Colster 1b

I’m getting used to going on a church hunt and finding the doors locked. I can understand it, although it is a sad reflection on society, but I know that some light-fingered members of the population might be tempted to walk away with precious items, or others just damage the building for the sake of it.

I wasn’t too bothered about this on Wednesday’s little sojourn, however, because what I wanted to see was on the outside of the buildings (see Thursday’s rude gargoyles post). Man wasn’t remotely concerned – apparently it IS possible to have too much of a good thing.

However, every single one of the four churches we visited had an open door policy and so I got to go inside. They are obviously very trusting in this part of the world, or else they have a very low crime rate – either way, I was happy.

 

Colster 8b

 

In fact the only issue we had was my complete inability to negotiate the junctions of the A1. Heading towards Colsterworth, I managed to miss the exit I wanted and decided I could just as easily take the next one and drove aimlessly round the countryside for a while, with no signal for the sat nav on Man’s phone. When we went to the next church I came off the A1 100 yards early and ended up sitting looking at a concrete bunker!

When we did finally make it to Colsterworth, we found a lovely little village on a hill being almost entirely dug up for road works. It made parking a little interesting, but we got there in the end.

St John the Baptist Church, Colsterworth, Lincolnshire. Pretty little place. Looking at the village and the number of older looking cottages, it was probably considered a sizeable settlement in days gone by. The church is certainly reasonably substantial. Roman remains have been found about half a mile away and it is pretty close to the great Roman road Ermine Street.

Colster 9b

As you may be aware, I went on a hunt for gargoyles and grotesques, which I found in abundance and not all of them were rude! Some of them were still designed to scare though.

Colster 10b

This guy looks very angry about something.

Local research reckons the origins of the  church were in Saxon times (you can read about it here), with additions or improvements made in the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th centuries. It is a Grade I listed building , which at least affords it a certain amount of protection.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was this amazing herringbone stonework and the distinct line above the rounded arches where the herringbone stops and straight brick work replaces it.

Colster 7b

This, apparently, was the original outside wall. Well, I say original, it is the older part of this building, there may have been an early wooden structure or a pagan temple on the site. But this stonework is Saxon. In the top right of the picture you can see an opening that experts believe may have been an original window.

Colster 4b

Here’s a close up.

Inside the church is also the remains of a Runic cross estimated to be from the 9th or 10th century. Just look at that lovely carving.

Colster 6b

I wonder if people will be admiring our current gravestones in 1,000 years time? Somehow I doubt it. These things, however, appear to have been built to last.

Colster 3b

Here’s another view of that lovely north wall and at the end of the aisle you can see a rather beautiful font.

Colster 2b

 

The stem is 15th century and it is highly decorated. Parts of the bowl are estimated to be 12th century. Can you see the difference in the shape of the arches?

But what really makes this church unique is this.

Colster 5b

If you go through the door at the eastern end of the north aisle, squeeze yourself into the four-foot gap behind the organ and look up (or straight ahead if you are taller than 5ft 2!), you find this sundial, carved by Sir Isaac Newton at the tender age of nine years.

This was Newton’s childhood church. He was born on Christmas Day 1642 (we were on the Julian rather than the Gregorian Calendar then) a few months after the death of his father in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, a little hamlet nearby. His home, Woolsthorpe Manor, is now in the hands of the National Trust. A few years later his mother remarried the Reverend Barnabus Smith, vicar of St John the Baptist. So this carving was probably created in around 1650 ish.

Apparently the young Sir Isaac was not overly enamoured with his stepfather and once threatened to ‘burn them and the house down over them’ – no love lost there then.

He did, though, appear to be better disposed towards this church because when he died he left the grand sum of £3 in his will for repairs to the church floor.

 

 

 

Easton 1b

Yesterday Man and I went on a gargoyle hunt. More specifically, we went on a hunt for rude gargoyles.

I like gargoyles and in fact most types of stone carvings. Gargoyles are decorative water dispensers, used to channel excess rainwater off the roof of the church. Grotesques are carvings, they don’t serve any sort of practical purpose and often decorate roof lintels inside or out. Friezes are many grotesques purely for decorative purposes. Corbels are stones that help support the roof – again either internal or external – that can be decorated and many of these decorations are a corbel table. I went in search of a very specific type of grotesque and gargoyle yesterday and found both.

Ever since I first read about the Mooning Men on the Great English Churches website, I have wanted to see some. Now I think I have a pretty good collection of photos but, as always, there are plenty more to collect. The churches I visited are not Churches Conservation Trust churches, these are all in use, and they don’t feature in Simon Jenkins’ 1,000 Churches (but they really should).

We started our little journey at St John’s in Colsterworth in Lincolnshire where we came across a couple of lovely examples of what I was looking for.

Colsterworth 4b

Here we go. He is definitely displaying his bum to the outside world.

Colsterworth 7b

Here he is from another angle. And, if you look closely, he has his head between his legs (wait till you see what some of the others have stored there!!) … and you can see where the rainwater would have spouted from.

 

Colsterworth 6b

This one’s a grotesque (no water spouting from the orifice here) and there is distinct genitalia there. How rude :) This is on the door arch, visible to all the pious parishioners on their way to prayer.

Colsterworth 2b

And what on earth is this one doing! Most unsavoury for a place of worship.

Honestly, I think these are absolutely hilarious – and this was just church number one. I love the way it illustrates how sensibilities have changed over the years. Can you imagine someone building a church now and announcing they were going to decorate it with a man with his bum out and testicles and a (in some cases) penis on display. People would recoil in abject horror.

From Colsterworth we moved on to Ryhall jjst down the road but in the county of Rutland and another St John’s.

Ryhall has a really impressive frieze but that is going to have to wait for another post because this one is just about bums.

Ryhall 2b

 

And here we have the bottom scratcher. Quite brazen in his pose, he is looking directly out from the wall and quite clearly scratching his testicles! Also, despite the fact that he is clearly not used to get rid of water, the mason has put a strategically placed hole in his bum. What on earth is he trying to say with this?

Ryhall 1b

This one also has his bottom out, although it isn’t quite so brazen.

Now from Ryhall, we made our way to Easton on the Hill, which took use just over the border into Northamptonshire I believe, where we found the crudest  example yet.

This is All Saints Church in one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. And, as you approach the south porch of the church, above your head on the tower is this.

Easton 2b

Now there is a local legend that says he is pointing his bum in the direction of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at the stonemason not being paid. But other reports say there is no substance in that and suggest that, like other gargoyles, these Mooning Men were simply warding away sin and evil from the sanctity of the church.

He is certainly a good example though … and worth a look from a slightly different angle.

Easton 5b

Maybe the stonemasons just had a sense of humour? Or maybe, these weren’t thought funny at all but were designed to say ‘ya boo sucks’ to the devil.

From Easton to Oakham, county town of England’s smallest county, Rutland.

It has quite a majestic church – another All Saints.

But adorning the walls of this building, there are another couple of characters who aren’t being very saintly at all.

Oakham 2b

Yep, another mooning man with his head stuck between his legs and his testicles on show.

Oakham 1b

And another, only this one’s a little deformed … his genitalia is roughly the same size as his head!

Now there was me thinking that English church parishioners in the Middle Ages were a distinctly pious lot. Obviously I was wrong, or the notion of pious has changed slightly over the years, or there is some sort of sacred symbolism here that I’m just not aware of.

Whatever the answer, I had a pretty successful day yesterday as far as I am concerned. I certainly found what I set out to find.

Now the other thing I found, that I really wasn’t expecting and was a huge added bonus, is that every single one of these churches was open yesterday. So I also got to go inside and find out a bit more about them. And, in doing that, I learned about Isaac Newton, Anglo Saxon headstones and a woman called Tampon. So I think each church merits a little, slightly less tongue in cheek, post of its own at some point.

In the meantime, the guy responsible for the website mentioned at the top of this post, Lionel Wall, has written what I think is a very interesting document about the Mooning Men and a group that he calls the Demon Carvers of the East Midlands which, if you feel like it, you can read here.

Incidentally, apparently there are female versions of the Mooning Men … you know I am going to have to find some :)

Many will know of my Fifty before Fifty challenge and that one of those challenges is to attempt to visit all of the Churches Conservation Trust churches. And, as you can see from the countdown clock on the right, I only have 18 months to go.

Well during my period of blogging absence, I also failed miserably to knock many of my challenges off my list (except perhaps reading) so I really have to get a bit of a gallop on here.

On Monday, Man and I went to Skegness. It’s his birthday this week when he will once again become as old as I am for six months and he wanted to ride a roller coaster (more on that in another post). However, it seemed a wasted opportunity to drive straight past a perfectly good church, so we took a little detour to Haceby, Lincolnshire.

I checked before hand and the church of St Barbara was open all day. 170b

And indeed it was. I love locations like this. It was a couple of miles off the A52 up a single track road and when we arrived it was pretty  much in the middle of nowhere.

Haceby was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and must once have been a thriving village. Now it is a farm and a couple of cottages and this pretty little church on a hill.

Now it was called St Barbara’s but the CTC pamphlet inside the church said St Margaret. That confused me. A little research and I discovered it actually had a double dedication. I find St Barbara more interesting. Turkish, over-protective dad who locked her in a tower to stop her getting sullied by the outside world (Rapunzel origins?), she secretly became Christian. He didn’t like that, tried to kill her, a miracle created a hole in the wall and she escaped. Chase ensued, he caught her, there were a couple more miracles. He chopped her head off and was struck by lightning on the way home – serves him right. On the other hand, another argument is she didn’t exist at all.

So, the church. It dates from the 12th century and was added to over the next 400 years.

142b

The outside is quite plain, no gargoyles or grotesques, but I did find this tiny little blocked door in the north wall.

165b

I love these tiny doors, they must have had very miniature clergy. Apparently the arch around the door is called a Caernarfon Arch because it is predominantly found in castles in Wales. Why is it here? We’re a long way from Wales.

St Barbara’s is famous for the remnants of a wall painting.

159b

This was originally a Doom painting, you can just make out the devil directing a group of big-bellied lost souls towards hell on the right and Christ sits at the top with saved souls and angels.

But is has been overpainted with the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne and you can see the lion on the left and make out the three lions of England and an Irish harp on the shield in the centre.

150b

The interior is light and airy. You can see the very plain 14th century font in the corner.

151b

The arch to the bell tower caught my eye. It is seriously wonky. The right hand side appears to bow quite drastically. Really, it isn’t just the camera angle, it is definitely lopsided.

But for me the exciting part of this church was in the porch.

134b

Graffiti. We all know how I love graffiti – ancient and modern – it appeals to the reprobate in me and, for me, it brings the people using this fine building to life, makes them more real. There are a few dates on here. TE was merrily scrawling away in 1677 for example.

140b

On the other side, it looks like someone has engraved the sails of a windmill. There are certainly a lot of windmills is this lovely flat part of the world and I can only imagine there were more in times past, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

137b

Strangely, if I saw modern graffiti on a church, I would probably say it was desecration and not be impressed at all – but I enjoy this old graffiti and I wonder who the local vandals were.

136b

These I thought were strange. On the seat in the porch there are several outlines that look distinctly like footprints to me.

135b

I can’t find any information about them except a few mentions that they are there. Well, I know that, I saw them, what I want to know is why people felt the need to etch round their feet.

It’s nice to be on the church trail again, I’ve missed it. According to my list, I have now checked off 50 CTC churches – so, less than 300 to go then.

Before we leave St Barbara’s, Man noticed this.

There’s a cheese string in the churchyard :)

169b

Well it amused me anyway.

011b

Attenborough Nature Reserve is one of my favourite places to go for a walk when I’m in Nottingham and it was a beautiful spring day on Saturday, so off Man and I trundled.

We went in search of kingfishers and opted for the 3.7 mile kingfisher trail. Sadly, other than a quick flash of turquoise just to taunt us, we failed miserably to capture the elusive kingfisher.

082b

I did, however, manage to capture my first long tailed tit. I like him, he’s very cute and fluffy. The following day at another of my favourite places Wollaton Hall, Man and I met a wonderful man who kept the amazing illustrated diaries of his walks and rambles. He did the most beautiful line drawings, sketches and watercolours in his diaries, along with nature notes about what he’d seen on his travels. They were absolutely beautiful and his drawings and paintings were a lot better than my photos! What a talent to have, I was quite envious.

Back to Attenborough and, although I failed to catch a kingfisher, there were lots of other birds to catch my attention.

105b

This noisy little chaffinch wasn’t remotely bothered by us. He was far too busy singing. Birds make sounds completely disproportionate to the size of their bodies.

045b

And great crested grebes were in abundance, both on the lakes and on the River Trent.

023b

We also found a lone grey heron wallowing about in the mudflats.

I love this time of year, everything starts coming back to life but there isn’t so much foliage that I can’t see the birds for the leaves.

019b

I like the buds and the blossom.

018b

The butterflies are reappearing again too. This one is a small tortoiseshell.

068b

There was colour in the people as well.

086b

And here’s that little long-tailed tit again.

I have a week off work this week and am spending the week at Man’s house. So I’m expecting to get out with my camera a lot more,

112b

This is me. Well actually it’s a painting by Amy Bessone called Faust that was part of the exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery when I visited last Sunday. But by the time I came out of the gallery, this is what I felt I was like.

I started off looking at the exhibits (some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t) but then became more interested in the way other visitors were looking at the exhibits and interacting with them.

Before I knew it I was stalking people around the gallery taking pictures of them looking at the exhibit so I felt a bit devious and, if I’m being honest, a bit like a stalker. But it was still fun.

The Saatchi Gallery is one of those marvelous places that doesn’t care one iota if you take photographs inside. Unlike Westminster Abbey, which charges you £18 to get in and then won’t let you take pictures. I went in February and am still smarting from the injustice.

Anyway, I had a lovely afternoon mooching about the Saatchi Gallery stalking my prey and looking at the exhibits as well.

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You know there’s a lot more to Chelsea than a football team and a reality tv show. To be honest, I’m not hugely keen on either of those.

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

But I’ve fallen in love with Chelsea, it is just so cool.

Sloane Square and the King’s Road are still so vibrant – although I do wish I had been old enough to appreciate it in the 1960s and 70s when the King’s Road really was the epitome of cool.

Chelsea’s history goes back a lot further than that though. There was the Anglo Saxon settlement, a few Romans, medieval lords and a few kings along the way. The fountain these two are sitting in front of features images of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn.

Sloane Square fountain

Sloane Square fountain

The King’s Road is named for these two. It was once a private road. King Charles lived at one end, the lovely Nell at the other. The road was built so he could gallop along it in private to see his lover.

The road really became famous in the 50s, 60s and 70s. In the late 1950s, Mary Quant opened her shop here and the King’s Road became eponymous with fashion, music and coolness. Mary created the mini skirt, hotpants, and huge great spidery eyelashes.

114bThere is still a Mary Quant shop here, only now it is in the rejuvenated Duke of York Square.

065bThis is the recording studio where the Beatles created the album cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Just around the corner is a house formerly owned by Eric Clapton and probably party central for many a year. Bowie lived nearby, as did Mick Jagger.

118bAnd the Sloane Square Hotel is reputedly where Paul McCartney met Jane Asher and began their relationship.

Chelsea is also home to the Royal Chelsea Hospital where the Chelsea Pensioners live.

057bThat one’s a model, I’m really not sneaking up and surreptitiously snapping snoozing pensioners.

Around the hospital, Chelsea almost has a village feel. These two are contenders for my new home (if I had a fair few million pounds to spare that is).

055b053b

Beautiful aren’t they, especially in the spring, but sadly they are megamillions and, therefore, a little outside my budget.

Now just along from the Royal Chelsea Hospital (next door in fact) is the National Army Museum. I actually didn’t know it was there. As you walk past you may miss an extraordinary piece of history because it’s just a little unobtrusive.

058bBut this is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall, complete with original graffiti. I think it was presented to the museum because the British Army spent so long manning Checkpoint Charlie, but I’m not really sure.

059bAnd a little bit further along again was once the home of Oscar Wilde. Wilde was living here when he had an affair with the Marquess of Queensberry’s son. Old Queensberry wrote Wilde a letter that he deemed offensive so he tried to sue him for libel but the ensuing trial laid bare Wilde’s hidden life and resulted in his prosecution (and eventual jail sentence) for gross indecency with men. Bet he wished he’d left the old Marquess to rot.

Incidentally, the judge who jailed Wilde was his neighbour in this street too.

063bJust a little way further round the corner I found this. Now my guide for the afternoon, a lovely man called George from The Tour Hub London (where do you think I got all this information from?) wasn’t sure whether this had actually been Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio but thought probably not. It looks like both the studios (there are about seven of them) and the apartments around them were just named after him, having been built by Edward Holland. Chelsea Art School began life here in 1904. Anthony Devas had a studio here, as did noted Vogue fashion photographer Ronald Traeger who photographed, among others, Twiggy.

Finally, this is Hans Sloane.

050bOr rather, it’s a statue of him and it sits on the King’s Road, on one corner of Duke of York Square. He was a physician and a collector. You’ve probably guessed Sloane Square was named after him.

He was president of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society (he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton) and Royal Physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II. He was the first Baronet of Chelsea and also founded the Chelsea Physic Garden. He was a collector of natural history and when he died, he bequeathed these to the nation (on condition parliament paid his executors £20,000) and they formed the beginning of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Thanks Mr Sloane, you left us quite a legacy.

 

 

 

 

I’m in London for the weekend – specifically Chelsea.

I’m on a press trip. I used to do these a lot a few years ago as I was the self-designated travel editor, I don’t do so many any more.

For those not familiar with the concept, press trips involve PR companies, hotels, resorts, destinations etc inviting journalists on a free visit in the hope they will write something nice about them. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it :)

So this weekend I am staying at No11 Cadogan Gardens, a boutique hotel tucked away behind Sloane Square and part of the Small Luxury Hotels consortium.

And this is my suite for the weekend.

My bedroom.

My bedroom.

My sitting room.

My sitting room.

See what I mean … it’s tough :).

I’m here on my own – no guests (sorry Man) – but with three other journalists, all from magazines – two wedding magazines and a polo magazine – and a delightful PR lady called Kirsten is in charge of looking after us for the weekend and keeping us entertained.

Yesterday involved food and photographs (how could I not be happy with that?). After a brief tour of this lovely little hotel, we had an early afternoon tea (yum) and were then whisked off to the Natural History Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which was completely amazing and closes today so I am delighted I got to see it.

Dino in the front entrance of the Natural History Museum.

Dino in the front entrance of the Natural History Museum.

The general manager joined us for drinks last night. Strangely he had been making sausages all afternoon with his uncle (??) and therefore could not join us for dinner.

Tartufo means truffle in Italian and is the name of the restaurant in the hotel. We dined there last night. It was fabulous. Particularly fabulous was a black truffle risotto created for us to try. It is a specialty of the house and was just the most delicious thing ever. We were given a copy of the recipe by the restaurant. If I can recreate that at home, I am entering Masterchef! (Oh and the Eggs Benedict I’ve just devoured for brunch were pretty special too).

The lovely Kirsten and my three colleagues for the weekend went off clubbing at midnight last night. I went to bed (I’m too old for clubbing!) and got up with the lark and went exploring.

This is what I found.

I love exploring the back streets and hidden areas. Wandering down a residential street I came across Christ Church in a small square surrounded by the most beautiful mews houses. That’s why I love London.

Today we are off on a walking tour of the Cadogan Estate in Chelsea and then I plan to head to the Saatchi Gallery. This evening it’s more food and jazz :)

Sometimes, I really love my job.

 

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