Out Now!

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Hampton Court - no - not that one


I'm a sucker for family trees, deeds of ownership, lists of rectors found in old churches. The ownership of Hampton Court Castle at Hope under Dinmore on the River Lugg, is particularly interesting. For much of its life it was held by two families: The Leinthalls, mentioned a little farther down, and then ten generations of the Coningsbys. In 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne, Lord Coningsby, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland staunched a bad shoulder wound of the king, William of Orange. The bloodsoaked handkerchief was kept by the family in an ebony casket, which is interesting because a later owner also had his own collector's item soaked in blood. 

But back to the prosaic.

The house was next sold to the 'richest commoner in England' —the son of the great Richard Arkwright, he of the 'Water Frame' who revolutionised the cotton industry and caused much heartache amongst school children.

 I remember it well,  how their little eyes lit up on being informed Arkwright's  new spinning machine could spin 96 strands of yarn at once and how, with  Jedediah Strutt, he created the factory system with unskilled labour and power driven machinery. I swear several would have happily exchanged places with the unfortunate child labourers than be forced to learn such nuggets of gold.

In the C20th the house fell on hard times. Nancy Burrell from Northumberland bought it, largely for its fishing, but when her husband  died in the first year of the Great War, Nancy lost interest, volunteered the house as a war hospital, and sold up in 1924.

It was owned for one year by a petrol company - Esso - and then enjoyed a period of stability in the hands of the Van Campen family. Robert Van Campen wrote four interesting books, founded one of the greatest collection of Biblical scripts including a 1537 Bible soaked with the blood of its martyred owner. 

What you see as you wander through the house is a Victorian perception of a medieval interior 

The Cloisters over six hundred years old. The stags staring accusingly for all eternity

Turning left at the end takes you into the Courtyard and the Great Tower, one of the oldest parts of Hampton Court. Built in the early C15th by Sir Rowland Leinthall, knighted by Henry IV. 

Leinthall won further favour after contributing twelve mounted men and 36 of the famed Welsh longbowmen to  Henry V, victor of Agincourt,  and was in such favour with Henry VI he was allowed to crenellate his fortified house. 

The Coningsby Hall essentially built by the Arkwright family in the 1830s using much of what was already there. The large marble mantelpiece is about 300 years old and built for Lord Coningsby who, as a family, owned Hampton Court Castle from 1510 to 1810. The weaponry here is largely Indian. The great spiked ball hanging from ceiling came from an Indian fortress and was used against attacking elephants, The stag? Well the stag is just puzzled. What am I doing here?

The Chapel, originally private and Catholic during an era of persecution. Many of the stained glass windows were sold off in 1924. I'm guessing death duties and the privations following World War I. Note the ornate and beautiful ceiling.

Well, part of the ceiling. No explanation given.  Perhaps some of that was sold off too. 

A nice bit of artistic kitsch 

A rather fine chair

The Ball Room, once the Arkwrights' Drawing Room. For any savvy owner of a stately home, money making is essential.

It's now commonly hired out as a wedding venue or similar formal events. 

The Library, spot the 'secret' door.

A private dream - a fine library, roaring fire and a comfortable couch. A spot of Madeira, too, perhaps

And for that intimate dining experience

Don't you just love the eclecticism - the Samurai warrior and Medieval Knight - and of course the stoical stags.

Next time the gardens - mainly because I'm hoping some can identify the plants for me. 'Capability Keyton' coming up

Friday, 21 August 2020

Ghostly dogs

There are more ghostly manifestations along the Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Monmouthshire borders than you can wave a stick at. In the country as a whole, ghostly monks seem statistically the most popular, in border counties ghostly dogs are quite popular too. In Buckholt Wood, once home to three hundred witches, there is, reputedly, a ghostly donkey and, more worryingly a fierce spectral hound.

In September,1961, a local man reported driving through the ghost of a large black dog on the road going through the wood. One hopes for his sake it wasn’t the Cwn Annwn – the Welsh Hound of Death.  We walk through it often enough but so far have seen not even a spectral turd.

None of this was on our mind when we took a walk through the woods around Tintern and got nicely lost somewhere between Buckle and Barbados wood. About a quarter or a mile behind us, we were dimly aware of a small group in brightly coloured anoraks but thought little of it.

Ten minutes or so later, both of us felt a presence around our ankles and legs accompanied by a very audible panting. We assumed the party had caught up and with them a small family dog.

 I looked around, prepared to make way on what was quite a narrow path, also aware that my wife was nervous of dogs.

There was nothing. No small group in bright anoraks and definitely no dog.

And yet the panting continued on the path immediately behind us.

And nothing was there.

It lasted for a little while longer and then faded.

And that is a true story. It happened last week. And we have no explanation at all.

Our only consolation is that the Welsh Hound of Death is supposedly quite large, whilst whatever huffled and panted behind us was knee high at most and sounded eager, curious —maybe as to why we weren’t patting it.

On balance, I’d like to think we were lucky, having avoided the Welsh Hound of Death and encountering instead his inquisitive cousin, the Welsh Dachshund of Minor Ailments.

Friday, 14 August 2020

A life in twelve pictures


I’ll likely die baffled, but I’ve learnt a few things along the way:

Accept what you were

Accept what you are

Accept what you’ll be

And be grateful.

Enjoy life.

Baffled from an early age but pugnacious

First Communion

Here, most definitely grumpy. I’d convinced myself I was

wearing girls’ sandals. Probably was.

Here, the bleak visionary

Father Hill Junior High School for Boys

My first job. An iconic school and an iconic community.

It was a strange twist of fate that changed my life. I ‘failed’ the interview and the job went to a young lady who realised she other priorities, a baby was on the way.  A short and courteous phone call and I was on my way. So much fell into place after that. Every so often I think of that baby and thank him or her.

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…”

My first Form. Their characters shine through. Some are unfortunately dead. Others will surely end up as grand old men terrorising nursing homes.

Seattle airport. Christmas 1981. Meeting Kathleen, my distant American cousin, for the first time. We’d only seen each other for a minute or two and already she was mocking me – pushing her imaginary glasses up her nose – a mannerism I didn’t know I had.

How I got to America, you can read here and here

Taking pictures of America. Camera white hot.

Swimming in the North Pacific on New Year’s Day – as one does.

Somewhere in New Mexico. Travelling America took its toll.

But America liberated me.  I came back with a new name and a new smile. It didn’t last long

Somewhere between 'Dark Fire' my ‘dirty’ book, published by Red Sage and my second book,
 Clay Cross.

An Irish ‘session’ with my daughter, who plays a mean

fiddle. I drink a mean beer.

Playing silly buggers with trees

Age gets us all. Time to grow a beard.

(OK Pedants, 14 pictures)

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Borriohoola - Gha

One of Dickens’ great characters is Mrs Jellyby who is so obsessed with poverty in a faraway African country, she ignores the poverty on her own doorstep and the unhappiness of her own neglected family.  I can't resist a small extract, which you can skip if you want to

She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if they could see nothing nearer than Africa!

The room, which was strewn with papers and nearly filled by a great writing-table covered with similar litter, was, I must say, not only very untidy but very dirty. We were obliged to take notice of that with our sense of sight, even while, with our sense of hearing, we followed the poor child who had tumbled down-stairs: I think into the back kitchen, where somebody seemed to stifle him.

But what principally struck us was a jaded and unhealthy-looking, though by no means plain girl, at the writing-table, who sat biting the feather of her pen, and staring at us. I suppose nobody ever was in such a state of ink. And, from her tumbled hair to her pretty feet, which were disfigured with frayed and broken satin slippers trodden down at heel, she really seemed to have no article of dress upon her, from a pin upwards, that was in its proper condition or its right place.

Peepy (so self-named) was the unfortunate child who had fallen downstairs, who now interrupted the correspondence by presenting himself, with a strip of plaster on his forehead, to exhibit his wounded knees, in which Ada and I did not know which to pity most, the bruises or the dirt. Mrs Jellyby merely added, with the serene composure with which she said everything, “Go along, you naughty Peepy!” and fixed her fine eyes on Africa again.


I was a little curious to know who a mild bald gentleman in spectacles was, who dropped into a vacant chair (there was no top or bottom in particular) after the fish was taken away, and seemed passively to submit himself to Borriohoola-Gha, but not to be actively interested in that settlement. As he never spoke a word, he might have been a native, but for his complexion. It was not until we left the table that the possibility of his being Mr Jellyby ever entered my head. But he was Mr Jellyby;


During the whole evening, Mr Jellyby sat in a corner with his head against the wall as if he were subject to low spirits. It seemed that he had several times opened his mouth  as if he had something on his mind, but had always shut it again without saying anything.

Mrs Jellyby, sitting in quite a nest of wastepaper, drank coffee all the evening and dictated at intervals to her eldest daughter. She also held a discussion with Mr Quale; of which the subject seemed to be, if I understood it, the brotherhood of humanity; and gave utterance to some beautiful sentiments. I was not so attentive an auditor as I might have wished to be, however, for Peepy and the other children came flocking about Ada and me in a corner of the drawing-room to ask for another story; so we sat down among them, and told them in whispers Puss in Boots and I don’t know what else, until Mrs Jellyby, accidentally remembering them, sent them to bed.

 It’s a classic example of exalting the abstract and ignoring real people – a sin common to most totalitarian creeds and those with ‘a mission.’  It puts me in mind of those currently obsessed with persecuting the dead— can’t get more abstract than that —and in consequence not just taking their eye off the ball but replacing the ball with slogans, divisiveness and likely a reaction which will be to nobody’s good.

Two cases in point. Activists in North London want to rename a school because it is named after a road, which in turn is named after the great Uncle of Cecil Rhodes, an otherwise blameless man—Thomas Rhodes—two generations apart from the pantomime villain in question. Go figure. Well, the leader of the local council, Joseph Ejiofor, has figured it out for you: schools shouldn’t be named after the relatives of ‘white supremacists’ even those two generations apart. 

The second, equally recent case concerns four statues fronting the iconic Shelbourne hotel in Dublin. The 153-year-old statues are of four women holding torches above their heads and are/were a well-loved landmark until a poorly researched internet article decided that they were in fact slaves and the Marriot organisation owning the hotel had them promptly removed. It took a UCL professor to point out that the C19th art catalogue described them as four Egyptian and Nubian women and that the presumed manacles were simply gold ankle bracelets. 

Getting back to the more innocent Mrs Jellyby, the parallels are clear ‘telescopic philanthropy’ is so much easier than dealing with what’s in front of your nose. More sinisterly, it’s also a useful distraction pitting one section of an underclass against the other with its talk of white privilege. Slavery, real or its equivalent, is a contemporary issue as the lowly paid textile workers of Leicester will testify. Knocking down statues doesn’t do them any good. Maybe, in the far future, when it is convenient to do so, the Mrs Jellybys of the time will ignore the problems of their era and focus on ours.