Colchester and Hollytrees Museum

Saturday, May 26th 2018

Colchester is one of the towns that we visit from time to time. When we go there, we usually discover something new that makes the trip worthwhile. Colchester is in the county of Essex and it you want to locate it on the map, you can click on this OpenStreetMap link.

The modern town is built around a Roman settlement whose outline can still be seen in the substantial remains of its town walls. The Romans called the town Camulodunum, a Romanization of the Celtic name, Camulodunon, which probably meant ‘fortress of Camulos’, the latter personage being the Celtic god of war. Under the Romans, the town was a colonia, a term that was originally applied to military posts in conquered territory but eventually came to designate a city of high status.

Camulodunum stood beside the River Colne which runs through the modern Colchester. The name Colne is Celtic but its meaning remains uncertain. At least half a dozen rivers in Britain bear the same name and share it with at least two towns.

So where does the modern name, Colchester, come from? The particle chester of course derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ceaster which designated towns inherited from the Romans. In Domesday Book (1086), the name appears as Colneceaster, which strongly suggests that the name is derived from that of the river. It could be, though, that the scribes made this assumption and spelled the name accordingly. (They often garbled the, to them foreign, Old English names.) On the other hand, the Romano-British called the town Colonia Camulodunum and it is possible that the Anglo-Saxons took the first word and added ceaster. (They might have found Camulodunum something of a tongue-twister!) It is now impossible to be certain which is the correct derivation.

Below, just for fun, is a plot of our stroll through Colchester today. The ‘pins’ indicate where the photos were taken. Unfortunately, they are not clickable.

Our path through Colchester
Our path through Colchester

As usual, we travelled to our destination by train and alighted at Colchester Station, also informally called Colchester North to distinguish it from Colchester Town Station.

Colchester Station (south side)
Colchester Station (south side)

The station was opened in 1843 but increasing numbers of trains and passengers required it to be extended and modernized. The original and modern parts both co-exist. We left by the station’s south entrance which is the original Victorian building.

Jumbo signpost
Jumbo signpost

Colchester (North) Station is a mile from the centre of town and nearby is a signpost indicating the way to the centre for people wishing to go on foot. (Buses stop nearby.) The metal sign is in the shape of an elephant and a plaque beside it explains that this is a reference to the arrival of the Roman invading force in AD 43 when the emperor Claudius was present in person and, in order to impress the locals, came mounted upon an elephant. To me, though, it recalled Colchester’s famous landmark water tower that is known popularly as Jumbo (see Water tower and Roman gate). There are other elephant signposts in town as well.

The River Colne
The River Colne

As mentioned above, the River Colne runs through the modern town of Colchester though it ran past the Roman Camulodunum just to the north of the walls (see the map on this page). On our way to town we crossed the river by the bridge in North Station Road. Here, the river is very calm and picturesque with its decor of greenery.

Roman wall and drinking fountain
Roman wall and drinking fountain

A little further south, North Station Road becomes North Hill and on your right (looking south) is a road called Middleborough. At this junction we find part of the town walls. As you can see from the photo, they have been patched and repaired several times during their history. The town walls have collectively received a Grade I listing and the Historic England listing entry carefully catalogues all of its various parts. For other views of the wall see Water tower and Roman gate.)

The drinking fountain is known as the Taverner John Miller Fountain, having been presented to the town by the man whose name it bears. He was Colchester’s MP in 1857-67 and the fountain was inaugurated in 1864. It no longer provides water but remains as a dumb memorial to its donor.

North Hill
North Hill

We continued towards the town’s centre via North Hill, which seems quite a climb on a warm day!

The Post Office
The Post Office

At the end of North Hill, just before it becomes Head Street and meets the High Street, we find this large Tudoresque building that is the home of the Post Office. A glance is sufficient to see that it is not a genuine Tudor structure but is a work of ‘Tudorbethan’ or Tudor Revival architecture built in the 1930s.

The War Memorial
The War Memorial

We walked along the High Street until with reached the castle. Close by is Colchester War Memorial. It was originally erected in 1923 to commemorate the fallen in the Great War but had to be modified later to include the names of those who gave their lives in the Second World War. It is topped with a bronze figure representing winged Victory that was sculpted by Henry Charles Fehr (1867-1940).

Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle

The mass of Colchester’s Norman castle loomed nearby but we were not visiting it today. We did so on a previous occasion (see A damp day in Camulodunum). Colchester Castle is a museum and well worth a visit. There is a moderate admission charge but photography is allowed (or it was when we went there). Our destination today, however, was another museum close by.

Hollytrees Museum

Hollytrees Museum

Hollytrees Museum
Hollytrees Museum

Hollytrees Museum resides in a handsome house. Admission is free (our favourite price!) and photography is allowed.

The house was built in 1718 as a family home. The house acquired its name towards the end of the 18th century when the then owner restored the castle and landscaped the grounds, whose planting included hollytrees. More details of the house’s history will be found on this page of the museum Website. The theme of the museum is domestic and social life over the last 300 years.

Longcase Clocks
Longcase Clocks

I, of course, was attracted by the clocks, of which there was a good collection.

Clock face signed by Nathaniel Hedge
Clock face signed by Nathaniel Hedge

Some of the clocks were signed by Nathaniel Hedge, a local clockmaker working in the 18th century whose clocks are still bought and sold in today’s antiques markets.

Dolls House
Dolls House

Not merely a toy, this dolls house presented a view of life in times past with figures in the various rooms engaging in day-to-day activities such as the lady’s maid brushing her mistress’s hair (second room from the top on the right). Dolls houses have always been popular as toys but also attract adult collectors, to judge from the number of shops selling them together with miniature furniture and other items.

Domestic cleaning implements
Domestic cleaning implements

In an age when washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, etc. are considered essentials, it is as well to be reminded of times not so long ago when such labour-saving devices did not exist. Of course, if you were wealthy, you did not care whether they existed or not because it was the servants who did the hard work.

The Castle Grounds
The Castle Grounds

The rear of the house looks out onto the Castle grounds which are today arranged as a graceful park for the public to enjoy.

Firstsite
Firstsite

Before leaving Colchester we visited this rather unprepossessing building with a silly name to match its unappealing appearance. Called Firstsite, it is an art gallery and centre for exhibitions and events. We have visited it before and did so again today, hoping to see something of interest. In that I was disappointed though I suppose that might say more about my own artistic preferences than about the works on display. Maybe one day there will be an exhibition that I actually like.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Hastings Museum

Thursday, May 24th 2018

This is our last day in Hastings but as the journey home is not long, we can still spend some time in the town before leaving. We checked out of the hotel and left our bags in their care until later. Then we walked up the hill to the museum. I thought it might amuse you to see our route plotted on a map of the area.

Visiting the museum
Visiting the museum
(Click for larger version)

Beside the White Rock Theatre we walked up the oddly named Schwerte Way (its name is hidden on the above map) and passed via St Margaret’s Road to the French-sounding Falaise Road and hence to the museum on the other side of Bohemia Road. (You will find the corresponding live OpenStreetMap here.) If you are wondering about the cat’s cradle of route-lines at the hotel, this is because my geotagger, a Qstarz BT-1000XT, tends to produce such a flurry of spurious tracks if I spend some time sitting still – it’s one of its little vices that you get used to. In all other ways it is a splendid device that shows you exactly where you went and where you took photos. The above plot was produced by Geosetter, using the .gpx file derived from the geotagger’s log and the photos used in this post. (GeoSetter is a very nice free application for showing routes and the positions of photos and it exists in a portable version.)

Southern Water Clock Tower
Southern Water Clock Tower

The first object of interest that we found was this clock tower. It is sited where Falaise Road bends to the right and was installed by Southern Water as part of the £43 million Hastings Bathing Water Improvement Scheme and was completed in April 2000. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it is tucked away here as I think it deserves a more prominent position.

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery
Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

According to its Website (see About us/About the Museum), Hastings Museum and Art Gallery has existed for 120 years. However, according to a plaque on the side, this particular  building was erected in 1923 and became a museum in 1928, with additions made in 1930 and 2006. With its crenellations, the building recalls a castle and this is perhaps not amiss in what is after all ‘1066 country’. (To see a genuine Norman castle, you could climb up Castle Hill Road and visit the ruins of Hastings Castle.)

Longcase clocks
Longcase clocks

The museum covers the history of Hastings and presents displays of objects which, though interesting, are not necessarily photogenic. Among the exhibits that caught my eye were the longcase, or ‘grandfather’, clocks that once graced every affluent household. The above pair are examples.

Signed by R. Weston
Signed by R. Weston

The clock on the right is signed by R. Weston, a clockmaker of Hastings, who was active, I think, in the earlier half of the 19th century.

Durbar Hall, lower floor
Durbar Hall, lower floor

A substantial number of  exhibits come from the collections of the wealthy and influential Brassey Family who donated them to the museum. Undoubtedly, the most remarkable of their exhibits, and the one we spent most time on, was the Durbar Hall. Durbar Halls or Courts were a traditional feature of Indian cultural life and were built, usually by rulers, as a place to hold both formal and informal meetings.

Lower floor seen from above
Lower floor seen from above 1

The Durbar Hall that we can visit in Hastings Museum was made for the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London to show visitors what a typical Indian Palace was like. It was designed by Caspar Purdon Clarke and the carvings were done by two carvers, Mohammed Baksh and Mohammed Juma, brought from India specially for the task.

Lower floor seen from above
Lower floor seen from above 2

After the exhibition, Lord Brassey bought the Durbar Hall and had it fitted into his house. Eventually, it came into the possession of the museum. It consists of lower and upper levels joined by a staircase. Light levels in the Hall are kept low which makes photography a little difficult.

Chandelier on the upper floor
Chandelier on the upper floor

More information can be found about the Hall on the  museum’s Web page. As the information is accessed by clicking on the main menu, I cannot give you URLs. You need go to the Brassey Family Collection page and click on the two Durbar Hall images that you will find there.

Upper floor, detail of carving
Upper floor, detail of carving

All the surfaces are elaborately carved. It seems remarkable that all this work  was done by just two men and could be completed in a reasonable amount of time.

Carving of the god Ganesha
Carving of the god Ganesha

Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god is known as the ‘enabler’ and ‘remover of obstacles’ or, perhaps in British thinking, the god of good luck. He is one of the best loved of the gods, easily recognized by non-Hindus because of his elephant head. He is often depicted with sweets which he loves and which may explain his pot belly!

The ceiling

The ceiling
The ceiling

Stained glass window
Stained glass window

Door decorated with carvings
Door decorated with carvings

The Durbar Hall is the museum’s largest exhibit and possibly its most exotic. It is also extremely beautiful and the workmanship of the decor is remarkable.

Paintings by Vincent Lines
Paintings by Vincent Lines

The museum was also hosting a Vincent Lines Memorial Exhibition. Though Vincent Lines (1909-68) was not a local painter by birth (he was born in London where he studied at the Central School of Arts & Crafts and the Royal College of Art), Lines earned the right to be considered such because he became the principal of the Hastings School of Art in 1945, a post which he held until his sudden death in 1968.

Though Lines seems fairly well known, his paintings are scattered in small collections and among dealers. This exhibition was an opportunity to see a number of his works brought together. Elected an associate (1939) and then a full member (1945) of the Royal Watercolour Society he also painted in oils. Typical subjects are the countryside and the traditions of a bygone age and there is a gentleness to his art which we may welcome in an age of violence and confrontation.

Tucked away in its corner in Bohemia Road, the Hastings Museum and Gallery of Art is easily overlooked by the visitor but it should not be missed if only for the magnificent Durbar Hall.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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A look at Rye

Wednesday, May 23rd 2018

Today’s trip was to the picturesque East Sussex town of Rye. The map below shows its position in relation to Hastings. (Click for the OpenStreetMap of the area.)

Rye on the map
Rye on the map
(Click for the OpenStreetMap.)

Rye was once an important port but changes to the environment, including storms that changed the course of the River Rother, silting of the port and the development of large ships requiring deep-water ports, led to a decline. Fishing and smuggling then became more prominent activities. Rye was nonetheless a member of the confederation of the Cinque Ports as an ‘Antient Town’: see The Cinque Ports for more details. A brief history of Rye may be found here.

The town’s name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ieg, meaning an island or a dry area within a marsh. Later, the word attter, meaning ‘at the’, was prefixed to the name and in due course the ‘r’ became added to the name to give the modern ‘Rye’.

We have visited on Rye on other occasions. See, for example, Anniversary in Rye.

Rye Railway Station
Rye Railway Station

We travelled to Rye by train, arriving at its Victorian railway station.

Alleyway
Alleyway

Rye retains features of its ancient past, such as alleyways and narrow passages,

The Mint
The Mint

and narrow, curvaceous streets. This one is called The Mint and runs, at the top end, into the High Street. In ancient times, Rye did indeed have the right to strike coins.

Lion Street, looking towards St Mary's Church
Lion Street, looking towards St Mary’s Church

Looking along Lion Street gives you a glimpse of St Mary’s Church with its unusual clock.

Ye Old Olde Bell Inn
Ye Old Olde Bell Inn

They are plenty of historic buildings in the town (see Anniversary in Rye for more), including this pub which bears the cod Old English name of Ye Olde Bell. It is Grade II listed but even Historic England has refrained from committing itself to a date of origin because the building has been altered and extended so many times. Other sources suggest a 15th- or even a 14th-century date. The pub is said to have been one of the hang-outs of the notorious 18th-century band of smugglers known as the Hawksworth Gang who used a tunnel linking this pub with the Mermaid to avoid capture. The pub’s name, the Bell, is said to commemorate a raid by men of Rye into France in 1378 when they recovered the church’s bells, stolen the previous year by raiders from France. One of the bells (no doubt the bell of the pub’s name) was set up to be rung as a warning of any future attacks.

The High Street
The High Street

The Mint, as noted, runs into the High Street which, as its name suggests, is the town’s main shopping street and hub of activity.

The Apothecary
The Apothecary

We paid a visit to the Apothecary, not because we wanted medicine or rat poison but because that is the name of the local coffee house. Whether there really was an apothecary’s shop here, I do not know, but in Rye, that is quite possible.

Herring Gull on a car
Herring Gull on a car

Even though the sea has withdrawn from Rye, there are plenty of herring gulls in town. They can be seen perching on buildings and even on cars, as here, watching out for dropped food which they quickly snatch up, sometimes squabbling noisily as several compete for the same morsel.

Rye Town Hall
Rye Town Hall

Rye’s town hall is a handsome building completed in 1743 to a design by Andrew Jelf who was responsible for a number of public buildings in this and other towns. This is Rye’s third town hall. I don’t know why the second one was replaced (perhaps it was by then too small for the growing town) but the demise of the first is well known: it was burnt down by those pesky French in the above mentioned raid of 1377. On the ground floor is an open area or colonnade with arches. The town hall is situated in Market Street and I wonder whether market stallholders once operated here, though I have seen no definite reference to this. According to Historic England’s Grade II* listing for this building, the central arch once accommodated a fire engine.

St Mary's Church
St Mary’s Church

The parish church, dedicated to St Mary, is surprisingly large and magnificent for such a relatively small town. Reasons for this include the town’s prestige as a member of th confederation of the Cinque Ports and the fact that it first building took place in the 12th century when Rye and its area were still owned by the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy.

St Mary's Church
St Mary’s Church

Numerous changes, additions and repairs have taken place since the church was first founded, not least in 1377 when it was set on fire by… yes, you guessed… those naughty French raiders. The roof fell in and the bells were stolen and carried off to Normandy. As mentioned, they were recovered the following year with other loot in an English retaliatory raid.

Stained glass windows
Stained glass windows

St Mary’s has some fine stained glass windows and other furnishings of note,

Memorial to John Woolett, Esq.
Memorial to John Woolett, Esq.

such as this finely modelled 1819 memorial plaque in memory of one John Woolett, Esq., but, for my money, its most interesting possession is its clock.

The clock's pendulum
The clock’s pendulum

The clock was first installed in 1561-2 and is one of the oldest church clocks still in working order. (There are several claimants for the title of the oldest working clock but I think that honour currently belongs to the clock of Salisbury Cathedral.) It originally did not possess a pendulum but one was added later, presumably to improve the accuracy of its timekeeping. The first pendulum was installed in 1674 and was replaced in 1810. Its peculiarity is that is hangs down into the body of the church and can be seen calmly swinging just inside the main door. (See above.)

Gulls on Hastings beach
Gulls on Hastings beach

Retracing our path back to Hastings, we walked along the beach to our hotel and I photographed this social gathering of herring gulls in the fading evening light.

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