Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ulting Church

The South Side

North Side

Still reading the book A Discovery of Old Essex by Richard Pusey, I came across a church, fairly nearby, we had'nt visited. So we decided to go today, the weather was cold, but fortunately, the Cat pub is'nt too far from our point of destination.
We got to the village no church in sight, though it said on the OS that the church was by itself on the banks of the Chelmer river, after asking someone we turned and went down a muddy track, and there in the distance the most pretty little church stood, my photos don't do it justice, because I had to photograph into the sun, but we shall go back in summer, perhaps for a picnic.
The church literature says there has been a church on this site since 1150 AD, but it must go back into Saxon times as the village was called Ultingham in the Domesday book. Pusey reckons that Chelmer river could have been called Ult, which would take it back far in time, but another historian thinks that Ult maybe another name for the River Ter which joins the Chelmer half a mile away.
The materials for the stone are many, and the church underwent a restoration in the 19th century but the north wall of the church represents the oldest part of the church, and there you will see flint, coursed by thin tiles (maybe Roman) and courses of the famous black pudding stone. In the literature the stone is described thus..

The dark brown pebbly stones are a natural rock, a conglomerate known as "Puddingstone". In pagan times this was revered as 'living rock' and is often found in old churches in Essex. The brown muddy looking stones higher up the wall are a soft rock known as 'septaria' which is found in London Clay'...

The Chelmer

The Cats pub, rather quiet on this Sunday

The church sits in solitary splendour a few feet from the river, the land rising slightly from the river, and back up the trackway, the rise is quite sharp to the village.....

Solving mysteries; what does it signify a Norman church by a river can this site be pushed back earlier and how much earlier?, the latest dates on the fabric of the church go back to 1066 according to Seax, not many finds in the area just cropmarks of ditches and tracks. But studying the map and a slight picture starts to emerge, this little church has no allegiance with the village of Ulting, no trackways across the field, but if you follow the trackway from the entrance, a slightly different picture emerges. The trackway would have gone past Fieldend farm and it is here to the north of the farm that... Cropmarks of rectilinear enclosures, square enclosure, linear features - field boundaries, pits and rectilinear features appear... and given that following this road north it will eventually arrives at the A12 Roman road, perhaps there is a much earlier prehistoric trackway running through the landscape.

There is a triangle of rivers meeting here within a few miles of each other, the Ter, the Blackwater and the Chelmer, making it a good navigational route through the centuries and of course the Blackwater goes down to the sea, and it is probable that the 'Septaria' or London Clay would have been brought from Bradwell on Sea.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Dengie Marsh at St.Peter on the Wall

The Saxon chapel at Bradwell on Sea is a favourite, I suspect partly also because of its unique situation set on the marshes, it is a solitary space, not wild as the land is farmed almost to the chapel itself. But reading a book today about old Essex, I came across another description of this piece of land, written by Rider Haggard who quite obviously took a dislike to the bleakness he found here.....

"The view, looking over the Dengie Flats and St.Peter's Sands from the summit of the earthen bank which keeps out the sea, was very desolate and strange. Behind us lay a vast drear expanse of land won from the ocean in days bygone, bordered on the one side by the Blackwater and on the other by the Crouch River, and saved, none to well, from the mastery of the waves by the sloping earthen bank on which we stood. In front, thousands of acres of grey mud where grew dull, unwholesome looking grasses. Far, far away on this waste two tiny moving specks, men engaged in seeking for samphire or some other treasure of the ooze mud. Then, the thin, white lip of the sea, and beyond its sapphire edge in the half-distance, the gaunt skeleton of a long-wrecked ship. To the north, on the horizon, a line of trees; to the west, over the great plain, where stood one or two lonely farms, another line of trees. On the distant deep, some sails, and in the middle marsh, a barge gliding up a hidden creek, as though she moved across the solid land. Then, spread like a golden garment over the vast expanses of earth and ocean, the flood of sunshine, and in our ears the rush of the north-west gale and the thrilling songs of larks hanging high above the yellow, salt-soaked fields. Such was Dengie Marsh as i saw it in June 1901. But what must it be like when buried beneath the snows of winter, or when the howling easterly winds of spring sweep across its spaces, and the combers of the North Sea sometimes reach and batter their frail embankment? Then indeed, I should not care to be the tenant of one of those solitary steads." Rural England Rider Haggard

Boxing Day

Boxing day, and the weather is cloudy with the sun breaking out now and then. Christmas day over, every one talked to over the phone, snow still up in Yorkshire a foot deep, but the birds are happy with the warmer temperatures down here. The starlings are talking to themselves in the maple branches, and the house sparrows come and raid the seeds in the bird holders. The ring dove feeds at the seed scattered on the ground and cats make unwelcome excursions into the garden, though to be honest they finished off the bits and pieces of the partridges we had yesterday. A first, and not sure that it will be a repeatable exercise, they have a strong taste these birds though somewhat ameriolated by a red wine sauce.
We see so many pheasants, etc around on our forays into the countryside that it seemed only right to eat them or their equivalent for christmas!
A great log fire for the last two nights, with the flames licking round the logs, hissing with the gas escaping, fire is such a comforting sight, with candles burning on the mantlepiece and the ivy leaves caught in the glow, their dark berries framed against the grey of the print of Stukeley's Avebury that greets you as you enter the room. My old 'grandfather' windsor chair was brought down from my study to sit in front of the fire; its elegant turned legs and back with the initials carved into the centre WHB, reminds me of that person who must be long dead, maybe he had the chair carved so that he could sit in front of a fire and contemplate the world through the flames consuming the logs, perhaps his house/cottage was decorated with holly and ivy at christmas, all I know of the history of the chair is that I bought iit in Calne over 30 years ago so perhaps it belonged to a farm there.
My love has cleared the ashes from the fire, no more fires till New Year says he! Which of course is his right, as he makes them and then has to clear the ashes the following day. We often talk of self-sufficiency but of course modern Europeans are far removed from this idyll, our port of call some wretched supermarket like Tesco or Sainsbury, that dazzle us with their goods imported from all over the world but leave me rather exhausted trying to find one simple thing.
We tried Tesco the other day, first time for me, watching the endless repeated adverts on TV did'nt actually warm me to Tesco and I was right there! Apart from the scrum of people in the store, it felt rather dirty, the shelves stacked with horrible toys and glittery stuff for Xmas, the aisles full of people so that you could'nt see anything let alone get over people's trolleys to pick something up. The final straw for me was when I bent down to get some bread flour from a bottom shelf and this person stepped on the same shelf to get something from the top, again and again, everything suddenly seemed so unhygenic. The fish stall with a million people wandering by, the prodding and putting back of the vegetables and fruit. I cannot understand why we have reduced ourselves to this purgatory when shopping; the pretty picture on the package we are going to buy does not necessarily reflect the quality of the food - it is a great scam - perpetuated on us by those eager to make money!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The world from a different angle

Reverse image

Seeing these trees so clearly reflected in the water set me thinking about the subterranean world of the Celts, the mythology of the underworld, which is not a place of death but of a happier life, where food, wine and song are the rewards of this mythical place called Elysium;

Reversing the photo upside down makes no change except that the water ripples through the trees and the snowy bank is above not below. This image, sometimes seen in a river, maybe in a well, would reflect back a parallel world, in which you could order the nature of all things to be beneficial. There is such a lot written in the Celtic tales, that it is difficult to know where to start when you describe this other land, maybe it was the monks when writing these tales that formed the myths of the pagan past, taking old folk tales and moulding them into shape to fit into the morality of the christian tales told, and the word Elysium was made up along the way, a bit like Utopia.

This mythical land called Elysium, has many forms and shapes, it can be found on the great plains of Ireland, or in the hills or sidhe barrows where the gods have retired, and you can enter through this 'portal' to the otherworld.. It could be a world below the waters, or a world co-existent with this and entered by through the mist. It is transitory, half-glimpsed, a place of the mind, a reward for hard service on this earth, and it has many names in Irish mythology.

The names of the Irish Elysium are sometimes of a general character--Mag Mór, "the Great Plain"; Mag Mell, "the Pleasant Plain"; Tír n'Aill, "the Other-world"; Tír na m-Beo, " the Land of the Living "; Tír na n-Og, "the Land of Youth"; and Tír Tairngiri, "the Land of Promise"--possibly of Christian origin. Local names are Tír fa Tonn, "Land under Waves "; I-Bresail and the Land of Falga, names of the island Elysium. The last denotes the Isle of Man as Elysium,

The Celtic Irish tales tell of all these different lands for their heroes to find, sometimes to be entranced for hundreds of years by fair maidens, or to shape-shift into different animals,
Amergin's poem gives a taste of this.

"I am the wind which blows over the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the bull of seven battles,
I am the eagle on the rock . .
I am a boar for courage
I am a salmon in the water."

The 'Celtic' Desborough Mirror - British Museum

The Celts seem to be a boastful race, and probably vain as well, for the mirrors found in graves, imitation of roman mirrors, were probably used by both sexes, recent finds of bog bodies show elegant hair styles on the male corpses. So what do we have with the 'mirrored' image of these people when they looked into the glassy waters of a river and see their own reflection; a warrior knight for a start, for there have been two beautiful bronze shields found in the Thames - The Chertsey and the Battersea, and a third found called the Witham Shield in Lincolnshire. These symbolic shields were no use in battle but dedicated to the river gods maybe.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snow, and yet more snow

That will teach me to ask for snow, not (whatever god is in the sky), on the day we are supposed to travel though...... Commonsense told us not to take to the road today to East Anglia with all the snow that has fallen, leaving some people trapped in their cars overnight and jack knifed lorries littering the place. So we have forfeited the fee for an overnight stay, and instead taken a walk down to the river this morning. My love has hardly lost out on his birthday treat, but with snow and sun, and a long walk to the pub for dinner in front of a log fire has probably enjoyed his day just as much....
No electricity cuts yet either!

Clear waters of the river and 'upside down trees' remind one of the Celtic underworld, or the centre tree of Sea henge.

The silver 'flint' statue edged with snow and a fine 'celtic' horse reflected in the sunlight.

Those lovely long straight elements in the landscape underlined by snow...

Friday, December 11, 2009


A walk yesterday in the afternoon reveals a dark inky river lit by low sunlight as it swirls its water in eddying currents on its way to the sea. Two boys fished at the bridge, skinny and pale of face, that tells me they need a better diet of vegetables... One boy flicks a small silver fish as bait into the mill channel that leads into the river, perhaps he thinks the fish are skulking up there. The branches of a willow have broken off and trail debris when the river must have been in flood recently.
The walk was to gather ivy for xmas, ivy wins the day with me over holly, stiff and prickly it does'nt look right in arrangements, but ivy with its black berries and curling habit twines more gracefully.
We went to the little field that is part of Sandford Mill, and one day I shall work out the mystery of this small landscape, for it reveals to me at least that some sort of industrial pollution has taken place. Perhaps it was a pond at one stage, but the range of plants that have established are mostly acid loving, and the small carpet of plants that clothe the ground seem to say we can't grow properly thats why we have become miniaturised. There are mosses, yarrow, and what looks like the leaf of the mallow flower there, a red deadnettle flowers, reeds and teazels, great looping branches of the red hips of the wild rose briar, and tangling heaps of blackberry briars...

Miniaturisation of plants

the river catching the blue of the sky for a moment

The field in summer with its great tangle of wildness

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow and Christmas

Something we rarely ever get is snow at Christmas, covering the landscape in its soft blanket of whiteness; it stops the traffic, stops the world for a while and you can retreat into your own home the outside at bay for the time being. Children and dogs delight in it, the soft crunch as it gives beneath your feet, the trees starkly outlined against a blue sky.
The images I have captured of it a couple of years ago shows it at dawn as we got up and photographed the stones round Avebury, the night before the snow we had stood by the great Cove stones with the full moon shining brightly above, its landscape etched on its surface.
For a time Avebury was deserted that cold early morning, but then people started to arrive and photograph the stones for it was such an unusual thing to happen. December is a month of many memories for me, birthdays for a start - Matildas' tomorrow, and snow in December is something I miss, though spending many a christmas in Switzerland where the snow is as predictable as rain in England, and snow is heralded by putting snow chains on the car to stop it slithering on the steep bends down to Vevey.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Trip

Holme Next the Sea - site of Sea Henge

In a few days time we will be going to King's Lynn to see the Seahenge timbers now exhibited at the museum there. As only a couple of days are allowed for the trip, what to see is a big 'exciting' issue for me, will it be the beach where the circle of timbers were found on at Holme or the ruins of Castle Acre Priory, we'll see, but Francis Pryor's book Seahenge certainly whets the appetite for the scenery around the fenlands. Though to be quite honest only part of the book covers Seahenge.

It has had a controversial past, the taking of the timbers from the beach provoked pagan/druids and new agers to take a stand for keeping it where it was found. The great upended tree trunk in its centre had a certain sacred air to it that defied the logical approach of archaeologists, to take and examine this enigma from the sands that had so long covered it. There has been plenty of practical things learnt from this excavation, honeysuckle ropes twined in threes, reminding you of the plying of wool. The knotting of these ropes around the tree to show the way it was lowered into the ground.

The 55 timber posts (although the numbering is into the 60s which is a bit confusing), logs half cut so that their cut 'face' looked inward whilst the barked wood on the outside would present a solid wall of timber to those who came to the site in prehistory. The central oak (167 years old) was it felled or did it fall over in a gale? Pryor gives us the idea that they might have pulled the tree from the top with ropes, shaking it in its root hole till it eventully fell, its bark then stripped.
There was a small 'opening' in the timber wall, consisting of an 8 inch post that had a deep 'v' notch in it for stepping over into the circle, the timbers themselves Pryor reckons must have stood at three metres tall, with another metre buried in the soil. Dating gives the central oak tree a date of 2050 bc, and the posts the next year 2049 bc, there felling seem to have taken place in the late spring/early summer months when the trees were at the full height of their growing period, not exactly the right time to fell trees, and perhaps thereby signifying a religious need to take the 'fertility' of the trees to acknowledge the importance of the shrine, which I shall call it for the time being....

More importantly, what was it for? a small shrine for a local family, a place of excarnation for the dead, the body draped over the roots of the tree, there is no evidence of a barrow inside the small ecliptical circle, whatever there is, is a mystery to puzzle over. That the place had a liminal quality goes without saying, near to the sea but constructed on 'dry' swampland (when the holes for the timbers were dug, the ground level water would have filled up); it could have marked a boundary line, there is no evidence of settlement nearby, but such place for the dead were often in prime 'loci' places. Pryor looks towards to the Danish culture for similarities, and here we see the symbolic notion of a three world system; the sky world, middle-earth and the underworld, the upended oak tree symbolically communicating between the two latter worlds, or perhaps a fertility act.
Like many I was sad that the circle had to be excavated, whether for good reasons or not, it seemed an act of vandalism, to be honest I am still in two minds, we have learnt some important facts, dating, use of axes, ropes and a bronze age mindset we know little of, the argument against leaving it to the mercies of the sea was that it would eventually disappear by the corrosive action of the tides. One small factor that Pryor dwells on rather sadly was the removal of a piece of the oak tree by chain saw by English Heritage when the tree was still in situ; it does seem that the acquisition of knowledge often does not give due respect to that which has gone......

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Patterns in weaving - notes

One of the problems in weaving is that you are presented with a long length of cloth that has to be turned into a garment, and what has interested me in Japanese dress, is that there is no shaping in the kimonos, the lengths of material being sown together to make the garment, the 'squareness' is reflected in the sleeves. What I do notice from the styles of the Geisha girls, that several patterns are normally reflected in the overall dress style. More interestingly, a chequered pattern, that would relate directly backing to a simple weaving style is also evident. There are also the rich designs of the brocade material, and the applied embroidery work for the more complicated and sumptous material with the use of gold thread.
Putting pattern into cloth is complicated, earlier on I put photos of indigo dyed cotton on with the 'resist rice paste' to control the placing of the pattern. I notice that William Morris also tried this in his work on the chintzes he produced, here he calls it 'discharge-printing' . In which you dyed the whole bolt of cloth a similar colour, and the pattern is then made by using various strengths of bleaching re-agents. This can be seen on the Kennet chintz, where the extra colour of yellow has been added to the indigo dyed material.

Some old Japanese material patterns which show the brocades made on the Jacquard looms, and the more simple chequered patterns, it seems that the sewing of strips of patterns together was also used to make the kimonos....

Joined strips

A patchwork effect

Simple chequer board design


Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Idle Flowers by Robert Bridges

The following poem lists many of the wild flowers you would have found in the countryside at the beginning of the 20th century when Robert Bridges was writing. Well I've either grown or found most of them, tucked away in places the fertilisers and weed killers can't get at. Sometimes I have mourned their loss, the field pansies by the hedgerow that used to be on the way to West Kennet Longbarrow, the dainty palest blue hare-bells on the racecourse at Lansdown. But in other places they thrive banks of sweet smelling ladies bedstraw up at Old Sodbury Hillfort or crowning the Stoney Littleton Longbarrow. Two seem to have escaped me - Pale Chlora and Sinjunwort; starwort must be stitchwort; and today in the hedgerow as we collected holly I found the coral pink of the spindle tree fruit, and some not mentioned, the vetches for a start, and yellow rattle which can be quite striking.

I have sown upon the fields
Eyebright and Pimpernel,
And pansy and poppy seed
Ripen'd and scatter'd well.

And Silver lady-smock
The meads with light to fill,
Cowslips and buttercup,
Daisy and daffodil;

King-cup and fleur-de-lys
Upon the marsh to meet
With Comfrey, watermint,
Loosestrife and meadowsweet;

And all along the stream
My care hath not forgot
Crowfoot's white galaxy
And Love's forget-me-not;

And where high grasses wave
Shall great moon-daisies blink,
With rattle and sorrel sharp
And Robin's ragged pink.

Thick on the woodland floor,
Gay company shall be,
Primrose and hyacinth
And frail anemone.

Perennial strawberry-bloom,
Woodsorrel's pencilled veil,
Dishevel'd Willow-weed
And Orchis purple and pale,

Bugle, that blushes blue,
And woodruff's snowy gem,
Proud foxglove's finger-bells
And spurge with milky stem.

High on the downs so bare,
Where thou dost love to climb,
Pink thrift and Milkwort are,
Lotus and scented Thyme;

And in the shady lanes
Bold-arum's hood of green,
Herb robert, violet,
Starwort and celandine;

And by the dusty road
Bedstraw and mullien tall,
With red valerian
And toadflax on the wall,

Yarrow and chicory,
That hath for hue no like,
Silene and mallow mild
And agrimony'd spike,

Blue-eyed veronicas
And gray faced scabious
And downy silverweed
And striped convolvus;

Harebell shall haunt the banks,
And thro the hedgerow peer
With wind and snapdragon
And nightshade's flower of fear.

And where men never sow,
Have I my thistles set,
Ragwort and stiff wormwood
And straggling mignonette,

Bugloss and burdock rank
And prickly teasel high,
With umbels yellow and white,
That comes to kexes dry.

Pale chlora shalt thou find,
Sun loving centaury
Cranesbill and sinjunwort,
Cinquefoil and betony;

Shock-headed dandelion,
That drank the fire of the sun;
Hawkweed and marigold,
Cornflower and campion

Let oak and ash grow strong,
Let beech her branches spread;
Let grass and barley throng
And waving wheat for bread;

Be share and sickle bright
To labour atall hours;
For thee and thy delight
I have made the idle flowers.

But now 'tis Winter, child,
And bitter north winds blow,
The ways are wet and wild,
The land is laid in snow.

The fruit of the spindle tree

An Essex Lane

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stones and poems

Carreg Samson, not three legged as in the poem but a Welsh cromlech with a very dramatic view of St.Bride's Bay

Two poems have been on my mind the last few days, the first is by Robert Bridges and is the naming of wild flowers and is rather long therefore will have its own blog, the other by John Ormond in Jeremy Hooker's (another favourite poet) book - The Presence of the Past.

John Ormond's poem is called Ancient Monuments, of which only a few verses are shown, it has that rolling timelessness through history as you look back at the landscape and see the intricate layers of history woven into the land.. Ormond is one of the Welsh poets, and Hooker also writes a chapter on R.S.Thomas's Prytherch - the archetypal welsh peasant as seen from Thomas's slightly vicarish view.....
The poem also reminds me about Solstice on the 21st December, the shortest day, but a day to rejoice in because light will begin to return to the year, and you know spring will be on its way.

Turn and look back. You'll see horizons
Much like the ones that they saw,
The tomb-builders, milleniums ago;
The channel scutched by rain, the same old
Sediment of dusk, winter returning.

Dolerite, porphyr, gabbro fired
At the earth's young heart; how these men
Handled them. Set on back-breaking
Geometry, the symmetries of solstice,
What they awaited we, too, still await.

Looking for something, I came once
To a cromlech in a field of barley.
Whoever had farmed that field had true
Priorities. He sowed good grain
To the tomb's doorstep. No path.

Led to the ancient death. The capstone
Set like a cauldron on three legs,
Was marooned by the swimming crop.
A gust and the cromlech floated
Motionless at time's moorings.

Another poem by Ruth Bidgood - Stones.
Arcadia was never here,
Ice-needles tortured the thin soil,
Spring snow lay long by the north wall,
yet the peat fire had a summer heart.
Waves of life receding left
jetsam of stone - grey megaliths
half-sunk in tussocky grass now
but still processional on the ridge above,
leading into a mystery

The top lintel of Stoney Littleton barrow, with some lavender flowers someone had left.

Field Art

Sorting as I have been through my photos, I recognised a couple of crop circles that I had managed to capture on our walk up Waden Hill by Avebury.
My concentration is usually on the ground and the flora and fauna, (there is a badger holt up there), so though I knew there were crop circles in the fields I was'nt very interested in them, only in the sense to get cross at the idiots who were stomping across the fields to see them, but I have written of that elsewhere.
The butterflies feasting on the thistle flowers I have already shown, I'd been following a trail of them through the grass.
But lately Heritage Journal has been having a lot of hits on its crop circles (thanks to Google no doubt) with our joke news. The 'three tall aliens' seen emerging from a crop circle near to Silbury Hill was in actual fact seen by a policeman, I'm not sure if that verifies the truth of the matter or that he may have been an off-duty policeman slightly the worse for wear. Be that as it may, the legend of crop circles around 'mysterious Wiltshire' is still alive and strong.

Still to be identified

Silbury with a crop circle in the field of wheat to the left

So why 'field art' well my dear friend Syb sent me this morning a whole batch of Japanese rice fields decorated with artwork, this patterning of the landscape is becoming quite popular Andy Goldsworthy immediately comes to mind, not sure that I like it, the farmers definitely get furious about the vandalism of their fields but its a weird and wonderful world when we populate the landscape round Avebury with aliens, UFOs and crop circles when its more tangible claim to fame is a 5000 year old stone circle.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Avebury Church

St.James Church

Because I've been so often to Avebury, the church has become a backdrop not focussed on, yet there it sits in the village with the great stones all around, and the elegant manor house to the side, built upon a French founded priory.
It has a tranquil graveyard in which I have often sat in the sun, opposite the cottages of Avebury High street. This year when we visited, there were swallows nesting in the porch of the church, and as I took photographs of the fledglings, I noticed all the pieces of old stonework over and around the archway. Its history is written over various blogs, in the Domesday book it is recorded as the church of Reinbold the Priest, one of our Norman conqueror's favourites no doubt, he also held Pewsey Church as well.
The font which is of interest, as Pevsner would say, is intricately Norman with interlaced arcading at the bottom of the bowl, reminscient of Malmesbury Abbey blind arcading on its front facade.
The carved figure of what is presumably a bishop, (though it could be Jesus) with his feet on two dragons is well executed and leads to speculation what this little tableau represents....

The graveyard, with the manor house behind the wall

                  Fleur de lye motifs, echoed in the fragmented stones in the porch

                                        Dragons, bishops and interlacing

                                                 Columns on side of porch door


                                            Fledglings; note rather crude carved stone

Typical Norman typhaneum, note 'dot' motif round 'zig-zag' the same dotting can be found on dragons tail

Meanderings which gives a fuller historic description of the font