too, and this could also account for the pot shards I’ve been finding in the field. Up until the not too distant past, broken domestic items were usually thrown into farm cesspits, privies and middens. Later they would end up spread over the fields, mixed in with manure.

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My trek across the field follows a broadly similar route, give or take a metre or two. These shards are all separate finds, though not found too far apart, and I think they could belong to the same dish. My trawl on the internet tells me these are examples of comb decorated slipware. Once they would have made a broadly rectangular loaf or baking dish of a type common in the late 18th century. Very handsome pots in fact.

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The shards with the yellow swirly pattern on a dark ground are also from slipware loaf dishes made in the late 18th century. They come in round and rectangular versions. You can see stunning examples of these and other English pots at the John Howard Gallery.

 

Line Squares #29

How To Look Like A Lord In The 13th Century ~ Build Yourself A Castle

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We were here last week with accompanying drizzle (so apologies for the gloomy vistas). This is one of Shropshire’s best loved historic gems – Stokesay Castle near Ludlow. Well, all right. It’s not so much a castle as a fortified manor house, though it does have a very huge moat. And it is one of the best preserved 13th century edifices of its kind in England. Pretty much everything still here was built between 1285 and 1290, and the only substantial later addition is the very impressive timbered gatehouse out front. This was built in 1640, and is seen in the next photo from the doorway of the Great Hall.

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The man who built Stokesay Castle was Laurence of Ludlow, a commoner and tradesman, but one of the richest men in England. Like his father before him, he was a big wheeler dealer in wool, the nation’s main export of the time. He did his trading face to face too, travelling to Europe  – to the Low Countries and to France – operating out of premises in Shrewsbury and in London, selling vast consignments of Shropshire-Herefordshire fleeces which were of the most excellent quality.

His business acumen earned him royal favour. He became Edward I’s financial advisor, and when the king needed funds for his war with France and thought to raise them by seizing all the nation’s wool, Laurence devised a very self-serving cunning plan. ‘Sire, why not triple the tax paid by the wool growers.’ And King Edward did. The wool growers were badly squeezed while the wool merchants got off unscathed. And so when in 1294 Laurence drowned in a sea-storm, en route for Europe to deliver wool and money to the Edward’s allies, there was self-righteous jubilation among the wool producers, or so it was written at the time:

‘Because he sinned against the wool-growers, he was swallowed by the waves in a ship full of wool.’

Anyway, here is what Laurence built with his wool money and where his descendants lived for the next 200 years before the house passed into the hands of other families. This is the Great Hall with its magnificent cruck (A-frame) beams. This is where most of the household business (including feasting) would have taken place.

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The hair-raising medieval staircase leads up to the timbered apartment seen in the header. This was probably the guest quarters. As you will see, they are spacious premises and once kept warm by a very substantial fireplace, now sadly lacking its 13th century canopy:

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Here are the stairs from the downward perspective. The timbers were dendro-dated to the 1280s.  Anyone who suffers from vertigo should look away now:

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Back in the Great Hall you must imagine that these windows were probably unglazed but protected at night by wooden shutters. There was a central hearth with no chimney, and so the smoke would have hung about in the rafters. The small window above the doorway allowed the ladies of the house to keep an eye on things from the privacy of the solar (coming up next).

The solar was ‘done up’ in the 17th century with the addition of some very fine panelling and a very extraordinary over-mantel above the fireplace. Not at all the sort of thing you’d expect in a polite drawing room, nor the garish decoration of the original carving that English Heritage have re-created in one of the room’s interpretation panels.

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I always find myself quite interested in the toilet facilities. I think I spotted two garderobes or privies on my way round. Usually in castles and big manor houses the outflow simply went out through the external wall, dropping into the moat, or over the ramparts. At Stokesay one of the loos has a very fine view of the moat, now waterless. A draughty experience I should think.

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Stokesay is in the care of English Heritage

Line Squares #22

 

September’s Changing Seasons ~ Late Summer Days

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September in Shropshire has been pretty perfect until the last few days. Now we have bouts of heavy rain, weighing down the garden flowers, washing out the last of summer colours. But between the downpours there are still bees and butterflies about, though nothing like the clouds of them we had earlier in the month when I’d find the allotment verbena covered in Painted Ladies. Of course it’s pretty much the last chance for all the insects to stoke up on dwindling supplies of nectar; sunflowers, Michaelmas daisies and sedum being the busiest bug take-aways.

At the start of the month the wheat behind our house was finally cut. As I said in an earlier post, the dust cloud was monumental, covering the garden in chaff. But that’s a small price to pay for the freedom to roam across an empty field. Doubtless, it won’t be like that for much longer. The field will be ploughed and sown. Farmers  no longer leave stubble fields to overwinter, so providing forage for wildlife, particularly native bird species, during the hardest months. For now though, the straw bales left behind have been providing some of  Wenlock’s youngsters with new play venues, even if scaling them  has been proving something of a challenge.

As Cyndi says: ‘Girls just wanna have fun’.

And from this morning’s garden on the last day of the month, and between the rain showers:

 

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: September 2019

It Seemed Like A Small Treasure

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There it was lying among the chaff and wheat stalks, a small fossil brachiopod, the size of my thumbnail, both shells of the bivalve quite intact, but washed free of its sedimentary matrix, to be found by me as I wandered about in Townsend Meadow after the harvest.  I was out in the field, relishing the new views, seeing the town from fresh angles as I climbed the hill, and much like Monet with his many haystack renditions, as I went, snapping multiple views of the large straw bales. With the morning sun on them they looked like some rustic art installation.

I saw the fossil from the corner of my eye and instantly switched to archaeologist mode, at first hoping it might be a Roman coin. It was a similar size and pewtery dullness to the ones I’d uncovered at nearby Wroxeter Roman City when I was digging there aeons ago. But no. It is a washed up remnant from the Silurian Sea, the 400 million-year shallow ocean, whose bed in more recent eras thrust upwards to form Wenlock Edge.

But that’s not all that is marvellous. Before the upthrusting, back in the oceanic days when this little mollusc was still busy sifting warm currents to find its lunch, the land beneath my feet was lying south of the Equator, somewhere near the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. It takes one’s breath away: Shropshire to the Comoros. Is all too hard to grasp. Too much time, too much planetary expanse for the mind to girdle. I mean how could the world’s parts have done so much monumental shunting about? And we humans with all our technology think ourselves masters of the globe. Silly, silly us.

Anyway, I brought the little fossil home, and it sits on my desk. It feels like a touchstone, an omen, a talisman. What meaning might I take from it? This 400 million-year-old mollusc found by chance among the chaff and sawn-off stalks after the wheat harvest.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

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