Hunting Hockney

Back in May 2019 whilst staying in a holiday cottage in the East Riding of Yorkshire with our American friend Nan Quick, we realised that we were in the same area that had inspired David Hockney to paint his series of works entitled “The Arrival of Spring”.

IMG_0941The Yorkshire Wolds in Springtime

My husband David and I have admired David Hockney’s work for many years and had seen his major show “A Bigger Picture” at the Royal Academy in 2012.

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This exhibition lived up to its name and was indeed a tour de force filling 11 large galleries which spanned a 50 year period of Hockney’s exploration and fascination with the depiction of landscape.

It included 51 prints created on an iPad, forming the “Arrival of Spring” series, in addition to 36 watercolour works of East Yorkshire in Midsummer and a set of huge canvasses depicting Woldgate Woods.

As we were staying so near to some of these locations, the opportunity to see the places that inspired him in his native county was too good to miss!


Exhibition Catalogue from the Royal Academy 


As you can see from the size of this work with David Hockney in front of it, the show really lived up to its title!

We set to work to track down the locations for some of the paintings. In true teamwork style we allocated the research with David downloading some Ordnance Survey maps of the area and finding six digit OS map references.

Nan meanwhile pored over the road atlas for routes and looked up some of the paintings, whilst I found a useful local website listing some Hockney locations and checked out Google Earth satellite images and looked up local Sat Nav postcodes. 



We prepared a list of possible locations and routes and set off the next day to try to seek some of them out!

The first was just outside the village of Langtoft to find the location of one of Hockney’s oil paintings of tracks through a wheat field painted in 2005.


Tracks into a Wheat Field near Langtoft July 2005 © David Hockney Foundation

Oil on canvas by David Hockney in a private collection


And what we saw in May 2019…the wheat not yet ripened and a gate across but the tracks visible and instantly recognisable!

So a good start…hope our luck holds! 


Puddle near Kilham © David Hockney Foundation


As it had not been raining there was no puddle on the track this day! However there was one by the car!


Off next to the little village of Kilham to find the location of a watercolour painted in July 2004 and one which featured in a postcard set we had bought at the exhibition.



 Kilham July 2004 Watercolour on Paper. © David Hockney Foundation


 The same location in May 2019 although some trees surrounding the church seem to have been removed since Hockney painted here

Leaving Kilham we approached Woldgate, a minor road which follows the line of a Roman road which runs for 10 miles when it then joins a main road on the edge of the town of Bridlington. Our research had shown there to be many of Hockney painting locations along this route, not really surprising as his mother lived in the town at the time. After her death, he moved into the house and created a studio there.


The former Roman road – the Woldgate

We set off and it wasn’t long until we came across the first location on Woldgate…a work entitled Yorkshire 18 & 31 January 2006.


David Hockney “Yorkshire, 18 & 31 Jan 06″ 2006 Oil on canvas 36 x 48” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

The tree today albeit in a different season.


We continued our hunt driving along the ancient Woldgate to find the next location which I nearly drove past until I spotted it in my rear view mirror!


Early Blossom, Woldgate 2009 © David Hockney Foundation 


The same spot today complete with hawthorn blossom!

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Hawthorn Blossom and Red Campions


Hockney loves Spring flowers, and here I quote Hockney in his introduction to The Arrival of Spring…

“I had planned to record the Spring arriving 2011 having observed its arrival for seven years on Woldgate, a small single track road that runs from Bridlington to Kilham, about 10 miles…I had only vaguely planned how to make the work starting in early April. The Winter is difficult because of the cold, which I feel intensely because of my thin legs. when the snow came, I began to draw on my iPad sitting in a car….

…What I began to call Action Week when the Cow Parsley  (Queen Anne’s lace) seems to grow a few feet in a week, always comes around early May. Some years there was hardly any blackthorn, although the hawthorn blossom was always there in different amounts. some years a bush had plenty the next year not so much. A very exciting time I thought, especially the hawthorn, of which there’s a lot on the Woldgate….”

We continued along the quiet road and arrived at Woldgate Woods.


Woldgate woods resplendent in their fresh spring leafy growth and cow parsley 

We parked up and took a walk along one of the numerous paths and found yet another possible location for one of the paintings….


Green tunnel in the woodland


Late Spring Tunnel May 2006 © David Hockney Foundation

We drove on towards a bridge. Research done using the website, revealed it is called called the Fond Bridge. Apparently it was in this location where Queen Henrietta Maria sheltered in a ditch in 1643 after arriving at nearby Bridlington on a Dutch ship laden with arms and aid for her beleaguered husband Charles I.

David Hockney painted the bridge here many times for his Arrival of Spring series in 2011.


The Arrival of Spring 11 May © David Hockney Foundation

IMG_6729and the view we saw on 27 May 2019

It was also along Woldgate where Hockney created a video that featured in the Royal Academy show. This was created by mounting several high definition digital cameras atop the roof of a Jeep then driving down to film the Woldgate throughout different seasons. I remember well sitting in the darkened gallery at the Royal Academy and watching this mesmerising video through twice!

We decided to take a short detour to look at a village after leaving the Woldgate, this one not connected to a Hockney painting.

There are so many villages in this area with such unusual names such as Thwing, Warter and Wetwang and the one we wanted to visit was called Rudston, its name allegedly a hybrid between the old English word for a cross “rood” and “stane” meaning stone.

In the village churchyard of All Saints Church stands a monolith or standing stone, a slender pillar of gritstone nearly 8 metres high which is the tallest prehistoric standing stone in Britain…even  taller than the standing stones at Stonehenge! This is what we had come to see!


All Saints Church with the standing stone amidst the graves

This Neolithic stone, the weight of which is estimated at around 26 tons, is believed to be sourced from some 9 miles north of the site, and could possibly have been transported to its location during the Ice Age as a glacial erratic.

It is thought the first church was built here in the C12th near to the monolith, the builders following the edict of St Augustine in AD597 to “build your churches alongside pagan temples and show them the love of God”. 


Now capped in lead it is a pretty impressive piece of stone and its depth below the ground is thought to be as great as its height!


Nan and I show the scale of the monolith!

It was believed that there was a fossilised footprint of a dinosaur on the stone although in 2015 experts ruled this theory out.


Is this a fossilised dinosaur footprint..?

In the corner of the churchyard is a smaller stone of the same type as the monolith believed to be an outlier stone. A watercourse called the Gypsy Race ran nearby and a Roman villa remains were found.  A roman sarcophagus still exists in the corner of the churchyard today next to the outlier stone.


Remains of Roman Sarcophagus…


…and the adjacent outlier stone with the monolith in the background

Walking around the churchyard we came across the grave of the writer Winifred Holtby.

Born to a prosperous farming family, Holtby was born in Rudston passing her exams to enter Somerville College Oxford in 1917, where she later met and became firm friends with Vera Britain (mother of the former MP Shirley Williams) a fellow student and author of “Testament of Youth” which features writing about their friendship.

An ardent feminist, socialist and pacifist, Holtby lectured extensively for the League of Nations Union and is probably best known today for her most popular book “South Riding”. She wrote many others including, “The Crowded Street” and “The Land of Green Ginger” before dying from Brights disease at the young age of 37.


Winifred Holtby’s grave with appropriate open book, lies in the churchyard just yards from the house in which she was born.

IMG_1084There is also a memorial stone inside the church donated by the Holtby Society.

We came upon another significant gravestone next to Winifred Holtby’s…the  MacDonalds of the Isles…but we are in Yorkshire not Scotland!

Sir Alexander Wentworth MacDonald Boswell was declared 14th baronet and 21st chief of Sleat and 6th MacDonald of the Isles in 1910. He lived in nearby Thorpe Hall until his death in 1933 and was organist and choirmaster for some 50 years in the church.


Burying place of MacDonalds of the Isles

So after an unexpected and interesting detour, we set off again for another village called Thixendale in search of a further iconic Hockney painting.

Thixendale is on the Yorkshire Wolds Way a long distance footpath, and lies at the foot of hills in what is now the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, historically however it was part of the East Riding. 

We had to drive down some very tortuous, winding, steep and narrow roads to the foot of the hills and it isn’t surprising that until the late 1990’s television signals were blocked by the surrounding hills. A small transmitter was built but now has ceased operation as the villagers today rely on satellite TV and in the last three years fast broadband.

P106E0773At the bottom of the hill we found the “Three Trees”….


…and as immortalised by Hockney © David Hockney Foundation


We even had a close encounter with a couple of Red Legged Partridges who are probably well used to welcoming the sightseers here!

So our day of hunting Hockney locations came to a close and we spent the remaining days of our holiday visiting other nearby places such as York, Whitby, The North Yorkshire Moors, Rievaulx Abbey and Bempton Cliffs.

On the way home however we drove down the A166 and the well known Garrowby Hill, the highest point in the Yorkshire Wolds and also the subject of a Hockney painting.


As I was driving, David took this picture from the passenger seat of the car!


David Hockney’s more colourful version of Garrowby Hill now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts ©David Hockney Foundation

Before driving on to York to drop Nan at the railway station to catch her train back to London, we stopped a few miles on to grab a coffee and take a look at another famous village…Stamford Bridge.

The village sits astride an ancient ford on the River Derwent and was where the Romans established a fort around 70AD.

It was also the site of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The battle on 25 September 1066  is traditionally seen as marking the end of the the Viking era in Britain, when Harold Godwinson repelled the invading Norwegian force led by his brother Tostig Godwinson and King Harald Hardrada of Norway. Three weeks later his loss at the Battle of Hastings led to the Norman conquest of England.


The Bridge at Stamford Bridge today

There has been a river crossing here since Roman times. In the Medieval period a new bridge of timber with three stone piers was built and in the 18th century the weirs and the bypass canal and lock were built and the former structure replaced by the current bridge.


The present bridge designed by William Etty completed in 1727, now a Grade II listed monument.

Having said our goodbyes to Nan in York, we decided to end our week on another Hockney note…a visit to Salts Mill at Saltaire near Bradford. We had visited some years ago and whilst not exactly on our way home, we decided on yet another detour as we headed south.

Built as a textile mill in 1853 by Sir Titus Salt, the mill is now an art gallery, shopping centre and restaurant complex.

Titus Salt, a 19th century philanthropist had seen how many textile factories had exploited their workers, with low wages, long hours and dangerous working conditions leading to poverty, disease and accidents. He built the mill and the surrounding town with the aim of improving the working and living conditions for his employees.

The gallery has many paintings by David Hockney who was born in Bradford. Hockney was a friend of the late Jonathan Silver who bought the redundant mill and who was responsible for creating the gallery devoted to Hockneys works. It was believed that Silver’s dying wish in 1997 was that Hockney having lived and painted in California for many years “should go and paint Yorkshire”…which is what he did!

Silver owned the successful chain of clothing shops called Jonathan Silver and after selling the business went on to regenerate other buildings in the area before travelling the world and returning to purchase Salts Mill in 1987. The work done by Silver brought the mill and Saltaire back to life and the village was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.


Salts Mill Saltaire by David Hockney ©David Hockney Foundation


Behind Salts Mill and the River Aire


The Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the River Aire near the mill provided ideal transport links for the textile mill.

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The front of the mill built of warm yellow sandstone in the Italianate style.

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Titus Salt noticed some bales of Alpaca wool at a Liverpool Warehouse and found it could be woven into lustrous cloth. He exhibited alpaca and mixed fabrics at the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace in 1851.

A Llama carving on the mills brickwork exists today as a reminder.

The Hockney Gallery within the mill is called 1853…the date of the mill. We arrived to be greeted by the exhibition of the iPad artworks “The Arrival of Spring” that we had seen at the Royal Academy. On display for the first time in the North and what a treat to see them again after our day of hunting Hockney!


Here are a selection of photos taken in the gallery…


The former mill makes an impressive space for a gallery


I recognise the Woldgate Bridge here!


Finally we couldn’t leave before a trip to the fantastic art and book shop and we just had to buy something to remind us of our Hockney inspired week…a poster of the “Three Trees at Thixendale”! 

There are so many other locations in the East Riding area we didn’t look for so we definitely need a return visit to resume our treasure hunt for the national treasure that is David Hockney. 



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Cley Skies or Cley Days…

The small village of Cley situated on the North coast of Norfolk is a popular destination for tourists and birdwatchers.


Its full name is Cley next the Sea and its pronunciation is a question of debate! Some locals pronounce Cley to rhyme with day and some to rhyme with sky…whichever, it is a lovely little spot in which to spend some time.

The narrow main coastal road twists through the village and in high summer it can become a bit of a bottle neck if a heavy goods vehicle or the regular Coasthopper bus comes through!

There are many charming little houses some decorated with flint, many of which are popular as holiday rentals. There is also a windmill, formerly the childhood home of the singer James Blunt, which can be booked for bed and breakfast. It is an iconic landmark featuring on many postcards and tea towels on sale in the area.


Flint decorates a wall on a building in Cley


Cley windmill the childhood home of singer James Blunt is now offers bed and breakfast accommodation


Dutch gable ends feature often in this and other North Norfolk villages


Modern wall decoration in Cley and in Summer lots of Hollyhocks!


Quirky cat weathervane atop a building in Cley

There are a number of shops too including the popular delicatessen Picnic Fayre and the Artemis cafe which overlooks the harbour.


Picnic Fayre  delicatessen selling lots of tempting local produce on the corner of the main road


The Cley Smokehouse you can smell before you reach it with its distinctive aromas of  locally caught fish being smoked

Also on the road through the village are several galleries selling artworks by local artists and a great bookshop, it’s no wonder the village is a popular destination!

The bird and wildlife artist Robert Gillmor lives in Cley and he is probably best known for his iconic Avocet artwork which became the logo of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Now in his eighties he is still producing great artworks some of which can sometimes be seen at the Pinkfoot Gallery in Cley.


The RSPB logo (copyright RSPB)

Just outside the village is the Norfolk Wildlife Trusts Visitor Centre popular with birdwatchers and visitors all year round. This coastal strip attracts many migrating birds and in Winter large numbers of geese and ducks can be seen on the low lying marshland.


The Norfolk Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre…


…and its wildlife friendly green sedum roof!


Fun electronic sign in the Cley Visitor Centre!


View of the reserve

On to Cley beach… The beach is a popular place for birdwatchers and if a rare migrant bird turns up, it is guaranteed there will be a crowd of binocular and telescope toting birders there!


From the beach car park it is possible to walk out to Blakeney Point. I must point out it is a tough walk along the shingle banks!

There is an easier walk from Cley village to the harbour of Blakeney along raised paths overlooking the marshes.


One of the raised paths approaching Cley…in Summer with field poppies and ox eye daisies in flower


The beach at Cley with a few fishing boats and tractors


Cley beach with a stormy sky out at sea

During Summer 2018 the beach was one of the venues of a sculpture exhibition…

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One of the sculptures on display

On the way to the beach an unusual metal structure can be encountered. An Allan Williams Turret, a prefabricated steel structure left over from WWII. Designed to be manned by two men and a machine gun which could rotate through 360 degrees this one still remains at Cley. Similar to the more commonly seen concrete pill boxes, these formed part of Britain’s coastal anti invasion defences.


One of some 200 Allan Williams Turrets made, this one remains on the road to the beach with the village of Cley in the background

On to Cley church. St Margarets lies on the outskirts of the village and a visit inside reveals some fascinating medieval graffiti!


St Margarets Church


Medieval  graffiti is often inscribed on the pillars and walls of some of the churches in North Norfolk and this one depicts an old sailing vessel



One of the church windows commemorates an unusual little bird which paid a visit to the area in 2008! 


Back to the coast…the flat landscapes in this part of Norfolk are one of the attractions for me…that and the big skies!

The weather can change in an instant and storm clouds can sweep across one minute with bright sunshine the next.


Rain out over the sea



Unusual rain clouds


Blue skies over the reed-beds


View from the East Bank of the nature reserve


Such a clarity of light after the rain has passed over


and beautiful at sundown too!


I have left you with a selection of my favourite “Cley skies” and if you do get the opportunity to visit this part of the world and you like big skies and landscapes and birdlife, I am sure you will not be disappointed.


Posted in Art, Cley next the Sea, Landscape, Nature Reserve, Norfolk, North Norfolk Coast, Sculpture Trail, Skies, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

The Garden at 120


I am always keen to visit newly created gardens, so whilst in London for a few days last month, I read of a new garden in the City which had only opened the week before and just had to pay a visit.

The Square Mile of the City of London has some 60 green roofs but not all of them are accessible to the public. The Garden at 120 is the largest rooftop space and offers amazing 360 degree views of the City and Greater London. Furthermore, it is free and no booking is required!

Arriving in Fenchurch Street, I found 120 Fen Court and entered the building. Following  a quick airport style check, I was ushered to the lift and with a quick swoosh was soon 15 floors up!


Lift and stairs to restaurant below


On an unseasonably sunny warm day, many city workers were taking a break from their desks. I understand a coffee kiosk will be added in the garden soon.


Swathes of different grasses add movement to the garden


Tightly clipped mature boxwood hedges form a zig zag parterre

The garden was designed by Eric Parry the founder of Eric Parry Architects alongside landscape architects Latz-Partner. Obviously only recently laid out, the planting will need time to grow and establish, but I shall definitely return to see how the garden matures.


The garden is filled with many well established plants, shrubs, hedges and climbers.  Inspired by English country gardens it has espaliered fruit trees and wisteria to soften the lines of the steel pergola.


Cream timber textured concrete walls will provide a great backdrop for the climbing plants and fruit trees.


Ferns and climbing hydrangeas on the shadier northern side


A rill with integral seating runs along the south side of the perimeter walkway. This will be a tranquil refuge for visitors escaping the heat and dust at street level come high summer!

The perimeter walkway offers a birds eye view of the City and of Greater London.


Views towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London


Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church Spitalfields stands out between the high rise buildings


Views towards Canary Wharf are framed by colourful cranes


St Pauls Cathedral looks quite diminutive! The external services and fire escapes of the iconic “inside out” Lloyds Building designed by Richard Rogers, shine in the sun!


Up close and personal to another iconic building 30 St Mary Axe, previously known as the Swiss Re Building designed by Norman Foster and now more commonly known as The Gherkin! Views of this building from ground level are gradually becoming obscured with the number of high rise developments springing up around it… so if you want good view, visit this roof garden!


A close neighbour at 20 Fenchurch Street is the “Walkie-Talkie” building named after its distinctive shape! Designed by Rafael Vinoly this top heavy form boasts another garden the Sky Garden which I wrote about some time ago…see here Sky Garden


Aerial photograph from Google Earth shows a birds eye view of the 120 Garden. It is one of the few publicly accessible roof top gardens which you can walk all around.

I hope that this new garden in the sky provides a welcome break for the city worker’s busy lives and that it will give visitors to London a new destination from which to see fine views across the city.


120 Garden pinpointed from the air by Google Earth

I also hope that it will provide a refuge for wildlife. Many birds are quite at home in urban cityscapes, with in particular, Peregrine Falcons regularly nesting on high buildings which to them are no different from a cliff face! Some of these birds nest on the flat top roofs of the banks at Canary Wharf, kept warm by the red halogen lights used as aircraft markers for City Airport! Black Redstarts too which once colonised the city’s bomb sites are back and often use flat green roofs in the city to breed.

So I descend back to ground level to see another publicly accessible attraction!

Fen Court sits in an area of narrow pedestrian streets which have characterised the street plan for centuries. One of these in the Undercroft has been transformed into a wide passageway where a piece of outstanding public art has been installed. Created by award winning artists Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier is a digital camera obscure like soffit screen on the ceiling. Here are a few of the images…






On leaving I glanced up for a last glimpse of the 120 Garden…


You would never know it was there!






Posted in 120 Fen Court, Architecture, City of London, London, London Gardens, London Views, New London gardens, Sky Garden, The Garden at 120, Uncategorized, Wildlife | 4 Comments

Life on The Edge

Just a few miles south of the West Midlands conurbation, tucked below an escarpment topped with an Iron Age hill fort, lie some very curious former dwellings…the Rock Houses of Kinver.

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I have known of these rock houses for years having spent many weekends and summer holidays there as a child in the 1970’s when staying with friends nearby.  Back then the houses were deserted, some of them crumbling away with others fenced off. I still recall the excitement of exploring these former homes and searching around them finding the remains of old hearths and fragments of domestic pottery, and trying to visualise the people who dwelt there.

Today the houses are managed by the National Trust which has rebuilt some of them and recreated their interiors to give an insight into the daily lives of the rock house dwellers literally “living on the edge”. Remarkably people were still living in some of these houses until the 1960’s!

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Kinver’s distinctive red sandstone was formed in desert conditions from layers of wind blown sand some 280 – 250 million years ago. An Iron Age hill fort dominated the northern end of the ridge but some 2,300 years later, people began to live below the edge rather than on it. From the 1600’s homes were carved out of the easily worked sandstone and the restored rock houses at Holy Austin Rock were amongst the finest cave dwellings in Europe.

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Kinver’s red sandstone formed in desert conditions from layers of wind blown sand


The first house you reach after the walk up from the car park is the lower level of houses where after walking through the cavernous “ballroom” you find yourself entering a narrow passage to the cottages that explore the lives of the Fletcher family.


Passageway leading to the former home of the Fletcher family

From a painting by Alfred Rushton RA the National Trust have managed to recreate the interior of the Fletcher’s home in around 1900.


Painting as reproduced in the National Trust guidebook

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The home of the Fletchers its interior restored today with a welcoming fire in the black lead range

Living in the rock houses was a quiet and comfortable existence by all accounts, the rock providing a warm haven in the winter and and one which was pleasantly cool in summer. The rock was easy to carve and so if another shelf or cupboard was required one could be easily gouged out of the rock! In the Fletcher home a section of ceiling was cut away, which can still be seen today, to accommodate a very tall grandfather clock!


Washstand and bowl in the bedroom

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The simple bedroom with its quarry tiled floor and rag rug for comfort


Cold dry larder

The lime washed walls helped to control sand dusting and made the rooms brighter, it also acted as a disinfectant. Life in the houses was self sufficient with orchards and vegetable gardens providing food and deep wells to provide water. In latter years,  gas supplies were laid to supply some of the houses.

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Unusual glazing bars and shutters on this rock house

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This house is recreated in a 1930’s style

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Some of the deserted rock houses with graffiti showing how easy the rock was to carve

These unusual houses offered a rural lifestyle and their residents achieved some notoriety from curious visitors. Ultimately collapsing brickwork and the lack of adequate toilet facilities finally condemned the houses and their residents were relocated to nearby towns and cities, the last leaving in the 1960’s. Whilst the provision of more modern homes improved their lifestyles many regretted having to move away. New lives were made elsewhere and the rock houses lay forgotten.


The view that the rock dwellers would have had to leave behind when they were relocated

The National Trust have managed to record the memories of local people who recall either living there or from memories passed on by family members. An extensive audio archive has been collected.


Jane and Eddie Bragger c 1910

In Victorian and Edwardian times,  Kinver was a popular destination for day trippers from nearby Birmingham and the Black Country escaping the smog and industry in search of a day out in the clean countryside air.

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Kinver as seen from the top of the Edge

In 1901 a pole and line tramway linking Kinver to Stourbridge across the fields was opened. Known as the Kinver Light Railway for a ‘thruppenny fare it was accessible to all. Visiting Kinver Edge dubbed “The Switzerland of the Midlands” brought people in large numbers. In 1905 on Whit Monday the tramway carried nearly 17,000 visitors! However by the 1920’s buses had become a more popular mode of transport and the railway closed in 1930.





A couple of old postcards of the Kinver Light Railway

These day trippers were keen to send postcards to their friends of their travels and several cards of the rock houses survive, featuring some of the residents and of course the Rock House Cafe  which was a very popular destination on Sundays and Bank Holidays!


Mrs Holloway seated by her home at Vale Rock on Kinver edge


Rock House Cafe where a jug of tea and four cups would cost 2/- with 6d back on the return of the jug and cups!


Refreshments were sold for many years and the old “Teas” sign can still be seen today


The upper level restored rock houses which is now the new tearooms…and yes you can buy a rock cake!

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A short climb up the wooded slopes of the edge leads towards the escarpment


The management of the Edge is also in the hands of the National Trust since it was gifted by the Lee family in 1917. It was one of the earliest grants of land to the Trust and one of the first in the Midlands.

The Edge is two miles long  and is an outcropping of the Bunter pebble beds, sandstone deposits containing rounded pebbles laid down in the Triassic era.


Bunter pebble beds on the Edge (photo from National Trust guidebook)

From the summit there are far reaching views to the Black Country and Clent to the east, to the south Bredon and the Malvern Hills, and in the west towards Clee Hill and Wenlock Edge. Some two thirds of the Edge is woodland and one third lowland heathland which is rare in England. Jt was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1986


Heather on Kinver Edge (photo from National Trust guidebook)

Today this important landscape is home to a wide variety of wildlife including adders and slow worms, plus many other mammals, insects and birds. Lesser Horseshoe Bats have made themselves at home in the rock houses too and were in residence on the day of my last visit.

However the Edge also has another secret hidden away inside it…

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What could be behind these doors…?

Back in the 1970’s when my friend and I used to explore Kinver Edge, we were always fascinated by a building complex known locally as “The Factory”. We would walk past its barrack block style outbuildings and its high security fencing and wonder what went on inside. Large cars would come and go at all times and there was always an audible hum in the air as you climbed up onto the Edge. Once on the escarpment, in between the trees and the brambles and gorse you could find metal grilles through which lights were visible in this strange building and tunnels below our feet and sometimes you could hear voices!

Well what was this secret place and why was it here? It turns out that its local name  The Factory was in fact correct, as the “Drakelow Underground Dispersal Factory” to give it their proper name was originally built as a WWII shadow factory for use as a back up facility for nearby engine or gun factories.

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An eerie quiet tunnel

In 1941 the Ministry of Aircraft Production informed the Government of their intention to build an underground factory in the hills. In 1942 it was designated Rover No.1D factory to provide components and back up facilities should the Rover car plants be destroyed by enemy action. By 1943, parts for Mercury and Pegasus radial engines were built here to be used in aircraft such as the Bristol Blenheim and the Sunderland flying boat.

Post war, the tunnels were retained for storage and for the development and manufacture of the Meteor tank engine. Later the buildings were used as a storage depot for the Ministry of Supply.


By the 1950’s East – West political tensions had taken a dangerous turn, the Cold War was on and nuclear threat was a reality and the Drakelow Tunnels had a new and chilling purpose…as a nuclear bunker.


Some of the site was developed by the Home Office in 1958 as a Regional Seat of Government (RSG 9.2). Designed to cater for a staff of 325, the building contained dormitories, hospital facilities, offices, a BBC studio and GPO Telecommunications facility. Under later Home Defence schemes, the tunnels were designated a Sub-Regional Control (S-RC 91) in 1963 and as a Sub-Regional Headquarters (SRHQ 9.2) in 1982. It would be from here, along with a chain of other bunkers across England, that the country would be governed  in the event of a Nuclear War.

Following the end of the Cold War the buildings and tunnels passed into private ownership and today they are in the hands of the Drakelow Preservation Trust.

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The wide corridors of the tunnels

Imagine my excitement back in 2014 when I saw a notice advertising a guided tour of these secret tunnels…to be able to finally enter those gates to the secret world within which had fascinated me for years!

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Drawings on the wall date back to the days as a shadow factory

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  Offices with files and early computers thick with years of dust

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The deserted canteen in 2014

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Ventilation and heating ducts and generators probably accounted for the hum I used to hear!

It was incredible to be able to visit this bizarre and somewhat chilling subterranean top secret military establishment having known of it for so long. Today the Drakelow Preservation Trust run occasional tours and the tunnels are often hired for film shoots, Airsoft games and paranormal events.

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Kinver Edge holds many secrets from rock dwellers living below the edge, wildlife living on the edge and civil servants and the military living inside the edge…truly Life on the Edge!

Posted in Architecture, Drakelow Tunnels, Kinver, Kinver Edge, Kinver Light Railway, Military Establishments, National Trust, Rock Houses Kinver, Subterranean Britain, Uncategorized, Wildlife | 12 Comments

Theatre of Small Convenience

A couple of months ago whilst walking through the picturesque Worcestershire town of Great Malvern, I spotted a door of an old building with an unusual sign…”The Theatre of Small Convenience”!


Reading the notice below, this tiny building, transformed from an old Victorian Gentleman’s lavatory, now houses the smallest theatre building in the world!


Unfortunately the door was shut that day so I was unable to take a peek inside, however I recently noticed that it would be open for selected dates over the Christmas period, with performances of a play written by the theatre’s founder, Dennis Neale. The theatre is now managed by Malvern School of Art.


Tiles decorated by local groups disguise the trellis fencing hiding an old tank outside the theatre


One tile seemed particularly appropriate!

Last week I was back in town and this time the door was open and Dennis welcomed us into his tiny theatrical world.


Over the stage the latin motto, ‘Multum in Parvo” which means “Much in Little”

The theatre seats just 12 people and Dennis explained how over the past 19 years until his retirement, he had decorated and constructed the theatre from odds and ends scoured from reclamation yards and junk shops. His son, an artist also assisted with the wall murals and decoration.


Dennis’s son painted the walls with faces and figures hidden within the landscapes scenes 

IMG_8254He also appropriately painted some of the masked characters from the Commedia dell’Arte underneath the sound system which was once a PA speaker on a parade ground!


The insides of an old piano provide useful sound effects for the theatre! 


The theatre has hosted all types of performances in the past including a day of opera!


Also along with Shakespeare performances there have been poetry readings and story telling, music and monologues and of course puppetry!

We took our seats for the performance of a short play, actually about 5 minutes long,  written and performed by Dennis entitled the “The Tale from the Snowcake Man”.


The scene is set in a wintry palace where all the food is sweet and it featured amongst other characters, a singing robin, Jack Frost, some white mice and some jelly beans all housed within the body of the Snowcake Man!

It was a delightfully quirky Christmas tale set within a magical world and performed in the most curious of buildings…probably the shortest play I have ever seen and certainly in the smallest ever theatre!


Dennis Neale the founder and his creation the “Snowcake Man” takes a bow!

So if you are ever in Great Malvern and find yourself in the vicinity of Edith Walk do look out for this magical fantasy world hidden behind a Victorian facade and if the door is open do take a look inside…you never know what you might find!


Posted in Curiosites, Great Malvern, Theatres, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

A Squawk In The Park

If you have ever visited any of London’s parks or gardens, then the chances are you may have heard a very un-British bird call. If you have been lucky you may even have caught a fleeting glimpse of some bright green long feathered tails flying overhead! Parrots…in England?


Ring Necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Indeed so, but to be more accurate these are the well established flocks of Ring Necked or Rose Ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) which are now happily living in the country’s Capital city.

So how did this bird usually found in lowland India and West Africa get here? There have been odd sightings of this bird in England since the 19th Century which were thought to be escapes from captive collections. However since the late 1960’s the birds began to breed and thrive in London, their numbers remaining low until the mid 1990’s when their population began to increase rapidly.

In 1983 the population was estimated at 500, by 1996 it had reached 1,500 and by 2002, 5,800. Today the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) estimates that there are 8,600 breeding pairs in the South East of England alone.


Whilst they probably originally escaped from captive collections they seem quite at home in the Sweet Chestnut trees in Kensington Gardens 


Other non native birds which are now firmly established in Britain include Canada Geese, Mandarin Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Little Owls and Red Legged Partridges 

Last year when walking through Kensington Gardens I was amazed to see how tame these gorgeous birds were so, armed with an apple, I soon had some feathered diners, literally eating out of my hand!


In the summer it becomes a popular attraction with hoards of tourists spellbound by the sight of parrots in England!


Feeding frenzy!



The male sports the distinctive black neck ring with rose pink collar

There are many theories and urban myths abound about how they arrived.  Here are some of my favourites! They escaped from the set of the film “The African Queen” filmed at Shepperton Studios in the 1950’s, a pair were set free by Jimi Hendrix in the 1960’s in a Carnaby Street stunt, and the Great Storm of 1987 wrecked aviaries in well to do Surrey gardens!

However they got their freedom they are now firmly here to stay and are quite common sights across not only the London area but Kent and other parts of the south east. They do move about too and occasional sightings have been made in the north of England, in fact one arrived for a couple of days in my mother’s midlands garden!


Happily feeding in a midlands garden

Last week with not many tourists about I seemed to become a very popular restaurant and at one time had several Parakeets clamouring for one apple!


Their call is quite raucous often likened to an amplified squeaky wheelbarrow wheel, and believe me when one is sitting on your shoulder and it squawks it is quite ear splitting!

Some people say the arrival of these parakeets has driven away other resident birds. Like all wild birds in the UK they are protected by law. I can only speak from what I have seen but they appear to be very sociable with other birds such as pigeons, jackdaws, crows and magpies. They only seem to bicker and squabble with each other to get a turn at the apple!



Fruit, nuts and seed seem to be their preferred dietary choices

Parrots are Marmite birds…you either love them or loathe them and I for one love them!





Posted in Birds, Kensington Gardens, London, London Gardens, Parakeets, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged | 10 Comments

In Search of the Fifth Continent and a Desert

With my explorations of Rye and Winchelsea over (see my previous article Rye Rambles) I headed off into Kent towards Dungeness via Romney Marsh.


Romney Marsh is sometimes known as “The Fifth Continent”… due to its natural beauty the diversity of its habitats and its rich history and coastline.

“The world, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney Marsh”…so said the Rev. Richard Barham and this epithet has continued to date.

Rev. Barham was a vicar of  Snargate, a small village on the marsh, and is probably better known by his pen name Thomas Ingoldsby. His work “The Ingoldsby Legends” or “Mirth and Marvels” published in 1837 features the above quote.

This sparsely populated area has only existed within the last thousand years, before that it lay under the sea. Following the last Ice Age a shingle spit began to develop just east of Hastings which lies to the west. This slowly built up until a chain of shingle reached Hythe some 33 miles to the east.

Behind it a lagoon and salt marsh developed thus beginning to form Romney Marsh. Today the old quarried shingle pits are lakes teeming with birds and fish, some are used for water sports whilst on the seaward side are miles of beaches. On the landward side of the shingle bank is rich green farmland crisscrossed with quiet lanes and it was off along one of these lanes that I headed in search of a unique church.

At the Heritage Centre in Rye I had spotted a postcard of the church of St Thomas à Becket, in Fairfield, seemingly built in the middle of farmland.

DSCF2044St Thomas à Becket is situated in the middle of farmland…


…and surrounded by watercourses with meadows grazed by sheep

A causeway was built in 1913 and until then the church was often surrounded by water during winter and spring, as illustrated by a photograph hanging in the church.


The church surrounded by flooded meadows

The church is kept locked these days so in order to visit, I had to find the nearby Becket Barn Farm to obtain the key.


The church key hanging on the wall…


…and what an enormous key it was!

Originally built around AD 1200 the church was a simple structure of timber and lath built as a temporary measure to provide local farmers with a place of worship. By the 13th century this temporary church had become permanent and the building remained intact until the 18th century when the entire wooden building was encased within brick walls and the roof covered with red tiling.

Opening the heavy door, once inside it was like stepping back into the 18th century with rows of box pews painted white and lined with black, and a triple decker pulpit rising above them.


White painted box pews and pulpit with low timber arches

The church is known for its internal timber framing with low timber arches over the nave. It also has an unusual seven sided font.


View from the pulpit towards the seven sided font which is a unique design in Kent as it is unusually plain. The seven sides may be a nod to the seven sacraments of the church

This iconic church has been used as a film location including the 2012 BBC adaptation of Great Expectations.


Once outside I was greeted by a friendly sheep!

The Marsh is known for its breed of sheep known as the Romney by Kentish farmers. It is a long wool sheep that has been recognised in England since 1800 and is an economically important sheep breed for wool and meat.  They are a breed that is very resistant to foot rot which comes in useful given these wet pasturelands.


One sheep leads the advance party and the others are bound to follow! I am not sure if these are ‘Romneys” but they are on Romney Marsh!

After returning the key, I drove on to Dungeness to explore the area known as a “desert”!

Dungeness derives its name from Old Norse, nes meaning headland. It is also known as “dangerous nose” from French origin. Sheltering the marshland behind, Dungeness is one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe. It has been dubbed the only desert in the UK due to its low annual rainfall figures, but the Meterological Office refuted this in 2015.

Today this area is subject to many conservation designations designed to protect its rich and varied habitat for wildlife and for its geological importance. More of which later but first to meet my next mode of transport – a train – and a very small one too!


The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR) is a 15 inch gauge light railway. Opened in 1927, it runs from Dungeness to Hythe some 14 miles away. Until 1978 it held the title of the smallest public railway in the world, until a smaller one opened in France. and latterly a further one in Norfolk.

The RH&DR was the dream of two millionaire racing drivers, Captain John Howey and Count Louis Zboroski.

Zboroski designed and built his own racing cars and his first car was called “Chitty Bang Bang” which provided the inspiration for the later film and book. He died after hitting a tree whilst competing in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1924, so Howey carried on alone to build the railway.


The Crest of the RH&DR

During the second World War the railway was taken over by the military and it was used in the construction of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) to supply fuel to the Allied Forces after the D-Day landings. After the war much damage had been done to the trackbed which was reduced to a single track but it was restored and re -opened in 1946 with a formal opening by Laurel and Hardy in 1947!


Laurel and Hardy officiate at the railway opening in 1947

The regular service began in 1947 and today stops at 7 stations. Formerly there were another 8 stations or halts which have since closed. I boarded the train pulled by the engine “Typhoon” built in 1927.


The steam train “Typhoon” building up a head of steam

On such a hot summers day it was a wonderful journey with the breeze blowing through the sided open carriages and it was crowded with train enthusiasts and happy families with picnics who were stopping off to enjoy the various beaches en route to Hythe.


During my short stop at Hythe just outside the station I came across the other end of the Royal Military canal which I explored previously in Rye Rambles



Back onto the train for the return journey to explore more of Dungeness.


Nothing quite prepares you for a visit here. I first came to Dungeness in 2005 and have been smitten by its extraordinary beauty ever since. It is unique… it is desolate, a wild hostile and bleak landscape, with no boundaries, where the lighthouses and power station loom large, yet it is fragile and quite otherworldly. It is “on the edge.”


The National Nature Reserve is home to over 600 species of plants – a third of all the plant species found in the UK! It is also a home and safe refuge for wildlife with many uncommon bees, insects and moths.


Linnet on Gorse

The RSPB manage a bird sanctuary and observatory here and it is a great place to see migratory birds in spring and autumn as they arrive and make their first landfall. The flooded gravel pits with both fresh and brackish waters provide ideal breeding grounds and winter homes for wildfowl and in summer the reserve is home to many butterflies and dragonflies.

Sitting somewhat incongruously amidst all this richness of nature is the huge Dungeness nuclear power station.


Dungeness A Power Station to the left and Dungeness B to the right

Dungeness A is a legacy Magnox (uranium based) power station, connected to the National Grid in 1965, it was decommissioned in 2006.

Dungeness B, an advanced gas cooled reactor is still operational and was commissioned in 1983 with decommissioning expected in 2028.

Originally built, owned and operated by the Central Electricity Generation Board Dungeness B is operated by EDF Energy today, whilst the original legacy Magnox plant A is owned by the Nuclear Decommisioning Authority.


The power stations are built on the edge of the shingle and as a result of Longshore Drift the entire area is moving north and east as the sea constantly moves the shingle. A fleet of lorries continuously maintain the shingle sea defences with around 30,000 cubic metres of shingle being moved each year.

Beach fishing is very popular at Dungeness and two outfall pipes from the power stations discharge waste hot water into the sea. This enriches an area on the sea bed and is known as “the boil” or “the patch” by local anglers.

With the sun going down I walked back towards the car and had a chance encounter with a local resident – a fox!  With no natural predators here he was not shy and stood looking at me before disappearing down a hole under a gorse bush! I wonder if he was “Foxy Ralph” a fox featured in photos I have seen on Instagram?


Last night at the Pilot Inn I saw a signpost directing me two of todays destinations

Today I am off to revisit Prospect Cottage the home of the late filmmaker Derek Jarman.

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This is the first photo I took of Prospect Cottage in 2005

Jarman was best known for his controversial films such as “Jubilee” and “Caravaggio” but he was also a stage designer, diarist, artist and gay activist.

Moving to Prospect Cottage with his partner Keith Collins in the mid 1980’s, he created the remarkable garden that is still exists today.  Jarman lived there until his death from AIDs in 1994.

He was a keen gardener from childhood and with his artist’s eye and his horticultural expertise he created a beautiful garden in a most inhospitable setting.


“Paradise haunts gardens”, writes Jarman, “and it haunts mine”

In his book he describes how the garden began, at first planting a dog rose and then adding other salt loving beach plants in the bright shingle and embellishing them with  assorted flotsam, driftwood and stones he found on his daily walks.

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One thing that is first apparent in Dungeness is that the wooden houses have no boundaries, most unusual for British gardens. The garden around Prospect Cottage, like the houses themselves, appear to emerge from the landscape having no need for solid boundaries to ground them and to fix them in place.


“The front garden” of Prospect Cottage 2005


“The front garden” in 2017

At college I was told to always remember the verse by Alexander Pope when planning new garden and landscape designs… “Genius loci” “Consult the genius of the place in all”. This was clearly central to Jarman’s garden design thinking too.

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Unusual “Moomin” shaped flints create delightful sculptural forms in the shingle

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Rusting metal finds add a sculptural twist


Driftwood finds provide sculptural vertical accents

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Rusted metal, twisted remains from fishing and wartime mines, fishing floats and chains contrast beautifully with the shingle

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Lavender, Santolina, Yucca and Sea Kale thrive in the shingle


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On the tarred timber southern wall of the house in cut out wooden lettering is the first stanza and last six lines of John Donne’s poem “The Sunne Rising”

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

Much has been written about the garden of Prospect Cottage and many photographs are taken. I can add no more than I personally think it is one of the best garden designs I have ever seen. It is truly inspirational and it belongs in and pays homage to its location, a true garden of paradise in a desert.

Over the road from Prospect Cottage are many old fishing boats and remains of the railway once used by local fishermen to transport their catches.


Remains of  the fishermen’s railway track


Derelict hut and beached boat

On now and in Virginia Woolf’s words…”to the Lighthouse”!


Since 1615 when the first lighthouse was built there have been seven lighthouses at Dungeness five high ones and two low ones.


Six of the seven lighthouses that have existed (drawing from website)

It is the fourth lighthouse or “High Light Tower” that I plan to visit. After 3 years in construction it was opened in 1904 and it provided a welcome land light to vessels negotiating the English Channel for 56 years. Decommissioned in 1960, it now houses a museum and you can climb the 169 steps to the top some 46 metres high!


Spiral staircase of 169 concrete steps hug the walls with a decorative wrought iron bannister…


…to see the great lens up close

Climbing through a small door at the top you can walk around the viewing platform for some spectacular panoramic views of Dungeness.


The tiny door to the viewing platform…


…and as the reward…fantastic panoramic views including the tiny RH&DR train…


…and the current lighthouse closer to the sea built in 1961 with its unusual spiral ramped concrete base. Converted to automatic operation in 1991 it is monitored and controlled by Trinity House from Harwich


Directly below, the base of the first lighthouse, the Roundhouse and the two ex lighthouse keepers cottages…


…and the view over the power station

Returning down the staircase, I stopped off to admire the wonderful Sector Lights…


Sector lights

…before receiving my certificate marking my visit!


The Dungeness Estate is owned today by EDF the French energy company which operates the power station. Many of the wooden houses were formerly owned and occupied by fishermen. Walking along the road I noticed some houses that looked remarkably like converted railway carriages which indeed they were!


One of the railway carriage homes built from the remains of an entire train that was moved to Dungeness in the 1920’s

Many old buildings, some relics from the last war, have since been rebuilt as homes or holiday rentals.


 From the top of the lighthouse several former buildings have clearly been repurposed

I passed by a derelict building, the remains of a Marconi Research station where in 1899 Guglielmo Marconi first transmitted radio messages across the English Channel.


The remains of the Marconi sheds which I believe have recently been demolished to build a new dwelling

My next destination was to find the “Listening Ears”…or “Sound Mirrors”!

I first learnt of these remarkable concrete structures from an episode of the BBC TV programme “Coast”. Unfortunately my visit did not coincide with one of the public open days to walk up close to them, but I thought a short drive and a walk might reward me with a glimpse.

Behind the lakes at nearby Greatstone on the north east side of the Dungeness Reserve, I saw them in the distance.



The largest sound mirror is 200 feet in length and 26 feet high

Original trials were carried out in 1915 for these pre Radar early warning systems, designed to detect enemy aircraft. The acoustic or sound mirrors that still exist today were built between 1928 and 1930, and range in size from 20 feet to 200 feet in size. As part of Britain’s defence strategy they were designed to pick up the sound of approaching enemy aircraft up to 24 miles away. The sound waves would be caught on the curved concrete mirror, be relayed back through microphones to an operator, who would then raise the alarm.

The mirrors did work, although they found it difficult to distinguish between aircraft and seagoing vessels, and with the invention of radar in 1935, the mirrors were finally abandoned in 1939.


I drove on towards Hythe to search out another listening ear which I had seen in the distance on my train journey earlier


The Hythe Sound Mirror now fenced off and a little dilapidated 


Interpretation panel and model of a mini sound mirror…which worked too!

Now at Hythe, I had a church to locate. The Church of St Leonard sits high above the town and has a most unusual crypt. The largest and best preserved collection of human bones and skulls in Britain are literally packed into the tiny crypt.

This ossuary or “bone house” is one of only two in the country (the other being in Rothwell, Northampton) and is thought to have over 1,022 skulls in total…many arranged upon shelves!


Skulls tidily arranged on high shelves

IMG_5365There is also a single stack of bones and skulls measuring 7.5m in length and 1.8 wide and high!

There are many theories as to who the people were and how their bones came to rest in the crypt. Danish pirates slain in battle, men who fell at the Battle of Hastings, victims of the Black Death amongst them, but there is no firm analysis to support the theories.

A project a few years ago analysed all the skulls on the shelves and there are more females than males and nearly 10% are juveniles.


It is now thought that they were Hythe residents who had been buried in the churchyard but when the church was extended, their bones were exhumed and moved into the crypt. Whatever the story and whoever these people were it was a remarkable place to end my visit to this part of Kent.

I have explored just a part of the “Fifth Continent” and a “Desert” and found bones, listening ears, trains, churches, wilderness, power stations, wildlife, gardens, lighthouses,   but there is so much more to discover and I will surely be making another return visit.


A final fact…I read in a leaflet that there approximately 99,127,646,216 pebbles on the Dungeness Estate! I didn’t have time to check!



Posted in Derek Jarman, Dungeness, Kent, Lighthouses, Nature Reserve, Ossuary, Prospect Cottage Dungeness, Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, Romney Marsh, Royal Military Canal, Sound Mirrors | 14 Comments

Rye Rambles

Whilst I have spent a lot of time visiting places in East Sussex, I had never been to the eastern part of the county specifically to Winchelsea and Rye, so last July, booked a few days away to explore them.


Winchelsea sits atop a hill overlooking rolling countryside 

Winchelsea is situated on Iham Hill and has spectacular views to the sea and inland across the Brede Valley. The town is one of the best preserved Bastide or fortified towns and was established as a port in the late 13th century by Edward I.

The town today replaced “Old Winchelsea” which was lost to rising sea levels and is claimed by some residents as the smallest town in Britain. It still has its own Mayor and Corporation which is a throwback to its days as a “rotten borough” or “pocket borough”. These were boroughs with a very small electorate which could be used by a patron to gain unrepresentative influence in the House of Commons prior to the Great Reform Act (or Representation of the People) in 1832. Today Winchlesea’s Mayor is elected by members of the Corporation known as Freemen and it has lost its civil and judiciary powers but its status is preserved as a charity in order to maintain its membership of the Cinque Ports Confederation.

My first stop was a visit to the parish church St Thomas the Martyr to find a particular gravestone.


St Thomas the Martyr church today, its first recorded mention came in 1215

Spike Milligan the comedian and member of “The Goons” lived nearby and is buried in the churchyard.


He had once quipped that he wanted his headstone to bear the words “I told you I was ill” but the Chichester diocese refused to allow this epitaph. A compromise was reached with the Irish translation Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite and in English, “Love, light, peace”. The additional epitaph “Grá mór ort Shelagh” can be read as “Great love for you Shelagh” his late wife.


Spike Milligan’s gravestone found and off to explore the church….


The transepts and windows today are in ruins and only the chancel and the chapels are in use. John Wesley preached his last open air sermon under an ash tree in the churchyard in 1790


It is renowned for its 20th century stained glass windows by Douglas Strachan…


…and its medieval Alard tombs dating from 1312

As a long time admirer of Pre Raphaelite art, I was amazed to find a copy of the painting of the Blind Girl by John Everett Millais! I have spent many hours looking at this painting which is in the collection of Birmingham Art Gallery and never realised where the background was…Winchelsea no less!


The Blind Girl by J E Millais

Millais visited Winchelsea in 1852 and liked the town so much that he incoporated the town and its meadows into the background one of his most famous works.

Time to move on and to drive a short distance to Winchelsea beach and on to Pett Level  where I found an unspoilt shingle beach running westwards towards Cliff End and one end of the Royal Military Canal.

This 28 mile long canal was constructed following the old cliff line that borders Romney Marsh from Cliff End to Seabrook near Folkestone as a defence against possible invasion of England’s shores during the Napoleonic Wars.


The Royal Military Canal is now a haven for wildlife

Begun in 1804 this defensive barrier was constructed and progress was slow, contractors were dismissed, the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger intervened and finally civilian navvies were hired to dig the canal whilst soldiers built the ramparts. Finally completed in 1809 at a cost of £234,000 it was hoped that the tolls from the waterway and the adjacent inland road would help to defray the costs. It never saw military action but was used again during World War II for preparations against a threatened German invasion. Today the canal has a public path running its entire length which forms part of the Saxon Shore Way and is an important habitat for wildlife.


Information panel showing the route of the Royal Military Canal


Waymarker Post

Opposite the canal and behind the Smugglers public house,  I came across a truly miniature church dedicated to St Nicholas the patron saint of sailors and children among others, literally on the beach!  Opened in 1935 only the cross on the gable end and the sign reveal its function. This building was known as the Rocket House as it was formerly a store room for rocket apparatus used by coastguards.


St Nicholas Church Pett Level

Pett Level beach near to the cliffs at Cliff End is a must visit location for fans of David Bowie. The video of his hit record and second UK number one single “Ashes to Ashes”  was filmed here.

Ashes To Ashes


Ashes to Ashes solarised pop video stills

It was one of the most iconic and expensive pop videos of all time and featured Bowie dressed in a pierrot costume along with Steve Strange and other members of the London Blitz scene walking in front of a bulldozer along the beach. Apparently the bulldozer is still kept at Rye Harbour and is used to move the beach shingle in preparation for winter storms!


Pett Level looking towards Cliff End

The following day a short three mile drive away I went to explore Rye…


The windmill at Rye on the River Tillingham is no longer working but is available as bed and breakfast accommodation

Rye lies at the confluence of three rivers, the Rother, the Tilllingham and the Brede and is now some two miles from the sea. In medieval times Rye was an important member of the Cinque Ports along with Hastings, Hythe, New Romney, Dover and Sandwich. The Cinque Ports (from the Norman French meaning “Five Ports”) were originally set up for military and trading purposes but today the confederation is entirely ceremonial.

Rye was originally a subsidiary of New Romney but when this town was damaged by the great storm of 1287 and silted up, Rye took over as one of the five. Supported by the ancient town of Winchelsea, the councils of these ports traditionally maintained defence of the realm of England. They provided the ships and the men who guarded the king from frequent attacks and in return were granted special privileges.


The coastline showing the Cinque Ports before the great storm of 1287…the coastline looks very different today with many of these ports now lying well inland

It is often said that the confederation was the original force behind England’s maritime power and could be seen as the Cradle of the Royal Navy. The ports were required to supply 57 ships each with a crew of 21 men and a boy, for 15 days each year. In return the ports were granted special rights which included amongst other things, exemption from the jurisdiction of certain courts and the right to levy their own taxes. The ships were not only used for warfare but to transport the king and his family between England and Europe with other nearby towns and villages known as “limbs”, (among them Lydd, Margate, Folkestone and Ramsgate) helping to fulfil the quotas of ships and crew.


Arriving early in the morning the bottom end of the High Street was deserted!

I have wanted to visit Rye ever since watching the BBC1 and Channel 4 television adaptations of E F Benson’s “Mapp and Lucia” series of comic novels when the quaint cobbled streets and medieval half timbered houses first lodged in my mind. I was not disappointed… packed full of interesting shops and cafes and tea rooms the town is crammed with history and charm.  Perched high on a hill, this fortified town feels somewhat suspended in time and with its unhurried atmosphere and enchanting streets it is a popular tourist destination today.

King Charles I described Rye as “the cheapest sea town for the provision of fish for our house”, and Queen Elizabeth I gave the town the right to use the title “Royal Rye” following a visit in 1573.


E F Benson’s books of Mapp and Lucia feature humorous incidents in the lives of upper middle class people vying for social prestige and oneupmanship in an atmosphere of cultural snobbery in 1920’s and 1930’s. Set in the fictional seaside town of Tilling which is based upon Rye (after the River Tillingham) they were written by Benson who lived in  Rye and who became the towns Mayor in the late 1930’s. I decided to follow in Mapp and Lucia’s footsteps so got hold of a plan of the locations from the TV series.


The book and the map

After breakfast at the wonderful Apothecary Coffee House, with its huge bow windows and wealth of apothecary jars and drawers inside, being a former chemists, on the corner of East Street and High Street, I set off to explore the narrow cobbled streets.


A good breakfast stop at the Apothecary Shop!

Along the High Street towards Landgate I came across a fabulous door (the first of many I would see in Rye) with a plaque above the letterbox showing one of the town’s famous former residents, Radclyffe Hall. Marguerite “John” Radcliffe -Hall was an English poet and novelist best known for “The Well of Loneliness” considered by some to be the most important lesbian novel ever written. Published in 1928 it was the subject of an obscenity trial and the novels were destroyed. In more enlightened times, it was published again and is still in print today.


Amazing door furniture

Almost opposite, I came across a terrific tiny shop called “Soldiers of Rye” full to the brim with exquisitely handpainted model soldiers by Chris Viner. Along with chess sets depicting conflicts through the ages, the soldiers represent all periods of history and are popular with collectors around the world.


Soldiers of Rye shop window

I walked along the road to the look out a belvedere high above the Town Salts, the low lying area near to the river where the annual fair and bonfire is held.

Sussex towns have a long tradition of bonfire festivals dating back even further than Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt on the Government in 1605. Rye’s bonfires have celebrated victory over the French, and it has seen the burning of real boats and other activities. Today the bonfire has a symbolic boat on top and a local celebrity is “chaired down” from the town carried aloft by sturdy bearers in a type of sedan chair, along with the Dragon of Rye being the main focal point of the festivities.


The Look Out at Hilders Cliff – the Landgate can be seen in the background

At the look out I see from another plaque that I am already following E F Benson’s footsteps…


Armed with my Rye/Tilling plan, I headed up above the High Street through the steep  streets towards the citadel of the town, only to come across in Pump Street a curious water cistern near the church.


The domed oval water cistern

Now a Grade II* listed building located in the grounds of St Mary’s church, this was erected in 1735 at the cost of £600 to improve the towns water supply. Technically it is not a water tower as the tank is not elevated and the water is stored in the domed oval brick storage tank. Note the gauge board to show the water level. Apparently its proximity to a butchers yard caused problems when in 1754 several calves feet were found in the cistern!


Part of the ancient Rye cistern pump

On towards the Castle also known as Ypres Tower which was built in 1249 under the orders of Henry III as part of the defences against frequent French raids. Today it houses a museum.


The Castle or Ypres Tower

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View south from the Gun Garden towards the River Rother


Steps up to the Gun Garden

Into Church Square I found a house opposite the church with a very appropriate door knocker!


A tiny Rye Church door knocker

I arrived at Watchbell Street which in the Benson novels was called “Curfew Street” and found the said bell sitting on a wall at Watchbell Corner.


The bell was originally from Playden Church just outside Rye and symbolises the bell that would have been used to warn the townsfolk of invasion from across the channel. It was placed by Rye’s Rotary club to celebrate the Millennium

Watchbell Street or Curfew Street as it was called in the Benson books was home to the character Major Benjy and also the location of the Traders Arms.


A house used in the Channel 4 series looking resplendent with its pink paintwork and  its tall verbena!


The Hope Anchor public house – or the Traders Arms in the Channel 4 series

Around the corner into Traders Passage and wonderful cobblestone roads lead to Mermaid Street – known as Porpoise Street in the Benson books!


Another or rather two unusual front doors greeted me at the bottom of Mermaid Street The House With Two Front Doors!


“The House With Two Front Doors” was used by the BBC in their series of Mapp and Lucia to provide the interior shots of Georgie Pillson’s Mallards Cottage


and not far away another odd name – House With The Seat and yes it did indeed have one!


Ghostly tales abound at this medieval hotel

The Mermaid Inn, with its cellars dating back to 1156, the building was rebuilt in 1420 and is possibly one of Rye’s most famous buildings and probably the most photographed. The building is alive still with haunting tales of Catholic priests fleeing persecution during the Reformation and the notorious band of smugglers in the 1730’s known as the Hawkshurst Gang.


Turning right into West Street I reached my next destination. Lamb House now in the ownership of the National Trust. It was the former home of Henry James the American novelist famous for works such as “The Turn of the Screw”, “The Portrait of a Lady” and “The Golden Bowl” amongst others.


Lamb House home of Henry Jame and later E F Benson

He lived in this modest brick fronted Georgian house from 1897 until his death in 1916. In 1900 E F Benson first visited Lamb House as a guest of Henry James and became a part time tenant, after the first world war taking on a lease and living there with his brother Arthur.

Lamb House appears as Mallards in the books firstly as the home of Miss Elizabeth Mapp and later inhabited by Mrs Emmeline Lucas known to all as Lucia. These two central characters were constantly “spying” on the comings and goings of their neighbours eager for items of gossip and once inside Lamb House you can see why its position was ideal. Sadly a Garden Room which had a large bay window was destroyed by a bomb in WWII. A wall plaque occupies the space today.


Where the Garden room once stood now a memorial to Henry James


The Benson brothers also get a mention too!

The downstairs interior of the house and garden is open to the public. Both the BBC and Channel 4 adaptations of the books used Lamb House for interior and external filming.


A wonderful circular window in the dining room looks out onto the garden


On such a hot summers day it was good to take refuge in the garden under the shade of the mulberry tree for a reviving cup of coffee. A rare selfie!


The side of Lamb House as seen from the garden


The productive garden at Lamb House overflowing with summer growth.

Back outside and stepping out from the front door of Lamb House I saw the most bizarre crooked chimney on a nearby house!


Seemingly defying gravity this crooked chimney featured in Mapp and Lucia when Lucia and Georgie sit down with their easels in the middle of the road to paint it. The Church beyond is my next port of call…

For more than 900 years the parish church of St Mary The Virgin has dominated the hill on which the old town stands and due to its grand scale it is sometimes dubbed the Cathedral of East Sussex. In 1377 the town was looted by French invaders and the church was extensively damaged, the roof fell in and the bells were taken to France. The losses were later recovered when Rye men sailed to Normandy, burnt down a town and recovered the items looted including the bells. Perhaps this was the first example of a town twinning and an Anglo French exchange visit!

As I walked into the shade of the church doorway I was greeted by a member of the church staff stopping the huge pendulum of the church clock with a broom attached to a long bamboo pole. She explained that they stop the pendulum once a week so as to keep it in good time and with the aid of the clock on her smart phone she let the the pendulum swing free again!


Stopping the pendulum of the church clock!

This “new” clock was installed in 1561 costing £30, and was made by Lewis Billiard a Huguenot. It is one of the oldest turret clocks still in working order in the country, its pendulum being a later addition. Looking up from outside, the clock shows the “Quarter Boys’ so called as they strike the quarters but not the hours. These were added in 1760 and today if you want a close look, plus panoramic views of the town, you can climb the church bells and see the 8 bells.

In Mapp and Lucia it was from this tower that Miss Mapp spied on Lucia who was sunbathing and skipping in her garden whilst pretending to the rest of Tilling that she was unwell, giving Mapp more ammunition to humiliate her social rival!


The church clock and the Quarter Boys which chime the quarter hours. The tower has been used as a landmark for sailors at sea and is topped with a golden weathervane dating from 1703

Back inside the church there are many fine stained glass windows, including one by Pre Raphaelite artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Other windows were donated by Benson, or Fred as he was known to his family.

Serving three terms as the town’s mayor (like his heroine Lucia who chose Miss Mapp as her Mayoress!) and a magistrate, he was a generous benefactor to the town. Along with the gift of the look out mentioned earlier, he also paid for the renovation of the church organ (another act duplicated by his heroine Lucia!) and gave a massive stained glass west window to the church in honour of his parents.


The magnificent west window donated by Benson in memory of his parents. His father was an Archbishop of Canterbury


Fred Benson’s beloved dog Taffy is also featured…


…as is Benson himself seen kneeling in his mayoral robes.

Another Benson gift was the stained glass south window to commemorate his brother, Arthur, who was a Master of Magdalen College Cambridge and who is noted for writing the words of the song “Land of Hope and Glory”.

My tour of this fascinating town being over I drove some two miles downstream to take in the coastal air at Rye Harbour.

Arriving at the harbour car park I came across one of my favourite coastal relics, a Martello Tower!


Tower 28 the first tower in the numerical sequence of Sussex towers

Now situated on the edge of a caravan park, this Martello Tower is one of a series of defensive coastal towers that were built to protect against possible invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. When originally built it was close to the shoreline, now much changed, and the tower has been nicknamed the “Enchantress Tower”. This is not due to the ivy clinging romantically to its walls, but possibly according to my research originating from the customs ship HMS Enchantress, used to prevent smuggling, that was grounded in the harbour in 1818.

Shaped like an upturned flower pot there would have been two 6 inch guns on the top and the tower would have been home to 20 soldiers when in use, and was surrounded by a moat.

Another of my favourite painters captured Rye Harbour on canvas…Eric Ravilious 1903-1942 grew up in East Sussex and is probably best know for his watercolours of the South Downs. He was a painter, designer and book illustrator and later became a war artist and died when the aircraft he was in was lost over Iceland.


Eric Ravilious painting – “Rye Harbour” in the collection of the Towner Eastbourne

Situated at the mouth of the River Rother, the shingle that surrounds the coastline here has over the past 700 years shifted, reformed and been deposited by the sea limiting the access to the medieval port of Rye.

Over the last 200 years the sea defences have been strengthened and developed, but due to the continuing rise in sea levels, the land and its inhabitants come under threat of flooding. Today the Environment Agency manage the coastline by recycling shingle deposits building up at the river mouth as a result of Longshore Drift and transporting it back westwards in trucks to protect the sea wall at Pett Level.

Today much of the area forms part of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, established in 1970. It is of national and international significance and is home to more than 150 rare or endangered species of wildlife and covers 475 hectares.


Big blue skies and shingle for miles!

I wanted to find an iconic landmark in this area that is much photographed and painted by artists…the red roofed hut.


I couldn’t fail to see it and a tarmac road runs from the harbour right past it


The red roofed black hut is such an iconic feature on this flat expanse of beach

The Nature Reserve has a fascinating mosaic of habitats many of which are scarce in Britain. These range from shingle ridges, saline lagoons, salt marsh and gravel pits and reedbeds.


Teasels seed heads…very popular with goldfinches

The lagoons are home to many birds including Oystercatchers which were in abundance when I visited.


Oystercatchers and a Redshank

More than 90 species of birds nest on the reserve and there is also a Tern colony with Little, Common and Sandwich terns all breeding here. Indeed the silence was broken with the cries of these beautiful birds.


Common Tern with chick

My time at Rye had come to an end and tomorrow I am off to explore Dungeness, just over the county border in Kent, and the subject of my next article. So until then as the  Mapp and Lucia would humorously say “Au Reservoir”

But before I close I cannot resist including one more photo of the unforgettable red and black hut of Rye Harbour.


Posted in E F Benson, East Sussex, Mapp and Lucia, Nature Reserve, Pett Level, Royal Military Canal, Rye, Rye Harbour, Uncategorized, Winchelsea | 21 Comments

Gormley Men

Last weekend a farewell party was held in the small Warwickshire village of Lowsonford to say goodbye to one of its famous residents.


Whilst only in residence for a year he had received many visits from art lovers and canal boaters.DSCF7647


Tea and cakes laid on for the farewell party!

The “resident” in question was a life size sculpture cast in iron by Antony Gormley, one of five that had been installed by the Landmark Trust at their sites across the UK to celebrate 50 years of the Trust.


“Land”…Antony Gormley and The Landmark Trust

Unfortunately I only had the opportunity to visit this site and one other in Suffolk… the other sculptures being sited further afield in Dorset, on Lundy Island and the Mull of Kintyre.


The Gormley man standing by to ensure a safe passage through the lock!


Standing sentinel by the barrel-roofed Lengthsman’s Cottage built in 1812 on the South Stratford Canal

I have visited several times over the past year and this week decided to go and see if he had departed.


Removal work in progress


Wrapped up like an escapologist and ready to travel to his new home which I understand is in a private garden 

The other sculpture I managed to see from the Land installation was in Suffolk. Another “Gormley man” standing atop of a Martello tower near Aldeburgh.


Sculpture atop the Aldeburgh Martello Tower

Whilst staying in nearby Southwold last September, I noticed that there was an open afternoon when the sculpture could be visited whilst the tower was between holiday rentals.


It was well worth the climb up the steep steps of the tower to see the sculpture and the view!

I first became interested in Gormley’s work when the Angel of The North was installed near Gateshead in 1998. I recall it was controversial at the time but has since become a British icon…and I personally think it is stunning!


The outstretched wings are not straight sideways… they actually are angled 3.5 degrees forward to create a “sense of embrace”


Back in 2007 I visited the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank to see “Blind Light”  a new exhibition of Gormley’s works.

Gormley Hayward Blind Light (13) copy

As part of the exhibition there were other “Gormley men” installed in London. “Event Horizon” had 31 copies of Gormley’s body sculpture dotted about the Southbank and Strand. The ones sited on rooftops apparently led people to call the police thinking they were real people!

Gormley Hayward Blind Light (27) copy

Standing on the edge of the fly tower of the National Theatre

Gormley Hayward Blind Light (18) copy


Gormley Hayward Blind Light (30) copy

I think he missed the bus..!

London is a great place for finding Gormley sculptures…here are a few more…

London0705 345 copy

“Quantum Cloud” commissioned for the site by the Millennium Dome completed in 1999. Look closely and you will see the human form in the middle…


Another view of it today with the Emirates Sky Line passing nearby. It is taller than the Angel of the North by 10 metres!

In Limehouse behind the famous Grapes pub in Narrow Street which is now partly owned by Sir Ian McKellen, another Gormley man resides in the river Thames.

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DSCF3058 copy

Whilst visiting a National Trust property, Barrington Court in Somerset a few years ago I was delighted to discover that there was a temporary exhibition of Gormley’s “Field for the British Isles” on loan. Unfortunately no photography was allowed so here is a postcard!


These terracotta figures are all individual, each piece made by hand at an arts project in St Helens Liverpool in 1993.


A sea of little figures filled the room! Photo by the National Trust

It was interesting to hear visitors reactions to all these little faces looking back at them…many loved them but others felt quite uneasy!

I noticed another one recently in Oxford on the corner of Broad Street!

DSCF5273 copy

DSCF5271 copy

It was Christmas and he was festively attired!

Since the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley has now become a household name and there are still many other of his works that I want to see.

My favourite installation though has to be “Another Place” on Crosby Beach Lancashire.

I spent many happy hours visiting this beach as a child and it is now the permanent home of more Gormley men.

Another Place Gormley (176) copy

Initially “Another Place” was to be a temporary installation but it became so popular that its planned move was halted.

Another Place Gormley (120) copy

Solitary figures dot the beach

Another Place Gormley (15) copy

And greet the incoming tide…

Another Place Gormley (46) copy

Some are buried in the sand…

Another Place Gormley (139) copy


Some wear high visibility vests!

Another Place Gormley (28) copy

or Paisley patterned shirts…!

They look different each time I visit due to the weather and tides and, however they are dressed, they stand in silent vigil looking out patiently, perhaps hopefully across the sea to another place….

Another Place Gormley (54) copy

My quest for more works by this inspiring artist will continue taking me to another place too!

Posted in Antony Gormley, Art, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Sad Day for Norton Folgate


Two weeks ago the Spitalfields Trust campaign to halt British Land’s destruction of Norton Folgate went to a judicial review in the High Court.

Today I learnt of the Judge’s verdict… Justice Gilbart found in favour of Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London.

A sad day for an historic part of London which will no doubt be changed beyond all recognition and become overshadowed by monoliths of glass and steel.

It does not seem right to me that one person can unilaterally override the wishes and views of two democratically elected councils, the local community whose lives will be changed forever and the hundreds of other interested people who have taken the time and trouble to let their views be known. It seems equally strange to me that the judiciary could have made such a judgement based upon the evidence submitted to the hearing.

Norton Folgate as I know and love it will be changed for ever and will stand as a memorial to the ill considered action of Boris and the power of capitalism over democracy.

I don’t know what can be done now if anything, but I intend to write to Boris’s successor, to ask him whether he is prepared to reverse the decisions made which have signed Norton Folgate’s death warrant.






Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments