Home again

Tuesday, September 9th 2014

We are back from our short visit to New York. Our flight landed at Heathrow at about 6:15 am, having departed from Newark at 18:25 yesterday evening. The journey did not last 12 hours because the timings include the 5-hour difference between New York and London.

I am hoping that our stay was too short to cause jetlag. Airline seating does not provide much leg room – especially when the passenger in front of you tips his seat back for the whole journey – and it’s difficult to find a comfortable position to sleep, but I did manage to doze off for a couple of hours and I am hoping this will be enough to convince my body that it has just spent two normal days separated by a normal period of sleep. Will this work?

We went home from the airport to dump our bags and then left again almost immediately for Liverpool Street Station. There we had breakfast prior to my catching the 10:18 Chingford train to go to fetch Freya from the cattery. I leave the train at Highams Park and take a cab to the cattery. The last time I did this, the cab driver, who was not a native speaker of English, misunderstood the address and took me to the wrong end of town. Today I was careful to be understood and everything went perfectly.

Freya and I caught the train back to Liverpool Street where Tigger was waiting for us and all three took the number 205 bus back to the Angel.

We have spent the rest of the day unpacking and relaxing. We have the rest of the week off from work to help us recover from the change of time zone.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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New York

This is a temporary post which will be replaced.

As I provided no clues as to where we were going, I thought that now we have arrived I would put up a temporary post letting you know our destination. As the title says, we are in New York. Yes, the one in the USA.

We flew into JFK airport and by a combination of public transport and walking, found our way to our hotel in Brooklyn, where I am writing this.

It is just after 4 pm local time (about 9 pm in the UK) and we are about to go out for a first look around.

Tigger wanted to come to New York but I was not keen on the idea. Nothing I have heard or seen about New York appeals to me. Quite the contrary, in fact. So, what will be the result of our trip – will my prejudices be overcome or will they be confirmed?

Watch this space to find out.

Posted in SilverTiger | 8 Comments

Travelling west

Thursday, September 4th 2014

We are going on another short trip, starting tomorrow and returning on Tuesday. As the title says, we are heading west.

I took Freya to her holiday home this morning. She was not happy about it and complained loudly and angrily when I lifted her out of her carrying cage in her temporary apartment. I am sure, though, that the pleasure of returning home will make up for this temporary annoyance and restore her mood.

Heading west, but to where? I do not know our destination well enough to offer subtle clues to its identity. I think that anything I did say would give the game away forthwith. Therefore I shall for once say nothing and leave you to guess by stabbing in the dark.

I have completed my write-up of our stay in Weymouth but there have been outings since then that I have not tackled yet. The forthcoming trip will put me even further behind but I will get around to it all eventually, I expect.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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To Dungeness by Train

Wednesday, September 3rd 2014but also

It seems hardly possible that it is over five years since we visited that strange beautiful place called Dungeness (see Steaming through Kent) but so it is and we are overdue for a return visit.

Map showing Dungeness
Map showing Dungeness
Click for Google Map

Dungeness is in the county of Kent, in the bottom right-hand corner of England (or the southeast, if you want to be pedantic). It lies on a triangular shaped promontory jutting into the English Channel. Although people live on it, Dungeness is a nature reserve (the RSPB has a bird sanctuary there), formed mainly of a large shingle beach that is continually reshaped by the sea. Its close neighbour is the wetland area called Romney Marsh.

How do you get there from the metropolis? If you have a car, I assume you can drive in, and there is also a bus that will take you from one of the neighbouring towns. We however, preferred to take the railway. The might surprise you because if you look on the map you are unlikely to see any sign of a railway line reaching Dungeness. Appearances can be deceptive!

Arriving at Folkestone
Arriving at Folkestone
By the HS1

To start our journey, we took the HS1 from St Pancras to Folkestone. Folkestone used to be known for its ferry services to France but the Channel Tunnel has killed that trade and Folkestone has been struggling to recover. It is still a town worth visiting and we have come here on several occasions before – see, for example, Some Pictures of Folkestone.

Like the back of my hand Like the back of my hand
Like the back of my hand
A Millennium project by Strange Cargo Arts Company, 2004

We discovered that Folkestone is very lively culturally and artistically (see Multi-cultural and artistic Folkestone) and indications of this begin right at the railway station on whose wall is affixed an art installation like the back of my hand, consisting of 101 hand prints cast in bronze. The work was devised and carried out by Strange Cargo.

From Folkestone, we took a bus to Hythe. This is a pleasant town though its name is far from unique. We know of at least three Hythes and of other cases where that word is part of a townis name. It derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a landing place where goods are unloaded from ships. That gives a clue to the history of Hythe. (For the derivation of the name of Folkestone, see Some pictures of Folkestone.)

The Royal Military Canal, Hythe
The Royal Military Canal, Hythe
Against a Napoleonic invasion

One of the prettier features of Hythe is the waterway shown above. At first sight I was unsure whether it was a river, a canal or just a decorative water feature. Its name, Royal Military Canal, hints at its origins. It was built for defensive purposes between 1804 and 1809, during the wars with France (1793-1815), when it was believed that there was a very real threat of an invasion by Napoleon’s armies. A helpful information board tells us that it runs for 28 miles from Seabrook (near Folkestone) to Cliff End (near Hastings). Adding to its quaintness and charms is its zigzag shape. This feature was deliberately incorporated as it meant that each section of the canal could be covered by fire from cannons installed at the bends. Today, it is simply a beautiful landscape feature that also provides a habit for water fowl and other riverine species.

Hythe Station
Hythe Station
Hythe, Romney & Dymchurch Railway

Our reason for coming here was to board the train for Dungeness. We would be travelling on the Hythe, Romney and Dymchurch Railway. We arrived just as a train was about to depart and had to quickly buy our tickets and hurry aboard. I only had time to photograph the station.

Young boys (and some not so young) like to play with train sets but millionaires can afford something a little more elaborate. The two millionaires relevant to our story were Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski. Both dreamed of creating a real railway system in miniature and set out to carry their plan through together. The Count was unfortunately killed in a racing accident but Howey continued the project, together with Henry Greenly as Chief Engineer and locomotive designer. A site was found in the Romney Marshes and the railway finally opened in 1927. If you would like more details of the history of this fascinating railway, you will find narratives here and here.

Let me stress that, though its description includes the word “miniature”, this railway is not a mere toy or exhibition piece. It runs a regular scheduled passenger service from Hythe to Dungeness (13½ miles), the carriages being drawn by either diesel or steam locomotives that are perfect scaled-down replicas of their full-sized cousins.

All aboard!
All aboard!
Some passengers behave more responsibly than others

The railway is very popular with holidaymakers and visitors and by the time we reached the train, it was quite packed. There was no time to spare and we managed to slot ourselves into vacant seats. As you can see, the carriages are not very wide or tall but are comfortable enough for the relatively short journey. Unfortunately, the man in front of me leaned out of the window the whole way (despite notices saying not to do this), filming the journey with his camcorder and making it difficult for me to get photos except perpendicular to our direction of travel. He would be quite unaware of how annoying this was for others.

Rolling farmland
Rolling farmland
A view from the train

The name Romney Marsh may give the impression that the train was somehow travelling on boggy ground but the area traversed by the railway is, happily, quite solid. It consists of countryside and and farmland, for the most part very beautiful, especially on a sunny today like today when the sun shines down from a perfectly clear sky.

Dymchurch Station
Dymchurch Station
The first stop after Hythe

Our first stop was at the little town of Dymchurch. The railway ticket allows you to travel from A to B or to get off and get on again as often as you like. The atmosphere was free and easy and our tickets were checked only if we came into a station from the street. I imagine it would be possible to travel up and down, getting off and getting on, all day.

Dymchurch was an important town in its day because, in the Middle Ages, it was the seat of government for the Romney Marshes. Hence the name: this comes from dema, meaning a ‘judge’ in Old English, added to cirice, ‘church’. Dymchurch thus means “Judges’ Church”.

Approaching our last stop
Approaching our last stop
The ever fascinating Dungeness

We set off again and made three more stops – at St Mary’s Bay, New Romney and Romney Sands – before finally pulling into the terminus at Dungeness. Depending on your mood and the weather, you might find Dungeness a daunting place when first you catch sight of it. For one thing, the huge Dungeness Nuclear Power Station cannot be ignored.

A main feature - the lighthouse
A main feature – the lighthouse

More pleasingly, you also spot the lighthouse. Every seaside scene should include a lighthouse, I think, though many do not. I say the lighthouse because that’s how I tend to think of it, a big bold and, dare I say, “typical” lighthouse. But in fact, there have been five lighthouses altogether, of which two remain. This is the fourth Lighthouse.

The name of the place may strike you as odd but it is said to derive from the joining together of several Anglo-Saxon words describing features of the area. Thus, there is denu (‘valley’), mersc (‘marsh’) and næss (‘headland’) which, added together and simmered during centuries, evolved into Dungeness. I am told that a popular etymology claims that the name derives from a French phrase meaning “dangerous nose”, but I think we can safely ignore that!

Fully automatic
Fully automatic
The modern lighthouse

The modern lighthouse, which began operating in 1961, needs no crew to manage it as it is fully automatic and is controlled from the Trinity House Centre in Harwich, Essex. It does its job and looks like a lighthouse but I don’t think it’s a splendid as its older rival.

Captain Howey Captain Howey
Captain Howey
The diesel loco that pulled our train

Having arrived at Dungeness, where the train turns back by running around a loop, we could disembark and have a look at the miniature loco that had pulled our train. The RH&DR has a fleet of locomotives, both steam engines and internal combustion (diesel) engines. Each is named and ours commemorates one of the founders of the railway, Captain Howey. A relative youngster, it was built 1989.

The Light Railway Cafe
The Light Railway Cafe

We, and many other passengers, piled into the Light Railway Cafe. As there were already customers from previous arrivals, the place was crowded. The staff were obviously used to this and worked cheerfully and efficiently to provide drinks and meals.

Two lighthouses
Two lighthouses

After lunch we went for an exploratory ramble. The land here is flat, allowing distant views. In this one we see two lighthouses, the modern one and its predecessor. This lighthouse, in the foreground, was built in 1904 and continued in service until it was supplanted by the new one. It can now be visited.

An abiding presence - the sea
An abiding presence – the sea

We found our way to the sea, the abiding presence that shapes the coastline and, whichever way you look, continually growls in the background.

A line of sea kale
A line of sea kale

Harsh as this environment is, there is plenty of plant life. Sea kale (crambe maritima) grows along ridges in the shingle. These ridges are caused by differing sea levels, tides and, I imagine, storms. Though the plants tolerate a salty environment, I understand that they survive from rainwater that is trapped in the shingle.

Golden flowers of kale
Golden flowers of kale

The plants hug the ground to avoid damage by wind and waves and enliven their slightly dull green foliage and attract pollinators with bright golden flowers.

Old Coastguard Lookout
Old Coastguard Lookout
Now a holiday cottage for hire

In this land, buildings are scattered or present in small groups. Dwellings are mostly single-storey and only “official” structures are taller, such as this old Coastguard Lookout, no longer used as such and converted into a holiday cottage.

The modern lighthouse
The modern lighthouse
Dwarfed by the landscape

Even the modern lighthouse, 141 ft (43 m) tall, is dwarfed by the landscape until you come close to it.

The 1904 Lighthouse
The 1904 Lighthouse
With subsidiary buildings at its foot

The older lighthouse, though a little taller at 150 ft (43 m), and rather more imposing in design, can also seem like a toy when seen from a distance. In the above photo the circular building once fitted around the base of the now demolished third lighthouse of 1782.

Human figures...
Human figures…
…lost in the immensity

Human figures appear tiny – less than Lilliputian – in the three immensities of land, sea and sky.

The Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
The Dungeness Nuclear Power Station
A brooding presence

The one structure not dwarfed by distance and the flatness of the landscape in the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. It started operating in 1983 and is due for decommissioning in 2018. The complex is so big that even when you are not looking directly at it, you tend to catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of your eye and its presence seems to follow you around. There is, of course, something paradoxical about the presence of such a facility in a nature reserve.

Hurricane
Hurricane
A steam locomotive

When we returned to the station, a train had just arrived, pulled by a steam locomotive called Hurricane. This beautiful machine is one of the railway’s old-timers, having been built in 1927. Such was the crush of enthusiastic people examining and admiring the engine that I despaired of getting a clear shot of it. I therefore walked across the tracks and photographed it from there, albeit on the shadow side.

Hurricane
Hurricane
Built 1927

When I returned to the platform, to my surprise, those still admiring the engine tipped one another the wink and stepped back to give me a clear view. Even so, just as I clicked the shutter someone blundered into the frame from the right (I’ve cropped him out) and the brief respite came to an end. Let me say that I am no “anorak”, one of those who chase after veteran locos and rolling stock to photograph and film them but I do appreciate these beautifully made machines that are scale replicas of full size locomotives and in full working order.

New Romney
New Romney
A RH&DR station

We started the return journey but made a pause at New Romney. This is quite a large station with plenty of facilities including a cafe and the inevitable gift shop. We had ideas of visiting the town and set out to do so but either this was farther away than we anticipated or we went the wrong way because we did not find it and after a longish walk we decided to return to the station to wait for the next train to Hythe. The above photo was taken from the station’s footbridge.

Green Goddess
Green Goddess
Another old-timer

While we were waiting on the station at New Romney, another steam loco came in and I got a snap of it. This one is the Green Goddess and is two years older than Hurricane, having been built in 1925. (Note the oil can on the ground.) Station stops are apt to be lengthy because the steam engines then have their water tanks refilled and the driver or fireman can put some oil on the joints. We are used to seeing films where the fireman on a high-speed loco thrusts coal into the furnace with a big shovel but here, the coal is put in gently with a small hand shovel, much as you would add fuel to your living room fire!

Crossing the stream
Crossing the stream
and enjoying the beautiful scenery

We took the the train once more and submitted ourselves to the hypnotic tickety-tick of the wheels and the rush of the wind – the carriage windows are unglazed. Some of the more photographically enticing moments came as we crossed bridges over waterways, as exemplified above. Almost too soon, the journey ended and we found ourselves once more in Hythe.

Royal Military Canal revisited
Royal Military Canal revisited

We made our way to the bus stop but could not resist taking a few more photos now that the scene was warmly lit by the evening sun. The Royal Military Canal may have been constructed for defensive purposes against a background of fear of invasion by Napoleon but, since then, it has evolved into an amenity, which nature has taken unto herself and beautified.

This account ends where it began, at Folkestone railway station, now quiet after the bustle of the day. It is a curious sensation swapping the minitaure railway for a full-size one!

Folkestone Station
Folkestone Station
Quiet after the bustle of the day

Dungeness is commonly described as a place of “strange beauty” and that encapsulates the character of the place. It probably requires a hardy outlook to live here but plenty of people manage to do so, though human habitation is not the first feature to strike you at first sight. I must admit to being attracted to the place, though whether I could actually live here, I do not know. I shall probably never find out but I do hope to return again to visit Dugeness in the not too distant future.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Tattoo Art

Monday, September 1st 2014

Tigger has two weeks on holiday from work and we mean to make the most of it. We shall be going away for a few days (more about that later) and spending the rest of the time in London or making day trips.

The weather today is rather dull and we decided to take in an exhibition at Somerset House. It is entitled Time: Tattoo Art Today. You can see information about the exhibition by clicking on the title and here is some further detail from the exhibition itself.

Somerset House
Somerset House
Looking out from the Victoria Embankment entrance

I have to say that I am not very keen on tattoos and it would never occur to me to deface my body with one. All tattoos, even if clean and bright to start with, age badly, becoming foggy and discoloured. When the body sags, as it inevitably does with age, the tattoo sags too, altogether presenting a sorry and sometimes disgusting sight. Can tattoos be considered as art? Some people (not least, tattooists) obviously think so but I remain sceptical. I think the reasons people have for acquiring tattoos are complex and have little to do with artistic expression but I shall have to leave that to the psychologists to investigate. A related question is whether tattooists, or at least, some of them, are also artists? The exhibition provides an opportunity for them to answer that question.

Photography is permitted in the exhibition and below I show five samples of the works on view. These are the ones that caught my attention for some reason or other. I did not photograph everything. You might think that tattooists, accustomed to working on skin which, though not necessarily flat, presents a two-dimensional surface, would, for the purposes of making artworks, stick to painting. Most of the items on show were indeed paintings but that there were also some sculptures. I will present  two examples.

Solitude
Solitude
Pascal “Bugs” Jarrion
Click for slide show

Despite my misgivings about much modern art, I rather like this piece. It at least prompted me to look up Pascal Jarrion to see what I could find out about him. This French artist and tattooist living and working in the US produces paintings and sculptures in a manner similar to the Cubist works of Picasso but with his own individual style. There is a personal Website with examples of his work – see Pascal Jarrion – but entering his name into your favourite search engine will produce a lot of hits. One to watch, I would suggest.

Time's Up Time's up
Time’s up
Luke Atkinson

This piece by Luke Atkinson is a human skull (lacking the lower jaw) painted with lacquer with the addition of mother of pearl and placed upon a chequered board. The design on the forehead is presumably a character from a language unknown to me and I have no further information on that. The placing of the skull on a board produces the slightly uncanny sensation (in me, at least) that this is a loaf ready to be sliced. Was that intentional? I would not place this work in the same category as the bronze by Pascal Jarrion though there is possibly a serious purpose behind it. Atkinson has a tattoo studio in Stuttgart called Checker Demon Tattoos, which includes a short biography and, for those with a strong stomach, examples of his tattoo work.

Now to some paintings.

Time Machine
Time Machine
Timothy Hoyer

This elaborate and somewhat curious painting called Time Machine is by Timothy Hoyer. He has a Facebook page and a presence on Instagram. To judge from the works displayed on those sites, Hoyer has a love of big cats and Japanese art. He is clearly a more than competent draughtsman and his works often seem highly symbolic even though the meaning of the symbolism is not clear to me. The lion in the above painting seems frightened or startled and is that a Buddha seated upon a lotus? Unravelling the meanings might be fun but I lack a key to do so.

Where is the shop?
Where is the shop?
Ichibay

“Playful” is a somewhat overworked adjective in modern art. I think it is too often used to cover the fact that the artist hasn’t bothered to think what s/he intends with a particular piece. However, I think this painting by Hide Ichibay is genuinely playful in the good sense. It imitates or caricatures classical Japanese art and the subject seems to be holding a smartphone or a GPs – the latter would fit with the rucksack on his back, implying a journey in search of something. And is that a spray can on the floor beside the painting-within-a-painting? And what shop is he looking for? You can find something about Ichibay on the Three Tides Website and some more examples of his tattoo work on Rattatattoo. Though apparently predominantly a tattooist, Ichibay is clearly a competent painter and I would like to see more artworks by him.

Hodie Faunas
Hodie Faunas
Nikko Hurtado

This painting by Nikko Hurtado stood out from the rest. To be honest, judging from what I have seen of his work, it also stands out from the rest of his art. Hurtado has a Website called, reasonably enough, Nikko, where you can see that he specializes in portraiture, both of real people and of fictional entities. It’s perhaps unfair to judge from photos of tattoos but his tattoo portraits seem to me competent but average, nothing special, and the above painting stands out all the more because of that. Crystallizing an instant and a personality and a mood, it is very successful. Is it my favourite work of the exhibition? Quite possibly.

A foggy day in London town
A foggy day in London town
Looking across Waterloo Bridge

After refreshments (and Somerset House provides several possibilities for this), we went out again into the dull weather. This view across Waterloo Bridge shows the  somewhat misty conditions. It took little persuasion to decide to go home for the day.

So, has the exhibition answered the question as to whether tattooists (or “tattooers” as some prefer) can be artists? I think it has answered it positively and there were a few works that I liked and enjoyed, counterbalanced by a ballast of those I felt overblown and needlessly fantastical. But perhaps that’s as it should be. Art, like everything else, evolves by trial and error and every success emerges against a background of mediocrity and failure. These artists show imagination and vigour, at least.

For my part, I was looking forward to getting home for a cup of tea.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Water tower and Roman gate

Saturday, August 30th 2014

Today we return to a town we have visited before. It is said by some to be the oldest town in Britain and whether that is true or not, it was in pre-Roman times the oppidum or main town of the Celtic Iceni tribe who called it Camulodunon (“stronghold of Camulos”), later Latinized to Camulodunum.

Colchester Station
Colchester Station

We arrived at the town’s railway station. Though the station itself is of a respectable size, as befits a large town, the station building is quite small. The town in question, as you can see from the photo, is today known as Colchester.

Railway Mission Hall
Railway Mission Hall, 1896

We set out on foot for the town along North Station Road where we found this icon of Victorian religiosity, the Railway Mission Hall,, dating from 1896. I don’t known what it is used for now but the large blue refuse bin outside the main door suggests a business or industrial usage.

The River Colne
The River Colne
Seen from the North Bridge

North Station Road crosses the River Colne by a Victorian bridge (built in 1843 and widened in 1903) known as the North Bridge, from where I took the above photo. Rivers that pass through towns have a somewhat schizophrenic character because they represent an irruption of wild nature into the built-up environment but this often confines them between walls when it does not turn them into sewers. I angled the shot to make the prettiest picture possible in the circumstances.

The name Colne is of course cognate with that of Colchester and both derive from the Latin word colonia. By a mixture of negotiation and coercion, the Romans established a Roman town here which they named in honour of the Emperor Claudius, calling it Colonia Claudia Victricensis, though it was usually known more simply as Colonia Victricensis. A colonia was a town in which life was led according to the Roman pattern. Many of the inhabitants would have been Roman officials and military personnel with their families, and veterans who had served their time with the army and were now settled with a parcel of land for their sustenance. The “chester” part of the name comes, not, as is often asserted, from the Latin word castrum, meaning a fortified settlement, but from the Anglo-Saxon ceaster, a designation given to towns that had once been occupied and defended by the Romans. Under these Germanic invaders, the town became known as Colneceaster and the river, Colne.

Riverside Cottages
Riverside Cottages
17th century, timber framed

Beside the bridge, on the river bank is a stand of cottages, their picturesque beauty enhanced by the setting. They are timber framed houses dating from the 17th century, though, inevitably, with varying degrees of restoration.


Taverner John Miller Fountain
MP for Colchester 1857-67

We found this rather unusual drinking fountain beside a section of city wall, though whether the wall is Roman or Medieval (or a mixture of both) I do not know. A large inscription across the top of the fountain tells us that it was “opened” in 1864 and that it was given to the town by Taverner John Miller, who was the town’s Conservative MP for the decade 1857-67. Interestingly, the National Portrait Gallery possesses a portrait photograph of Miller, done in 1862.

The Marquis of Granby
The Marquis of Granby
16th century inn

On North Hill is a handsome inn. Though somewhat restored, it dates from the early 16th century (English Heritage gives it a tentative date of 1520) and has secured a Grade II* listing. I do not know what its original name was though it is today known as the Marquis of Granby. The eponymous Marquis did not appear on the scene until the 18th century and so his name could not have been used originally. There is no connection between the Marquis and Colchester, as far as I know, and his name has often been borrowed for pubs. The reason is probably that John Manners, Marquis of Granby (1721-70), was a very popular figure, especially with the troops whom he commanded in battle, and his death was mourned on a national level.

One of Colchester’s most famous landmarks is a tall building whose popular name was first intended to deprecate it but instead remained attached to it as a sign of affection on the part of the citizens of the Town. I refer, of course, to the Victorian water tower. At 116 feet (35.4 metres) tall, it is visible from many parts of the town and the surrounding countryside.

Jumbo Water Tower Jumbo Water Tower
Jumbo Water Tower
Jumbo Water Tower
Bringing clean water to Colchester’s households

Providing a reliable, safe supply of water to households was a problem not solved until the later Victorian period. When Colchester took over the waterworks in 1880, a plan was mooted to built a water tower that would finally provide clean water to households 24 hours a day. The plan was objected to by the Rev John Irvine, rector of St Mary’s, on the grounds that it would overshadow his rectory. He referred to it as a ‘Jumbo’, after the famous elephant of London Zoo, lately sold to P.T. Barnum, thus precipitating a public outcry. Nevertheless, the plan was implemented and the tower was built in 1882. The rector’s epithet was meant to disparage the tower but was in fact taken up by the town’s citizens and survives to this day as the affectionate name for this elephantine structure. Modern water supply methods have rendered Jumbo superfluous but proposals to demolish it have met with vociferous opposition and, for the time being at least, it remains in place.

The Mercury Theatre
The Mercury Theatre
Named after a Roman artefact

John Irvine’s rectory is no longer extant and in its place stands a theatre. Opened in 1972, it is called the Mercury Theatre and bears on its roof a representation of that Roman god who, armed with his trademark caduceus, seems about to take flight. Inspiration for the name came from a Roman artefact that was turned up in 1948 by a plough on Gosbecks Farm. The bronze object, sadly missing its arms, was found to be a statue of the god Mercury and one of the most important ancient art works in Britain. The statue, now in Colchester Castle Museum, was associated with a Gallo Roman temple whose remains have been found nearby.

The Balkerne Gate
The Balkerne Gate
Part of Colchester’s Roman defences

Not far from the theatre we find one of the most impressive of Colchester’s Roman remains, the west gate into the city. It is known as the Balkerne Gate, though the origin of that name is unknown. One of the bloodier episodes in Colchester’s history occurred when Boudicca and the Iceni rose against the Romans in AD 60 and did immense damage, not only locally but as far as London. There was no sizable Roman garrison in the Colonia Victricensis and Boudicca burnt it to the ground, slaughtering the inhabitants.

The Balkerne Gate
The Balkerne Gate
One of the two access arches

Following this traumatic event, and although Boudicca was killed and her army destroyed, the Romans enclosed the Colonia with a stout protective wall and the Balkerne Gate formed part of this. Only part of it now remains though we can still walk through one of the arches, following the footsteps of people in Roman and medieval times.

The guardhouse
The guardhouse

Visible too is part of the guardhouse where soldiers on guard duty would have spent their time when not actually controlling access to the gate. They may well have prepared meals and played games to while away the time. The typical pattern of Roman wall building – sections of cemented stonework intercalated with courses of red tiles – is visible here.

The Roman town wall
The Roman town wall

To the south side of the gate, a section of the Roman town wall is still present. A couple of centuries after Boudicca’s rampage, Anglo-Saxon incursions began to pose a threat and the Colonia’s defences were strengthened. In 1648, during the English Civil War, a Royalist army took refuge within the walls when attacked by a superior Parliamentary force and an 11-week siege ensued. After this, the walls came to be of little importance and gradually decayed until a later age began to consider them of historical importance and worthy to be preserved and studied.

St Mary's-at-the-Wall
St Mary’s-at-the-Wall
John “Jumbo” Irvine’s church

I mentioned that the protestor against the Water Tower, John Irvine, was rector of St Mary’s Church. We went to take a look at it. Built in the medieval period, St Mary’s was badly damaged in the 1648 siege and rebuilt in 1713-4. Part of the medieval tower remains, however, though a new top was added to this in 1729.

St Mary's tower
St Mary’s tower
Medieval with 18th century additions

As the above photo shows, a substantial amount of the original medieval fabric remains and stands as firmly as when the original builders completed it, contributing to its Grade II listing.

A squirrel among the tombs
A squirrel among the tombs

John Irvine might have been dismayed to learn that his church has, in modern times, become surplus to requirements. It is now an Arts Centre, quite a dignified alternative use, I think, and a more useful one. Whereas the graveyards of many decommissioned churches have been cleared and turned into gardens, this one seems to have remained intact, though the gravestones and tombs show the inevitable erosion of time and weather. It also provides a sanctuary for wildlife, as witness this squirrel, perfectly at home in what he no doubt considers his domain.

The Bull
The Bull
Possibly the oldest pub in Colchester

A commercial building of any age is bound to suffer alteration as fashions and owners’ ambitions change. Of this handsome inn, English Heritage guardedly says that behind the 18th and 19th century exterior lies “an older core”. Others, less guardedly, suggest that it goes back as far as the early 15th century which would make it the oldest hostelry in Colchester.

The Bull
The Bull

For my part, I admired this fine bull who stands upon a bay window and represents the pub’s name.

Artist at work
Artist at work

We stopped for lunch in a restaurant and during the meal I watched an artist at work on the other side of the road. A number of people stopped and talked to him and he responded politely enough but he was completely absorbed in his task. He also looks the part, don’t you think?

16th century houses
16th century houses
Remodelled in the 1930s

An enduring style of building is that known variously as “Tudorbethan”, “Jacobethan” or “neo-Tudor”. Sometimes such buildings are genuinely old, sometimes they are purely modern and at still other times they are genuinely old structures renovated or rebuilt at some stage. The above double frontage in Crouch Street, now with shops on the ground floor, consists of an original 16th century timber framed house that was remodelled in the 1930s. It has suffered but still has a pleasant “olde” look about it.

Colchester Post Office
Colchester Post Office
1930s neo-Tudor

In contrast, Colchester Post Office on North Hill resides in a building that is purely neo-Tudor, having been designed and built in the 1930s. It is quite a pleasant building, I suppose, if one can avoid a feeling of cliché that such imitation naturally evokes.

Tymperleys
Tymperleys
Tudor merchant’s house, now a tea room

Finding ourselves in Trinity Street, we went into the grounds of Tymperleys, once a Tudor merchant’s house and now a rather pleasant tea room. Although the house has been altered and restored a number of times, enough remains of the original structure for English Heritage to accord it a Grade II* listing. A plaque informs us that this was once the home of William Gilbert or Gilberd (1544-1603), a physician, physicist and natural philosopher, known particularly for his 1600 book, De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure (On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and on the Great Magnet the Earth). In the 1950s, the house was occupied by Bernard Mason whose collection of clocks and watches, which he gave to the town, formed the Colchester Clock Museum (now closed). The house is set in a walled garden and access to the property is through a gateway, which results in a pleasant feeling of peaceful seclusion.

Two towers
Two towers
Colchester Town Hall and Holy Trinity Church

This view along Trinity Street shows two towers, in the background, that of Colchester Town Hall and, in the foreground, that of Holy Trinity Church. Though the church building was largely restored in the 1880s, much of the original 14th and 15th century fabric remains. The tower is even older, predating the Norman Conquest and composed mainly of Roman bricks.

Church interior
Church interior
Now a market and cafe

Worshippers from times past might be surprised or even outraged to see the interior today. The church was declared redundant in 1956 and passed into the ownership of the Borough Council.

The font
The font

Today it accommodates a market and a cafe. Though they were closing when we arrived, they invited us in to have a look and to take photos. Nothing much of the original furniture remains except the font, standing in lonely dignity among the goods on sale.

Colchester Town Hall
Colchester Town Hall
High Victorian design

We returned to the High Street to catch a bus to the station and there photographed the Town Hall. Because of its height, it is difficult to photograph in its entirety despite the generous width of the High Street (Did trams once run along it?). It was built in 1898, designed by John Belcher, and, in the words of the English Heritage Grade I listing, is of “Exceptionally rich design in free classical style; red brick and Portland stone”.

The Old Library
The Old Library
Now a restaurant

Adjacent to the Town Hall in West Stockwell Street is the old Court House, which is no longer used as such. My attention, however, was caught by this charming building next to it, in a style quite different from either the Town Hall or the Court. Today it is a restaurant but it once served a nobler purpose. In the almost blank rectangular space above the door, you can still just make out the words “PUBLIC LIBRARY”.

Beautiful glass and mouldings
Beautiful glass and mouldings

I believe the library was built in 1851 by Brightwen Binyon but beyond that known nothing about it. The beautiful window in the photo includes a semi-circular section that is a stained glass representation of the Colchester Coat of Arms.

Colchester Coat of Arms
Colchester Coat of Arms
Above the Old Library door

The Coat of Arms appears over the door of the Old Library, supported by two reclining female figures and two putti. The shield bears a white cross and three crowns. In some representations there are also three nails, one at either end of the horizontal bar of the cross and a third it the foot of the cross, presumably representing the nails used in the crucifixion. The symbolism refers to Saint Helena, the patron saint of Colchester. Helena was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine and is believed to have been born in Colchester (or, rather, Colonia Victrincensis). Helena undertook a journey to the Holy Land where, according to tradition, she discovered pieces of the True Cross which she triumphantly carried back to Constantinople. In this, she was clearly a naive victim of deception by souvenir vendors but the story has been believed by similarly naive people down to the present day.

It may be a pity that such a handsome library no longer serves the purpose for which it was made but our regret may be somewhat mitigated by the fact that Colchester has a splendid modern library and that the old library does at least still exist though serving a different use.

This is not our first visit to Colchester (see, for example, A damp day in Camulodunum) but the trip was worthwhile because we discovered things, such as the Balkerne Gate, that we had not seen before and had a close up view of Jumbo, previously only seen from a distance. We will no doubt return on another day. What will we discover then?

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Anniversary and birthday

Monday, August 27th 2014

Today is August Bank Holiday Monday. As I indicated yesterday, this is a special day for us. It is the day when we celebrate our anniversary. This is what you might call our “official anniversary” because we are no longer sure of the actual date when we met. In any case, what do you mean by “met” and at which stage in a relationship do you decide that this particular day, apart from all others you have shared, is the one to remember each year as The Anniversary? We settled on the August Bank Holiday Monday as a date that was as good as any other and had the advantage of being a day when we were free from work and other commitments. If you are interested to know how we came together, see Anniversary.

The title of today’s post has a second element – “birthday”. But whose is it? Just as we have an official anniversary so Freya, the third member of our trio, has an “official birthday”. We don’t know when she was born and so we include her birthday along with our anniversary celebrations. Freya doesn’t know about anniversaries and birthdays, of course, but she is happy to participate in a few extra cuddles without bothering with reasons.

Gallipoli
Gallipoli
Breakfast à la Turque

As it is a Bank Holiday, what do you think the weather was doing? Yes, it was raining cats and dogs. This is practically guaranteed for a British Bank Holiday. Notwithstanding, we bravely set forth to find breakfast. Looking at the menus of all the cafes we encountered, we strolled along Upper Street until we arrived at Gallipoli, a Turkish cafe-restaurant. To tell the truth, we had had this establishment in mind all along.

Gallipoli inside

The name Gallipoli may strike some as ominous because of the infamous military campaign conducted there during the First World War which led to a disastrous defeat of the Allies by the Ottoman Empire. However, the name Gallipoli originally derives from the Greek “Καλλίπολις” (Kallipolis), meaning Beautiful City and that is perhaps a better way to think of it.

Gallipoli interior
Gallipoli interior
Click to see a larger version

We chose a Turkish breakfast with Turkish tea and enjoyed the elaborate decor which includes old photos and all kinds of ornaments, including many examples of the nazar boncuğu  to ward off the evil eye. There were also dizzyingly many lamps hanging from the ceiling, some so low that I had to be careful not to knock them with my head!

When we left the cafe, it was still raining and the sky was showing an unpromising appearance. As we had recently been away, we were happy to return home to Freya and spend the rest of the day relaxing indoors.

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