Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Fire and A Fortress

My plan on the morning after visiting the Waterhouse exhibition was to go to the Tower of London and spend most of the day there and catch a late afternoon train home. I was able to leave my luggage at the hotel which made life easier, I couldn't have done any sightseeing if I hadn't been able to do that. As the Tower didn't open until 10am I decided to get off the Underground at Monument and have a little look round the area where the Fire of London began in September 1666. You can enlarge all the photographs so that you can read what is on the plaques etc.

The fire began in a baker's shop on Pudding Lane and burned for three days destroying virtually all of the medieval City of London. The city was rebuilt using brick and stone as the building materials rather than the wood and wattle and daub of the medieval buildings. This is the period in which Sir Christopher Wren built St Paul's Cathedral and over 50 other London churches. Many of these were destroyed or damaged by the second Fire of London in the Blitz of 1940-41.

Charles ll was the king at the time of the Great Fire of London and he commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build The Monument to commemorate both the Fire and the rebuilding of the City. It is 202 feet high which is the distance that it stands from the site on Pudding Lane where the fire began. On this site originally was the church of St Margaret, Fish St which was one of 86 churches destroyed. The really amazing thing is that, in spite of the huge amount of destruction,only six people died.

The base of The Monument - I've never actually climbed the stairs to the top of it. It's a spiral staircase and no place to discover half way up that you can't manage to go any further !

This is St Magnus the Martyr Church which is mentioned on the plaque in the previous photo. The original church was one of the first to be destroyed and this one is the replacement designed by Wren. The clock dates from 1700 and used to hang over the road to Old London Bridge which ran through the churchyard to the right behind the white van.

The Tower of London is over 900 years old and was built by William the Conqueror soon after his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The original part is the White Tower on the right of the photograph which now houses the Royal Armouries Museum including suits of armour worn by Henry Vlll. I didn't go in there - at least, I did go through the door and took one look at the rugger scrum inside and the huge queue edging slowly up the stairs and rapidly changed my mind!

The entrance to the Tower is over a bridge which is where the drawbridge over the moat would have been in medieval times. The archway leads through the Byward Tower built by Edward l in the 13th century. As you can tell by all the umbrellas it was raining pretty hard and not your ideal sightseeing day. The Tower is a huge place and I'm afraid I didn't follow the recommended route as set out by the guide book but wandered about indiscriminately here and there picking out the things that interested me.

The word 'Medieval' is always a surefire draw as far as I'm concerned so the words Medieval Palace on a signpost acted like a magnet and off I went up the steps and into St Thomas's Tower which, with the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorne Tower, are known collectively as the Medieval Palace. St Thomas's Tower was built by Edward l between 1275 and 1279 and was where he had his living quarters on his visits to the Tower. This is a reconstruction of his bedchamber using replicas based on original 13th century furnishings and decoration. And very nice too!

This is Edward l's private chapel which was through a small door leading out of the bedchamber.

Outside again I headed towards Tower Green. This is where ten people were beheaded including three Queens - Ann Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey who was only 16 years old. Only the most important personages were executed actually inside the Tower precincts and another of these was Queen Elizabeth l's favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The many others who suffered the same fate were taken to the public execution block on nearby Tower Hill. In the foreground of the photograph is the execution site memorial. You might be surprised to know that the last execution in the Tower took place as recently as 15th August 1941 when a German spy was shot by a firing squad. The building in the background is Waterloo Barracks which was built in the 19th century and is now the home of the Crown Jewels.

There wasn't one particular place where prisoners were kept at the Tower, they were squashed in anywhere there was room. In the Beauchamp Tower the walls are covered with graffiti carved by prisoners over the years, most of them date from the 16th and 17th centuries.Some are really elaborate and must have taken years to carve but I suppose that time was one thing they had plenty of! The photo needs enlarging and isn't that great even then as there were spotlights all over the place which create a lot of glare.

On the left of the photo is the doorway leading into The Bloody Tower and the walkway in the centre is called Raleigh's Walk because it is where Sir Walter Raleigh took his exercise during his 12 years as a prisoner here.

There were prisoners and then there were prisoners at the Tower - this is the room where Sir Walter spent his time furnished as it was during that period. Not exactly a bread and water regime I don't think:) Apparently his family were allowed to visit frequently and his son Carew was born while he was a prisoner! Obviously walking wasn't the only exercise he got!! He was in there accused of treason in case you're wondering...

I seem to have the knack of often being in the right place at the right time invariably purely by chance. I was wandering around Tower Green again when I heard marching feet and turned to see two guardsmen marching smartly round to the sentry box ready for the changing of the guard - the soldiers spend two hours at a time on duty in the sentry box. That's a long time when you have to stand there wearing that heavy bearskin and without moving regardless of the weather.

The ravens are an integral part of the Tower, there is a legend that if ever they leave then the White Tower will crumble and great disaster will befall this country.
It has an interesting origin,according to Geofrey of Monmouth's 'History of the King's of England' written in 1136 an ancient British king called Bran Hen was killed in battle and requested (presumably before the battle!)that his head be buried on the White Mount as a talisman against invasion. The Welsh word 'bran' means raven and the White Mount is where the White Tower now stands. One gathers that William of Normandy wasn't regarded as an invader:) One of the Yeoman Warders is Ravenmaster and has specific care of the ravens who have their own Raven's Lodgings. They also have one of their wings clipped just in case!

This is Traitor's Gate - not the entrance to the Tower that you would want to use in Tudor times! Ann Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Catherine Howard and many others were brought along the River Thames by barge, passing under London Bridge where the heads of recently executed prisoners were tastefully displayed, and in through this water gate to climb those steps and face imprisonment and death. It actually had a much more cheerful start in life as it was originally built as an entrance for Edward l's royal barge.

I am standing looking through the archway under the Bloody Tower towards Traitors Gate. The portcullis of the Bloody Tower is still visble and the timber framed building over the top of Traitors Gate was built as lodgings for Ann Boleyn before her coronation. By this time it was mid afternoon and the sun had finally come out, but it was time for me to leave so that I could retrieve my luggage and catch the train home. I could have spent much more time here had it been available, it's well worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

Fortunately I'd given myself plenty of time to get back to the hotel because as I walked back towards the Underground I saw a sign which said 'oldest church in the City of London' - well, I couldn't not go and see it could I? The church is All- Hallows-By-The-Tower and there is still an arch from the original Saxon church of 675AD remaining down in the Undercroft. This is where the headless bodies of those people executed on Tower Hill were brought and William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania was christened here in 1644. US President John Quincy Adams was married here too when he was the American Ambassador. In 1666 Samuel Pepys and Admiral Penn, the father of William Penn, climbed the brick tower of this church and watched as London burned.

All Hallows has strong maritime connections, there is a Mariner's Chapel in the South Aisle and all over the church are models of ships, they are all tokens of thanks for cargoes safely delivered and voyages safely completed. I wish I'd had more time to look at these.

In the Undercroft under the Saxon arch is the best preserved piece of Roman tessellated pavement in London, it was once the floor of a Roman house.

The Undercroft was a little Museum full of all sorts of fascinating bits and pieces from an altar that had accompanied Richard ll on the Second Crrusade to this barrel which is the crow's nest from Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship 'The Quest' which he used on his last Antarctic expedition. It's a little jewel of a place and there was nobody else there!
I shan't be posting or commenting for a couple of weeks now as we are off to our house on the coast for the rest of this month and it's a computer free zone there.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Some Accidental Sightseeing

I decided to walk from my hotel on Great Russell St to get the Tube from Chancery Lane to Piccadilly which is where The Royal Academy is. I was walking along streets full of modern buildings when all of a sudden this appeared in front of me. I had no idea what it was but took some photographs anyway. When I got home I told DH about it and he said ' Oh you should have gone through the archway, there's a wonderful courtyard at the back.' It turns out to be Staple Inn, it was built in 1586 and managed somehow to survive both the Great Fire of London in 1666 and also the Second World War. It's the last surviving one of the original nine Inns of Chancery - these housed associations of junior lawyers in London from medieval times until the 19th century. DH worked in the City of London for many years and went to London on business virtually every week during the thirty odd years that he worked in Sheffield so he is a mine of information on the history of this part of London. All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

This is the courtyard of Burlinton House, the home of the Royal Academy and also five other learned Societies including the Linnean Society, the Society of Antiquaries and.....

.... the Royal Astronomical Society. Burlington House was once one of the great London Town houses and belonged originally to the Earl of Burlington then later it was inherited by the Duke of Devonshire. As the Devonshires already had the magnificent Devonshire House as their residence in Town Burlington House was eventually sold to the Government in the mid 19th century.

The statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds who was the first President of the Royal Academy when it was founded in 1768. He held this position until his death in 1792. Quite why he is wearing a garland of flowers I'm not sure but it does add a nice summery note to things.

There are buildings on three sides of the courtyard and the fourth side has this archway which leads out onto Piccadilly.

Just across the road from Burlington House is one of my favourite London shops - Fortnum and Mason. The Food Hall is an Aladdin's cave of wonderful exotic foods and the most fabulous handmade chocolates. Afternoon tea there is a very pleasant experience too though there's usually quite a queue for a table. It was nearly 5.30pm though so no time to go in there this trip. This is where the unexpected part of the day began, Piccadilly was absolutely seething with people so I turned down Lower Regent St thinking I'd walk down to the bottom and find a quieter Tube station. It's a while since I've been in this part of London and I'd forgotten that if you walk down Lower Regent St and through Waterloo Place you are on the Mall with Admiralty Arch at one end and Buckingham Palace at the other and Horse Guards Parade just over the road. Horse Guards was nearest so I decided to wander over and take a few test photos with my new little camera (would you believe that I forgot to pack my Olympus!!)

Horse Guards is best known these days for being the place where the Trooping of the Colour takes place each June celebrating the official birthday of the Queen. Originally though this was the site of the tiltyard of Whitehall Palace where Henry Vlll himself took part in tournaments. Jousting was one of his favourite pastimes.
Just visible in the background is the London Eye.

Opposite Horse Guards on the edge of St James' Park stands the Guards Memorial which commemorates members of the Foot Guards who have lost their lives fighting for their country - the Foot Guards are the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards,the Irish Guards,the Scots Guards and the Welsh Guards. I actually find this a more impressive and moving memorial than the Cenotaph which stands in Whitehall.

One of the Guards on duty as I walked through Horse Guards onto Whitehall. They are not allowed to speak to anyone when they are on duty but I did ask whether I might take his photograph and received the barest nod of his head in reply.
The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals form the mounted section of the Guards Divison known as the Household Cavalry and are the ones you see escorting the Queen on ceremonial occasions. They are the oldest and most senior regiments in the British Army. This young soldier is in the Blues and Royals,they wear blue tunics and have red plumes to their helmets whereas the Lifeguards have red tunics and white plumes. While on guard duty they carry swords and wear white riding-breeches, known as buckskins, and the tall black leather boots of cavalrymen. They don't only carry out ceremonial duties of course but are also regular soldiers who serve overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

I passed Downing Street with barely a second glance and at the corner of Parliament St I saw this tall tower with a clock at the top - it took me a minute to realise that I was looking up at Big Ben! This photo is really worth enlarging to see the detail of the clock face and the decoration of the tower. The London Eye is in the baxckground once again.

Looking towards the two western towers of Westminster Abbey, there is nearly a thousand years of history here. It's the place where every English and British monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned. The only exceptions are Edward V and Edward Vlll neither of whom had a coronation. It is the burial place of kings and queens,aristocrats, soldiers, politicians, great literary figures and many others. Those buried here include Chaucer, Dickens,Isaac Newton, Sir Laurence Olivier, Lord Byron and perhaps most poignant of all The Unknown Warrior - an unknown British soldier from the First World War who represents all the nameless dead from that dreadful conflict.

The Great North Door of Westminster Abbey, one day I must actually go in through that door and go round the Abbey, in all the years I've been going to London I've never actually been inside.

The final photograph was the most unexpected thing of all, I had absolutely no idea that there was a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Houses of Parliament! He stands on Cromwell Green and has apparently been there since 1895. Regular readers will know that I am not exactly a big fan of Cromwell's! This isn't the side of the Houses of Parliament that everyone is familiar with of course, it is usually photographed or filmed from the Southwark side of the Thames which is the glamorous view. At this point I decided it was finally time to go back to my hotel, it was raining the whole time I was taking these photos so the light was poor and the quality isn't great I'm afraid but I enjoyed my spot of unexpected sightseeing in spite of the weather.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


August 1st is the first of the three Celtic Harvest festivals and is known as Lughnasadh or Lammas. The first fruits of the harvest are ripening now and the weather becomes a crucial factor in the farmer's life as on it depends whether the grain crops can be harvested at their peak.
Lughnasadh is named for Lugh and according to Celtic legend, he decreed that a commemorative feast be held each year at the beginning of the harvest season to honor his foster mother, Tailtiu. Tailtiu was the royal Lady of the Fir Bolg. After the defeat of her people by the Tuatha De Dannan, she was obliged by them to clear a vast forest for the purpose of planting grain. She died of exhaustion in the attempt. The legend states that she was buried beneath a great mound named for her, at the spot where the first feast of Lughnasadh was held in Ireland, the hill of Tailte. At this gathering were held games and contests of skill as well as a great feast made up of the first fruits of the summer harvest.

Rowan berries (at the top) are always the first to ripen and this year they are prolific. Bilberries also are ripe now but the photo is from last year as so far it has been too wet to go picking so I don't know what this year's crop is like. Good I hope as bilberry pie is one of my favourites.

This is a very ancient English folksong usually sung to the tune of 'We plough the fields and scatter'. John Barleycorn is the personification of the cereal crop barley which was very important in the days when beer was drunk by everyone including children. Barley was one of the grains commonly used to make bread and its history goes back to the Stone Age.

There was three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three man made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Then they let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprung up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John he growed a long beard
And so became a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.

Here's little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
And the huntsman he can't hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can't mend kettles or pots
Without a little of Barleycorn.

Let us hope that the rain disappears and the sun shines and that this year's harvest is a successful one.