They lie like snow
Daisies growing in a vast green lawn
At Kew Gardens
They lie like snow
Daisies growing in a vast green lawn
At Kew Gardens
WE TAKE IT FOR GRANTED that when you turn on a tap in your bathroom or kitchen, fresh water will flow. And when, usually for maintenance purposes, the mains water supply is turned off temporarily, we can be truly inconvenienced. There are still many parts of the world where piped water is not available to domestic users, but the UK is no longer one of these.
During a recent (May 2023) trip to Lavenham in Suffolk, my wife noticed something next to a pavement. It was a now obsolete bit of plumbing, which has been preserved to demonstrate that even as late as 1936, the small town did not have a public piped water supply for its dwellers. I suppose that before that date, the people had to rely on springs and wells.
The object that can be found on the east side of Church Street, south of Water Street, is a public standpipe. A notice near it explained that piped water came to Lavenham in 1936 to 1937. Several standpipes were erected to give the public access to the water. At that time, people had to collect water from the standpipes and take it to where they required it. However, they did not yet have the luxury of having taps that supplied water in their own homes. The standpipe, which we saw, is now non-functional, but is one of nine such items still to be found in Lavenham.
Lavenham is full of small reminders of how different life was many centuries ago. The standpipe is a small souvenir that makes us realise how different life was less than 100 years ago.
THE GLORIOUS GOTHIC CHURCH in Lavenham (Suffolk) attests to the prosperity that the town enjoyed many centuries ago when it was involved in the then extremely lucrative wool trade. In those far-off days, infant mortality was far from uncommon amongst people from all social classes. Related to this, there is something quite unusual on the floor in front of the chancel of Lavenham’s large early 16th century church of St Peter and St Paul.
The strange object in the floor is a funerary brass. These are commonly found in mediaeval churches, but differ from the one in Lavenham. At first sight, the small brass looks a bit like a fish. However, on closer examination, it can be seen to be a depiction of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes or chrism robes. At one end, the babies small face is visible. The brass is curious because it is, if not the only, one of the few, surviving examples of a funerary brass depicting an infant, rather than an older person. The brass marks the grave of Clopton, the first-born son of the antiquary and politician Sir Symonds d’Ewes (1602-1650). His son died in 1631 only 10 days after being born, and 4 days after having been baptised.
The prominent position of Clopton’s grave probably relates to the fact that his father had married Anne, the daughter and heiress of Sir William Clopton, and in so doing had become very wealthy. In 1636, he was appointed the High Sheriff of Suffolk. He was also Lord of the Manor in which Lavenham was located. Clopton was not the only of their offspring to die young. In the “The autobiography and correspondence of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, bart., during the reigns of James I. and Charles I”, we read about Clopton’s demise in 1631:
“Our sweet infant was a little ill, Thursday, July the 7th, but we had no suspicion or fear of his approaching end till Saturday, July the 9th, when he was surprised with a violent and little intermitting lask [i.e., looseness] or scouring; with which he having been grievously afflicted and disquieted all the day, he had some intermission about four of the clock in the afternoon, and so lay quietly breathing out his last and innocent breath till near upon six of the clock the same evening, when he rendered up his blessed soul into the hands of his eternal Creator. I had attended him, fasting the greatest part of the day; and when he had given up the ghost, my dearest and myself could not refrain from many tears, sighs, and mournings…”
Two sons followed Clopton’s death – Adrian and Geerardt. Both died early in their lives. Sir Symonds wrote that in 1633, Adrian:
“… was interred, March the 14th, Thursday, in Lavenham chancel, also in the same grave with Clopton D’Ewes, his elder, and Geerardt D’Ewes, his younger brother.”
From this, it seems that the unusual brass not only marks the grave of Clopton, but also the final resting places of Adrian, and Geerardt. And in 1634, we learn:
“Between two and three of the clock in the afternoon of the same day, she [i.e., Symond’s wife] was safely delivered of her fourth son, who was baptized in Ixworth parochial church, on the 1st day of August, and named Clopton. For though we had lost the eldest of the same appellation, yet my dear esteem of my wife and her family made me once more bestow her surname on this son, who was at this time, his three elder brothers being dead, one heir-apparent.”
Alas, the second Clopton never lived long enough to inherit his father’s baronetcy. In about 1650, about 9 years after Anne had died, Symond’s second wife, Elizabeth (née Willoughby) produced a son – Willoughby D’Ewes, who inherited the baronetcy.
Although I have visited St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham several times before, it was only during my most recent visit that I noticed the unusual ‘baby brass’. Many of Lavenham’s charms – notably its abundance of half-timbered houses and its Guildhall (built 1525) – are obvious. In addition, the town is full of fascinating less prominent details, such as Clopton’s brass I have just described.
ELEANOR OF CASTILE (1241-1290) was the first wife of King Edward I. They married in 1254. The pair were devoted to each other. She even travelled to the Middle East with her husband, to the battlefields of the Crusade of 1271-1272. When she died of (possibly) a malarial disease, after having survived sixteen pregnancies, at Harby in Nottinghamshire (close to Lincoln), her husband was at her bedside for the last three days of her life.
Her body was embalmed in Lincoln, and then transported ceremoniously to Westminster Abbey – a journey that took several days. At each of the places where her corpse stopped overnight, Edward ordered memorial crosses to be erected. These became known as Eleanor Crosses. They were placed at: Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone near Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, Westcheap, and Charing (now a part of central London, but originally a small hamlet close to the Thames). Of the original crosses, only significantly large remnants of three survive.
The cross at Stamford in Lincolnshire was demolished but a small fragment of it is in the local museum. Not much is certain about where the cross stood in Stamford. It is believed that it might have been destroyed between 1646 and 1660 by zealous Parliamentarians (http://stamfordlocalhistorysociety.org.uk/queen-eleanor%E2%80%99s-cross).
Currently, a tall tapering sculpture – a tall, sharp spike with a circular base – stands on the place that was most likely where the Eleanor Cross stood. It was designed by Wolfgang Buttress (born 1965) – a sculptor from Nottingham. His creation, completed in 2009 and made of local Ketton stone, incorporates the kinds of decorative motifs that might have been on the original cross. It is surrounded by a ring of benches. Both the seats and the spike are studded with circular bronze discs, each of which contains a word from a Japanese haiku, so I have read. Sadly, I did not examine the object closely enough to see them because we were close to the expiry time of our parking space.
SOME OF MY REGULAR readers will know that recently I published a short book about the Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). Her photographic creations, which she produced mainly between 1863 and 1875, differed significantly from those of her contemporaries. At the time that she was taking pictures, most other photographers concentrated on using their cameras to produce slavishly accurate renderings of their subject matter – often portraiture. In contrast, Julia experimented with her focussing, film processing, and other aspects of creating photographic images, to create imaginative artworks, often achieving effects that had been hitherto impossible for painters to produce. She used the camera not to reproduce nature but to produce often expressionistic or impressionistic renderings of her subject matter. For her, the camera was not merely a method of mirroring reality, but a pathway to creating works of art.
Today, the 23rd of May 2023, I visited the Waddington Custot gallery on London’s Cork Street. My wife and I enjoyed viewing an exhibition, “Picture This: Photorealism 1966-1985” – Photorealism was a term created by Louis K Meisel in 1969. The show continues until the 24th of June 2023. At first sight the pictures on display seem to be enlarged, well-focussed photographs. Soon, you will notice that these fabulous pictures of scenes in the USA are not photographs, but paintings created using oil and acrylic paints. One of the gallery staff explained that some of them are not images of actual places, but scenes imagined by the artists. Furthermore, he made an interesting point about them. He remarked that the artists have not painted the scenes as they would have appeared to the naked eye, but instead they have painted them how they would have looked if the images of them had been created using photographic techniques. In addition, by making their paintings of often imagined scenes in this way, the viewer is forced into questioning the assumption that photographs capture the truth.
After seeing the exhibition, it occurred to me that whereas Julia Margaret Cameron was using her camera to create art, the Photorealists were doing quite a different thing – creating artworks that imitate what can be achieved by accurate photography.
[You can get a copy of my book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0BZFCVLX9/]
THE NATIONAL TRUST (‘NT’) maintains many buildings of great historic interest, and makes them accessible to the public. Most of the properties under the care of the NT are places where the well-off and the famous lived. Visitors to these homes and gardens can see finely decorated rooms. Often, the servant’s quarters are also displayed. This May (2023), we visited an unusual NT property in Nottinghamshire. Its distinctiveness lies in the fact that the buildings housed not the rich but the very poorest in society. Located at Southwell near Nottingham, it is the Southwell Workhouse.
The Workhouse was built in 1824 to house (usually temporarily) the poorest and most infirm people in the 49 parishes that made up Nottinghamshire’s Southwell Union, which financed the institution. Some of these people were impoverished during the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century. For example, many households in the area made a living by making knitwear in their homes. When factories opened with industrial knitting machines, many of these artisans were left without work and income.
The Southwell Workhouse admitted people following assessment of their condition by a parish’s local Relieving Officer. The rather bleak Workhouse was divided into several separated sections: for women with children less than two years old; for women, both abled and disabled; for men, both able and disabled; boys aged 7 to 15; girls aged 7 to 15; and for other children, aged between 2 and 7 years. The children received elementary schooling in the Workhouse classroom; this improved their chances of obtaining employment. There was no mixing between men and women. Women worked mainly in the kitchens, which are in the cellars of the building. To avoid contact with men, who worked in the institution’s vegetable gardens, produce required for cooking was passed into the kitchens through hatches.
Except for the extremely infirm, the idea was to make the Workhouse as uncomfortable as possible so that the able-bodied inmates had an incentive to leave as soon as they felt able. Consequently, the food provided was dull and meagre. All able-bodied inmates had to work. Some of this work was either meaningless, like breaking stones, or physically difficult, like picking oakum. The maintenance of the institution was also carried out by the inmates. The Workhouse was designed to provide food and shelter for the most destitute, but not to make it so comfortable that they had no incentive to leave. By pooling their resources, the parishes in the Southwell Union saved money because without the workhouse each parish would have had to conform to legal requirements to set up their own facilities for looking after those at the bottom of the social pile. The Southwell Workhouse was an example of an economy of scale.
The Southwell Workhouse was the brainchild of the Reverend John Thomas Becher (1770-1848). A friend of Lord Byron, who wrote poems to him, Becher not only established the Workhouse, but four years later wrote a pamphlet, “The Antipauper System”. In this publication, he explained how successful the Workhouse was in reducing the “poor rates” by 75%. His work led to the establishment of other similar wirkhouses in the country following the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 (‘The New Poor Law’).
With the establishment of the NHS in 1948, the Workhouse became an institution run by a local authority and many things relating to the care of the poor changed in Britain. Until the 1970s, the Workhouse, re-named Greet House (after the River Greet), housed the poor, but ins slightly more comfortable conditions than were available to its earlier inmates. The NT has done a beautiful job of restoring the Southwell Workhouse. Arrows guide the visitor though the whole building. All along the route, NT volunteers greet you and explain what each room was used for and provide other fascinating background information. Although the Workhouse is a fairly grim looking place, a visit to it is extremely interesting and a dramatic contrast to the often-glittering, resplendent places that can be seen in the majority of NT properties.
WE HAD INTENDED to drive along the A1 directly from London to Stamford in Lincolnshire. The A1 follows the route of the old Great North Road, but tends to bypass the small towns through which the older road ran. After driving northwards for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, I spotted a brown and white direction sign pointing towards a tourist attraction, the historic town of Buckden. We left the A1 and soon found ourselves in the village of Buckden. With its three old coaching inns, it was once a stopping place for travellers on the old Great North Road. As soon as we entered the place, we spotted some impressive, mainly brick, Tudor buildings behind crenelated boundary walls. A sign by an entrance to the grounds bore the words “Claret Centre”. We entered to discover that a sale of garden plants was being set up. We were invited to wanderin around the remains of a Tudor Palace and the knot garden next to it.
The Claret Centre is housed in the extensive remains of Buckden Palace – once a property owned by the Bishops of Lincoln. In the Domesday Book of 1086, the manor of Buckden belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln. By the time that St Hugh was Bishop of Lincoln (he had that position from 1186 to 1200), there was already a Bishop’s house in Buckden. St Hugh was by all accounts a remarkable man. Amongst his many virtues, he protected some of the Jewish people of the city of Lincoln from massacre in the 1190s. Albert Hyamson wrote in his “A History of the Jews in England”:
“At Lincoln, the Jews saved themselves by taking refuge in the castle. They were befriended by the Bishop Saint Hugh, whose death ten years later was very sincerely mourned by the local community.”
The bishop’s residence at Buckden was rebuilt several times before that which can seen today was constructed in the late 15th century. With two brief interludes, the bishop’s home and grounds remained as church property until 1870, when the property was bought by James Marshall of the firm Marshall and Snelgrove. In 1919, Dr Robert Holmes Edleston bought the by then dilapidated Buckden Palace. Keenly interested in history, Edleston extensively restored the Tudor buildings. He was an admirer of Napoleon III, and wrote two books about him. He planned to open a museum of the Frenchman’s relics at Buckden Palace and in anticipation of this project, which was never realised, inserted a commemorative plaque to Napoleon III in a wall facing the palace’s courtyard. Thanks to Edleston, there are substantial remains of the Tudor structures including an impressive square tower. This overlooks a beautifully restored knot garden, now named Queen Katherine’s Garden.
After the marriage of Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and King Henry VIII was annulled in May 1533, Katherine was housed in various places around England. One of these was Buckden Palace, where she was held/housed between July 1533 until 1534, when she was transferred to nearby Kimbolton Castle, where she spent the rest of her life. In December 1533, when Henry VIII sent the Duke of Suffolk to move Katherine to a more secure place, the men of Buckden resisted this and the duke had to abandon the attempt. Katherine was not the only noteworthy person to have stayed at Buckden. After her death, Henry VIII stayed there with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard in 1541. Other celebrities who visited included Thomas Wolsely, James I, Samuel Pepys, and the Prince Regent (later King George IV).
During WW2, Buckden Palace was home to refugees from the London Blitz. In 1956, Bishop Leo Parker (1887-1975), Roman Catholic Bishop of Northampton, arranged for Buckden Palace to come into possession of the Claretian Missionaries. Hence, its current name – The Claret Centre. The Claretians were founded by St Anthony Mary Claret (1807-1870) in Vich (Spain) in 1849. His followers grew widely in the Spanish-speaking world, and the movement came to Britain in 1912. After founding the first Claretian community in Hayes (Middlesex), others were established at Gorseinon (Wales), Langley Park (Durham), and Buckden.
Had it not been for the sign on the A1, I am not sure that we would have ever visited, or even known about, Buckden Palace. We were lucky to find the grounds accessible because of the flower market that was being arranged when we turned up. I am not sure that it is always possible to wander about the place as freely as we did on other days. Buckden has an attractive parish church as well as the three inns already mentioned. There is a high-end boutique hotel in the George Inn. Nearby, there is also an excellent hairdresser. Even if the palace is not open, Buckden is a charming place to rest a while on a journey along the frequently busy A1.
SLEAFORD IS A SMALL town in Lincolnshire. I do not think it is on many tourists’ itineraries, and I am not sure that I would recommend it highly. However, on a positive note, everyone we met there was extremely friendly. Southgate Street is a vibrant shopping district with plenty of charity shops and places to eat and drink. At the south end of this thoroughfare, there is a gothic revival monument that towers over its surroundings. Shaped a bit like an Eleanor Cross or a shabby version of London’s Albert Memorial, it commemorates Henry Handley (1797-1846).
Henry was the son of a local banker and attorney, Benjamin Handley. He was educated at Charterhouse, Eton, Oxford, and Lincolns Inn. He married Caroline Edwardes, daughter of William Edwardes, 2nd Baron Kensington in 1825. He neither graduated at Oxford nor practised as a barrister. Three years later, he inherited his father’s estate. He served as a Whig Member of Parliament for Heylesbury in Wiltshire from 1820 to 1826. In 1826, he left Parliament and became a gentleman farmer near Sleaford. So far so good, but why does Sleaford have such an imposing monument to remember him?
Between 1832 and 1841, he was the elected MP for Lincolnshire South. According to an online article in “Lincolnshire World”, during this period:
“Henry, a father of 10, was a budding entrepreneur and his interest in agricultural affairs was always to the fore. During his time as MP for S. Lincolnshire … Henry opposed corn imports, championed steam power, and supported steam railways rather than canals. In 1842, Henry became President of the Royal Agricultural Society.”
So, it appears that Henry worked well for improving the prosperity of Lincolnshire. He proposed and carried out projects that would have helped both the locals and his own agricultural endeavours. In these things, the local people rated him as being so successful that after his death, they raised more than £900 to pay for the construction of his 65-foot-tall memorial in Sleaford. It was designed by the Birmingham architect William Boyle, and it remains a remarkably immodest landmark in a pleasantly modest town.
WHEN I WAS A YOUNG child, I remember going with my parents to south London to visit a Spanish sculptor, who had escaped to Britain as a refugee during the Spanish Civil War. Although we only visited him once, I recall that his name was something like ‘Alberti’. That is all I can remember, and I do not believe that my parents ever spoke about him much since that visit made maybe more than 60 years ago.
Today, the 20th of May 2023, we spent a couple of hours in the Lincolnshire Town of Stamford. This attractive place has several lovely old churches, one of which is St Martins. This edifice contains a chapel filled with glorious funerary monuments of members of the Cecil family, which was of great importance during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and other Tudors.
When we were about to leave the church, I spotted a modern wood carving of the head of a man with a beard and moustache. Although it was not nearly as attractive as the Cecil monuments, I decided to examine it. I do not know why I did, but I am glad that I did.
I was surprised to discover that the carved head was created by Jose Manuel de Alberdi Elorza (1922-2008). Beneath the head there is a notice with the following words written by Alberdi:
“A kind of anti-war protest… The face at the moment just when Christ died on the cross … The deed is done. We have killed.”
The sculptor was two years younger than my mother, also a sculptor. All that I can discover about Alberdi on the Internet is that he was Basque and a refugee from the Spanish Civil War. Also, he taught sculpture at the St Martins School of Art in London from 1948 to 1958 , which is where my mother made sculptures during that time.
Although I cannot be certain, I am pretty sure that this head in Stamford was made by the Spanish sculptor we visited in South London so many years ago.
SEVERAL OF OUR FRIENDS born in India came to study accountancy in the UK during the late 1960s and early ‘70s. In those days, studying accountancy had two benefits apart from giving our friends the opportunity to have careers in commerce and finance. First, coming to the UK was an opportunity to live abroad, and, more importantly, because they had to study whilst employed by an accountancy firm, they got income to cover their living expenses. All of them have had successful careers in business and/or banking. Some years earlier (in 1950), Lancelot Ribeiro (1933-2010), born in Bombay, came to the UK to study accountancy. However, he did not complete the course. Instead, he began studying art at London’s St Martins School of Art between 1951 and 1953. At that time, he lived in London’s Chalk Farm with his half-brother, the artist Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002), who was born in Goa. In August 1954, Lancelot was conscripted into the RAF. He was released from this in January 1955. Then, he returned to Bombay.
In Bombay, Lancelot was employed by the Life Insurance Corporation. He remained in this company for four years, by which time his poetry and painting were becoming recognised by Bombay’s artistic community, notably by the poet Nissim Ezekiel, the critic and poet Rajagopal Parthasarathy, the critic Rudolf von Leyden (German born, but lived most of his life in Bombay), and the Tata industrial group (who commissioned some of his works). By 1959, he had decided to make painting his profession. By the early 1960s, he was exhibiting in both group shows and solo exhibitions and was gaining wider, and influential recognition. Lancelot and his wife returned to London at the end of 1962/early 1963.
After living in various parts of London, the Ribeiro’s settled in the Belsize Park area of Hampstead – at Belsize Park Gardens – for a few years. By now, Lancelot’s works, and those of other Indian artists living in England, were being exhibited both in the UK and India. Life in London was not easy even in the late 1970s for people with ‘brown’ skins as Lancelot found out the hard way. Several times, he was attacked in the streets near Swiss Cottage, and once badly injured when attacked outside Hampstead Police Station. In addition, some of his pictures were vandalised when on display at the Swiss Cottage Library in 1986-87. However, none of this subdued his irrepressible creativeness.
Some of his prolific and highly inventive artworks were exhibited in Hampstead’s Burgh House when it held an “Indian Month” in 1980. Although he did not enjoy as much fame as his better-known half-brother, Ribeiro’s work is well worth seeing. An opportunity to do so is currently available at Burgh House until the 17th of December 2023. The well-displayed exhibition, “Lancelot Ribeiro: Finding Joy in a Landscape” can be seen free of charge. The Burgh House website describes it as follows:
“A journey through the changing landscapes of Hampstead-based expressionist poet and painter Lancelot Ribeiro, from his roots in pre-Independence 1930s India to life in mid-20th century Britain.
Ribeiro experimented with form and materials, moving from conventional depictions of the Lake District to otherworldly townscapes and sharp, bright abstracts inspired by geology. Each work encourages us to look anew, reconsider the form and substance of our environment, and how we might depict and share those landscapes with others.”
I can strongly recommend that you pay a visit to this show to see the works of an artist, who should be more widely known.
Finally, I wonder what would have become of our few dear friends had they abandoned accountancy prematurely. One of them, in his retirement from many years in banking, has become written a highly acclaimed novel. Another, who retired from a career in an international corporation, is now highly developing his skills as a cook. A third, who dropped out of accountancy, has become a successful translator.