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.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Taking a Break

I am going to have to take a break from blogging, my husband was taken into hospotal last Tuesday night and is undergoing tests. I'm finding it hard to concentrate on anything else so thought I had better say why there have been neither posts nor comments from me recently. Hopefully all will turn out well and I shall be back soon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plague Village

This is something that I intended posting during last summer after an outing with Neil,Cesca and Gabriel to the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, it's about 20/25 minutes drive from our house and has a sad but inspiring history. I'm sure that you will have heard of the Great Plague of London in 1665 when a fifth of the population of the city died. It wasn't just London that suffered however, a great many other areas of England were ravaged by the Plague. It came to Eyam in September 1665 carried in a bolt of cloth which was delivered to the local tailor. Three weeks later there had been six deaths in four nearby cottages. In October there were 23 more victims and 270 people had died out of a population of 800 when the final death occurred in October 1666. Amazingly the disease didn't go beyond the boundaries of Eyam thanks to the courage of the villagers led by their rector, William Mompesson. They decided on a self-imposed quarantine with no-one leaving or entering the village, the church was closed and all services were held in the open air and finally there were to be no formal funerals or burials in the churchyard. Each family would bury its own dead, as quickly as posssible, close to home in their fields, gardens or orchards. They believed that unburied corpses were a serious hazard to the living. I think they were probably right!

These are known as The Plague Cottages and are where the first victims lived and died.

The plaque outside one of the cottages where the entire family died. Clicking on the photo will enable you to read it.

Riley's Graves - the site of the graves of the Hancock family who are commemorated on the plaque in the photo at the beginning of this post. It is quite a long walk up a pleasant lane to the graves. Their cottage was nearby, a little way outside the main village and here Mary Hancock dug the graves for and buried her husband and six children within the space of a week. She herself survived and eventually went to live in Sheffield with her one surviving child, an adult son who was an apprentice cutler there. Most of the burial sites have long since disappeared as no markers were ever put up.

Neil and Cesca reading the inscriptions on the gravestones.

The self-imposed quarantine was supported by surrounding villages and by the Earl of Devonshire who lived at nearby Chatsworth House. The Earl donated food and medical supplies and these, along with things supplied by the villages were left at The Boundary Stone on the moor above the village to be collected by the people of Eyam later. Payment was left in the holes in the Boundary Stone which were filled with vinegar which was thought to disinfect the coins.

About a mile outside the village on the road to Grindleford and Sheffield is Mompesson's Well which was another place where supplies were left. Here the payment was left in the running water which was also thought to cleanse it of the 'seeds of the plague'.

This information board by the well has a map which gives an idea of the position of the various sites. More clicking necessary to read it of course.

Eyam has other interesting things to see as well. This Celtic Cross stands in the churchyard and dates back to around the 8th century. It is in it's original position and is one of only 50 or so that survive in England.

This wonderful old sundial dates back to 1775 and stands above the priest's door on the south side of the church.

A close up of the dial which is absolutely fascinating. It shows not only local time but also noon in various places around the world.

The font dates back to Saxon times and the original foundation of the church.

There is quite a lot of medieval wall painting visible including this rather gruesome one which is presumably a reminder of things to come.

A closer view of the skeleton for those who are interested!

The tomb of Catherine Mompesson, wife of William, who died in August 1666 having worked tirelessly visiting the sick and dying. Hers is the only known plague grave in the churchyard and she was buried there by special arrangement in spite of the ban on churchyard burials. Once a year on Plague Sunday (the last Sunday in August) the wife of the current rector places a wreath of red flowers on the grave commemorating both the outbreak of the plague and the actual burial of Catherine.

A reminder of a rather less spiritual pastime of the villagers in centuries gone by - the old bull ring. The plaque explains its purpose.

The lovely view from the burial ground of the Hancock family - and a final little snippet of information. The well-known old nursery rhyme 'Ring a Ring of Roses' originates from the days of the plague -

Ring a ring of roses
A pocketful of posies
Atishoo Atishoo
We all fall down

One of the first signs of the plague was a ring of rose-coloured spots, and a posy of sweet smelling herbs was thought to give protection against plague. Sneezing was taken as a sure sign that you were about to die of it, and the last line "We all fall down" omits the word, "dead"!

A sobering thought!

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Home Front

There is a discussion on a forum that I'm on at the moment about diaries and books from and about WW2 which are centred on The Home Front. This has been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember and I have a huge collection of original magazines and books from the period along with modern publications on the subject too. I also have the two series that were on TV on video - The 1940s House which is the official version and The Wartime Kitchen and Garden which is my favourite of the two and which I had the foresight to video week by week thank goodness as it was never issued as a video or DVD. Heaven knows why not as there is a great deal of interest in the period as is obvious from all the re-enactment groups and railway 'wartime weekends'.
I thought it might be quite interesting to share some of my collection on here, I'm not sure where this is going so it might be long or short:) Most of the photos are a bit faint and fuzzy so clicking on them will make them clearer especially where there is writing.

This is where it all started, in 1975 we were living in Saffron Walden in Essex and on a visit to a rather nice secondhand shop(looking for a high chair I think)I came across a large cardboard box full of wartime Woman's Illustrated magazines, about 250 altogether, I parted with £5 and DH staggered out carrying the box. The magazines dated from 1939 to early 1946 and apart from a few gaps it's a complete run of the wartime issues and absolutely fascinating stuff it is too. The further into the war they go the more inventive are the recipes and the make do and mend articles. There never seems to be any doubt about the final outcome even in the darkest days.

Once I had these collector's fever bit and I acquired more and more over the years. This photo shows the inside pages of three others - Everywoman April 1943, Mother & Home August 1941 and Woman's Friend & Ladies Companion for Nov 16th 1940.

Food was an ever present challenge to the ingenuity of housewives, ration quantities varied slightly during the war but an average per person was

4oz/100g ham or bacon
1s/2d worth of meat(this is in the old money before decimal currency came in) - the cheaper cuts of meat provided more, sausages weren't rationed but the contents were a mystery to everyone which was probably just as well!
2oz/50g butter
2oz/50g cheese
4oz/100g margerine
2oz/100g cooking fat
80z/225g sugar (this had to cover baking, jam making etc as well as general table use)
3 pints milk
1 egg
2oz/50g tea
12oz/350g sweets every 4 weeks

This, you understand,was per week! Other foods, including tinned meat and fruit, dried fruit, dried pulses, were available on a points system. Everyone had 16 points per month. The photo shows the identity cards and ration books belonging to my husband and mother-in-law, rationing didn't end until 1954 and I remember quite clearly going to Mrs Connor's corner shop with our ration books. When rationing began in 1940 everyone had to register with a butcher, a grocer and a milkman and that was the only shop/deliveryman you could use for these items.

Some of my cookery and other household books - stewed tripe with celery anyone?

I like this little set of leaflets issued by the Women's Electrical Association, they combine my interest in the Home Front with my passion for anything set out in seasons.Each of these cards gives several recipes, a make do and mend item and various other hints to do with fuel/electricity and food production .

I particularly like this rather battered looking book. It obviously had a good deal of use and inside....

...were all these handwritten bits and pieces that are a really personal contact with someone's life. Especially the note:) Do click on it and read it.

These are some of the wartime diaries, all are well worth reading. They are all written by women who come from various backgrounds and the insight into their daily lives is fascinating. Mrs Milburn is a well to do middleclass housewife with a POW son, Nella Last is from Barrow-in-Furness which was once had a great shipbuilding industry, she is the wife of a self-employed carpenter. This is the book that Victoria Wood's TV drama 'Housewife, 49' was based on. Betty is a widowed, ex- theatrical dresser living in East Anglia and a practical, down to earth, let's get on with it type. Katharine Moore is married teacher and a pacifist. These books give a wide variety of experiences of the war but the one thing they all have in common is the complete confidence that we would eventually win.

The photo at the top some of you may have seen before, it's one of me at a Millenium New Year party where we had to come dressed in period costume of some sort. My suit, fox fur and handbag are all genuine. The gas mask case is my own bit of 'make do and mend'. Johnny came as 'One of the Few' so we had to have this photo taken together:)