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Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Past is a foreign country; they do things differently there

The title is a quote from L P Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’ and places like Ledbury (Monmouth for that matter) are rich in glimpses and hints. Last week's post showed some of its wonderful buildings and streets. This post focuses on its equally wonderful interiors. Below is the interior of St Michaels and All Saints. It's worth focusing on the altar picture and stained glass. The church is huge and illustrates the wealth of the medieval town.

Next a school room:
The pictures sent a shiver of recognition running through me. As a six year old boy I sat at such a desk,  inkwell and a dribbly nibbed pen to hand. A watchful nun prowled to ensure we didn't make too many blotches and blobs. Copperplate stood little chance in our crabbed hands, and fortunately the practice was discontinued a few years later. God does listen to our prayers.

The instructions (for schools without nuns and small sticks)

The results

Below are blackboard 'sums' I dimly remember. Just to illustrate the continuity of past and present, school exercise books in the 1950's and 1960's still had arithmetic tables and imperial measures on their back page. In theory we'd have had no problem with these Victorian 'sums'. I confess though, I never did figure out what a rood was, though it sounded good on the tongue.

A smoking chimney

The smoking chimney extended the entire width of the house. Meat was hung in layers stretching from top to bottom, depending on the cuts of meat and their stages of curing. The fire was fuelled by Hawthorne and applewood for flavouring

A section of wall timber. Bear in mind its solidity and weight

And its construction!

House frames were constructed of local oak. The frames were cut in the carpenter’s shop, then each individual part were numbered (Roman numerals just to make things difficult) so they could be matched up on site. When this was done, the frame was dismantled, transported and reassembled using the marks to match up the parts correctly. The parts were then secured by wooden pegs and the walls raised. In the exhibit they have what looks like a 'toy,' but one that's highly instructive. Each of these beams are linked to stress points that support each other in sequence. Try and assemble them in the wrong order and the whole thing collapses. 

Imagine playing the same game with beams the size of small trees. As the title of this post reminds us. 'They do things differently there, and whether it's copperplate, measuring in bushels and ells or smoking meat in huge chimneys it behoves us to have some humility. 

*The timber pictured is dated 1476
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Friday, 16 June 2017

The stuff on our doorway: Ledbury

In 690 AD the beautiful and ruthless Wu Zetian became the first empress of China. and the market town of Ledbury in Herefordshire was founded. It was mentioned in the Domesday book and has a church dated from the C12th. 

St Michaels and All Angels Church

The original church has been extended several times. For example the tower was built around 1230 and the Spire added in 1733. If you look closely at the picture you can see that the tower – uniquely for Herefordshire – is not connected to the main body of the church.

Wandering around. you stop at building after building: The Feather’s Hotel, a C16 Drovers inn, 

a Butchers moved piece by piece and reassembled after complaints about the smell. It’s now a museum. You walk down wonderful streets with equally wonderful toilets, glimpse lanes you could write stories about.

Toilet entrance to the left

There were four battles of Ledbury, a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and some notable people were born here, William Langland the C14th poet, Elizabeth Browning, the Victorian poet, John Masefield an inter-war Poet Laureate – notice a pattern here? I could continue. William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about St Catherine of Ledbury, though the pattern is perhaps spoilt by Elizabeth Hurley alsol from Ledbury who has yet to write a poem.

If I may end on two curiosities:
The shoe bath for the poor, wheeled from house to house on a trolley. There was a tap on the toe of the boot, which I’ve masterfully left out. At each house some water was let out, leaving space for a ‘top up’. There are apparently only three examples of a shoe bath in the entire country.

The kettle is an ironmonger’s sign, originally hanging outside the building and a danger to both man and beast. There was little room for Health and Safety in the C17th.

Part two next week focusing on interiors  but excluding the toilet.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Bob Dylan in Lennon's bedroom

Bob Dylan has always been high in my top five bands/musicians, even now when his voice and lyrics are now beyond Delphic in live performances. I would love to have seen some of his earlier tours, in particular the Rolling Thunder Review, and I still feel sore that I missed my chance at those first historic concerts in the UK.  I could have been standing next to the idiot who shouted 'Judas'.

When I did see him in Cardiff nine years ago he sounded like a frog with catarrh. But I still loved him. Sheer perversity.

I listen to him quite a lot now in the gym. Isis is brilliant on the running machine or Cross trainer. I feel like I’m on the journey with him… ‘The wind it was howlin and the snow was outrageous…’

But what caught my attention was a story passed on to me by an old friend. I’ve copied and pasted it below, and it just makes me appreciate the man more.

Folk legend Bob Dylan mingled unnoticed with Beatles tourists during a minibus tour to John Lennon's childhood home.
The 67-year-old troubadour paid £16 for the public trip to the 1940s semi in Woolton, Liverpool, last week as his European tour called at the city.
He was one of 14 tourists to examine photos and documents in the National Trust-owned home, where Lennon grew up with his aunt Mimi and uncle George.
A National Trust spokeswoman said Dylan "appeared to enjoy himself".
The trust said its tours of the Beatle's childhood home form "an insight into his humble beginnings".
Visitors are free to wander around the property while asking questions of the curator.
But as tourists prepared to drive out to the house to get an insight into one musical icon, they did not recognise another one sitting next to them.
"He took one of our general minibus tours. People on the minibus did not recognise him apparently," the spokeswoman said.
"He could have booked a private tour but he was happy to go on the bus with everyone else," she added.
The house, called Mendips, has been restored to its original 1940s style by the trust and contains early Lennon memorabilia.
Lennon is said to have developed his passion for music in the suburban house and wrote some of the earliest Beatles songs in his bedroom.
The spokeswoman said a number of singing stars had been on the tour in the past, including James Taylor and Corinne Bailey Rae.
But she refused to be drawn on whether Dylan was the biggest star they had shown around.