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.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dreaming of Summer

I'm sure I am not alone in feeling that I have had quite enough of this winter now so I decided that I would think of some of the good things that summer will eventually bring. One of the best things about summer is being able to sit outside in the garden on a perfect summer afternoon. I'm afraid I'm not usually so industrious as the young woman in Arthur Claude Strachan's lovely painting, usually I have a book or some stitching to occupy me. I love this picture of the higgledy piggledy cottage with its thatched roof and the garden full of old-fashioned flowers. You can feel the peace of the scene, the fantail doves cooing contentedly as they search for scraps,the warmth of the afternoon sun and the sound of bees buzzing among the flowers.

On summer afternoons I'm often working in my garden rather than sitting in it of course. As Rudyard Kipling so aptly said
'Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:-" Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade'.

Midsummer brings the old-fashioned roses that I love and fills the garden with their wonderful perfumes. This one is Ferdinand Pichard and my summer dreams include some additions this year, a replacement for Reine des Violettes, which I sadly lost last year, along with Louise Odier and Rosa Mundi.

The fields and hedgerows will hopefully be filled with butterflies and all the myriad other insects that contribute to the beauties of our countryside each in their own way. It may surprise some of you to learn that wasps are among those that contribute. I'm decidedly wary of them having been stung several times with progressively worse reactions each time it happens. Nevertheless they are very useful as they not only pollinate the plants they visit in search of nectar but they also feed their young on many of the insects that we regard as pests. I have to say that another wasp sting isn't actually among my summer dreams though:)

Many creatures are dismissed as 'being no use' when in fact their place in the great web of life is a vital one. I've never forgotten visiting a rehab centre for wild animals at Moholoholo in South Africa and listening to Brian Jones explaining the vital role which that much maligned bird the vulture plays. They are scavengers who dispose quickly of the decaying carcases of wild animals and by doing this prevent the spread of diseases like anthrax and rabies. There are different types of vultures with varying kinds of beaks that do different jobs from tearing open the carcase to picking the bones clean. The less than flattering photo above shows me with a vulture and, believe me, when it lands on your arm looking for its piece of meat you know its there! Clicking will enlarge it so that you can really see the vulture and the huge leather glove I'm wearing. I had to use my left hand to support the other arm so that I could take the weight of the vulture as it landed on me. However I digress, this is not the stuff of pleasant English summer afternoons!

On my doorstep is the Peak District and on lovely summer days I can walk in beautiful places like Edale where the moors are purple with the flowering heather......

.....and it's so hot that dogs need to paddle in moorland streams and quench their thirst with great draughts of cool water and....

.....sheep seek the shade of the drystone walls so typical of this area.

Summer brings weeks spent at our little house on the Lancashire coast where we can wander along the Wyre Estuary watching all the wide variety of birdlife that lives in this special environment of mudflats and saltmarsh. There are specialized wild flowers growing here too - sea asters, sea lavender, glasswort and many others.

An hour's drive and we are in the Lake District with wonderful scenery, delightful villages and interesting places to visit such as Beatrix Potter's old home Hill Top...

...the fantastic topiary gardens of Levens Hall

and lovely old towns like Kirkby Lonsdale which is one of my favourite places, it is full of small,individual and interesting shops and not a chain store in sight. It also has some superb scenery including a view painted by J M W Turner (the artist who painted so many marvellous seascapes including The Fighting Temeraire). It is now known as Ruskin's View as the Victorian art critic John Ruskin called it one of the finest views in England.

This my version and...

...this is the painting by J.M.W.Turner. The river in the picture is the Lune whose name originates in the Celtic word for clear or pure.

Another pleasure of summer is visiting some of the wonderful gardens that we have in this country, the one above is Fanshawgate Hall which is less than a 10 minute drive from where I live. It's privately owned and dates back in parts to the 13th century. The owners, Mr and Mrs Ramsden, open the garden several times each summer and it's well worth seeing.

For me one of the most enjoyable things about summer is that I spend time in Suffolk visiting my younger son and his family which also gives me the chance to explore all the superb medieval churches that Suffolk has in abundance. This one is the church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham.

Suffolk is also awash with beautiful villages,ancient black and white timbered houses and chocolate box cottages that are thatched and painted pink or ochre. This is part of the main street in Kersey.

Best of all there is miles and miles of empty space where you can walk for miles without seeing anything other than wild flowers, birds and, if you are lucky, a hare. There's so much to look forward to - and I'll bet you've almost forgotten it's still winter:)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Lost in the Past

January was a month that I spent very happily delving into the past hence the lack of both posts and comments from me. Towards the end of last year I joined the local history group that has recently started up in Totley and it has made me see my local area from a totally different perspective. We live right on the boundary of two parishes but I've always been drawn much more to Dore which is an attractive little village. Local history has always interested me as my version of family history research involves finding out about the places where my ancestors lived as well as lists of names and dates. Dore has an oral history group but there hasn't been a local history group in this area at all until last year. I've always thought of Totley as being rather dreary and boring with no real character to it. I'm now discovering how wrong I was to dismiss it so lightly. All the photographs will enlarge if you click on them.

We are fortunate to have Brian Edwards living in our area, he is a wonderful artist and also a local historian who has been publishing books filled with his drawings and all kinds of interesting information for many years. The Cricket Inn is still there at the end of a country lane, there are horses in the fields next door and a beautiful old farmhouse opposite.

The real catalyst has been the local history class that started in January and every Friday morning I've been turning up to this and getting more and more engrossed. The most recent session was about Census Returns which I've been familiar with for years but only from a family history point of view. I'm now beginning to realise that the information in them can be used in many other ways too. My plan is to print out the whole of the 1891 census for Totley and follow the Census enumerators route pinpointing exactly who lived where. Happily I have also made a new friend who shares my fascination with the subject and who also shares my enjoyment of walking and we are going to do this together once the weather gets better as it will certainly take at least one full day to do it. A picnic lunch has been mentioned :)
I've known P slightly for some time as her dog Bertie is a friend of B Baggins and we met occasionally in the woods or by the river. We were surprised to see each other at the November History Group meeting but that happened to be the night I put forward my idea of researching the names on the War Memorial and asked whether anyone would be interested in helping. P was one of two people who wanted to join me and hey presto! an acquaintance is now becoming a friend. We are attending the classes together and spent a happy evening last week pouring over local maps.

I've been doing a little more work on my soldiers too but there's a lot more to do yet before we can publish anything. It's proving to be very interesting and,in a couple of cases, not as straightforward as you'd think. The photograph above shows an image of the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval where Tom Brown Fisher is commemorated, he's one of those men who, sadly, have no known grave.

The first local history class was about old photographs and these two were among the examples our tutor gave us, the Cross Scythes still looks just the same apart from not having too many horses and carriages standing outside it these days. The other one shows Totley Rise, the cottages were originally built for the navvies working on building Totley Tunnel and the shop at the top began life as the Tally shop, now it's the local newsagents. When I first came to Totley over 30 years ago many of the cottages had been turned into shops including a butcher( in the same place as the one in the photo but minus the pig and cow carcases hanging outside!), a fresh fish shop, greengrocer,a cobblers, a little haberdashery where I bought all my knitting wool, a chemist, post office and several others. Only the greengrocer,cobbler, chemist and post office are left now. Today the greengrocer is the young lad who worked in the shop on Saturday mornings when my children were young, his mum and dad ran the shop in those days. As for the cottages - don't imagine one little family in each, there were twenty to thirty men living in each of these small houses, they worked 24 hours a day in shifts and as one lot got up and went to work the next lot tumbled into the same beds. The state of these places must have been appalling, there were certainly outbreaks of typhoid, diphtheria, smallpox and scarlet fever though these were partly due to the dreadful working conditions in the tunnel as well as the pretty much total lack of hygiene.

These pages are taken from two Trade Directories which are the equivalent of today's Yellow Pages in the UK, I'm sure there are equivalents in other parts of the world too. They are intriguing to dip into and as well as giving details of the trades and occupations in an area they eventually also listed the names and occupations of most of the heads of households in each street. There was also at the beginning of the entry for each town or village a little description of the area, times of the arrival and despatch of the post and when and where you could catch the carrier's cart or the stage coach along with other intriguing little snippets of information. I found it interesting that between 1833 and 1911 Totley changed from being 'a poor village' to being 'pleasantly situated' - which indeed it is. It might be worth trying to find out the reason behind these statements.

This is the 1876 Ordnance Survey map showing the village of Totley as it was then with the main orientation of the village running from north to south. Those roads are still country lanes and the orientation of Totley has changed completely with almost all the houses and shops now on either side of the road running from east to west. This is now a busy road and one of the main routes out of Sheffield into Derbyshire. It was originally opened in the early 1800s as the Greenhill to Baslow Turnpike. It's only in the last couple of years that I've discovered the layout of the original village.
The school to the left of the word 'Totley' is the one my children went to and it is still going strong. The original School built in 1824 still exists as a private house but the current school dates from 1877.

This map is from 1923 and the site of my house lies in the field numbered 702. The line of trees between the fields and the building plots is still there and three of those trees are in my garden. The single tree just above the line is the oak tree that is also still alive and well in my garden. This afternoon it had a greater spotted woodpecker, a treecreeper and two nuthatches running up and down it all at the same time. It shaded my baby daughter one hot summer when she had mumps and I made her a little makeshift bed outdoors, all my babies slept in their prams under it and then when they were older they all climbed in it and finally four years ago one of them got married under it so there is quite a lot of personal local history connected with that little dot on the map.

Family history hasn't been forgotten in all the excitement of local history, now that all the London Parish Registers are coming online on the site I've been having a lovely time delving further into my husband's family and have added a fair amount of information since Christmas. They lived in the City of London (the Square Mile) for several generations and I plan in the Spring to go and visit and photograph some of the churches where they were hatched, matched and despatched. St Botolph's, Bishopsgate has strong family connections and is an interesting church as well. The poet John Keats was christened there and another ancestor of my husband was christened in the church which Samuel Pepys attended and where he is buried - St
Olav Hart St. I think you'll be reading more about these later this year!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Favourite song MeMe

Bovey Belle from Codlins and Cream has asked me to do a MeMe for my favourite song, there are a lot of candidates really - it depends mostly on what mood I'm in. This one though I've always loved, not the words especially but the sound - that great saxophone and the incredible guitar solo really do things to me and it might not be what most of you are expecting! You'll need to copy and paste the url because I don't know how to link to YouTube. Here it is

Listen and see if that saxophone doesn't send shivers down your spine:)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Fair Maids of February

One month is past, another is begun,
Since merry bells rung out the dying year,
And buds of rarest green began to peer,
As if impatient for a warmer sun;
And though the distant hills are bleak and dun,
The virgin snowdrop like a lambent fire,
Pierces the cold earth with its green-streaked spire
And in dark woods, the wandering little one
May find a primrose.

Hartley Coleridge

I took the photograph of the snow drops in my garden this morning and thought that the words of this poem were perfect for it. One of their country names is 'Fair Maids of February' and they are also known as 'Candlemas Bells'. February 2nd is Imbolc/ Candlemas Day and it marks the halfway point between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The old saying about this day is:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
winter will have another flight,
If on Candlemas day it be shower and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.

There has been a little sunshine but mostly we have had cloud and rain so it looks as though the worst is behind us:) Certainly the days will begin to get noticeably longer now as the Great Wheel slowly turns and we move towards the Spring.

The last line of the poem made me wonder whether there were any primroses visible and to my surprise a search produced the double white flowers of Primula 'Marie Crousse' in a sheltered corner. Not the lovely wild primroses that Coleridge was speaking of but a cheering sight nevertheless.

Close by I caught sight of the first deep pink flower of this Lenten Rose - Helleborus orientalis. It's time I cut back last year's leaf stems so that the flowers can be seen properly, I wasn't expecting to see flowers this early after such a long,cold snowy period.

I took my little camera with me when B Baggins and I went to the woods this morning, I wondered whether there were any signs of Spring visible yet. You have to look carefully but they are certainly there, these are the male hazel catkins still tightly closed. You can really see why they get the country name of lamb's tails.

A few tiny buds of pussy willow sparkling with raindrops.

These are the tiny new leaves of the wild honeysuckle, the woods are full of it and in the early summer when it flowers the scent is wonderful.

Amazingly the bluebells are already pushing through the brown carpet of dead leaves, the more you look the more you can see. Ecclehall Woods are anciant woodland and in late April/early May the woodland floor is a carpet of blue.

I caught sight of these new leaves of the hart's tongue fern as we crossed the river on our way out of the woods, it isn't the greatest photo but I was peering over the top of a high muddy bank and trying not to fall head first into the river. If it hadn't been so muddy and slippery I could have got nearer and got a better shot but there you go - sometimes you just have to do the best you can!

And lastly, came cold February, sitting
In an old wagon, for he could not ride;
Drawne of two fishes for the season fitting,
Which through the flood before did softly slyde
And swim away: yet had he by his side
His plough and harnesse fit to till the ground,
And tooles to prune the trees, before the pride
Of hasting Prime did make them burgein round:
So past the twelue Months forth, and their dew places found.
from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (1552-1559)