Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday A/S

A photo for Sunday, this is at St.Peters, Bradwell on Sea, Essex, from the 7th Century church still standing  on this bleak marshy area of this part of the East coast.

Quoting myself and for a moment joining the North to the South.....

"One more thing to note here is the modern altar, a square rectangular slab of stone on three pillars, and here we come to the Celtic heart of this chapel, for it is these three modern stones that represent Saint Cedd's other communities..

The left stone is a gift from Holy Island, Lindisfarne, it was here that Saint Cedd was trained by Saint Aidan.

The centre stone is a gift from the Island of Iona, the Celtic mission in Britain started here; it was here that St.Colombus founded a monastery where missionary monks were trained.
The right stone is a gift from Lastingham, Cedd left Bradwell to build a monastery at Lastingham in the Yorkshire Moors, and it was here he died of the plague in AD.664"

This morning I have spent  quite a bit of time, researching the Caedmon's Cross at Whitby, there is the original old cross and then there is a 19th reconstruction, which is very beautiful but does it copy the old cross?

The old Caedmon cross

19th Century Caedmon cross

Side view

This much better photo by Stockart which is free of the Caedmon Cross, shows that intricate carving can still be achieved in the 19th C

There is for me a moment of happiness when thinking about the design of the intricate pagan jewellery, which is in the midst of transformation from one god to another, it is also echoed in the stonework of the time.  A marriage of thought, the essence for the moment caught up in the 19th century stonework above, as the vines wind their way through the stone..... craft and art laboriously moulded by the chipping of the stonemason.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A/S cont;

A Riddle - answer will be given at the end, though it is fairly easy to read...

Fingers folded me, and the bird's delight repeatedly made tracks across me with luck droppings. Across the burnished rim it swallowed tree's dyes, a helping of fluid, and stepped again onto me travelling a black trail.  Then a man clad me in protective boards, covered me with hide and girded me with gold.  Afterwards the splendid work of the goldsmiths adorned me, encased in filigree.  Now this decoration and the red dye and the magnificent settings make known far and wide the Protector of multitudes, and the punishment of folly, no less.

This riddle appears at the beginning of  Leslie Webster's Anglo-Saxon Art, and of course the art of A/S poetry and riddles is the spoken imagery of the mind.  Most people could not read, you had to paint the walls, sing the songs in the great hall and recite the stories from the past to give visual continuance to one's ancestors, the great battles fought, noble deaths and of course the movement of people from one place to another.
And so it is with the intricately patterned Saxon jewellery work, the elaborate swirls and coils of gold resembling mazes, the zoomorphic animals, animal bodies ending up with human faces and perhaps best of all the natural vines  and leaves that trail so invitingly round stone work, to understand the grammar of the pictorial feast.  So much of what you see is hidden in a past history of pagan religious beliefs, Woden still strides the world as the conversion to christianity took place, the fluid movement of metamorphosing from one god to another took time, it adds that extra dimension to interpretation.
The natural world though flowed through the blood of these Germanic people but christianity brought the heavy hand of the priest to the stories.
So through this visual explosion of artwork, we are left with tantalising puzzles, and that is something I would like to explore...

So for today, the Strickland Brooch, 9th century silver and niello, emphasising the dramatic light and dark of the world, see the hounds circling the  human faces.

The answer to the riddle is of course a book, the gospel-book.  Riddle 26 in the Exeter Book

Friday, January 23, 2015

A walk in the Woods

Blakes Wood to be precise, there has been woodland on this site for 10,000 years. A crisp, blue sky day, with everything etched clearly in the bright sun, and of course a ploughman's at The Cats, which fortuitously happened to be open!

Wood spurge

Sweet chestnut husks like little hedgehogs

These boots aren't obviously made for walking!

Lunch at The Cats, these are photos of Wally's steam engines.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crystal Balls

Anglo Saxon Crystal Ball at Maidstone Museum. - Explore Heritage

"These crystal balls were found in ladies graves in Kent and lay between the thighs. They were most likely suspended at the front of the clothing. Crystal balls have been found on the Continent too, but where found in Kent they seem to be mainly found in unusually rich graves and accompanied by silver spoons, perforated in the bowl. The crystal itself is made from quartz and there are many theories as to their uses.
This particular piece was found at Bifrons Cemetery, Patrixbourne, Kent, in grave number 42. Bifrons Cemetery dates to around AD 475-575 and was excavated by TB Godfrey-Fausset in 1867. Around 100 graves were discovered and further graves appear to have been opened but not recorded.
Accession Number: KAS 314

Today is about exploring quartz crystal balls, am I seeing them as 'scrying' devices, a crystal  ball gazing into the future a bit like Rose Lee the gypsy who plies her trade on Whitby pier, no not quite. But they have been there in past history.  As curative amulets in Roman times, Pliny said that they were used more for their ice like properties, used for cooling hands and also for cauterizing.  LS has just mentioned a 1200 year old painting which has a Japanese lady of the court holding one for a similar purpose.
They came with the Anglo-Saxon people to Kent, and belonged to the rich and noble families, hanging from the chatelaine round the female waist, excavated, they lie between the legs of the skeleton.  They are a Frankish importation and are often found next to a spoon which would seem to be used as sieve.  Either for the wine that in the halls would be poured out by the women for the menfolk, the holes stopping any herbs, etc getting through or for divination maybe such as  water poured over the crystal ball, both of course are just conjectures.
Anglo-Saxon sieving spoon

As England went through the Conversion period from paganism to Christianity, the crystal became part of the narrative of the Church, so that we find  Alfred's Jewel also made of crystal set in gold.  By this stage crystal became a symbol of the Virgin Mary and of the Immaculate Conception (because it can act as a catalyst to light passing through).
It was also a symbol of rainbows, the rainbow that shines after the storm such as that experienced in the Great Flood and Noah in the bible and god's promise after the flood.. The rational explanation of this way of seeing the properties of these stones, is of course the 'pictures' we see in stones, two examples of stones here....
This is a clear polished crystal of LS, you can almost see a water world.

This is my moonstone, which has a very Chinese landscape image in its depths, the photo is not too good though.
  1. Description of Moonstone;
  2. Moonstone is composed of two feldspar species, orthoclase and albite. The two species are intermingled. Then, as the newly formed mineral cools, the intergrowth of orthoclase and albite separates into stacked, alternating layers.
  3. Compared to crystal balls that divine our future, such a geological explanation can seem boring, but of course the properties of all stones are fascinating, and after all when you do geophysics with the machines of today, the machine is reacting to what goes on under the soil.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saxon thoughts (part 1)

I have been reading a lot these last few days, and need to gather my thoughts in to some sort of order.  Basically Anglo-Saxon study, and a particular time within this Saxon immigration to Britain.  The second half of the 7th century is basically where I am at.  The moment when the pagan gods were replaced by Christianity, or at least for time lived alongside each other, though if one looks at the later Viking raids and settlements the old gods once more appear.  This period is called the Conversion Period.  This changeover of religious beliefs is reflected in the A/S cemeteries, but  the abandonment  of the  old pagan custom of depositing grave goods with the dead did not die out till the 8th century.  So the settled Saxon people during the 7th century  still had the custom of interesting pagan bed burials.  Though to be sure, who would not want to be buried in their bed!  The first time I  had come across such a burial like this  years ago was the Swallowcliffe Down burial of a female, identified by the things she was buried with. Excavated in 1966 by Vacher,  the book can be found on the net, which I will tackle later. But for now the bed burial at  the  Street House, Loftus excavation of the 7th AD Century A/S cemetery, and in particular Grave 42 and one of the brooches found there.

Shield Shaped Pendant from the Street House A/S Cemetery

"This shield shaped was found in grave 42, alongside the two cabochon pendants and a gold wire bicone bead, the pendant measures 27mm wide and 37 mm long, including the suspension loop and has a unique shield shape.  The pendant has a gold base upon which a framework of extremely thin gold bands less than 1mm thick, is set with 57 cloisonne gemstones, each in a separate cell.  The small size of the cells is thought to indicate a reuse of old garnets, an established 7th AD Century practice.  Each of the garnets approximately 1mm thick has been cut separately and not all form a perfect fit within the framework of cells.  All of the gemstones overlie a thin layer of gold foil impressed with a dimple pattern, placed to enhance the stone by reflecting light from behind the gem. The stones in situ are set flush with the top edge of the cell.  This suggest that the cells were part-filled with an unknown (presumably) organic substance, and the foil and gem floated on top to bring them to the correct height, the pendant has three tiers from the lowest outside edge, with the top of the central gem giving an overall depth to the pendant of 9mm...........

The centrepiece of the pendant is a larger gemstone that measures a maximum of 16mm wide and 15mm long with a series of incised lines forming a scallop shape.  Its thickness is unknown."  Stephen Sherlock.

Jewellery  is a female acquirement, though I know that is somewhat short of the truth, but things that glitter are something we all like to dress ourselves up with, and so it was with our Anglo-Saxon brethren, mostly they wore brooches to fasten their cloaks and dresses.  A  chatelaine with useful households accoutrements would dangle from a chain round their waists.  What is interesting though is  the style  and the craftmanship of the various ornaments, and the fact that many of the objects had been made from  earlier antiquarian bits and pieces such as Iron Age beads, or Roman coins, or even old garnets taken from other jewellery.  This would of course  point to the fact that gold and precious jewels were limited, and I suppose that this would be the case in a developing nation country such as England in  that period called the 'Dark Ages'.

What had struck me at the time was the fact that Saint Hilda was contemporary with our 'royal princess' and so was Saint Cuthbert, though I doubt that Cuthbert or Hilda wore jewellery as such.   Cuthbert did have a cross though.....
Saint Cuthbert's Cross, probably kept at Durham Cathedral

Pectoral cross, circa 640-670 W. 6 cm. Garnets set in individual gold cells on a gold cross-shaped base plate. The central garnet is mounted on a white shell of Mediterranean origin. English. The arms are decorated with beaded wire, dog-toothing and dummy rivet heads. The suspension loop is secondary. Repairs show that the cross was not new when buried in the grave of St Cuthbert in 687. A number of decorative elements and the general concept of a cloisonné cross show an awareness of Kentish jewellery of the 7th century, but the shape of the cross and the use of dummy rivets may place the piece in a Northumbrian environment.

When I started thinking about all this my mind was on the beautiful square headed brooches of earlier times, and as I ploughed through the PAS database, hardly any appeared, though there was a good selection of other types and I began to realise that I was undertaking a massive educational read, which needed some books, two are already ordered but not the one for £125 for just square headed brooches, such books are so expensive!

There is of course a male bed burial in Essex, dated mid 7th century, the Saxon Prittlewell burial, had both Christian crosses and pagan grave goods in the mound.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Moths and bees - orchids

Photos of these beautiful epiphyete orchid  plants, they will flower for a couple of months if I remember to water the right way.  The creamy-white one is a moth orchid, though I see the petals as butterfly wings.  But Linnaeus saw them as moth like creatures, extraordinary intricate as if these plants are turning into insects - the next stage of their evolution.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday 16th January

The Chelmer River

I have been up since 5 this morning, my mind a whirl, first it was research on St.Cedd, Chelmsford's patron saint, but originally from Lastingham in Yorkshire.  Then my mind started on Saxon brooches and their dating, and the female aspect of them, did they really signify all that I had read, this will be another blog..... then I finally ended up with Springfield Lyons the causewayed enclosure, just over the road by the river Chelmer,

Reconstruction painting by Frank Gardiner of the late Bronze Age Springfield Type Enclosure

also there is the Saxon cemetery which encroached upon this Bronze Age enclosure, and now lies buried under an enormous modern building since last I wrote about it.

Late Bronze Age enclosure and Saxon Cemetery now lie under this building, a reminder that each part of history is but a page in the book.

Just as a note on the Neolithic Springfield Cursus, I think the cursus end  lies under Asda car park, and if you look down on the green from the bedroom window, I have spied circular rings of dark green in the lighter grass, now could those be round houses, or even bronze age barrows right on our doorstep?

Neolithic Springfield Cursus

All this was brought to mind because today we go to the Wyevale Garden Centre to look at sale orchids, 50% off so it says, it will be my luck that the best will already have gone, but I shall take a photo of the new building as we pass in the car, times move on, and archaeology records its passage.

A Poem

A thoroughly dark poem which should thrill the soul not make it despondent, Ted Hughes at his best.

In the dark violin of the valley

All night a music

Like a needle sewing body

And soul together, and sewing soul

And sky together and sky and earth

Together and sewing the river to the sea.

In the dark skull of the valley

A lancing, fathoming music

Searching the bones, engraving

On the draughty limits of ghost
In an entanglement of stars.

In the dark belly of the valley

A coming and going music

Cutting the bed-rock deeper

To earth-nerve, a scalpel of music

The valley dark rapt

Hunched over its river, the night attentive

Bowed over its valley, the river

Crying a violin in a grave

All the dead singing in the river

Ted Hughes


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Greensted Church - Part 2; photographs

Two things made me think yesterday, the one was a blog from Canada with its beautiful snowy photos, which I often go to see, firstly for its quiet meditative philosophy, and also for the words Beyond the Fields we Know  so beautifully described by Kerradune. The shocks in the news pass us by, there is nothing we can do except not hate, we live in a world filled with religious dissent, yet I love churches and the quiet peace that resides around them.  I approach them as an atheist, but with due respect for the centuries that have passed through them.

The other thing was that I had come across a blog on Greensted Church which had plenty of written words but only two photos though 1200 visits, which somewhat shocked me, I am hardly an expert on churches just like to record them though I have to say words are all very well but photos capture the essence of place, and this is what I like to dwell on, not human folly.

So in this church, the earliest wooden church in Europe, a marriage between Saxon and Victorian has taken place, a continuity over time, just as the graceful old yews in the grave yards unite us with the past, so the peace of largely forgotten churches lying lost in the countryside as their congregations slowly disappear is something we must capture......

Taken from Greensted Church History

The 51 timber planks you see here today date from about 1060, although excavations undertaken in the chancel in 1960 revealed the existence of two earlier timber structures dating from the 6th, and 7th centuries, around the time that St. Cedd began his work of converting the Saxons to Christianity. The church bears witness to the work of Saxon, Norman, Tudor and Victorian builders who variously extended, repaired and restored the building over the ages. In 1848/9 the church underwent severe restoration works, and in 1990 works were undertaken to stabilise the church as it stands today, whilst in 2005 the spire was completely re-shingled in Oak.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I have been working on my 'Lillie' patchwork the last few days, there are yelps of exasperation as I once more stitch a row of motifs upside down, think I am completely spatially deficient sometimes, trying to get owls, flowers rabbits the right way up  but I persevere.

Now that we are post Xmas, people are coming to see the house, some are interested and I realise the move to Yorkshire will happen eventually,  I have fallen in love with the countryside there, not sure when it happened though going back the last few years and the sudden excitement as we left the 'plain of York' behind and motored past the great Horcum Hole and on to the moors that  have always fascinated me.  Also the people, so direct and friendly and of course my family are located there. But with the measure of time  LS has also become attracted to this Northern part of the world, he is the one that does the house hunting on the net, and follows everything with his usual precision.

So we may end up at Church House, next to the graveyard, and small pub on the other side of course!.  My thoughts on this house has been somewhat muted, modern,' magnolied' and rather large for our requirements with its four good sized bedrooms.  But there is also a lot in its favour, an excellent working kitchen, the Newton on Rawcliffe house did not have anything in the kitchen, but one awkwardly placed Belfast sink encased in a wooden cabinet in the centre of the room, and a shared driveway with a distinctly difficult place to park the car.

Church House on the other  hand has a large long sitting room, which needs breaking up to some extent and being separated from the kitchen, but it does have another decent sized room downstairs which we will use as a shared study.  I have already begun to plan the garden here, there are plenty of plants in the front but there are no gates or fences anywhere, even the old brick wall on the church side is low, I can just see my dog and hens flying over into that extended 'garden'.  The first thing I noticed when I wandered in the church yard was the birds in the yews they flitted around, happy in their private space, and there is a window at the side of the sitting room that they can be watched from.

The village itself  Normanby is what I call the usual makeup of houses, no shops, I am reading Blythe's Akenfield at the moment, and the stark contrast of what villages were like, and forget the romantic image of countryside dwelling, in the 19th/20th century is often the time when people lived in poverty and hunger. The transformed villages of today of course require a car to travel to the nearest shops, and hospitals, doctors, etc.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Well one of my birthday books was the above, I have loved making miniatures in the past, whether making things for the Georgian dolls house I bought my daughter all those years back or historical room boxes, so the title of the book was intriguing. Read about a quarter of the book last night (I devour books that's why I keep away from fiction).  Set in Amsterdam in the 17th century, it tells the tale of 18 year old Nella married to a wealthy merchant, as she comes to the city to take up residence in her new home, only to find her marriage is not to be consummated, well not up to the time I have read! Her husband gives her a very expensive 'cabinet house', these were given to wives to introduce them to the running of a home and the things that belonged in the home.
The doll's house in the story is based on a real one in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and belonged to someone called Petronella Oortman, so the author of the above book Jessie Burton has set her story around this cabinet house...

"This dolls’ house is exceptionally realistic. All the contents have been made of authentic materials, and the proportions are exactly correct. The fine cabinet, of tortoiseshell decorated with pewter inlays, was made by a cabinetmaker from France, who worked in Amsterdam for several years. Petronella Oortman was married to the Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt."
Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam

Ornate and rather ugly but it reflects the fashions of its time, you can also see a great deal of craftsmanship and of course beauty.

Reading round this book I came across  Uta Frith, psychologist, someone who has explored how our minds work, and that which is relevant to doll houses, the fact is that they provide memory banks, she had one made by her husband and sons, and this is what she would have taken with her on her mythical trip to a desert island....

"My doll's house satisfies my lifelong longing for the good, sober and virtuously industrious domestic life, never achieved."

need I say more on untidy housewives, note how the silver needs cleaning below...


Edit: By now I have finished the book, and am intrigued by the Miniaturist, who of course is a shadowy figure you never get to meet in the book.  She delivers her parcels of tiny furniture and models of the people who are caught up in the drama and in a way she dictates, or for sees, the nature of the events, but we never actually understand her as a real living person.  This of course, is a good plot line, and the weaving of plots are after what it is all about.'a godlike person moving the chess pieces on a board.

So how do I look back on my miniature work, still have the tools, and occasionally my fingers itch to take up a knife and some wood, and there is a woodworker who creates the different grades of wood you need and also those rounded pieces that I would turn on a miniature lathe to make elegant legs for tables and chairs, but you need space and old tables to work on, something I have not got here.

Did I do it for pleasure? or to transform ideas into 3D reality, or a psychological unconscious act of trying to create the pictures that always buzz through my head, who knows but the idea of a' memory bank' somehow strikes a chord.

Well it set me thinking about 'cabinets of curiosities', a hobby in itself and what had inspired me all those years ago.  Well it must have started when my then mother-in-law Lotta gave me some small silver 18th century things, a table and chairs plus a sledge.  They were all in 1/24 scale, now most miniaturists work in 1/12 scale, so as I never worked in 1/12 they were used as toys in the nursery, being a miniaturist you have to make up stories to go with the setting.  The two little 'chased'  silver pots next to them are pepper and salt, think Persian.  Already because I have taken them out of their rather dark cabinet, I see I could have dated the man pushing the sledge by the clothes he is wearing, there used to be a little man inside but he has got lost with time.  Each object has a story in a past history, -- the star etched with such precision on the top of the table, a shadowy man stoops and concentrates as he uses a tool to scribe with such thoroughness-- the story is  there of course, we just don't see it.  Such things get passed down through the children, and our questioning curiosity is never quenched.......

To illustrate the 'bank of memories', two photographs....  The Hat Shop

These hats, which I made belong, to a little polygonal shop, with a gold cupola on top, the Bath maker was imitating the gold cupola of Beckford's Tower which lies above the city of Bath.  But when I look at these pictures, I see a moment in time, sitting with my daughter in Victoria Park.  She had just emerge from an unhappy relationship, and as we sat in the cold sunshine talking, I collected those little feathers you see on the hats from the outdoor aviary of budgerigars, with her convinced I would pick up some terrible disease from them.  The shop now belongs to my youngest granddaughter and is probably in need of complete refurbishment.  But her great granny Lotta (she who possessed the little silver table and chairs) was also in possession of a Chinese cabinet that she inherited from her mother. Filled with ivory figurines(shocking) and jade objects it dominated the sitting room in its black and gold altar like state.
Slowly a 'female' pattern emerges passing down to our daughters and grandchildren not only the possessions we accumulate but the ideas as well.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wretched Post Office


Today is my birthday, don't ask the age, it will never be revealed.... But the last week or so Em who had drawn my favourite dog before Xmas and sent the above photo and I have been lamenting the fact that the drawing has failed to turn up, wretched postal service, maybe it is lost in a vast warehouse somewhere!  To be honest, and I have forgotten to tell Em, a parcel disappeared before Xmas for LS's birthday so such negligence seems quite common.
Both LS and I have birthdays before and after the Xmas season, so of course birthday presents are somewhat reduced, alright when you are an adult but a bit miserable as a child!
But just to say that I loved the photo, and the Post Office had better pull up its socks.  You may not know but the main branch in Chelmsford is the floor above W.H.Smith, not even it's own building, waiting to be served can be up to half an hour.  Our depot, centrally placed, with the 'lost dept' within its depths has also been sold off to Waitrose, so no go there.  There is another huge, sorting office? out of town, which may help, who knows?  All other parcels arrive quite safely from other postal services, when I order tea from Twinings in Ireland, (loose tea) it arrives 3 days later, tracking email on my computer.  Though and here is the rub, the poor man who delivered it only gets 98p from the transaction. 
End of rant...

Moss in progress; I think Em has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of him;  The photograph captured him sitting in the centre of the garden, probably waiting for a cat to walk by without thinking! Though he loved the birds, and from being a puppy would watch their comings and goings in the garden, but could never stand wagtails!