Cleansing the sole

BOOT SCRAPERS ARE metal objects found near the front doors of houses or on the steps leading up to them. Their purpose is to provide a sharpish metal surface on which people can rub the soles of their footwear to detach mud and other dirt from them before entering the house. An article published on the 21st of August 2011 in “The Independent” related that boot scrapers became popular in cities in the late 18th, and throughout the 19th, centuries.

Boot scrapers in Warwick

According to the article: “Though the ancient Romans built footpaths, only the poor walked Europe’s cities until the late 18th century when the bling classes of the time hopped off their carriages to amble the streets…The sudden popularity of walking the streets helped shape today’s cities, with footpaths, tree-lined boulevards, public parks and covered arcades built during the 19th century… The new taste for strolling also saw shoes morph from heavy high-heeled designs for indoors to softer, low-heeled, foot-fitting gear, as scientists engrossed themselves in the study of motor skills and local authorities turned to public hygiene, improving sewerage and offering public toilets. …In the first decades of the century, footpaths were lined with scrapers to wipe off the mud and excrement before going indoors. As more and more people adopted the walking habit, it became vital to clear a special space for the new pedestrian class, safe from the flying mud and bolting horses.”

Despite its humble and basic function, boot scrapers, like other items of street furniture, the coal hole covers and manhole covers, attracted the creative side of their manufacturer’s minds. The result is that boot scrapers can be found with an amazing variety of decorative features. The four examples illustrated were found outside four neighbouring houses in a street in Warwick (Warwickshire). The basic design of each of these is the same, but their appearances differ considerably,

People, less privileged than those who were accustomed to riding in carriages, walked the streets in Europe long before the end of the 18th century and before the advent of boot scrapers. Some of them wore pattens, which were wooden platforms held to footwear by straps, thereby raising the wearer’s soles above the mud and other disagreeable matter on the street.

Today, it is still worth glancing down when you are out walking even though many dog owners now retrieve their pets’ solid waste matter as soon as it appears. Other users of the pavement are less considerate, but, sadly, boot scrapers seem to be going out of fashion.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

On the wagon – no longer!

IN THE CENTRE of Warwick, there is a building with superb examples of Victorian decorative terracotta work. High on its façade, in terracotta lettering are the words “coffee” and “tavern” because this edifice began its life as a coffee house back in 1880.

Designed by a Warwick architect Frederick Holyoake Moore (1848-1924), it was constructed for a local manufacturer and philanthropist Thomas Bellamy Dale (1808-1890). He was mayor of Warwick three times and:

“…was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, for his name was connected with the principal benevolent institutions of England, of which he was a generous supporter; as a public man he took a very active part in the sanitary improvements of the borough of Warwick, and in the adoption of the Free Library Act. He was a generous supporter of every useful institution in the town, and, though exceedingly charitable, was most unostentatious in all his benefactions.” (www.mirrormist.com/t_b_dale.htm)

In the 19th century, alcohol consumption was considered to be responsible for the ill-health of poor people and detrimental to their general well-being. Dale built his coffee tavern and hotel to offer an alternative to alcohol and pubs. His establishment had:

“…a bar and coffee room on the ground floor with service rooms at the rear; a bagatelle room, smoke room and committee and club room on the first floor, and rooms for hotel guests on the second floor.” (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/coffee-tavern-warwick).

The place was designed to keep people away from alcohol, “on the wagon”.

Now, all has changed. Today, the building still offers refreshments and hotel rooms, but does something that the late Mr Dale, who encouraged people to become teetotal, would not approve. Customers at what is now named “The Old Coffee Tavern” can now enjoy not only coffee but also a full range of alcoholic drinks. He might be pleased if he knew that when we visited its pleasant lounge decorated with colourful tiled panels, we chose to sip coffee rather than drinks containing an ingredient that did not meet with his approval.

A hospital without patients

BROTHER PETER IS one of six retired ex-servicemen who reside at The Lord Leycester Hospital, one of the oldest buildings in the town of Warwick apart from its famous, much-visited castle. He explained to us that the word ‘hospital’ in the name refers not to what we know as a medical establishment but to a place providing hospitality. The men, who reside in the Hospital are known as the ‘Brethren’.

The Hospital is contained in an attractive complex of half-timbered buildings that were erected next to Warwick’s still standing Westgate in the late 14th century. They are almost the only structures to have survived the Great Fire of Warwick that destroyed most of the town in September 1694. The buildings and the adjoining chapel that perches on top of the mediaeval Westgate were initially used by the guilds of Warwick, which played a major role in administering the town and its commercial activity. The ensemble of edifices includes the mediaeval Guildhall in which members of the guilds carried out their business. Between 1548 and 1554, it was used as a grammar school.

In 1571, Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), who lived in nearby Kenilworth Castle, was asked by the queen to clear the streets of Warwick of ailing, infirm, and disabled soldiers, by establishing a refuge (i.e., ‘hospital’) to shelter them. It is said that Dudley persuaded the town’s officials to give him their Guildhall to be used for this purpose. This ended the guilds’ use of the complex of mediaeval buildings, now known as Lord Leycester’s Hospital.

 Initially, Dudley’s hospital provided accommodation for The Master, a clergyman, and twelve Brethren, poor and/or wounded soldiers, and their wives. According to the excellent guidebook I bought, the original rules of the hospital include the following:

“That no Brother take any woman to serve or tend upon him in his chamber without special licence of the Master, nor any with licence, under the age of three-score years except she be his wife, mother, or daughter.”

 To accommodate them, modifications of the interiors of the buildings had to be made. Brother Peter, with whom we chatted, is one of the current Brethren. He introduced us to another of his fraternity, a young man with a scarred head, who had survived an explosion whilst serving in Afghanistan.

Dudley’s arrangement survived until the early 1960s, when the number of Brethren was reduced to eight. By this time, the Master was no longer recruited from the clergy but from the retired officers of the Armed Forces. What is unchanged since Dudley’s time is his requirement, established in an Act of Parliament (1572), that the Brethren must attend prayers in the chapel every morning. They recite the very same words chosen by Dudley when he established the hospital.

We did not have sufficient time to take a tour of the buildings that comprise the hospital, but we did manage to enter The Great Hall, which now serves as a refreshment area for visitors. This large room has a magnificent 14th century beamed timber ceiling made of Spanish chestnut. It was here that King James I was entertained and dined in 1617, an event lasting three days. We were also able to catch a glimpse of the Mediaeval Courtyard, which is:

“… one of the best preserved examples of medieval courtyard architecture in England.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Leycester_Hospital).

The Lord Leycester Hospital is less well-known than the nearby Warwick Castle, which has become something of a costly ‘theme park’. However, the hospital is a far more interesting place to visit, However, you will need to go there before the 23rd of December 2021, when it will be closed for restoration for quite a lengthy period.

A pillar box

In Britain, posting boxes for letters and small packages are sometimes referred to as ‘pillar boxes’

While visiting the town of Warwick, famous for its castle, we spotted a letter box that is truly a pillar box.

This post-box (pillar box) is shaped like a classical pillar. It was made in cast-ron in 1856 and is one of two of this design in the town of Warwick. They are still in use.