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Friday, 29 September 2017

Hide and Seek gone wrong


The ruins of Minster Lovell Hall
And as it once would have looked
courtesy of English Heritage

Sir Francis Lovell had everything, but he had no concept of ‘cutting his losses.’ Born in 1465 he became a ward of the Yorkist Edward IV and later an ardent supporter of Edward’s brother Richard III. In exchange Richard made him ‘Butler of all England,’ Privy Councillor, and Lord Chancellor of the King’s Household. Richard’s Lancastrian opponents penned a sour little couplet: ‘The cat, the rat and Lovell our dog rule all England under a Hog.’ The cat referred to William Catesby, the rat, Richard Ratcliffe, the hog, King Richard whose emblem was the White Boar. The dog referred to the dog on the Lovell heraldic crest.

The great Wheel of Fortune moved at some speed during this period, great nobles losing their estates and sometimes their heads as the wheel turned. In 1485 Richard III lost at the Battle of Bosworth and was hacked to death on the battlefield. Lovell however escaped and took sanctuary in an Abbey near Colchester. In 1486 he escaped and led a revolt against the new Lancastrian king Henry VII. The revolt was easily crushed and Lovell escaped again, seeking refuge in the Netherlands (the court of Margaret of Burgundy.)

You’d have thought Francis Lovell might have got the message by now, but the following year he took a leading part in another revolt. This was ‘led’ by Lambert Simnel, a young pastry cook who tried to impersonate one of the young princes in the Tower. His small army of mercenaries were thrashed in the battle of Stoke Field in 1487, and Lovell escaped yet again. 

Some observers saw him swimming on horseback across the River Trent and galloping away on the other side. He was never seen or heard of again . . . until 1708 when workmen discovered a secret underground vault in the Lovell ancestral home: Minster Lovell. In the vault were two skeletons, a man sitting at a desk, pen and paper to hand, and at his feet a dog. The skeletons along with the paper crumbled in the fresh air but rumours abounded. Was it in fact Sir Francis Lovell who had taken refuge there before planning another escape – or revolt? Had he been inadvertently  locked in and there died alone with his dog? Whatever the case Minster Lovell is said to be haunted by an armoured knight on a flashing white horse galloping through the ruins on dark wintry nights.




Minster Lovell had a habit of dealing out tragedy. In the C16th a newly married couple decided on a game of ‘hide and seek.’ The bride vanished and was not seen again until some years later when the family was moving. A large, very heavy trunk was being carried and on opening it the young bride was found. The longest game of ‘hide and seek’ in history. The tune and lyrics are here and here should you have the uncontrollable urge to sing along.
St Kenelm's Church can be seen in the background of the two pictures above. Here it is in all its glory

It's a C15th church named after an C8th boy-king of Mercia murdered on the orders of his sister and made a saint in recompense. His feast day is on 17th July and celebrated with 'Jerkum' (rhubarb wine) distributed free from the nearby Old Swan Inn - a practice sadly discontinued.*

Below is the tomb of Sir William Lovell who died in 1455. At least he was dead when they buried him.




And finally some lichen just because . . .
Stairs leading to pulpit

I shall celebrate St Kenelm next July with some homemade rhubarb gin. 


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Thursday, 21 September 2017

An old friend, an even older Church

A very old friend of mine who served as the personal chef to the Rothschilds, the Duke of Bedford, and the Marlboroughs of Blenheim Palace has since retired in the village of Northleach, one of many small and picturesque Cotswolds’ villages. He also makes a pretty wonderful tour guide, condensing Northleach, Hampnett, Minster Lovell, the Slaughters, Burton on Water, and a rather unique village cafĂ©/shop in Sherborne run by two Mancunian women – in the space of five hours.

The danger with all this is a surfeit of pictures, so I’ve cheated with Northleach. Suffice it to say it has, like many medieval wool towns a large and impressive church. I found it a bit soulless inside – the pews being replaced by small chairs and cushions but the history and brasses are well worth a look here.

About a mile farther down the road is the tiny village of Hampnett. What you see is what you get. 


St Georges Church being photobombed by a tree.


The church was originally called St Matthew's but was renamed St George's in 1771. It  dates to 1125 but has a C15th tower and South Porch.



We carefully followed instructions.

Entering the church was liking walking into an orchard. The smell was sweet, and intense.


Apples strategically placed. Beats incense.

The Chancel is Norman with some interesting additions—other than the apples. In 1871 the Reverend William Wiggin took it upon himself to decorate the interior with highly detailed mock medieval stencilled artwork. Byzantine meets Gothic you might say. His parishioners were far from impressed, collecting money to have all of it whitewashed. Fortunately, I’d say, they failed




The C12th roof is divided in four parts by vaulting ribs within which are the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John


Stairs made by and for elves leading to a tiny vantage point.
 Part one of the tour ends here. The sky verged on the apocalyptic at times but in the space of five hours it changed again and again. The glories of an English late summer. The final post will be next week and then - I promise - no more churches. For a time at least.  

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Churches take time to mature

St Giles was an C8th hermit who lived in the forests surrounding Nimes and according to legend lived from the milk of a red deer. In protecting the deer against hunters he took an arrow in the leg and subsequently became the patron saint of cripples. I was pondering all this as we approached the church of St Giles a mile or so from Goodrich Castle. The earliest reference to the church was in 1196 but it was extensively rebuilt in the C13th  and C14th


Thomas Swift, the grandfather of the more famous Jonathan Swift was the Royalist Vicar there 1624-58 and successfully hid the treasures of the church from marauding Roundheads; but what struck me was its windows, especially the super patriotic one below incorporating the Union Jacks and the legend of St George in a glorious burst of colour. No doubt in the near future some will soon demand its removal for one reason or another.


We wandered on, traipsing through cow pasture and cutting our way through nettle-infested paths. Herefordshire has many curiosities, including Ferris Wheels in the middle of nowhere – eat your heart out London Eye.



It also has Alpacas - in this case invisible ones or perhaps wearing camouflage. 


There are at least three Alpaca farms in Herefordshire, and you can, if you are that way inclined, go on Alpaca treks—just you and an Alpaca along with a collection of like-minded souls and the Herefordshire countryside.

Fresh from the walk we nipped across to the Forest of Dean to St Mary’s Church at Kempley. 



For those who need to know about these things, the church has the oldest roof in Britain and some of the finest wall paintings. These were ‘whitewashed’ during the Reformation when we had our own Robert E Lee moment.











The three planked door above leads to the church tower and the wood is over 800 years old.
The church itself was begun in 1095 by Hugh de Lacy on the site of an earlier Saxon church and completed in the early C12th. The roof timbers date from 1120.

The wooden porch is also C12th and hides the even earlier Norman arch with its characteristic zigzag pattern.




They say that walking through ancient woodland brings peace to the soul. The same is true sitting in silence in equally old churches. For those of a more robust disposition there is an alternative. The medieval village of Kempley has two Churches. Because of the marshy ground the village relocated a mile away where much later (1903) a second church was built – St Edwards, dedicated to the ‘Confessor.’ The poet John Betjeman praised it as a ‘mini-cathedral of the Arts and Crafts movement,’ but for me it needs another thousand years to mature.

And  finally for those who savour the macabre, in 1995 two bodies were found in nearby fields, the mortal remains of two victims of the serial killer Fred West. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Goodrich Castle and the Tubular Ghost


We didn’t pick a particularly nice day. The weather was overcast, turning the Herefordshire countryside into Mordor littered with castles. Goodrich castle is one of my favourites and right on our doorstep. It was built in 1095 by Godric of Mappestone, a Saxon thane. Initially constructed from earth and wood, it was designed to guard the borderlands from the turbulent Welsh. 

The stone keep. It was originally higher and had battlements

Entrance into the Keep. Note how thick the walls are.

A stone keep replaced the original castle in the C12th and reflects the age where defence was paramount and comfort came a poor third. The walls are so thick there isn’t room to swing a cat inside,  and the obese have no chance of climbing the stairs. These follow the corkscrew model and are exceptionally narrow. From the top you can see the Welsh hills, the surrounding terrain and a threatening sky.





Some people inadvertently catch UFOs in their shots. I seem to have caught an alien structure. It wasn't there when I took the photo and I have no rational explanation. 'Tubular Ghosts.'

The castle guarded crossing points to the River Wye, the old Roman road from Gloucester to Monmouth and was part of a chain in the Hereford—Ross-on-Wye area. The Keep also has its own ghost, an Irish chieftain who was imprisoned and died there.
The  square Keep shown below looks substantial but its weakness lies in its corners. As the castle developed towers were built round ie without corners and so therefore harder to undermine.

We are walking around the castle towards its Barbican and Gatehouse.


The inner Keep and a round tower augmented with buttresses or spurs..
As you can see the gatehouse is high in the wall and approached by an elevated path leading from an outer Barbican.


As you approach the Gatehouse and pass through, you can see the usual arrow slits to either side, and the murder holes from above. What is unusual however is the proximity of the Chapel to the Gatehouse. This is taking ‘Muscular Christianity’ to the extreme, for in the wall is an arrow slit—part of the defence of the Gatehouse and when the bar was drawn back to open the great wooden door, it passed through an aperture in the Chapel wall and blocked both altar and tabernacle.

Entering the Gatehouse. A very beautiful lady is inspecting an arrow slit on the other side of which is the Chapel. 


 Above the Gatehouse. Note the two 'murder holes' from which from which all manner of things could be dropped on attackers. At the back of the two apertures are the slits through which the portcullis was raised and dropped. 




The Gatehouse and Chapel as seen from the inner ward. Roaring Meg is in the foreground. Small but powerful and perfectly formed. 



In time the castle grew larger. From this wall you can see the original line of a roof and the extension above it. The wall also gives a view of the moat and the spur on rounded tower.



A view of the solarium from the Gatehouse. Below this were storage rooms and a postern gate that led to the  moat.


Exiting the gateway and view little changed from the C12th. 

The castle was built on a natural outcrop of rock. This along with the spurs or buttresses seen here made mining the walls or towers almost impossible. 

The castle was slighted by the Parliamentarians in the English civil war. Parliament’s forces were led by Colonel John Birch, and his canon – ‘Roaring Meg’ —is the first thing you see as you pass through the gatehouse. The castle however got its revenge. His niece, Alice Birch, fell in love with Charles Clifford, a dashing young Royalist. They tried to escape before the final assault but were drowned in crossing the River Wye. Their ghosts haunt the castle to this day.