The antelope and the well

IT WAS HUNGER that drew us to Lighthorne, a tiny rural village just over six miles south-east of the city of Warwick. Our aim was to eat lunch at the highly recommended Antelope Inn before visiting the magnificent Compton Verney House with its gardens that were designed by Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown in the 18th century.

Lighthorne is an attractive village nestling in a steep sided basin. Some newer buildings have been built on the slopes above what was the heart of the old village. The etymology of the village’s name is uncertain. Close to the Fosse way (a road built by the Romans; it linked Exeter with Lincoln in an almost straight line), it was in existence in 1086 when the Domesday Book was compiled. Throughout the centuries, the village has been ‘in the hands’ of various noblemen and religious institutions. Time constraints did not permit us to visit the village’s Church of St Lawrence, whose construction began in the late 14th century, but we hope to see it on a subsequent visit.

The Antelope Inn is housed in a building whose construction began in the early 18th century. The earliest record of the pub’s existence is a document dated 1838. This was signed by the then publican Joseph   Lattimer.  I was curious about the pub’s name because I thought that antelopes were not common in Warwickshire. The friendly staff in the inn suggested that there were two possible explanations for the name. One was that some previous owners of the pub had been a South African couple. Far more likely than this is the fact that the antelope is taken from the badge of the Warwickshire Regiment. A useful website, www.lighthornehistory.org.uk, explains the pub’s sign:

“The Antelope is standing on a strip of six pieces. This is said to be the six feet of turf representing the old name of the 6th Regiment of Foot.”

Always on the lookout for Indian connections, I found the following (www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/316/royal-warwickshire-regiment):

“The Regiment took part in two campaigns in South Africa known as the Kaffir Wars (7th Kaffir War 1846-47 and 8th Kaffir War 1850-53), protecting Dutch and English settlers from the aggressive native tribes north of Cape Town.  The Regiment also took part in the suppressing the India Rebellion of 1857.”

So, the regiment had taken part in campaigns both in South Africa, where my parents were born, and in India, where my wife was born. Regardless of the activities of the local regiment, we ate an excellent meal at The Antelope Inn.

More recently, in 1972, Ugandan Asians who had fled from Idi Amin’s Uganda were housed temporarily at Gaydon Airfield (now ‘Lighthorne Heath’) that is near Lighthorne (see: http://www.lighthornehistory.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Shorthistory.pdf).  Some of the inhabitants of Lighthorne assisted the distressed Asians during their first couple of months in England.

Almost opposite the inn, there is a well or spring that issues from an elaborate stone structure with a badly weathered coat-of-arms. It is a ‘broadwell’, a word derived from the Old English ‘breac-well’, a well that is supplied with water from a brook (rather than a spring). The well is likely to be as old as the village. However, the stone structure probably dates from 1746, as the Lighthorne history website notes:

“… the quoins and coving, were probably built in 1746, the remainder of the fascia, pool and paving are from the 19th and 20th centuries. The old ironstone escutcheon inserted in the fascia is older and is believed to be the arms of the Pope family, Lords of the Manor in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

There was green mildewed water in the two receptacles of the broadwell. It has been suggested that this well might have been used for washing in the past.

Close to the well, we spotted red grapes ripening on a vine growing on the side of a cottage facing the Antelope. They are located in what must be a fine sun trap. Our Sunday lunch in the inn, one of the best Sunday roast meals that I have eaten for many a year, ended soon before we were due to take up our timed entry at Compton Verney. Next time we visit the latter, spending more time in Lighthorne and The Antelope will be given top priority.

Plague and graffiti

MANY ENGLISH CHURCHES REMAIN closed much of the day since the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic. During our recent roving around the countryside, we have found this to be the case and as a result have not been able to enjoy exploring the often interesting historic and architectural features within country (and urban) churches.

Drawing of Old St Pauls Cathedral in the church at Ashwell

When we arrived in the attractive Hertfordshire village of Ashwell near the town of Baldock that lies between London and Cambridge, we were pleased to discover that the Church of St Mary’s (Ashwell) was open. Despite the dustiness created by building works that were in progress, this church contains much of interest. In fact, the builders have uncovered remains of structures that existed possibly prior to the present church’s construction in the 14th century. These remains were revealed to us by a kindly lady, ‘M’, who helps run the church’s administration. She pulled aside some heavy plastic sheets to reveal where the builders had dug beneath the floor.

After viewing the excavations, M drew our attention to the west end of the nave, beneath the bell tower. The north wall of this section of the church has graffiti scratched into its wall. This is not the work of modern vandals but that of people living as long ago as the 14th century, a time of plague, pestilence, and much mortality (the so-called Black Death was at its peak from 1347 to 1351).

Some of the graffiti is in the form of inscriptions in Latin. According to a useful booklet, which we bought at the church, “Ashwell Church. Mediaeval drawings and writings. A Guide” by David Sherlock (publ. 1978), the inscriptions when translated include the following (to quote but a few):

“Just the first plague was in 1349”

“In 1349 there was plague and in ‘50”

“1000, three times 100, five times 10 [i.e. 1350], a pitiable, fierce violeny (plague departed); a wretched populace survives to witness (to the plague) and in the end a mighty wind, Maurus, thunders this year in the world 1361.”

Maurus refers to St Maur (512- c584), a disciple of St Benedict of Nursia. St Maur’s feast day was the 15th of January before 1969 and is now the 22nd of November. According to an article in the Irish Times (16th of January 1998):

“The late 1300s in Ireland were remarkable for the abundant rainfall, and also for a succession of fierce storms which caused frequent and widespread devastation in countryside. One of the worst of these, St Maury’s Wind, occurred on January 15th, 1362, and caused great damage, particularly in Dublin.”

These storms were most likely to have been the same as those recorded on the wall of Ashworth Church.

Fascinating as the inscriptions are, even more interesting is a drawing incised in the wall close to them. Although it is not known when it was drawn, it was probably before 1630. It is a detailed sketch of the old (pre 1666, Fire of London) Gothic St Pauls Cathedral in London. It depicts the old church before Inigo Jones re-faced it in 1630. The drawing includes the spire, which was destroyed by lightning in 1561. One authority has suggested (tentatively) that the drawing might have depicted Westminster Abbey, but this is unlikely even though Ashwell Church was under the control of the Abbott of Westminster until The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. The drawing in Ashwell has many resemblances to illustrations of the old St Pauls made in about 1550 by the Flemish Anton Van den Wynegaerde (1525-1571), and in 1616 by the British artist John Gipkyn (active 1594-1629). It is unlikely that whoever drew the image in Ashwell would have seen either of these pictures.

In addition to the image of St Pauls and the plague inscriptions, there are many other examples of mediaeval graffiti in the church at Ashwell. If our cousins in Baldock had not recommended us to visit nearby Ashwell, we might never have seen the fascinating graffiti described above. It was particularly poignant to see the souvenirs of plague that occurred so long ago during the current era of plague that is disturbing our lives so much.

Art and football

MY MOTHER OFTEN TOLD ME that if one did not buy Premium Bonds, there was no chance of winning any prizes. Likewise, if one did not play the Football Pools, promisingly large financial prizes could not be won. The Football Pools is a form of gambling based on trying to predict the results of football (soccer) matches. My mother knew nothing at all about football. So, she paid a monthly fee to let someone else fill in the Pools forms on her behalf. Once, she won about £13 (or was it £30?), thus proving to me and the rest of the family that by participating it was possible to win occasionally. What she did not mention was that she was spending far more on submitting Football Pool forms than she ever recouped in winnings. Her argument was that if she gave up on the Pools, she would miss winning one of the enormous prizes that other folks sometimes collected. One of the biggest Football Pool companies was Littlewoods, which also owned a retail chain. This was once owned by the family of Sir Peter Moores (1932-2016). Some tiny proportion of the money that my mother spent on Littlewoods Pools would have helped Sir Peter to create a fine collection of art. Although my mother did not live long enough to have known that, she would have been pleased because she was a painter and a sculptor during her short adult life.

Sir Peter bought Compton Verney House and its extensive grounds in Warwickshire in 1993. I will relate his role in the history of this estate later. Compton (meaning ‘manor’ or ‘large farm’) Verney was granted to Robert Murdak in 1150. Until 1582, when the manor was taken over by Richard Verney, who died in 1490, it was known as ‘Compton Murdak’. Richard’s grandson, Richard Verney (1465-1527) renamed the estate (and the long-since vanished village near it) ‘Compton Verney’.

The Verneys built a large manor house at Compton Verney in Tudor style in about 1442. In about 1711, George, Baron Willoughby de Broke (1659-1728), a Verney, rebuilt the manor house at Compton Verney. Its designers were the master stone-masons John Townesend (1648-1728), briefly a Mayor of Oxford, and his son William (1676-1739), who worked on several major buildings for the University of Oxford. The baroque edifice they created is what we see today.

My namesake, the architect Robert Adam (1728-1792), made major alterations to the recently built ‘new’ Compton Verney House. Visitors to the house enter via the magnificent ground floor hall he designed, Splendid as it is, it is easily rivalled by the work he did at Kenwood House in North London. This might be because during the 1950s, the house in Warwickshire was allowed to deteriorate.

The well-maintained grounds of Compton Verney are spectacularly beautiful. They were artfully designed by Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown (1716-1783). Not only did he plant fine trees but he also invented a machine for transporting mature trees in order to transplant them in positions chosen for artistic effect. To achieve the effect that Brown and his patron desired, the new gardens eliminated all traces of an earlier formal garden and a mediaeval chapel that had existed until he began work on the garden in 1768. An obelisk and a few partially submerged gravestones stand on the site of the old chapel.

After WW1, in 1921, The Verney family sold their estate to the soap manufacturer Joseph Watson (1873-1922). After his death, Watson’s son sold Compton Verney to Samuel (a cotton magnate) and Gita (a German opera singer and a Nazi sympathiser) Lamb in 1929. During WW2, the estate was used by the military as a centre for experimenting with smoke-screen camouflage.

After the end of WW2, the estate fell into disrepair. In 1958, Harry Ellard, an industrialist from Wolverhampton, bought Compton Verney but never lived there. The place continued to decay seriously. In 1983, the property developer Christopher Buxton bought the estate, planning to redevelop it as a centre for performing opera. His plans did not materialize. The future of Compton Verney was beginning to look exceedingly bleak. This changed in 1993. For it was in that year that some infinitesimally minute fraction of what my mother spent on Littlewood’s Football Pools helped to save Compton Verney.

In 1964, Sir Peter Moores set up the Peter Moores Foundation, whose aim it was to assist opera, the visual arts, and education. In 1993, the Foundation acquired Compton Verney. A year later, conservation experts began restoring the old house to enable it to become a modern gallery. They also designed a modern annex to serve as an exhibition space as well as to house a collection of British Folk Art and the Marx-Lambert Collections. The gallery was opened to the public in 2004 and the grounds were finally restored in 2016.

The collection of British Folk Art consists of artefacts collected by the art dealer, founder of the Crane-Kalman Gallery, Andras Kalman (1918-2007) and was bought by the Moores Foundation in 1993. The Marx-Lambert Collections, derive their name from Margaret Lambert (1906-1995) and Enid Marx (1902-1998). Unwittingly, most Londoners will be familiar with some of the work created by the designer Enid Marx. She was commissioned to design some of the fabrics that used to cover the seats on the London Underground trains. Lambert was a historian. Lambert and Marx were good friends, who shared an interest in British folk art, which they both collected. It is their collection that can be viewed at Compton Verney.

It was Peter Moore’s love of travelling and collecting artworks that resulted in the fine collection of paintings, sculptures and other artefacts within Compton Verney House and its attached modern gallery annex. His acquisitions fall into four main groups: Northern European (mainly German) paintings and sculpture from the renaissance and earlier periods; British portraits; art from mainly 18th century Naples; and Chinese art. Each group includes works of the highest artistic quality, making a visit to see them at Compton Verney very worthwhile.

Compton Verney also hosts temporary exhibitions. At present (September 2020) until very early January 2021, there is a fine selection of works by Luther’s friend and contemporary, Lucas Cranach the Elder. I have written a little about this elsewhere. In addition to viewing the indoor artworks, the gardens of Compton Verney are a joy to explore. My late mother would have liked seeing Compton Verney, maybe thinking to herself that her involvement with Football Pools had helped to create what the visitor can enjoy today.

Pig on the roof

THE FRENCH COMPOSER Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) composed the music for a surrealist ballet, “Le Boeuf sur la Toit” (i.e. ‘The Ox on the Roof’) which had its premiere in February 1920 in Paris. Today, the 4th of September 2020, I saw a pig on a roof and on other roofs I saw birds and dogs. None of them moved a muscle. They just sat or stood where they were without moving. No, I have not been taking hallucinatory drugs or daydreaming. These creatures are made of straw and sit on the ridges of thatched roofs in country villages north of London including Abbington Piggot in Cambridgeshire. On previous occasions I spotted these straw animals on the ridges of roofs in Suffolk villages including Stoke by Clare.

In many parts of England, thatchers, proud of their skills, sometimes add decorative straw creatures as finishing touches to their fine handiwork. These ornaments are variously known as ‘dollies’ (not to be confused with ‘straw dollies’) and ‘straw finials’. Many contemporary thatchers are still willing to add a straw finial to a thatched roof.

There are records of sightings of straw ornaments such as I have described dating back to 1689. The use of thatching probably goes back many thousands of years. However, because of its organic composition, thatch does not usually survive long enough to be detected by archaeologists. The remains of some buildings found on archaeological sites have structural features that are strongly suggestive of their suitability to support thatched roofing. Thatching is not confined to the British Isles. It can be found almost all over the globe.

Thatch, being made of straw and other related material does not last forever. It has to be replaced periodically. The same is true of the straw finials. They look great when they are relatively new, but like the thatch, they decay gradually and become deformed. In one village that we visited today, we saw what looked like a squirrel perching on the ridge of a thatched roof. On closer examination, what we were looking at turned out to be the tattered remnants of what might once have been a fine straw animal.

We saw the straw pig on a roof in Abbington Piggott. Having seen this and having had a drink in the village’s pub, the Pig and Abbott, I wondered if the place’s name had anything to do with pigs. The Domesday Book of 1086 list the village as ‘Abintone’, which means ‘estate associated with a man called Abba’. The village became known by its present name by the 17th century, the name being taken from the Pykot or Pigott family who owned the manor between the 15th and 19th centuries. And, just in case you are wondering whether the surname Pigott has anything to do with swine, it does not. It is derived from the Old English word ‘pic’ meaning a hill topped with a sharp point.

We would never have discovered the village of Abbington Piggott had we not been advised by our cousins in Baldock (Hertfordshire) to visit nearby Ashwell, a very attractive village. It was in Ashwell, where there was only one pub open (and it did not serve food), that we were advised that we should continue to Abbington Piggott where we found the welcoming Pig and Abbott as well as the pig on the roof.

You can listen to “Le Boeuf sur la toit”  by Darius Milhaud on: https://youtu.be/Bv9ii_uc2Rc

TV licence

WE WATCHED TELEVISION FOR less than two hours in the whole year of 1993 and decided neither to renew our TV licence nor to watch anything more on our ageing TV set, which we got rid of. At monotonous regularity, we received letters from the TV licensing authority, asking us whether we had a licence and informing that if we did not have one, there would be dire consequences. They were all aggressive and threatening in tone. We always replied that we had no TV. Eventually, my wife got fed up with these annoying missives.

She took the latest threatening letter from the TV licensing authority and wrote a letter on it that went something like this:

“To whom it may concern. We neither own guns nor sell liquor. Neither of the authorities that license these things pester us for licences. We do not possess a television, as we have told you before. Why do you persist in sending us letters regarding TV licences? Please cease forthwith.”

My wife read me her letter and asked me whether I thought it was alright. I asked her in whose name she had signed it. She told me that it was in her maiden name. I told her to go ahead and send it.

For a while, we did not hear any more from the TV licensing authority. Now, we receive differently worded but still threatening letters from the authority, but these are addressed to “The Occupier” rather than to anyone in particular.

A few days ago, at the end of August 2020, there was a small piece in the London ‘Times’ newspaper. It reads as follows:

“Rachel Mackay, a manager for Historic Royal Palaces, gave a sigh when she received a familiar brown envelope addressed to ‘The Current Occupier, Kew Palace, which has not been lived in for two centuries. ‘Oh good,’ she said, ‘it’s the time of year where I have to explain to the TV Licensing Authority why George III hasn’t paid his TV licence since 1820.”

We know how Rachel Mackay must be feeling.

Abolishing slavery and an obelisk

BLACK LIVES MATTERED MUCH to young Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), who was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. One day when he was walking with his horse from Cambridge to London, he stopped on a slope that was above and in sight of the Feathers Inn at Wadesmill (Hertfordshire) next to a bridge crossing the River Rib on a stretch of the old Roman road known as Ermine Street.

A student at St Johns College in Cambridge, he had just won a prize for his essay (in Latin) that addressed the subject “Is it right to make slaves of others against their will?” Soon after writing his piece, he published an English translation of it. Clarkson, who had done much research into slavery past and in his time, was thoroughly disapproving of the slave trade. The concluding paragraph of his long and well-reasoned essay, rich in factual material, summarises the young man’s objection to slavery:

“For if liberty is only an adventitious right; if men are by no means superiour to brutes; if every social duty is a curse; if cruelty is highly to be esteemed; if murder is strictly honourable, and Christianity is a lye; then it is evident, that the African slavery may be pursued, without either the remorse of conscience, or the imputation of a crime. But if the contrary of this is true, which reason must immediately evince, it is evident that no custom established among men was ever more impious; since it is contrary to reason, justice, nature, the principles of law and government, the whole doctrine, in short, of natural religion, and the revealed voice of God.”

With the Feathers inn ahead of him, he had a revelation. In his own words:

“Coming in sight of Wades Mill in Hertfordshire, I sat down disconsolate on the turf by the roadside and held my horse. Here a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end. Agitated in this manner I reached home. This was in the summer of 1785”

That revelation, like a Dick Whittington moment or the apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, set Thomas on his life’s mission to abolish slavery. His essay inspired the formation of a small group of Quakers, whose aim was to lobby the British Parliament to campaign against slavery. Soon, this led to the formation of a non-denominational ‘Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ (in 1787).  Clarkson was a member of this committee. It was he who encouraged the young (and now well-known) William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a Member of Parliament, to join the group.

Although it was Wilberforce who introduced the first Bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791, it was Clarkson, who worked tirelessly to persuade the British public of the desirability to bring an end to the trade in human cargoes. Clarkson travelled about 35,000 miles throughout Britain, amassing information about the slave trade and persuading people of its evil nature. He collected evidence of the cruelties and injustices of slavery from 20,000 sailors who had worked or were working on slave carrying ships. He wrote several pamphlets about the slave trade and its impropriety and assembled visual aids with which he could dramatically purvey its horrors and cruelties to the British public, whom he encountered during his extensive travels.

When, finally in 1807, the Act for Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed by the British Parliament, the poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote a sonnet in honour of Clarkson’s immense efforts to defeat the slave trade. Called “To Thomas Clarkson On the final passing of the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, March, 1807.”, it goes like this:

“Clarkson! it was an obstinate Hill to climb:

How toilsome, nay how dire it was, by Thee

Is known,—by none, perhaps, so feelingly;

But Thou, who, starting in thy fervent prime,

Didst first lead forth this pilgrimage sublime,

Hast heard the constant Voice its charge repeat,

Which, out of thy young heart’s oracular seat,

First roused thee.—O true yoke-fellow of Time

With unabating effort, see, the palm

Is won, and by all Nations shall be worn!

The bloody Writing is for ever torn,

And Thou henceforth shalt have a good Man’s calm,

A great Man’s happiness; thy zeal shall find

Repose at length, firm Friend of human kind!”

It was descending the hill to Wadesmill that set Clarkson, the real initiator of the abolition of the slave trade, that set him to “… climb that obstinate Hill…” And his halt near Wademill, in sight of the Feathers inn has not been forgotten. An obelisk by the roadside commemorates Clarkson’s ‘light bulb moment’. The base of the obelisk bears the words:

“On the spot where stands this monument in the month of June 1775 Thomas Clarkson resolved to devote his life to bringing about the abolition of the slave trade.”

The monument was erected in 1879 for a chess playing barrister, Arthur Giles Puller (1833-1885) of Youngsbury, which is close to Wadesmill. According to a web page , http://abolition.e2bn.org/source_27.html:

“In 1833, Basil Montague asked Thomas Clarkson to show a party of abolitionists, the exact spot where he decided to dedicate his life to ending slavery. A young Charles Merivale went with them. Years later he became Dean of Ely and told his story to Arthur Giles Puller, of Youngsbury, who offered to help him fulfil his promise to mark the spot. Charles Merivale unveiled the monument on 8th October, 1879.”

Charles Merivale (1808-1893), apart from becoming the Dean of Ely, was one of the founders of the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race, which was first held in 1829. Destined for a career in India (which he decided against), he studied both at Haileybury College and St Johns College Cambridge, where Clarkson had also studied.

Clarkson’s monument was restored by members of the US Airforce in the 1950s. in June 1972, it was moved 9 yards up the road to allow some road widening. Finally, in November 2007, a very thorough restoration and repair of the monument was completed. Now in 2020, part of the base looks as if it could benefit from some more repair work.

The monument, unlike many of those that commemorate slave-owners, is a modest memorial to a man whose efforts and achievements have been overshadowed by those of his fellow abolitionist, William Wilberforce. I am very grateful to our dear friends who live in Hatfield (Hertfordshire) for showing me this monument after we had enjoyed a large lunch at the Feathers Inn that Clarkson was able to see when he resolved to bring the slave trade to an end.

All that remains is …

OUR GOOD FRIENDS IN HERTFORDSHIRE always take us out into the countryside for a walk with their two friendly dogs. Invariably, we visit countryside that is both beautiful and contains something of interest. This time, we parked in the small hamlet of Thundridge (in Hertfordshire), which is located on what was once the Roman road, Ermine Street (from the Old English ‘Earninga Straete’). This thoroughfare linked London with York. We set off by walking along a small road named Old Church Lane. This soon becomes a footpath that runs alongside the River Rib, a tributary of the River Lea, which in turn is a tributary of the River Thames. The Rib merges with the Lea in the town of Hertford.

We walked past a vast field in which some grassy crop was growing. Far across the field there was a small wood. A church tower could be seen rising from amongst the trees. We followed another path towards the clump of trees and soon arrived at the tower. This tower and a graveyard is all that remains of the church of St Mary and All Saints (some call it ‘All Hallows and Little St. Mary’ and others ‘Thundridge Old Church’), which was demolished (apart from the tower) in 1853, when a new church was built in Wadesmill. The tower was constructed of flint and mortar in the 15th century. The rest of the church, now demolished, was built in the 11th to 12th centuries. A Romanesque archway now set into the eastern wall of the tower is the only visible remains of that former church.  Although this ruined tower might well appeal to those who find ruins romantic, it is in a bad condition with some of the structure covered with corrugated iron sheeting and other parts with graffiti. There are some plans to conserve it and others to demolish it to make room for new housing.

The reason that the old church was demolished was that the old manor house, which was close to the old church, was demolished in the 19th century. Consequently, the population of Thundridge moved nearer to the new manor house that was built where the church built in 1853 now stands.

Just before we reached the old church tower, we passed a field which had a long grass-covered trench running along it. This is the remains of a moat built long ago when Thundridge village was located near to the the old, now demolished church. The banks of the moat were liberally studded with mole hills. This moat is believed to have been dug in mediaeval times. What remains of it is ‘D’ shaped and encloses an area bounded by sides of approximately 660 feet north to south and by the same east to west. The moat enclosed the site of the former manor house.

Having seen all that remains of Thudridge Old Church, we retraced our steps to Ermine Street, crossed the fast-flowing River Rib, and then ate an enormous roast lunch in the garden of the nearby Feathers pub in Wadesmill, which is about two minutes’ walk from Thundridge.

Jacob’s cross in Lavenham

HAD IT NOT BEEN FILLED WITH parked cars, Market Square in Lavenham (Suffolk in East Anglia) would probably be recognisable to those who lived in the town several hundred years ago. The square is surrounded by old buildings, many of which are half-timbered. The most impressive of these is the Guildhall that was built in 1529. This large building attests the former wealth of the town, when it was an important centre of the wool trade in East Anglia. In its heyday, cloth from Lavenham was sent all over Britain and exported to Holland and Spain via the port of Ipswich. During the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547), Lavenham was the fourteenth richest town in England.

Lavenham boasts a 16th century market cross. Market crosses were erected to indicate that an area had been designated as being a market square by a bishop, or a baron, or the monarch. Lavenham’s market cross is made of stone. A three stepped pyramid supports a slender column surmounted by a stone sphere. A metal plate informs the visitor that:

“The market cross was erected in 1501in accordance with the will of William Jacob”.

So, who was William Jacob?

Jacob was one of Lavenham’s wealthy clothiers, involved in the wool textile trade. Despite his surname, it was highly unlikely that he was Jewish because most Jews had been expelled from England in the 13th century (and it was not until the mid-17th century that Jewish people began returning).  According to text on the website deverehouse.co.uk:

“William Jacob was the tenth wealthiest clothier and businessman in England, making an annual profit of 67 marks and with a gross turnover of 223 whole cloths (a gross turnover of £12m in today’s money, around 400 marks).  On his death he paid for the erection of the market cross that is still there 520 years later.  He did not branch into “straites” or “narrow cloths” and within 25 years of his death the cheaper narrow cloth was dominating the market and Jacob’s family were seeking other work.”

In his will, dated 1500, he wrote:

“I will have a cross made of my perpetual cost that shall be set upon the market hill in the village of Lavenham.”

The cross that was erected in Lavenham in 1501 was a copy of the market cross already present in the city of Cambridge. The Cambridge market cross has long-since disappeared. The stepped base is all that remains of the cross paid for by Jacob’s estate. The slender shaft that now stands on it was put up in 1725. It is interesting to note that far away in Florence (Italy) Michelangelo was beginning work on his famous statue of David in 1501. That sculpture was completed in 1504. Although many visitors come to Lavenham, many more visit Florence.

Suffolk was the most important clothmaking county in 15th/16th century England. William Jacob was one of the county’s 100 clothiers in business between 1480 and 1500. Other counties had far fewer members of this trade. Although William Jacob was the tenth most wealthy, the wealthiest was Thomas Spring III (c1474-1523) of Lavenham. By 1500, Suffolk was the most industrialised and urbanised county in Britain, but by 1700, the county had become a rural backwater. Suffolk and much of the rest of East Anglia might be regarded as a bit of a backwater nowadays, but it is a largely picturesque one with wonderful landscapes and a great architectural legacy due to its past prosperity during the golden age of the wool trade.

French connection

WE HAVE BEEN WARNED repeatedly that during the current covid-19 pandemic that travelling abroad, leaving the UK, is not without the risk that after returning home we might have to go into quarantine for fourteen days. The rules relating to quarantine are strict and include remaining at home twenty-four hours a day. This means, amongst other things, not emerging from home even for exercise, shopping, or going to work. For those who must leave home for work and cannot work from home this quarantine can lead to serious loss of earnings. Currently, the state will not compensate those who have to quarantine because they have returned from a country that the British Government considers having a higher rate of covid-19 virus infections or infection rates. I suppose the argument is that like heat, which flows from a higher to a lower temperature, the virus tends to flow from an area of higher infection to one with a lower one. The quarantining is meant to be part of minimising the risk of importing the virus into the UK from abroad.

Some countries may be visited by people living in the UK without the need for people returning from them to have to stay in quarantine. Until recently, the Government was happy for visitors to France to return to the UK without needing to go into quarantine for a fortnight. Because of this and despite warnings that covid-19 infections were on the increase in France, British holidaymakers were happy to take a risk by travelling to France. From the outset, the Government warned that at any moment there might need to be a change in the situation regarding quarantining after visiting abroad.

On the evening of Thursday 13th August 2020, the British Government announced that anyone who visited France and had not returned to the UK by 4 am on Saturday the 15th of August would need to go into quarantine for 14 days after reaching home in the UK. Between this late evening announcement and early Saturday morning, many British holidaymakers in France were panic stricken and tried to reach British soil before the 4 am deadline because they wanted to avoid being compelled to quarantine. Many of those people shelled out enormous amounts of money to obtain last minute bookings on ‘planes, trains, and ferries, in the hope of beating the deadline.

The panicked return was entirely understandable, and I do not blame anyone for trying to avoid a quarantine period that they could ill afford. What I cannot comprehend was what was magic about 4 am on Saturday the 15th of August. If the risk of importing covid-19 from France (or elsewhere) is so great that it is considered necessary to impose quarantine on returnees, why, for example is someone landing in the UK at, say 3.45 am on the 15th of August, any less likely to pose a danger to public health than someone arriving any time after 4 am on that day? In my opinion, if the chances of bringing in the virus from a certain country are deemed dangerously high and it is determined that quarantine will reduce the chances of imported virus from adding to the already significant local supply, the quarantine requirement should have been imposed immediately, without over a moment’s delay.

As for the effectiveness of the enforced quarantine on reducing imports of infection, that remains to be seen. Recently, the owner of a well-known budget airline poured scorn on the idea of quarantine. He pointed out that many travellers landing in British airports travel to their homes by public transport. During that journey to the places where they plan to quarantine for fourteen days, they have plenty of opportunity to spread the virus to others travelling on the same bus, train, or other public transport. By the time they get home, the damage might well have been done. This airline owner was saying this to help save his business from further destruction caused by ‘lockdown’ conditions, but what he said is true.

Examining the past

ON 13th AUGUST 2020, MANY YOUNGSTERS in England received the results of the state’s university admission examinations. This year of plague and social distancing, 2020, the results have not been determined by the students themselves writing examination papers but by a clumsy, somewhat arbitrary, algorithm that takes various factors other than a student’s own ability into account. Things were quite different last year and back in 1970 when I sat the A-Level examinations required for admission to university.

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Back then, as now, universities offered places to potential students subject to achieving or exceeding certain grades at A-Level. The place that was my first choice amongst the six universities I chose was University College London (‘UCL’). In ‘my time’, UCL invited potential students for extensive interviewing. I was invited to spend a whole day at the Physiology Department. During that day, I was interviewed at least three times by different people and met both members of the academic staff as well as students already embarked on their courses of study.

Several days later, I received a letter from UCL offering me a place on the BSc course providing I achieved three E grades at A-Level. The top grade at A-Level was A, the lowest pass grade was E. At first, I was not sure whether to be pleased that all I needed was just to pass my three A-Level examinations. Was that the best that they thought I could manage? No, it was not. In those days, if UCL liked a candidate at interview, they took the strain off the candidate by not expecting high grades. Thee Es was normal for most subjects except medicine and dentistry when 3 Cs were required.  These days, candidates to places like UCL would be expected to get 3 A grades or something awfully close to this. Well, having been offered a place subject to my attaining at least 3 E grades and being neurotic by nature, I began to worry. What if I could not manage the three Es?

I became obsessed by examination papers to such an extent that I used to use my father’s typewriter to compose examination questions that I hoped would never appear in front of me in the examination hall. Whether or not composing these impossible questions was a kind of self-therapy or simply an opportunity to enjoy using the typewriter, I cannot tell, but it did me no harm. At the very least, It gave me short breaks in what for me was long hours trying to understand what I was studying.

My three A-Level subjects were Biology, Physical Science (a mixture of chemistry and physics), and mathematics. I found that all of them were most interesting and not too taxing. When I was at school, it was possible to opt to attempt supplementary papers in the subjects chosen for A-Level. These papers were known as ‘S-Levels’ and were designed to test a candidate’s deeper understanding of a subject. I chose to do S-Level papers in biology and mathematics. The biology S-Level paper was enjoyable. I was able to show off what I had learnt from reading around the subject. One of the questions was something to do with discussing the origins of life on earth. Well, in addition to various then current theories I decided to include what is described in the first chapter of the Old Testament. I passed that S-Level. The mathematics S-Level paper was a quite different ‘cup of tea’. Even though I had attended special classes to learn the mathematics that was required, I was stumped. For the first 30 minutes of the three-hour paper, I just stared at the questions. There was not one that I could even begin to tackle. So, after 20 minutes, I walked out of the examination room, leaving a blank script on my desk.

I can remember where I was when I received the A-Level results in August 1970. I was in Italy with my parents and sister on one of our annual visits to that country. We were in Venice, staying, as we always did, at the Pensione La Calcina, where many decades earlier the eminent John Ruskin(1819-1900) used to reside when visiting the island. The establishment’s façade is on the Fondamente Zattere across the water (of the Giudecca Canal) from the famous Santissimo Redentore church (completed 1592) designed by the architect Andrea Palladio.

We had just eaten lunch at the pensione and were taking the air on the waterfront prior to retiring indoors for a siesta when Signorina Steiner, the manageress, came rushing up to us with a telegram. My parents opened it to discover that my aunt in London had sent my A-Level results, which to my great relief were way in excess of the minimum required to gain admission to UCL.

If I had not managed to attain even 3 E grades, I would certainly not have expected to be admitted to any university. I would have had to accept the result and might well have decided to re-sit the examinations a few months later. As far as I am aware, in my day, there was no appealing to have papers re-marked as has become normal in the last twenty or thirty years. During recent times, it is not unusual for someone who is not satisfied with a grade to have his or her examination papers re-marked. Often, the revised grade is higher than the original, but things can go less favourably for the candidate.

This year, when young people have not been able to attend school since March and have not been awarded A-Level grades based on final papers written under strict examination  conditions, they have been awarded grades based largely on statistics (generated by what appears to be a poorly conceived algorithm) rather than individual ability. Many students have been awarded grades well below what they and their teachers expected. Thank heavens that there are appeal procedures in place.

I remember how much of a nail-biting experience it was waiting for my A-Level results back in 1970. This year, it was far worse for candidates. Not only did they not know on what basis their grades would be estimated, but also many of them will have to remain anxious for even longer whilst their appeals are being considered.