25 May, 2008


Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, is an army town, full of fit young men with decent haircuts and today with the sun out proved no exception. The Romans used Colchester as their capital city but soon found London more convenient. It was also home to Old King Cole of nursery rhyme fame, although as he lived long before Sir Walter Raleigh so I suspect the pipe that he called for was a musical one rather than one for Virginia tobacco.

The walk from the North Station to the town is long, and not very interesting. You do cross the river which runs at the bottom of the hill that the town is built on and there are some half timbered houses there. The first church I came to, St Peter’s, was open and still contained galleries, the ones in the North Aisle did not reach the arcading, whereas those in the South Aisle did, the whole effect was a little peculiar. The church was nothing special, typical of town churches in many parts of the country, although it is the only church in Colchester mentioned in the doomsday book. There was a little drama in the grounds of St Botolph’s Priory where four policemen went to see some people sitting in the grounds. Don’t know what it was about as I kept away. The ruined priory of St Botolph uses recycled roman bricks in its structure and has a fine Norman doorway, although the new church of St Botolph of 1836 has nothing fine about it from the outside even though it is Romanesque in style. After a bit of wandering and Coöperative and charity shopping – there are some fine shops in Colchester including an East of England Coöperative Department Store – it was time to hit the Colchester Heritage Trail. This led from the castle, which is the largest Norman keep in Europe. It then leads into the Dutch quarter where Flemish weavers settled in the 16th Century. There are lots of half timbered houses here and a tiny church dedicated to St Helen, now used by the Orthodox church. I went in and found myself surrounded by icons and confronted with a large chandelier. The Orthodox have a screen between nave and chancel so could not see the holy table/altar but the church was interesting. It occupied part of the site of the Roman Amphitheatre.

The next church, St Martins, had a person giving a reading of Moby Dick. It’s a shame there was nobody there to listen to him really, but I got a smile. St Martins church is redundant but has some badly preserved wall paintings and a Norman tower all fallen down due to damage during the civil war siege of Colchester. The Royalists held out here.

Colchester has Roman walls and the town heritage trail leads past these, including the Balkerne Gate, the oldest surviving Roman gateway in Britain. In front of this gateway is ‘Jumbo’ a massive brick water tower built in 1882. The builders crafted a weather vane in the shape of an elephant and the name stuck. The mercury theatre proves that not all buildings in Colchester are from medieval times.

Tymperleys, now a clock museum, is most firmly from this era. It is a lovely half timbered house.
The rest of the trail was up a rather boring residential street, but by the castle I met a former work colleague, who had driven up to Colchester to escape house painting. It was good to see him, and most unexpected. By then I was exhausted so went for a drink in the George, which looked very old, but may not have been. Colchester - recommended!

The pictures show St Botolph's Priory, the Balkerne Gate, a 16th Century House in the Dutch Quarter and the Mercury Theatre with Jumbo in the background.
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18 May, 2008

Aylesbury and Great Missenden - in the heart of the Chilterns

Aylesbury is where the Civil War became more than a gleam in its mother's eye. John Hampden who lived just outside at Stoke Mandeville was assessed for ship money and refused to pay, therefore starting the process that led to several churches called King Charles the Martyr, although none in Aylesbury. Aylesbury is also the county town of Buckinghamshire and is Rothschild country. There were two clubs presented by Rothschilds, the Victoria club which commemorates the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria given by Baron Rothschild) and the Aylesbury Literary Club with its foundation Stone laid by Lady Rothschild. I had lunch in Carlos's Restaurant in the Literary club. I can recommend the restaurant for its decoration, the ceiling is painted with mermaids which contrast with the oak panelled club room. The atmosphere is unique and - Hallelujah!- food can be obtained before 1200 on a Sunday. It seems like the provincial disease has not contaminated Aylesbury. The club is the middle picture.
I could not spend much time in the church as there was either a rehearsal or concert ongoing but it looked pleasant enough with a light interior. It has a curious spire resting on a smaller tower. The church stands in the middle of the maedieval town of narrow lanes and small squares. There are almshouses near the church. Thomas Hickman's charity seems to povide most of the housing nearby.
The Buckinghamshire County Museum is also near the church.
Great Missenden was until fairly recently the home of noted children's author Roald Dahl. The church is rather outside the village but has good examples of art from all ages including this, in particular a glass screen in one of the side chapels. They also serve teas in the summer months, although I did not have any. Missenden Abbey is now an adult education establishment and the village is pleasant, although a bit stuck in aspic. The bottom picture shows the abbey farm house.
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Chesterfield twisted spire, old house and road

Although I only had an hour in Chesterfield I was quite impressed. The Railway station displayed some of the cheaper paintings from the collection at Chatsworth House (behind glass of course but no other visible security), and the twisted spire was there in all its twisted glory. I did have to cross a winding road (via a bridge) to get to town but the town, which is the last resting place of George Stephenson of Railway fame, was moderately attractive with 1930s buildings in the tudor style (see the picture of the coöp on the other blog.

The Peacock house is maedieval and might have been a guildhall - well maybe, but the church is the glory of Chesterfield

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14 May, 2008

Chesham in the Chilterns

A visit to the outer limits of the underground. Chesham is a bit of an ordinary town.
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07 May, 2008

Eynsford Kent, Cradle of our aviation industry

Eynsford is where powered flight may have taken place and knocked out the Wright Brothers from their eternal fame. Eynsford is also where Arthur Mee lived. Eynsford castle: there's not much left.

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03 May, 2008

Rochester - six poor travellers

A visit to Rochester in Kent. The first picture shows the house of the six poor travellers

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York - ancient city

York is an ancient city with continuous government since maedieval times. One of the local companies is the merchant adventurers, who have owned and occupied their hall since the 14th century. They had a monopoly on imported foods, spices and cloth and used it to enforce their ways. The end of the monopoly came with a quakeress Mary Tuke who ran a grocery shop in the 18th century. Ms Tuke refused to stop selling imported foods and refused to pay a fine to the merchant adventurers. She eventually had to pay £10 but broke the monopoly. The family eventually ended up running Rowntrees and a Tuke was hereditary chairman of Barclays Bank so don't be too concerned about the welfare of the Tukes. Or that of the Merchant Adventurer's company who are still rich and influential today, although no longer trading. The middle picture shows the three decker pulpit in the Merchant adventurer's Chapel.
As a railway centre and former headquarters of the North Eastern Railway, York has the railway museum. I visited and sat in the driving seat in the cab of Mallard, the fastest steam railway engine. This was an experience as I could hardly see anything, although the attendant told me I would not be able to stop the train if anyone was on the tracks as the stopping distance was half a mile! Steam engines were fussy about the type of coal they liked, but perhaps more research would make this a viable source of power: One can burn anything to raise heat for steam.

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01 May, 2008

York - Superstitious pictures?

York has the greatest collection of maedieval glass in the country. Just why the iconoclasts didn't bother about the glass here when they did in other places is a bit baffling truly. It is said that the city surrendered to Oliver Cromwell and so the windows were spared but this is not accurate as it was Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII's commissioner who was the iconoclast, and there was nothing to surrender to. Perhaps the citizens of York were not great reformers. Anyway the picture shows the oldest glass in York in St Deny's church. See the following article on iconoclasm in the Mapping Margery Kempe website. Margery Kempe is the patron of this blog. http://www.holycross.edu/departments/visarts/projects/kempe/devotion/iconoclasm.html