No park like this in New York City

MOUNT STREET GARDENS in London’s Mayfair was formerly the burial ground of St George’s Church in Hanover Square. Its name derives from Mount Field, where there had been some fortifications during the English Civil War. The burial ground was closed in 1854 for reasons of protecting public health. St George’s Church moved its burials to a location on Bayswater Road, St Georges Fields, which is described in my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London”. In 1889-90, part of the land in which the former burial garden was located became developed as the slender park known as Mount Street Gardens (‘MSG’- not to be confused with a certain food additive). Small as it is and almost entirely enclosed by nearby buildings, it is a lovely, peaceful open space with plenty of trees and other plants.

The garden is literally filled with wooden benches. Unlike in other London parks where there is often plenty of space between neighbouring benches, there are no gaps more than a few inches between the neighbouring benches in MSG. The ends of neighbouring benches almost touch each other. The result is that MSG contains an enormous number of benches given its small area. And they are much appreciated by the people who come into the park and rest upon them.

Each bench bears a memorial plaque. Many of these memorials commemorate people from the USA, who have enjoyed experiencing the MSG. And most of these having touching messages written on them. Here are just a few examples: “For my children Philippa and Richard, young Americans who may one day come to know this place. Richard L Feigen. 8th August 1987”; “Seymour Augenbraun – a New Yorker and artist for whom this spot in London is his oasis of beauty. From his wife Arlene and family on July 15th 1986”; “To honour a dear brother and sister Ira and Nancy Koger of Jacksonville Florida”; “This seat was given by Leonora Hornblow, an American, who loves this quiet garden”; “In memory of Frances Reiley Bochroch, a Philadelphia lady who found these gardens a pleasant pace”; and “In loving memory of Joe Bleich (1910-1990). An American who could not find a park like this in New York City,”

There are plenty of other similar memorials to Americans on the benches. All of them interested me, but one of them particularly stood out: “To commemorate Alfred Clark, pioneer of the development of the gramophone. A friend of Britain, who lived in Mount Street”. Clark (1873-1950) was a pioneer in both cinematography and sound recording. Eventually, he became Chairman of EMI. A keen collector of antique ceramics, he donated some of his pieces to London’s British Museum.

Not all of the benches are memorials to Americans. There are others to Brits and people from other countries, but the Americans outnumber the rest. Had it not been for the extraordinarily large number of benches in this tiny gem of a park, I doubt that my eye would have been drawn to the commemorative plaques, but having seen the one in memory of Joe Bleich, who was unable to find a park like it in NYC, I was drawn to examine many of the others.

Americans in Mayfair

MY UNCLE SVEN Rindl (1921-2007) was a structural engineer. He was involved in the construction of the building on the west side of Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square, which used to house the Embassy of the USA until recently. About yards south of the former embassy building, there is another place associated with the USA on South Audley Street. Far older than the embassy, this is the Grosvenor Chapel, whose foundation stone was laid in 1730 by Sir Richard Grosvenor (1689-1732), the local landowner. The relatively simple brick and stone church with some neo-classical features was ready for use in 1731. When the church’s 99-year lease ran out in 1829, it became adopted as a chapel-of-ease (i.e., a chapel or church within a parish, other than the parish church) to St George’s Hanover Square.

Until very recently, I had often passed the Grosvenor Chapel when going to and from The Nehru Centre, also on South Audley Street, but had never entered it. Yesterday (26th of August 2022), the doors were open and, being early for a dance performance at the Nehru Centre, I looked inside the chapel. Its interior is simply decorated. The wide nave lies below a barrel-vaulted, plastered ceiling. Galleries supported by columns with Ionic capitals flank the north and south sides of the nave. The chancel is separated from the nave by a screen with openings, each of which is flanked by pairs of Ionic columns. The screen was added by the architect John Ninian Comper (1864-1960) when he remodelled the church’s interior in 1912.Ionic columns with their bases on the gallery support the ceiling of the nave. Windows (with plain glass panes) on two levels, both below and above the galleries, give the chapel good natural illumination. In summary, the simple, white-painted chapel, though not large, feels spacious. Its simplicity is a complete contrast to its neighbour, the flamboyant Gothic Revival style Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception.

An inscribed stone plaque on the west front of the chapel records its American connection. The words on it are:

“In this chapel the Armed Forces of the United States of America held Divine Service during the Great War of 1939 to 1945 and gave thanks to God for the Victory of the Allies”

The American General Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) was amongst those who worshipped there during WW2. Many years before that, another person connected with the USA, John Wilkes (1725-1797) was buried in the chapel. Wilkes, a radical journalist and politician, was a supporter of the American rebels during the American War of Independence.

America (i.e., the USA) has been associated with Mayfair since it gained independence from the British. Its first embassy was in a house in Mayfair belonging to John Adams (1735-1786), who was the first US Minister to the Court of St James (between 1785 and 1788). The embassy’s Chancery moved several times before 1938, when it was housed in 1 Grosvenor Square, now the home of the Canadian High Commission. Thus, during WW2, it was close to the Grosvenor Chapel. The embassy building, in whose construction my uncle was involved, was designed by the architect Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), and completed in 1960. By January 2018, the embassy had shifted from Grosvenor Square to a newly constructed edifice across the Thames at Nine Elms.

Returning to the small chapel, a small note about its name. The place’s website (www.grosvenorchapel.org.uk) explained:

“It retains its title of Chapel because it is not, and never has been a parish church, and its continuing existence is entirely dependent upon the generosity of those who worship here regularly or visit from time to time.”

Benjamin Franklin and Saint Bartholomew

ONE OF LONDON’S FEW remaining pre-1666 (Fire of London) buildings is the church of St Bartholomew the Great close to Smithfield Market. Founded in the 12th century, the building has many Norman (Romanesque) features. It also contains some contemporary artefacts including “Colloquy” (a work made from glass) by Sophie Arkette, and “St Bartholomew. Exquisite Pain” (a work in gilded bronze) by Damien Hirst.

By Damien Hirst

Beyond the chancel at the east end of the church there is the spacious Lady Chapel. During the Reformation (after about 1529), this part of the church was closed off from the rest of it, and used as commercial premises. In the 18th century, it was used as a printer’s workshop owned by Mr Palmer. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the founding fathers of the USA, worked as an apprentice in this printing works in 1725. Then, he was lodging nearby in Little Britain. While he was working in the converted Lady Chapel, he wrote his philosophical pamphlet, “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” Franklin wrote:

“At Palmer’s I was employed in composing for the second edition of Wollaston’s “Religion of Nature.” Some of his reasonings not appearing to me well founded, I wrote a little metaphysical piece in which I made remarks on them. It was entitled “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” I inscribed it to my friend Ralph; I printed a small number. It occasion’d my being more consider’d by Mr. Palmer as a young man of some ingenuity, tho’ he seriously expostulated with me upon the principles of my pamphlet, which to him appear’d abominable.”

The workshop was purchased by the church and restored as a Lady Chapel in 1897. An information panel next to it provides its history and connection with the young Franklin. It was by pure chance that I came across this London link with the American Revolution on the 4th of July.

Point of departure

TORWOOD STREET RUNS downhill to the harbour of Torquay in Devon. This usually busy street is currently (March 2022) closed to vehicular traffic because it is undergoing repairs including resurfacing. During WW2, the street was resurfaced with concrete sufficiently strong to bear the weight of tanks and other heavy military vehicles that were making their way downhill to the harbour. One of our friends in Torquay told me that the current roadworks was partly to replace the concrete surface that was laid down in the 1940s. This US military equipment was on its way to the beaches of Normandy, where the invasion of German occupied France took place: the D Day Landings in 1944.

When these heavy vehicles reached the water’s edge, they had to be loaded onto boats. Concrete embarkation ramps were constructed in May 1943. They were used to load the equipment onto seagoing vessels in June 1944 to carry out Operation Overlord, which involved landing the US forces onto the Normandy coast. The concrete slipways, which have been preserved, were called ‘Embarkation Hards’. According to information displayed on a memorial close to the ‘hards’, the landing craft used in Operation Overlord operated a shuttle service between Torquay and the Normandy beaches. Soldiers of the 4th US Infantry Division, who embarked at Torquay, were amongst the 23000 troops who were landed at Utah Beach in Normandy. Along with them, 1700 tanks, guns, and trucks also arrived on that beach.

The ‘hards’, point of departure for Normandy, are not particularly attractive to look at, but they are an impressive souvenir of what was an important military operation, which in no little way helped to bring about the downfall of Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Noguchi on show in London

AT FIRST GLANCE, the lower floor exhibition space at the Barbican art gallery in London resembles the lighting department of a furniture store such as Habitat. It is full of lighting units with Japanese-style paper and bamboo shades. After a moment, you will notice that these lighting units are not run-of-the-mill illuminations; they are interestingly shaped works of art lit up from within. These lamps are part of an exhibition of the artistic creations of Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). Born in Los Angeles, he was the son of a Japanese father and an Irish American mother. The first 13 years of his life were spent in Japan, where he began learning carpentry whilst helping his mother building their family house. From these early skills, it was not long before he embarked on what was to become a highly productive creative career, making works from a wide variety of materials from wood and stone to metals and plastics and … you name it.

Noguchi studied sculpture at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York City. In 1927, he was given a grant to travel to Paris. It was there that he was apprenticed to the Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brâncuși (1856-1957), who introduced him to abstraction. After learning much from the great sculptor in Paris, Noguchi abandoned pure abstraction and moved towards depicting the living world. However, his experiences working with Brâncuși influenced his artistic output for the rest of his life. After Paris, Noguchi travelled extensively, learning about techniques and philosophies, especially Chinese and Japanese. In 1929, he first met the architect and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), whose ideas about science and technology chimed with his. In the exhibition, there is a shiny chrome-plated bronze bust he made of Buckminster Fuller in 1929. There are also a couple of models he created in collaboration with Buckminster Fuller.  Noguchi’s interest in science was not only expressed in sculptures but also in stage settings for ballet performances choreographed by Ruth Page and for performances by Martha Graham.

During WW2, although it was not required for him to enter one of the camps where the Americans ‘cooped up’ potential Japanese enemy aliens – Japanese who lived in the USA – Noguchi volunteered to be confined in a camp in Arizona. By doing so, his aim was to create an arts programme that would ease the lives of those confined in the camp. The barren landscape surrounding his camp proved to be yet another influence on his creative output.

Amongst the many exhibits in the Barbican’s show, there are, in addition to the lighting units, several pieces of furniture designed by Noguchi. One of these is a triangular plate glass tabletop supported by two interlocking timber supports. I have seen this elegant item for sale in upmarket furniture shops, but until I saw the exhibition, I had no idea it had been designed by Noguchi as long ago as 1944. It is still being made today.  The wonderful variety of lighting sculptures, which at first reminded me of lampshades that were trendy in students’ rooms in the 1970s, are examples of ‘Akari’. Noguchi began creating them in the early 1950s, and despite their fragile nature, they are still in good condition now. One of the gallery invigilators told us that the translucent paper used to construct these lamps is made from mulberry tree bark. Known as ‘Washi’, this handmade paper can also be made from the bark of some other tree species.

As with other exhibitions at the Barbican gallery, the artworks are well-displayed and beautifully lit. If you go to this exhibition, you should not miss the video film in which Noguchi talks about his life and art very eloquently. And while you are watching it, you can sit on stools and a bench Noguchi designed. Prior to visiting this show, I had heard of Noguchi and seen a few of his works. The exhibition, which continues to the 23rd of January 2022, has truly opened my eyes to what a magnificent artist he was.

The Connecticut connection

THE CITY OF CHELMSFORD is the county town of the English county of Essex. It is a place that until November 2021 we felt. without any reason, was not worthy of a visit and have tended to avoid, skirting it on its by-pass. It was only recently that we realised that the place is home to a cathedral. Being nearby on a recent tour in Essex and curious about its cathedral, we paid a visit to Chelmsford and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

St Cedd window in Chelmsford Cathedral

The cathedral, which I will discuss later, is housed in what used to be the parish church of St Mary. The edifice is in the centre of a pleasant grassy open space. One of the buildings on the south side of this green bears a plaque commemorating Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), who was the curate and ‘Town Lecturer’ (a position established by the Puritans) of Chelmsford between 1626 and 1629.

Hooker was born in Markfield, a village in Leicestershire (www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Hooker) and studied at the University of Cambridge (https://connecticuthistory.org/thomas-hooker-connecticuts-founding-father/). At Cambridge, he underwent a moving religious experience that made him decide to become a preacher of the Puritan persuasion. He became a well-loved preacher, first serving the congregation of a church in Esher (Surrey) before moving to preach at St Mary’s in Chelmsford in 1626. A preacher in a neighbouring parish denounced Hooker to Archbishop Laud (1573-1645), a vehement opponent of Puritanism, and was ordered to leave his church and to denounce Puritanism, which he was unwilling to do. In 1630, Hooker was ordered to appear before The Court of High Commission. Soon, he forfeited the bond he had paid to the court and, fearing for his life, fled to The Netherlands.

In 1633, Hooker immigrated to The Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he became the pastor of a group of Puritans at New Towne (now Cambridge, Mass.). To escape the powerful influence of another Protestant leader, John Cotton (1585-1652), Hooker led a group of his followers, along with their cattle, goats, and pigs, to what was to become Hartford in what is now the State of Connecticut. They arrived there in 1636.

When Hooker and his followers reached the Connecticut Valley, it was still being governed by eight magistrates appointed by the Massachusetts General Court. In 1638, Hooker preached a sermon which argued that the people of Connecticut had the right to choose who governed them. This sermon led to the drawing up of a document called “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut”, which served as the legal basis for the Connecticut Colony until 1662, when King Charles II granted The Connecticut Charter that established Connecticut’s legislative independence from Massachusetts. Hooker’s importance in this process has led him to be remembered as “the father of Connecticut.”

In 1914, the church of St Mary in Chelmsford, was elevated to the status of ‘cathedral’. The reason for this is slightly complex but is explained in a well-illustrated guidebook to the cathedral written by Tony Tuckwell, Peter Judd, and James Davy. In the mid-19th century, London expanded, and the size of its population grew enormously. Many previously rustic parishes that became urbanised were absorbed from the Diocese of Rochester into the Diocese of London. This resulted in a denudation of the Diocese of Rochester. To compensate for this, Rochester was given parishes in Hertfordshire and Essex. The Archbishop of Rochester lived in Danbury, Essex, which was closer to the majority of his ‘flock’ than anywhere in Kent. In 1877, the county of Essex was transferred into the new Diocese of St Albans in Hertfordshire. However, by 1907, 75% of the population of this new diocese were living in Essex. A further reorganisation led to the creation of two new dioceses, one in Suffolk and the other in Essex. After some acrimonious competition between the towns of Barking, Chelmsford, Colchester, Thaxted, Waltham Forest, West Ham, and Woodford, it was decided that Chelmsford should become the cathedral seat of the new Diocese of Essex. St Mary’s, where Hooker of Connecticut once preached in Chelmsford, became the new cathedral. In 1954, the cathedral’s dedication was extended to include St Mary the Virgin, St Peter, and St Cedd, whose simple Saxon chapel can be seen near Bradwell-on-Sea.

The cathedral, of whose existence we only became aware this year, is a wonderful place to see. Its spacious interior with beautiful painted ceilings contains not only items that date back several centuries but also a wealth of visually fascinating art works of religious significance created in both the 20th and 21st centuries. To list them all would be too lengthy for this short essay, so I will encourage you to visit the church to discover them yourself.

Having just visited Chelmsford, its cathedral, and its tasteful riverside developments, my irrational prejudice against entering the city and preferring to avoid it by using its bypass has been demolished. Although Chelmsford might not  have the charm of cathedral cities such as Ely, Canterbury, Winchester, and Salisbury, it is worth making a detour to explore it if you happen to be travelling through East Anglia.

As a last word, it is curious that although there are places named Chelmsford in Massachusetts, Ontario, and New Brunswick, there does not appear to be one in Connecticut; at least I cannot find one.

The first, the best, and the only

DURING THE PENULTIMATE year of our daughter’s time at secondary school (i.e., high school), we, her parents, were invited to several early evening meetings to hear about options for her higher education. At one of these, representatives from three US universities gave talks about the delights and advantages of studying at universities in the USA. One of the Americans explained that when applying, you should only include things that you were the first to do; things that you were best at; and things that only you have done. She emphasised this by saying:

“You have to be the first, the best, and/or the only.”

Well, our daughter chose not not to move to the USA to study, but, chose to study at Cambridge University. Recently, we visited a country house managed by the National Trust, which can easily claim to be the first and the best, and maybe the the only. The property is in Norfolk and is called the Blickling Estate. Its last owner was Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (1882-1940), who was instrumental in getting the National Trust Act passed by Parliament in 1937. At his death, he bequeathed the Blickling Estate to the National Trust. It was the FIRST large Jacobean house to become a property run by the National Trust.

Built in the 1620s for a wealthy London lawyer, Sir Henry Hobart (died 1626), who did not live long enough to see it completed, Blickling Hall is the BEST Jacobean building in the care of the National Trust. As for fulfilling the ONLY criterion, as advised by the above-mentioned lady from an American university, this is more difficult because like all other National Trust properties, Blickling Hall is unique; it is the only Blickling Hall.

However, apart from many things that makes Blickling Hall so special, there is one other aspect of it that gives it some extra kudos. Currently, it has the largest second-hand bookshop of all such outlets run by the Trust. But this is a place well worth visiting for its interiors, exteriors, and fine gardens, both formal and otherwise. I feel that it is one of the first places you should see in Norfolk, as well as being one of the best, but only you can judge whether I am right.

Rights of man

BULL HOUSE STANDS on the High Street immediately beneath the remain of the castle that dominates the Sussex town of Lewes near Brighton. Its neighbour is an older, half-timbered edifice that now houses The Fifteenth Century Bookshop, a supplier of second-hand books, which was unfortunately closed when we passed it on a Sunday morning.

In the year 1768, the owner of Bull House, a tobacconist named Samuel Ollive, and his wife Esther, took in a lodger, who had arrived in the town. This man was an excise officer aged about 31. His name was Thomas (‘Tom’) Paine (1737-1809). 1n 1771, Paine, already a widower, married Elizabeth Ollive, daughter of Samuel and Esther. At of that time, he became involved in the Ollive’s tobacco business as well as the administrative affairs of the town of Lewes. A year later, as part of a campaign to improve the remuneration of excise officers, he published a pamphlet. “The Case of the Officers of Excise”. Tom enjoyed lively discussions and debates at the town’s ‘Headstrong Club’, which met at the White Hart Inn on the High Street. This hostelry can still be seen today.

The year 1774 found Tom in trouble. He had been accused of being absent without permission from his position as excise officer. Also, his marriage failed, and he separated from his wife Elizabeth. To avoid a spell in a debtors’ prison, he sold all his possessions. He left Lewes and went to London, where he was introduced to the revolutionary Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who recommended that Tom should emigrate to North America. Tom set sail from England and arrived in Philadelphia in November 1774.

The pamphlet that Paine wrote in Lewes was followed by many more published writings. Amongst these is his best known, “The Rights of Man”, published in 1791, in London, England, where Tom had returned in 1787. This work is described in a guidebook to Lewes as “…the bible of English-speaking radicals.” Whether Tom ever returned to Lewes after his first excursion to what is now the USA, I do not know. If it ever occurred, it is not mentioned in my guidebook, and I have not found any reference to it.

Boston, but not in Massachusetts

THE NAME BOSTON is often associated with a revolutionary tea party in a former British possession. Some might also associate it with a town in Lincolnshire. And Londoners might connect it with a tube station on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground. The station, which is a stop on the line to Heathrow Airport is Boston Manor, a place which I first visited in April of this year (2021).

In the case of Boston Manor, the name Boston is derived from an older name ‘Bordeston’, which comes from the word ‘borde’, meaning ‘boundary’. Another etymology of the name, which is unrelated to that of the Boston in Lincolnshire, is that it derives from the name of a Saxon farmer named ‘Bord’. Whatever the origin of the name, Boston Manor, the house and its lovely gardens, stand on the border between Hanwell and Brentford.

Until the Priory of St Helens in Bishopsgate was suppressed in 1538 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Helen%27s_Church,_Bishopsgate), the Manor of Bordeston was owned by it. King Edward VI granted it to Edward, Duke of Somerset (1500-1552), Lord Protector of England during the earlier part of Edward VI’s reign, and later it reverted to the Crown. In 1552, Queen Elizabeth I gave the manor to the Earl of Leicester, who immediately sold it to the merchant and financier Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579). After several changes of ownership, the property was sold in 1670 to the City merchant James Clitherow (1618-1681; www.bhsproject.co.uk/families_clitherow.shtml). James demolished the existing manor house. He modified and enlarged Boston House, originally built by Lady Reade in 1622 in the Jacobean style. This house with three gables still stands but is closed as it is undergoing extensive repairs. It looks out onto grounds planted with fine trees, many of them cedars of Lebanon. The grounds that include a small lake slope down towards the River Brent.  The house and grounds, Boston Manor Park, remained in the possession on of the Clitherow family until 1923, when Colonel John Bourchier Stracey-Clitherow (1853-1931) sold the house and what was left of the estate (after some of it had been sold to property developers) to the then local authority, Brentford Urban District Council. During his military career, this gentleman was taken prisoner during the ill-fated Jameson Raid in South Africa, a prelude to the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Before the Clitherows began selling off their land at Boston manor, there was a house in the grounds called ‘Little Boston’. It stood until the early 1920s when it was sold to a developer named Jackman, who demolished it to build houses now standing on Windmill Road (https://littleealinghistory.org.uk/node/6). John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), who became the sixth president of the USA in 1825, resided in Little Boston house between 1815 and 1817 whilst he was American minister to Britain during that period. Adams was born in Massachusetts. So, it seems fitting that he lived in a house and an estate both bearing the name of an important city in that American state.

On our way to see our friend who took us to see Boston Manor House and Park, we drove along a road named in memory of the Clitherow family. Sadly, what with the building works and covid19 restrictions, we were unable to view the fine interior of Boston Manor House. However, the garden and its lake, where we spotted its resident tortoise sunning itself on a log, proved to be a lovely surprise, well worth visiting … and you need not cross the Atlantic to get there from London.

A castle, a bridge, and the law

RIVER CROSSINGS HAVE often had great historical significance. The small town of Wallingford in Oxfordshire has been a place for crossing the River Thames since Roman times or maybe even before. According to “The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names” by someone with an interesting name: Eilert Ekwall, a fascinating book that I picked up for next to nothing at a local charity shop, the town was known as ‘Waelingaford’ in 821 AD, as ‘Welengaford’ in c893 AD, and ‘Walingeford’ in the Domesday Book. The meaning of the name is ‘The ford of Wealh’s people’, clearly referring to a river crossing place. It is said the William the Conqueror used the ford. Today, a fine bridge with many arches crosses the river.

Wallingford Castle

There has been a bridge at Wallingford since 1141, or before. The construction of the first stone bridge was probably constructed for Richard, the first Earl of Cornwall (1209-1272), a son of King John, who became King of Germany (Holy Roman Empire) in 1256, a title he held until his death. Some of the arches of the bridge may contain stonework from the 13th century structure. Much of the present bridge dates from a rebuilding done between 1810 and 1812 to the designs of John Treacher (1760-1836). During the Civil War (1642-1651), four arches were removed and replaced by a drawbridge to help defend the besieged Wallingford Castle.

The huge castle was built on a hill overlooking the town; the river – an artery for water transport in the past; and, more importantly, the bridge, which was an important crossing place on the road leading from London to Oxford via Henley-on-Thames. Between the 11th and the 16th centuries, the castle was used a great deal, being used as a royal residence until Henry VIII abandoned it. During the Civil War, the castle was restored and re-fortified and used as a stronghold by the Royalists. It was of great importance to them as their headquarters were at nearby Oxford. To simplify matters, the Parliamentarians began laying siege to Wallingford Castle in 1645. This initial attempt was unsuccessful because the besiegers had underestimated the strength of the castle’s fortifications. After the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Naseby (14th June 1645), Wallingford was one of only three strongholds in Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire) still loyal to King Charles I. A second siege of Wallingford commenced on the 14th of May 1646, shortly after the Parliamentarians had laid siege to Oxford. The latter fell on the 24th of June 1646, but Wallingford held out until the 22nd of July 1646 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallingford,_Oxfordshire). The castle was demolished in November 1652.

The castle grounds are open to the public. Here and there, few and far between, there are ruins of what must have once been a spectacular castle. Within the grounds of the former castle, there are several informative notices that give the visitor some idea of which part of the castle used to stand near the signs. From the grassy areas that formed the motte and bailey of the castle, there are fine views of the river below and some of the town.

Although our first visit to Wallingford was brief, I learnt that the judge Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) had presided as the Recorder at Wallingford from 1749 to 1770. “So, what?”, I hear you asking. At first, I hoped that he was something to do with the road, where we lived in Chicago (Illinois) in 1963: South Blackstone Avenue (number 5608). But I think that thoroughfare was more likely named after the American politician and railway entrepreneur Timothy Blackstone (1829-1900). The Wallingford Blackstone, who lived in the 18th century, was most probably a distant cousin of Timothy’s father (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Blackstone). Related or not, Sir William Blackstone had an extremely important influence the legal affairs of the USA.

Having studied at the University of Oxford and the Middle Temple, where he was called to the Bar, Sir William taught law at Oxford for a few years. Just before resigning his prestigious academic position in 1766, he published the first volume of what was to become a best-seller, a real money-spinner, “Commentaries on the Laws of England”. Eventually, this work was completed in four volumes. They contain:

“… first methodical treatise on the common law suitable for a lay readership since at least the Middle Ages. The common law of England has relied on precedent more than statute and codifications and has been far less amenable than the civil law, developed from the Roman law, to the needs of a treatise. The Commentaries were influential largely because they were in fact readable, and because they met a need.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commentaries_on_the_Laws_of_England)

The “Commentaries” are widely regarded as being the definitive sources of common law in America before the American Revolution. Blackstone’s writings were influential in the formulation of the American Constitution. His words embodied his vision of English law as a method of protecting people, their possessions, and their freedom. Blackstone’s ideas are well exemplified by this quotation from the “Commentaries”:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

This is known as ‘Blackstone’s Ratio’.

Leaders of the American Revolution recycled the idea with words such as:

“It is of more importance to the community that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…” (John Adams; 1735-1826), and:

“…it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer…” (Benjamin Franklin; 1706-1790)

As already mentioned, Sir William presided in the court in Wallingford from 1749 onwards, three years after being called to the Bar. During his career, he served as a Tory Member of Parliament a couple of times: for Hindon (1761-68) and for Westbury (1768-70). In the House of Commons, he was:

“…an infrequent and ‘an indifferent speaker’: during the seven years 1761-8 only 14 speeches by him are recorded, mostly on subjects of secondary importance. Very learned and original, over-subtle and ingenious, in major debates he showed a lack of political common sense.” (www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/blackstone-william-1723-80)

The Blackstone family owned a large estate at Wallingford including 120 acres of land by the River Thames. He died in Wallingford and was buried inside St Peter’s Church, which is close to the bridge over the river.  

What little we saw of Wallingford, its castle, its riverside including the Thames towpath, its attractive market square, and streets rich in historic buildings, during our brief visit recently, we saw enough to whet our appetites for a future and lengthier visit.