Saturday, September 3rd 2011
Awoken by the alarm, we finished our last-minute packing (anything forgotten now remains forgotten!) and dragged our luggage to the bus stop. When the 205 came, we found the luggage rack free and the seats next to it unoccupied. The bus terminates at Paddington, our departure station, so we could sit back and relax. Saturday London was slowly waking up and starting the day’s business. Familiar sights and landmarks slid past the windows in dreamy succession.
At Paddington we took the escalators to the top floor to the EAT cafe and asked for porridge, croissants and coffee. The porridge wasn’t ready and when it came, it was only lukewarm. We didn’t have time to complain but gulped it down and returned to platform level to study the departure board. Our train was the 0900 to Western-super-Mare, going via Bristol, our destination. As soon as the platform was announced, we hurried to the train. We had reserved seats but we like to choose our own. Also, as luggage space is limited I wanted to make sure of getting space for our bags. We got two “Priority Seats” right beside the luggage rack which was still empty when we arrived. Sorted!
We could relax again for a couple of hours until we reached Bristol and there disembarked to go in search of our hotel. So far it is a grey day with overcast sky and no sign of the sun though it isn’t raining. Perhaps it will brighten up later.
We arrived in Bristol around 11 am. Because we had baggage, we decided to take a cab to the hotel. The cab was similar to the older model of London cabs and may have been one recycled. When we asked about our luggage the driver curtly told us to take them inside with us. So, he had not only adopted a London cab but had also adopted London cabbie manners and superglued himself to his seat. If he was expecting a tip he was disappointed. In my book a tip is given for good service and that was not forthcoming, so no tip.
Checking-in time at the hotel starts at 2 pm but they were willing to keep our bags for us in the meantime. Freed of our luggage, we set out for a preliminary round of exploration.
By now we were looking for somewhere for lunch. We came to Colston Road and found an intriguing parade of shops.
The shop above seemed to sell all sorts of things but they locked the door and put up the closed sign when we approached. The shop opened again when we went away. Draw your own conclusions…
We admired the violin shop with its array of musical instruments…
and the antiques shop with coins and coronation mugs…
and marvelled at the hand-made shoe company shop, surprised that a craftsman can still thrive in such a competitive market.
Lunch turned up in the form of this cafe whose menu was written in a strange mixture of Italian and Spanish. They were able to put together a delicious vegetarian meal for us. (Alioli is apparently a Catalan sauce composed of oil and garlic. So now you know.)
Further down, we came to the remarkably fine and well preserved group of almshouses. A plaque on the gate informs us that they were founded in 1483 by John Foster, then Mayor of Bristol.
Above, the left picture shows the elegant design of the wooden spiral staircase providing access to the upper level, while the picture on the right shows the façade of the adjoining Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, which John Foster also endowed. The said three kings are shown in effigy on the façade.
I am guessing that the sculpture standing in a niche is a representation of John Foster himself. The corresponding niche on the left remains empty but ought perhaps have been used to display a sculpture of Dr George Owen, Henry VIII’s physician, who added to the endowment in 1553.
A little further down is a narrow stepped street now known as Christmas Steps. It dates from the medieval period and is lined with small shops though these are 18th century, not medieval. Derivation of the name is uncertain as the street was originally known as Queen Street and there are rival explanations.
(I cheated with this photo. There was something unpleasant on the steps that I did not want to photograph so I have used a photo from a previous visit.)
Colston Hall was built in about 1860 but has been damaged and nearly destroyed and rebuilt several times. It is currently a Grade II listed building. Its history is complex and I won’t try to disentangle it here but if you want to try, you can look at the English Heritage listing and the Wikipedia article.
Bristol is a city of water and the River Avon runs through it like a shoelace through a shoe. Bordeaux Quay is, as the name suggests, on the edge of the water.
I assume that many of the boats moored here are privately owned craft but this is something I didn’t get around to investigating. Here too is a ferry station.
Nearby is this water feature. It consists of what looks like a flight of stone steps down which runs a cascade of water. The water is pink which, at first sight seems a strange choice but certainly adds novelty value and interest.
I assume the colorant is non-toxic as there is obviously a possibility of it being ingested accidentally or on purpose by people and animals. The gulls and pigeons were quite happy to drink it, which I imagine proves that it is safe.
This water feature is in fact the last link in a chain of water features forming part of an agreeable park or garden in what is called by the understated name of The Centre (or The City Centre).
The statue of Neptune punctuates this handsome open space and has some unusual features.
The statue is lead-covered and was produced in 1723 by a founder called Joseph Rendall. I don’t know who the original artist was. Originally erected on the site of the old reservoir in Temple Street, it was moved to Bear Lane (1787), then to Church Lane (1794), then to the junction of Temple Street and Victoria Street (1872) and, finally, was re-erected at the present site in 1949 (information found on an attached bronze plate).
Bristol is one of those cities that once you start exploring them draw you endlessly on, bombarding you with wonders at every turn, such as the intricate carving above. The dark side of this is that the wealth that financed this display was generated by the slave trade.
The expression “cash on the nail” – meaning immediate payment – refers to these brass tables outside the Exchange. They were called “nails” and on them merchants did business and passed over the money.
Then there is the famous automaton clock with figures that strike their bells every quarter of an hour. This is built into the façade of a historic church (see here) whose name is rather a mouthful, Christ Church with St Ewen, All Saints and St George.
This man with three dogs encumbering the pavement attracted some bemused attention from passers-by (and from me) but I never discovered what he was waiting for.
In Horsefair, we came upon John Wesley’s first ever chapel, built in 1739 and rebuilt in 1748. After being used for other purposes for a while it once again came into Methodist ownership in 1930. The courtyard with flowerbeds is quite a pleasant place to sit.
This sculpture in the garden reminds us of how John Wesley travelled far and wide on horseback, preaching along the way. No one knows what the horse thought about it.
In another part of the site we find John’s younger brother Charles, apparently in the middle of a sermon.
We stopped off for refreshments in this pretty coffee bar and tea room which occupies an old almshouse, built in 1701, and provided for 9 needy inhabitants by the Guild of Merchant Tailors. The glass structure visible behind it is one of Bristol’s many shopping centres, this one called The Galleries Bristol.
We afterwards passed through Cabot Circus. I found this an extraordinary construction. It is a huge shopping centre or mall, but not only that. It is also a place where people people meet in the many cafes and restaurants or just in open spaces. Over the whole thing is an immense glass roof, formed of many overlapping sections. Designed by Nayan Kulkarni, it is a wonder in its own right.
Around 5 pm we returned to the hotel and reclaimed our bags. In this hotel, a Premier Inn, reception has been reduced to a single desk or lectern, attended by one member of staff. Arriving guests are supposed to check themselves in using one of the machines with touch-sensitive screens in the lobby. These are similar to the machines at railway stations from which you buy train tickets. Our room is on the fourth floor (the hotel has at least 16 floors) and when we entered, we found the air-conditioning was running full pelt, making the room feel like a fridge. We switched it off, of course, and I am writing this lying on the bed with my jacket zipped right up. I expect the room will warm up eventually.
The first task on arriving in the room was – as you no doubt already guessed – to make tea! British hotels (and some foreign ones now) provide an electric kettle in the room. They also supply a few tea bags and sachets of instant coffee but we bring our own provisions. Tigger has her jar of lemon tea and I have brought some Russian Caravan which can be brewed in a mug with a nylon filter basket for easy disposal of the leaves. It’s almost like being at home!
We also brought with us from home those items of food which would have been outdated by the time we returned London. So we made an early supper of these. On the menu were Mozarella Pearls, a packet of Cheddars (small round savoury biscuits) and a packet of Jaffa Cakes. Oh yes, and as starters, two of the small-size Babybel cheeses each. A slightly unconventional meal, though not particularly unusual for us when we are travelling. We have the rest of the year in which to be sensible. (Not that we are, of course…)
Later we went out for another walk and some night photography. The place was loud with merrymakers. It all seemed good-humoured enough but I preferred the quieter places.
We revisited some of the places we had seen earlier in the day, including the gardens in the Centre where I snapped this pink fountain which I think was clear earlier in the day.
We wandered along, following different sights that emerged out of the darkness to tempt us along until we arrived at Pero’s Bridge.
A plaque explains the sculpture as follows:
IN MAY 1497 JOHN CABOT SAILED FROM THIS HARBOUR IN THE MATTHEW AND DISCOVERED NORTH AMERICA
THIS STATUE WAS CREATED BY STEPHEN JOYCE FINANCED BY BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL AND ACCES, (MSC). (“Access” mis-spelt on the bronze plate.)
It was around 11 pm when we returned to the hotel and I was glad to arrive. We had covered a lot of ground and it had been a long day. We have visited Bristol before and know that it is a city full of delights for the visitor. Despite familiarity, it has not disappointed us.
Sunday, September 4th 2011
We start the day with breakfast in the hotel room. The hotel breakfast is not cheap and there isn’t much choice for vegetarians so it’s better the save the money and make our own. Yesterday evening we bought instant porridge (add boiling water and stir) and some “breakfast biscuits” (a bit like a fruity breakfast cereal in a biscuit). We also have tea, of course.
The weather is what I call “bright grey”, that is, the sky is overcast but it looks as though the day might brighten up later.
After breakfast, we went to take the lift down to the ground floor. There are three lifts serving 16 floors plus the car park. This was also the time when the housemaids (some of whom were men) were setting out to clean the vacated rooms and many guests were on their way out. The result was that the lifts were whizzing up and down like yoyos but none were stopping at our floor. In the end, we gave up and walked down.
We went first to the bus station to enquire about bus rover tickets. The information office is closed on Sundays so we drew a blank. We took a bus to the train station and were advised that there was a bus information office there. Maybe there was but, if so, it was closed. Perhaps the bus company doesn’t think people need information on Sundays.
Our destination today is Weston-super-Mare and we are going there by train. There is one train an hour on Sundays and as we had about 45 minutes to wait it seemed a good idea to go to Bonaparte’s for coffee and croissants. There are two clocks in the buffet and one of these has been stopped at 6:56 or, as they would have it, 1856, the year in which the station opened. Just as well the opening wasn’t delayed 4 years until 1860, eh?
The train, having come all the way from Paddington was a few minutes late but on the positive side, by the time we reached Weston, the sun began to shine, dismissing the earlier threat of rain.
I visited Weston twice as a child, just for a day trip each time. I remember going to the bathing station on the first occasion and the beach on the second. Needless, to say, I recognized nothing today and it was as if I were visiting it for the first time.
We explored a little and then looked for somewhere for lunch. We settled on a small cafe called the Lighthouse, mostly because it was not crowded like most other places on the seafront. All I will say is that, despite the amiability and enthusiasm of the staff, we will not go there again despite the modest prices.
Like many seaside towns, Weston rose to prominence in the 19th century, and has grown apace since then. Its name combines Anglo-Saxon – west tun (‘west settlement’) – and medieval Latin – super Mare – meaning “on Sea”, appropriately enough. Why not call it simply “Weston-on-Sea”? I don’t know: perhaps it wasn’t posh enough – too much like so many other resorts. Mare, by the way, is pronounced like ‘mare’ (female horse) and not ‘maray’. They also insist that super be written with a small ‘s’.
The map shows how Weston stands at the mouth of the Severn and looks across the water to Wales and the city of Cardiff. That must have been fun in more warlike periods of history!
As a well established town, Weston has all the usual amenities, such as a handsome Victorian Town Hall, parish church (idem), and a rather blocky but no doubt functional courthouse.
Visitors to Weston are naturally drawn to the seafront and they will find there all the usual facilities, a mixture of a genteel earlier age and modern entertainments.
There is an esplanade, called Pier Square, where you can stroll or sit and where we found several cafes and restaurants. The centre piece of the Square is a fountain, known as The Coalbrookdale Fountain or The Boy and the Serpent.
At first sight, you may think this is a Victorian fountain but the relative lack of curlicues and complex decoration shows it is later. It was donated to Weston in February 1913 by Thomas Macfarlane and was refurbished and reinstalled in February this year, being inaugurated by Mary Macfarlane, great granddaughter of Thomas – a nice touch.
Update: According to its Historic England Grade II listing, the fountain is late Victorian (exact date not given).
There is a Big Wheel which, if it is not the London Eye is nonetheless of a respectable size. It has been here about two years but has had a troubled history, being rescued from administration in January. It was not working today, which seemed ominous.
Like any self-respecting seaside town, Weston has a pier. This one is called the Grand Pier, no less, and the name is perhaps merited because the structure was gravely damaged by fire in July 2008 but seems to have risen again triumphantly, like the Phoenix. Certainly it was very busy when we visited it today.
Weston is known for its long, broad sandy beach. The tracks in the sand were made by the horse-drawn carriage taking people for rides along the strand. As I recall from my childhood, the beach slopes only gradually so that you need to walk for what seems miles to reach water deep enough to swim in. Perhaps this is an advantage, though, for families with small children.
We walked north along the seafront (which faces almost due west at this point) to the Winter Gardens Pavilion where we found a tourist information bureau. From here we took an open-top bus. Where to? Well, I’ll show you… 🙂
The bus brought us here, to Sand Bay. It is a small village on the banks of the Severne. It is very quiet and peaceful, and its main attraction is the unspoilt beach.
There is a car park which doubles as a bus stop and provides a public toilet. Apart from that, there is an almost complete lack of facilities for the visitor. We did spot Grandma’s Tea Rooms but even this seems to be up for sale. Paradoxically, this lack of amenities is Sand Bay’s great attraction as you will not find here the coach parties, the families with fractious infants or the beer swilling football fans that form the staple visitor diet of the more developed locations.
Yet Weston is just around the headland, marked here by Birnbeck Pier, and…
the Welsh coast is visible half-hidden in the heat haze.
We sat here in the sun for a while, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and the pleasant scenery, and amused ourselves trying to photograph some of the small creatures that were flying or walking about.
We scored a butterfly, a hoverfly, a rather fluffy bee and a curious spider who explored Tigger’s arm and hand.
By the time we returned to Weston, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. The sun disappeared behind stormy-looking clouds and a few drops of rain fell. In any case, Weston seemed to be closing down for the day as shops and cafes locked their doors and turned off the lights. It seemed a good time to start back to Bristol.
We did, however, photograph this strange little building. It is well known but I have yet to see a plausible explanation of what it is. An inscription on the chimney apron calls it “Weybridge 1866” but I remain sceptical. I suppose there might be a weighbridge inside that might date from 1866 but without seeing it, who can tell? The building is certainly not 19th century vintage and looks more like an abandoned minicab office.
We returned to Bristol and our hotel. We vaguely thought of going out again later in the evening but as the weather there was no better than in Weston, we stayed in and finished the day cosily.
Monday, September 5th 2011
The sun is shining this morning so let’s hope the weather is set fair today. We’re not in any rush because, as today is a week day, we have to wait until 9:30 for off- peak travel prices. We forgot to buy porridge yesterday so we will breakfast just on biscuits and tea. We can catch up at lunch time or a mid-morning snack.
Today’s plan is to take the train to Great Malvern and then catch a bus to Worcester. From Worcester we shall return to Bristol by train. This gives us the best combination of cost and time.
A good introduction to Great Malvern is its station. Consisting of a single storey, it is in the Gothic style and was built in 1861-2. Now Grade II listed, it was obviously designed to impress visitors when they arrived. It certainly impressed me!
There is a row of pillars supporting the station canopy and the pillars have elaborately decorated capitals in the form of leaves and flowers, beautiful and most unusual. In addition, there are at least two other historical treasures on this station.
The first is this posting box, dating from the reign of Queen Victoria. Victorian pillar boxes and wall boxes are not all that rare but they are not common, either, and it is always a pleasure to me to find one.
The second is this weighbridge made by Henry Pooley & Son. This firm was an extremely prolific manufacturer and maintainer of weighbridges, scales and other appliances and engines. The firm was founded in the 18th century and was established in Liverpool until the 1890s when it moved to Birmingham. Their weighbridges were commonly found on railway stations across the whole country. This one is virtually a museum exhibit.
We walked up the road towards the town and I photographed this beetle on the way. I don’t know what species it is and would appreciate an identification.
On the road to town from the station we saw some very fine old houses, well situated with views of the hills. Malvern is of course known for its mineral water and in Victorian times enjoyed a boom as a spa town. People would have visited the town to “take the waters” and some would have moved in permanently.
Malvern is a hilly town as you can see from the above photo. The hills are what produce its famous water and they also provide pleasant views.
Malvern is an old town and has buildings to match its venerable status. One of the first we saw was at 30 Church Street, a rounded building, almost a rotunda, currently occupied by the NatWest.
Then there is the Exchange which would have been the business centre in its day. When was that? To tell you the truth, I don’t know, but suspect it dates from Victorian or Edwardian times. It lies within Great Malvern’s Conservation Area but there have been complaints that it is not being maintained sufficiently well.
You cannot miss this historic pile, the Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael. It is big and extensive. Parts of it are reckoned to date back to the era of William the Conqueror.
In the churchyard was this odd little sundial. If you look closely, it seems to indicate a time of 12.15 or 12.20, which is remarkably close if you add an hour for summer time: my photo is timed at 1.23 pm.
You can leave the churchyard by a short but pretty street called Priory Steps. This leads to another of Malvern’s heritage buildings.
This is the medieval Priory Gatehouse, thought to have been built between 1480 and 1500. Today it is occupied, appropriately enough, by the Great Malvern Museum of Local History.
A more modern work is a bronze sculpture of the composer Edward Elgar who lived for some time in Great Malvern. He stands in a corner of Belle Vue Terrace, contemplating the fountain installed in honour of himself and his music.
The three-pronged fountain apparently celebrates Elgar, his composition “The Enigma Variations”, and Malvern water. It was unveiled in May 2000 by Prince Andrew.
We had lunch nearby in Henry’s Cafe Bar and Bistro, after which we did some more exploring before thinking about engaging in the next phase of our journey.
In the course of this ramble, we discovered an institution close to my heart – the public library. It is set in a pleasant garden along with a memorial commemorating both world wars.
The library was funded by Andrew Carnegie and by C.W. Dyson Perrins, a local businessman and philanthropist, and was built in 1905 on land donated by Sir Henry Foley Grey, Chairman of the Malvern Urban District Council and Lord of the Manor of Malvern. It is pleasing to see that the enterprise founded by their generosity is still going strong 106 years later. Long may it continue to do so.
As planned, we caught a bus to Worcester. This city, the county town, is much bigger than Great Malvern and therefore harder to get to grips with in a short time. We wandered more or less at random, taking in anything that caught our eye.
You might at first sight wonder why these birds were gathered on this building façade like flies on a fly paper but then you realize they are fake, some better imitated than others. Is it a work of art? Something deeply symbolic? Or just a bit of fun…? (Someone somewhere knows!)
This church spire is impressive, all the more so because it is all that remains of the church of St Andrew, demolished in 1949 because it had fallen into neglect. The tower, with its vaulted ceiling dates from the 15th century but the spire was added in the 1750s by a local master mason, Nathaniel Wilkinson.
It is no surprise to find that Worcester claims Elgar as well. He was born near the city, lived here for some years and died in Worcester in 1934. Here he is shown wearing a gown and what I take to be the Order of Merit.
Hexagonal Penfold pillar boxes like this were introduced during the period 1866-1879. I assume this is a genuine example though reproductions are not unknown. One difference between Victorian pillar boxes and later ones lies in the royal cipher: subsequent ciphers included the reign number, e.g. George VI, but the Victorian cipher is simply a ‘V’ and an ‘R’.
Worcester Cathedral is of course famous and many tourists consider it a must-see but this is as close as we went to it. I am not sorry, as it is all too easy to become “churched-out” by the plethora of churches, chapels, cathedrals, priories and abbeys up and down the land. I can only stand so much goddery in one day.
Worcester has so many Tudor buildings that it is not possible to give even a representative sample. I thought that you might like this set, however, because of the delightfully wonky aspect of the upper storey of the end house. I wonder what it is like inside: does everything roll to one end of the room?
Oh, all right: just one more, then. This is an inn called The Pheasant, dating from 1577. Apparently, it was from this house that King Charles II escaped his enemies after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, thus perpetuating the whole sorry mess that is called the monarchy.
William Laslett founded these almshouses in 1868, designed for 33 elderly men and women. A property called Newton Court Farm was placed in trust to finance the endowment. The almshouses are still part of the city’s establishment for caring for the elderly.
Another set of almshouses is this one, known as Berkeley’s Hospital. Robert Berkeley left money for this foundation in 1692 and the houses were built in 1705.
This building may look like a church but whatever it once was (I am not sure whether it was a church, as Wetherspoon’s own Web site says, or a Masonic lodge), today it is a pub called the Slug and Lettuce.
Wetherspoon’s has a good record for preserving as much of the original structure of the building as possible. This makes sense because it gives the pubs the appeal of character and novelty. In this one, the end where the altar would have stood (if it was a church) is illuminated dramatically in bright blue light.
On either side of the blue-illuminated focal point there is a stained glass window. It’s difficult to see the details with the balustrade in the way but something suggests to me that these symbols are Masonic rather than Christian.
It had been a long and active day and the light was fading so it was time to return to Bristol. We caught the 19:03 train and from Temple Meads a number 8 bus to the town centre. We had decided to have supper at the Kathmandu Nepal and Indian Restaurant as a good way to round off our day.
Tuesday, September 6th 2011
When we awoke this morning the sky was overcast and when we looked out of the window the bad news was confirmed: people were hurrying along with umbrellas. The fine weather had gone into hiding. After the usual light breakfast in the room, we set out into the rain, making for the station. The first train we can take for today’s destination is at 11:49, so we are not in a hurry. Seeing a Costa cafe, we stopped off there for coffee and a shared hot panini. Perhaps the skies will clear or perhaps the weather will be better where we are going. In England on an average day, travelling just a few miles can take you into a different weather system. Because it was raining, we sat in Costa for some time. And why not? We are on holiday, after all, and can afford time to relax between travelling around.
These poles of various height clutter part of the centre of Bristol. On a wall nearby is an explanation, written in the sort of whimsical and meaningless gobbledygook by which modern artists try to justify their creations. These poles do not create ‘a sense of calm and tranquility’ anymore than flag poles or radio masts would do. They are neither beautiful nor edifying. I do wish that buyers of public art, spending the public’s money on self-indulgent nonsense like this, would wake up and gather their wits. Of course, these are the same people who also commission works of modern ‘architecture’ that are degrading our environment for generations to come.
At the station we bought tickets for Trowbridge, today’s destination. The train is a two-carriage shuttle. We were hoping that we might outrun the rain clouds and when we stepped onto the station platform at Trowbridge our hopes seemed justified because the sun came out… but then it started to rain again. The sun soon disappeared – it had been no more than a momentary aberration – and the showers resumed.
We followed the signs for the town centre and came upon this strange tower. Because of the wet conditions, we did not want to tarry – though we took photos, naturally! – and I was unable to ascertain the building’s function, if any. It appears to be up for sale, too. Whether it is a modern construction or a genuine old tower with a whimsical modern overlay, I do not know.
We now came to some shops. Until now, in all kinds of weather, Tigger has been wearing plastic sandals which she likes because they are comfortable. However, these become very slippery in the wet causing her to creep along at a snail’s pace to avoid falling. In view of the wet conditions, she finally decided it was time to buy “sensible shoes”. We found some canvas slip-ons and dumped the plastic sandals. I heaved a sigh of relief because every time it rained I feared she might slip and fall.
We went into the Shires shopping centre. It was much like shopping centre everywhere but, why not? I don’t expect that designers of shopping centres pick up brownie points for being different, let alone original. Shoppers too probably care less about design than about the quality of the shops. We blame architects for the horrible aridity of modern town centres but this is owing in reality to a conspiracy between architects, big money and an apathetic public. The British are so good at celebrating what they like but merely shrugging their shoulders at what they don’t like. It is a nation of people who allow everyone to walk all over them.
Seeing that the rain had eased off, we went for a preliminary scout around. We found the Town Hall – built in 1887 and a Grade II listed building – swathed in green netting. Repair work is in progress but this, sadly, is in order to prepare the building for sale.
As is usual with old towns like Trowbridge, the central area is compact and there are numerous narrow streets, such as Church Walk (above) which leads to the parish church of St James.
Or here is Narrow Wine Street, so narrow that they named it so.
What was once a pub called the White Hart is today occupied by stationers and booksellers W.H. Smith. The firm has had to forego its usual colourful signage in order to blend in with the pre-existing style.
This signpost indicates local destinations as you would expect but also points the way to Oujda in Morocco and Charenton-le-Pont in France. This is because these two are twin towns of Trowbridge. Putting them on the signpost is a nice touch but Trowbridge has two other twin towns not mentioned: Leer Ostfriesland in Germany and Elblag in Poland.
We had lunch in a Wetherspoons pub called the Sir Isaac Pitman. You remember Pitman shorthand? And, no doubt, the fact that its creator was Isaac – later Sir Isaac – Pitman. The inventor of the world’s most used shorthand system was born in Trowbridge and we therefore find memories of him and his career here and there in the town.
After lunch we went for a look at the Trowbridge Museum. Photography, alas (when will they ever learn?), was not allowed so I cannot show you anything of the museum except the entrance. This is in the Shires shopping centre. Why? Well, because…
Trowbridge used to be a wool town and was so important a supplier of wool and cloth that it was known as “the Manchester of the West”. In the fullness of time, however, the wool and cloth trade declined and Trowbridge’s mills closed. The last to close was Samuel Salter’s Home Mill and the building still stands. The Shires shopping centre is attached to it by the façade shown above. The Museum occupies the upper part of the Salter mill and is accessed by a lift.
Just inside the façade is a cafe. The premises have been refurbished (spoilt, some might say) but still give some idea of the mill with its big windows.
After this we continued our explorations of the town. Behind the town hall is a small but very pleasant garden. Unfortunately, we arrived only shortly before they started locking up for the evening. The building itself is very ornamented in the Victorian style and the “VR” cipher is in evidence.
We passed the war memorial, girt by hedges and railings, and possessed of a sombre dignity and thence into the park, wherein we discovered this slightly odd structure.
Dating from 1939, when it was donated by William Nelson Haden, a citizen of the town, it is called the Bandstand and has been the focus of many events and celebrations. I imagine its design responds to the laws of acoustics and projects sound outwards. I did try this with Tigger as audience but the results were inconclusive!
Just outside the park in Polebarn Road, we discovered these rather striking cottages, built in imitation of Tudor style. They are called Lady Brown’s Cottages and were built in 1900 as almshouses by her husband, the clothier Sir Roger Brown. Sir Roger also donated the Town Hall and commissioned the same architect, A.S. Goodridge, to design both.
Another set of almshouses is that known as Palmers Almshouses. They were built in 1892 but that’s all I have managed to find out about them.
Everywhere we turned we found historic traces such as the Co-operative Society shop pictured above or the National Schools (see below) dating from 1842,
and all sorts of decorative details, such as this rose window flanked by two carved faces in the façade of St James’s Hall.
Or this panel, carved to look like pebbles or nuts imprisoned behind a grid.
There may not have been lager louts in the 18th century but there were still people who drank too much and consequently fell foul of the authorities. For their pains, they were likely to spend the night in less than comfortable surroundings.
This small building or free-standing cell is called the Blind House (presumably because it has no windows and people can see neither in nor out) and it was built around 1758 to incarcerate drunks until they were sober enough to be released.
As the light began to fade we decided to call it a day and return to Bristol. It had been an interesting trip and Trowbridge had not disappointed us, despite its relatively small size.
Wednesday, September 7th 2011
Today is my birthday and so we want to go somewhere that will provide us with a special day out. We hope that Wells will fulfil that hope.
We started our explorations at the market. It is an ancient market and some of its valuable features, such as a water conduit, were provided by Bishop Thomas Bekynton in 1451.
The conduit, a supply of clean water, which would have been very valuable in the 16th century, also feeds a fountain. The original was part of the works provided by Bishop Bekynton but was demolished in 1797 and replaced by this one, built by the City Corporation.
We met this enthusiastic gentleman, holder of the ancient office of Town Crier. Tigger had a chat with him and he explained that he loved the job.
Unfortunately, there is not enough work for a full-time appointment so the Crier has to moonlight with another, more mundane job. He performs this traditional role with gusto and evident enjoyment. Long may he continue to do so.
In one corner of the Market Place stands this archway. Named Penniless Porch because of the beggars who used to come here to beg for alms, it leads to Cathedral Green.
Cathedral Green, as the name suggests, is a broad green space in front of the Cathedral. It is limited on one side by the Cathedral and on the other by the road and the other buildings within the Cathedral precinct.
Wells Cathedral was begun in the late 1100s in the then new and revolutionary Gothic style imported from France. The first building phase took 80 years but then additions were made. We did not visit the inside of the Cathedral on this trip.
The precinct is enclosed by walls and buildings such as the Old Deanery. originally built in the 12th century but reworked in the 15th and 17th. Today is provides office space for church administration.
Incorporated too is this charming medieval street now known as Vicars’ Close. It was founded in 1348 so that the male choristers could live communally but each have his own house. The front gardens were added in the 15th century.
We returned again to the Market Place to resume our wanderings and here found the inn called The Crown at Wells. This 15th century inn is famed for its connection with William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Having become a Quaker, Penn found his religious views to be at variance with the authorities. In 1685 he preached to a large crowd from a window of the Crown and was arrested but later released.
The sky, which had been making threatening gestures, began to rain on us, so we thought to take shelter by having lunch. This restaurant, called Beah, happened to be nearby and to offer several vegetarian choices. We enjoyed a good lunch there.
On resuming our exploration, we passed by this pink building. The shape suggests that it is quite old, despite the rather fanciful colour applied to it. Today it is a pub called the City Arms but a board on the side tells us that it was once the City Jail, dating from1549, and that some of its ancient structure remains, “including original barred windows locks and chains and a solitary cell”.
We came to St Cuthbert’s Church which was first built in the 15th century and went into the grounds for a look.
At the back of the church, continuous with the the churchyard, are some very pretty almshouses. I think there are three sets here, of which the façade shown belongs to those known as Still’s, founded in 1615.
At the edge of church property, on Priest Row, we found the second set of almshouses, called the Llewellyn’s and Charles’ Almshouses. According to an inscription on the gate, they were founded in 1614 (the board nearby says 1636) while these houses were built in 1887.
We passed the sweet shop which, despite its cheesy faux-Old English (or should that be “Olde-Englisshe”?) name, has some pretty glass panels and a stylish “73”, and arrived at Priory Road.
You would think that a road called Priory Road would have been there for centuries, especially as there was indeed a priory nearby. In fact, the road was not built until 1840 as a new road into the town. Before then, St John Street performed that role and that was where the Priory of the Hospital of St John the Baptist stood, reasonably enough.
The priory, comprising a prior and 10 brothers, was dedicated to the care of the poor, the sick and the disabled. In 1539, the Priory suffered the same fate as the other religious houses, being dissolved by Henry VIII. The buildings survived until 1859 and were then demolished to make way for a school. The pictured house, called the Priory, is thought to have been the house of the Prior. Though altered, it includes remains of its medieval past.
Through here runs an important watercourse called St Andrew’s Stream, important in the sense that it sustained several mills. Opposite the Priory at what was known as St John’s Bridge, the brothers ran a mill. A wall prevents us viewing the stream but I attempted to take a photo through a hole in the wall. None too successfully… (Don’t say I never show you my failures!) Whether the stonework visible in the photo is a bridge or remains of the mill, I cannot say.
We turned down Broad Street towards the town centre once more and as we did so, I caught sight of a flock of pigeons flying round and round over the rooftops as they sometimes do. Even if pigeons are our commonest bird, this group movement can be impressive, especially under today’s dramatic skies.
Further on we spied another street-dweller, this time a human one. With only a blanket for an outer garment he was sheltering from the rain in the doorway of a cafe but they had at least given him a cup of coffee.
Thence to Sadler Street where the Swan Hotel is to be found. It was built before 1422, the date of the first known mention of it. It became an important coaching inn and was rebuilt in 1769 by Charles Tudway, Mayor and MP for Wells, and still seems to be going strong.
Sadler Street runs along the western boundary of the Cathedral precinct and includes a gateway, called Brown’s Gate, set in the mid-14th century wall. Bishop Bekynton built the gate in about 1450 and, remarkably, it continued in use for traffic until around 1970 when it was final closed to vehicles.
As well as affording pedestrian access to Cathedral Green, the gateway provides a decorative frame for striking views of the Cathedral.
The name of this club may suggest where we went next. Having toured Wells, we thought to take the bus to a town associated in many people’s minds with King Arthur and his Knights. I mean of course the ancient town of Glastonbury. (The Avalon is the local Rotary Club, in case you are wondering.)
Glastonbury is known for its abbey or, rather, for the ruins of one. Founded in the 7th century and destroyed by fire in 1184, it was rebuilt and became one of the richest and most powerful in England. Its history came to an end in 1539 with the dissolution of the monasteries and the hanging, drawing and quartering of its abbot, Richard Whiting. (That Henry VIII was not a very nice man…) The ruins can be visited but were closed when we arrived so we had to content ourselves with photos over the car park wall.
We did a quick tour of the town and saw the market cross, Victorian this one, and another cattle trough for my collection.
The trough has no inscriptions and is of conventional design, so it’s hard to guess its age. It’s in good condition and has no wheel fenders.
There is a modest and handsome Post Office dating from 1938 and still operating. (How long before they close it down, eh?)
This cat, perched demurely behind blue railings reminded me of Freya waiting patiently (or probably not so patiently) back in London. I do not know whether it is there for decoration or has some deeper purpose.
Glastonbury has a number of fine buildings of historical importance, apart from the Abbey, and this is one of them. It is called the Glastonbury Tribunal though it was in fact no such thing. It was thought to have been the Abbey’s tribunal but was really a 15th century town house. In the latter role it is still of great interest.
Glastonbury suffers from a particular affliction, that of being considered an important site for alternative religious beliefs. Whether it is ‘magik’, crystals, aromas, Tarot, fortune telling, witchcraft or any other sort of stultifying New Age nonsense, it is represented here in rows of retail outlets. Then again, I suppose it provides revenue for the town through business rates.
Glastonbury is not a big town and I think we saw most of it. The weather was still dull and threatening rain so we decided to return back to Bristol. It had been a good day out and Wells and Glastonbury had been worth visiting despite the weather, and yes, it had been a special day for my birthday.
Thursday, September 8th 2011
Today there was a hiccup in the porridge supply or, putting it another way, we forgot to buy some yesterday! Instead we went out to breakfast and had toasties and hot drinks in the cafe in Marks & Spencers in Broadmead.
It’s another dull day today but there is no point sitting around waiting for the weather so we caught a number 8 bus to the station where we procured train tickets for Gloucester. Enquiring the time and platform of the Gloucester train we were told to take the train about to depart on platform 1 and change at Cheltenham. The train set off seconds after we boarded.
The plan was to go to Gloucester and then come back to see Cheltenham but as we had to change trains at Cheltenham, it occurred to us to see whether we could leave the station now and visit the town. We could and we did.
I lived briefly in the Cheltenham area (just outside in Bishops Cleeve) but that was years ago when I was also a student at Sheffield University so my memories of the town are no longer clear. The visit was a rediscovery in which I glimpsed times past in flashes of memory. I remember Cheltenham as above, a place of graceful houses characterized by spa town elegance.
In those days, Cheltenham seemed to me a posh town but at the same time one with rural overtones or, as you might say, both “county” and “country” at the same time. When I last looked, though, that country was first disappearing under housing projects.
I remembered the Promenade as a bustling street of elegant and expensive shops but today it seems quieter and part of it has been closed to traffic.
This strange sculpture seems quite out of place with the Cheltenham I knew and seems to obtrude into the scene like something out of a schizophrenic nightmare. Is there some deep symbolism to it or is it one more example of “playful” modern art?
In Regent Street, things were a little livelier. We had a look inside the Regent Arcade – a modern building despite the pseudo-classical look – and found it occupied by the usual suspects. I did discover one modern thing of interest, though.
This was the mechanical “Wishing Fish Clock” which goes through a series of actions with red balls and then, every half an hour, emits bubbles to the music of “I’m forever blowing bubbles”. Quite fun to watch though I wince when I think of the cost (£80,000).
There are still plenty of pleasant and historically interesting buildings, such as the above, and…
… the occasional picturesque oddity.
In a narrow lane called Grosvenor Place South, I was fascinated to come across this fine set of mosaics. They were set up as advertisements for a corn and seed merchant called Bloodworth’s, an old established firm which still exists, I believe, in association with others.
What is unusual about these pictures is that they are not just a set of single-image adverts but together tell a simple and amusing story, like a cartoon strip. The quality of the mosaic is very good and the artistic design perfect for the purpose. There are five pictures.
Originally, all five pictures owned captions below them on metal plates but the first two have lost theirs. The message, however, is clear: the circus has come to town! In the next three images, the circus parade passes along the street and all goes well until the elephants are irresistibly drawn to the appetizing smell of the grain in Bloodworth’s!
They dash into the store and start eating the grain, despite the best efforts of their keepers to stop them. Meanwhile, a crowd of “Cheltonians” has gathered and looks on, startled or amused, while a policeman instinctively spreads his arms in a protective gesture.
It’s a fine piece of work, much in the style of children’s books and “annuals” of yesteryear. The tone of gentle tongue-in-cheek humour is delightful and is something that is sadly missing from today’s aggressive marketing styles.
We explored a pretty little park called Sandford Park. Among its charms was a lion-headed fountain but I was more interested in this family group of a mother duck and her five ducklings, dabbling in a stream.
We walked on, exploring, and at last reached Imperial Square where Cheltenham Town Hall stands. This impressive edifice was built in 1902-3.
Cheltenham has been a spa since its medicinal waters were discovered in 1716 and this was partly responsible for its elegant subsequent development. I don’t know whether there is much call for Cheltenham’s spa water these days.
In a room in the Town Hall, just off the lobby, stands this venerable spa water dispenser or pump. I am told it still functions. Does the water make good tea, I wonder?
In Imperial Gardens, near the Town Hall, stands a monument to Gustav Holst. The composer of The Planets was born in Cheltenham in 1874. According to a plate on the memorial, this was “given to the people of Cheltenham” in 2008 under a bequest from Elizabeth Hammond.
Finally, we visited Montpellier Arcade which is famous for its set of white caryatids. The original figures, made of terra cotta and based on figures on the Acropolis, were added to Montpellier Walk, as it was then called. Trees were replaced by shops and new figures were added, copied from the original ones.
Here are photos of two caryatids. Though they closely resemble one another, there are sufficient differences to suggest that one is an original and the other is one of the later copies. But which is which? I suspect that the one on the right is a copy but I cannot be sure.
After taking refreshments in Montpellier Parade, we returned to Cheltenham Spa station and very soon had a train to complete our journey to Gloucester, nominally the goal of our expedition.
I have to say that Gloucester did not attract me in the same way as Cheltenham, which is a pity and perhaps unfair because it is an ancient city with traces going back to the Romans and is clearly proud of its heritage. This is shown in the careful labelling of important structures and the pavement mosaics celebrating Gloucester’s historic industries (see below two examples).
The New Inn, despite its name, is very old. It was built in 1430 by St Peter’s Abbey for pilgrims visiting Gloucester Cathedral. It came into private hands on the dissolution of the monasteries. It was also on a balcony of the New Inn that the short reign of Lady Jane Grey began when she was declared Queen of England in 1553.
A famous and well loved feature of the city is Baker’s Clock. Situated above Baker’s jewellery shop, it comprises a tableau with 5 automatons who strike the bells in front of them or, in the case of the central figure, representing Old Father Time, toll the main bell above them. The four figures arranged in pairs on either side are dressed in costumes to represent the four nations of Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland. This remarkable time-keeping machine was made in 1904 by Niehus Brothers and the building is of course listed.
If, during your tour of Gloucester, you fancy stopping for refreshments, you could pop into this Costa coffee shop occupying the ground floor of apothecary Thomas Yates’s 17th century house. The upper floors still retain original panelling and fireplace – at least, so I am told, as we didn’t manage to visit it.
Gloucester’s Roman past is recalled in this equestrian statue of the Emperor Nerva who ruled the Roman Empire in CE 96-98. A nearby plaque states that he was “the emperor after whom Roman Gloucester was named” and this “fact” has been copied uncritically all over the Web. Unfortunately, it is incorrect.
A Roman fort, and later a colonia, were set up near here at a place caller Glevum. This would be the Latinized form of the local British name. The fort saw many important troop movements and became the centre of a colonia, which in Britain meant a settlement composed of parcels of land given to men who had retired from the Roman army. This establishment was called after Nerva, and in Latin was “Colonia Nerviana”, or “the Nervian colony”. Its longer name was “Colonia Nerviana Glevensis” or “Colonia Nerviana Glevium”, that is, “The Nervian Colony of, or at, Glevum”. Finally, the “cester” part of the Gloucester suggests that it became an Anglo-Saxon settlement (“ceaster” – the word from which “chester” usually derives). So Glevum Ceaster became Gloucester – a plausible derivation not requiring any entanglements with Roman emperors.
Gloucester has a famous cathedral, though the assumption that only cities have cathedrals and that cathedrals reside only in cities is of course wrong. There are cathedral towns that are not cities (e.g. Chelmsford) and cities that have no cathedral (e.g. Brighton & Hove). Gloucester, however, is a city with a cathedral, in this case called “Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity” – trips lightly off the tongue, doesn’t it?
It originated in the 7th century with the foundation of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter, the body that later set up the New Inn to cater for pilgrims come to see the Cathedral and the tomb or Edward II. Construction of the Cathedral began in the late 11th century.
Or how about this fine old building, as beautiful today as when it was first built. Adjoining the quaintly named church, St Mary de Crypt, it was a schoolroom set up in 1539 by John and Joan Cooke as “a contynuall free scole of grammer”. The school moved long ago and was modernized (along with the spelling) and the building now serves as St Mary’s church hall.
In a narrow street – just an alley, really – now called College Court, we find this 14th century gate. Once part of the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, it has also been known as the Cemetery Gate. The reason for this is that the part of the abbey cemetery reserved for lay people was once here and the gate was its entrance. To generations of pilgrims, this was the path and the gate by which they came to visit the tomb of the revered Edward II. Today, visitors come for a very different reason…
Right beside the gate is this little shop, today advertising itself as “The World of Beatrix Potter” and “Attraction and Shop”. This is said to be the very shop that Potter used as the location for her story The Tailor of Gloucester, though whether it was actually occupied by a tailor at the time, I do not know.
Time was getting on and we started working our way back to the station. On the way we spotted this Victorian (1890) pub with elaborate moulded glazed tiles, a handsome piece of work and rightly listed (Grade II).
Gloucester has a lot of treasures, of which the above are but a skimpy sample, and you could probably spend far more time than we had at our disposal exploring it and making discoveries. Perhaps we should return and do just that another time and perhaps then I would gain a better impression of it, for though the details fascinated me, on this dull day the city as a whole seemed grubby and unprepossessing.
Back in Bristol, we decided to round off the day with a meal in an Italian restaurant in that temple of capitalism, Cabot Circus. I have not seen another structure like it, multi-level and topped of with a remarkable contoured glass roof which is a marvel all on its own. You would not call Cabot Circus a “shopping centre”: I have seen towns smaller than this! And whereas shopping centres are apt to close down at night, Cabot Circus gets a second wind and becomes somewhere to meet, dine and be entertained. A place like this where businesses compete for your attention will inevitably produce vulgar displays but at night these are to some extent muted by the magic of the lights.
Friday, September 9th 2011
We awoke to another grey, damp day but as it is our last full day here, we must not waste it. After breakfasting in the room as usual, we went to the bus station looking for transport to Chippenham, thinking it a good place to visit. Unfortunately, it turned out that no buses go to Chippenham from Bristol bus station, nor was there any solid information as to where we might find a bus to take us there. In the end, we chose a bus more or less at random and went to Chipping Sodbury instead.
The main part of Chipping Sodbury could be said to lie in that part of the broad High Street between the market cross and the clock tower. I say “High Street” because that is what most people call it though it seems to have other names as well. Perhaps during its long history it has absorbed other streets, leaving ghosts of their names.
“Chipping” of course comes from the Anglo-Saxon word that also gives us the “cheap” in names like Cheapside. This has nothing to do with “cheap” in our modern sense of the word but indicates a place for buying and selling, in other words a market. Chipping Sodbury has indeed been a market town from ancient times.
The market cross was originally erected in 1553 near its present location and was placed here, at the end of the High Street, in 1920. The clock tower is of more recent date, having been built in the second half of the 19th century, perhaps after the death in 1871 of Lieutenant Colonel George William Blathwayt, to whom it is dedicated. The arcade that now surrounds it and includes both public toilets and a tourist information office, was put in place in 1948.
Crowded together in friendly proximity near to the Clock Tower are the Police Station (above)…
the Petty Sessional Court (the current building dates from 1862, I believe)…
and the High Street branch of the Chipping Sodbury public library which occupies a building that was once the Grammar School.
Also in the High Street is the Old Town Hall. I poked my nose inside the door and was promptly invited to come in and take a look! We were shown around and allowed to take photos. Chipping Sodbury folk are rightly proud of their town but this special kindness deserves recognition.
The Town Hall no longer serves as such and is now a “venue” that can be hired for parties, weddings, conferences, etc. Though the interior has been modernized for this purpose, treasures from its past have been preserved.
Among these treasures is the council chest for storing money and documents. The principal officers would all have held keys so that the chest could not be opened without all of them being present. (Sorry about the reflections.)
In the large meeting room, the walls are decorated with a series of photographs of Chipping Sodbury in past times. Whoever reproduced and enlarged these photos has done a fine job and I regret that, what with dodging furniture and trying to avoid reflections, I have not done them justice. These are the larger photos and there were others, slightly smaller. Together they form a lively picture of Chipping Sodbury in earlier days.
If I said that the main part of Chipping Sodbury is in the High Street, this should not be taken to mean that there is precious little else. On the contrary, this intriguingly beautiful little town is like an architect’s sampler, because of its array of buildings of every size and style from Tudor to modern. Explore the streets – many with poetic names such as Hatters Lane, Hounds Road, Horseshoe Lane and Rounceval Street – and you will find something remarkable at every turn.
For example, in Hatters Lane we find this row of cottages of different designs and ages…
next to this Tudor house, complete with overhanging upper floor, today providing accommodation for the Conservative Club.
Beside the more rustic stone-built cottages, we have a more sophisticated design with a dainty fanlight and classical pillars.
Contrasted with the small cottage (this one dated 1805)…
is the large town house built for luxurious living and to impress (1740).
Or compare the Friends’ Meeting House from the reign of William and Mary (1692) with…
this curious hybrid that looks as if it might be Georgian or possibly Victorian but has been modified and simplified.
Then there are novelties, such as this unusual drinking fountain and cattle trough given to the town as a memorial of the Diamond Jubilee (1897) of Queen Victoria, by a Mrs R.H. Bush, sister of the then vicar, the Rev. W.H.P. Harvey, with its slightly severe portrait of the Queen.
Not quite a rarity or a novelty but nevertheless a survivor, this posting box carries the cipher of King Edward VII (1901-10).
We had lunch in this Indian restaurant whose name represents an intriguing collision of cultures.
Although we had not intended to come to Chipping Sodbury and had visited it almost by accident, the trip proved to be worthwhile. It is a gem of a town where you could spend a lot of time disentangling the layers of history and enjoying its aesthetic charms. The people we spoke to were proud of their town and their enthusiasm was infectious. From them we gained some useful insights helping to understand Chipping Sodbury and its history.
We took a bus from Chipping Sodbury to Cribbs Causeway. The latter is really the name of a road (presumably one that was once built across a marsh) but is today known for the shopping centre or “The Mall”, as they will have it, that is sited there.
As shopping centres – sorry, malls – go, this one was about average though it was quite a big one. As you would expect, all the usual suspects were present, making this mall, like all others, almost indistinguishable from one another. It’s easy to forget which one you are in, especially in this age of copybook architectural design.
We took a tour in the hope of discovering something unusual but were disappointed in that except for one thing – a sculpture.
I rather liked this sculpture though I unfortunately didn’t manage to find out any details. At this point I was challenged by a security person who told me photography was not allowed. She then stood in front of me, obviously expecting a reply of some sort. I didn’t bother. I am all too familiar with this sort of nonsense. In any case, she was simply obeying the instructions of her paranoid bosses and there was no point in discussing the matter with her.
Since I am not allowed to take the photos, you had better not compound the offence by looking at them.
We caught the bus back to Bristol city centre and changed to one for the hotel. While waiting I photographed this rickshaw passing by. I was attracted by the rather Biblical hair and beard of the driver.
For our last evening, we dined in the hotel restaurant. Not finding anything particularly exciting on the menu, we chose a selection of starters, an “English thali”, you might say.
Saturday, September 10th 2011
Today we return to London. As usual, I have mixed feelings about this, on one hand feeling sorry the holiday is over and on the other looking forward to being back in London again and being reunited with the feline member of the family, Freya. We had breakfast in the room, finished our last-minute packing and went downstairs to check out of the hotel. We left our bags with them for later collection and set out for a last look around Bristol.
We explored a few corners of town not yet visited, and took a look at the Odeon cinema to which Tigger has a not-so-sentimental connection, having once worked for Odeon – or “Odious”, as it was called informally by its employees for reasons I won’t trouble you with.
We took a turn inside The Galleries, the big shopping centre in Broadmead. There is a sort of horrid fascination to these places, though I don’t quite know what. Perhaps one instinctively feels one will discover a bargain or some unique shopping experience. One never does, of course, just the usual outlets that are to be found everywhere else.
However, this plaque aroused some interest, noting that this is the site of the notorious Newgate Prison and recalling scandals in the person of the poet and playwright Richard Savage who died in this jail where he was sent for debt. The turbulent life of Savage is too complicated to retell here but an account of it will be found in the Wikipedia article, Richard Savage.
We stopped off for coffee at this branch of Caffè Nero, which we patronized a couple of times while in Bristol, finding the staff pleasant and the place not too crowded.
We visited St Peter’s Church, gutted by bombing in 1940 and now just a shell. Built in the 15th century but with parts dating back to the 12th, St Peter’s escaped demolition by Parliamentary forces in the 17th century, only to fall victim to airborne destruction in the 20th.
It is one thing to see a church or abbey that has fallen into ruin as a result of disuse and neglect and quite another to see such damage inflicted knowingly and with malice aforethought, an eloquent testimony to the human inability to solve disputes without recourse to violence.
St Peter’s will not be rebuilt. It will remain as a ruin, albeit stabilized, a memorial to those who suffered and died in war and the damage inflicted on the beautiful city of Bristol that, though remembering its losses, has triumphantly overcome them to become the vibrant community that it is today.
Here too we find another echo of that turbulent and mysterious poet, Richard Savage. Having died in prison, completely destitute , he would have been laid in a pauper’s grave but was buried here at the expense of the gaoler.
St Peter’s stands in what is now Castle Park and next to it is a garden with a slightly strange water feature. We walked through the park and then took a bus to Blackboy Hill. It is said that the name comes from a coaching inn, the Black Boy, that once stood upon the hill and was demolished to make way for road widening in 1874, though other theories have been proposed.
We went to Blackboy Hill hoping to have lunch in a branch of Café Rouge that we had visited before and had been pleased with. This occasion was not so happy, however, as they were seriously understaffed with only two waiters on duty. The food was lack-lustre, being obviously pre-cooked and micro-waved – not the best way to serve something you call Cheese Soufflé.
Blackboy Hill is the upper part of Whiteladies Road, itself named after a grand house that once stood hereabouts. At the lower end we find the grandiose Victoria Rooms. Building began on May 24th 1838, Queen Victoria’s 19th birthday. The architect was Charles Dyer. It was to be a concert hall, ballroom and public meeting-place. Similar venues are to be found in other towns, dating from the same period.
The building is Classical in design and decorated with mythological figures and scenes. It is flanked by this pair of very imperial lions, though I think these must have been added later, probably at the same time as the fountain.
The elaborate – one might almost say flamboyant – fountain was added in 1912 and was designed by Edwin Rickards and Henry Poole, well known in the Edwardian era.
The elaborately robed King Edward VII looks down upon the scene with a somewhat aloof expression, slightly bemused, it seems to me. Perhaps he is not sure that he altogether approves of those naked figures cavorting in the water.
My favourite element is this turtle emerging wetly from the water onto the simulated rock. It is a lifelike detail among the allegory and curlicues.
Slow service at Café Rouge had made us nervous about the time, so we hurried back to the hotel to claim our bags and then sped to the station. The train was in the platform but we were not allowed to board while they “readied” it (collected up the rubbish and old newspapers). When the doors opened, there was a predictable rush for seats but we secured two “priority seats” with plenty of leg room.
Thus ended our sojourn in Bristol and our explorations of the surrounding area. It had been fun and it had been instructive. The weather had been kind on the whole and had not restricted our movements. We remain as fond of Bristol as ever and I am sure we shall return again in the future.