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?

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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.

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

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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!

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

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Feeding frenzy!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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…

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…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.

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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.

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The church key hanging on the wall…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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“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.

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“The front garden” of Prospect Cottage 2005

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“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

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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.

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Remains of  the fishermen’s railway track

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Derelict hut and beached boat

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

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

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Six of the seven lighthouses that have existed (drawing from romneymarsh.net 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!

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

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…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.

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The tiny door to the viewing platform…

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

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…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

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

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…and the view over the power station

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

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Sector lights

…before receiving my certificate marking my visit!

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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!

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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The Hythe Sound Mirror now fenced off and a little dilapidated 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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

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…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!

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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.

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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.

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Information panel showing the route of the Royal Military Canal

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Pett Level looking towards Cliff End

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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The Castle or Ypres Tower

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View south from the Gun Garden towards the River Rother

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Steps up to the Gun Garden

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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

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“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

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

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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.

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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.

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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 1917 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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

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The side of Lamb House as seen from the garden

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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Fred Benson’s beloved dog Taffy is also featured…

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…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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Teasels seed heads…very popular with goldfinches

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

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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.

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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.

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Posted in E F Benson, East Sussex, Mapp and Lucia, Nature Reserve, Pett Level, Royal Military Canal, Rye, Rye Harbour, Uncategorized, Winchelsea | 18 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

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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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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Removal work in progress

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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!

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

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I think he missed the bus..!

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

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“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…

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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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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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

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Solitary figures dot the beach

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And greet the incoming tide…

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Some are buried in the sand…

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Some wear high visibility vests!

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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….

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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

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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

In Search of Shingle Street

A couple of years ago whilst in a bookshop in Aldeburgh, I saw a black and white postcard of a row of coastguard cottages called simply “Shingle Street”. It looked a desolate and mysterious place and one I simply had to try to find…

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The moody black and white postcard of the mysterious Shingle Street

I asked the shopkeeper where Shingle Street was …together we checked an OS map and found it marked just south of Orford.

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Tranquil waters of the river Ore at Orford Quay

I like a quest and so set off driving through the Rendlesham Forest, an area full of mysterious happenings and reports of UFO sightings…

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Spooky forest!

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A helpful sign for flying saucers!

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No little green men encountered today!

…and through narrow country lanes and past the HM Prison Hollesley Bay whose notable former “residents” include Jeffrey Archer and Andy Coulson! The prison is still known locally and indeed signposted as Hollesley Bay Colony and once it had the largest prison farm in the British prison system and the oldest established stud for the Suffolk Punch horse in the world. Today only a small landholding remains and the horses were sold to the Suffolk Punch Trust who maintain this rare breed locally.

Arriving at Shingle Street in the late afternoon the sun was shining and the beach was the colour of golden honey set off by sky and sea of the deepest blue…

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This small coastal hamlet was originally a home for fishermen and river pilots from the nearby River Ore. Today the row of coastguard cottages that featured on the postcard, still stand overlooking the beach, some of them now holiday rental cottages.

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The first habitation of Shingle Street occurred in the early 1800s at the time that the Martello Towers were built along this part of the Suffolk coast. The houses were built by fishermen from driftwood in this isolated community which had no roads only a track along the coast towards Bawdsey.

Shingle Street is certainly a remote and atmospheric place and one shrouded in mystery and rumours…

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In May 1940 the civilian population of the hamlet were given a few days notice to evacuate their homes on government orders in preparation for the construction of coastal defences which would include deadly minefields. Following the war, stories began to circulate about strange happenings that had allegedly happened at Shingle Street including sea defences made from pipes filled with flammable liquids, burnt bodies washing ashore and even a story of a failed German invasion!

Rumours and speculation were so rife that in 1992, after press publicity, questions were raised in the House of Commons and classified wartime official documents were approved for early release.. they disclosed no mention of an attempted invasion. The rumours and conspiracy theories rumble on today and have been the subject of speculative books and TV programmes. What is known was that the pub, the Lifeboat Inn and some of the buildings were damaged by the RAF as they were used as targets for experimental bombing.

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The Lifeboat Inn (the two storey building on the left) 

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The beach at Shingle Street is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its flora and fauna and as I walked across the shingle towards the sea I passed by clumps of yellow horned poppy, sea kale and mallow clinging on to the pebbles for survival.

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The tides and the fast currents on this part of the coast have sculpted the pebbles into remarkable curves

Turning back towards the coastguard cottages, I noticed a white line amongst the shingle…

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…on closer inspection it was a line of shells, mainly bleached white whelk shells, running in a line from the sea to the houses!

Occasionally the line was punctuated by a circle…

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or heart shape…!

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This beautiful and unusual hand made shell line ran for some 200 yards! I met a couple who were as intrigued as I was and we discussed what its origin was and why it was there. A lady walking her dog passed by and we asked if she knew why it was there and who had made it. She replied that she thought it was “pointless and hadn’t people got anything better to do with their time?” We thought it was wonderful and marvelled at the time and creativity that had gone into arranging it.  In fact we added to it and replaced a few shells which had got blown out of line by the wind or by errant walkers or excited dogs!

After some research I later managed to find out the story behind the shell line.

In 2005 two women Els Bottema and Lida Kindersley who had been childhood friends spent a week at Shingle Street as they had both been through a year of serious illness.

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On their first walk along the beach they picked up some white shells and sitting down to rest, they arranged them around a plant. From that day, on each daily walk they added more shells to the growing line and it became a symbol of their slow day by day and shell by shell recovery from their illnesses. The line gradually grew from the sea’s edge to the coastguard house.

Twice a year Els, a ceramicist based in Holland and Lida, a letter cutter at the Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge, spend a week at Shingle Street repairing the line and note that other people have added to it in their absence. A wonderful story about a wonderfully creative piece of land art!

With dusk falling I returned to the car parked near the Martello Tower which is also now  holiday rental property albeit an unusual one!

Another day I will return to walk further down the coast to discover more Martello Towers, and admire this area of unspoilt wilderness and hopefully fulfill another “quest”…to find Bawdsey Harbour… a picture of which I had seen in a holiday brochure.

So in the best story telling tradition…to be continued..!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Arun to Adur…a walk along the south coast

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You might be forgiven for thinking that this sunny beach photograph was taken in some exotic location abroad, it is in fact on the south coast of England, in West Sussex and to be more precise, it is the beach at Worthing!

Worthing has had its fair share of bad press in the past and was often dubbed “God’s Waiting Room” due to the number of its elderly residents. More recently the town even got a mention at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show in a self deprecating joke made by the winner Andy Murray when he said he was as “dull as a wet weekend in Worthing”! The town’s official epithet is actually “Sunny Worthing”!

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A windy but sunny weekend in Worthing!

We stay with friends in Worthing several times a year, and whilst it has its fair share of elderly residents it is an attractive seaside town which is definitely becoming more hip and less hip replacement!

Brighton some 15 miles to the east has become “London on Sea” but with its property prices booming in recent years, people have begun to head westwards along the coast in search of places to live.

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Brighton and Hove in the distance

Worthing with its wealth of regency properties and its fast regular train services into London, is fast becoming a popular and a much sought after town in which to live, a fact picked up by The Guardian which listed Worthing as now being the 10th most unaffordable place to buy property in England!

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From the Regency bow fronted grand residences of Liverpool Terrace…

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…to the houses with flint knapped walls popular in Sussex

Looking more closely at Worthing and its near neighbours along the coastline reveal some unusual surprises! Tomatoes, literary greats, pioneers of cinema and flight all feature in this area’s past!  All will be revealed on this journey…

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Worthing whilst having all the usual high street shops has some interesting independent retailers. It also has a Pizza restaurant in a place where Jane Austen lodged!

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It is thought that she stayed at Stanford Cottage during the autumn of 1805 and  that she found inspiration for some of the scenes and characters for her novel Sanditon whilst staying in the town.

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A mural inside the restaurant reminds diners that Jane was here! I wonder if she had a favourite table..?

Another writer attracted to Worthing was Harold Pinter whose first wife Vivien Merchant lived in Ambrose Place and this was where Pinter wrote The Homecoming in the 1960’s.

Oscar Wilde was here too! In the summer of 1894 he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest whilst staying in a turreted late Victorian villa called Esplanade House.

DSCF3671 copyAlthough Esplanade House has long since gone, a blue plaque marks the site on a block of flats.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was also a visitor, another blue plaque marks the spot where two of his earliest works including The Necessity of Atheism were printed.

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(c) Worthing Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Worthing Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Shelley and Miss Philips at Warwick Street Printery” by Charles Alfred Morris now hangs in Worthing Art Gallery

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Every seaside resort needs a pier but unfortunately many of these beautiful structures are falling into disrepair. Worthing Pier however is looking good today and it is a great place for a sunny stroll or a very bracing walk, depending on the weather!

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At 960 feet in length it was designed by Sir Robert Rawlinson; opening in 1862 it was the thirteenth pier to be built in Britain. Successful from the start, the pier had a pavilion built at the southern end and a landing stage for paddle steamers the best known of which was the Worthing Belle which regularly ran trips to Brighton.

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View from the southern end of the pier

Disaster struck on Easter Monday in 1913 when strong gales battered the pier and washed away the boardwalk leaving the pavilion stranded at the southern end. Repaired and reopened again by 1914, it was hit by a further disaster in 1933 when fire destroyed much of the pavilion. Once again it was repaired and refurbished with an amusement arcade, and a windshield running the entire length of the pier added. I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this glass shield on a windy day!

When war broke out in 1939 bringing with it the risk of possible invasion, in 1940 a 120 foot hole was deliberately blown in the pier’s decking to hinder an enemy attack. Repaired again after the war, it reopened in 1949 and is still popular today with a northern pavilion now the Pavilion theatre.

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Southern Pavilion note the glazed windshield on the left.

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Restored again a couple of years ago, there are some lovely Art Deco touches and a good cafe too in the southern pavilion!

The pier is also the venue for the “Worthing Birdman” a competition which involves human “birdmen or women” attempting to fly off the end of the pier into the sea for prize money! It first began in the 1970’s in Selsey but has since relocated to Bognor before moving to Worthing.

The Birdman, involves running off a 20 to 35 foot high elevated ramp at the southern end of the pier and attempting to “fly” the furthest distance. Divided into different classes including fancy dress, past winners have been the Pope, a squirrel, a skateboarding cow, and a naked man named John!

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A hopeful competitor!

Over the road from the pier is an unusual building…The Dome. It is a unique example of an Edwardian style of leisure centre which offered many forms of entertainment all under one roof. Known as a Kursaal it was renamed the Dome at the start of the First World War because of the anti German feeling which prevailed at the time.

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In its early days it had a dance floor and a roller rink and upstairs an Electric Theatre showing “the moving pictures”…Worthing was the first town in West Sussex where audiences paid to see films! The town’s first cinema venue was the Winter Hall, converted from a chapel, where films were shown from 1906 and for the price of 3d you could watch a romance, western or a documentary. The Kursaal’s new Electric Theatre opened in 1911 and for 9d you could watch the latest films in a comfortable upholstered tip up armchair!

The Dome remained open for film shows throughout WWI, and it was remodelled in 1921 with the ground floor transformed into a “luxurious picture house” with a grand staircase and ornamental panelling. Upstairs the Electric Theatre was converted to the Kings Ballroom with the fitting of a sprung dance floor.

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The ornate foyer of the Dome today

The 1920’s were the Dome’s golden years but during the 1930’s and the following years  4 other cinemas had opened up and the Dome was forced through competition to show second run films and at cheaper prices. By 1987 the Dome was the only purpose built cinema in town the others having burnt down or been demolished and the town council took over the freehold.

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The old projector today sits in the aptly named “Projectionists Bar!”

After years of different usages, and the threat of demolition, the Dome finally passed into the ownership of a Trust which still operates it today, showing all the latest films in two cinemas within the ornate and now Grade II listed building.

Along Marine Parade facing the sea stands a newly built apartment block in Art Deco style, on the site of the once famous Warnes Hotel built by George Warne in 1899.

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A blue plaque marks the first hotel garage!

In its heyday Warnes was the premier hotel in town and was patronised by the rich and famous among them King Edward VII, King George V, Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower. One surprising visitor was Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The Lion of Judah stayed for several months at Warnes in 1936 following his country’s defeat at the hands of Fascist Italy, before spending the next years of exile in Bath. The hotel closed in 1985  and finally burnt down in 1987.

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Where would we be without Blue Plaques telling us about local history? 

Promenading along the seafront has always been a popular seaside pastime and if you turn and walk eastwards you can walk along the coastline until you reach Shoreham where the River Adur enters the sea. Heading west, you can walk the coastline until you reach   Littlehampton where the River Arun enters the sea.

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A helpful sign explains the history of promenading! I like the metal fish atop the sign!

The fish forms part of Worthing’s coat of arms along with a cornucopia. Together with its wavy blue sea, the emblem represents the three main industries of the town, fishing seaside tourism and market gardening.

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The motto: “Ex terra copiam e mari salutem” is Latin for “From the land plenty and from the sea health”

Behind Worthing lie the South Downs giving the town protection from the cold northerly winds. Its climate and fertile soil were major factors in the development of the town’s market garden and glasshouse industry.

By the early 1890’s some 600 tons of fruit left Worthing each year, much of it bound for the markets in the Northern towns of Leeds, Birmingham. Manchester and Glasgow as well as Brighton and London.

Grapes, mushrooms, strawberries, melons, cucumbers and other vegetables were all grown in Worthing glasshouses which by 1904 covered some 81 acres. By 1904 there were 82 fruit growers and four special fruit trains left each week from Worthing station.

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Hot house table grape production near Worthing. Much of the crops were destined for the Paris markets until protective export tariffs greatly reduced the price.

West Worthing station was built in the hope of attracting holidaymakers from the Midlands using a line that unfortunately was never built, but it had a large sidings which were opened for fruit traffic. During the First World War the growing of exotic fare was replaced with the growing of tomatoes and salad crops and by the time of the Second World War, tomatoes were the main crop. Many glasshouses moved outside of Worthing  where they still continue today.

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A view of Grand Avenue in 1927 leading from West Worthing station, showing the extensive glasshouses now gone and replaced by housing.

Our friends live just off Grand Avenue, which as its name suggests is quite grand, with its elegant wide road punctuated with wonderful mature pines and Holm Oaks

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Grand Avenue West Worthing today with its sculptural Corsican or Black Pine trees

A short walk down Grand Avenue and across the road the English Channel greets you!

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Lets walk the coast…firstly westwards… towards the small town of Littlehampton…

The seafront promenade behind the beach huts is wide, flat and cyclist friendly, but I like to walk along the shingle strand line.Being a beachcomber at heart, I can always find something of interest perhaps a shell, a piece of sea washed glass, an unusually shaped piece of flint or maybe even a fossil!

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I have seen these unusual concrete pillars along the top of the beach, placed at regular intervals, I think they may be some kind of marker used as a baseline for measuring coastal erosion, but I am not entirely sure…

Further along the coast you reach Goring, a small settlement which allegedly gave its name to Lord Goring one of Oscar Wilde’s characters in his play An Ideal Husband. It is also oddly home to a church with an unusual ceiling on which is a copy of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel! I have yet to visit the church to see this for myself!

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Goring is often known as Goring-by-Sea to differentiate it from its namesake in Oxfordshire, Goring-on-Thames and a little known fact about this settlement is that Pete Townshend of the Who recorded the sounds of the sea at Goring beach for inclusion on the classic rock album “Quadrophenia”!

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After the large grassy stretch of land backed by holm oaks, Ferring is the next port of call.

At Ferring brightly painted beach huts line the shore and there is a super little cafe, The Bluebird,  that we often visit when walking along here. After Ferring heading westwards lie the highly desirable residential areas of East Preston and Angmering, derived from the Saxon, meaning the people of “Angenmaer”, before reaching Rustington.

During WWI Rustington was home to an American air base and it is also notable for two air speed records.

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Air speed record location

Group Captain Teddy Donaldson flying a Gloster Meteor Star was the first man to exceed 1,000 km/h on 7th September 1946. This record was broken on 7th September 1953 by Squadron Leader Neville Duke flying a Hawker Hunter at a speed of 1170.9 km/h.

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A plaque makes the spot

On towards Lttlehampton… home to a unique cafe and Britain’s longest bench!

Thomas Heatherwick is one of my favourite designers. From his sculpture…

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“B of the Bang” that was commissioned to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester…

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…to his rolling footbridge in Paddington Basin…...

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…and more recently for the Olympic Cauldron for London 2012, his work never ceases to inspire me.

In Littlehampton Heatherwick designed an unusual cafe…

Opened in 2007, the East Beach Cafe is quite unique with its rusted metal exterior which seems to grow organically out of the beach.

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East Beach Cafe

The entire metal structure was fabricated in Littlehampton by just two men. Its raw weathered tough exterior made of four separate pieces of mild steel, rusted and coated in oil is well fitted to cope with the demands of the seaside location. The inside was sprayed with rigid insulating foam. Not only is it a great piece of architecture is also a great eating place too.


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Endways on, it always reminds me of toast in a rack!

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Inside is like a white cave…and is cosy whatever the weather!

Just along from the cafe there is another curious feature… Britain’s longest bench!

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Yes it is official!

At 324 metres long the bench begins in a metal shelter and from there it twists and winds its way along the seafront promenade until it ends in another metal shelter near the bandstand.

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Made from some 9,000 reclaimed hardwood slats the bench dips in and out of the ground…

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and snakes around lamp posts!

The bench was inspired by many different ideas including one from a local junior school whose pupils wanted a place where they could all sit together. Studio Weave the architects designed the bench and some of the slats have personalised messages from the public including one inscribed as a marriage proposal!

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The seafront promenade ends where the River Arun meets the sea at the harbour, but just inland across the wide green lawns is a small street with a local grocery shop with an unusual claim to fame. The late British comic actor, Ronnie Barker used to live around the corner from this small shop and it was apparently the inspiration for his programme “Open all Hours”

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As the sign in the window testifies! Also around the corner is Granville Road…perhaps also the inspiration of  David Jason’s characters name..?

At the harbour and the River Arun, my journey westwards ends…now back to Worthing to head along the coast in the opposite direction, eastwards…to the River Adur

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On a calm sunny day the sea can look quite tropical…it can also be a wild and windy place too…

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Worthing beaches today are clean and the ozone filled air feels positively healthy…it apparently wasn’t always the case! On the beach near the pier is an information board describing the menace of Worthing’s seaweed..!

About 5 miles off Worthing’s coast there is a range of underwater chalk cliffs called the “Worthing Lumps” with some at 10 feet high, they are one of the best examples of undersea chalk cliffs and are designated a Marine Site of Nature Conservation. In addition there is a large seaweed zone which is believed to be responsible for the towns marine menace!

Excessive seaweed deposits began piling up on the beach in the Victorian period but whilst many old postcards show families enjoying the beach surrounded by it, others complained of the smells when it began to decompose. Along with primitive sewage methods and the discarded fish guts left by the local fishermen, it wasn’t the attractive seaside venue that the town was trying to promote!

Even fifty years ago if you had walked along the beach you would have been confronted with piles of seaweed up to 8 or 9 feet high, full of pesky flies which would infest the town and began to affect the values of seafront properties.

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Bulldozers tackle the seaweed menace near the pier!

Many methods were tried over the years to rid the town of its smelly menace. In the 1930’s the council encouraged farmers to cart it way for use as a fertiliser but then began charging them 12 shillings and 6 pence a load, so that effort soon fizzled out! Later attempts were to try to bulldoze it out to sea, transporting it along the beach and dumping it close to the boundary with Lancing in the hope that the tides there would help wash it way. That didn’t work and the Lancing residents weren’t too happy either!

Somehow the tide turned (no pun intended) and the town today is virtually free of its  unwelcome marine visitor although I understand that the Town Council monitors the situation on a daily basis…

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I pass some more unusual seating along the seafront heading eastwards…

IMG_0934I hope that the tide hadn’t washed these large pebbles in! 

Leaving the town behind, the promenade continues towards the small village of Lancing. I have already mentioned that Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest whilst staying in Worthing, however the play’s working title was “Lady Lancing”.

The shingle beach has a few remaining boats from Worthing’s once thriving in shore fishing fleet, and on certain days you can buy their catch straight from the fisherman.

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Lancing College is an independent school which lies some way inland on the other side of the A27, but it is worthy of inclusion as its chapel is visible from not only the coast but for miles around. Built in the English Gothic style of the 14th century it was actually built in 1868. It is an impressive looking place.

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Lancing College Chapel 

Past alumni of the school include the novelists Tom Sharpe, Evelyn Waugh and lyricist Tim Rice.

The coastal village of Lancing became a popular seaside resort in the mid 19th century with the gentry favouring its secluded atmosphere. The coast road is still today lined with guest houses.

After passing by more beach huts and chalets, an unusual wetland area is reached…

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Widewater Lagoon is a landlocked brackish lagoon with special nature conservation status

Hidden from the road by houses, the lagoon is best seen from the raised seafront path. This saline environment is an ideal home or a stopping off point for a wide diversity of birds and other wildlife. On the day I visited, the lagoon was full of colourful plants and flowers that thrive in this salty, shingle landscape, and the pools were full of birdlife, I saw oystercatchers, swans, herons and a couple of Little Egrets were a bonus!

It is hard to discern when Lancing ends and Shoreham or Shoreham-by-Sea as it is sometimes known, begins. Dating back to pre Roman times the town’s name is of Old English origin and the port and town were established towards the end of the 11th Century by the Normans. With the growth of nearby Brighton, Hove and Worthing and the arrival of the railways, Shoreham grew as a Victorian sea port and still today has several shipyards in commercial operation.

Shoreham beach is a shingle spit built up over many millennia by longshore drift and  the mouth of the River Adur has moved over the centuries. The river’s mouth was defined by Shoreham Fort or Redoubt built in 1857 to defend the town from the possible threat of French invasion.

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An aerial view of the fort

Some fort terminology is called for here! The fort’s ground plan is that of a “lunette”, a type of rectangular half moon with earthen ramparts on which guns were mounted. The rear part comprised a defensible barrack block and it is surrounded by a ditch which carried a “Carnot” wall along the bottom. At its three corners are covered bastions or passageways called “Caponiers” which can be accessed from within the fort whilst still being under cover from fire.

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The earthern ramparts with Carnot wall are still reasonably intact

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The covered bastion or Caponier

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The fort was used for a period of some 49 years and again was utilized during WWII with a battery of six inch guns. Their concrete emplacements are all that remain today.

During 1913 Shoreham fort took on a different role…it became a film studio! Early cinema pioneers were not unusual in this area, as in 1898 an American, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson had arrived in Worthing and shot several short films of typical seaside scenes with his magic “Black Box” camera.

A scenic artist, Francis Lyndhurst (and incidentally, grandfather to actor Nicholas Lyndhurst, probably best known as Rodney in “Only Fools and Horses”), brought his film company Sunny South Films, to Shoreham. Utilising the pure smog free air and the clear quality of the light, the fort was the ideal location and in addition the high walls and ramparts cut down wind on the canvas backdrops and it was secure to keep people out.

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The film studio inside the fort

The first film made by Lyndhurst’s company was called “A Showman’s Dream” and starred Will Evans, a music hall star and local Shoreham beach resident. Many film staff rented bungalows along the beach front and along Old Fort Road and this area soon attracted music hall stars and others in the industry. The area became known as “Bungalow Town” and in addition to the houses, many redundant railway carriages from the nearby Lancing railway carriage works were sold off and dragged across the river to be located along the beach to house this new community.

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Hauling a railway carriage to its new home in Shoreham

In 1915 with the growing confidence in movie making, Lyndhurst launched a grander enterprise along the beach called Sealight Film Productions and a glasshouse studio was built in 1916.

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The Glasshouse studios operated using only artificial light as electricity was not available!

The Great War intervened and also financial difficulties hit Lyndhurst’s studios.  Filming began again at the glasshouse in 1920 with the arrival of the Progress Film Company under producer Sidney Morgan, who produced the first film of Little Dorrit.

Last year the town was again back in use as a film location for a BBC series “Cuffs” which used the beach and part of the Civic Centre to stage their police drama.

Another Shoreham landmark is the airport, also a popular film location for period dramas such as Poirot. Officially known as Brighton City Airport, the terminal building is a must see place for fans of Art Deco with its original 1930s styled interiors and white concrete facade…it also has a great restaurant “The Hummingbird” which is open to all!

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The flying ground was established in 1910 and in July 1911 it was the starting point for the first recorded cargo flight, when a monoplane flew a box of Osram light bulbs to nearby Hove! By 1914 the Royal Flying Corps had arrived at Shoreham and following the war, the land had reverted back to its former use as grazing land.

In 1925 the airfield was home to the Gnat Aero Company and by 1930 the municipal authorities of Brighton, Hove and Worthing formed a joint committee to establish Shoreham as the airport for the three towns.

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The plaque marks the opening of the airport…

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…whilst a Sepecat Jaguar aircraft guards its gate!

The aircraft sadly no longer flies, but I must, and so head back to Worthing…

Thank you for accompanying me on this coastal ramble of about 12 or so miles along this fascinating stretch of the West Sussex coastline. If you are ever in this area don’t forget to visit Worthing and its environs…it’s well worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in West Sussex, Worthing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Blogger’s Year

It is that post Christmas/pre New Year time for reflection, a chance to look back over my blogs from the last twelve months and to begin to think about next year’s posts…

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It has a been a full year and I have visited lot of places, some old, some new, some great gardens, interesting houses, galleries and museums.

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Coleton Fishacre in Devon is an old favourite of mine!

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Poppies at Garden House Buckland Monochorum Devon

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Curvaceous walls at the Garden House

I have walked for miles along the Thames path and through the streets of London and found history lurking around every corner.

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Deserted street in the City

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Unusual angles…the Shard and Southwark Cathedral

I have walked in the countryside and have found quaint sleepy villages, had the privilege of seeing some great views and of savouring some spectacular scenery.

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Herefordshire countryside in Spring

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Walking up on the South Downs 

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Sussex woodland floor; a carpet of bluebells

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Still waters in Suffolk 

I have found the quirky and surreal in the commonplace…I have so much to write about and share with you all!

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An unusual hanging basket outside a Cornish fire station!

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Sussex flint walls with added false teeth!

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Bespectacled gargoyle! Chichester Cathedral 

So to 2016…I think my first post next year will feature the Big Pit at Blaenafon in Wales. Given that Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire, England’s last working deep coal mine closed for ever last week, it seems appropriate and a fitting epitaph to this once great industry, now lost forever.

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The Big Pit Blaenafon Wales

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I visit friends in West Worthing quite often and I have accumulated so many photographs of this part of Sussex that it seems time to put them together, so that may be my second post of 2016…

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Windy seafront Worthing

I have a long overdue walk to write about…North Greenwich to Shad Thames…that was quite a walk but one packed full of interest at every turn!

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The Dome from the Emirates Air Line

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St Peter the great statue at Deptford creek

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Limehouse from the South Bank…spot the Gormley figure walking on water!

Last September I was again in Southwold for a week’s holiday and my visits to Suffolk will be the subject of future blogs, including one on the Napoleonic Martello Towers which are a feature of the coastline.

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Southwold Panorama

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Martello Tower Suffolk

Also a trip to the coastal village of Bardsey will feature with its strange man made Pulhamite cliff gardens.

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I may write a piece on the sculptures of Antony Gormley, as this year I encountered two of his figures which were commissioned to celebrate 50 Years of the Landmark Trust.

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I have still not written about the Nicholas Hawksmoor churches in London, nor about Postmans Park and George Watts…so perhaps these will finally get written, plus of course a few others from places I plan to visit…

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Hawksmoor’s smallest and only City church, St Mary Woolnoth

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A quiet corner of Postmans Park

I have posted some 16 blogs this year and I have received some great comments not only from family and friends, but also from complete strangers from around the world. I am touched that these people have come across my words and images online and have been kind enough to take a moment to connect with me.

My blogs have also put me in touch with other bloggers who now regularly correspond with me. Some of my new, virtual friends include…

Dan the very knowledgable and helpful Frustrated Gardener who gardens in London and Kent http://frustratedgardener.com/

David of A London Inheritance who revisits the places from his father’s archive photos and brings them up to date http://alondoninheritance.com

Isobel a London Blue Badge tourist guide and owner of an adorable ginger cat called Master Bosun who has his own Instagram presence! http://londonbyguide.wordpress.com   https://isobelandcat.wordpress.com/

Vivienne who explores the beauty in the flora and fauna of her local patch in North London http://bugwomanlondon.com/

The enigma that is TheLadyTravels with her expert eye for the quirky and surreal http://www.theladytravels.com

As a result of my writing this year it has also been my good fortune  to meet The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life http://spitalfieldslife.com  at the Hands Around Norton Folgate event in July.

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I also met the talented artist Paul Bommer  http://paulbommer.bigcartel.com whose exhibition I visited in the Autumn and whose Huguenot tiled wall plaque was unveiled in Hanbury Street this year.

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At the Spitalfields Open Gardens event I met Nigel the expert behind The Spitalfields Gardener https://www.facebook.com/thespitalfieldgardener http://www.thespitalfieldgardener.co.uk

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Finally last month I met up with Candy the chronicler of Bradshaw’s London and gardener extraordinaire! http://londondiaryblog.wordpress.com and https://enthusiasticgardener.wordpress.com/author/candyblackham at the Sky Garden 20 Fenchurch Street.

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Now I have written my new year  “to do” list, the enormity of actually writing, researching and compiling these articles dawns…! I wish I could write a quick blog but I can’t, but I will begin the journey soon and hope that you will join me for the ride…

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In the meantime, a Very Happy New Year to you all.

Posted in 20 Fenchurch Street London, Architecture, Huguenots, London, London Gardens, Paul Bommer, Sky Garden, Spitalfields, Spitalfields Gardens, Suffolk, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sky Garden

On a cold and decidedly windy grey November afternoon, we made our way to the City to meet up with a fellow blogger and her husband to visit the new “Sky Garden” at the top of one of London’s latest sky scraping office blocks.

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The northern elevation of my target as seen from Bishopsgate

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The old and the new…

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20 Fenchurch Street is the real name of the office block but as is usual with London skyscrapers it has a nickname…in this case the “walkie-talkie  building”… which describes it unusual shape.

With its uppermost floors bulging out, like a filing cabinet with the top drawers slightly open, it is an odd sight when looking up at them from below. This top heavy design was in part intended to maximise floor space on the upper levels where rental costs are higher and views are better than lower down.

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Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, the building is 160 metres or 525 feet high, and currently is the fifth tallest building in the city of London, after Heron Tower, The Cheesegrater, Tower 42 and the Gherkin.

Opening in Spring 2015, the building soon had its nickname revised to the “walkie-scorchie” when it was found that reflective beams of light from its facade had begun to melt cars parked in nearby streets! Vertical fins were swiftly affixed to the building to rectify this issue.

20 Fenchurch Street continues to attract controversy culminating in the award of the Carbuncle Cup for 2015! This tongue in cheek alternative to the Stirling Prize is awarded annually by Building Design magazine to the ugliest building in the UK completed in the last year.

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Close up of the facade

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The entrance to the sky garden is on Philpot Lane and a huge green wall lines the access steps.IMG_0935

The Guild church of St Margaret Pattens close by 20 Fenchurch Street looks tiny compared to its new neighbour!

This is yet another City church destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and is notable for its 200 foot spire often referred to as Wren’s only true spire, designed in a medieval style. The Church ceased to be a parish church in the 1950’s and became one of the City’s Guild Churches, its name referring to the livery company the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers. Pattens were wooden soled overshoes later soled with raised iron rings that enabled people to walk around London without muddying their feet!

On to the Sky Garden…remarkably public access is free and timed tickets must be booked in advance online a few weeks before your intended visit.

Once inside you can stay as long as you like, and there is a coffee shop and cocktail bar and comfy sofas with pink blankets…it just gets better!

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I had our tickets at the ready and we went through all the usual airport style searches before entering the lift and pressing the button for floor 35. The lift was very smooth, silent and speedy, but my ears popped at about floor 25!

On exiting the lift and turning right across the concourse I was drawn towards the viewing platform and unusually for me, I was lost for words! Whilst I knew that the views would be good, nothing had quite prepared me for the 360 degree views out over the city. The outside deck was cantilevered out and you could seen directly below into the Lilliputian world of the Great Wen!

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Panoramic Views

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The first thing that drew my eye was the Shard…visible in most parts of London and standing at 309.6 metres or 1,016 feet high that isn’t really surprising! Currently the 87th tallest building in the world, at the time of its completion it was the tallest habitable building in the European Union.

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Renzo Piano’s neo-futurist glass Shard

My eye was then drawn to try to pick out key landmarks…

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The diminutive HMS Belfast wouldn’t be out of place in a bath tub!

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The Tower of London like a child’s fort!

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Canary Wharf in the distance and the curve of the river

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Wren’s Monument overshadowed by a red crane.

Having visited the Monument… the views from the sky garden are much better and you don’t have to climb a narrow winding staircase of 311 steps and back down! However you don’t get a certificate!

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Looking west…St Pauls and the Old Bailey with One New Change in the foreground

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Looking east along the outdoor viewing deck and a tiny Tower Bridge

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Looking down onto roof tops and into familiar streets

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The BT or Post Office Tower in the distance. London’s tallest building at 177 metres high when it was completed in 1964

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Tate Modern the former Bankside Power Station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and five river bridges

We climbed the stairs to view the garden.

The Sky Garden is marketed as the “Capital’s highest public garden”and was designed by the landscapers Gillespies. My blogging friend, also a keen gardener, and I discussed the planting which given the fact that it was completed only in January was already quite established.

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The stairs rise up alongside themed planting borders reminiscent of a mountain slope. The plants seemed to be mainly mediterranean species with lavenders and rosemary edging the steps. Some Echiums native of the Canary Islands will be quite spectacular when they produce flower heads several feet high and the Strelizia plants or bird of paradise were already in flower.

 

Higher up the stairs the planting took on a more South African theme with Agapanthus and Kniphofia and higher still the planting was predominantly fig trees, tree ferns and cycads.

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Little seating areas surrounded by greenery created welcome private enclaves within this huge public space

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Jurassic park…perhaps the highest tree ferns in London

Looking west we noticed some of the city’s other roof gardens…

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The Coq d’Argent restaurant and garden on the top of N0 1 Poultry, with its distinctive pink and yellow limestone clad building

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The elegant parterres on the roof of Rothschild’s HQ

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The roof garden atop Cannon Street Railway Building

Now on the final top floor the views from the windows looked northwards.

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Tower 42, The Cheesegrater and the Gherkin all in a row looking at this new neighbour.

My regular readers will know that I am very fond of Spitalfields and it was remarkable to be able to see Hawksmoor’s Christ Church on the corner of Fournier Street and Commercial Street in the distance!

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Ten past three by the Christ Church clock…and the Town House Gallery with its lights shining on a grey afternoon…a bit late for tea according to Rupert Brooke so we settled for a cup of coffee instead!

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Coming back down the stairs on the eastern side to the coffee shop with the best view in London!

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Dusk approaches across the city

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Posted in 20 Fenchurch Street London, Architecture, London, Plants, Sir Christopher Wren, Sky Garden, Spitalfields | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Round and Round the Gherkin

The purpose of my visit today was to visit an exhibition at the Town House in Fournier Street, but as it was a beautifully warm sunny October day, I decided to check out a few places on my to do list whilst in the City before heading off to Spitalfields.

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My exhibition invitation

Making my way from St Paul’s tube station, I went in search of the garden of a church which I had recently read about in the Londonist. The Church of St Vedast-alias-Foster can be found in Foster Lane, but a stones throw away from its considerably bigger brother St Paul’s. Partially damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 St Vedast was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren with some help from Nicholas Hawksmoor. The church today is responsible for 13 other neighbouring parishes whose churches have been lost through fire, war or development.

The unusual name Vedast derives from a French saint and has been corrupted over time by way of Vastes, Fastes, Fauster to the Foster of today. Only one other church in Tathwell Lincolnshire is dedicated to him in this country.

I assumed the church and its gardens would be open today it being a Sunday, but on arrival the noticeboard informed me otherwise! Oh well another time perhaps…

I decided to stroll down Cheapside and as I passed by St Mary Le Bow its famous “oranges and lemons” bells were pealing. I turned up King Street to call into the Guildhall which was looking stunning on this sunny morning…

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On reaching the door I found it seemed to be locked in spite of the sign clearly stating it should be open! A couple of other would be visitors turned up and seemed surprised to be unable to gain entry and finally a security officer opened the door to inform the waiting crowd that there had been a power cut so the building was unable to open! First a closed church and now the Guildhall too!

My journey however was not wasted as I did manage to see the sculpture of Dick Whittington and his cat in one of the arches near the entrance. I wrote about cats of London in one of my earlier posts and hadn’t included this significant memorial to London’s most famous Lord Mayor and his legendary feline chum.

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His cat is certainly very happy at his master’s feet!

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On leaving the courtyard I couldn’t help but notice the curved arc of black bricks in the pavement which mark the line of the Roman amphitheatre which lies deep below the Guildhall.

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Lost for centuries the original walls were rediscovered in 1988 by archaeologists working on the site of the Guildhall’s new art gallery .

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Who would believe that below this art gallery lies a section of Roman London!

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The remains of the Roman Amphitheatre

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The site is now a protected monument and the remains are atmospherically displayed below the gallery and are well worth a visit.

Back down Lothbury and towards the Bank of England I headed. Sundays in the city are always wonderful with no crowds and little traffic, the downside is there aren’t too many coffee shops open either!

As I walked along Bishopsgate I noticed a large bell lying on the pavement…well actually two bells fused together in silence!

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Bells II by Kris Martin  

Unfortunately whilst I thought I had photographed this sculpture, when returning home it appeared that somehow I hadn’t!  So both of the bell photos reproduced here are courtesy of my fellow blogger The LadyTravels  http://www.theladytravels.com/sculptureinthecity/

London Sculpture in the City 2015 Bells II Kris Martin, 99 Bishopgate, end

A closer look revealed that it was one of several pieces sited as part of the Sculpture in the City Trail.

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I decided to follow the trail!

Crossing over Bishopsgate I headed towards Leadenhall Street to find the two tall skinny cats dressed in human clothing pacing around their plinth!

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Days of Judgement – Cats 1 & 2 by Laura Ford 

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They seemed a bit worried or deep in thought…!

On towards Leadenhall Market… its name originating from the leaden roofed mansion of the Neville family where in the 14th century merchants sold butter and cheese.

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The ornate entrance to the market today dates from 1881 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones who also designed Tower Bridge and Smithfield Market.

I had to look up to find the next sculpture.

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Ghost by Adam Chodzko

Now suspended from the ornate roof trusses in the market, since 2010 this kayak has travelled along the River Medway in Kent, the River Tamar in Devon, through The Olympic Park, London, and along the Tyne in Newcastle.

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I love the vibrant colours of the shop fronts and the market’s Victorian detailing 

Out of the market in search of the next sculpture I couldn’t help but notice this sham facade next to the Lloyds Building

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The old and the new!

What is it about the Lloyds building that I find so fascinating? Every time I pass by this iconic building I can always find a different angle to photograph!

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The Lloyds Building built between 1978 and 1986 was designed by Richard Rogers. It is sometimes known as the “inside-outside building” as all its service shafts, ducting and lifts are on the outside so as to to maximise the space within. A real example of out of the box thinking! A mere 25 years after its completion, it was the youngest building to achieve Grade I listed building status.

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Also great reflections of it in the Willis office building opposite in Lime Street

Next to the front door of Lloyds in Lime Street, I found the next sculpture…

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Old DNA by Folkert de Jong The Dutch artist created this from a 3D scan of a suit of armour belonging to Henry VIII

Well it was here that my sculpture search went a bit awry! The next sculpture I was looking for was Rays by Xavier Veilhan which according to the trail map was just nearby!  I walked around for ages searching for it and thought perhaps that the sculpture had been removed for repairs… either that or the sculpture was actually these shiny black benches around the Willis building!

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Little did I realise that had I looked up to the top of the white post, I would have seen the sculpture, well above head height!

My thanks yet again to TheLadyTravels for her generosity in letting me reproduce her photos of this sculpture.

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How could I have missed this..?

London Sculpture in the City 2015 Rays Xavier Veilhan Fenchurch Avenue, black and white

Rays (London) by Xavier Veilhan Both of the above two photos are courtesy of TheLadyTravels 

After my mystifying disappearing sculpture experience, and having negotiated my way through and round the nearby building works, I reached the next sculpture on the trail.

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‘O my friends, there are no friends’ by Sigalit Landau

These pairs of bronze shoes tied together with ordinary laces were first shown at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and this is the first time that the work has been displayed in the UK.

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These boots certainly aren’t made for walking!

DSCF8449The old and the new…St Helen’s Square on the corner of St Mary Axe

Next stop…30 St Mary Axe, previously known as the Swiss Re building, today it is fondly known as the The Gherkin. Designed by Norman Foster and completed in 2003, it is built on the site of the former site of the Baltic Exchange which was badly damaged in 1992 by an IRA bomb. Today it is as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge and The Shard, and its distinctive shape means that it can be seen from some 20 miles away!

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Whilst the building is curved, strangely there is only one piece of curved glass in its construction and that is the lens at the top!

The sculpture trail listed 4 pieces around its base. The first one I found was the last sculpture to be installed and is enormous, by the famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

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Forever by Ai Weiwei

This grouping of stainless steel bikes refers to the “Forever ” brand of bicycles that have been mass produced since the 1940’s in Shanghai.

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Some of the bike’s wheels also spun round!

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DSCF8472Several people were walking around this installation and one man I spoke to said his brother had tried to count how many bikes there were! 

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…how many bicycles in Beijing…not as many as there were perhaps..?

I could have spent ages photographing this sculpture but I had three more to find nearby…

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Red Atlas by Ekkehard Altenburger  this sculpture leans gently against the wall held firm by its sheer weight!

Close by I found this most enchanting group! Despite their size these bronze sculptures have a very powerful prescence!

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Carson, Emma, Takashi, Zezi and Nia by Tomoaki Suzuki

Lets meet them in turn!

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Carson

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Emma

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Takashi

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Zezi

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Nia

Japanese artist Tomoaki Suzuki has created painstakingly detailed portraits of these diverse urban youths at about one third of their actual size!

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From the trail map there appeared to be another sculpture at the base of the Gherkin…but could I find it? I walked round and round searching for it and also asked some passers by clutching clipboards if they knew where it was. They didn’t! They were busy doing a city treasure hunt against the clock and had no time to discuss sculptures!

So out onto Bury Street and into Camomile Street and back into St Mary Axe I walked searching…in fact I think I did three complete circuits of the Gherkin…until I heard a faint sound like a tune played by an ice cream van! I followed the sound and hidden behind a tree and a walkway the elusive sculpture came into view!

DSCF8499 Organisms of Control # by Keita Miyazaki

This sculpture fuses old car parts combined with jingles that are played in the Tokyo public transport system and thank goodness it did else I would never have found it tucked away!

Crossing back over to St Helens the next sculpture was not hard to see!

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Charity by Damien Hirst

Charity is a 22 feet high bronze sculpture and is based upon The Spastics Society’s (whose now more PC name is Scope) charity collection boxes which were commonly placed outside shops and chemists in the 1960’s and 70’s.

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This version by Hirst shows the collecting box has been vandalised, the money box door is ajar it contents emptied and the remaining coins lying on the ground next to a giant crowbar.

In front of Charity is another sculpture…

DSCF8510Breakout II by Bruce Beasley 

This sculpture of intersecting cuboid forms originates in digital 3D design software the shapes later cast into solid bronze.

Just around the corner in front of St Helen’s Church I found the next sculpture…

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Broken Pillar #12 by Shan Hur

This site specific installation was adapted to the surroundings of this ancient church and shows a large vase breaking out of a stone pillar.

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Back out onto Bishopsgate and on to the final sculpture  of the trail, sited in St Botolphs-without-Bishopsgate Gardens.

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Altar by Kris Martin

Based upon the multi panelled 15th century Ghent altarpiece by Van Eyck, Martin’s sculpture is a metal replica of the frame through which we we can refocus our attention on the familiar cityscape. Oh and the pigeons liked it too!

My sculpture trail was complete…now why had I come to the City today?

Oh yes… off towards Spitalfields for the exhibition! On my way I passed by the elegant building that was the London Fruit and Wool Exchange in Brushfield Street, which used to look like this…

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and now looks like this…Boris strikes again!

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This fine building built in 1929 along with the Gun Pub next door and a bank on the corner of Commercial Road, are to be “redeveloped” despite widespread protest from the Council, locals and conservation groups.

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The boarded up Gun Pub

The London Fruit and Wool Exchange (LFWE) became famous during WWII as its basement housed “Mickeys Shelter” the biggest air raid shelter in the East End, run by Mickey Davis. The shelter a received the gift of a canteen from Marks and Spencer which at the height of the Blitz, could serve 5,000 people a night.

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The exterior of the LFWE was carefully repaired and cleaned by Norman Foster and Partners as part of the Spitalfields Market redevelopment opposite and prior to the demolition crews moving on site this year, its interior was largely unaltered with its purpose designed auction rooms.

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The Auction rooms in session

Sadly, despite the opposition and campaigns to try to save the LFWE, London’s Mayor has yet again intervened ignoring local council and local peoples views. All that will soon be left of this historic building will be its elegant facade simply tacked on to a new and much taller building behind changing the vista of this street forever…

Such mayoral interventions seem to be the norm these days where Boris is concerned, witness Norton Folgate and the Bishopsgate Goodsyard schemes, both of which he has called in, the latter even before local councils had a chance to express an opinion! Democracy in action…not!

On to Fournier Street to the Town House Gallery for artist Paul Bommer’s Magic Lantern Exhibition…

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Town House Fournier Street

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On arrival I found the Paul with his partner, Nick, sitting having tea in the tiny little garden behind the shop. I had never met Paul before, but having corresponded with him on several occasions, we began chatting about his work as though we had known each other for ages! Paul’s carefully executed and detailed artwork always makes me smile and I love the vibrant colours he uses.

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I particularly liked the print of Father Thames seen behind Paul here. Thanks to Vav Bastos for letting me reproduce his photo of the smiling artist!

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So much so that I just had to buy it! 

Old Father Thames strides confidently down the river, bullrushes in his hair and trident in hand…and the details of his “tattoos” are wonderful as they depict aspects, people and places of the river from its source to the sea.

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All manner of Thameside history is here, from mudlarking finds, to landmark buildings and lost tributaries to famous people and riverine wildlife!

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I really liked the Green Man too…spot the cat and the spider!…Christmas is coming but have got a spare wall!

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South Coasting

This jolly sunny seaside piece is so full of life and is Paul’s homage to Edward Bawden’s illustrations in Dell Leigh’s East Coasting. I particularly like the small details such as the seagull stealing a fish, the crab pinching the man and stealing his hat, and the alligator with Mr Punch’s sausages!

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Crabs and Shannocks depict the names and faces of real-life fishermen from Cromer and Sheringham, shannock refers to a resident of Sheringham. Apparently their jumpers known as “ganseys” were knitted in a distinctive pattern so as to identify their origin if they were drowned and washed ashore!

For more information and to see lots more of Paul’s work do check out his online store http://paulbommer.bigcartel.com/

I said my goodbyes and left Paul sketching away in a large black notebook in the garden…more ideas for future works I expect! After a mooch around Spitalfields market which was by now closing up for the day, I began to retrace my steps back to St Paul’s.

I decided to have a meal before setting off back home to Worcestershire and was quite pleased to sit down after pounding the city pavements.

Footnote: There is a nifty device on an iPhone which measures how many steps you walk so I decided to check it out. I had apparently taken 19,049 steps today… equating to 9 miles…no wonder it was a relief to sit down!

Posted in Architecture, East End, London, Paul Bommer, Public Sculpture, Sculpture Trail, Spitalfields | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments