Saturday, 31 March 2012

A Wander around Calne.

"Adam House" known also as "Pineapple House"
Calne is a small town with some delightful hidden corners, all waiting to be discovered once you have escaped from the busy A4 Bath Road that runs through the town centre.  The present road was built in the 18th century to accommodate the increased traffic travelling to Bath,  which had became a popular place to take the spa waters.  "Adam House" also known as "Pineapple House," is named after the four stone pineapples adorning the facade.   It was built in the 17th century, and the earlier timber framed house was refaced in stone in 1750.   "Adam House"  is said by Lord  Shelbourne of Bowood House to be named after the architect Robert Adam,  who worked on nearby Bowood House and is said to have lived here.   I love the symmetry of this building.
Celia and Pippin enjoy the sun at Cheveywell, renowned for its pure water.
Celia and Pippin the poodle enjoy the sunshine sitting beside Cheveywell, a spring from which the water runs crystal clear.  During an epidemic of typhus in the 19th century, this well provided the only clean  source of water for the town.  The water feeds into the nearby Calne Arm of the Wilts and Berks Canal.  The plaque below commemorates Dr Joseph Priestley who lived in Calne and discovered oxzgen in a laboratory at Bowood House.  A full history of Priestley´s life can be read on Wikipedia, the address is below.
The plaque commemorating Dr Joseph Priestley, who discovered oxygen whilst living in Calne.

Joseph Priestley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Cat Sitting Tiger and Tugger in Calne.

Tugger and I watch "The Battle of Britain."
I am on one of my biannual holidays in Calne, a week of cat sitting for friends who have gone off to the West Country for a nice spring holiday.  Calne is only a twenty minute bus ride from Devizes, but I still feel that I'm on holiday here.  The kitties are easy to care for, although Tugger has an ear infection and needs daily medication, which he does not like taking!  I mix it thoroughly with nice smelly tuna fish, but he still knows it's there and turns up his nose.  He is looking somewhat lopsided at the moment, with his poorly ear tilting his head to the left.  Tiger is very old and slow, and is content to sleep most of the day and night, which seems to be the favourite occupation of most domestic cats.  Tugger likes to sit on my lap, and yesterday  we  watched together the film, "The Battle of Britain."  Sir Lawrence Olivier played Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, the man responsible for masterminding the second world war air battle over eastern England.   Tugger was very impressed with the acting and purred his way through the film.
Tiger on the table.  (Naughty cat!)
Both cats have the run of the conservatory, and outside, just viewed to the left, is a lovely flowering Magnolia tree.  One the table is my book, "The Old Man and the Sea" in which I am reading in German at the moment in our German conversation group.
Tugger sleeping on the sofa and Tiger coming through the door looking for more food. These cats look identical, but now I can recognise lopsided Tugger very easily.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A "Blot on the Landscape" and the new "Jubilee Wood."

The former Devizes Law Courts.
These two photos show the sad state of the once lovely Grade 11 listed 19th century Devizes Law Courts and County Police Office.   Built by T H Wyatt in 1835, it consists of a symmetrical group of Bath stone buildings in the Grecian style.   It has a high central portico, with four  Ionic columns on a stone base, which is approached by five stone steps between rectangular stone bastions.  The columns carry a complete entablature and pediment with a carved Coat of Arms in tympanum.  It is a tradegy that his building is being allowed to fall into dereliction, and has been in this state for many years.  It is regularly vandalised and the stone is suffering from frost damage.   Very sad.
The magnificent Portal of now derelict Law Courts.
Various attempts have been made to turn this building into residential appartments, and several planning applications have been granted. However, for one reason or another, the owner of the property seems unable to put the building to sensible use. What a waste of a lovely building,  which would make a lovely theatre and arts centre for the people of Devizes.
Newly planted trees in Jubilee Wood at Caen Hill.
The year makes the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth 11, and will be celebrated over the weekend of the 2nd - 5th of July.  As part of this celebration the nation is planting new woodland, encouraging children, parents, schools and many organisations to plant new trees.  The photo above shows the wood planted on land owned by British Waterways at the bottom of Caen Hill.  Over a series of weekends many local people  turned out with spades to plant the trees.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Avebury and the River Kennet.

Avebury Church  is viewed here through the Lychgate, so named as the  place  where the coffin containing the dead body (lych) would enter the churchyard.  Lych originates from the middle English word liche, a dead body or a corpse.  In German the word is Leiche, not so different from the English.  We walked from here to see "Adam and Eve," two standing stones that once formed  part of a stone avenue that led to the great stone circle.   A village  once stood in the middle of the stone circle, but when John Lubbock, later Lord Avebury purchased the manor and land in ca 1850, he encouraged future homes to be  built outside the circle, in an attempt to preserve the site.  A new village called "Avebury Trusloe" was established nearby.  Alexander Keiller acquired the land in the early 1900's and began excavating the site.  He re erected the stones, dug out the ditches and re established the site into what is now a World Heritage Site.  It is a most interesting and spiritual place.

"Adam," left with the big nose, and "Eve" to the right.

The waterless bed of the River Kennet.
The photo above was taken in April 2012, and shows the dried up bed of the River Kennet, a once crystal clear, brisky flowing stream containing much wild life.  Below, photographed in February 2010 from almost the same spot is the former stream.
The swiftly flowing River Kennet in February 2010.
At the moment England is experiencing a severe drought, having had a very dry winter for the second year running, which has left many streams and ponds completely dry.   Wildlife experts are concerned about the survival of frogs, rare toads, fish and plant life that depend on  little streams and ponds for their survival.  It is a sad to see it waterless and desolate.
We are walking here towards "Windmill Hill" a neolithic hill camp.  On top of the hill are three "Bell Barrows," burial mounds in which ancient man buried his dead.  This whole area of Wiltshire contains many prehistoric sites, and the ancient people who lived here must have depended on the River Kennet for their water.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Marlborough College Choral Society singing "Messiah" on Sunday March 18th 2012.

It was a wonderful occasion and one I will always remember.  I am standing to the right, in the third row from the front of the sopranos at this end.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Singing the "Messiah" in Marlborough College Chapel.

At Saturday afternoon´s rehearsal.
Our performance of this great work by GF Händel was wonderful, a magnificent sound filled the airy space of the college chapel.  The photo right, shows the heavenly blue ceiling above the high altar.  We had a hard day of singing, a two hour rehearsal in the afternoon, followed by another two hours of singing in the performance itself.  In the afternoon we tried to conserve our voices, but alas, it is not easy to sing the "Messiah" half heartedly.   The performance began at 7.30pm and finished at 9.45pm by which time, many of us had sore, croaky throats.  The four soloists were excellent, particularly the tenor, who moved into the audience to sing  his message to them.  The young soprano had the voice of a bell,  and the bass was full of sound a fury.  I have sung this work so many times, and each time I  notice something new about the music, some nuance in the phrasing or words that I had not seen or thought about before.  The whole occasion was a great success, and now we must all wait until next October before we find out what music we will sing at Easter 2013.
The view from the sopranos of the altos sitting opposite, with the harpiscordist preparing his music.  In the aisle the orchestra is tuning up.

Just after the interval, Simon our conductor prepares for the second half, and the tenor and bass soloists take their seats.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Bear Hotel in Devizes.

The facade of The Bear, with a little black bear holding a bunch of grapes standing over the portico.
Devizes has its fair share of pubs and hotels, and one of my favourites is this former coaching inn that stands in the Market Place.  It has a long history as a meeting place for local businessmen and as an inn for travellers en route from London to Bath, Bristol and the West Country.   The first records state that John Sawter was the landlord in 1559, but it is presumed that a hostelry exisited on the site long before that date.
A view of the Market Place from the bay window of the hotel.
The hotel has hosted many famous travellers including King George 111 and his wife Queen Charlotte and other members of the royal family, famous actor and actresses and politicians en route for Bath.     Bath became popular as a place to "take the waters" and in the late 18th century, the coach route from London became busy with weathly travellers, who were targeted by highwaymen, keen on relieving them of their valuables.  The Bath Road was eventually diverted to take the safer route through Devizes,  and during this period, the inn became a popular coaching hotel, providing comfortable accommodation for travellers and stabling for the horses.  Jane Austen, the famous authoress,  recorded  her visits to The Bear in her diaries, as she travelled from Kent into Bath.   The hotel  now provides the most splendid and expensive accommodation in Devizes!   The coffee is good though!
The comfortable front saloon bar.
The hostelry was run from 1773 to 1781 by Thomas Lawrence, the father of Sir Thomas Lawrence the famous painter.  Several of his paintings can be viewed in the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath.  A full history of the hotel can be read at:  click Home, then History.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Canal and Old Railway Track from Seend to Devizes.

Marsh Lane Bridge
Friday's walk took us along the towpath from Seend to Devizes, with a short diversion onto the old railway line that once linked Chippenham via Devizes to Lydeway and to trains for  London.  I have friends who remember travelling to Chippenham on the train many years ago.  The day was overcast but dry, and the photo right, shows us at Marsh Lane Bridge, which has two arches, one for the canal, and the other for  a rail track that once ran along the towpath.   This little track allowed horses to pull brick filled wagons up Caen Hill, when the locks was being constructed.  This flight of 29 locks is the second longest in Britain, and the "Fifth Wonder of the British Waterway system."
The group walking along the line of the old railway that closed in 1966.
We walk here along the line of the old railway track, now used as path, and in many parts of Britain, old railway lines have become long distance paths.  Fortunately the paths are flat,  and I now appreciate a flat walk with a nice pub at the end.  We had lunch in the "Black Horse," a cosy pub, which was recently renovated after a severe fire in 2011 destroyed its roof, kitchen and bars.  The pub is owned by "Wadworth" the famous Devizes brewery.  Cheers!
Peering over the line of the demolished railway bridge at Lower Foxhangers, which  took the line over the canal.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A Walk around Drew's Pond Nature Reserve in Devizes.

The group admires the flowering Blackthorn tree.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Devizes is "Drew's Pond" a nature reserve nestling in a small dip in the hills.  There are several springs here, and a large pond has formed, which, during the last century, fed the streams that drove the many watermills in the area.  It is a verdant, tree covered place of great beauty, where the birds sing and wild flowers and ferns bedeck the ground.  At bluebell time, a carpet of blue, with yellow celendine, covers the woodland.  Part of this wood was once the burial ground of the nearby "Roundway Hospital,"  a huge institution which has now been converted into apartments and houses.  Green Lane hospital was built nearby to replace some of the psychiatic services onced housed in the old asylum. 
Many former hospital staff and patients were buried here in unnamed graves.  In 1993 the Bishop of Salisbury gave permission for 800 trees to be planted  as a memorial to the dead.  At this time of year the snowdrops are blooming, soon to be followed by the bluebells and celendine.  An old drover's road from Potterne to Devizes runs through the lower half of the reserve, and a small ale house once stood along the track, so that the drovers's could buy themselves a pint on their travels.  Cheers!
Tombstone marking an unknown grave.  In the last century many woman who had babies out of wedlock, found themselves locked up in asylums.  Some spent their whole lives hospitalized.
Rangebourne Mill, one of many water mills that were once driven by water collected in Drew's Pond.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Moonlight over Silbury Hill.

On the A4, the old Bath Road and driving towards Marlborough, I detected a distant piece of cheese floating in the sky above Silbury Hill.  No!  It was the moon shining brightly in the cold night sky, accompanied by crystal clear Venus and a disappearing Jupiter, all three bound for infinity.   What a wonderful spectacal and thankfully no cloud to block the view.   Magnetic storms from the sun are heading towards planet Earth, and it would be nice to glimpse the "Aurora Borealis" from southern England,  although I expect we are too far south and cloud will block the view.
The organ in the College chapel.
We were on our way to a choral workshop and organ recital at Marlborough College, this time given by Adrian Lucas, the organist from Worcester Cathedral.   He performed a varied programme of music, from C P E Bach, the son of J S Bach, to 20th century composers. He performed "Fiesta" by Iain Farrington, six short descriptive pieces about dances, celebrations, converstions and song.  "Sweet Sixteenths" by William Allbright was based on themes from the music of Scott Joplin.  I have never heard jazz played on an organ before, the sounds were very exciting and extremely noisy.  I do like modern music for the organ, not something I ever expected say.
Moonlight over Marlborough.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Twinning Dinner in the Town Hall.

Devizes Town Hall built ca 1820
Some words here about last week's twinning dinner in Devizes Town Hall,  beautifully  built in the early 1800's using Bath stone which became readily available as a building material when the Kennet & Avon Canal opened in 1810.  The canal runs from Bristol's River Avon to Bath in the west and on to Newbury, where it links up with the canalised River Kennet.  Devizes businessmen fought long and hard for the canal to come through the town, as its original course would have taken it around Caen Hill.  John Rennie, the canal engineer, intended building a contour canal, one that avoided building expensive locks the take a canal  up hill, and as Devizes stands on the top of Caen Hill, many locks would be needed.  The Devizes businessmen achieved their wish, and Rennie was faced with the prospect of building a flight of 29 locks to  bring  the canal up Caen Hill. 

I like to think of John Rennie, sitting on his horse at the bottom of Caen Hill, looking upwards and thinking, "Oh dear, must I really take this expensive route?"  Luckily clay for the thousands of bricks needed to build the locks was readily available at the bottom of the hill.    I digress!    The top photo shows the facade of the Town Hall, and our dinner was held in the grand reception room on the first floor.
The Twinning group dining under the painted ceiling in the grand reception room.
Devizes is twinned with the German town of Waiblingen, Mayenne in France and with Tornio, a town in Finland. Last week the members of the German and French twinning associations enjoyed their annual dinner and get together. I am a member of the Devizes/Waiblingen group and sat down to a two course meal, sitting around a table of 10, chatting and generally having a good time. The Town Council website gives more general information and photos of Devizes.
A portrait of the Hanoverian King George 1V graces the wall, with a similar large painting of his wife,
Queen Caroline of Brunswick,  whose tomb I have visited in Braunschweig Cathedral.
                        History of the Monarchy > The Hanoverians > George IV
The painted ceiling, supposedly a copy of the ceiling in Bath Town Hall and complete with chandeliers.  This ceiling was restored a few years ago, after it had become completely stained brown by cigarettes and cigars smoked during civil occasions.  Thank goodness smokers now have to seek a puff somewhere else.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Organ Music in the Chapel at Marlborough College.

High altar in the Chapel, with the organ pipes (left)
The music department at Marlborough College hold organ recitals every year, and last week I listened to  works by Louis Nicolas Clerambault (1676 to 1749) a French composer, and also to music by the modern French composer Pierre Cocherau (1924-1984.)   I am realising that I enjoy modern organ music, which at times is discordant,  but which  has huge sounds, joyful at times,  sometimes threatening and always very exciting.   Last year in the Kaiserdom in Königslutter near Braunschweig, I heard the most amazing music by Baptiste Dupont,  "Improvisation über ein gegebenes Thema,"   Improvisations on given Themes.   This work sounded like an industrial city starting up in the early morning fog.  The engines whirled, clanged and banged, the whistles blew,  valves and pistons hissed open, blew their tops and closed, and  at the end of the day all gradually shut down, until a final whistle spluttered into silence.     

The "new" Marlborough College Chapel, dedicated to St Michael and All Angels was   consecrated on 29th September, 1886 by the Bishop of Salisbury.  It was erected on the site of the old chapel, and  was built at a cost of £31,000 by Stephens & Barstow  and under the direction of architects, George Bodley and Thomas Garner.  The organ was restored  circa  2006, the contract for its rebuild going to "Beckerath" of Hamburg.   The chapel is a  wonderful place in which to sing, and our spring concert is held here every year.    This year we are singing "Messiah" by Händel.
Mural of "The Woman at the Well" painted circa 1880
Three of the murals that surround the chapel walls.
A series of 12 large murals by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Spencer Stanhope adorn the walls. They depict Biblical scenes involving angels, six on the north side from the Old Testament and a similar number on the south from the New Testament.    Other artistic features of note are the Scholars' Window on the south side (a green window featuring two boys,  which was designed by Burne-Jones and made under the direction of William Morris) and Eric Gill`s sculpture of “The Virgin and Child” outside, above  the West Door.  The ceiling of the apse is a bright, heavenly blue, and just visible at the top in the first photograph.