Views From the Morville Lych Gate

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The lych gate is of course the corpse gate, the covered entrance wherein the dead might be laid until a funeral could take place in the parish church. In the past there was often a several day wait for this essential ceremony, during which time the deceased must be shielded from bad weather, robbers and worse.

This particular lych gate stands on the path to Morville’s parish church of St. Gregory.  Morville, itself, is a small hamlet on the main road between Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth, and like Wenlock has a monastic past, although the church is all that remains of this period. I suspect that the fabric of the actual monastery may well have been re-purposed in the building of the next-door Morville Hall, which began hot on the heels of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.

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In Saxon times the place was a thriving manor, and after the Norman invasion of 1066, continued to be so, its existing church and associated  lands bandied about as pieces of valuable real estate in deals between kings, earls and churchmen, its native inhabitants bound by fetters of superstitious dread and the obligation to provide wealth and labour for their overlords.

The Norman earl Roger de Montgomery took over Morville (along with most of Shropshire) in 1086. Here he had built a Benedictine monastery, an outpost for his more prestigious Shrewsbury Abbey some twenty miles away. He also had Wenlock’s Saxon priory remodelled on a monumental scale, and ordered the building of numerous other religious houses in every adjacent small community across the county.

I do not think this extensive building programme had much to do with piety. This was first and foremost about stamping Norman authority over the land. It was also an overlord’s means to control people, the wealth they created, and by the ordering of good works from the wealth accrued, so ensure his own place in heaven. It was his insurance policy in an era when everyone lived with a mortal terror of hell and the devil. As Baldrick in Black Adder might say it was a very cunning plan – political, physical and psychic control all of a piece – a top-down wealth management strategy.

If you go inside the church you may see, as you will in many old churches, the evidence of the psychic tyranny. The present building dates from the 1100s. Between the column arches on both sides of the nave, serpents slither down – an early medieval manifestation of ‘fake news’ perhaps? Imagine having them breathing down your neck every Sunday from infancy to grave. There was no opting out of the experience. Your very soul was in peril should you try to, and anyway this and the other snakes are endlessly hissing at the horrendous cost of becoming an outcast.

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Even when the service is over – the mysteries of it conducted in a language you do not know, you are sent on your way by this jolly trio, just to reinforce the sense of threat for the rest of the week:

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Today, the church in its country churchyard and the nearby hall  are quintessentially scenic. My senses tell me that this is a lovely spot. But I confess, too, that increasingly I struggle with the rustically picturesque and the meaning I take from it.

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For one thing, I still detect traces of susceptibility. The view of the hall, though presently owned by the National Trust, is still likely to induce a fit of the Downton Abbeys…P1010953

…that ultimately distasteful sense of nostalgia for a fake past of benign lords and grateful retainers. We may have Henry VIII to thank for loosening a little the stranglehold of the ruling elite, and broadening the class of major players to include merchants and professional men, but nearly five hundred years on, most of the country is still owned by small and powerful factions including the monarchy.

The fascinating thing is most of us don’t seem to notice, or realize how the way land continues to be controlled affects our lives in critically fundamental ways – the cost of a home – to buy or to rent – and the acceptance of ever-rising property ‘values’, the acceptance of mortgages for life. It is not for nothing that these holdings are referred to as ‘land banks’, or that any release of land for development is minutely managed to ensure maximum return from high priced, often poorly built, overcrowded properties.

We no longer have to plough milord’s fields, or give him our tithes in wheat and eggs, or bow to his whims, and tug forelocks, but the vestiges of feudalism are alive and well and residing in Britain, and more particularly, idling in its well-worn seats in the House of Lords, currently the focus of ‘a bit of a scandal’ as reported by the Electoral Reform Society. Of course we could do something about all this – if we really wanted to – if we stopped romancing about the past and started planning for a present that embraces everyone’s needs. It’s an interesting thought anyway.

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Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Harebells Colonize An Old Industrial Wasteland

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This photo was taken at Snailbeach Mine in the wilds of the Shropshire Hills. From the 1780s through the nineteenth century this was the most productive lead mine in the world, employing over 300 workers. But the history of lead mining in the area is much older than this, and for centuries the mineral was mined all over the nearby Stiperstones hills.

The Romans were certainly here. They left behind a great lead ingot weighing over 87 kilos and impressed with the inscription ‘IMP HADRIANI AVG’. This meant that not only did it belong to the Emperor Hadrian, but also that Snailbeach was an imperial mine between the years of his rule, 117-138 A.D.

The Romans used lead for water pipes, cooking vessels, paint and to sheath the hulls of ships.  Of course some of these purposes proved highly toxic to the users.

And it is now hard to imagine an association between something as hard, industrially wrought and poisonous as lead and these delicate harebells that seem to thrive on the waste ground near the mine ruins. In fact this whole area, with conservationists’ help,  has been so reclaimed by wildlife it is now part of the Stiperstones Site of Special Scientific Interest. The birdlife of the area includes red grouse, ravens, buzzards, peregrine falcons, curlew and the rare ring ouzel. There  are grayling and green hairstreak butterflies, fox and emperor moths. The vegetation includes heather, cowberries, whinberries and rare mountain pansies.

It is so heartening, isn’t it, when so much on the planet seems environmentally challenged. Here in this corner of Shropshire at least, the natural world has overcome – reclaiming this once poisonous, highly industrial environment.

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For those of you interested in mining history there is more about Snailbeach HERE and HERE. The latter link includes lots of useful teaching information and has a great video of aerial views of the area, which is anyway worth a look if you want to see more of this fascinating part of Shropshire.

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DP Daily Prompt: overcome

July’s Changing Seasons ~ To Shropshire’s Mysterious Stiperstones

It is a wild and brooding place, one of the strangest in South Shropshire’s hill country. For one thing the Devil has his chair there, and when the mist comes down, this is where he sits – brimming with pent-up malevolence but unseen by us mortals.

We did not encounter mist on Saturday when we ventured there so we assumed the Devil was out. But there were lowering skies, a near absence of light and the threat of rain. Oh yes, and wind, that somehow caused a discontinuity of function between brain and feet, so making the trek over moorland paths strewn with quartzite cobbles somewhat hazardous.

The Stiperstones ridge extends 5 miles (8 km), and at its highest point on Manstone Rock is 1700 feet (536 metres) above sea level.  Standing on the top you can look west across the great expanse of Wales, and on clear days see Snowdon and Cader Idris mountains. Turn east, and you can scan across the Long Mynd to north east Shropshire and far, far beyond.

The ridge has ancient origins and half the world away, some 60 degrees south of the equator. It probably began existence as a quartz sand beach laid down by a shallow sea during the Ordovician, some 495-443 million years ago. Thereafter the landmass moved one inch a year for the next 450 million years to reach its present location 50 degrees north of the equator. A slow, slow journey, then, of 7,500 miles.

You might think, as you look at succeeding images, that it doesn’t look much like a beach these days. In fact it has suffered much folding, sending the beach skywards, and tilting it at angles of 80 degrees in places. Along its length are a series of  quartzite tors described by the eminent Victorian geologist, Murchison, as ‘rugged Cyclopean ruins’ (The Silurian System 1854). Besides the Devil’s Chair and Manstone Rocks there are also Diamond Rock, Cranberry Rock, Nipstone Rock and several other eye-catching outcrops.

The place is also described as ‘relict landscape’, one that is undergoing continuous weathering. What we see today was mostly shaped during the last Ice Age when the quartzite was locked in permafrost. Moisture seeped into the cracks, and as it froze, expanded, causing the rock to fissure and fragment.

The moors below the ridge-top are rich in whinberries and cowberries, and so provided food and grazing for human populations from at least the Bronze Age. These people from prehistory left us their burial monuments – stone cairns along the hill’s spine. Then around 100 CE the Romans arrived, avidly searching of silver, but mostly mining lead, and smelting it in hillside boles to provide material to line their plunge pools, make water pipes, cover roofs, construct their coffins, and for the craftsmen of Wroxeter Roman City to use in the production of pewter.

Down succeeding centuries lead mining expanded dramatically. The flanks of the Stiperstones are littered with adits and the mine shafts that featured so dramatically in Mary Webb’s Gone To Earth.  One of the biggest concerns, Snailbeach Mine, started at the foot of the hill in 1783, employed 500 workers at its height. For a century and more, then, the wild countryside was also a filthy industrial zone of delving, massive spoil heaps, steam-pumping engines and hard-worked men and boys.

Yet somehow this phase too has somehow welded itself into the mythic fabric of the landscape, an impression heightened by the strange visual effect of Stiperstones quartzite – that it somehow looks black against the light, when in fact it is grey and speckled with ice white crystals.

And on that note I’ll leave you with the words of Much Wenlock’s Mary Webb, whose writerly landscape this very much was – and in all senses. This quote is from The Golden Arrow:

The whole countryside was acquiring in his eyes something portentous, apocalyptic. For the personality of a man reacting upon the spirit of a place produces something which is neither the man nor the  place, but fiercer or more beautiful than either. This third entity, born of the union,  becomes a  power and a haunting presence – non-human, non-material.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Changing Seasons – Please visit Max for this month’s jaw-dropping vistas from his trekking trip to the Romsdalseggen: not for the faint-hearted.

Looking Out From Wenlock Edge ~ One Subject Two Formats

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You can see why this part of Shropshire falls within an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These shots were taken on the viewpoint just past Hilltop on Wenlock Edge and I’m looking south-west towards the Shropshire Hills. You can see, too, why poet, A E Housman called them ‘blue remembered hills’. They seem like a memory even if you have never clapped eyes on them before.

And so when presented with the kind of blissful panoramic views that the Edge provides, it is tempting to try to capture all of it. And that usually does not work, not unless the light is perfect, and your photographic skills are considerably greater than mine. Even this landscape view is only a small segment of the 180 degree vista. I chose it because I liked the visual flow of man-made fields towards the grassy uplands, and the here-and-there accents of hedgerow and woodland; the many shades of green.  Also, despite the millennia of human intervention here, you can still discern the landscape’s natural rhythms beneath the pastoral surface.

It’s a soothing scene to look AT. But the portrait version, I feel, is doing something rather different. It invites you into the landscape as if stepping through a door; it is therefore more actively affecting. Just my thoughts anyway. Also a thank you to Paula for stirring us up to think about the different effects of landscape and portrait composition.

 

Thursday’s Special: Portrait vs Landscape

The Changing Seasons ~ March

This first photo sums up our best  March highlight so far – a trip to Ludlow a couple of weeks ago – a day of near summer weather where we sat out at a pavement cafe without coats, and had a delicious pasta and spicy clam lunch; followed a couple of hours later by afternoon tea and cake at the riverside Green Cafe, where we were still outside and coatless. Bliss. Ducks in companionable clumps were sunbathing on the river islands, the River Teme was teeming over the weir, the more active ducks were using it as a duck chute, and people and dogs were lazing about the place, soaking up the sun. The whole day seemed like a dream.

But now we are not dreaming, for if March came in like a lamb, then today it is definitely in lion mode – all biting, icy teeth, and I’m being a weak and feeble woman, and failing to gird myself for an allotment visit. It’s much more pleasant to assemble a gallery of warm-day-out photos. Welcome to Ludlow, South Shropshire’s loveliest market town:

 

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

To take part in The Changing Seasons challenge, please visit Max over at Cardinal Guzman. The rules are simple, and you get to see Max’s photo shoots around Oslo.

Honeymoon Destination Anyone?

I was thinking of Jude as I took this photo last Thursday. Now she lives under a Cornish sky, but not so long ago this was her stamping ground, and I’m pretty  sure she knows the path I am standing on as I take this photograph. It skirts the cliff beneath the brooding elevation of Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, the River Teme rushing over the weir below.

The other thought that was running through my head was: what a place for a honeymoon. And yes, I’ve mentioned this before. But even with the walls intact, the great hearths lit, and the tapestries well hung and thickly plied, it would have made a daunting venue for post-nuptial celebrations. The bride and groom I am thinking of were only teenagers, and the year was 1501. Fortunately for them, some consideration was given to their comfort and they were lodged, not inside the castle, but just outside the walls in the Castle Lodge.

By then the castle had already been standing for over 400 years. It was built after the Norman Conquest between 1066 and 1085. Its purpose control and domination; its overriding associations with war not love. It had been built on the borderland between England and Wales to keep the Welsh warrior princes in check, and thereafter figured in three civil wars and numerous uprisings. In the 12th century King Stephen and Empress Matilda fought over it. In the 13th century it featured in the Second Barons’ War. In the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century it was a Yorkist stronghold under Richard Duke of York (later Richard III). In fact anyone who was anyone throughout a thousand years of history either pitched up here in person, or had the place in their sights for some political reason or other.

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And the teenage newly weds? One was Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, just fifteen years old, and heir to Henry VII. His bride, a few months older, was Catherine of Aragon, betrothed to him since the age of three. They had been married at St. Paul’s in London on 14 November 1501, only ten days after their first  meeting. Arthur informed Catherine’s parents (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) that he meant to be ‘a true and loving husband’. But from the start there were problems of communication. The couple tried speaking to each other in Latin, but were confounded by their differences in pronunciation.

But then what do such things matter when it comes to state expediency? The marriage was a matter of strategic alliance, and the honeymoon at Ludlow was all about Arthur being seen to stake just claim over Wales.  He was  there on royal business to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches.

The couple were in Ludlow over the winter months, and one wonders how a girl from the sunny warmth of Spain felt to be despatched  to such a union and to such a place. One hopes they found some joy there, although it would have been all too brief. They both fell ill with the highly contagious ‘sweating sickness’ which was sweeping England at this time.  By April 1502 Arthur was dead, and Catherine swiftly rendered a diplomatically inconvenient widow – a pawn in the foreign alliance game.

Apart from anything else, there were serious financial implications for Henry VII. Ferdinand had only paid half of Catherine’s 200,000 ducat dowry. Now Henry was faced with returning it, and/or suing for the unpaid portion. So it was that Catherine became betrothed to Henry’s second son, Henry, Duke of York, whom she finally married in 1509, thus becoming the first wife of Henry VIII. For 24 years all went well, and then Ann Boleyn came along and it was all damn lies, character assassination, cruel confinement  and social ostracism for Catherine. A sad end indeed for a Spanish princess, our long-time English queen, and Europe’s first woman ambassador.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Traces Of The Past ~ And Who Do You Think Lived In This Little House?

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Well, I’d never seen one of these before.  There it was outside the walled garden at Attingham Park, one of Shropshire’s grandest historic houses.  Closer inspection and the spotting of an information panel inside one of the half-moon ‘windows’ yielded the knowledge that it was in fact the bees knees in accommodation – a grand house commissioned specially for the Second Duke of Berwick’s bees.

The house was originally sited in the Duke’s extensive orchards to encourage the pollination of the fruit trees. Behind each opening there would have been a traditional hive or skep – an upturned, domed basket made from coils of straw. This apian ‘des res’ apparently dates from the early 1800s and is only one of two known Regency examples in the country. The great landscape designer Humphry Repton and architect John Nash were both employed at Attingham around this time, and so either one could be responsible for the design.

The hall and park are in the care of the National Trust, and it is currently one of their most visited properties – over 400,000 visitors last year and growing. Millions have been spent on the house, and the next huge project is the recreation of Lord Berwick’s pleasure grounds. Nor have the bees been forgotten. There are a quarter of a million honey bees in the Park, and the Trust has recently established a large, new apiary in the Deer Park. There is also a National Observation Hive in the orchard where you can watch the bees coming and going. Attingham honey may be going on sale soon. So a big cheer to the National Trust for championing the bee cause, this in the face of determined eradication of the species by the Big Unfriendly Pesticide Giants. We’ll all be very sorry if bees become ‘a thing of the past’.

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The walled garden in winter: a restoration project in progress. You can just glimpse the orchard beyond the far wall.

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past Now visit Paula for her fine entry.

Some Favourite Horizons ~ the Silurian Sea Effect And The Changing Seasons

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Here in the small English Midlands town of Much Wenlock,  we live in the lea of an upthrust ancient sea. (I may have mentioned this once or several times before). As I took this photo I was standing on the petrified flanks of Wenlock Edge – the compacted deposits of shallow tropical waters that teemed with giant sea scorpions, sea lilies,  corals, trilobites and all manner of brachiopods in the long ago age before fish, or indeed, before life as we know it.

In fact, as the photo well shows, we sit in a bowl, lodged between several folds in the landscape. It is a place of naturally rising springs, which is probably why St. Milburga’s family of Saxon Mercian princes founded an abbey here in the seventh century: pure water and the presumption of godliness going hand in hand. The town also has several other holy wells besides those associated with Milburga. It seems to have been the equivalent of a calling card. Every saint who visited Much Wenlock left us a well to remember them by. Then in the 1930s the good burghers of Wenlock decided they were a risk to physical well being and had them all capped.

Milburga’s Well, though, had especially enduring powers. As I have also mentioned before, the legends that tell of the life of this Paris-educated abbess, are routinely associated with springs bursting hither and thither. In fact so potent is her association with pure water sources that even in the late nineteenth century, rain collected from the roof of the parish church – a building founded on the remains of Milburga’s abbey, was still considered to be an essential ingredient  for beer brewing (never mind the additional mossy deposits). Likewise, water from the actual well was absolutely expected to cure all manner of eye disorders, as well as reflecting in its glassy surface the identity of husbands-to-be to the lovelorn Wenlock lasses who, come May Day, would rush to look there for signs of their future partners.

Anyway, I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that there are certainly great disadvantages to living your life in a hollow. It can limit your vistas in every sense. But there are advantages too. In our case it also means that whichever way you strike out of the town, you are always in for a fresh horizon. In every direction we have them; one for every moment of the day. So here are some of my favourites.

In June to the south of the town we had an outbreak of poppies. It was stupendous:

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Then in late summer, standing at the southerly end of the town, among the wheat fields and looking north, I discovered this fine view of the Wrekin. Some trick of the light/perspective/geography has made it seem extraordinarily looming and close:

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When it comes to the other quarters, if walk from the town centre, in an easterly direction, down the Bull Ring and out past the ruins of the 12th century Cluniac Priory, you will find the once monastic parkland where the Prior went hunting before the place was asset-stripped and sold off to Henry VIII’s faithful servants, and thereafter to generations of would-be gentry. This photo was taken a few days ago. A winter’s view then:

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And then looking east from the north end of the town – this time from Windmill Hill:

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Also there are the ever-changing westerly false-horizons as seen from our house that backs on to the foothills of Wenlock Edge:

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Finally, if you leave the town and climb on to Wenlock Edge itself, and if you can find a suitable gap in the trees, you can look west across Shropshire and towards the Welsh borderland:

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And the reason why I’m posting all these views?

Well, this week the WordPress photo challenge invites us to pre-empt the New Year making of resolutions and post a photo impression of what that resolution might be, or if not a resolution, then of some envisaged new horizon; to look ahead beyond life’s present busyness.

This made me consider my own horizon-watching habit, which daily fills me with a sense of wonder.(For one thing I am very lucky to have the time to do it at all – a luxury of luxuries). It is a form of day-dreaming, or watchful meditation and a good way to rest a racing mind. I also enjoy posting views of my homeland landscapes because I believe we cannot love the world too much. But I’m wondering, too, if we don’t do altogether too much ‘looking ahead’, ‘looking for more/the next/the new.’

The fresh horizons we may be seeking are not really OUT THERE. “Look within to the universal self.” Inside each of us, that’s where all the work needs to be done if we want to see real change. I know I can change myself, though I recognise that I might need some assistance. I also know that I definitely cannot change others, much as I might wish to in these times when too many people appear to define their identities through their fear, envy and hatred of others. If anyone ever wants to know where hell is, then it is there.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

New Horizon

Today From Wenlock’s Old Railway Line

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December 7 and at noon we had sun and 12 degree warmth: a spring day in winter. Graham and I headed out over the fields and came back down the old railway line. He strode off ahead while I stopped here to take this photo. It is for my U.S. Buffalo chum, Kathy. She and Jack come each year like swallows to spend the summer in Wenlock, away from Buffalo’s heavy heat. This is the walk she often walks with me, and we always stop at this fence, lean awhile, churn over world events, sometimes rant a little. And then at last simply look, taking in the view – the ever-changing unchanging landscape. (At least for now).