Friday, 27 July 2012

Cranford Envelopes

I've not watched the TV show much at all - not nearly as much as I would love to see anything with Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins.  It's a long running thing here in Britain, though, and I'm sure to catch up with it at some point. 

In visiting a local book sale (to which I'd contributed a good number of books I no longer wanted) I found a very old (pre-ISBN, pre-copyright dates) copy of the book Cranfield by 'Mrs Gaskell'.  It took me a while to get into it, but once I did, I loved it.  It is set in a small village and the majority of characters are older women who are living on 'very limited means' - though they all have servants...

I came across a piece of it that talks about 'economies' that greatly amused me.  I will share bits of what it has to say:

I have often noticed that almost every one has his own individual small economies--careful habits of saving fractions of pennies in some one peculiar direction--any disturbance of which annoys him more than spending shillings or pounds on some real extravagance.  An old gentleman of my acquaintance, who took the intelligence of the failure of a Joint-Stock Bank, in which some of his money was invested, with stoical mildness, worried his family all through a long summer's day because one of them had torn (instead of cutting) out the written leaves of his now useless bank-book; of course, the corresponding pages at the other end came out as well, and this little unnecessary waste of paper (his private economy) chafed him more than all the loss of his money.  Envelopes fretted his soul terribly when they first came in; the only way in which he could reconcile himself to such waste of his cherished article was by patiently turning inside out all that were sent to him, and so making them serve again.  Even now, though tamed by age, I see him casting wistful glances at his daughters when they send a whole  inside of a half-sheet of note paper, with the three lines of acceptance to an invitation, written on only one of the sides.

If you wish to read Cranfield yourself, it's available here, on Project Gutenberg.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Bernard's Birthday

I've written most of what I know about my Uncle Bernard.  You can read what I've written about him in previous years.   

Today I'll just share one of my favourite photos of him with my Mom.  I reckon this was taken sometime in the 1930s. 

They were always very close.  

Monday, 23 July 2012

Why Read?

Reader Beryl asked a rather tough question a while back: 

"What makes you add a book to your reading list?"

I don't think I've ever made that much of a conscious decision about why I will or won't read a book.  I grew up reading, in a reading family.  I read almost like other people eat or breathe.  I do know that my tastes have changed from children's books (though I do sometimes still enjoy them) to historical romances (some of which sadly were those silly bodice rippers), to mystery novels and non-fiction (how-to books) and other types of historical novel.  Lately I've been into biographies (of women, mostly), history and social history as well. 

So how do I chose books to read?  There are loads of reasons why I might select a book:

I enjoyed another (or several) books by the same author (Dick Francis, Geraldine Brooks).

It's about a character I like (Peter Wimsey, Phryne Fisher).

It is set in a time period I find intriguing.  This can be generally anything in the last two millenia, though present day settings don't often make the cut unless it relates in some way to the past.  Most of all I love the inter-war period, largely because of the romanticised notion of the upper class lifestyle.

It's about a person who intrigues me.   I have zipped through biographies of celebrities and nobs, but some of the most interesting biographies for me are those of women writers from the inter-war period, like Margery Allingham and Vera Brittain.  I think it was Brittain's Testament of Youth that brought home to me the impact of the First World War, both on individuals and society.

It's set in a place that intriques me.  I read G.M. Trevelyan's English Social History (given to me free) because I wanted to better understand my adopted country.   The Trevelyan family estate being Wallington Hall in Northumberland he also shed a great light on events more specific to this area, which I much enjoyed.  I'm currently plowing through The Seven Ages of Paris and trying to fit together what I know about English and American history alongside what it reports.  I keep meaning to re-read Shadow of the Wind to remind me of Barcelona.

It teaches something I'd like to learn to do.  Reading The Tightwad Gazette newsletters made me aware of how many things I could usefully learn to do for myself, like cook or sew.  I'm still much better at the former than the latter, but I've read books about pressing flowers, gardening, home decorating, all sorts of crafts, how to unclutter (Bill still laughs when he encounters that title), not to mention How to Live without A Salary, and How to Live on Practically Nothing and the like.

Someone recommends it to me.  I trust my sister-in-law Jane's taste in books; she's not steered me wrong yet.  Hazel, a lady in the sewing group saw me at the community centre book sale and recommended The Island by Victoria Hislop.  For 50 pence I took a risk and she was right; I really did enjoy it, not least because Bill and I have seen Spinalonga.

It's an old friend that comforts me.  I've read Mom's collection of Dick Francis probably fifty times over the years.  The books he published after 1990 I can't share with her, but I love them all the same.  Louisa May Alcott's books and all the Harry Potter's are very much along these lines.  

Off the top of my head, this list pretty much explains why I might choose a book.  Why do you choose the books you read? 

Friday, 20 July 2012

A Little More Morpeth

After Carlisle Park we found ourselves at Old Gate Bridge.  This one was only built in 1970, but there have been bridges at this location since 1826.  Previous versions have obviously not been very sturdy as on two occasions it has fallen and dropped people into the river. 

On the first occasion in 1870 over 100 people were plunged and only a year later some 'idle fellows' were dancing on the bridge (seemingly with the intent of breaking it) and over 200 people fell into the river.  Fortunately no one died on either occasion.  I can't see the current bridge having either so much use or somehow breaking.

Beyond the Old Gate Bridge, we found these stepping stones which were impossible to resist.

There must be loads of herons on this river; I always seem to find one.

We all traipsed carefully across the river on these things to find a nice little housing estate on the other side. 

I loved this very tall, skinny tree and the black lace it made against the sky.

This being thirsty work we stopped for lunch at a small cafe and then browsed in Appleby's Bookshop.  It was a great place, one I'd never heard about before.  It reminded me of Barter Books, only without the fireplace. 

After lunch we browsed a shopping arcade where we found this amazing chocolatier called Curiously Wicked

A smart person here has combined two major passions:  chocolate and shoes. 

On the other hand, can you imagine (a) eating a shoe or (b) eating something this beautiful?

  I was thinking I would rather wear these than eat them!

Still, there were loads of other luscious treats that I'm sure would make excellent presents!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

William Turner of Morpeth

The William Turner garden in Carlisle Park is a beautiful and interesting place, though I'm sure we didn't see it at its best.   This garden was designed using an engraving of a medieval garden from 1597.

Turner was obviously a man of intelligence and conviction who had the misfortune to live in 'interesting times'.   It must have been awful to live during the period when Henry the VIIIth was wreaking havoc to get a male heir.  The religious turmoil when the various sovreigns who followed demanded their subjects be Anglican, no - Catholic, no - Anglican, until Elizabeth I managed to establish some continuity with her longer reign must have been horrendous.  I gather that having no religion was not an option at that time.   Turner was apparently a Calvinist which although Protestant didn't sit entirely comfortably with the Anglican Church of the day. 

Turner is known for having been a naturalist who studied and wrote about plants with a detail and accuracy not previously undertaken in England.  For this he is known as the father of English botany.  He also wrote the first printed book entirely about birds and another book about fish. 

Raised beds:  no trampling of soil, so better drainage.  Height and small size
also aids weeding.

He was also a physician to some pretty influential people and once met Elizabeth I.  As a physician, his primary interest in plants was for their medicinal purposes. 

He was MP for Morpeth for a time, but he also was a theological writer whose work was considered sufficiently influential as to set standards for doctrine. 

It was, of course, this work rather than his botanical writings that caused trouble for him.  Given his education in Italy and part-time life in Germany, it's pretty safe to assume he was multi-lingual as well.

Interesting Times:

Turner was born around 1508
in Morpeth 

Henry the VIIIth crowned 1509

Thought to have been educated
at the Chantry School, Morpeth

Battle of Flodden 1513

Graduated from Cambridge
(BA Philosophy & medicine) 1530

Dissolution of the monastries,
Anne Boleyn beheaded, 1536

Published The Names of Herbs
and got married around 1538

Took degree of Doctor of Medicine
 in Italy c. 1542

Henry VIII banned Turner's
writings in 1543

Published the first printed book
devoted entirely to birds, 1544 
Returned to England 1547

Edward VI crowned 1547

First part of New Herbal
published 1551; was Member
of Parliament for Morpeth
until 1552; also Physician to

Lord Protector

Mary Tudor crowned 1553

Fled to Germany, 1553
Works banned in England

Elizabeth I crowned 1558

Returns to England 1560
Second part of New Herbal
published 1562

Shakespeare born 1564

Part III of Herbal published 1566
Died in London 7 July 1568

Monday, 16 July 2012

Morpeth Castle & Carlisle Park

Just across the road from Morpeth Court House is Carlisle Park.  I may have run through a corner of it once or twice when I worked near by, but never explored the way we did.  And of course in writing this, I tend to explore some more, in a different way.

For example, what does "Volo non valeo" mean?  And, given that it means "I was willing but unable" why on earth would anyone put that on a gate?  Turns out there is a story behind this.  The castle in the story is Castle Howard (used in the film Brideshead Revisited). 

The gift of rain is green.

We read about the Aviary:

The aviary with Ha' Hill behind.


There has been an Aviary in Carlisle Park since the Formal Gardens opened in 1929.  There are usually between 15 and 20 birds in the Aviary.  Our most popular species are the Cockatiel, but we also have Budgies and a Senegal Parakeet.  All of the birds in this Aviary have been rehomed, as their original owners no longer want them as pets.  If you are thinking about buying a pet bird, find out about the species so you know what conditions and attention it needs.

A lone cockatiel.

Kind of sad, eh?

The view from under a Monkey Puzzle tree.

Are you familiar with the Monkey Puzzle tree?  I'd never seen or heard of one until coming to Britain.  Vivien said it's called that because 'It would puzzle even a monkey to climb that.'  They originate in Chile (where there are no monkeys) and as a species is so old as to be called a 'living fossil'.  

Anyhow, Carlisle Park is land that was given to Morpeth by the Countess of Carlisle in 1916, that would be Rosalind Howard, who must have had an interesting life in between her having her eleven children.

She placed restrictions on the use of the park:  no admission fees, no profit making and no drinking.

We were intrigued by the information that said Morpeth Castle was located in the park.  I never knew there was such a thing.  Neither did Bill, which was funny given that its picture was on the front of the Ordinance Survey map he'd loaned me for the day.

Anyhow, we found it!  And it looked like someone lived there - trash bins outside and curtains at the windows - though there were no signs marking private property.  Turns out it is owned by the Landmark Trust and can be let for holidays. 

Morpeth Castle. Who knew there was one?

I had decided it was probably just a Victorian whimsy of no great age.  Boy, did I have that wrong!  This is just the gatehouse of a castle that dates back to the 1300s. 

I checked, and it's available for three nights in July for *only* £1,257 - not quite $2,000.  And that's for the whole building, not per person like most prices are quoted.  What a deal!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Morpeth Court

Vivien, Lucy and I had another great day out - if a wet one - in Morpeth; on my birthday in fact.  We spent the better part of the day wandering at will, poking our noses into whatever interested us.

Source:  Wikipedia Commons - where the sun always shines

Vivien and I have of course been to Morpeth before, and so have you.  Lucy hadn't seen Morpeth before and as it turned out she was the one who found the historical information on the internet which she read to us as we walked.  

Sorry about the rain drop - it was that sort of day.

It was from her info that I learned the source of this historic market town's name.  It's as simple as the path across the moor, though Morpeth's initial value was as a place to cross the River Wansbeck.  After the Norman conquest, a castle was built there in 1095.

Something like the foyer? No reception...

One of the first places we investigated was a major landmark just across from the former location of said castle, the Morpeth Court house.   Built in 1821, only this grand medieval-style gateway and part of the prison remain.  There is still a Northumbria Police station tucked in behind it.

The entrance, at the rear with the car park.

It has had a chequered past.  In the early 2000's when my office was in Morpeth, this building housed a ladies-only gym.  As recently as this year there were plans to put in a restaurant and bar.  So far as we could tell, the court house is now something between a block of flats and a hotel.

Sort of prison-like, eh?  How atmospheric!

We could see where some of the cell doorways had been bricked up so at least the hotel rooms are larger than your average prison cell!  I think I'd go for the one with that south facing balcony.  Do you reckon it has a roof garden?

Didn't see any sign of an elevator, mind.  Still, if I didn't live within 20 miles of it already, I might stay for a night or two.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Cafe 1901

As Vivien and I headed in the direction of the Metro she recommended we stop for a cup of tea/coffee at a cafe she knew:  Cafe 1901It was a great place, the old church hall of Jesmond Methodist Church.  In fact, when I went to the loos, the arrows pointed to toilets in one direction, to the santuary in the other. 

It was so warm that day that I decided to shock the staff and not have coffee or hot tea, but to try to have some iced tea.

One simply doesn't find iced tea on a menu in Britain, unless it comes in a can with the most disgusting sweetener and something Lipton apparently thinks can pass for lemon flavour.

So, I asked for a tall glass of ice, a cup of hot black tea and some lemon.  I said I would be careful, but if I broke the glass with the hot liquid I would of course pay for it.

The glass didn't break, but it did melt all the ice and so only the first glass of tea was really cool and really, well, my cup of tea.  Never mind, it was delicious and I continued to drink tepid to warm lemon flavoured tea during our visit there.

Vivien was telling me about the Mediterranean cruise she and her husband were about to take and about her preparations for it.  She had a plan for clothes shopping that had worked well, she thought.

Since we were in the vicinity anyhow and since she seemed in quite an adventurous mood, I showed her a couple of shops I have only once visited in the past:  Jules B and their subsidiary The Conservatory.  I even tried on a couple of amazing dresses in the latter, though I didn't buy either.   It was really great looking through all the incredible clothes and I was impressed at how friendly the sales staff were.   As I'm no longer at work in a professional position, I've no reason to spend the sort of money one would have to in Jules B.  If I ever feel wealthy again, mind, I would consider buying something special at The Conservatory. 

"If" is an awfully big word for just two letters though, isn't it?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Coxlodge Remnants

After Lucy left us, Vivien & I continued in our rounds of Gosforth.  One road we ended up on was called The Drive.  Bill and I have friends in the running club who live on The Drive and we've been to New Years Day parties there a number of times, so I knew one end of this street a bit, but I've never walked the length of it.  We found a few surprises.

If you remember my mentioning Coxlodge in connection with Job Bulman.  The Hall itself no longer stands, but we happened upon what used to be the stables. 

This is a residence for horses. Not bad, eh?

This enormous building now houses offices for a commercial real estate concern.  Standing outside we could see part of a stairwell that looked interesting.

Vivien convinced me that we should step inside and investigate further.  She intimated that with my American accent we could get away with being a bit nosey.

And so we did and we did (enter and get away with it).  In fact the receptionist was quite tolerant of my snapping photos of the stairs.  She even pulled out a one-page laminated document that spoke a bit about the history of the building.

When the phone gave her sufficient respite she mentioned the programme Who Do You Think You Are that featured super-model Jodie Kidd.  You can watch the videos of that programme here, if you are interested.

The interesting story is that around the time of the First World War, Coxlodge was owned by one of Kidd's ancestors, a Rowland Hodge, a shipbuilder in the Newcastle area.  There was a scandal in 1918 when he and his wife were convicted of food hoarding on an enormous scale (over a tonne of food) and they soon after left the area. 

The other interesting thing about Hodge is that he bought (for £5,000) a baronetcy from the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in 1921, another scandal that led to the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. 

That Sir Rowland Hodge was definitely a scoundrel if there ever was one and King George V is said to have despised the man; he complained that the honour had been granted at all.

Nevertheless, I'll leave you with one more photo of the remains of Coxlodge Hall, its gatehouse.

 Remember the Rare! agent with the elephants on the doorway?  They can offer you this four-bedroomed house for only £585,000 (about $911,000 US).  Take a tour and see what you think.

Friday, 6 July 2012

More Gosforth

So, what else can I show and tell you (that's what blogging is, right?) about Gosforth?  We found the Gosforth Assembly Rooms, now a Magistrate's Court.  

The leaflet says

Dances there were seen as occasions to meet future partners.

You'll probably have seen the Bath Assembly Rooms in a film at some point.  I can show you the interior of the Newcastle Assembly Rooms, too.  Somehow the former Gosforth Assembly Rooms don't look quite as impressive.  Oh well.

It was still an absolutely glorious day - the whole day, not just the usual apportioned half day of sun. 

They're big on rhododendrons around here.

We followed the map to this real estate agent's office where we were shown the elephants on the corners of the doorway.   Vivien's sister-in-law in Sydney (another thing she and I have in common!) collects elephants so she seems to pay attention to these things. 

Wonder if they specialise in white elephants?

What I find interesting is that these elephants are thought to have come from the Pybus family crest, as that name appears on the original plans for the building (ugly as it is).  This Pybus family history indicates that in 1601 Henry Pybus was a 'Merchant Adventurer' in Newcastle upon Tyne.  We wondered if the family found its fortune in India. 

I do so love tulips!

We wandered along Graham Park Road, called Millionaire's Row of the North. 

Vivien taught me the term 'double dormer'.

Although these were quite nice houses, some with interesting architectural features, on the whole we didn't feel they were that completely wonderful. 

Love, love, love this stained glass.
The really large houses seemed inappropriate for what we could see of the lot sizes.   

And now we come to the final bit of history for today.  Ladies and gentlemen, this semi-circle of grass, past which I've run more times that I can count, has a name - two in fact.

Unbeknownst to me, I have run past Titty-bottle Corner, also known as Nanny's corner.  Laid out in the 1920s, when large houses were being built in the area, it became the location favoured by nannies to sit and feed their infant charges.

So, from there we walked towards Jesmond becaus it was towards a Metro and Vivien had something to show me.

Grand houses at any time but, oh, south facing windows when the sun shines!