Sunset foxgloves and toadflax
Winter hedgerow, Townsend Meadow
Sytche Lane Rookery
Teasels over the garden fence
Sunset foxgloves and toadflax
Winter hedgerow, Townsend Meadow
Sytche Lane Rookery
Teasels over the garden fence
This photo was taken back in March, an ash tree wood in the grounds of St Bride’s Castle, Pembrokeshire. I was struck by its scissored silhouette, and the small suggestion of light within.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
The old railway bridge over the Mawddach River at Barmouth, Gwynedd, Wales
And mazy sands all water-wattled
Waylay her at ebb, past Penmaen Pool.
Gerard Manley Hopkins Penmaen Pool – from a poem written for the visitor’s book at the George Hotel 1876
Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past
Cee’s current black and white challenge is store fronts and building signs, so I thought I’d give you a quick tour of Much Wenlock’s High Street and Square, starting with the Museum (once the Market Hall) and opposite The Guildhall built in 1540, and still a market place several days a week. Most of these images were shot in monochrome.
The town grew up around the early medieval priory, first catering for the many pilgrims, and then with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, growing into a thriving manufacturing and mercantile centre. Most of the oldest buildings along the town’s main streets would have been shops, workshops and inns rather than private houses. There were blacksmiths, nailers, needlemakers, clay tobacco pipe makers, brick makers, cloth and leather workers. There was also a thriving in trade in cattle, horses and agricultural produce. The grant for the first weekly market was issued by Henry III in 1224. We can thus be pretty sure that an awful lot of shopping has been done since then.
Cee’s Black & White Challenge Store Fronts and Building Signs
It’s snowing again today, but hopefully without conviction: just enough to dust the field behind the house, and coat the roofs of the garden sheds. Otherwise, despite the winteryness, there are more signs of spring everywhere – winter pansies in full fettle in Wenlock gardens, allium leaves pushing up through the soil, buds on the flowering currant, more hellebores emerging, snowdrops and catkins in the hedgerows.
The December snow days were very beautiful, but best remembered now in photos. Some of the following shots were taken in monochrome, and some I’ve converted. The header is a conversion, and it’s only in this format that you can see that the sun is melting the snow from the branches in a mini snowstorm. It isn’t dust on the lens. The photos were taken in and around the Linden Field and I’m posting them in response to Cee’s Thursday black and white challenge: out doors – walks and roads. Follow the link below to join in.
According to the old tithe maps the field behind our house was known as Townsend Meadow, and for obvious reasons: it lies on the north end of town directly below Wenlock Edge. For nearly a year now Shropshire Council has been building a large attenuation pond just over the brow of this hill. The objective is to reduce the effect of flash flooding, holding back storm water that runs off surrounding hills, turns all the roads and brooks into rivers which then converge in the centre of Much Wenlock.
In July 2007, over fifty houses in the town were badly flooded. Ours was fortunate not to be one of them; although our house is built into the foot of this hill, the main burden of run off flows around rather than through our property.
The fence in this photo was the first thing to go up before work on the pond began. The tree that appears to be in the corner is a piece of ‘borrowed landscape’ and is actually some distance away in the field hedgerow. And the rooks were just passing.
Before the fence went up I did not particularly notice the tree, but now I like the way this visual convergence gives an accent to what before was a rather featureless wheat field.
It was even more exciting when the big digger moved in.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Black & White Sunday This week Paula’s challenge is STRUCTURE
My very good chum Lesley, took me to Kit Hill for a sun-downer walk back in May. It is an amazing spot, the highest point in Cornwall’s Tamar Valley. From the summit you can see for miles and miles – south across Cornwall, north to Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor.
The hill itself is an outcrop of the Cornubian batholith, a mass of granite rock formed 280 million years ago, and covering much of the Cornwall-Devon peninsula. The granite is formed from crystalized and solidified magma that has boiled up from deep within the earth’s crust. The resulting rock is mineral rich: principally the tin ore cassiterite, but also copper, lead, zinc and tungsten.
There are signs of mining dating back to medieval times, although this involved only surface quarrying of weathered out tin stones, or ‘shodes’. It was not until the eighteenth century that men were working in deep-shaft mines, drained by adits (horizontal shafts driven into the hillside.) However you look at it, tin mining was a tough way to make a living.
The ornate chimney in the first photo dates from 1858. Now it is used to house various masts. Back then, and until 1885, it was part of the pumping arrangements for several mining concerns on the hill. Further down is the the chimney of the South Kit Hill Mine (Bal Soth Bre Skowl in Cornish), and the town of Callington below it.
The shaft of this mine reaches a depth of over 90 metres (300 feet). The chimney served the steam engine house which operated machinery to crush and sort the ore. The mine was worked between 1856 and 1882, but foundered as the quality of accessible tin declined and the business became mired in legal actions for fraud.
Now these chimneys serve only as mysterious and dramatic landmarks within a 400-acre countryside park. It is a wilderness place rich in wildlife: deer, badgers, skylarks, buzzards, stonechats and sparrow hawks. There are signs of ancient humankind too – a 5,000 year old Neolithic long barrow, and some 18 burial mounds, dating from the Bronze Age, including one beneath that ornate chimney stack.
When Lesley and I were there we were treated to some marvellous views of a cuckoo – a bird more usually heard than seen, it having well known tendencies to sneakiness and stealth. There was also a rapid fly-past by two small raptors – too swift for identification but probably sparrow hawks since this is their well-known milieu. Stone chats and pipits bobbed about in the gorse, and around us the land stretched out as far as the eye could see, its fields and boundaries, in their own way, a document of human activity and endeavour over many centuries. And a very special place. Thank you, Lesley.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
I hasten to say these are not my grandfather’s actual tools, but when I spotted this gardening paraphernalia in the gardeners’ bothy in the walled garden at Attingham Park yesterday, I instantly thought of Charlie Ashford. He was head gardener at Redhurst Manor in Surrey from around 1921. I have written about him in the Tales from the Walled Garden. The links are at the end.
Attingham is one of Shropshire’s grandest stately homes, once home of the Berwick family, but now in the care of the National Trust. I did have photos of the house, taken on an earlier visit, but the computer seems to have eaten them, and yesterday the walled garden was my only objective. There has been a monumental restoration project going on there since 2008, and this was our first visit. (Always the same with places on the doorstep.)
I think this is probably the hugest walled garden I have ever seen, and I truly cannot imagine why one household would need to produce quite so much food for itself even if it did include feeding all the servants. Here is one corner:
And yes, it was perverse to chose December for our first visit – a time when there is hardly anything growing. However, I was very taken with the climbing bean frames, just visible towards the back wall. Here’s a better view. I think they’re made from hazel whips. Ideal for sweet peas too.
The path around them leads to an adjoining much smaller walled garden. This is where we found the gardeners’ bothy, cold frames and glass houses, hot beds and hot walls – the kind of territory wherein my grandfather spent much of his working life:
Charlie Ashford served his apprenticeship in an establishment as grand as Attingham. The position of head gardener was akin to the role of butler within the house. The training was long and there was a strict hierarchy of under-gardeners and garden boys. Redhurst, though, was a much less grand affair – a modest country manor by comparison. You can see it in the background in the next photo – grandfather in the dahlia and delphinium bed.
And here’s a glimpse of his working life from one of the talks his daughter, my Aunt Evelyn, gave to her gardening club. She was born in the gardener’s cottage at Redhurst and spent her earliest years in the garden there. I’ve posted excerpts before, but this is a longer version:
Imagine that we are standing in the holy of holies, my father’s potting shed. It was not all that large and the space was taken up with deep shelving on three sides of the shed. There was a door into the kitchen yard and another into the garden itself. On the back of one door were three large coat hooks to take the jackets that my father needed and also his green baize apron. On the other door hung his clean alpaca jacket which was worn when he went into the house, a dust coat to be used in the fruit room and his leather pruning apron with its thick, left-handed coarse leather glove sticking out of the pocket. These garments comprised his head gardener’s uniform; there was almost a ritual about putting them on for the various tasks.
My father’s own tools were hung in neat and spotless order on hooks to the left of the garden door. He insisted on clean tools and, after every task, the men had to be sure to wash, and then rub dry on old sacking any tool that had got even the slightest bit dirty. A little spot of oil was rubbed into the spades and trowels and forks until the metal shone. Wooden handles were treated with linseed oil which was thoroughly worked in. Only then could the tools be stored away. That is why probably to this day I am still using a well worn spade and fork that belonged to my father. There have been times when, if in a hurry I have hung my spade up dirty, I have gone scurrying back to give it at list ‘a lick and a promise’. I can almost hear my father saying, ‘That won’t do, miss. Dirty tools make bad workmen.’
The potting shed was filled with a wonderful mixture of smells of the sort you find in a ‘20s hardware store. Tarred string was the main one. Then there was the strange jungly smell of the raffia hanks hanging on the door. It suggested faraway places. There was bone meal, fish meal, sulphate of ammonia, Clays fertilizer, Fullers Earth, Hoof and Horn – everything to help bring in good crops – and all stored in wooden bins with brass bands and rivets and a wooden bushel or half-bushel measure on top.
There was the annual ritual of sowing seeds for vegetables, preparing the asparagus beds, pruning and shaping the fruit trees, getting the cold frames ready, going over the tennis courts to prepare them for the summer season. There would be glass to replace in the long glass-houses or hot houses. The herbaceous beds required a lot of work in autumn: overgrown plant clumps to be carefully split and replanted, all to be mulched with well rotted manure from the stable yard, or a sweeter mixture of well rotted compost and peat for plants that did not like manure.
Wages were low, and hours were very long, but there were seldom any complaints. Early in the year one man would be set the task of planting out young tomato plants in one section of the glass house. In another section another worker might be potting up seedling chrysanthemums. And so the cycle of work went on.
Dad had his own specialist greenhouse in which he grew plants for the house. Primulas were a particular speciality but he was careful to see that whichever of his men was put to work here that he was not allergic to the plants. Primulas can secrete a substance from the leaves that causes a painful and persistent rash not unlike shingles.
The kitchen garden was walled on three sides by a wall at least eight feet high. On the south side was some rustic fencing over which climbed roses, clematis and honeysuckle – all in a tumbling profusion that looked natural, but was carefully managed throughout the year.
Much of the equipment that the men used was made on the estate. There were sturdy wooden wheelbarrows made in the wood yard behind the stables. The wheels turning at a touch with never a squeak allowed. On busy grass cutting days an extra section fitted onto the top of the largest barrows so that the men could trundle the piles of cut grass away to the ‘frame yard’ to be spread on compost heaps there. Here there was also a long low open shed in which all the mowers were kept: a hand mower for paths and border edges; a small motor mower for the terraces and the little lawn areas; a large sit-on mower for the long stretches of lawn and the rough grass places; and a huge wide mower with a heavy roller, which a horse from the home farm used to pull across the beautifully kept lawn at the front of the house.
Cucumbers were also grown in the cold frames and never cheek by jowl with tomatoes in the hot house. It was a job for two men getting the frames ready early in spring. The frames were built of brick with solid wooden supports or runners to hold the strongly built wooden lights. When I was older I could just about help my father to open or shut the frames. It was important to keep the cucumbers at just the right heat and to give them sufficient ventilation. Grown like this they always tasted succulent. This was not surprising as they were grown in a deep, deep bed of well rotted stable manure mixed with peat and compost and leaves – anything to make the mixture ‘hot’.
Thinking back on the work done in those gardens everything had its use and nothing was wasted – especially time.
At the big house, it was important that gardeners should maintain a succession of lovely flowers – all year if possible, and especially those with scents. As soon as anything special bloomed, like Winter Jasmine or Viburnum fragrans, a spray or two went into the house early in the morning for madam’s breakfast tray, or the desk in the Major’s study. This was quite a ritual. Into the house we would go, but not into kitchen because that was Cook’s domain. We go around the house and in through a side door and into the Butler’s Pantry. Here Johnny the Butler ruled supreme. When we arrived with Dad’s offering for the day, the exchange would go something like this.
“What have got today then, Charlie? Do you want two silver holders or one cut glass?”
“Oh, I think two silvers, please, Johnny. I’ve got some fine sprays of Winter Jasmine.”
Then Dad would take the delicate sprays from the shallow basket that he always used and arranged them in the vases with great artistry. Thanks for such offerings reached him without fail: “Please tell Ashford that the flowers were just what madam likes. The colours matched her dress today.”
Evelyn Ashford Gibbings
I suppose we English take the presence of electricity pylons for granted. They march across our countryside enabling us to make toast and boil the kettle, watch TV and keep the packs of supermarket frozen peas frozen, to heat our homes and charge the appliances we think we can’t live without – cell phones, tablets, laptops, cameras.
It makes me wonder though – how much power we actually need, and just when we might get around to deploying clean, renewable energy sources. Next stop fracking.
These particular pylons dominate the fields around Benthall Hall above the Severn Gorge, and until last year transmitted energy generated at the now decommissioned Ironbridge Power Station. I’m not sure how our lights stay on these days, or who to ask about it – which to me suggests a worrying situation.
We regard the provision of electricity as our natural right, while at the same time rarely considering how little personal power we have in how it is produced and delivered. We probably don’t know who owns it – this absolutely essential resource. The same applies to that other absolute necessity – the clean water that pours from our taps. So I’m also wondering if we haven’t surrendered too much power – blithely assuming that the corporate owners (whoever and wherever in the world they are) will always act in our best interest and give us what we need?
This week at Black & White Sunday Paula asks us to show her ‘towering’.
It’s hard to imagine that this gigantic bastion of ancient yew trees began three centuries ago as a formal terrace row, each tree cut into a neat, small cone or obelisk. Back then in the 1680s, when these trees were first planted, the taste in grand garden design was for the linear and geometric, following the French notion of strict plant control.
A hundred years later it was all change. In keeping with the new romantic landscape style of English gardening, the yews were allowed to grow as they pleased. The aim was to create vistas of idealized nature.
But this more liberal attitude did not last either. Around the time of the yews’ two-hundredth birthdays, Victorian garden men armed with sickles and step ladders intervened, and began creating this arboreal rampart of free-form topiary. Both fascinating and overbearing, I feel. The gardeners apparently hung onto to their ladders with one hand, while pruning and shaping with the other.
Today, the effect is still maintained by National Trust gardeners, now using electric hedge trimmers. Every year four of them start work in late August, and keep on trimming until mid-November – three months’ toil.
The yews are to be seen at one of the National Trust’s outstanding properties – Powis Castle, near Welshpool in Powys, just over the border from Shropshire. We called in there on our way home from our recent stay on the Mawddach Estuary in mid Wales. I’m afraid that on this occasion it was more for a good cup of coffee than for culture.
The castle dates from around 1200 when it was the stronghold of the last Welsh princes of Powys. In the sixteenth century ownership passed to the English Herbert family who acquired the title Earl of Powis. Indeed, they appeared to have acquired it on three separate occasions through history until the title eventually stuck fast to the family.
One of the Herbert daughters married the son of Clive of India (Robert Clive 1725-1774) – he who plundered the subcontinent under the auspices of the British East India Company. The Clive fortune paid for repair and development of the castle, and Robert Clive’s collection of valuable arts works gathered during his India days are on display there. You can tell I have very mixed feelings about this. But scruples aside, the house is well worth seeing and it contains many treasures.
The garden, though, is the best part. The setting is magnificent, with stunning views of the Welsh borderland. A whole day (and indeed several days at different seasons) could be spent exploring the many layered terraces, the lawns and woodland walks. The planting is on an epic scale with many unusual herbaceous varieties deployed. Specialist garden history talks are also available, and when energy flags (and as intimated earlier) there’s a good restaurant-tea room for re-charging purposes. Although to be on the safe, take your own picnic as well. It’s a long way from the grand lawn to the courtyard refreshment station.
copyright 2016 Tish Farrell
Please visit Paula at Lost in Translation for more traces of the past. This theme is going to be regular every-other-month challenge on her blog, which is good news. Thank you, Paula. I have lots more traces in my archive.