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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


April's Charms

When April scatters charms of primrose gold
Among the copper leaves in thickets old,
And singing skylarks from the meadows rise,
To twinkle like black stars in sunny skies;

When I can hear the small woodpecker ring
Time on a tree for all the birds that sing;
And hear the pleasant cuckoo, loud and long --
The simple bird that thinks two notes a song;

When I can hear the woodland brook, that could
Not drown a babe, with all his threatening mood;
Upon these banks the violets make their home,
And let a few small strawberry blossoms come:

When I go forth on such a pleasant day,
One breath outdoors takes all my cares away;
It goes like heavy smoke, when flames take hold
Of wood that's green and fill a grate with gold.

William Henry Davies

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Miscellany

A little bit of catching up here as I never did the Sunday bit of last weekend - we went to the Museum of East Anglian Life which could easily have the word 'rural' in its title as that is what East Anglia basically still is. There have always been a lot of Romani travellers in Suffolk and the museum has a small exhibit about them including some fascinating recordings by an old Romani lady telling about their way of life including some interesting bits about the herbal remedies that they made and used. Above is a traditional bender tent which is what the gypsy people lived in until the mid-19th century when the traditional vardo (caravan) started to be used. The benders were made from a framework of saplings tied at the top and covered in canvas which was held down by stones.

The interior of a vardo showing how highly decorated they were - this one could use a little bit of restoration! They look small but the gypsy people lived an outdoor life so needed only a place to sleep.

I find the Romani people very interesting, they carry a huge fund of knowledge of the natural world and especially the uses of herbs. My interest is increased by a family legend that my grandmother had some gypsy blood. I have no idea whether there is any truth in this but I can certainly see why people would think it was so. My dad also had her jet black hair,high cheekbones and swarthy skin. I got the high cheekbones and fairly dark skin but not,unfortunately,the black hair.

However, back to the Museum, this is one of the room settings, a lovely cottage kitchen. Though not so lovely if you actually had to use it. My gran (the one in the photo above) had something similar but smaller with a cold water tap, a shallow stone sink and a big mangle in it. She did have a gas stove though the old range still provided the heat in the little living room. This is getting bad, I keep wandering off the subject!

This fabulous old machine is a chaff cutter which would have been powered by a steam engine. It cuts straw chaff, hay and oats into very small pieces, it is then mixed with chopped mangolds, swedes, sugar beet pulp and is given to the cattle and horses. The straw is much easier for them to digest when it is cut small so they gain more nourishment from it. This information all came from the man who owned and was restoring it. Cesca and I were standing by it making all kinds of unlikely guesses as to what it was for and I don't think we'd have come up with the right answer if we'd stood there for the rest of the day.

Gabriel and his other granny standing by one of the steam rollers - Gabriel looking rather doubtful about the whole thing:) I remember quite clearly when these were a common sight wherever the roadmenders were at work. I used to love the smell of the tarmac - still do but usually they only patch the roads up these days instead of replacing whole sections so there isn't much tarmac to smell.

George looking highly unimpressed by his brother's driving skills!

On Tuesday Steve, Hannah, Kaitlyn and Lucy came over for the afternoon and we went to Padley Gorge for a walk. The wind was bitter on the road above but once we dropped down into the trees it was fine. This is the Burbage Brook which runs through the gorge, once forming part of the boundary between Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Hannah, Kaitlyn and Lucy ( yes, she is in there!) striding out along the rocky path through the woodland which is mainly oak and birch with alder along the river.

It was difficult to take a photo that gave any real impression of the steep sides of Padley Gorge. Some parts of the path are very steep indeed especially if you aren't quite three yet. Kaitlyn walked the whole way holding my hand on the very steep parts while Steve helped Hannah who had Lucy strapped to her in a Hugabub. There were one or two very muddy patches which I carried her over but that was because she only had ordinary shoes on rather than wellingtons. No whingeing either - a real little trooper. We pretended we were intrepid explorers :)

My evenings have been spent finishing this blanket for Lucy. Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while may have a sense of deja-vu and you'd be right, you have seen it before. This is the fourth time I've done this pattern, one for each grandchild but a different colour for each. To be honest this has taken ages, I feel as though I've been knitting it for years! There are 48 small squares in it as well as the border so the sewing took nearly as long as the knitting. I'm going to make something really, really small next - I have in mind a dishcloth. Watch this space!

And finally, I was researching on Google for a detour I have in mind as I go down to Sussex later this year. I can't remember how long it took me last time to get from Avebury to Winchester so was trying to get some clues and came across this little gem which made me laugh:

Arthur Tour to mysterious southwest England
Meeting time 12.00 noon. He will take you to Winchester in his tour bus. ... probably built around 3000 BC)

Now that's a trip I'd like to take - King Arthur as guide and a 5000 year old tour bus :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Fun Weekend - Saturday

I spent Mother's Day weekend in Suffolk with Neil, Francesca, Gabriel and George. On Saturday afternoon Neil and I took Gabriel into Bury St Edmunds so that Cesca could have a rare opportunity to relax. We went into the Abbey gardens and played football.

Then we walked by the river - Bury has two rivers both with delightful names, this one is the River Lark and on the outskirts of the town it has a tributary called the River Linnet.They must be among the prettiest river names in England. This is the Abbot's Bridge which dates back to the 12th century.

We went in the play area and rode on a sealion....

.... and had lots of fun on the swing.

We tried to make friends with some ducks but they were rather reluctant!

The American airman who donated the rose garden wrote a book called Suffolk Summer about his explorations of Suffolk when he was stationed at Lavenham and then Bury St Edmonds. I bought a copy on my first visit to Bury many years ago so I'm very familiar with the name on the plaque.

Gabriel and Alfie Bear sitting on a memorial bench donated by the USAAF and made from the wing of a B17 Flying Fortress bomber.

St James church which is now the cathedral of Bury St Edmunds but it was originally the parish church for the ordinary people of the town thus leaving the now ruined Abbey church exclusively for the monks. Bury St Edmunds Abbey was once a great Benedictine monastery, one of the richest in England.

We went inside and found that the Suffolk Sinfonia were rehearsing for a concert to be held on Saturday evening, we sat and listened and we all, including Gabriel,really enjoyed it. We went right up to the orchestra and Gabriel was fascinated by all the musical instruments especially the big drums and the double basses.

Finally we had to walk down the side of the Norman Tower built between 1120 and 1148 and one of the two great gateways into the Abbey. It was time to leave the gardens to go and buy a very special card for a very special mummy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bee! I'm expecting you!

A close encounter with a beautiful big bumble bee earlier this week suddenly made it feel as though early summer isn't all that far away after all. One of my summer pleasures is to sit in the garden and listen to the busy hum of the bees as they work at collecting nectar from my flowers. I find it a relaxing tranquil sound even though it indicates great industry on their part. I like bees, they are friendly comfortable creatures and only sting as a last resort unlike wasps. If a bee stings it dies so it isn't an option that they take unless they feel very threatened. There are two little pieces connected with bees that I really like, this poem....

Bee! I'm expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due --

The Frogs got Home last Week --
Are settled, and at work --
Birds, mostly back --
The Clover warm and thick --

You'll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me --
Yours, Fly.

by Emily Dickinson

....and the song sung by Ariel in Shakespeare's play 'The Tempest'

Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

-- William Shakespeare

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lavenham - A Medieval Suffolk Town Part 2

Part 2 - The Town

In the Medieval period Lavenham was one of the wealthiest towns in England, richer even than cities like Lincoln and York.This wealth all came from the production of woollen cloth especially the broadcloth known as Lavenham blue. The phrase 'dyed in the wool' originates from the practice of dying the wool before it was woven and Lavenham blue was the result of dyeing with woad. In the early Middle Ages English wool was exported to Flanders and woven into cloth there then re-imported but in the 14th century Flemish weavers came to England and some settled in Lavenham and that is when things really took off. The famous Lavenham blue broadcloth was exported all over Europe.
The photo above is of the Guildhall of the Guild of Corpus Christi built in the 1520s and the only survivor of the four original Guildhalls in Lavenham. It was where the Merchant Clothiers met and governed every part of the local wool trade. When the Guilds were dissolved at the Reformation the Guildhall became the Town Hall for the next 100 years and then had an even more chequered history as a prison, a workhouse, an almshouse and a wool store. In WW2 it housed evacuees and served as the 'Welcome Club' for members of the US Air Force stationed in and around Lavenham. Now it is run by the National Trust as a tea room and museum.

The Wool Hall is also a former Guild Hall but it was dismantled in 1911. It was eventually saved by a local clergyman and re-erected in its original position and now forms part of The Swan Inn. So I suppose that strictly speaking there are two surviving Guild Halls but because of all the messing about it doesn't quite count for me.

Attached to one end of the Guildhall next to the entrance to the present day tearooms is this rare example of an original Tudor shop. Goods would be traded through the two arched windows (which I suspect would have been unglazed at that time) and at night the wooden shutters would be closed to secure the shop. Both the bottom shutters are still there but only one remains at the top.

At the back of the Guildhall is a lovely, tranquil little Dye Garden which I had entirely to myself the day I was there. I suspect a lot of people don't even realise that it exists.

This board shows all the dye plants that are grown in the garden, it's a fascinating place.

The back of the Guildhall holds still more intriguing sights for those who explore - this is the 19th century parish lock-up.....

.....and the parish mortuary!

The increasing prosperity of the wool trade brought more and more people to Lavenham and almost all the timbered buildings in the town date from between 1450 and 1500. They are crammed in all over the place and are all shapes and sizes. This is the High Street which is the main road through Lavenham.

The Angel Inn was first licensed in 1420, the original inn has been added to over the centuries and the outside was plastered over in the 18th century.

Until the mid-18th Century there was a weekly market held in the Market Place and four times a year there was a fair which I imagine drew people from miles around and a jolly good time was had by all. This is the Market Cross put up in 1501 with money left by a local merchant called William Jacob. Behind it stands the market toll-keepers cottage all by itself in the middle of the square - it is now an Estate Agents!

Everywhere you look there are the most beautiful old buildings. I love this one, I think it's the de Vere house which presumably belonged to the de Vere family who were the local Lords of the Manor. Whoever had it built was certainly very wealthy as it has a brick infill done in a herringbone pattern rather than the usual wattle and daub.

In Lavenham we are not just talking about one or two ancient houses but streets and streets of them, it is known as the finest medieval town in England.

This is Water Street, 500 years ago the stream that still runs under here was culverted and the houses built over the top.

Finally this lovely weather vane with a beautiful Suffolk Punch horse on it. The Suffolk Punches are wonderful, wonderful horses, huge, powerful and gentle and, sadly, an endangered breed now. Of all the heavy horse breeds these are my favourites.
Clicking on any of the photographs will enlarge them and some, like the de Vere house are worth looking at more closely. Lavenham is a fascinating place and well worth a visit if you ever get the chance. I certainly intend going again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lavenham - A Medieval Suffolk Town Part 1


I've intended to do this post on Lavenham ever since my visit there last September so I thought I'd better get on with it before any more time passes! All the photos will enlarge if you click on them.
The parish church of St Peter and St Paul at Lavenham is one of the finest in England. The building of it was funded largely by the local Lord of the Manor John de Vere, the 13th Earl of Oxford and several local wealthy cloth merchants especially Thomas Spring. John de Vere wanted to build the church in thanksgiving for his safe return after the Battle of Bosworth during the Wars of the Roses. He was one of the chief commanders on the Lancastrian side which, happily for him and very possibly thanks to him, was also the winning side. The building began in 1486 on the site of an earlier church of which only the chancel remains. The church stands on the top of a hill and can be seen from miles around.

This is the magnificent South Porch - the shields above the entrance bear the de Vere coat of arms and the two figures in the central niche are St Peter and St Paul to whom the church is dedicated.

The nave is really beautiful with its wonderfully carved arcades which are a real testament to the skill and artistry of the stone masons who made them nearly 500 years ago. The chancel screen dates to the mid 14th century and has had a somewhat chequered history. Many churches suffered damage and neglect after the Reformation and then a century later during the period when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England. His troops did irreparable damage to many churches during the time of the Commonwealth (1649-1660). It is rumoured that at one stage the rood screen doors formed part of the churchwarden's pig pen before being restored to their original position in the early 20th century!

Some of the beautifully carved misericords in the choir including the one on the left which is known as 'the pelican in her piety'. A misericord is a kind of shelf on the underside of a seat which gave some support to elderly or infirm clergymen during long periods of standing during services.

The Copinger Memorial which I think is rather splendid. Henry Copinger was Rector of Lavenham from 1578 to 1622. The memorial shows a lot of detail - Henry and his wife are kneeling at a prayer desk and are wearing typical Puritan clothing in black and white. Below them are their children, 7 sons and 4 daughters. A son and a daughter are holding skulls and this symbolises the fact that they died before their father, and the eldest son has an infant at his knees. Part of the monuments inscription reads that "His most beloved wife, Ann, and unwilling survivor erected in her sorrow this monument of love and devotion"

The lovely old 14th century font.

In the south west corner of the south aisle is this memorial plaque to members of the 487th Bomb Group of the US Army Air Force who were based at Lavenham Airfield from 1944 and flew the famous Flying Fortress bombers on over 6000 sorties from here losing many brave young men as a result.

It occurs to me that there might be someone reading this who had family members serving with the 487th so I am putting two photographs up of the Roll of Honour of those who lost their lives - both are quite readable if you click on them.

This is the righthand page which isn't very clear in the first photo because of the way the light was shining in. The young men who gave their lives are still remembered and honoured in the UK.