Saturday, 31 December 2011

Old Knockers !

The other day I went fora walk around Chepstow. It was a grey day but it was good to walk down Bridge Street, stand on the bridge over the River Wye and look back to the Castle.
Bridge Street has a really nice feel to it and Castle Terrace looks a great place to live. Its a Georgian terrace of ice cream colours with their rear windows looking at the Castle. There are a few pubs two advertising live music which is always a good sign of a buzzing community.

As I walked back up to town I noticed that nearly every house had a different door knocker...which got me thinking about the history and meanings of the different types. I suppose knockers have been around for as long as there has been doors...but it was in medieval times that various decorations were used, dogs, lions and gargoyles to scare away evil spirits. They later became more decorative following the fashions of the time. Forged iron and cast iron were mainly used but polished brass later became a sign of status and wealth.The lion a sign of courage,strength and bravery is seen on the knocker of No.10 Downing street, London.

Lion head door knocker
The Fir cone- a sign of clear vision of what is beyond and yet to come. It also opens when sunny and closes when wet. The following link is to an old story about a mouse and a fir cone.
Modern Woodpecker...keen ornithologist ?

Victorian Gothic by A.Kendrick & Sons. It has a bat perching on the top of the knocker. Bats area symbol of rebirth and of being very aware of your surroundings.

Dragon- to see clearly and a protector of the home.

Doctor's Knocker- Early Georgian and was designed to identify the Doctor's House.

Victorian Hand 1890's.

Looking through the prices and designs of knockers I found that one old knocker that I gave to a friend 20years ago as a house warming present is now worth £600 ! I wonder if they still have it ?
There are quite a few sites for knockers on the web but this appears to be a good one...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Clapper Bridge

Today I went for a walk to see the newly restored 'Mickla Bridge'. It is a grade 11 listed clapper bridge made from large slabs of stone resting on a single pillar. The bridge goes across Cone brook between Alvington and Woolaston, near Lydney in the Forest of Dean.

The design of the bridge is thought to date back to prehistoric times but most surviving bridges are medieval.

In 2009 heavy rains caused a lot of damage. Luckily recently it was fully restored with help from a grant from Gloucestershire Environmental Trust and English Heritage.

It looks very new but soon it will blend and soften with mosses and lichens. ...great that someone thought enough of it to get it repaired. It was very muddy...more boggy !  and the start of my walk followed a wall of green lichen covered tyres....
..... but Mickla Bridge is worth walking to and is used..not by packhorses but by a lot of locals using 'shanks pony' !

Saturday, 24 December 2011

In the bleak midwinter

Gustav Holst wrote the music for 'In the bleak midwinter' and named it after the town in which he lived 'Cranham'. Cranham is out on the road to Painswick from Cheltenham. It is a beautiful wood to walk through with magnificent beech favourite tree of 2011 !
The poem ' In the Bleak midwinter 'was written by Christina Rossetti (1830-18940) ,sister of the famous artist  Dante Gabriel   Rossetti . She modelled for some of his most famous paintings. Click to hear Annie Lennox sing in the Bleak midwinter'.
Talking of famous woods apparently Humblebee Woods above Winchcombe were the inspiration for 'The Hobbit' by Tolkien and The Lampposts leading to Malvern in Worcestershire were the inspiration
the lamppost in the snow when the children enter Narnia through the wardrobe !Apparently C.S.Lewis ,Tolkien and George Sayer were walking home one evening when Lewis saw one of the posts shining out in the snow and said ''that would make a very nice opening line for a book''

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Lion Sleeps tonight

Last week my son and myself popped over to Compton Verney to see my work that was in the Folk art Exhibition there. Walking from the car park we noticed a shed with a large silver ball on the top of it. As we got nearer we realised that it was a camera Obscurer. Once inside the shed our heads were inside the ball...good landscape but even better... brilliant acoustics. My son started singing 'Wimoweh' because he thought I'd know it ! We sang and sang ..loudly...and I don't have the greatest singing voice..but it was great fun !
Later I told a very musical friend of mine and he told me the story behind the song...after hearing it I thought I'd blog about it
.It was originally recorded by Solomon Linda and The Evening Birds in 1939 for the Gallo Record Co. in South Africa and was called 'Mbube'. He was paid a very small price and the record company kept all the royalties from the sales. It became a great hit , Linda was famous but still poor.
Years later in 1951 Pete Seeger heard the song, believed it to be an old folk song and recorded a version with the 'Weavers'...calling the song 'Wimoweh'. Since then over 73 artists have recorded the song and nearly every time it has been a hit. When Pete Seeger discovered that Linda had written the song he sent 1000 dollars to him and instructed that all of his share of the earnings should be sent to Linda. Unfortunately he only saw the 1000 dollars in his lifetime,dying in 1962 in poverty. Eighteen years later his family were able to afford a gravestone.

In 2000 after the Disney 'Lion King' a filmmaker called Francois Verster made a  documentary called 'A lion's trail' telling the story of Solomon Linda.This raised awareness of copyrights etc and the family prepared to go to court.
 In 2004 after a lawsuit, the family of  Linda agreed a Licence with Disney and the earnings were put in trust .  Apparently the Richmond Record co. that had produced the Pete Seeger version also agreed to send 3000 dollars a year to the family. It was estimated that Disney owed 1.6 million in royalties alone!
...So if you aren't humming the song yet have a look at these videos !
The first is Solomon Linda

The second is Pete  Seeger and The Weavers

And the last is a Hippo singing

Sunday, 4 December 2011

An Elephants Home in Leamington Spa.

Today I went for a trip to The Elephant House Auctions in Leamington Spa. The building in Moreton Street used to be the home for performing Elephants. As far as I can gather initially Heiglers Equestrian Circus first kept elephants there ,followed by a famous Elephant trainer called Samuel Lockhart ( 1851-1933). (There appears to be a bit of a discrepancy about Morrell Street and Moreton street but they do join into each other.) Samuel worked in Sri Lanka on Tea plantations where he learnt how to train elephants. He bought some and ended up travelling all over the U.K. performing for Queen Victoria and working with the Ringling Brothers. While they were in Leamington Spa the Elephants were walked through the town down to the river to wash and water.  The slipway called 'The Elephants Walk is still there. It used to be nearer the Parish church but was moved near Mill Bridge because the noise of the elephants upset the church goers !
The Elephant House

He had a brother called George William Lockhart who also trained elephants. He was unfortunately killed when two of his elephants, Salt and Sauce stampeded. Salt and Sauce continued to be worked by various people including Dudley Zoo, The Fossetts and Billy Butlin.
They were also featured in the old film 'Elephant Boy'.
Ringling Brothers Circus
 His son George Claude Lockhart was the first Circus Ring master to wear 'Pink'tails and a top hat !
Apparently the owners of the Elephant House still have the right to walk Elephants down The Parade and to wash them in the River.
By the way, Royal Leamington Spa is well worth a visit..lovely architecture, even a Landsdowne Crescent like Cheltenhams. Next time we will find the slipway and visit the local museum, galleries and shops !
More information about Sam Lockhart in link_

Friday, 2 December 2011

Ghosts in Bourton on the Water

Tonight We popped over to the Christmas late night shopping in Bourton on the Water. One of the stalls was run by Bloody Bourton...a couple of chaps that do guided tours of Bourton. I have looked on line but could only find two ghost stories.The first I could find was the following..  In 1997 three men in a car were followed by a motorbike and sidecar..when the bike didn't say if the men stopped to have a look..just in case ! The second which is amusing is a ghost of a brick...yes you read this correctly..a brick ! In one of the Teahouses  people have been known to stubb their toes on it and trip over it....I am slightly wondering about what they put in their coffee. I'm afraid I don't know which shop it is though. The tours cover legends, witches, superstitons and all sorts. One of tthe shops in the town had a Witchcraft museum, the building is known locally as Witches Mill. I know the owners of the building and the shop couldnt be further away than the idea of witchcraft. Locally Charles Paget Wade[ who owned Snowshill Manor ]owned a collection of objects linked with magic and alchemy which he stored lots of the objects to do with witchcraft in the  'Witch's Garret' up the top of the manor house. This collection found its way into the Museum of Witchcraft in Bourton on the Water.Apparently in 1954 there used to be a museum of Witchcraft but locals painted signs, hung dead cats from trees and eventually caused arson. The Museum is now at Boscastle. Unfortunately some of the objects including a great magicians chest were badly damaged in the floods in 2004.
While looking for stories I accidentaly came across the origins of Tom,Dick and Harry..they were three brothers near Burford who were Highwaymen.
I think Winchcombe should have its own tours, we have ghosts, ley lines, murder alleys, strange carved stones ,witches marks, sites of whipping posts and ducking stools ..even a poem about the devil trying to visit !
''Old Nick went out upon a prowl'
An'cumed to Winchcombe, thuck dark 'ole.
But A got stuck fast in Sudeley Lane,
So swore as 'e'd never cum thur agyain !'
Anyone who knows Winchcombe will know exactly which road ! Why not come over on Tuesday 6th December for Winchcombe Christmas Late Night Shopping and see if you can find It.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A crocodile in the Cotswolds !

Today on my way to deliver some painted chairs I passed through Compton Abdale. I've driven the same way quite a few times but today I saw something ......a wonderful face of a crocodile with water coming from his mouth.
The crocodile's head was carved by George Curtis of Hazleton in the mid C19th. The spring water comes through Great Oolitic limestone and flows into the River Coln, a tributary of the River Thames.
  Isn't he..or she lovely. Next time I'm taking a bottle to fill.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Beech Tree - Uses and Folklore.

For the last few weeks I've been driving past beautiful beech in the rain ...I decided to stop and go for a walk. Right now they are my favourite trees, looking wonderful with their fiery leaves. Tonight, I thought I'd write a blog about them...and it gave me a good excuse on a dark wet evening to get some books out, look on the Internet .and see what I could find. It's a bit of a list...and not really in any order...but I've learnt quite a bit.
 Beech leaves used to be used to fill mattresses as an alternative to straw. In France these beds were known as 'lilts de parlement'- speaking beds.
Beech wood is god for making cogs for waterwheels, chairs, keels for ships, clogs, bowls and furniture.
The baskets made for collecting strawberries called a 'pottle' used to be made of woven strips of bark wood.
It is thought that piles of beechwood were driven into peaty marsh to make the foundations for Winchester Cathedral.The wood is used to smoke Herrings.
The nuts are sometimes used as a Coffee substitute.
Oil from the nuts used to be used for cooking and lighting.
Cresoline comes from the wood and used to be used as an antiseptic.
Beech leaves mixed with gin made a drink called 'beech-leaf noyau'.

The Druids thought the tree symbolised ancient knowledge and wisdom. Henwen the great white ancient sow, was said to posses great wisdom from eating nuts from the sacred tree.
The Beech is known as the 'Beech Queen' as consort to the 'Oak King'.
Helen of Troy was said to have carved her lovers initials onto the trunk of a beech tree.
This link is to a poem written on a beech tree trunk.
Jason built the Argo out of beech.
Ogham, an Irish god, was credited with having written the Ogham Alphabet onto Beech wood tablets.
Beech was cut into thin slices and was used to create the first books. The anglo-saxon called it 'Bok' and the Swedish word 'Bok' means both book and beech.
Beech roots often look like snakes. Snakes in Celtic Mythology are a symbol of wisdom and rebirth.
In Celtic tree mythology, it is known as the 'tree of wishes'. A fallen beech branch was known as an invitation from the wishing fairies. People would write on the branch and push the stick into the earth where the wish would be taken to he underworld for the Fairy Queen to consider.

You can make a diviner for water out of a y shaped beech stick. It's also know as a wishing rod.
Beech is the sacred wood of the summer solstice....and is a favourite for yule logs at Xmas.

The marks on beech trees where the old growth has stopped is known as the evil eye.
The Beech tree was revered by ancient Romans, because it was sacred to Diana, goddess of the moon, birth,woodland and wild animals.

Famous Trees
The caged Beech,Burnham Beeches, Bucks - seen in a scene in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
Beech Avenue, Kingston Lacy, Wimbourne, Dorset.
The Meikleour Beech Hedge,planted in 1745, North of Perth.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Winchcombe Harp

In 798 Coenwulf The King of Mercia began to build a great Abbey in Winchcombe. The Church was dedicated by Wulfred, archbishop of Canterbury in 811.
In 821 Coenwulf died and his Son the young Kenelm was killed in a wood in Clent. ( see my blog  )Kenelm was buried at the Abbey and became it's Saint. One of the stone coffins in St Peter's Church is beleived to be Kenelms. In 969 during the Benedictine revival Germanus, Dan of Ramsey was made the abbot of Winchcombe.In 1068 William the Conquerer entrusted Athelwig a Norman monk, to look after the Abbey.On the 15th October 1091 lightening struck causing a great fire at the Abbey many chronicles and Psalters were destroyed.
During The Wars of the Roses ,in 1468 the present Parish Church of St Peters was built.

The Zodiac, in 'The Winchcombe Chronicle'
The Zodiac-In The Winchcombe Chronicles
In 1539 the Abbey buildings were destroyed by Henry VIII.
Now this is where I get confused about which Psalters and Chronicles are about and where they are kept. St Peters Church has a few books in the church which give far more detail but I must admit I haven't had the chance to read through them....but I wanted to tell you about The Winchcombe Harp. In 'The Winchcombe Psalter ' there is a picture of King David playing a harp.
King David playing the harp and other Musicians from the Winchcombe psalter. They are playing a crwth, rote, nakers and a pipe.

The Winchcombe Psalter,which is now kept at Cambridge University was written in Latin and Anglo- Saxon between 1025 and 1050 for the new Abbey and contains The book of Psalms. A few people See links, have made a copy of this harp, wouldn't it be great to have someone play one at the next Winchcombe Music and Arts Festival...I mean it's not many towns that can say they have a musical instrument named after them !
Out of interest, there used to be a very old Cello in the corner of St Peters Church, It has now moved back to its original home in Gretton ...not sure if it's in Stanley Pontlarge or the old Church Tower. This site has a little link to hear him playing...I have to admit it sounds blooming awful, luckily he's not playing 'our' Harp !

Monday, 24 October 2011

Automata Street Clock in Gloucester

This afternoon I called into Gloucester after spending the weekend in The Forest of Dean. In Southgate Street is a lovely Victorian Jewellers shop with an amazing Automata above the shop windows. It was installed by GABaker the first owner of the shop in 1904. It was made by Messrs Niehus Brothers of Bristol.
The life size figures or Jacks are a girl representing Ireland, a Man John Bull representing England, A man playing pipes for Scotland and a Welsh girl. In the centre is Old Father Time. The chimes are in the notes of A,B,D and G with Father Time string the hours in D. The striking bells ring on the hours and quarters.
I've been trying to find out more about the brothers.....which is proving blooming difficult. So far  I've found that they were called William and Edward. I have two volumes of Watchmakers and clock makers of the world and I can't find them. They must have been well respected and good makers applying for a patent in 1907 for improvements in chiming and striking clocks.  It's a shame to find it difficult to find them when they were building such brilliant clocks. I wonder that the carved figures were made by a Bristol ships figurehead carver,  even Anderson,  who made fabulous Fairground horses in 3 Commercial Row, Hotwell Road Bristol.. I think I'll have to call the shop to see if they know more.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Forest slag in my Garden

Today while doing a bit of clearing in my rather wild garden I found this lovely fact a block of real History ! After a quick call to my Dad I was told that it is a brick cast from the molten material  that was removed as waste from the process of copper smelting, in the Forest of Dean. It's about 9"x9" and about two hundred years old !
In the 1680's there were two copper smelting works one in Bristol the other at Upper Redbrook in the Forest of Dean. A lot of the slag waste was dumped in the River Avon, used on railway tracks and on roads. After causing problems with navigation it was banned from being dumped in the river. Someone had a bright idea to make bricks out of the slag. It can be seen in buildings and walls around the Severn and the Wye and in my garden.

The River Severn at Newnham.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

It's not a Grandfather Clock ?

Today I popped over to Cirencester with Jane, my good mate who owns and runs 'The Winds of Change Gallery' in Winchcombe.   We had two reasons for going over there, well perhaps three, one to pick up some lovely craft work for Jane's next Exhibition  the second for me to drop a restored dial off to Johnathon Beech, and the third for a bit of a jolly.

While we were there Jane commented on one of the 'Grandfather Clocks', and Johnathon said that they were really called Long case Clocks . He said that people call them Grandfather clocks after an old song, he's a fountain of knowledge.
In 1876 a song called 'My Grandfathers Clock' was written by Henry Clay Work. The song became so popular that all long case clocks  became known as Grandfather clocks, and the shorter clocks were called Grand mother clocks. The story for the song originated in the George Hotel, Piercebridge , Yorkshire. The Hotel was run by two brothers by the name of Jenkins. They owned a long case clock that kept perfect time until one of the brothers died. It then began to lose time. When the other brother died the clock stopped..never to go again. It is thought that Henry Clay Work visited the Inn and learnt of the story, then wrote the song. For the song and picture of the original clock please click on the following link.  Apologies for the song, you might not be able to stop singing it when you hear it !
Long case Clocks in Johnathon Beech's Shop
The original Long case ,floor clock or coffin clock first arrived on the scene around 1670. It had a long pendulum drop which made it more accurate ,thus the case became tall and narrow.
You might also be interested to know that the correct name for a clock face is a clock dial. I've been restoring these dials for many years now,keeping as much of the original as possible. Sometimes I recognise the style of a painter but their names are not recorded. I'm always constantly amazed at how many there are out there ..I keep thinking I'll have one of my restored dials back again but I never have.
Please have a look at Johnathon's website

If you want work done well, select a busy man-the other has no time. Elbert Hubbard.

What does a clock do when it's hungry ?
It goes back 4 seconds!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Blackberry Whiskey and Sloe Gin

This evening we went for a balmy evening walk to pick Blackberries. It felt odd it being so warm, but it was lovely. I'm usually in wellies not sandals....I only got stung a few times by the nettles !
The reason for picking is Blackberry whiskey. A lovely winter drink almost like Port and very easy to make, much easier than wine.

I use a very simple recipe where you don't need to weigh anything. First take a sterilised bottle, plastic milk bottle or screw top jar. Fill a 1/3 with sugar, a 1/3 with blackberries and top up with whiskey.(so it looks like a 1/3 of whiskey showing on top of fruit and sugar ) whiskey will be great. Keep in a cool dark place and shake occasionally. After straining it will be ready to drink in a put into pretty bottles it makes a brilliant Christmas Present. I also have Raspberry Vodka and Plum Vodka on the go.
Sloe Gin is made in the same way but by using sloes. I prefer to pick them after the first frosts but you can pick them now and freeze them first . The sloes need to be pricked with a fork before using them and you can add a few drops of Almond Essence if you like the taste.
Another good recipe is Vanilla Vodka using the same method, a 1/3 of sugar but replace fruit with a whole vanilla pod.
After filling a pot with fruit  ,enough for my first bottle ... we set off back home, it was starting to get dark..
but as we turned round we were treated to two deer bounding across the field in front of us,
Cheers !   Little shop selling postcards of my paintings.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Wall of Death..Fairground Motorcycle Show

Quick update....Last Sunday we had a glorious day at Goodwood Revival,....and were pleased to see the Demon Drome there putting on a great I thought I'd upload the blog that I first wrote in 2011 again.

Today we drove over to Prescott Hill Climb for their last main show of the Season. It was a great day ,Hot rods, Bikes and of course the Famous Hill Climb races. In one corner was The Demon Drome...The Wall of Death.

 You first walk up some wooden steps and enter a circular show, you are basically stood on a wooden ledge at the top of a large 32ft approx wooden barrel. When the show starts motor bikes are ridden up the wall,not only do you find yourself inches away from the wheels of the bikes with the noise and fumes but to add to the excitement the walls move !

The first Motordrome was built in 1911 at Luna Park in Coney Island. It was a board track quite long with sloping wooden sides. Unfortunately as the bikes became more powerful terrible accidents happened. The races also became more predictable with the first bike to lead often being the winner. With this motordromes became less popular..But the riders found that with increased speed ,centrifugal force made it possible for them to ride sideways on a vertical wall. By 1915 the walls had become vertical and were initially known as silodromes, later to become known as The Wall of Death. The first silodrome was based on the dimensions of the diameter of a grain silo which was approx.20 to 36 feet at the time.
The Indian and BSA Motorbike Companies realised that the shows were great advertisements for their bikes, and as you can see The Indian is still used today...a favourite of mine.

George 'Tornado'Smith is credited to have brought the Wall of Death to England from America. The link to George Tornado Smith is well worth looking at. ''Fearless Egbert'' was also one of the earliest riders working in ''Collins Famous Death Riders and Racing Lion'' in the 1920,s and 30's. The tame lions rode alongside the drivers of racing cars...and apparently one lion in particular used to roar if the rider didn't keep going !  An old film of a Wall of Death
Margaret Gast was one of the earliest female stunt riders and was known as the 'Mile a Minute Girl' after a world record in 1900 travelling 1000 miles in 120 hours.

This Demon Drome was believed to have been built in 1927 and was originally ran by Pat Collins Funfairs. There were no lions today but there was a girl rider . The Demon Drome is run by a few families who all 'live' the 1950's

If I heard correctly the one chap bought the bikes first and then bought the show, almost as a paid hobby. Dave 'Dynomyte' Seymour, his son 'Duke' and some more of his family are the stars of the show. The whole set up is great, from the outfits to their outside airstream catering, stall selling shirts etc and their cars.  If you are ever near a show then its well worth visiting. Years ago after seeing Alan Fords show I'd said I'd love to sit pillion, I almost had the chance but I can't remember why it didn't happen, a bit like when I was asked if I'd be interested in being a Rat Girl at a circus sideshow...I'd have had to sit in a large cage letting rats run about...I seem to remember that I had to get on with a painting job, but sometimes now I'm older I wish I had given them a go. There is a link to the Demon Drome Site below below.

They will be performing at Prescott Hill Climb this year on the 1st and 2nd October at the American Autumn Classic.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Day Five -Nottingham

At last I'm back writing about my trip. We woke to a sunny morning on the Service Station Car park, (hence I accidentally left my lovely umbrella opens to look like a giant sunflower,) so it was a short drive into Nottingham to find 'Warhammer World' Unfortunately not important enough to have its own road signs, and the directions were under a pile of soggy tents and sleeping bags...but we found it..a big building with there logo of a winged something or son was both excited and relieved that the old banger had made it...this time I mean me not the car!
Walking in we were faced with a huge model 7 or 8 feet high, of course my son new its name, tactics, regiment etc etc.

 Upstairs we walked into a large room looking like a theatrical castle filled with gaming tables. Up the next stairs was a museum of Warhammer..I have to say that the models were quite brilliant.

Back downstairs the shop had opened and the games tables were operating....four hours later I dragged him out of the building ,off to a park and ride and onto a bus full of very jolly people,all of us heading for the city centre
Not the prettiest of places but the people more than made up for it, really friendly and helpful. At this stage I was running out of clothes and looked like I'd walked off a pantomime set...yes I looked remarkably like a younger version of widow twanky ..but I was on holiday, I was happy and I was enjoying myself.
We aimed for the target of Nottingham Castle...Robin Hood etc...not really a castle but great views, nice gardens and a lovely Museum and Art Gallery.

There were works by one of my favourite artists, Dame Laura Knighthttp
Unfortunately most were under glass ,but the staff said that for them it was a necessary evil,protecting the paintings and saving their money not having to do much restoration. My son was happy with an exhibition on Wall art with prints from lots of artists including Banksey. Downstairs was a childrens exhibition about Robin Hood, really nice displays and comfy sofa !

We were almost the last people ushered from the castle at closing time, the sun was still shining so armed with Ice creams we  followed the Robin Hood trail back into the town, back to the bus stop. I'd had a very funny trip to Nottingham Goose Fair many years ago, but that's another story !

Back in the car we set off for Shrewsbury and the Onslow Steam Rally. It didn't look that far on the map but I hadn't been ready for Telford. It didn't matter how many times I drove on the one road into Telford I always managed to find myself exciting the town on exactly the same road. I could have found Ketley and Whitchurch lots of times but the nearest major town..not a chance. Eventually as it was getting dark and I'd passed the zig zag patterned cliff for the umpteenth time I escaped , bolted out ( oops back to Robin Hood ) and got to the Rally. Luckily the security let us park up and we fell asleep in the car to the lights and sounds of various tractors and engines arriving for the fair.
I now have a small Etsy shop


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