Story of a tower

“IT’S THE TOWN’S SYMBOL, you see”, we were told by a friendly young man whom we met by chance in a churchyard in the town of Bruton in the county of Somerset.

“Never been up there myself, even though I’ve been living in Bruton all my life,” he told us, pointing at a tall tower on the summit of a hill overlooking the town.

“Where have you come from?” he asked us. When we replied ‘London’, he commented:

“Never been there myself. Have a good evening.”

Bruton is about 120 miles southwest of central London. The tower about which we had asked the young man is square in plan, is built of neatly cut limestone blocks, has three layers of windows, and looks (from below) as if it is missing its roof. The top parts of each of the four walls are triangular, looking as if they were once the side walls of gabled roofs.

The tower that stands in Bruton’s Jubilee Park is known as ‘The Dovecote’. The hill on which it stands rises steeply from the almost level fields of the public park. Birds, mainly pigeons, could be seen perching on the edges of the four gables at the top of the tower. It stands on a square plot 65 square feet in area and is situated on land over 300 feet above sea level, to the south of the centre of Bruton. Although it is tall, I have not been able to discover its height by searching the internet. That it has lost its roof, is recorded.

The tower stands in what was a deer park of about 30 acres established in about 1545-6 by the canons of the long-since demolished nearby Bruton Abbey (whose remains can be seen in the town). The park was later enlarged and surrounded by a wall. In the 18th century, the deer were removed. However, much earlier, in the 16th or, 17th century (actual date is uncertain although some of the timber used in the construction has been dated as being felled between 1554 and 1586), the present tower was built by the Berkly family. They acquired the land after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. The tower was built to be used as a ‘prospect’ or ‘look out’ tower.

In about 1780, or maybe much earlier, the tower was converted to be used as a dovecote. Inside the tower, which we could not enter, there are roosting spaces (nesting boxes) for at least 200 doves. Long ago, pigeons and doves were an important food source. They were reared for their eggs, flesh, and dung. In 1915, the National Trust (‘NT’) acquired the freehold of the tower from Sir Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare (1865-1947). Not only did Sir Henry give his tower to the NT, but also, more importantly, he also donated his family estate with its fabulous landscaped grounds at nearby Stourhead to the same organization in 1946. The Hoare family, about whom I hope to write soon, is also associated with another tower not far from Bruton, the Alfred Tower, which we have visited … but more on this anon.

Although we could not enter The Dovecote tower, we did one better than the young local with whom we spoke earlier; we walked up to its base.

An unusual feature

AN ELDERLY LADY WALKING with the help of a walking frame beckoned to us just after we had  walked around the Church of St Mary in the village of Guilden Morden near Royston in Cambridgeshire.  As with so many country churches we have visited since the onset of the covid19 pandemic, we had found that the church was locked up. However, the lady, who had called us over, was holding a large old-fashioned key and asked us whether we would like to see inside the church. I am so glad that we accepted her offer because she pointed out something that is very rarely found in English churches: a double rood screen.

A rood screen is often found in late mediaeval churches. Commonly made of wood and often ornate, the screens separate the nave where the congregation assembles from the chancel where the choir sings and the clergy officiate near to the high altar. The rood screen at St Mary’s in Guilden Morden, whose construction began in the 12th or 13th centuries, consists of two parallel screens on either side of a central passage leading between the chancel and the nave. It is decorated with some paintings of saints and on each side of the passage, there are small enclosures large enough for several congregants to sit during a service.

The lady, who pointed out the special nature of the rood screen, told us that in the past, the lord of one manor sat with family members in the ‘cubicle’ on one side of the central passageway and the lord of another manor sat in the cubicle on the other side. She told us that when she was a small child in the village, she had seen the local aristocrats occupying the rather cramped-looking booths between the parallel screens.

The website www.english-church-architecture.net doubts the church’s claim  that the double-rood screen is an original feature of the church. It quotes the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who:

“… declared it to be reassembled from the original rood screen and one or more parclose screens, to form “a double rood-screen, i.e. with a kind of pew left and right of a central passageway.  Three designs are represented, two very similar and clearly not too late in the fourteenth century, the third, early Perp.”  In fact, the early Perpendicular work forms the back of the screen and the re-used sections of parclose screens, if that is what they are, appear to have been built up against it on the side towards the nave.”

Whatever its history, neither my wife nor I had ever seen anything quite like that in British churches … and we have visited quite a few of them.

Before leaving the church and the kind old lady, I spotted the baptismal font that looks far older than the church. Our new friend thought it predated the present church. According http://www.british-history.ac.uk, the font’s basin is 12th century and the pillars supporting it are later.

Before we left the church and the lady locked it up, I asked her about the name Guilden Morden. She believed that it might mean something like ‘golden moor’. She was not far off the truth, which is that the name is derived from the Old English ‘Gylden More Dun’, meaning ‘Golden’ (rich or productive) ‘Moor Hill’.

Once again, a trip out of London into the countryside has proved to be not only refreshing but also enjoyable. England, from which we have always travelled abroad during the years before the current pandemic, is proving to be at least as interesting as the many far more exotic destinations we have been enjoying over the years.

A bridge and a king

 

KINGSBRIDGE IS A SMALL town in South Devon. It lies at the head of an inlet of a ria (a completely submerged river valley) upon which the better-known and more popular resort of Salcombe is also located.

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 Many histories of Kingsbridge relate that the town resulted from the union of two neighbouring settlements, the neighbouring royal estates of Alvington and Chillington. Kingsbridge was formed around a bridge (possibly, a draw-bridge) that connected the two at the head of the inlet of the ria. The bridge was built by the 10th century. So far, so good, but today there is no bridge in the town of Kingsbridge.

If you drive from Kingsbridge towards Dartmouth via the A379 road, you will soon arrive at the New Bridge west of the town. This not so new bridge with five arches was built in 1845 and restored several times since then. It crosses Bowcombe Creek, another branch of the ria. This bridge is not, and has never, ben inside the town of Kingsbridge; it is well outside it. It is not, as has been suggested to me by several locals, the bridge that gave the town its name. So, where was the bridge?

By chance, I found a book about the history of Kingsbridge on-line. It is “Kingsbridge and its Surroundings” by SP Fox, published in 1874. This is the only source that I have found so far that mentions the site of the bridge in Kingsbridge. On page 10, the author noted:

“Nearly at the lower end, Fore Street is crossed at angles by Mill Street and Duc’c [now called Duke] Street, the former on the west side, leading to West Alvington and Salcombe; the latter on the east, in the direction of Totnes and Dartmouth, and uniting the towns of Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke by a very small bridge.”

The old bridge mentioned by Fox no longer exists, but the two streets mentioned do. Duke Street, which used to run through from Fore Street to Church Street near to the present Duke of Prussia pub (according to a late 19th century map), is now a cul-de-sac on which you can now find the main entrance to a popular fish and chips shop called ‘The Cod Father’. Mill Street is still a road leading towards West Alvington and Salcombe.

Where Fox describes the bridge, there is no sign of a ditch or stream today. Maybe, long ago there might have been a ditch or stream across which the bridge straddled. At the head of the inlet of the ria in Kingsbridge, there is a small arch, which might be the outlet to a formerly visible stream, which has long since been covered.

To add some complexity to the story, a modern source (https://kingsbridge.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/B13-Kingsbridge_Devon-Historic-Market-and-Coastal-Towns-Survey-Report.pdf) suggested that the bridge after which the town was named was not within the town itself but some way outside it:

“The exact site and function of the bridge is of great interest, as clear documentary evidence for an  Anglo-Saxon bridge in Devon is rare (Henderson and Jervoise 1938, 29; Hoskins 1954, 147), and, in the present context, because the development and character of the town, like its name, can be expected to have been fundamentally linked with that of the bridge and its highway. The attraction and shaping of urban growth to main roads and river crossings is a strong pattern across medieval Devon (Slater 1999). The detailed map analysis for the urban survey indicates that the early bridge may have crossed   the River – between routes later altered to become Love or Boon’s Lane on the west side, and Quay Street on the east – downstream from a tidal ford on the Mill Street-Duke Street route and below the extent of the medieval town…”

So, we cannot be certain of the location of the old bridge.

The coat of arms of Kingsbridge consists of a three-arched bridge surmounted by a royal crown. Whether or not the bridge had three arches is not at all certain, but the fact that it linked two royal estates justifies the presence of the crown. If the bridge was located where Fox believed, there was hardly enough width for a bridge with three arches.

But who was the king? It might well have been King Edgar, ‘The Peaceful’, who reigned from 959 to 975 AD. For, it was during his reign that a charter relating to boundaries dated 962 AD mentions the existence of a ‘king’s bridge’. That could also mean that the bridge was in existence before that king’s reign.

So, regardless of the actual position of the bridge after which Kingsbridge is named, we can be certain that the name is justified as there was a bridge somewhere in or near the town and it had royal connections. Whatever the origin of the name, the town of Kingsbridge is well worth a visit.

Bombay long ago

IN THE TWELFTH CENTURY AD, long before the islands on which Bombay now stands were occupied by the Mughals, then the Portuguese, and then the British, Lakshman Prabhu, a minister in the court of the Sihara Dynasty (8th to 13th centuries AD), built a tank (reservoir) on what is now the elegant residential area known as Malabar Hill. This water body, the Banganga Tank, was rebuilt in 1715 and had been cleaned up recently. Neither my wife nor I had heard of it until a correspondent, Donna Young, suggested we visit it.

The approach road that leads off one of the main roads in Malabar Hill enters an area where on one side of the thoroughfare there are expensive apartment blocks. They face a line of badly built modest homes (slightly better than slum dwellings and some with TV satellite dish aerials) all of which must have great views of the Arabian Sea.

The tank is rectangular in plan and surrounded by steps with wide landings leading down to the water, which enters the pool at one corner at a fast rate of flow. Ducks and geese rest on the steps or swim in the water in the tank.

The tank is surrounded by low buildings, many of which are Hindu temples. Occasional gaps between the buildings have staircases that lead down to the steps surrounding the tank. Some of these gaps are flanked by towers containing many niches for placing diyas (oil lamps). Some of these have become perching places popular with pigeons.

The road running around the tank is the only thoroughfare for the community, mainly Hindus, who live around the tank. This community, though by no means impoverished, is far less prosperous than that which occupies most of Malabar Hill.

Banganga Tank is very picturesque and a complete contrast to its surrounding elegant mansions and apartment blocks built mainly from the 1920s onwards. It is a well preserved early mediaeval environment in the heart of busy, modern Bombay. It should be on tourists’ itineraries, and judging by a group of middle-aged Italian camera toting tourists I saw, I believe it is already.

While I was wandering around exploring, my wife sat on a wall near some parked motorcycles. There were some young men joking amongst each other nearby. One said to another: “You are fourth class fail.” He replied: ”You are second class fail.” At this point, my wife asked if one of the bikes could be moved slightly to give her legs more room. As a third boy shifted the bike, one of the others laughed and said: “Oho, that one is KG fail” (KG is short for kindergarten).