Taking The Long View On The Linden Walk

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This photo was taken last weekend, and no, autumn has not come early to Much Wenlock. The leaf litter gathering in drifts along the Linden Walk and the town’s many byways are the papery parts of shed lime tree blossom – the heady, heavenly scent that suffused our atmosphere back in June already forgotten. But hold on now, in the northern hemisphere we still have summer ahead of us; no giving way to the tristesse of ‘Autumn Leaves’, at least not yet. (Note to self: resist posting Yves Montand’s Les Feuilles Mortes until the actual autumn.)

The three little girls in the distance here were part of a multi-family group. They had been having a picnic on the Linden Field, several sets of parents and lots of little kids, dads commandeering the football and tumbling about on the grass with abandon. It was a heartening scene – families at play. Even the swings and slides were back in use after weeks of being wrapped in ugly tape. People having fun and exercise in the fresh air. I’m thinking that Doctor William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, who back in the 1860s chivvied his chums to help plant these lime trees, would have approved.

 

Square Perspectives #31 A BIG thank you to Becky for keeping us so well entertained this month. Her own retrospective perspective today is a tour de force  Red rose.

Top Run!

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Lots of people around the town have been keeping fit. Hats off to them. And so, as well as admiring the energetic zeal of this determined young woman, you also get to see the august lime trees of Much Wenlock’s Linden Walk just coming into leaf. Every day the green haze grows greener.

There’s a strong connection too, between these trees and physical exercise. The limes were planted by the town’s physician and his chums in around the 1860s. Dr William Penny Brookes knew a thing or several about people staying healthy – in body, mind and spirit. It was why he invented the Wenlock Olympian Games (begun in 1850) which still take place every year on the field to the left of this avenue. On the right of the Linden Walk ran the railway – whose arrival in town was also facilitated by the wise doctor’s lobbying. It once brought thousands of people from far and wide to see the games. I think Dr. Brookes would be very pleased us – we’re all shifting ourselves one way or another  – gardening, walking, cycling, running.

Talking of shifting, it’s gone 5 pm and the allotment calls. Time to trot across the field and get some spuds in.

Square Tops #16

On The Church Green ~ Willow-Light

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A bit of an odd phenomenon I thought on Monday as we were walking across Wenlock’s Church Green. And not only because we had sunshine – a rare event over the past few months – but also because the willow tree appeared to emitting its own light. The sunshine was also catching the edge of William Penny Brookes’ grave (1809-1896), he who was the town’s enlightened physician and who in 1850 recreated the Olympian Games as an annual town event. These games attracted national and later international interest. Brookes was in correspondence with Baron Coubertin (often given the credit for masterminding the modern Olympics) who visited Wenlock to see the games for  himself. The model that William Brookes had perfected, down to the designing of the medals, was the actual inspiration for the creation of the modern Olympic Movement.

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Brookes was a man who operated on many fronts when it came to improving community wellbeing. He was responsible for the arrival of the railway and the gas works, founded a library and the Agricultural Reading Society for working people, conducted trials on children’s bodily fitness and lobbied for the introduction of physical education to British schools. The link above gives a brief summary of his life and legacy to the town, and indeed to the world at large. The house where he lived stands opposite the church, marked with the requisite blue plaque. He is well remembered.

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http://www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk/ for more information on past and present Wenlock Olympian Games

January Light #22

A Path For All Seasons ~ Wenlock’s Linden Walk

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Those of you who come here often will know that the Linden Walk is Much Wenlock’s best loved path; mine too as it is only a couple of minutes from the house. It is always beautiful – whether in storm, snow, rain, sunshine, with or without leaves. It is also the enduring gift of the town’s physician, Dr. William Penny Brookes, who with his friends planted it in the 1860s. Thank you. Dr. Brookes. I should remember to say this more often.

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Lens-Artists: path

The Linden Walk ~ A Leafy Arcade

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This is my absolutely favourite Much Wenlock place (apart from home and the allotment), and it’s just across the road from the house. The Linden Walk borders the Gaskell (Linden) Field, and until the 1960s, steam trains would have been chuffing past just a few metres to the right of the tree cutting sign. In Victorian times there used to be an Olympic Special that every year brought in hundreds of spectators to watch the July Olympian Games masterminded by the town’s doctor, William Penny Brookes. The handsome station was only a hundred yards behind the point where I’m standing to take this photo.

Dr Brookes was also responsible for bringing the railway to Wenlock and for nagging his friends into helping him plant this double row of lime trees (Tilia x europaea). This was done in the 1860s, and I wonder if he foresaw then how lovely it would be. I’m guessing he would. He was a man of  vision and a great believer in devising means to cultivate both the physical and mental well being of the townsfolk.

Apart from being a physician, he was also a keen botanist and, before taking over the town’s medical practice from his father, he had studied herbalism at the University of Padua. Doubtless he would have known that preparations of lime flowers have strong sedative and pain relieving properties, a remedy to be treated with some caution.

I’m also sure he had in mind the blissful effect of simply wandering beneath an avenue of limes on a hot June day, absorbing the soothing green shade and breathing in the delicious fragrance of the trees’ inconspicuous cascades of blossom. Now the trees are at peak leafiness they create a continuous arcaded canopy. The small hermaphroditic flowers also produce nectar which means there are bees. Blackbirds and squirrels forage round the roots. There is birdcall in the treetops, and even though the tree cutting sign suggests the barking of chainsaws, there was only quietness when I took the photo.  The trimmers of the lime trees’ epicormic growth must have gone to lunch. You can see the effect they have had if you compare the trees with those in the second photo taken the day before. While the overgrowth is boskily attractive it can get out of hand; limes are prone to fungal diseases, and so are probably best protected by improving ventilation.

In fact the continued good health of the Linden Walk it taken very seriously. Cricket club supporters and bowling club members are no longer allowed to drive their cars along the avenue as they were wont to do, an activity that threatened to compact the tree roots. In fact we’ve been told by a Professor of Lime Trees that the trees could live another 150 years if we look after them. What a treasure Dr Brookes left behind – for us and a few more generations yet.

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Six Word Saturday

Roof Squares 16

Sun And Shadows On The Linden Walk And Olympic Games Connections

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The Olympic Games begin in Rio today – cue views of Copacabana Beach and Corcovado Mountain with its astonishing statue of Christ the Redeemer. Now switch scenes to a small town in rural England, to a meadow in Much Wenlock, and turn back the clock to 1850, for this is where it began – the source and the inspiration for the modern Olympic Movement.

The town’s physician, Dr William Penny Brookes was the man behind the revival of the ancient Athenian games. His objective was clear:

for the promotion of the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town & neighbourhood of Wenlock and especially of the working classes, by the encouragement of out-door recreation, and by the award of prizes annually at public meetings for skill in athletic exercise and proficiency in intellectual and industrial attainments.

He had already started the Agricultural Reading Society and been hard at work raising funds from Shropshire’s gentry to establish a working man’s reading room, while lobbying every famous writer of the day to donate copies of their works to the cause. Much of the library still exists in the town’s archives and includes some heavy-going and esoteric histories of far-flung lands. It is hard to guess the appeal of such books to farm hands and quarrymen after their long day’s labours, but at least they would have had decent light to read by. Brookes was also behind the founding of the town’s gas works.

Wenlock’s Olympian Society grew out of the Agricultural Reading Society. The very first games were held on the town’s race course but in later years took place (as they still do every year) on the field below Windmill Hill, now known as the Gaskell Recreation Ground, or as Penny Brookes himself called it, the Linden Field.

Nor was it any rustic village fete affair. The local MP J M Gaskell provided seating on Windmill Hill to give everyone a fine view, and the event was heralded with much ceremony, the town streets decked out from end to end, a parade of competitors, flag bearers and officials all marching with the local band. From the start, then, pageantry was a key part of the games, lifting people from their humdrum, hardworking existences. And although there were many fun contests and traditional country sports, the athletic events were taken seriously, and attracted competitors from all over the country. Prizes included silver cups and ink stands presented by local worthies and Penny Brookes designed elaborate medals – gold, silver, bronze, and had them made at his own expense.

News of the games spread far and wide, and indeed were spoken of in very high places. In 1890, when the French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Courbetin had been charged with finding ways to improve the fitness of the French Army, he was advised to go and see the Wenlock games. He stayed in Brookes’ house on Wilmore Street during his visit, and what he saw and also learned from Brookes inspired him to found the International Olympic Committee. The IOC held their first games in Athens in 1896, and although Brookes did not live long enough to see the extent of his influence, de Courbetin gave him due recognition:

If the Olympic Games which modern Greece did not know how to establish again is revived today, it is not to a Greek that one is indebted, but to Dr. W P Brookes.

We the people of Much Wenlock are also indebted to Dr. Brookes for his planting of the lime tree avenue alongside the Linden Field where the games took place. As I’ve said before, it is one of the town’s enduring treasures. The trees are over 150 years old, and still in fine form. There is no time of the year when this avenue is not beautiful. In winter it is deeply mysterious, a colonnade to another reality. But whatever the season, there is always a play of light and shadow. And there is windrush in the high canopies, and crow call. And in summer the soporific scents of tiny green lime tree flowers.

Here, then, are a few more views, and so when you see the grand and glamorous opening of the Rio Olympics, give a thought also to this place and the Shropshire doctor, who with the well being of his townspeople in mind, inspired the modern Olympic Movement:

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This post was inspired by Paula’s Thursday’s Special theme ‘shadow’. Please visit her blog and join in this week’s challenge.

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The Changing Seasons 2016: January On Wenlock’s Olympian Field

We had the first hard frost of winter today and, after weeks of dreariness and both rising and falling damp, it was a great relief to feel some good crisp cold. Not only that there were clear skies. And sun. And brilliance. Up on Windmill Hill there were also fine views all round, although the midday light did have the strangest quality – creating vistas that were sharp in parts, but soft-focus in others. The landscapes I snapped looked like water colours even before I snapped them. Also the farm fields loomed in unnatural shades of green, at least for January.

As we strode home beside the Linden Walk we passed the frosty picnic tables. They looked as if they had been freshly spread with perfect white cloths, but sadly there was no sign of lunch. It seemed a long way off till summer.

This post was inspired by Cardinal Guzman’s The Changing Seasons monthly photo challenge, which now comes in two versions. Please follow the link for more details.

I’ve chosen to feature Much Wenlock’s Linden Field and nearby Windmill Hill, since this was where the modern Olympic Movement had its beginnings, and was (and continues to be) the venue for the annual Much Wenlock Olympian Games, founded by Dr. William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, in 1850.

These days the games take place at the William Brookes School just below Windmill Hill, and on purpose built tracks, but in the old days spectators sat on the hillside and watched the events taking place in the field below. Please conjure races on penny farthing bicycles, hurdling, tilting, and all manner of athletic events – not least the Long Foot Race that was only open to Greek speakers. There would also have been cricket and football matches, and fun events such as ‘an old woman’s race’ for a pound of tea, and a blindfold wheelbarrow race.

Dr. Brookes had serious objectives however. He was a man ahead of his time, who embraced a holistic view of human health that included both physical and mental exercise. He also planted the Linden Walk, no doubt because as a trained herbalist as well as a physician, he knew of the soothing effect, and sense of well-being imparted by lime tree blossom on warm summer days. It is good to walk in his footsteps.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

‘Bench’ with a mission

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

Over at Travel Words’ Bench Series 44 Jude is charging us to find a bench with a message or an autumnal theme. This may not  be a bench as such, but it does have a message and a seasonal acorn. Also, along with the inspirational motto, it was designed to provide a perch and meeting point for the town’s passing visitors.

There are four more of these artworks-cum-tuffets sited around the perimeter of Much Wenlock’s Linden Field, the venue for the Wenlock Olympian Games since the 1850s. The works were created in 2012, the year in which the International Olympic Movement acknowledged Much Wenlock’s historical connection to the modern games by naming one of their one-eyed, androgynous mascots ‘Wenlock’.

Anyone remember he/she/it? Perhaps better not to. The mascots were apparently conceived by a committee, and delivered into the world by a company in Telford. The intention was well-meaning: not to make reference to an identifiable ethnicity, gender, or known human disability.

Here on home ground, members of our local William Penny Brookes Foundation decided to mark the town’s Olympics connection by commissioning community sculptor, Michael Johnson, to work with local school children, and Wenlock poet, Paul Francis. Their brief was to celebrate the life and work of the Wenlock Games’  founder, Dr. W P Brookes. If you click on the Michael Johnson link you can see the other four pieces. The designs on the bronze panels were derived from work by the town’s school children.

The frame is stainless steel with  stone side panels and bronze sections on top. Every tuffet has a piece of thought-provoking text, each one relating to William Penny Brookes’ major contributions to the town’s wellbeing.

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I love the idea of them, although I’m not too sure about the weathering capacity of the stone component. I just wish they were sited in places where more locals and visitors might see and appreciate them, and indeed sit on them for a spell: perhaps on the High Street, in the Square, on the Church Green opposite the doctor’s former home.

Anyway, this particular tuffet definitely has a mission to propose. Should you choose to accept it, please note, this tuffet will not self-destruct, but the world might be happier.

I’m thus leaving you with a view down the Linden Walk that borders the field and was planted by Dr. Brookes over a century ago. It is a joy to walk here whatever the weather, and whatever the season. So yes: more trees needed.

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

Inside Much Wenlock’s Council Chamber: can the past cost too much?

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This is not the sort of chap you expect to find at a town council meeting (lion or devil, I’m not sure which) but then Much Wenlock’s council chamber is no ordinary place. It was built in 1577 as an extension on the 1540 civil courtroom. The two chambers on the upper floor of the Guildhall thus became the judicial and administrative centre for the 70 square miles that had once been ruled by the Prior of Wenlock. Underneath was the town lock-up, and an open space for a corn market.  Behind is the churchyard, and next door, Holy Trinity parish church. The hub of the town then.

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But perhaps the most surprising thing about the council chamber is that it is still in use today, although anyone sitting through a council meeting may well be left with distinctly unfavourable impressions of the past, and physically too: the seating is a torture on both knees and nether regions. I guess it was designed to keep everyone awake.

I’m afraid these upcoming interior shots look a bit woolly because of the spotlighting. On the other hand, they perhaps convey some sense of the antique residue that pervades the place.

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The panelling around the walls is 17th century, and was bought from elsewhere and installed in Victorian times by the town’s doctor and benefactor, William Penny Brookes, he who invented the modern Olympic Games (a fact I may have mentioned a few times.). The mayoral and officers’ chairs are especially awe-striking, and the said august personages truly do need to have on all their robes , wigs and paraphernalia if not to get lost inside them. These days this usually only happens on Mayor Making Day, once every four years.

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Here’s a closer view of the panelling behind the officers’ chairs. (There’s another scary entity up in the top right hand corner). Then coming up is the panel above the fireplace. Something to do with the Garden of Eden perhaps:

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And now for a glimpse of the Church Green, along with the grave of William Penny Brookes. The blue painted surround is comprised of Olympian victors’ garlands. The Green is the venue for all the town’s fairs.

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This next shot is taken from the Green. It’s hard to capture both the Guildhall and the church at one go:

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Of course the question that has doubtless surfaced in many of your minds is does the antiquated setting of the council chamber affect the quality of the thinking that goes on in there, and likewise the kind of decisions arrived at?

A few years ago I would have said that it certainly did. Some of the councillors back then had served for fifty years. These days, though, we have some very hardworking representatives. They are not paid either, since the once impressive Borough of Wenlock with its two members of parliament is no more, and the current town council has no more status than a parish council. But paid or not, our councillors still have some pretty big headaches to wrestle with, one of them being the continued upkeep of the Guildhall, including the roof over their own chamber.

It is perhaps a good example of the past becoming a public burden. Doubtless it is an amazing relic, and full of history, but it is no longer functional in modern terms. For one thing, there is no access for anyone with disabilities, or for the elderly who simply might have difficulty mounting the handrail-less stairs. As a listed building, the cost of installing some kind of lift would be astronomical, even if it were actually feasible. This situation immediately excludes quite a segment of the town from the democratic process. The uncomfortable seats probably do for the rest.

As to who foots the bill for running costs, then it is ultimately us, the council tax payers of Much Wenlock. If we did not pay to keep it going,  it’s hard to know what anyone else would do with such a building. So here we have it – listed, listing, leaking energy, and generally not fit for purpose.

Attempts to raise some revenue by charging a  modest fee to visit the old court room and council  chamber did not work. Few people wanted to pay to go in. Now the court room is a small museum and art gallery, and entrance is free.

All of which leaves us with an impossible, but fascinating building, and one that probably no one in Wenlock would wish to be without. It gives the town its identity, and so maybe, at the end of the day, it’s only right that its citizens continue to support it, whatever way they can. At least the old corn market is still well used, and much for the purpose it was originally intended.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This week at Thursday’s Special, Paula is inviting us to post traces of the past. Please visit her blog to find out what she and others have come up with.