Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Box of Delights: Gloucester Part I

And so to Gloucester for the next round of Roamin' Robots, at the behest of Son the Elder.  I suppose I could have returned to Bristol after dropping him at the GL1 Leisure Centre, as it's only 30 miles away, but it was a beautifully clear and sunny day and anyway, why run the risk of having to do some housework when you can jaunt?

The last time I'd been to Gloucester, as opposed to through it, was as a small child on the bus with my mother and sister.  My mum told me off for reading a book on the way because I'd get sick but I didn't.  We went to the Cathedral - my father had explained to me what fan vaulting was in advance - and the livestock market where the pigs were bleeding from having holes punched in their ears.  I came back with a model animal for my farm, which was my favourite toy.


I decided, therefore, that a return visit to the Cathedral was almost certainly long overdue, but before I even got there, there was an amuse-bouche positively smothered in childhood and tied up with a big pink bow of literary interest.  Look, the Tailor of Gloucester's House!  

Through the arch was the Cathedral, and after the dark brick of Chester, how lovely it was to set eyes on buttery West Country stone.  The main morning service was still in progress when I arrived, so I took a wander around the Cloisters.  


Now, you might well recognise these and so you should because great tranches of the Harry Potter films were shot here.  I remembered how when I was teaching a class of German high school students during my year abroad, they had scoffed to see Gloucester Cathedral described in their textbook as world-famous.  Well, it is now.  

I was particularly pleased to spot this late Morris and Co window, c1920, and the watery-themed Victorian stained glass in the lavatorium.  
Oh, but the stone!  I wonder if the monks, copying scriptures with numb fingers, took solace in the staggering beauty of it, or did they become inured? 

After a coffee in the Cathedral café, the Remembrance Day service was over and the godless could roam.  And what a box of delights was in store.   There was more glorious glass for a start, these windows having been installed in the South Ambulatory Chapel in 1989 to mark the 900th anniversary celebrations of the current building on this site. 




And this lovely work of art was installed in the Lady Chapel in 1992 to commemorate the Gloucestershire composer of English Church Music, Herbert Howells.  


In fact, Gloucester Cathedral is as good at commemorating the dead as Chester is at wood carving.  Here's a few of my favourite tombs and memorials.  


The tomb of Thomas Machen and his wife, Christian, who died in 1614 and 1615 respectively and who both look pretty intimidating.  They had seven sons and six daughters, and their Latin inscription reads 'It comes down to this: we die.  Death is the final boundary of things'.  


Their near neighbours and contemporaries, John Bower (d 1615) and  Anne (d 1613) had nine sons and seven daughters, so there ...   



... whilst poor Elizabeth Williams died in childbirth in 1622 at the age of 17.  Her sister, Margery Clent, fared little better, dying the following year, also in childbirth, aged 21. Both women were daughters of Miles Smith, the then Bishop of Gloucester and one of the translators of the 1611 King James Bible. 

This is Abraham Blackleech lying next to his wife, Gertrude, who erected their monument in 1639.  We know that he was a gentleman and benefactor, and also that he had smelly feet.  How?  Look at the expression on the face of that bird of prey as it realises that it's stuck there propping them up for all eternity. 



Going back further in time, there are tombs of sundry Abbots, the Cathedral having been a Benedictine Monastery up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a 15th century effigy of Osric who founded the first religious house on that site in 679, and this rather dashing figure in painted bog oak of  Robert Shortstockings, the rebellious eldest son of William the Conqueror who seems to have been the butt of many practical jokes and who never did manage to claim the English throne. 

This is perhaps the most beautiful and famous of ancient tombs in the Cathedral, however - namely, that of King Edward II who was murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327.  The guide book cites suffocation as cause of death.  I hope it was rather than the more horrific method traditionally given. 
An interesting bit of graffiti with serifs carved onto the tomb makes mention of Pearce Gaviston and Spencer [sic]. 
Two more modern memorials I loved were those of Douglas Tinling and Ivor Gurney, both in the Arts and Crafts idiom, although the latter's is a good deal later than Tinling's, who was a Canon of the Cathedral and died in 1897.    Poor Ivor, composer and poet of the Severn and the Somme, who never recovered from his experiences during the Great War.  It's fitting to remember him today, a casualty of war as much as any soldier fallen at the Somme.  


More about my jaunt to Gloucester anon.  










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