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.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fleet St to The Strand

This is yet another of Sir Christopher Wren's London churches - St Bride's, Fleet St. It's often known as the Wedding Cake church because the spire is said to be the inspiration for the tiered wedding cakes that have graced so many wedding receptions over the years. Samuel Pepys lived nearby as a child and he and his eight brothers and sisters were all baptized here. St Bride's was another victim of the bombing on December 29th 1940. Firebombs reduced it to a shell and only the spire and the outer walls remain from Wren's church. As ever you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

The interior was rebuilt after the war using Wren's original plans and the church is now light and pleasant and has a well known choir who were practising when I went in. I didn't go right into the church because of this.

Instead I went down into the crypt where there is a fascinating museum. The first church on this site was built in the 6th century and before that there had been a Roman building, you can see a section of Roman pavement and remains of all the churches that have stood here over the last 1500 years - archaeologists discovered all this during excavations done when St Bride's was being rebuilt in the 1960s. The crypt was, of course, originally a medieval charnel house and the bones of several thousand people are still there in a bricked up chamber.

On that rather gruesome note we'll move on to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, this famous old pub has been here since 1667 when it replaced the original inn which was burned down in the Great Fire. Unfortunately it is closed on Sundays so I wasn't able to get any photos of the interior which I gather is well worth seeing. Among those who frequented the Cheshire Cheese in their time are Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and US President  Theodore  Roosevelt. This view is of the side entrance which is on a narrow alley leading off Fleet St.

When you turn into the alley called Wine Office Court you will see this sign fixed on to the wall of the Cheshire Cheese. Dr Johnson's advice is very sound, exploring the little alleys and courts leads to all kinds of interesting discoveries.

Wine Office Court opens out into Gough Square where Dr Johnson lived. He was the author of the very first English Dictionary published in 1755. This is a memorial to his cat Hodge ' a very fine cat indeed'. Regrettably the best photo of Hodge is also graced by my shadow:) Dr Johnson's house was covered in scaffolding and closed for renovations so what with that and the Cheshire Cheese being closed I think another visit to Fleet St on a Saturday is indicated!

Another reason to return to Fleet St. This is the entrance to the Temple church which is open between 1pm and 4pm Sunday afternoons and it was much later than that by the time I passed by.   I would really love to go in here, it was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century and I believe there are some wonderful 13th century effigies inside. It featured in the Da Vinci Code too. It's no use - I've just got to go London again!

"Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clement's"
The spire of St Clement Danes which stands on a little island in the middle of the Strand. The bells of this church ring out the tune of the old nursery rhyme. St Clement's was another victim of the Blitz and all except one of the bells had to be recast. The sole survivor was the Sanctus Bell which was cast in 1588 and it is still ringing out over London 400 years later.

I don't know how well the name Twinings is known overseas but in the UK it's been associated with high quality tea for over 300 years. Thomas Twining (1675-1741) founded Twinings by purchasing the original Toms Coffee House at the back of this site in 1706, where he introduced tea. In 1717 he opened the Golden Lyon here as a shop to sell tea and coffee and Twinings has been been here ever since.

Thomas Twining's grandson was responsible for the building of this doorway which incorporated the golden lion symbol. You can also see the Royal Warrant - Twinings are suppliers of tea and coffee to the Queen.
By this time it was 6pm and  I'd been walking since 9am with just a short break to have some lunch so I turned up Chancery Lane and made my way back to my hotel in Bloomsbury for a nice refreshing shower  and then a leisurely dinner.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Square Mile and Beyond

This is yet another post about my visit to London last year, I thought I'd better try and get the rest of them done before I go away in a couple of weeks. I use my blog as a record of places I've visited and things I've done so this is for my benefit really while I can still remember it:) It's worth clicking on many of the photographs as you will see much more detail that way.

The area around St Paul's Cathedral is always busy whatever the season or day of the week but if you walk round to the back you will find yourself in the quiet oasis of Paternoster Square. Prior to WW2 a street called Paternoster Row stood here, it was the centre of the London publishing trade and had been since the early eighteenth century. However on the night of December 29th 1940 the whole of this area was devastated during the Blitz and the offices and stores of twenty-seven publishing firms were destroyed and several million books went up in flames. Paternoster Square was part of the post war rebuilding programme and the elegant Corinthian coloumn you can see in the photo above is, I believe,  a memorial to the books that were lost.

This famous photograph of St Paul's Cathedral was taken on the same night that Paternoster Row was destroyed.

 Paternoster Square is now home to  the original Temple Bar a stone arch built of Portland stone completed in 1672 and reputedly designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Temple Bar was one of the entrances or gates through which people and traffic had to pass into the City. If you look you can see the gates (replicas I should think) which were closed at curfew every night. It originally stood where Fleet Street now meets the Strand, the photograph at the beginning of an earlier post shows the dragon that marks the boundary these days.

I don't suppose that Smithfield is the first place you'd think of heading to after leaving the area around St Paul's but if you pass under Temple Bar, cross Newgate St and walk down King Edward St and Little Britain you will eventually see this lovely old building. It is the entrance to one of London's hidden gems - The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great. The stone archway was the entrance to the south aisle of the original 13th century church. This part of the church was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries but the choir and transepts were allowed to remain as the parish church.

This is the other side of the gateway showing the back of the little Tudor house that was built on top of the original stone archway in 1559. It was one of the few timber-framed buildings to survive The Great Fire of London. I love this little house.

The font dates from 1405 and the painter William Hogarth was baptized here in 1697. His works include The Rake's Progress and Marriage a la Mode, he is very famous and much admired but not by me:) The architect Inigo Jones was also baptized here in 1573.

This is the tomb of Prior Rahere, former courtier and minstrel to Henry I, who founded an Augustinian priory on this site in 1123.At the same time he founded a hospital for the sick poor nearby and that became the world famous St Bartholomew's Hospital. Better known as Bart's, it still stands on its original site and is the oldest hospital in London.

Part of the original cloister still survives and is now in use as a small cafe which was unfortunately closed during my visit - it was a very hot day and a cold drink would have been welcome.

St Bartholomew's has one of the finest Norman interiors in London, this is the ambulatory with its wonderful Norman pillars and vaulted ceiling. It encircles the main body of the church, the high altar is on the right and the entrance to the Lady Chapel is on the left. The church has had a somewhat chequered history over the years and at one point the Lady Chapel housed a printers where Benjamin Franklin, one of the men who drafted the American Declaration of Independence, was employed.

To north  side of St Bartholomew's is a street called Cloth Fair once the site of the  St Bartholomew Fair which was one of the great annual events of medieval London and a source of considerable income for the Priory from tolls levied on the goods for sale. Originally the fair was just for clothiers and drapers (from which came the name Cloth Fair) but after the Dissolution the fair moved into Smithfield and became a more of a funfair with a very dubious reputation. It was finally closed down in 1855 because it 'encouraged debauchery and disorder' - so much for the Good Old Days! The two houses in the photo are Nos 41 & 42 Cloth Fair built between 1592 and 1614 and they too are survivors of the Fire of London.

I think that quite a lot of people know that the Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane near the Monument but I wonder how many are aware of this monument marking the place where it finally burned itself out? This is the junction of Cock Lane and Giltspur St and originally the monument was fixed to the front of an ancient pub called The Fortune of War which was demolished in 1910. I had no idea it existed until I walked past it and stopped to read the inscriptions.

This is close up of The Golden Boy, you will need to click on the photo and also the one below if you want to read the words of the inscription.

This is well worth enlarging and reading! Bear in mind that both the churchyard and Barts Hospital are very close by - Barts is literally just across the road.

If you walk down to the bottom of Giltspur St you are back on Newgate with the Old Bailey opposite. This is the Central Criminal Court of England, it was built in the early 1900s and stands on the site of the infamous Newgate Prison. To the right of the modern building is the street called Old Bailey and it is here that public executions took place until 1868. These executions drew huge crowds and they were regarded as a source of considerable entertainment.

The golden statue of Justice on the top of the Old Bailey, she carries a double edged sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left. A walk down Old Bailey will bring us back onto Lugate Hill where we turn right and head towards Fleet St but that had better be for next time:)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wood and Garden

With apologies to Gertrude Jekyll for borrowing one of her book titles:) I took these photos earlier this week so that I can actually show you some little bits of Spring rather than just talking about it. The strong winds that we've had have brought out many of the early wind pollinated plants and trees. The pussy willow looks beautiful with the sun shining on it and you can see a piece of the bud's protective casing still clinging on here.

The tightly furled hazel catkins have turned into lamb's tails now and if you look carefully you can see the tiny red female flower tucked into the angle between the catkins and the branch. You will need to click on the photo to be able to see it unless your vision is a good deal better than mine.

I've mentioned in previous posts that the Limb Brook which flows through Eccleshall Woods formed the ancient boundary between the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria and later between Derbyshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The area is full of small streams which flow down from the moors and into the Limb Brook and other local rivers. This pretty little stone bridge carries the path over one of the steams at the point where it joins the Limb Brook.

This little stream is always stained  red by the ferrous iron which lies in a disused coal seam under the fields near the woods. At least I think that is what my DH meant when I asked what caused it. He has a degree in geography with geology as a second subject and he used a lot of long complicated words which he obviously thought that any fool would understand. After he'd said it all three times I decided I'd better not ask again:)

Snowdrops flowering in my front garden, the large group on the left of the photo are a lovely double snowdrop, I was given five bulbs many years ago by a gardening friend who has written several books on the subject, he told me that they are called 'Ophelia' though I've never come across a snowdrop of this name in any bulb catalogues.

As I got in the car on my way to the woods I caught a glimpse of yellow among the snowdrops and there they were - the first lovely bright yellow crocuses.

Another surprise in the small bed opposite my back door, I always forget these pushkinias are there until the leaves start pushing through. They have a beautiful delicate sky blue stripe on the backs of the petals, clickon the photo and have a closer look.

Another surprise, these were planted a few years ago and I think they are called 'Queen of the Blues'. They are very early for a Dutch crocus, I think being tucked away under piles of dead leaves might have brought them on a bit.

I know that this is looking rather boring at the moment, it's the little woodland area at the bottom of my garden and in a few weeks it will be a sheet of gold, these are the leaves of lesser celandine coming through the bare earth. They were there long before our house was built when this area was a shady hedgerow path through the fields.

In a recent post (Gardening in January) I showed a patch of woodland with the spears of snowdrops which had been buried deep under dead leaves so deep that some of the spears were yellow rather than green from lack of light. Here it is looking rather better now, still not exactly a swathe of white but definitely showing promise. From now on things will gather pace and more and more shoots and buds and flowers  will start appearing, the weather may still have a good deal to throw at us  -  rain, wind, frost and quite possibly snow but also there will be days with blue skies and sunshine and one day soon we shall feel the heat of the sun on our backs again.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

February Filldyke

February Filldyke is certainly living up to its reputation this afternoon and looks as though it is going to try even harder over the next couple of days! Still the old saying is

'If February brings no rain
Tis neither good for grass nor grain'.

The painting above is called February Filldyke and is by an artist called Benjamin William Leader (1831-1923). It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 to what was,I gather,a less than enthusiastic reception! Personally I like it a lot, it's very atmospheric.

I love this illustration from the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The Tres Riches Heures is a beautiful medieval Book of Hours part of which is a calendar illustrated with scenes of daily life in the village. In February we see people warming themselves by the fire in the farmhouse, a man chopping wood and another man driving a heavily laden donkey towards the village. The detail is exquisite and the more you look the more you see. Surmounting each monthly picture is a hemisphere containing the chariot of the sun and the appropriate sign of the Zodiac - for February these are Aquarius the Water Carrier and Pisces the Fishes. It really is worth enlarging this and looking at it more closely.

I don't think February is very high on anyone's list of favourite months but it does have some good things to offer, this morning on a wet walk in Eccleshall Woods I saw that the first of the herons is back and inspecting the nesting site, the pussywillow is appearing, the tight little hazel catkins are turning into fluffy lamb's tails and the small, heart-shaped green leaves of the lesser celandine are pushing up through the earth - Spring really is just around the corner.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Today is Imbolc the ancient Celtic festival marking the transition from Winter to Spring. The Celts measured their days from sunset to sunset so Imbolc is already with us if we use their way of measuring time.
The beautiful image above is another example of the work of Angela Jayne Barnett.The poem is one I used last year in a post about snowdrops,it's a lovely poem so to save you straining your eyes trying to read the words on the image here it is:)

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

The Snowdrop

Yes, punctual to the time, thou 'rt here again,
As still thou art:—though frost or rain may vary,
And icicles blockade the rockbirds' aery,
Or sluggish snow lie heavy on the plain,
Yet thou, sweet child of hoary January,
Art here to harbinger the haggard train
Of vernal flowers, a duteous missionary.
Nor cold can blight, nor fog thy pureness stain.
Beneath the dripping eaves, or on the slope
Of cottage garden, whether mark'd or no,
Thy meek head bends in undistinguish'd row.
Blessings upon thee, gentle bud of hope !
And Nature bless the spot where thou dost grow—
Young life emerging from thy kindred snow!

Hartley Coleridge(1796-1849)

It's true as Coleridge says that there are snowdrops to be found in January but really they are the iconic flower of February. They are the harbingers of Spring and their gentle presence assures us that soon the warmth of the sun will soon strengthen and new life will be blossoming forth wherever we look. The weather in February can be cold, wet and frequently snowy too but it's a short month and soon the full beauty of Spring will be with us.