Curiosity – and Quilts!

Dear Lynn and Doug…and friends traveling to England… — April 30, 2015

Dear Lynn and Doug…and friends traveling to England…

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!)
Life is funny – sometimes death is too. — April 29, 2015

Life is funny – sometimes death is too.

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.

Oliver Cromwell was born in Huntingdon, and All Saints Huntingdon is reputed to have the font he was baptized in.


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.

Just a hunch.

Haunted by Henry VIII at Hampton Court — April 28, 2015

Haunted by Henry VIII at Hampton Court

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The Tudor portion of Hampton Court as seen from the kitchen gardens.

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.

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The ceiling of Henry VIII’s Great Hall, decorated with timbers, stained glass, animal trophies and tapestries.
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Stained glass window in the Great Hall, with Henry VIII as its subject in the middle.

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.

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Portion of Hampton Court built by William and Mary, with formal gardens containing pathways and fountains, and leading down to the River where royalty typically arrived by boat.
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King William’s hall looking out onto the “Orangery” – since he was of the House of Orange, it was important to grow orange trees on his estate as a symbolic gesture.

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.

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One of the 50 rooms in Henry’s kitchens, with one of the many walk-in fireplaces.
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Typical produce of the kitchens, which produced 1600 meals a day.


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.)

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Coat of arms of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, at the entrance to the Chapel Royal.


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!”

Image of the ceiling of the Chapel Royal; thank you, internet – photography is not allowed inside the Chapel Royal.

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.

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Inner courtyard as seen from interior corridor.
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Candlelight set against tapestries in King William’s section of the palace.

I’d love to go again.

And again.


The Common Language that Divides us — April 22, 2015

The Common Language that Divides us

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!

The Norfolk Coast – Hunstanton and Brancaster St. Mary — April 15, 2015

The Norfolk Coast – Hunstanton and Brancaster St. Mary

Lunch at the beach in Hunstanton

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.

Enjoying the sunshine at Hunstanton

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.

Besides fish and chips, Hunstanton boasts traditional British sweet shops.
The stony beach and wooden structures that divide the beach into numbered sections.

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.

Brancaster St. Mary – the square tower attracted us.
“Quatrefoil” windows dating from the 14C in the south 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.

The front entry, with steps that have been used for 700 years. The wooden structure is the 16C(?) rood screen, which used to separate the part of the church with the altar from the congregation. With the Reformation, people were given more direct access to the “holy” areas of the church, and rood screens went out of fashion.
Interior view. On the floor in the chancel, at the very front, are some old brasses, including the one for William Cotyng, former rector, who died in 1485.
Part of the brass inscription for William Cotyng. It needs a better scholar than me to decipher it, but I believe in the top line the first word may be “Orate” (pray), and the last word “Cotyng.” Which means the word before it must be William, obviously abbreviated. Bottom line: Anno domini (the year of the Lord) (and some abbreviation for a Latin word meaning thousand) and four c’s, and then something meaning 85. Please let me know if you can work it out!

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!

A Castle, the Sea, Old Churches…just another day! —

A Castle, the Sea, Old Churches…just another day!

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.

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Part of the Earthworks at Castle Rising.

Then across a bridge and through the gate.

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Main entrance to the castle over the dry moat.
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Through the gate into the enclosure within. DH waving from on high.
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First glimpse of Castle Rising Castle. Brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

Then you would dismount, turn the corner to the left and enter this doorway.

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Then climb up this stair case entrance to the building itself.

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For the middle ages, this is a very wide, very imposing staircase!

At the top, you would pause in a reception room.

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This is the original doorway to the Great Hall, now blocked by the fireplace that was added in the 1600s, after the floor of the Great Hall collapsed. I’m pointing out the spot where I found a “witch mark” (to be continued…)

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.

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The Great Hall. Originally a floor extended straight across; it collapsed in the 1600s and was never rebuilt.

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.

Castle Rising Castle10This “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.

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“Witch mark” in centre of fireplace mantle.

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?

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Once you start looking, it is amazing how much graffiti there is.

Careening through the Countryside — April 13, 2015

Careening through the Countryside

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:

An English oak tree, fields of canola (rapeseed), and Postman Pat in the Royal Mail truck.
Public footpaths are everywhere – everywhere – and there are also Public Bridleways for people on horseback, although this sign seems to have been used for target practice.
St. Andrew’s Church, Wood Walton, from across the fields.

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.

An unhappy corbel in one of the window frames.
A convenient spot for sitting in a holly tree. I am sitting a little tentatively because a couple of prickly holly leaves are growing right out of the bend in the branch.

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!

Well, there has to be a reason for this – but it sure LOOKS like 1006!
The headstone for John Scott, who apparently died in 1006 – or not????

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.

Daisy wheel carved into the doorway of St. Mary’s, Houghton.
The doorway (porch) to St. Mary’s, Houghton. The daisy wheel was carved on the right hand side, inside.

We finished with a walk around the area of the old Houghton Mill.

Mama swan stretches her legs before resuming her position on the nest next to the Houghton Mill.
The Mill at Houghton. There has been a mill here for over 1000 years, but this one dates from the 1700’s.
Dear Mr. Cumberbatch… — April 12, 2015

Dear Mr. Cumberbatch…

Dear Mr. Cumberbatch,

You did a great job in “The Imitation Game” as Alan Turing.  But a 2 hour movie couldn’t tell it all.  Neither can an entire day at Bletchley Park – not even a start.

The original building at Bletchley Park – an Edwardian Manor House, called “ugly” by some.

A community with so many different talents, allowed – encouraged – to follow their hunches.  Like the scholar in romantic German literature given a piece of Morse code.  They knew “StGoch” was a place name, but couldn’t find it anywhere.  She asked, “How do you do a capital letter – or punctuation – in Morse Code?”  Well, you can’t.  By puzzling over the letters “stgoch” and using her instinct with language and puzzles, she found it stood for SanTiaGO, CHile.

Part of the exhibits include caricatures and cartoons of the personalities at Bletchley Park (called Bump’n Palace), done by those who worked there.

And like the Greek classicist and papyrus scholar Dilly Knox, who didn’t like working with rowdy young men, and got special permission to have an all-female team (even if one of them did wear trousers and a bow tie, and smoke a pipe.)  He used a linguistic (as opposed to Turing’s mathematical) way of breaking codes.  His technique broke the Enigma codes used by the Italian Navy and the German Abwehr.

“The Cottages” where Dilly Knox and the first recruits to BP worked. Expansion to over 9,000 workers meant more buildings were hastily erected, and recruits billeted nearby, or lodged in 8-bunks-to-a-room accommodation.

And like Gordon Welchman, the math professor, who analyzed the metadata of messages, such as which call sign belonged to who, and where that person was, in order to track the movement of the German Army.  Called “traffic analysis,” it led to modern intelligence methods.  All post-war traffic reports are still classified today because it is so sensitive.

Some of the very utilitarian buildings, seen from across a central pond, used for recreational down time for the workers – ice skating in winter, and boating in the summer. You can sometimes hear the workers calling out to each other in the spaces they used to occupy, thanks to the excellent interpretive team at BP.
It’s easy to get into the war effort at BP.
One of the “huts” used for code breaking and intelligence efforts. Divided into rudimentary offices, with desks made out of plywood, and one room not aware of what the next was working on.
“Eccentric but charming” item of the day. This gentleman, watching a demo of the Bombe, appropriately dressed in his custom-fitted suit, with short pants, knee socks and dress shoes.

Bletchley Park itself is an “ugly Edwardian manor house”, and a reconstruction of ugly, utilitarian huts, and full of ghosts.  All records were totally destroyed after the war – even the scraps of paper scrunched up and stuffed into the cracks in the walls to help insulate the cold buildings in winter were removed.  Turing’s machines, the “bombe” and the “colossus” seen in the movie, were taken apart until they were nothing but a pile of wires and pieces of metal.

Props left behind after filming of “The Imitation Game” in the main house at Bletchley Park.
The ballroom at Bletchley Park manor house, where several scenes were filmed in “The Imitation Game.” And where the Hollywood prop for Alan Turing’s Machine was left behind.
Detail of wood carving in balcony railing at Bletchley Park.

The work done there remained secret until 1975.  Having signed the Official Secrets Act before they knew what their assignments were, even then few of the workers (the great majority of them women) ever mentioned it.   Never acknowledged or given a medal, in 2009 Bletchley veterans were allowed to apply for a “commemorative badge” and for a spot on a Roll of Honour, “giving as much detail and supporting evidence as you can.”

In 2011, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a memorial on site at Bletchley that says, “We Also Served.”

“We also served.” The 2011 memorial to the silent workers at Bletchley Park. In front of A block, a post-WWII construction, but still very institutional.

It is estimated that the code-breaking at Bletchley part shortened WWII by 2-4 years.

King of the Parking Lot, part two – more old books — April 11, 2015

King of the Parking Lot, part two – more old books

Next to the tiny cathedral in Leicester is a very, very old guild hall (1390 for the oldest part!), which contains the third oldest public library in Great Britain.  Obviously bound by hand, the books are stored in glass-fronted cupboards in unlocked rooms.

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An interesting clock in the courtyard outside the old Guildhall, Leicester
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Part of the Guildhall exterior, facing onto a courtyard.

I stuck a fingernail in between some of the doors, but nope, none had been left accidentally unlocked.  Tantalizingly, I am sure there must have been handwritten manuscripts among those books.   I read afterwards that the library owns a rare 15th century New Testament in Greek.   I don’t think the library now is as public as it once was – there was no staff, no circulation desk and no indication of how to gain access to the books.  I just hope they have a conservationist to make sure the books are well preserved!

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Part of the Library in the Guildhall at Leicester, third oldest public library in Great Britain.
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John Calvin’s book on the letters of St. Paul, among other works in the library.

They say William Shakespeare appeared at the Guildhall as an actor.  In fact, legend has it that this is where Shakespeare came across the story of King “Leir” (maybe he found it in the library?) and it gave him the idea for his play King Lear.

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Main hall of the Guildhall, where Shakespeare is said to have acted in a play and been inspired to write “King Lear.” Set up for a private wedding on this day.

Narrowly escaping being torn down in the 1920’s, the Guildhall today is part museum, and partly used for special occasions, such as the wedding that was planned on the day we were there.

After we parted ways with our friends, Barry and I went on a search for the New Walk Museum, where King Richard III’s book of hours (a book for personal devotions) was on display, a loan from Lambeth Palace Library, which now owns it.  It contains some beautiful pages in full colour, and also a page where Richard entered his date of birth in his own handwriting, which we didn’t get to see as I was not allowed to flip through the pages.  I know.  And yes, the glass case surrounding it also passed the fingernail test, in case you were wondering.

A page from Richard III’s Prayer Book, showing the entry he made to record his own date of birth. It says, ” hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIUS apud ffoderingay a. d. incccc lij”

Instead, the book was opened to “King Richard’s Prayer,” which a scribe had added in the top margin, at Richard’s request.

What is the prayer of a king?  “Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free my, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed…hear me, in the name of all your goodness, for which I give thanks, and for all the gifts granted to me, because you made me from nothing and redeemed me out of your bounteous love and pity from eternal damnation to promising eternal life.”

I like that he reminded God of his title, King, even in his private devotional book.  Just in case anyone had a different idea.

Which, of course, they did.

King of the Parking Lot —

King of the Parking Lot

Shop windows are full of King Richard III books and souvenirs. And white roses.

Today was our chance to meet up with our old friends John and Mary Holding, daughter Ann and adorable 10-month-old grand-daughter Evey, who are all staying nearby for a family wedding.  We decided to meet at Leicester Cathedral, since we all wanted to visit the tomb of King Richard III, who was reburied there less than two weeks ago, after spending over 500 years in an unmarked grave in the former yard of Greyfriars Abbey.  In case you missed the wonderful story of the king who was found in a parking lot, you can find more details here.

The City of Leicester has given precedence to Richard III on its signage – they know it’s him people have come to see!

We left in good time, with Barry coping beautifully with driving on the “wrong” side of the road and shifting gears with the “wrong” hand, and even remembering to yield to traffic approaching from the right in the roundabouts.  In the end it was not the driving, but the stopping, that caused us trouble.  Our GPS was happy to have us  circle Leicester Cathedral forever without ever quite landing, because the church is in a “pedestrian only” area.  Eventually we did park, and set off on foot to look for it.

The main approach to the Cathedral of Leicester, with a statue of King Richard III in foreground, king of England 1483-1485. He holds a sword in his right hand and raises up a crown in his left.

It’s a good thing the bells were pealing because, although it dates back 900 years, Leicester  is the smallest cathedral I’ve ever seen and we couldn’t find it by looking upwards for the steeple over the rooftops.  We followed the sound of the bells to a modest church and entered by the side door – which turned out to be the main entry, actually.  It has always been known as St. Martin’s church, and only became a cathedral in 1927, so I guess it still has some catching up to do.

The tomb of King Richard III. People were gathered around it in a circle, and some visibly moved.

A wedding was about to be held (it was the practice session of the bell-ringers we had just heard), so we had to make our tour fast.  Leicester was overrun by charmingly aggressive and eager volunteer guides, and we had to keep moving, smiling and nodding to avoid receiving more information than we had time for.

Raised embroidery from King Richard III’s pall, on display nearby the tomb. One side showed the modern people involved in his reinterment.

King Richard’s tomb was solid – 2 tonnes – and simple, with a cross carved deeply into it.  I was surprised by how close people came to it, standing right over the royal coat of arms to photograph it, and even touching it.  I swept two fingers over one corner myself and wished RIII “Rest in Peace” in my thoughts.

Raised embroidery from King Richard’s funeral pall, showing figures from 1485, the year of his death.

The way out led through a side chapel, and since I’d had luck finding old graffiti in a side chapel at Ely, I slid my eyes up and down the walls to see if I could spot any more.  The walls were clean and bare, and I think I discovered the reason why:

The descendants of the Herrick family apparently paid to have the chapel completely cleaned up and “made fit for divine service,” thus eliminating any evidence of medieval graffiti.

However, there was a very intriguing stone in the chapel, very dense in text, and I photographed it to read later, and next to it a similar one, but only half-filled.  The empty space was covered with graffiti – so thickly that it was difficult to sort out.  But there was a very obvious “M,” which is probably an invocation for the protection of the Virgin Mary, and very common in churches and wooden beams during the years 1450-1750:

The letter “M” for the Virgin Mary, about 2″ high, carved into a memorial stone, and surrounded by lots of other scratches.

There were also a large number of initials, and a series of circles, probably drawn with a compass, which could also be quite old:

Traces of a circular engraving in the centre, probably made with a compass, and lots of other carving, including initials.

And that stone turned out to have a very interesting inscription:


“Here lyeth buried ye bodie of John Heyricke, late of this parrish, who departed this life the 2nd of April 1589, being about ye age of 76.  He did marry Marie, the daughter of John Bond of Wardend, in the countie of Warwick, esquire,

Who lived with ye said Marie in one house full 52 yeares, and in all that tyme never buried man, woman nor childe, though they were sometimes 20 in houshould.

He had issue by ye said Marie, 5 sonns and 7 daughters, vz (namely) Robert, Nicholas, Thomas, John and William, and daughters Ursula, Agnes, Marie, Elizabeth, Ellin, Christian and Alice.

The said John was maior of this towne in anno 1559 and again in anno 1572.  The said Marie departed this life ye 8th of December, 1611, beinge the age of 97 yeares.

She did see before her departure, of her children, and children’s children, and their children, to the number of 142.”

It must have seemed like the most extraordinary blessing for a man like John to see twelve children brought into the world, and to have lived together with his wife for 52 years, with the first death in all that time to be his own.  And for Marie to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren adding up to 142 lives – almost miraculous!

Moreover, the Herrick children were by and large very successful as goldsmiths, mayors and other educated professions,  and one of John’s grandchildren was Robert Herrick, the poet.  I knew him in school as the author of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” and “Fair daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon.”

Robert Herrick’s theme is always that “life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if he learned that from his Grampa John.