Irene (Dame Quilterosity) is very aware that she has been neglecting this blog shamefully and asked me to take over just for today. I’m your guest blogger, William by name. I’m an Augustinian priest (and administrator) at Lanercost Priory, right near the border of Scotland.
Being an Augustinian means I’m committed to bringing the values of the monastery out into the world. I took a vow of poverty, and we say prayers all hours of the day and night just like regular monks, but the other priests and I live right in the neighbourhood of the “real” people. Of course, since we Augustinians are usually associated with royalty, we got us a pretty nice little priory, if I do say so myself. So nice, in fact, that last Michaelmas (September 29, 1306 A.D.), King Edward (the first one by that name) came for a visit, along with the Queen … and 200 of his closest friends.
I remember the exact date, because six months later, the king was still here. Yep, along with his two hundred followers, each one expecting to be treated like royalty. Every single day. For six months. Between that and the constant harassment and thievery by those godforsaken heathen Scots, we are just about flat broke. We had to go to the king personally and ask for help, and he did promise us, what did he call it, “relief.” But of course, not in cash. Even then, God knows if he will actually make good, knowing kings….
Anyways, I was going to tell you more about me and this place. I speak Latin, English and Gregorian chant. Har, har, that was a little joke, that chant bit. I couldn’t carry a tune in a reed basket.
We’ve built this amazing church and all the outbuildings, starting in the year of our Lord 1169. It’s massive. I’m just willing to bet a thousand years from now, someone will be sure to make it a UNESCO world heritage site.
We’re lucky to have our own Home Depot Supply Store at hand. That’s it over there – that huge old stone wall. It’s about a thousand years old now, so I don’t think Mister Hadrian Is coming back for it any time soon. All we have to do is pop out to the wall, loosen the concrete, and there we are – a fine building stone. You can tell the recycled ones because they’re square instead of rectangular. Don’t they look nice in the church walls? Maybe they should make us into TWO world heritage sites, lol!
This is my favourite spot – the warming room, which we use as our common room. Baking is done here, and it’s a great place for humans to warm up as well. Here’s where I scratched a game of “Nine Men’s Morris” into the window ledge (you can just barely see the lines) and next to it is the “Fox and Geese” game. Not that we have a lot of free time, mind…
I’m most proud of this book we’ve made – the Lanercost Cartulary. It’s an organized list of all the lands and properties we’ve bought and sold in the area over the years. Hopefully the King will give us a few more properties that I can add in here! But the best part is that some of the fellows here are very talented artists, so we’ve got them to decorate it with pictures in the margins. There’s nothing else like it any where. Priceless.
Aw, you have to go so soon? Do you want some pottage of turnips before you leave? I’m afraid the king ate all the venison and swans. Ah, well, then, just be sure to look out for those pesky wild Scots just the other side of the wall! I swear, they’ll be the death of us yet.
Kirby Hall was built to impress. All Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, wanted, was for his Queen to come and visit. The grand entrance and courtyard was entirely for her benefit. He built a whole suite of rooms and had them reserved for her use alone.
The huge hall, the first reception room a visitor would come to, contained two huge fireplaces for warmth, and a minstrel gallery to keep the musicians discreetly out of sight, and he could just picture himself dancing there with the Queen. He was well known for his love of dancing, and his shapely legs were famous for looking very nice in tights and garters. It’s mentioned in all his biographies, so it must have been one of his better-known qualities. And Elizabeth was also known to be very fond of dancing. And the two of them, court gossip said, were very close. VERY close. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Called “the grandest Tudor House in England,” Hatton finished Kirby Hall in the modern new Italian style, which meant plenty of decoration, and everything had to be perfectly symmetrical and all matchy-matchy.
Sadly, Elizabeth never did visit. Even though Hatton said all he wanted was for the “holy saint to sit in (Kirby Hall), to whom it is dedicated.” Which I think is a bit overdone. Would the Queen have been flattered, or would she have said, “Oh, puh-LEEZE.”?
Elizabeth didn’t visit, even though Hatton spent a huge fortune on a formal garden, best viewed from the second story windows of the rooms set aside especially for Her Majesty; which he filled with the most exotic plants he could find, including 300 almond trees, pomegranates, narcissus of Japan and a “hyacinth of Peru”. In fact, he spent so much time gardening, that the House of Lords called him up on the carpet three times for non-attendance. (Does that remind anyone of recent stories from the Canadian Senate?)
But by the mid-1800s, there was only a shepherd and his flock living in the partially ruined house. Inheritance taxes and a lack of heirs meant that even the fancy wallpaper was sold off the walls. Now the estate is managed by English Heritage, which has restored the garden with the help of horticultural archaeologists. Who knew there even was such a thing?
As we walked the paths that Queen Elizabeth never did, the poem Patterns by Amy Lowell came to mind. I think in the end I would prefer a garden just a little less than perfect, as life in general is less than perfect.
Of course, I had to scour the grounds until I found some old graffiti carved into the stone:
I absolutely cannot resist one final story about Sir Christopher Hatton. His personal “logo” was the golden hind (deer), and he was so proud of it, that he had a very fine image of a deer carved over the doorway to Kirby Hall. He was also rich enough to help finance Sir Francis Drake on his voyage of exploration.
Now, because he had so much money involved in the expedition, Hatton decided to send along his personal secretary, a man named Doughty, on the voyage with Drake to make sure everything went well. It turns out Doughty didn’t like some of Drake’s decisions, and organized a mutiny.
Of course, Sir Francis Drake couldn’t put up with that, so he executed Doughty by beheading him and throwing both parts of the corpse into the sea. Afterwords, it apparently occurred to Drake that maybe it had been a bad move to execute his sponsor’s representative. So in order to appease Sir Christopher Hatton, he changed the name of his ship in Hatton’s honour – to the Golden Hind.
Today we said good-bye to the lovely Walsh family at Walton-on-Thames. It’s been a while since we last lived through the fun (and panic) of school homework, music practice and family games. Thanks, Kelly, Nathan, Jacob, Jordan and Madison – we miss you!
Sarah returned today from her quilting pilgrimage to Paducah, Kentucky, and we picked her up at Heathrow Airport in London, happy, exhausted, and suitcases filled with fabric and sewing goodies.
We stopped for lunch in Kimbolton, the home of Kimbolton Castle, which is where Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, died in 1536, of natural causes. As she was “The Princess Dowager” and not the queen, she was buried at Peterborough Cathedral with very little ceremony. Mind you, Anne Boleyn, who WAS the queen, was buried later the same year without any funeral at all.
Since it’s now used as a school, we could only see it from a distance.
So instead we took a look inside St. Andrew’s Church, right off the other end of the High Street, and found – the only Tiffany stained glass window in all of England!
The story (from one of the church ladies busy at work inside) is that a member of the local aristocracy had married an American woman in the 19th century, and they had twin girls. When the girls were about twelve, they both died – one from illness, and the other from an accidental drowning.
The grief-stricken mother ordered this Tiffany window to be made in New York City in 1901 as a memorial to her girls, who are depicted in the window being greeted by Jesus.
There is also one piece of very old glass left in this church. It was somehow overlooked when King Henry’s reformers smashed all the glass in the church during the Reformation.
I love old things, as you all know – but I prefer the beautiful Tiffany glass!
The other unusual feature of St. Andrew’s is an oak screen separating the chapel containing the Tiffany window from the rest of the church.
In 1937, the then-vicar discovered something bright red under four layers of dark brown paint. Careful removal showed 14th or 15th century painted panels. The first one shows the Virgin Mary being taught to read by her mother, then there’s St. Michael driving out the devil from heaven, King Edmund of Anglia who was killed by Vikings in 810, and Edward the Confessor, who died in 1066.
The colours have not been retouched, and really were this bright!
And, just a little tip – if you ever visit Kimbolton, the pub on the High Street serves a really nice Ploughman’s lunch, with home made pickles and bread to go with local cheese. As usual, DH says the beer is tasty too…
Bring post-it notes. So handy for making notes on maps and flyers.
And zip-loc baggies. For everything from storing damp undies to packing crackers and other snacks. Keep one in your purse or fanny pack at all times.
Never call it your “fanny pack” in public. Trust me on this. It means something totally different in England. And not very polite.
Learn how to use the flashlight on your iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, bring a small light of some kind. Handy in dark places, like churches, or bathrooms at midnight, when you can’t find the switch – because it’s actually a pullcord hanging from the ceiling.
Keep several tissues in your purse at all times. This climate makes your nose drip – and the day will come when there is no TP in your WC. Inevitably.
Tesco (grocery store) sells a roll of good ginger snaps for only 25p. So addictive. Tesco is cheaper than Sainsbury’s.
Yes, they will bring you tap water in a restaurant for free. And it doesn’t taste funny. And good news – food is always served hot. I think it’s a religion. Warning, though: beer is never cold. That’s a religion too.
If traveling in spring or fall, bring slippers. The floors are cold – COLD – because there are no heated basements. And bring a hat. And gloves. They are tougher than we are, softened as we are by our central heating.
A hooded jacket is obligatory. Rain and wind can happen at any time.
I recommend leggings and a lightweight fleece t-shirt for pajamas – something warm that can do double duty during the daytime if – no, when – necessary.
Get ready for some unusual experiences: e.g. church bells in the evening because the bell ringers are having a practice. Just wonderful.
And be aware that not all fish and chips are created equal. But do try the curry sauce. And the blood pudding (but only once).
If you join the National Trust, every place you see after that will be English Heritage, and vice versa; but if you mention that you belong to one, the other will often give you a discount.
There are public footpaths everywhere, but they don’t necessarily take you anywhere. Go anyways.
See, do and enjoy all you can while in one place; you never get the chance to come back because there is too much beckoning to you in the next place.
(Comments and further advice based on your own experience is welcome!)
I haven’t been reading graveyard headstones very much. English weather makes mould, lichen and ivy overgrow graveyards quickly and within a few years, headstones are impossible to read. England is a jungle – a cold and drizzly jungle.
But we were in Huntingdon the other day, and noticed a very military-looking church, surrounded by the usual headstones, smack in the middle of the downtown market area. In fact, it looks more like a castle than a church.
And leaning up against its back wall, was this tombstone. I could read it! It’s a headstone for Thomas Jetherell, who died June 22, 1774, and it tells a whole story. Thomas was a malster and corn merchant.
What the heck is a malster? Well duh, I found out that a malster makes malt: “Malting is the controlled germination of cereals, followed by a termination of this natural process by the application of heat. Further heat is then applied to ‘kiln’ the grain and produce the required flavour and colour.”
For beer! Thomas made beer!
“This monument erected to the memory of Thomas Jetherell,
late of this town, Malster and Corn Merchant
Who died the 22nd day of June 1774.
He was an example of piety during his life
and of honesty at his death.
And tho a bankruptcy brought his character for a while under a cloud,
his religion inspired him with sentiments, at last,
To dissipate it by bequeathing all his after-acquisitions,
which were considerable, to his Creditors:
To whom his conscience only could determine them due
That, if he scandalized the world by some miscarriages;
He hath instructed it by repairing them to the utmost of his power
Who chose rather to leave his relations in want
Than transmit to them a patrimony of malediction
And give them an example of equity rather than the fruit of injustice.
Go thou and do likewise.”
This headstone has got to be unique in the entire world, because surely it is the only time in history that a man went broke making alcohol. Thomas’ beer must have been truly terrible. What my husband would call “weasel-piss.”
But Thomas apparently repented of whatever it was he did, became an example of piety and honesty, fought his way back from bankruptcy, and started making money again. A lot of money. “Considerable after-acquisitions,” you might even say.
And even though he was no longer under any legal obligation to do so (after having gone through the bankruptcy procedures), he made arrangements to pay back all his creditors upon his death. They must have been truly grateful – and surprised.
The very last sentence on the headstone is “Go thou and do likewise,” a direct quote from the Bible (Luke 10:37), the story of The Good Samaritan. This would have been familiar to everyone reading it, and it’s a short form for saying that Thomas Jetherell was like the Good Neighbour, the one who had mercy on the poor and downtrodden.
Which might be a bit much – from the point of view of his relations anyway, who were cut out of the will without a penny and left “in want.” All they got out of Thomas at the end was “an example of equity.” Who knows? Maybe they would have preferred just a little “fruit of injustice” – just enough to live on, anyways.
Just a hunch, but I think it was the paid-off creditors who arranged for this headstone, and not the poor relations.
I swear Henry is haunting me. I’m in awe of Hampton Court, his favourite palace, out of roughly 60.
Hampton Court is really two palaces in one. First is the Tudor Palace built by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s right-hand man, who “gave” it to the king in 1528, after Henry had admired it, and after Henry had pointed out that Wolsey wasn’t much good at getting the pope to annul Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Fat lot of good Wolsey’s generosity did him in the end, as he was arrested for treason the following year anyway. In Henry’s dictionary “treason” was defined as “not getting my way NOW.” It happened often. In fact, that was the eventual charge against Anne Boleyn, too. She committed the ultimate treason: not providing Henry with a son.
The second palace was built by William and Mary, who had decided to tear down all of Henry’s Tudor palace because it was so hopelessly old fashioned. They were only half finished when Mary died, which saved the part they had not yet gotten to. This part includes the Great Hall, still hung with the original tapestries (it’s said Anne Boleyn did some of the needlework herself), the amazing formal gardens, and the Chapel Royal, where we went to choral evensong last Sunday.
Choral evensong is the Anglican service for the close of day, with choir. Without a choir, this service is just called Evensong, even though it is “said,” not “sung.”
Going to church is free, but there’s a hefty entrance fee for ogling Hampton Court, so if you want to attend a church service in the Chapel Royal, which is a regular working Anglican church (just as it has been since the 1500’s), you have to announce yourself at security. They take you through a gate and a doorway and down a driveway to an unmarked, arched wooden door into the bricked Tudor part of Hampton Court itself.
This is the back entry to the Chapel Royal, and you walk past Henry’s kitchens, with its 50 rooms dedicated to storing and preparing fish, beef and peacocks, just for a start. Full disclosure: I peeked to the left and right for free.
The entrance to the chapel is not as impressive as you would think – a wooden doorway with the coats of arms of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Once we were inside, an usher showed us to a boxed seat in the choir, back row, where the canons would sit – yes, the big shots of the church. (Sorry about that, couldn’t help myself.)
We had an excellent view of the organ and the organist opposite us, both hanging from a narrow balcony halfway up the wall, and the pipes are highly decorated, just like the walls and ceiling. The dark oak choir stalls were high enough so that we could only see the tops of the heads of the men and boys of the choir, and of the parishioners seated across from us.
When we looked up, we saw the ceiling of the chapel just as Henry VIII designed it. The motto “Dieu et mon droit” is painted in gold on the blue background, and etched into the glass of the windows. “God and my right,” or, as Henry meant it, “God gives me the right.” Or, “I am so the boss of you!”
When we turned our heads to the right, we could see the “Holy Day Closet,” the balcony from where royalty watches the proceedings. As the light dimmed, it seemed I could just make out the tall and terrifying figure of Henry himself, hands on his hips, and the shadows of several women behind him.
The singing was beautiful; the words of the Book of Common Prayer so comfortable, and it was so moving to think of those same words spoken in that same space through the centuries.
Brits speak one kind of English, Americans speak another, and Canadians, I think, are somewhere in the middle. I know this because we were travelling in the USA with our English friend Sarah last year, and she was attempting some sort of transaction in a restaurant. Maybe she was trying to get chips instead of crisps or potato chips or French fries or something. That’s a whole minefield in itself. In any case, after the exchange had gone back and forth several times, she turned to me in frustration and exclaimed, “Irene, can you translate for me, please??!!”
Baked goods are a whole other thing. Canadian cookies are English biscuits, Canadian biscuits are English scones, Canadian scones are English scones again, and Canadian crackers are English biscuits again. I’m almost kind of used to that.
But here was a new one on me: the sandwich. I was reading a recipe, apparently for a cake, in an English magazine, and for equipment, it called for 2 sandwich tins.
Huh? Since when do you need a tin to make a sandwich?
Then I was invited to Julie’s house, and she offered me a Victoria Sandwich. Turns out it’s a layer cake with a jam (and sometimes jam and whipped cream) filling, dusted with icing sugar. And they call it a sandwich, apparently because of the layers! All of a sudden, the sandwich tin linked up to the 8″ cake pan in my brain.
And who makes the best Victoria sandwich in the world? Why Mary Berry, who just entered the Canadian vocabulary this winter with the first broadcast of The Great British Bake-Off. Here’s her recipe for Victoria Sandwich.
Warning: you’ll need sandwich tins. I bought a couple, with removable bottoms, which I think is a brilliant idea. How often have I whacked the bottom of an 8″ cake pan with a wooden spoon and still left pieces of the cake in the pan? And you will also need a kitchen scale. Because that’s the other thing about English baking versus Canadian baking: they weigh, and we measure.
When I get home, I’m going to try it. And if it goes well, I’m going to move on to Mary Berry’s drizzle cake. No idea what it is (did they leave it out in the rain or something?), but it’s all the buzz over here!
After we were finished exploring Castle Rising Castle, we talked to a local couple in the parking lot, who recommended we go to Hunstanton for lunch and try one of the fish and chip places on the beach. So we bypassed Sandringham Palace, which is not open to the general public anyways, although much of the countryside nearby the grounds are, and were quite crowded with picnickers and walkers enjoying the sunshine. We passed directly by the main gates, and waved, but the royal family is usually only there between Christmas and February.
Hunstanton had a rocky beach, divided into sections, and very hardy Brits “paddling” (as they say) in the water, which must have been just a few degrees above the freezing mark. The air temperature was barely a sunny 17 degrees, and I did not remove my polar fleece jacket for the wind! But the fish and chips were very hot and very fresh, as promised.
From there we took a scenic road to Wells, stopping at Brancaster St. Mary church along the way. I loved the 13th century windows in the porch.
I also enjoyed puzzling out some of the Latin words in the brass floor inscription in the chancel (the part at the front where the altar is). This was for William Cotyng, rector of the church, who died in 1485. It contained some strange-looking numbers. They looked like Roman Numeral II’s to me at first, but by comparing them with the “C” in Cotyng’s name (top line at the right), I was able to surmise that they were actually Roman Numeral C’s, standing for the number 100. Thus four of them were 400. So, apparently we have some sort of an abbreviated word for a thousand (millennium? My latin is garbage), and then four 100’s and then – something that must stand for 85, since that’s when Cotyng died.
This lovely church also has a plain 14C baptismal font with the most fantastic wooden cover, donated in 1493. The cover is attached to a telescoping mechanism which raises the entire cover so the font can be used.
I just can’t get over the fact that this church has been in continuous use for 700 years!
They told us the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea was very beautiful, so that was plan A. We chose a coastal route, hoping it would be scenic, and along the way, noticed signs to Sandringham House, one of Queen Elizabeth’s homes, and where Prince William and Kate also have a residence, so that became plan B. But before we even got that far – look! A castle! STOP THE CAR!
Castle Rising Castle (yes, that’s right, just so you’re sure it’s really a castle), has moats and huge piles of earthworks surrounding it. The earthworks are so high, in fact, that you can hardly see the top of the castle from outside, and when you’re within the grounds, you see nothing but the artificial hills hiding you from the outside world.
Why the huge defences in a peaceful corner of England that has never even stood a chance of coming under attack? Apparently the arrogant William d’Aubigny built it in 1139 to make himself look important after scoring a marriage to the widow of King Henry 1.
He designed the castle to impress. As his guest, first of all you would cross through the earthworks.
Then across a bridge and through the gate.
Then you would dismount, turn the corner to the left and enter this doorway.
Then climb up this stair case entrance to the building itself.
At the top, you would pause in a reception room.
And finally, you would be led in to the Great Hall, the floor of which collapsed five centuries ago, to see the important William d’Aubigny himself. Unfortunately his dynasty didn’t last, as he went through most of his own and his wife’s fortune building this and several other castles, and died without children.
The most famous owner of the castle was Queen Isabella of France, wife of Edward II. Her son, Edward III, sent her there to cool her heels until he got over being upset following the death of his father – which she had engineered with the help of her lover, Roger Mortimer. In her defence, Edward II had been unfaithful to her first, with several of his (male) courtiers. Mortimer took up the rule of England for three years after Edward II’s murder, and that probably ticked off Edward (Isabella’s son) too. When Edward got his act – and his crown – together again, he had Mortimer hanged, and then mother and son seemed to have a reconciliation.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Evidence of the past in this castle: these four kings carved into the ceiling of the chapel.
This “witch mark” carved into the mantel of the 1600s fireplace. These marks were often placed near doors, windows and fireplaces where eddies and currents of air would make people suspicious of the presence of spirits.
And, carved into a steep circular staircase, this picture of a ship. There are many medieval carvings of ships in churches; the significance is unknown. A wish for someone on a voyage? Symbol of a spiritual voyage?
Once you start looking, it is amazing how much graffiti there is.
Sometimes you get tired of planning ahead. Okay, full disclosure: I like to wing it. A lot. And sometimes Barry feels the same way, because today we hopped in the car and took the first exit off the first roundabout, second exit off the second roundabout, and headed straight for a village with an interesting name. Wood Walton, in this case. Rounding a curve and cresting a hill, this was the view:
In the distance, was a little church, so we headed for it, only to find there was no way to reach it by road. So we parked the car and did what people have done for hundreds of years to reach it: walk through the fields, following a cart track. 13th century St. Andrew’s has fallen on hard times and is closed due to structural issues, and nowadays no one loves it except the Friends of Friendless Churches.
There’s a puzzle in the graveyard. This is obviously NOT an 11th century headstone, and yet it looks like the year of death is 1006. I just can’t figure it out!
UPDATE: Since originally posting this, the mystery has been solved! My practical-minded friend Mary Ann simply looked up our friend John Scott in Ancestry.uk and discovered that he did, indeed, die in 1886. She adds that John Scott was a farmer and a baker, and a widower who left everything to his son.
Also, my sister Pam recalled that she saw the number four in the date “1444” on a building in Passau, Germany represented by a figure shaped like the pink breast cancer ribbon (or a fish sitting on its tail fins), because it was a “half-eight.” They told her that the number eight was significant for Christians.
Google says the number eight may (or may not) be associated with resurrection, or new beginnings: the world was created in six days, God rested on the seventh, and on the eighth day the cycle began again. If eights do stand for resurrection, that would be a nice touch for a gravestone.
Thanks, Mary Ann and Pam, and rest in peace, Mr. John Scott. (End of update.)
From there, we drove to the little village of Houghton for a pub lunch. St. Mary’s Church, although open and very old, has been “cleaned up” and there was no graffiti inside. But, as we were leaving, carved on the entryway porch (dated 1664) is a “daisy wheel.” These were carved to bring good luck, or turn away evil. Some say the daisy wheel represents the sun, and others that it represents “Divine Mathematics,” sectioned into 12 parts, which is divisible by both three (the number of God, the Holy Trinity) and four (the number of man, for the elements of earth, air, fire and water.) They are often found in doorways, windows, or near fireplaces – entrances and exits.
We finished with a walk around the area of the old Houghton Mill.