The Finest Stone Town in England

How often, when watching epics on the big screen or television, have you admired the scenery or buildings and wondered where they are or even if they exist in reality?   Those of you that have done this when watching Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice can be reassured that, indeed, they do for they were filmed in the Lincolnshire town of Stamford, often described as the finest stone town in England.

Stamford has an ancient history.  The Romans constructed Ermine Street which passes through it only to be then pursued by Queen Boudica; almost a thousand years later it was the turn of the Anglo-Saxons against the Danish invaders.  The conquering Normans built a castle (to be demolished four hundred years later) but it was during the Middle Ages that Stamford really flourished due to the wool trade.  However, apart from its five medieval churches, the majority of the town’s buildings date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  In the late 1960’s, it became Britain’s first conservation area and is now designated an area of outstanding architectural interest.  It is due to this early protection that has earned the town its accolade, seconded by the Sunday Times (national) newspaper describing it as the best place to live in the country.

Close to the bridge which crosses the River Welland  stands the church of St. Martin’s, built around 1150 and completely rebuilt three hundred years later.  It contains some fine memorials to the Cecil family, the earliest dating from 1598, and also medieval stained glass brought from a neighbouring village in the 1700’s.

 

For those interested in church timber, St. Martin’s has finely detailed box pews and a carved lectern.  It also has the more contemporary (1947) carved head of Christ – Consummatum Est by Alberdi – representing the moment of his death; an anti-war protest.


 

William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley, was chief advisor, Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.  It was he who built Burghley House, considered to be the finest of its age and open to the public.  It is still lived in by descendants of the family and also home to the International Horse Trials held in the Park each September.  I have written of these before and these posts can be found by clicking on the link here.

More of my images of Stamford and Burghley can be found on Flickr by clicking on the link here.

Refs:
http://www.stamford.co.uk/index.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamford,_Lincolnshire
http://www.stamfordchurches.co.uk/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cecil,_1st_Baron_Burghley
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Archbishop Tutu comes to Oxford

One of the best aspects of living in the secret valley, (apart from being unknown, of course), and living on a relatively small island, is that we aren’t too far from anywhere. We can travel north, south, east and west with comparative ease and one of the nearest cities is Oxford.

Oxford is so steeped in the history and daily life of the Universities that it is generally forgotten that it has another side to its personality – but that will have to wait for another post. It was to Oxford, thanks to Kellogg College, that I found myself in the Sheldonian Theatre last Monday afternoon. If the word theatre conjures up a vision of red velvet curtains and plush velour seats, think again: The Sheldonian was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, perhaps our greatest architect, around 1664 to provide a suitable venue for ceremonies associated with the University. It is still used for this purpose and for lectures and the seats – benches – are hard and unforgiving. However, it is a masterpiece of design and, also by being circular, it is possible to see the platform uninterrupted by the heads of other people or by pillars.

When a friend asked if I would like to attend a lecture given by Archbishop Desmond Tutu I thought it must be joke as surely all places would be allocated. They were and we were amongst those that were priviledged to attend. Archbishop Tutu is a person I have admired for many years – for how can someone (or a people) that have suffered so much indignity and hardship be so forgiving? This was the subject of the lecture: Lessons From the Truth and Reconciliation Process for 21st Century Challenges. The transcript and video is not yet available but a similar lecture given in the States can be seen here.

Call me an old softy, but my initial reaction when the Archbishop walked into the centre of the building was to want to burst into tears, such was the emotion in seeing him in person. And when I looked around at the audience, many were wiping their eyes, both men and women, young and old.
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Archbishop Tutu talked about the hardship that his people had suffered through the dreadful years of apartheid (I’m ashamed to say, that the British government didn’t give much assistance). In his characteristic tone of voice – sometimes high, sometimes low – he pointed out many of the everyday insults that arpartheid brought: the designation of race (black or coloured) by having a comb run through your hair. Of being denied medical treatment, so many things. He told harrowing stories of both blacks and whites being murdered during the armed struggle.
And also, after a long pause, as the horrors were absorbed, his high pitched laugh would bring the story to a close with a quip or a gesture. And he made us laught at ourselves too, which always has to be a good thing!

But the lecture wasn’t all about horror – in fact, horror (although plenty of it) was not the overwhelming feeling. That feeling was of joy and of love and of hope and that has to be great, in the biggest sense of the word, for we all need to be reminded that much in the world is good – don’t we?
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