Slough and Windsor

Tuesday, April 25th 2017

The plan was to go to Slough and concentrate our efforts there. Why Slough? I’m not sure, really. Perhaps, like mountaineers, we visit these places because they are there. Slough turned out to be rather dull and so we quickly moved on, stopping only to take a few photos here are there.

Slough Railway Station
Slough Railway Station

We reached Slough by rail, disembarking at its rather fine Victorian station. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Slough’s finest building. The station, parts of which are listed (but not the station as a whole, apparently), was designed by John Danks in French Renaissance style and opened in 1840, although the railway had reached Slough two years earlier. The story goes that the Headmaster of Eton College had objected to the building of a station on the grounds that it would be a corrupting influence on his pupils. Train tickets were sold in the local pub.

The etymology of the name ‘Slough’ (pronounced to rhyme with ‘bough’) is uncertain. It first appears in written form in 1196 as Slo and through the ages mutates through Slow or Slowe to the modern Slough. Several proposals for the name’s meaning have been proposed but none has been definitely proven. (See here for a discussion of the topic.)

Tree of Birds
Tree of Birds
Giuseppe and school children

We wandered around the centre which was noisy and full of the usual shops with their garish signage. If you were to tell me that there are nicer parts of Slough, I would believe it but, if so, we didn’t see them. My attention was caught by a tree, not an ordinary tree but a tree made of metal with birds perched on the branches. It turns out that this artwork is by an artist named only as Giuseppe with the help of school children who made the birds.

World War I Centenary Memorial
World War I Centenary Memorial

Many events have taken place around Britain to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, 1914-1918/9. Slough’s contribution is the above memorial inscribed ‘SLOUGH’S MEMORIAL TO THE FALLEN’. This is in addition to a more conventional town war memorial raised in 1921 and now sited in the grounds of St Mary’s Church.

Inscription
Inscription

On one side of the base has been carved this inscription. It is in rather fanciful lettering but I think it is intended to spell out ‘FREEDOM’.

Finding Slough not to our taste, we boarded a bus and headed south-west, crossing the River Jubilee and then the Thames to arrive at Windsor.

Battlements (part) of Windsor Castle
Battlements (part) of Windsor Castle

Windsor is known for its huge castle (one of a ring of castles around London built by William the Conqueror) which is a Royal residence. The British monarchy is of German descent and the family name was until 1917 Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In that year, however, George V issued a proclamation changing the family name to Windsor. The reason given for this was the anti-German sentiment generated in the population by the First World War.

The name of the town is generally agreed to derive from two words, windels (‘windlass’) and sora (‘shore’), indicating a place on the riverbank where there was a winch (perhaps for hauling boats onto the shore). Other derivations have been suggested.

Windsor is part of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead within the County of Berkshire. References to royalty of course abound, mostly with an eye to tourism.

King Edward VII Gateway
King Edward VII Gateway

One such royal reference is to be found in this structure known as the King Edward VII Gateway. It was donated, the plaque tells us, by Sir Jesse Boot (founder of the chain of chemist’s shops of the same name) and opened by Princess Alice (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) in 1921.

Windsor Royal Station of Shopping Centre
Windsor Royal Station of Shopping Centre

The adjective ‘royal’ appears again on this rather noble façade. Windsor is the terminus of the railway line from Slough and possesses two stations, Windsor and Eton Riverside and this one, Windsor and Eton Central Station, which was opened in 1849 and is now Grade II listed. Among other features, it includes a private waiting room for Queen Victoria. The boldly displayed date 1897 refers to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Rail traffic to and from Windsor has declined considerably since the station was built. Of the four original platforms, three have been closed down and the remaining one has been shortened. It is unsurprising, therefore that the building is now shared by the railway and by a shopping  centre calling itself Windsor Royal Shopping. The coat of arms at the top of the gable is that of the Great Western Railway who built the line and the station.

Golden Jubilee Statue of Queen Victoria
Golden Jubilee Statue of Queen Victoria
Joseph Edgar Boehm, (unveiled) 1887

There is a prominent crossroads where Castle Hill meets the High Street. This site was chosen for a statue to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Sculpted by Joseph Edgar Boehm and financed by public subscription, it was unveiled in June of that year with the Queen in attendance. Like all of Victoria’s statues, this one shows her in regal pose, every inch an empress. She seems gigantic and one might not realize that in reality, this powerful monarch was rather short – a shade under 5 feet – though somewhat plump in later life.

Market Cross House
Market Cross House

Every self-respecting ancient town must possess at least one wonky building. Windsor meets the requirement in Market Cross House, also known for obvious reasons as the Crooked House. Built in 1687 as a commercial property with two storeys and an attic, it was somewhat altered in the the 18th century. When did the building begin to lean? There is no certain information about this but it seems possible that this happened after adjoining houses were demolished in the 1820s. It is said that the building has been stabilised with steel supports. It is Grade II listed.

In front of Market Cross House you can see a drinking fountain. I didn’t have time to photograph it separately. It is dated 1878 and was refurbished in 1977 in honour of the Jubilee of the present Queen.

Windsor Guildhall
Windsor Guildhall

Right next door to the Crooked House and drinking fountain is the Windsor Guildhall with a fine colonnade. Records reveal that there were earlier Guildhalls but this Grade II listed building was begun in 1687 by St Thomas Fitz and completed after his death by no less an architect than Christopher Wren. As the name suggests, the guilds transacted their businesses here but the building awas lso used by the town administration and as a magistrates’ court. In modern times events and ceremonies may be held here and it is the home of the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum.

Parish Church of St John the Baptist
Parish Church of St John the Baptist

A church had existed here probably from Anglo-Saxon times and by all accounts it grew to be very large and complex in layout. Between 1820 and 1822, however, the church was rebuilt with its outline following that of the old one, with addition being applied in 1870. It now rejoices in a Grade II* listing.

The Ancient Well
The Ancient Well

As well as a wonky building, a self-respecting ancient town also needs an ancient well. Windsor scores here too with its very own well. We are left in no doubt that this is indeed such an entity because it is labelled in big letters ‘ANCIENT WELL’. I don’t know how ancient it is or anything else about it as information on it is hard to come by.

Blue posting box for airmail
Blue posting box for airmail

Near the Ancient Well, we found two pillar boxes. One was painted the usual red colour but the other was blue! It soon became apparent that this was no whimsy on the part of the Royal Mail or of some passing paint-vandal. Blue posting boxes did exist for a short time for a particular purpose and this one has been kept as a commemoration of that.

The royal cypher, GR (for George V), gives us an approximate age for the box. Better still, the text replacing the old collection times data, spells out the story:

CORONATION AERIAL POST

On 9th September 1911, Gustav Hamel took off from Hendon Aerodrome in his frail Bleriot monoplane to inaugurate the first United Kingdom aerial post and landed in Shaw Farm meadow, Long Walk, Windsor. The flight was organised to carry special mail celebrating the coronation of King George V.

Within a few years, Air Mail services became well established and between 1930 and 1938, special blue pillar boxes like this commemorative one were used for posting Air Letters.

It was later decided that having two sets of boxes was unnecessarily complicated and the blue ones eventually disappeared.

Bachelors' Acre
Bachelors’ Acre

We took a look at a park and recreation ground called Bachelors’ Acre. From ancient times this ground has been used as a meeting place for the townsfolk and for a market. The name comes from the fact that in 1809, a group of local people calling themselves the ‘Bachelors of Windsor’, took it upon themselves to renovate the area.

Bachelors' Acre Obelisk
Bachelors’ Acre Obelisk

Completion of the renovation work in 1810 coincided with the Golden Jubilee of King George III and in order to celebrate these events an obelisk was raised and a hog roast with plum pudding took place, as recorded in the inscription on the Grade II listed monument.

The Windsor Lady
The Windsor Lady
Lydia Karpinska

A rather more modern monument is this group of sculptures by Lydia Karpinska entitled The Windsor Lady, representing the Queen, dressed as for a country ramble, with a number of Corgi  dogs. It was done in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

The Thames
The Thames

We went to have a look at the Thames and then it was time to start making tracks for home. Ironically, in order to have the cheapest train tickets, we had elected to travel by specific trains to and from Slough. This meant that we now had to catch a bus to take us back to Slough in order to travel from there by our designated train back to London. We may one day return to Windsor but I don’t think we shall revisit Slough.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Accidental Braintree

Monday, April 24th 2017

We had meant to go to Basildon today. However, when we bought our train tickets from the ticket machine at our departure station, someone (no names, no pack drill) typed the word ‘BRAINTREE’ instead of ‘BASILDON’. Why, I don’t know. One of those strange little quirks of fate. So, anyway, and albeit by accident, we went to Braintree.

Braintree is in the county of Essex and forms one point of a slender triangle whose other points are occupied by Chelmsford and Colchester. The settlement that was to be Braintree grew up on the banks of the River Brain from which it evidently takes its name. ‘Brain’ and its cognates are common Celtic names for watercourses and mean little more than ‘river’. Even so, the derivation of the name of Braintree remains obscure and is argued over. Several possible etymologies have been proposed but at this late date, none can be proven. A selection will be found in the etymology section of Wikipedia’s Braintree, Essex.

Braintree Station
Braintree Station

Braintree is a railway terminus. Here you literally reach the end of the line and you either stay or go back from whence you came. The  railway reached here in 1848 but this station, Braintree’s second, was built in 1865 and is Grade II listed. To be honest, I did not really take to Braintree and found it rather dull. There follow a few items that attracted my notice as we rambled around the town.

The old Post Office
The old Post Office

Post Offices are buildings I always look out for when visiting an unfamiliar town. In times past, they were always large and rather grand. Nowadays they are being sold off and their business moved to ‘post office shops’, indistinguishable except by their signage from any of the other shops in the street. One cannot argue with economic necessity, of course, but our admiration of these buildings is now perforce tinged with nostalgia.

Mercury's head is above the door
Mercury’s head is above the door

The Post Office was aware of its importance in maintaining communications nationally and with the rest of the world. Its adoption of the figure of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, as its symbol was obvious and appropriate. This post office features the head of Mercury above the door. Designed by architect David Dyke, in the robust red-brick style of the inter-war years, it was built in 1931 and is now a Job Centre.

Braintree Public Library
Braintree Public Library

We paid a visit to the public library which was built in 1997. We find libraries interesting in themselves but while we were there we had a look at the books on Braintree and Essex.

The Embassy Cinema
The Embassy Cinema
Now a pub

This solid-looking building is, or rather was, the Embassy Cinema, which opened in 1935. It succeeded the Picture Palace Cinema of 1912 on the same site. Under several different managements and names, it continued operations until 1993. Subsequently, it was bought by Wetherspoons, a company well known for its love of converting interesting buildings, and opened as a pub called The Picture Palace, in which role it has continued up to the present.

Braintree Town Hall
Braintree Town Hall

This is Braintree’s Town Hall. The tower contains bells that can still be rung though I don’t know whether they ever are. Now Grade II* listed, It was designed by Vincent Harris and opened in 1928. A large donation towards the cost was made by William J. Courtauld. The Courtauld family had opened a silk mill here in the 19th century and continued thereafter to have a strong influence on the town.

Market Place Drinking Fountain
Market Place Drinking Fountain

In the Victorian era and even later, donating drinking fountains was a popular way for people to show their philanthropy or to gain public notice. How useful and important such installations were I am unsure. Certainly, obtaining clean water for drinking and cooking was not always easy before the modern era. Drinking fountains were also provided by temperance groups to give thirsty folk an alternative to the pub. A moulded inscription tells us that this fountain was ‘Presented to the town of BRAINTREE by G. COURTAULD MP. 1882’. Older photographs show a different lamp, for example here. The present lamp was originally surmounted by the figure of a flying owl but that has disappeared.

The Boar's Head
The Boar’s Head

Braintree, like any old established town, has plenty of pubs, though some have by now been ‘repurposed’ owing to the decline in the pub trade. This is the Boar’s Head which was probably first built in the 15th century to an H-shaped plan with a central hall. I don’t know how much of the original structure remains as we did not go in.

The White Hart
The White Hart

The timber-framed White Hart at Bocking End is said to be even older, dating from the 14th century with a new wing added in the 18th. In the 19th century it became a coaching inn, servicing coaches travelling to and from Norwich and other towns.

The Victorian Water Tower
The Victorian Water Tower

This is a Victorian (1857) water tower at Swan Side. No longer required for its original purpose it will probably be converted for residential use.

Church of St Michael
Church of St Michael

To be honest, I saw St Michael’s and dismissed it as yet another Victorian parish church. We did not go inside or even go very close to it. However, it turns out that it has a much longer history than one might suppose from a quick glance at the exterior. Historic England accords it a prestigious Grade II* listing and tells us in its listing that the church was first built in the 12th to 13th centuries, enlarged in the 15th to 16th and then underwent three episodes of restoration in the Victorian era.

Our attention had been distracted from the church by the curious structure in front of it. I gawped at it in amazement.

Fountain
Fountain

At present the fountain is dry but I understand that there are plans to restore the flow at great expense. An inscription informs us that the fountain, designed and created by John Hodge c.1938, was ‘THE GIFT OF WILLIAM JULIAN COURTAULD ESQ.JP. OF PENYPOT HALSTEAD TO THE TOWN OF BRAINTREE IN MEMORY OF KING GEORGE V’.

Boy with dolphins
Boy with dolphins

The main figure is a boy holding two rather small dolphins. At his feet is an otter standing on its hind legs and there are four other otters around the bowl, all similarly standing. Apparently, when the fountain is working, they spout water. According to Historic England, which gives it a Grade II listing, ‘This fountain exhibits a good deal of playfulness’ and at least one local newspaper applies to it the adjective ‘iconic’. No to both: this fountain is simply grotesque. For the reputation of the town it should be made to quietly disappear.

We retired to a cafe for tea and then made our way to the station. On such a short visit, we possibly missed a lot of what Braintree has to offer but from what I did see, I am in no mind to return to find out.

Town sign Town sign
Town sign

The town sign bears Braintree’s coat of arms. An explanation of its symbolism will be found here.

________

1Essex (The Buildings of Egland) by Nikolaus Pevsner, Third Revised Edition, 1999, ISBN 0140710116.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Nunhead Cemetery

Sunday, April 23rd 2017

By the time that Queen Victoria came to the throne and consequent upon the continuing expansion of London’s population, burial grounds attached to churches had become full, in some cases with unpleasant results. Between 1832 and 1841, seven new burial grounds, sited around the outskirts of London, were commissioned by the government. Later known informally as the ‘Magnificent Seven’, they were privately owned. One such was the All Saints Cemetery that opened in 1840 in Nunhead, then a small hamlet surrounded by farmland. Lying within what is now the Borough of Southwark, the cemetery is sited upon a hill, providing fine views over the City and as far as the North Downs.

All Saints was run by the London Cemetery Company, owners also of Highgate Cemetery. Faced with financial difficulties, the company gave notice in 1969 that it would close the cemetery. As a result of campaigning by local residents, the Borough of Southwark took over ownership in 1975.

The aspect of the cemetery today is that it has been neglected with minimal upkeep being maintained. Tombstone and memorials have fallen or crumbled and the trees and bushes, some of them exotic, have spread freely. on the positive side, however, the cemetery now plays the role of an important urban nature reserve and a park for human visitors.

The i am you tree
The i am you tree
Totem Pole sculpture by Morganico, 2014

We left the bus on the edge of Peckham Rye Common and walked from there. Here we found an imposing sculpture, carved from an old tree, by artist Morganico. The artist’s Website dates it to 2015 but the correct dates appears to be 2014 – see here.

The Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh Castle

Coming upon this pub, we thought of stopping for a rest and refreshment. It turned out to an expensive stop. We had our drinks and then prepared to leave. I went to pick up my shoulder bag that always accompanies me on outings. It wasn’t where I thought I had left it. We looked all around but could not find it.

What do you think if a bag that you think you had with you is no longer there? If you are me, you wonder whether it is your memory playing tricks. My memory often lets me down and I could not be certain that I had brought my bag with me though, equally, I could not imagine leaving home without it. Tigger too was sure that I had brought it. Should I have made a fuss, reported the loss to the police? Because of my uncertainty, I did neither. I hoped that I had left the bag at home but that hope of course turned out to be false. Someone had stolen my bag while we were in the pub.

I think I know how it was done – it was a theft by distraction – and the identity one of those involved, but as I cannot prove this, I must not name suspects.

Happily, the loss was not great in financial terms – a backup battery for my iPhone, a cheap pair of binoculars and a few other odds and ends – but it is annoying nonetheless and I wish an evil fate on the perpetrators.

All Saints Cemetery, Nunhead
All Saints Cemetery, Nunhead

We at last reached the gates of the cemetery. They are decorated with these rather odd iron symbols which appear to represent flaming torches held upside down. Here is a close-up view of one of them:

Reversed torch
Reversed torch

Nunhead Cemetery, as it is generally called, was designed by James_Bunstone_Bunning (1802-63) and is Grade II* listed.

View from inside the gate
View from inside the gate

Stepping through the gates, one has this view with the surviving chapel in the background. We turned along the path going off to the right.

The West Lodge
The West Lodge

Nunhead Cemetery has two lodges, known as the East Lodge and the West Lodge, respectively, designed by James Bunning and built around 1844. Both are Grade II listed. The photo pictures the West Lodge which consists of a single storey with a basement. In their day, the lodges would presumably have accommodated cemetery staff, obviously no longer the case. The West Lodge was converted and rented to council tenants but subsequently passed into private ownership under the government’s right-to-buy legislation. I don’t know the present status of the East Lodge which was until recently in a dilapidated condition and in need of restoration (see here).

The Scottish Martyrs Memorial
The Scottish Martyrs Memorial

Nearby, two paths converge and at their intersection stands a column. It is the Scottish Martyrs Memorial and bears the date MDCCCXLI (1841). The ‘Scottish Martyrs’ (not all were Scottish) were a group of men campaigning for the voting rights that we today take for granted. They were charged with sedition, brought to trial and transported to Australia. An information board provides a good outline history of the event and you can read it here. The memorial was funded by public subscription and is Grade II listed. (And, yes, it is slightly off the vertical – that’s not my poor camera work!)

Below are a few more views of the cemetery. It should be borne in mind that what looks untidy and overgrown to us looks like a haven to wildlife. It is right that a careful balance be struck between an historic site that can be comfortably visited by the public and a semi-wilderness where wildlife can find refuge and a living-space.

Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery

Though many of the graves are in a ruinous condition, some show that their occupants are still remembered.

Nunhead Cemetery Chapel
Nunhead Cemetery Chapel

Situated at the top of a broad path and visible from the entrance, is the Grade II listed Nunhead Cemetery Chapel. It stands to one side of the path because originally there were two chapels. Though the cemetery was built mainly for burials under the aegis of the Church of England, a small section of it was dedicated to Non-Conformists. Two chapels were built, one for Anglicans and one for Non-Conformists, both designed by Thomas Little in Gothic style.

The Anglican Chapel
The Anglican Chapel

Unfortunately, the Non-Conformist Chapel was destroyed during WWII bombing and nothing of it remains.

Chapel interior
Chapel interior with artworks on display

Neither did the Anglican Chapel escape unscathed, however, for it fell victim to an arson attack in the 1970s which destroyed the interior and the roof. The building has been stabilized but remains a shell.

Looking from the Chapel towards the entrance
Looking from the Chapel towards the entrance

Whether or not you like cemeteries, a visit to an historic one like Nunhead is always interesting and on a bright day like today provides a pleasant park-like space in which to stroll. Tomb hunters will find many names of historic importance here and a huge array of tomb designs, from the minimalist to the flamboyant, to mull over. The Website and blog of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery can be consulted for more information and news.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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