28 April, 2008

Barnard Castle – le chateau de la Tees.

Barnard castle is a County Durham market town, just on the wrong side of the Tees to cash in on James Heriot country and the Yorkshire Dales, but it’s almost as good. Its unique selling point is the Renascence style French chateau just outside called the Bowes Museum. It is quite amazing to find such a fine fine art museum in such a location, and the collection includes all sorts of items from a two headed calf to a silver swan, over 230 years old, that swims on a crystal pool then eats a silver fish. There are works by Canaletto and outstanding French furnishings and tapestries. Even the cafĂ© is pretty good and greatly exceeded expectations. It’s well worth a visit.

The church has a fine Romanesque doorway on the south side although the entrance is under the North tower and there is an attractive market cross.

27 April, 2008

British West Hartlepool

(West) Hartlepool is a former steel working, shipbuilding town that likes you to believe it is a fishing port and a tourist destination. The Museum of Hartlepool and the historic quayside bring to life the story of decline and fall. The town has capitalised on its shipbuilding expertise by building HMS Warrior from a hull and refurbishing what was left of the Trincomalle. Maybe it will get the contract to do the Cutty Sark when this comes up.

Hartlepool is of course famous for hanging a monkey – allegedly – and the sporting taunt to Hartlepool teams is monkey hangers. The story goes that during the Napoleonic wars a British sea captain had a pet monkey. This monkey was either washed up on the beach or left behind, and because the townsfolk couldn’t understand the jabbering thought it was a French spy and hung it. Maybe it’s true.

I went to the new dockland marina development which has a sculpture of a monkey (see picture) as a wishing well, which I hit with my first 10p coin but the second went into the dock. There is also a sculpture of a noble hart (the thirteenth century town badge has a hart crossing a pool – a rebus).

The seaside bit of Hartlepool, Seaton Carew, was looking especially dowdy when I passed through.

Posted by Picasa

07 April, 2008

Charlton House

Charlton House is a large and well preserved jacobean house on the outskirts of London. It is a Greenwich Borough Council Library and community centre, the library being in the old chapel. In the Newton Room there is this spectacular chimney piece, showing mermaids and nymphs, and a man and a woman in a bondage harness, see the picture if you don't believe me! This seems rather inappropriate for the Dean of Durham Cathedral, who had the house built.

06 April, 2008

Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk

Bury St Edmunds, shrine of a king and cradle of the law, is, not surprisingly, the burial place of St Edmund. St Edmund was king of the East Angles, which is the territory now occupied by Norfolk and Suffolk. East Anglia therefore does not count Cambridgeshire or Essex within its boundaries. King Edmund's shrine was in Bury St Edmunds Abbey, which stands in ruins next to the cathedral. The walls are rough flint, but it was here that the barons made an oath to enforce the Magna Carta, and get King john to ratify it. Thus is Bury St Edmunds 'cradle of the law'.

The Cathedral is dedicated to St James and is of modern foundation, the diocese being created in 1914, around the same time as the Southwark diocese. The chancel of the church was rebuilt in the 1960s and the cathedral tower rebuilt between 2000 and 2005. The ceiling is brightly painted in the the chancel in imitation of maedieval painting. The cathedral close is an odd mixture of old and very old, with eighteenth century doors inserted into the rough original flint walls of the abbey buildings. It looks very unusual. Later on, Daniel Defoe, our first English novelist, lived in Bury St Edmunds after his release from prison, his house is now a strada restaurant.

The church of St Mary has the longest nave of any parish church in England (until I find another one with the longest nave. However the glory of the church is its hammer beam roof with life size angels. A heavenly choir adding praise to the earthly congregation and illustrating the church triumphant to the church 'militant here in earth'.

To come up to date, the first ever illuminated roadsign was erected in Bury St Edmunds in the 1930s. It still points the way!

There are also meadieval gateways but they lead nowhere.

01 April, 2008


Southgate is a suburb of London along the North west edge, near to the amusingly named Cockfosters. John Betjeman wrote about his experiences as a schoolteacher in Cat Hill and mourned the loss of rural innocence, as I did after being charged 79p for a bag of crisps!! Thieves. However I did notice what looked like a rather good Jewish restaurant there - lots of veal and weiner schnitzel - food of my childhood- yum yum! After you leave the suburban sprawl behind, you do come to a little village green albeit surrounded by stockbroker's tudor villas (see picture). In the words of the traditional Middlesex Estate Agents Song (trad: early 20th cent.)
Four posts round my bed
Oake Beames overhead
Olde Rugges on ye floor
What Stockebroker could aske for more!
(with apologies to Osbert Lancaster)

The area round the tube station at Southgate is a little more proletarian and becomes much more so when you get to Wood Green Shopping City.

There's not much there that's old, even the church is 19th century.

The other photograph shows the interior of one of the "moderne" piccadilly line stations, showing charachteristic uplighter.