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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A Visit to Bath Abbey

There has been a church on the site of Bath Abbey for over a thousand years but the present Abbey Church is relatively new by British ecclesiastical standards.  Building started in 1499 but it was not until the early 1600’s that it was completed.  This was due to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and the Abbey remained as ruins until 1616 when the church was repaired; the last of the great medieval churches to be built. 

 
Tradition states that the Abbey Church was built after the then Bishop of Bath dreamt of angels descending – and ascending – to heaven.  It is this vision that is first seen as you enter the building carved into the stonework either side of the West Front.  The great flying buttresses were added in the mid 1830’s to strengthen the building after cracks appeared in the tower; at the same time the pinnacles were also installed.

In late Victorian times many of Britain’s churches had their interiors radically altered and Bath Abbey was no exception.  Much was removed – the organ and screen were taken away which has created the breath-taking view down the full length of the church to the Great East Window, also fitted at this time.  Many other windows were fitted with stained glass and that of the west window was replaced.
 

 
Perhaps the most striking of all of the church’s features is the stone fan vaulting: that of the nave was also created then to match the earlier ones of the chancel.  It soars to great heights with such delicacy and feeling of light that it is difficult to remember it is of stone – or imagine the many hours of craftsmanship that the stonemason’s must have carried out.
 

 

Carving of an earlier date, 1649, is the tomb of Sir William Waller’s wife, Jane.  Sir William fought against the Royalists in the English Civil War and intended to be buried with her.  He was however buried in London.
 

Much of the information for this post has been gleaned from the Abbey Church’s excellent website and pamphlets.  It is a magnificent building and well worth allowing plenty of time to visit for there is much to see.  It is, of course, in the city centre and adjacent to the ancient Roman Baths and Georgian Pump Rooms; these featured in an earlier post which can be seen by clicking here.

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Modern Stained Glass at Glasnevin

Plans are afoot to visit Dublin in Ireland once again this Spring. I went last April and the weather was glorious – it is a nice thought anticipating some spring warmth. The highlight then was the day spent at Glasnevin, the city’s botanic gardens.
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Like many events in life, it is often the unexpected that remain at the forefront of the mind and so it was at Glasnevin. The glasshouses and plants were, without saying, spectacular but a complete surprise was a small exhibition of modern stained glass work.
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This first piece of five panels is the work of Mary Mackey, based in County Cork. I love the colours and mix – to me it is a blend found in mountains in the fall (odd how, for an Englishman, ‘mountains in the autumn’, doesn’t sound as expressive or as romantic!). However, much of Mary’s work is inspired by the sea and this particular piece is titled ‘Sea-shushed Secret Places’. Painted and sandblasted, the strong colours used still have a swirling, dream like quality about them. Perhaps it is the light coming through the piece that allows this contradiction. Mary, in her own description of her work, tells of how she sees a flash of landscape: “…. fleeting images in real time, but in my memory the image is sharply focused, connected witha particular place, a particular time…..stored and enriched by treasuring it…..until at least something of that essence is achieved“.
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Debbie Dawson’s tryptich is totally different. Bold, square panels, they convey great strength and depth. Also based in County Cork, Debbie’s work is entitled ‘Like a Door Opening’.
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I also loved the strength of Emma O’Toole’sArchitectural Element’. Made from sheet glass, cast glass and concrete, it was unique at this exibition, with the feel and look of a sculpture. It brought back happy memories of a winter in Canada, years ago, exploring an ice ‘castle’, each battlement carved with its individual decoration of a native animal. Coming from relatively mild England, I had never seen anything like it before – it was a surreal experience. And that is the joy of art, it can transport you to places or events long forgotten or, perhaps, even not yet happened. . . .
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Chinks Grylls ‘Highlight Red‘ is an etched mouth blown glass piece. Four individually hinged panels remind me, depending on my mood – or perhaps how hungry I am – of Saharan sand dunes or rashers of bacon waiting to be cooked…. Chinks Grylls works from south west England, an area which is rapidly becoming a centre for modern glass work.

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I know that when I return to Glasnevin it won’t be the glasshouses that I shall visit first. I will make a beeline for their exhibition hall in the hope that some other equally pleasurable experience awaits me.

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Snowdonia: Through The Enchanted Forest

The tiny road that passes the converted chapel that we have been staying in once again for a late holiday continues to climb further into the mountains. The grassy areas, cropped short by sheep, give way to bracken, heather and stunted gorse, also shortened by the harsh climate. And an hours walk along this road – now little more than a stone track – brings you to the Enchanted Forest. At first, it is barely noticed: a tongue of dark green that appears to be sliding down the mountain as if desperate to reach the richer soil of the valley below.
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But suddenly, as you walk round a bend in the path, there it is in front of you. The trees look inviting; beckoning you to shelter from the cold north-easterly wind that cuts through to your bones. Yet, as you approach, the gate barring your way makes you hesitate, for the first

view into the depths of the forest is a menacing combination of dark and light. All those childhood images from the Brothers Grimm come to mind for there are the conflicting emotions: is this a sinister or a kind place to be and where will the path lead?
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Walking further into the forest, it proves to be a fascinating place, with sight after sight more enchanting than the previous one. The damp mists and rain have turned the ground into a mossy wonderland with great mounds of it creating a weird, almost surrealistic, landscape. Surely, Goblins or Hobbitts live here? They do, for every so often the moss builds up to make a hooded entrance and some even have – if you look carefully enough (like in the photo below) – a wrinkly face staring out at you.
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It is just not the light and the shadows that play tricks with you, for nothing is quite as you expect it to be. Some of the conifers branches grow upright instead of horizontally so that their silvery underside is facing you, disorienting your vision.
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Even the toadstools are rarely toadstool shaped – here these look like pieces of discarded orange peel rotting in the leaf litter.
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It is not especially surprising that ice forms on the puddles at this altitude and time of year but even this is different. They have the appearance of stained glass windows, but strangely drained of all their colour…..
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And just as suddenly as you entered it, the forest gives way again to mountain. But what a mountain! It is as if it has been dropped from a great height and smashed to millions of pieces, some just lying around and others piled up one on top of the other, regardless of size or shape. And why, several hundred years ago, did they build the dry stone walls that travel up and over them for mile after mile?
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The sun had been shining brightly when we had stepped into the trees. Now, in an instant, the weather has turned and we are being threatened by snow flurries. She-dog, our lurcher, who recognises these problems better than we do, had been wandering on far ahead. Now, knowing that danger could be approaching, she hurtles down the track back towards us, agitated, beckoning us to return home.
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How glad we were we heeded She-dog’s warning! By the time we were within sight of home the landscape was changing to white. And the snow continued to fall for days…..
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