Tuesday, 24 July 2012

To Martock, to Martock ...

My mission today - which I did decide to accept - was to drive my parents and Auntie Mollie to see my Uncle Noel who lives in Shepton Beauchamp in deepest, darkest Somerset (combined ages 342).  

A strange thing happens to my car when my relatives get in it.  It is fuelled by the hot air emanating from my mother and her sister in the back, whilst my dad takes it upon himself to tell me where I should park while he pops into Lidl to buy his morning paper and which lane I should be in all the way down the motorway.  No matter, we all got there without me throttling any of them and in time for coffee before we went to the pub in nearby Dinnington, called Dinnington Docks (although it's a good fifteen miles from the coast) and serving Burrow Hill cider, whoop whoop.


I managed to peel my charges away in time for a quick dash to Martock to look at the mediaeval Church of All Saints.  I'd been informed that it was even more stunning than my very favourite
Mucheleny Church with the norty angels painted all over the roof.  It wasn't, but I was still glad that I got to see it. 

A few highlights, then ...


The hearse

Big Dragon is watching you

The organ (formerly in Wells Cathedral)











Auntie Mollie has gone for gold












My father wearing a jumper in 25˚C+ heat
  My mother
The coloured glass in the church was smashed during the civil war when troops and horses were billeted in the church.  The statues in the clerestory niches were also destroyed.  There are paintings of saints there now.  

The 15th century font



Detail of the oak Angel Roof completed in 1513  





The yew walk in the churchyard

The 15th century tower





Sunday, 22 July 2012

Face to Face with the Hanging Judge

Having deposited Son the Elder at his former college in Dilton Marsh to watch the Horse and Dog Show, it was off to Norton St Philip today to meet up with my friends, Jan and Helen.  We'd arranged to have lunch in the George Inn, reputed to be the one of the oldest inns in the country, having been built around 1223 with a continuous licence from 1397.

I'd been keen to visit for some time, having an interest in the Monmouth - or Pitchfork - Rebellion of 1685, in which the Inn played a key role. Following his ill-equipped and outnumbered army's defeat at Keynsham Bridge, Monmouth withdrew with his forces to what was then Philips Norton. He proceeded to make the George Inn his headquarters, while his men were billeted around the town.  On 27th June, Monmouth engaged the advance guard of the Royal Army.  The main fighting took place on North Street, and was reputedly so fierce that blood flowed down it and Chevers Lane, the latter still referred to locally as Bloody Lane.  Having lost 80 men, the King's army withdrew to Bradford-on-Avon.  Only 18 rebels were killed.


That wasn't the end of the town's involvement in the Rebellion.  After the slaughter of the Battle of Sedgemoor on July 6th, the King's men hunted down all those who had supported or were suspected of having supported the defeated Monmouth, to be tried by the notorious Hanging Judge Jeffreys. One of the places chosen to hold a session of what became known as The Bloody Assizes was the George Inn.  The accused were inevitably found guilty and were either sentenced to imprisonment, in which case they were taken to the dungeons in the inn, or to execution.  Twelve of those who were tried were marched out of the pub, over the road and down an alley way which now forms part of the main bar of another ancient inn, the Fleur-de-Lys.  Behind this establishment, in an orchard now known as Bloody Close, they were hanged, drawn and quartered.  

To give you some idea of the psychopathic savagery of Jeffreys, there is a local story of 'the wrongly hanged man' - an unfortunate who apparently opened a gate to allow the condemned men to pass through.  For this small act of respect he was summarily hanged with the others.

Both my parents have ancestors from various towns and villages in North Somerset and my father told me stories of the Hanging Judge when I was a child.  He is hated to this day in these parts.  In the Dining Room of the George I spotted this portrait of a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jeffreys.  The fact that it has sustained considerable damage over the years, unlike the other portraits in the room, lends credence to this identification.    


After we'd eaten, we were given permission to poke around the pub - everywhere apart from the bedrooms.  The whole atmosphere of the place was electric, as you might expect of somewhere with such historical resonance.  One of my favourite parts was the courtyard, with its little mediaeval galleries leading to the bedrooms.  I was slightly less enchanted when I learnt that this was where the men waited to hear their fate from the Hanging Judge, who pronounced from on high in one of the galleries.

Such an irony that within three years, James II had been ousted from the throne anyway, and the Judge was languishing in the Tower of London.  

Lord Macaulay 
tells us that he died in agony a year later of kidney failure. I hope so.


An earlier visitor to Philips Norton was Samuel Pepys who passed through in 1668 on his way to Bath from Salisbury.  Like us, he dined very well at the George; also like us, he visited the Church of St Philip and St James where he 'saw the tombstone whereon there were only two heads cut, which, the story goes, and credibly, were two sisters, called the Fair Maids of Foscott, that had two bodies upward and one belly, and there lie buried.'

When Pepys saw the tomb, the effigy of the conjoined twins was cut in stone on the floor of the nave.  All that remains now are the two head themselves, which are set on the wall inside the tower, one clearly defined the other much worn.  


As usual, we had planned to do far more than we had time for, so a return visit is on the cards. In fact, I am so keen to spend the night in the George Inn that I might even have to take a lover to justify staying there ...  


Friday, 20 July 2012

To Hell and Heaven in a Morris Traveller

The novelist, Julie Hearn, has written me a commendation for my forthcoming novel, 'Dart', and I wanted to repay the favour without compromising her - or my - integrity, so came up with the idea of taking her on a jaunt.  And a jaunt not being a proper jaunt unless you do it in a Morris Traveller, Dru joined us too.

From Julie's home we headed to Fairford to see the mediaeval glass in St Mary's - the only surviving complete set of windows in the country.
  


I was especially struck by the great West window, with it's depiction of Heaven and Hell. My photos of it are a bit crap, so I've half-inched some of Dru's.

Above is St Michael (or at least his legs), weighing souls to determine whether the owner will go to Heaven or Hell.  And to the left here he is in full, with his beautiful and astonishing butterfly wings.



Not so beautiful is the fate of those deemed unworthy of paradise.  In the corner is Satan, looking like something from a Steve Bell cartoon.  Far more horrifying is the poor demented soul being wheeled to hell in a handcart courtesy of a rather laid back looking blue demon.

You can see the West window behind me and Julie in the next photo.


The other windows were wonderful also, although some were very graphic. (There were a lot of decapitated heads and at least one baby being stabbed.)  Other windows showed saints with faces just like ones you might see on the bus.  The one above, of the Ascension, reminded me of a 1960s album cover.  Look at Jesus's feet disappearing into cloud!  They're just like the stone carving above in Wells Cathedral.


When you are surrounded by so much coloured light, it's easy to miss other, less ostentatious beauty things.  Like this angel painted on the wall, high to one side of the arch separating the nave from the chancel.

And the Soup Dragon outside.

  


While we were in the charity shop over the road, one of the volunteers told us to head for Lechlade Church, where there was a stone in the wall carved with lines from a 
'Summer Evening Churchyard, Lechlade' which Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in 1815.  The path through the graves has been renamed Shelley's Walk in his honour.  After Keats' Walk in Winchester on Saturday, this seemed to synchronous to miss, so off we went.


The church is described as one of the six finest in Gloucestershire, but we found it a bit bland after Fairford.  There was an interesting if rather horrifying mid 13th century sculpture depicting the martyrdom of St Agatha ...


... and an irritating grammatical error in a 20th century stained glass window of St Ursula, dedicated to the memory of Thomas and Sarah Hawker.  Bloody greengrocers' apostrophe's get everywhere.  



After Lechlade, we made our way to William Morris's Kelmscott Manor, somewhere very dear to my heart.  Julie had been there before also, while researching her novel 'Ivy' about a young artist's model and laudanum addict working for a minor Pre-Raphaelite artist, but it was Dru's first visit.

She took a highly illicit photo of Julie and me in one of the corridors, and another with the iconic front elevation of the Manor behind us. 

We also popped into the Village Hall, designed by Ernest Gimson in memory of Morris, and the Church of St George, the churchyard of which contains Morris's grave.  There must have been a wedding the previous weekend because the ancient font was full of white flowers and the scent of lilies was just this side of over-powering.  There were more flowers wreathing the pillars, where during Morris's funeral which coincided with Harvest, there were rings of oats and barley.


We lingered for some time in the north transcept admiring the mediaeval wall paintings, particularly this one of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden yet not looking too distressed by their fate.
 

We had hoped to go to Buscot also, to see the Burne-Jones paintings, but time was not on our side, so we adjourned to Julie's house for tea and to plan part two of our jaunt in the autumn.

On the way back to Bristol we again passed the prehistoric Uffington White Horse, and I vowed to get back there with Ted for a walk before long.  A final stop in Wantage brought us face to face with a statue of Alfred, again my second of the week, having encountered him the previous weekend in Winchester.  Funny how things go sometimes.

Thanks to Dru for - amongst other things - doing all the driving, and to Julie for being another kindred spirit to add to my precious collection.  Feels really good to have made another Friend-in-Jaunting.




Sunday, 15 July 2012

Beauty Things in Winchester

It was off to Winchester yesterday with Pameli Benham, who was going to see a friend perform in a play at the Chesil Theatre.  Meanwhile, I had designs on the Cathedral, having spent so long in the pub and Christmas Market during my only other visit to Winchester that by the time I got round to a bit of culture, it was too dark to see anything.  I also wanted to see the City Mill and take a wander along the river in the footsteps of Keats, who sojourned there in 1819 following his brother Thomas's death, and was inspired to write Ode to Autumn.     So after a toothsome lunch in The Corner House, Pameli and I went our separate ways and I made a beeline for The Close.

The usual stunning soaring stuff inside, but like every other Cathedral or Church, Winchester has its own particular points of interest, almost all of which I'd missed the last time, the
first being Jane Austen's grave,
memorial and commemorative window. 

A skitter past the lavishly decorated font of c1150, and I encountered the Ephiphany Chapel, which was always going to be right up my alley, boasting four Morris and Co windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and a beautiful Agnus Dei by Eric Gill.



 




The next absolute glory was the medieval wall paintings in the Holy Sepulchre Chapel.  Dating from the 12th century, they were covered over during one of our several Cultural Revolutions and only rediscovered in the 1960s ...  



... closely followed by the huge expanse of 13th century floor tiles, over which pilgrims would cross on their knees ...


... to visit the shrine of St Swithun.  (It was tempting to offer up a prayer or two for fine weather, it being St Swithun's Day the following day - and it has been fine, but as I forbore to slither across the tiles on my knees, I'm not holding my breath for forty days of non rain.)


There were ancient tombs and memento mori aplenty and exuberant misericords in the choir, although the huge stone screen was partly covered in scaffolding and it was difficult to appreciate it fully.  Oh and the enormous Norman pillars were smothered in graffiti with serifs, one of my joys in life.  Below is a set of initials from 1582.  

The Cathedral was closing to the public earlier than usual because there was a special service taking place, but I made sure I had time to pop down to the crypt and I was so glad I did.  Despite the prodigious quantities of rain we have had lately, I wasn't sure it would be flooded, but it was and I was pleased because it meant that Antony Gormley's sculpture, Sound II, was in its element - literally - and a heart-stoppingly beautiful and tranquil sight.   




  

The Riven Itchen was fairly high and, being a chalk stream, running fast through the ancient city and under the City Mill.  It felt strange to stand in the room above the mill race and feel the floor trembling.


There was no time to wander in the company of Keats down to the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, but that's fine because it means I shall have to return some time. Maybe in autumn, perhaps ...