In the garden last week: Welsh Poppy catching the sun.
In the garden last week: Welsh Poppy catching the sun.
This week Cee says show her anything that’s long. I’ve chosen long paths and lanes and distant views.
A couple of summers ago we had a perfectly batty day out on the Talyllyn Railway, the world’s oldest preserved steam railway. The line runs from the mid-Wales seaside town of Tywyn up into the hills to the old Nant Gwernol slate quarry – the shifting of slate being the original reason for the line’s existence. You can see the full colour account of that trip at: Partners in steam on the Talyllyn Railway – Woo-Hooooo. But as Cee’s Black White Challenge this week in all about ‘heads’ and ‘features’, I thought I’d celebrate the Talyllyn’s enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers with a little photo gallery of those we met that day. A pleasure to travel with you, good sirs.
Below Wenlock Edge on the way to Westhope.
The Downs Mill lane two winters ago.
Much Wenlock High Street, Reynold’s Mansion built in the 16th and 17th centuries on the immediate left.
The lane by Wenlock Priory ruins and some fine Corsican pines.
On home territory – a shining on Sheinton Street.
It’s years since I rode a bike. In fact I wonder if I still can, though I do remember the precise moment when I first mastered the skill and forward momentum suddenly happened. Just like that – after hours of wobbles and falling about. What a sense of freedom. And so I’m thinking if I had a handy beach I might well give it another go. Softish surface to land on for one thing. But what joy to whizz over tide-washed shores, sea wind in one’s face, gulls wheeling in their own particular way.
Looking at this photo now I’m beginning to feel envious of this unknown cyclist caught plying Newborough sands a few Christmases ago.
The wild waves on Newborough Beach may look alarming, but this dog was having the time of its life – as dogs usually do. Nothing like a spot of unfettered enthusiasm.
January Light #11 Pop over to Becky’s to join in her January Light challenge: square format, words ending in ‘-light’ (fudging allowed).
Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Moving Water Cee always has great challenges: join her
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.
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:
And finally a teaser – who remembers what this is?
This photo was taken in September, in the field behind the house: a familiar place then, or so it seems. I like the sense of emptiness, or rather, the effect of having been emptied. Viewed in the abstract, the stubble ridges attract me too: a more active idea embodied now, something akin to tracks and of being drawn at speed over the brow of the hill to some bright, unseen future. On the other hand this might easily be a false reading; the large straw bale sitting below the false horizon has a sentinel look. A fortified outpost? The perception is disturbing. I start to ponder on who exactly is running the reality we believe we inhabit and why on earth, and for earth’s sake, do we continue to entrust them with it. Which brings me to the medieval notion wherein people believed they got the kings they deserved. Also a disturbing thought: but disturbing enough to make us now take action and change the picture? I wonder.
It’s almost always the case with things on your doorstep: you forget to visit them, or even to appreciate their handy existence. I’ve known Wenlock Priory for over half a century which possibly adds its own miniscule historical dimension to this most ancient Shropshire site. Anyway, a few weeks ago I took myself off there for a long-postponed visit. It’s only a short walk down the Cutlins path past the MacMoo clan. I quite enjoyed playing tourist in my own town.
The photo shows the remnant south aisle of the once vastly prestigious monastic edifice built in the 12th century CE to house monks from their mother foundation in Cluny, France. But then that’s only half the story.
We need to wind the time-machine clock back another thousand years. The Romans were here too, though what they left behind has been hard to interpret: villa, bathhouse, shrine – all, or only one of these. The remains anyway survived into Saxon times and were apparently repurposed in the building of a double convent i.e. for both monks and nuns (in separate quarters). This work was commissioned by King Merewald of Mercia (basically the English Midlands) in the 600s CE.
His daughter Milburga (later to be sanctified and made pilgrimage-worthy) served as abbess once she had been sufficiently well educated over in France. Her two sisters were also similarly educated to be abbesses of other religious houses. Their mother too, left Mercia and her marriage, to become abbess down in Kent. Such positions entrusted to royal woman allowed them to control extensive landed estates along with their agricultural and mineral assets, as well as to look to the spiritual welfare of the land’s lowly inhabitants.
Over succeeding centuries, Milburga’s convent underwent various phases of redevelopment. When the Normans arrived in the 11th century the site was re-dedicated to the Cluniac (monks only) monastic order. But after the finding of what were believed to be Milburga’s bones in 1101, the priory received a very big upgrade, along with a saintly shrine and the patronage of the King of England. So began the era of pilgrim-tourism and the up-sprouting of Wenlock town to cater for the influx. In fact two of our well-loved public houses – the George and Dragon and the Talbot have their origins in these times. So much history then in one small place. So many long-established ties with Europe. Makes you wonder what our forebears would have thought of Brexit.
Doorway from the south aisle to the now roofless cloister.
For Historic England’s schedule summary of the Priory’s history please go HERE.
When it comes to horticultural bling, the gardens of England’s grand houses take a lot of beating. They were of course designed entirely for the purposes of showing off the fruits of questionable gains, whether acquired through creative accounting practices in the service of the monarch, strategic marriage alliances, political opportunism, slave owning or straight forward pillage.
And so it is that, along with the overbearing edifice large enough to house a small-town population, the surrounding designer parterres, avenues, arbours, grottos, fountains, cascades, Greek temples, and goodly cavalcade of deities and other mythological beings, could be seen to confer legitimacy, privilege and status on arriviste owners and their subsequent offspring.
Here at Chatsworth, home of successive Dukes of Devonshire, the formal garden alone extended to one hundred acres. The earliest version was created in 1555 by Sir William Cavendish (he of creative accounting fame) and Bess of Hardwick. Over the next three centuries the layout became increasingly extravagant in a bid to complement the palatial makeovers effected on the house. In 1836 the 6th Duke appointed Joseph Paxton to re-design what were then termed the ‘Pleasure Grounds’, and it is Paxton’s influence that is most in evidence today.
In particular, he was charged with re-engineering the Emperor Fountain as seen in the photo above. For 160 years it was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, the jet having reached a record height of 295 feet (90 metres). It replaced the earlier Great Fountain, itself a wonder of hydro-engineering, until the 6th Duke thought Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia was intending to visit, and so had it mind to outdo the Tsar’s Peterhof Palace fountain. To me this seems incredibly rude, hospitality-wise, and in any case the Tsar never turned up, although the fountain continued to be named for the visit that never was.
…the Emperor Fountain is the spirit of novelty, dashing its endless variety to the skies…
6th Duke of Devonshire
On the day we were there it was windy, which meant the fountain was turned down. Even so, it was doing much blowing about, and producing some very pleasing rainbow effects in the autumn sunshine, and in fact rather living up to the 6th Duke’s exuberant description of it. On the other hand, if you didn’t keep an eye on its movements as you wandered the lakeside lawns, it could also give you a surprise dousing.