How strange to think how we can work collaboratively with our continental neighbours to produce beautiful works which will last hundreds of years and please the eyes of many, then in the blink of an eye be killing each other.
Nothing displays this stupidity more than seeing the windows I posted about in the oldest building in Northamptonshire that were produced by a German company who used English and German craftsmen , those Englishmen had to leave Germany at the onset of WW1 having worked alongside their German colleagues to produce such beautiful windows full of colour and intricate detail.
In my last post I included some pictures of some of the magnificent stained glass windows in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I mentioned that I was told by my guide on the day I visited the church that three of the windows were made in Germany.
This piqued my interest and I did some research on the web and found that the Jaffa Window had been produced by a German company called Franz Mayer based in Munich, so I searched for their contact details and having found them sent off a short email asking what they knew about the window and if they could provide me with any more information about its history.
To be honest I didn't expect a quick reply but I was pleased to receive a really detailed email back from a gentleman named Walter who not only provided lots of background info about the company but also kindly looked back at their records and came up with an interesting find.
This is an extract from his email -
"Unfortunately, most of our old files were destroyed in 1944 by bombs and fire. We could save only a few books with photos of our windows and lists showing the churches with our stained glass windows, which however are not complete, and a few "shipping books". In these books we have pictures of windows and designs-sketches but they are only signed with the order number and not place or name of the church. As almost all order files were destroyed, it's difficult to find the works.
Since some years we are relocating our worldwide works using some old shipping books and other information´s and we have compiled an List of Orders which is very detailed but still incomplete. In this List of Orders I found the following information:
Windows for Northampton UK:
Holy Sepulchre’s Church
3-light window, Justice, Faith, Fortitude
Jan. 28, 1899 Order no. 2353 Capt. Graham
2 windows, Madonna with Child, St. Joseph
Feb. 28, 1891 Order no. 1359
St. John Baptist R. C. Church
4 lights, Richard Lionheart in the battle at Jaffa A.D. 1192
Oct. 30, 1882 Order no. 444
The Jaffa Window is described in our list as a window for the St. John Baptist RC Church.
So this could be a mistake in their records or something more interesting may lie behind it, a great shame that the records were destroyed, but with the web maybe they can be reconstructed to a certain extent.
If you know of any windows in a church local to you which you believe to be made by Franz Mayer please let me know and I will pass that information onto the company.
This morning I received this from David Parish the guide that showed me round the church, in relation to the Jaffa Window seen above.
"The stained glass window in 4 parts containing a scene from the battle of Jaffa 1192 On the second panel from the left hand side the image of Richard Coeur de Lion, on the fourth panel the image of Saladin the Ottoman king surrounded by Crusader and Ottoman soldiers. Jaffa was a seaport on the coast of Palestine near to present day Haifa. The battle ended in stalemate both sides withdrawing to leave Jerusalem an open city. It was erected in 1885 by the officers, non commissioned officers and men of the 58th regiment in memory of their comrades who were killed or died in South Africa between 1879 and 1885 in the first Zulu war and the first Boor war most notable and Laing’s Nek 28th January 1881 and Majuba hill 27th February 1881. The 58th regiment became the 2nd battalion the Northamptonshire regiment in 1882."
And in elation to the Gallipoli Window -
"The window to the right hand side is a memorial window to the 4th Territorial battalion the Northamptonshire regiment which was part of the 54th division fought firstly in Gallipoli August to December 1915 then to Egypt in 1916 the battalion advanced into the Sinai peninsula on the 17th April 1917 at the second battle of Gaza the battalion incurred 386 casualties in December 1917 as part of General Allenby’s army who took Jerusalem from the Turkish ottoman forces."
Walter at the Franz Mayer Co also mentioned in his email to me the cooperation with English artists and artisans on the production of some of the works by Franz Mayer.
Franz B. Mayer liked the English transcendent style very much. Therefore, he had employed some English stained glass artists and painters. Partly he himself colored sketches.
The employed English stained glass artists have worked as designers of sketches and cartoons, or painters. These are some of the names of English artists:
Rice and Cope with their sons, Bartlett, Chapmann, Fisher, Schwager, Lessels, Belcher, Fricker, Shellard, Daniels, Bouchette, Berra, and the best of all, Francis William Dixon, a pupil of Burne-Jones. This cooperation continued for many decades. It ended in August 1914 when the last Englishmen with their families left Germany at the outbreak of World War I.
So having read this more digging on the web provided this about one of the artist mentioned -
Burne-Jones exhibited at the two International Exhibitions at the Museum of Decorative Art in Berlin in 1886 and 1893. This ensured his popularity in Germany as a painter and stained-glass designer and demonstrates the exceptionally strong influence that Burne-Jones made on the European Symbolist movement. The makers of the window, Mayer & Co of Munich (the Franz Mayer'schen Hofkunstanstalt) had a direct connection with the Pre-Raphaelites. They employed an English designer, William Francis Dixon (1848-1928), who had trained at Clayton & Bell, the English Stained-glass manufacturers. John Robert Clayton (1827-1913), a close friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Alfred Bell (1832-95), had founded their firm in London in 1855. Dixon’s designs were often heavily influenced by Burne-Jones. The Sixth Day of Creation window was commissioned in 1913 from the Franz Mayer'schen Hofkunstanstalt in Munich (Germany’s leading glass mosaic and stained glass window manufacturers) and painted by Adolf von der Heydt. It is unique in the fact that the image has been taken directly from Burne-Jones’s finished goache, whereas the windows in English churches were taken from the earlier designs Burne-Jones made for Morris & Co.
Some of Dixon's work can be seen here.
And now I digress to lighten the mood.
Last weekend I went for a much needed stroll, along the banks of the canal at Stoke Bruerne, it was a lovely sunny day, ideal for being by the water, and what do I see as I walk along ?,a beer boat, my plan to burn off calories was about to fail spectacularly.
The boat stocked some great beers including beers from a lot of Northamptonshire breweries, so I partook of a Nobby's Plum Porter, which I happen like a lot,
The beer boat moves location so look out for it if you are walking along the canal sides in Nothamptonshire and have a beer and a chat with Jon.
What better use of a boat can you think of ? answers on a postcard.
I took the picture below because I wanted to capture the boats reflection in the water and also because I love the canal system which I happen to think is a great asset which we should treasure and take care of, in terms of a great way to get exercise and getting away from the noise of the modern world it is unbeatable.
Ever wanted to have a look around a building or place not usually open to the public ?, Heritage Open Days are the chance to do just that, its England's largest festival of history and culture, and its free.
So Last SaturdayI took the chance to have a look around one of Northamptonshires most historic buildings, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is a rare Norman Round church, I was specifically interested in the military aspect of its history as I knew it has an abundance of this in connection with the Northamptonshire Regiment. I has visited the building before as I knew a skirmish had taken place during the English Civil War which had lead to marks from musket balls being visible on its exterior which can still be seen today.
I was shown around by a very knowledgeable chap called David Parish who is a military tour guide and he pointed out the various things and people connected with the church's military history and gave me some information about some of the magnificent stained glass windows, three of which were made in Germany.
The church is worth visiting just to see the Jaffa Window which depicts scenes from the Crusades and has intricate detail which my pictures won't do justice too but I hope they give you an idea of the craftsmanship involved, below is just two of the four panes that make up the window.
Unfortunately the picture I took of the windows in its entirety didn't turn out so well because of background light so I'm hoping David can send me one so I can post it up.
Update, since I posted this I have kindly been sent a picture of the Jaffa Window by John Kightley, thank you John, It can be seen below -
The Gallipoli Window is seen below -
The church contains a chapel for the Northamptonshire Regiment the ceiling of which can be seen on the left.
The church is one of only four remaining round church's built in Britain, it was modelled on the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Simon de Senlis built the church as an offering of thanks for his safe return from the Holy Land.
The Soldiers Chapel is where over 6000 soldiers from the Northamptonshires are remembered from the two great wars.
Above is the layout of the original round church and below my picture of this part of the church which doesn't really do it justice if I'm honest.
Some of the windows are memorials to individual soldiers paid for by their family, this window is a memorial to Eric Bostock.
So what is the fascination of really old buildings for me ? well probably their permanency, or lets say in the context of how long we have been around as humans, their relative permanency. Look around you today and most everything seems to be built on shifting sand metaphorically speaking, the church I visited today has been around for hundreds of years before I was born and most likely will be around for hundreds more after I'm long gone.
Think back to the ediface that was Greyfriars Bus Station, that took immense effort to build and yet 40 odd years later it is no more having been demolished, look back at the people who built the church and how little they had in terms of equipment and you have to marvel at their collective achievement in not only building the church in the first place but the fact it is still standing with relatively little maintenance many hundreds of years later.
The Normans and Simon de Senlis
The Norman legacy in Northampton is far reaching, Northampton Castle was built by them and it was used for the trial of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket in 1164.
Some information about Simon, he was by birth a Norman, the Son of Ralph the Rich, both he and his Brother Garner rendered considerable assistance to Duke William in his conquest of England. Garner returned to Normandy to inherit the paternal estates, but Simon being in high favour with the Conqueror remained in England.
Simon was lame in one leg which caused a problem for him when the lady who had been offered to him as a bride refused to accept him because of his lameness.
Simon rebuilt and fortified the town of Northampton, and erected the castle near to the western gate, in the year 1084 the Earl repaired and re-founded the Cluniac priory of St Andrew, Northampton, making in a dependency of the French House of the Blessed Mary de Caritate.
In the year 1096 Simon in common with many of the nobles and knights of England joined in the first crusade, which ended in the capture of Jerusalem by assault on July 15th 1099.
Simon survived and returned safely to England before the end of that year.
To earl of Northampton Simon de Senlis who was one of the most powerful and wealthy of the new nobility of England, the rebuilder of Northampton and the founder of its castle, a great benefactor of religious houses and a most faithful son of the church, an earnest crusader, and a devout pilgrim, the first erection of the church of the Holy Sepulchre of Northampton may with considerable confidence be assigned.
Simon on his return from the Holy Land built the church as a sign of his thanks for his safe return, the original church of the Holy Sepulchre consisted of the round or circular part, with an aiseless chancel extending some distance to the east, which probably terminated in an apse.
Obviously over the years work has been undertaken to maintain the building which at one stage was in dire need of work to be carried out.
The soldier pictured below is Edgar Mobbs he served as a Captain in the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the same Regiment.
He is one of Northampton's most well know sportsmen, he captained the Saints and played for and captained England, the Mobbs memorial match is played every year in his honour. He was awarded the DSO and died in the Ypres Salient in Belgium killed in action in 1917.
The gentleman to the left is Fred Lessons, who played many times for Northampton Town, he served with the Ist Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment.
The Cricketer Charles Tomblin who played for Northants died towards the end of the war in June 1918 and served with the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment. Sadly I can find no pictures of Charles, but I'm making enquiries.
We should always be mindful of the people that gave their lives and suffered unimaginable hardships and witnessed such horror, women that lost husbands, parents that lost beloved sons, sons and daughters that lost fathers, brothers that lost brothers, what we should never do though is glorify war.
We have travelled from the Crusades which was fought many hundreds of years ago to World War One which although it seems a long time ago is still relatively recent, and what has mankind learnt, today we see wars still raging and civilians bearing the brunt of those wars, maybe in some distant future we will learn how to put our energies into more productive pursuits for the common good of mankind.
That would be a fitting tribute to all the talented young people who had their lives cut short and all their relatives who never really recovered from the shock and sadness of losing their loved ones.
As a lover of trees in general and in particular Oak Trees which as I get older hold a certain fascination for me due to their longevity and my relative lack of, there is a day coming up which I only learned of relatively recently, well a few years ago if memory serves me well, and of which some of you may not be aware.
Have you ever heard of Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day?. It was a formal public holiday celebrated in England on 29 May to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy, in May 1660. In some parts of the country the day is still celebrated and thankfully this includes my own County of Northamptonshire.
In 1660, Parliament declared 29 May a public holiday, “to be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he entering London that day.”
The public holiday, Oak Apple Day, was formally abolished in 1859, but the date retains some significance in local or institutional customs. It is, for example, kept as Founder’s Day in the Royal Hospital Chelsea (founded by Charles II in 1681).
These ceremonies, which have now largely died out ( I wonder how many Schools have children dancing round a Maypole these days?) which as I mention above is not the case in Northamptonshire, and which will be marked again this year –
They are perhaps continuations of pre-Christian nature worship. The Garland King who rides through the streets of Castleton, Derbyshire, at the head of a procession, completely disguised in a garland of flowers, which is later fixed to a pinnacle on the parish church tower, can have little connection with the Restoration, even though he dresses in Stuart costume. He is perhaps a kind of Jack in the Green and the custom may have transferred from May Day when such celebrations were permitted again after having been banned by the Puritans.
Those Puritans certainly knew how to dampen the spirits and we have our modern day equivalents but we won’t dwell on anything negative as I’m in a very positive mood as I write this.
In the Cornish village of St Neot the vicar leads a procession carrying last year's oak bough. The vicar blesses the branch at the Church of St Aneitus and it is thrown off the church tower. A new branch is hauled heavenwards replacing the old one. The following morning villagers wear a sprig of oak and change it for the yellow flower of artemisia boys love and a celebration begins. The punishment for not changing the sprigs of oak is punishable by being stung by nettles.
I remember as a child falling into a bed of nettles wearing only shorts (me that is not the nettles) :) and the itchiness and pain that followed, it’s hard to apply dock leaves to stings when they are all over your body.
The celebration in Northamptonshire is centred around All Saints Church in the centre of the town.
There has always been a church on the site of All Saints' since Norman times, although All Hallows, as it was then, was not the 'Mother Church' of the ancient settlement. The church we see today, however, is that built after the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675.
Yes we had our own Great Fire.
Following the Great Fire, a parliamentary commission was formed to rebuild the historic church and also the town. The Parliamentarian leanings of Northampton during the English Civil War had resulted in the razing of the castle by King Charles II after his invitation to reclaim the throne in 1660. Despite this, the Earl of Northampton, a friend and confidant of the King, persuaded Charles II to contribute 1000 tons of timber from the Royal forests of Salcey and Rockingham to rebuild the Church of All Saints. This together with the repeal of the 'chimney tax' somewhat endeared the King to the people of Northamptonshire. As a result, they and others throughout the country, contributed to the rebuilding fund.
Built in 1680, All Saints' Church dominates Northampton's town centre, and carries a statue of Charles II above its portico. The statue depicts Charles II dressed in a Roman toga, supposedly because the townsfolk did not wish for the statue to be placed there [on the church], but as Charles had helped with the rebuilding they were obliged to display a statue and this was their way of expressing their annoyance. The statue of King Charles II sculpted by John Hunt was erected on the portico parapet in 1712 above the royal coat-of-arms with the inscription 'CAROLUS II REX MDCCXII'
Underneath the statue on the full width of the frieze is the following text:
This Statue Was Erected In Memory Of King Charles II. Who Gave A Thousand Tun Of Timber Towards The Rebuilding Of This Church And To This Town Seven Years Chimney Money Collected In It.
The world and our Country along with it has changed at a rapid pace and all in probability the pace of change will accelerate in the coming years, The things we took part in as children and now look back on with nostalgia such as Maypole dancing, Harvest Festival and the like may still go on but will they survive into the future, and should we even care whether they do or not ?.
Personally I think we should cherish these things, not because of sentimentality and a perception that the past was somehow better than today, which if they could our forbears would likely disavow us of that belief pretty quickly, or because we have allegiances to a faith or institution such as religion, (which I don't) but because we are all rooted in the past in some way.
Change is good in many ways and that is the very nature of life itself, we have benefited in so many ways from positive change, but should we abandon our past and all its traditions ?
I leave you with that question.
BTW my own little Oak grown from an acorn has survived the Winter and now has leaves.
I like to take as many pictures that appear on my site myself, it's part of the fun of putting something together, however I'm not a photographer by any means and I know the results can be variable, although I hope generally they convey what I'm trying to get across :)
Yesterday I was flicking through Twitter and came across a fantastic picture taken by somebody I follow which was so representative of the County (at least in my eyes) that I thought it would be great to get them out there so more people could get the pleasure I got from seeing them. the gentleman's name by the way is Steve Capel and after I contacted him he very kindly gave me permission to show some of the great pictures he has posted, so thanks Steve, the pictures shown were all taken by him and he owns the copyright.
The pictures are atmospheric, and I think quite stunning and I hope you enjoy looking at them.
The picture directly below was taken at Sunrise in Great Brington.
And below we have a sunset that Steve has captured in all it's glory.
I particularly like the picture below of Harlestone Lake, it has such an atmosphere of quiet beauty.
The sky can display itself in many forms and this picture for me is superb. Whatever we may create we will never be able to match the beauty that the natural world can show us.
Northamptonshire sandstone has a warmth when the Sun shines onto it.
Another sunset below, and as a lover of tree's I like this one.
And to finish this fine old Oak in Autumn.
We all have to earn a living and in the hurly burly of trying to stay sane and afloat we miss so much that is hiding in plain sight, sometimes when we have the opportunity it's great just to stop, listen, and look at what surrounds us, if it were ever to disappear I suspect we would long to be able to do just that.
OK I know it's a strange way to start a post but while waiting for my Wife a few days back I sat on a bench and watched a pair of Crows hanging around a chimney pot, one perched on the rim of the pot and as his head disappeared into the black depths of the pot interior he showed me his posterior, "nice" I thought, but it transpires Mr Crow and his Missus were building a nest,
Having said that I'm making assumptions it was Mr when it could have been Mrs in which case she behaved like a brazen hussey, showing me her rear in broad daylight.
This is not the Mr Crow or Mrs Crow in question but one I saw today whilst sitting in the garden of the New Inn in Abthorpe village and it reminded me so I thought I would share with you.
I was out and about a few days ago in one of the small villages which surround Northampton, I had taken my Wife to an appointment and had an hour to kill while I waited for her, unusually the sun was shining so to get some much needed exercise I had a wander around the village.
Outside the local village shop was the usual notice board, the ones you see advertising upcoming fetes and village activities, people selling bits and bobs and general stuff, but amongst this one thing that caught my attention was a printed A4 size sheet which gave some details about a lady who was going to give a talk on a book she had written about the Silk Weavers of Northamptonshire.
That immediately piqued my interest as to be honest I knew nothing about the County being associated with silk or textiles of any sort, which is the great thing about life, there is always something you can learn, at least you would hope so, politicians seem to learn nothing from history but that's another story which we won't pursue. :) as it might depress us.
I knew about our great East Midlands rivals Leicesters connection with textiles, and Nottingham's history of lace making but silk making in my own County, every day as they say is a school day.
My aim is always to lift your spirits so you say to yourself "David my old fruit, you have made me smile", whether that be because of the amateur nature of my blog, or its content, if I can raise the merest titter I consider it job done.
I'm finding the modern world and its insanities somewhat taxing at the moment and I always appreciate it myself when someone writes something that elicits a chuckle, Maybe that's what fascinates me about history, as it harks back to what seem simpler times, But then, for the people of the day it life was probably as perplexing and occasionally as irritating and certainly a lot harder than our comparatively comfortable lives.
Anyway without boring you with my thoughts I thought I would look further into the whole thing and started to dig around on the web and as usual came across some fascinating little bits one of which was an old article published back in 2010 by the local Northampton newspaper. I don't generally buy the local rag as its content is usually pretty dire but just occasionally a little gem will crop up within its pages which is worth reading.
The article was entitled "Busy Landlord had three jobs in village", and described how a small village called Abthorpe near Towcester in Northamptonshire ( by the way us
locals pronounce Towcester as Toaster), once had two Public Houses,
The Landlords name was Jim Hinson and he was indeed a productive man, he performed three roles, Landlord, Wheelwright, and Brick and Tile Maker, who said men can't multitask. ?
Now here is the interesting bit, his pub was called "The Stocking Frame", is that not a great name for a pub ?. One I have never come across before, so if you know of a public house which has this name please let me know.
Unfortunately the Pub has long since closed but it turns out that Abthorpe was at that time famous for the manufacture of silk stockings, I had always known about the Counties association with boot and shoe making as do a lot of people I talk to, but I have never in my life heard anybody speak about or mention anything to do with silk.
Apparently one wall in the house comprised of just windows to give the stocking makers a much light as they needed,
Apart from silk making in Abthorpe I also found references in some academic papers of the same thing going on in Rothwell, Corby, Huxloe, Guilsborough amd Spelhoe.
Silk weaving apprarently also flourished in Desborough, Kettering, Daventry, Towcester and Middleton Cheney in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and there is evidence of a silk manufactory at Weedon Bec.
Like a lot of occupations in those days the people whose task was to carry them out faced pretty hard conditions and unforgiving masters, this is covered in Northamptonshire Past and Present and entitled "The inhuman taskmaster: a story of Weedon Bec".
One of these papers made reference to Counties in those days being broken down into smaller administrative units knows as Hundreds, so if you are interested take a look at this link which shows the Hundreds of Northamptonshire.
So once the old brain kicks into life (mine that is) I start to wonder if the village has any connections to the Civil War, and stumbling across the Abthorpe village website I read that what is now the Village Hall was originally built in 1642 as a Free School by the Spinster Jane Leeson, using local stone. So obviously being a fine day a trip out to the village was called for. on arrival I took the picture below which is the building as it is today.
The Free School building built in 1642
It seems Jane Leeson was a woman with a very kind heart as this article makes clear
So going off at a tangent for a moment, we parked up by the Church and as we got out of the car were met by a friendly greyhound who seemed to be having an early afternoon wander, we tried to entice the dog over to see if we could find out where he had come from and as we did a gentleman came out from behind his garden gate and said "I have been looking for her".
We got chatting to him and told him about the reason for our visit and he said he knew nothing about the silk weaving but that the landlord of the local Pub would probably know more and that the pub had a board inside with some village history recorded on it.
There was indeed a board that recorded all the Landlords over many years but I couldn't get a decent photo, We had a chat to the landlord who was a friendly sort but he to didn't know about the weaving he did however mention the Stocking Frame Pub and mentioned it had been closed since probably around the 1950's.
The existing village pub is called The New Inn has has a great specials board which we intend to try soon as I am hungering for the steamed steak and kidney pudding. If I was ever asked what I would like as my last meal on earth, that would be it. :)
The gentleman who owned the dog told us that the cottages on the right (red brick) in the picture below were originally built for people working in the shoe making industry, The building on the left looks as if it may have been built around the same time as the free school.
The picture below the cottages is something we saw on the way to the pub, shoe making or references to it are never far from you in Northants.
Off to the Church seen below -
Now as I've admitted many times before I'm not religious in any sense of the word, but when you see a stained glass window you can only marvel at the beauty and work that goes into creating such a thing of beauty.
If I did follow a religion it would be Buddhism, which seems to me to make sense but lets not go down the religion discussion route, it seems to lead to lots of bad things.
To many people the picture above is typical of villages to be found all over a UK, a quiet scene, thatched roofs, lovely old stone, the scent of mown grass and the soft cooing of pigeons in the trees.
However don't be fooled by this tranquil ideal, village life can be fraught with its own problems, the dynamics between its residents, the petty jealousies, tittle tattle, I was reminded of this last night by a friend who runs a village pub, and some of the things she told me bought home how small minded and petty some people can be be, and I say some as I wouldn't want to tar everyone with the same brush. To give you an idea she related the story of a local resident who had seen on their CCTV a passing dog walker whose pet (we'll call him Fido) had been violently sick on the pavement outside their property, but hadn't attempted to clean it up.
Incandescent with rage and in an attempt to shame the offender the householder had posted a picture of said dog and owner (we assume) up on social media, so beware you too could end up on the internet for all the wrong reasons.
I suppose when it comes down to it a village is just a microcosm of wider society (and sometimes I think doing O Level Sociology back in the day influences my thought processes too much) :),
As Halloween is nearly upon us again, here is a true tale of ghosts and scary happenings.
If you were driving through Northamptonshire and happened to pass through the village of Woodford and you drove down Church Street your eye might be drawn to the lovely old village Church.
On first sight a Church not unlike many others in the County, constructed of Northamptonshire stone, standing in the same spot for many, many years, nothing unusual it its outward appearance you may think, and glancing away you drive on to your destination whereever that may be.
Buildings however like people often have things hidden inside which sometimes due to particular circumstances are revealed with shocking results.
In the Spring of 1866 it was decided that restoration work must be done on this fine building, wear and tear had taken their toll and with the majority of the people still holding their religion as important in their lives the Church was an important building in any community.
Nobody at this time could have known that this would lead to a strange and sinister discovery which would fascinate and horrify the local populace in equal measure.
The work started innocuously enough but there came a point when an old beam had to be removed, and after moving some masonry the workmen noticed a recess in the stonework, curiosity roused one man put his hand into the recess and feeling around thought he had discovered an old birds nest.
Pulling the object out they saw what appeared to be some sort of small wicker basket, the workman dropped the object whereupon it shattered on the stone floor, what happened next would shock and stun the men inside the Church.
The outer object having broken released what appeared to be something wrapped in a type of cloth and the men being lowly and probably lowly paid thought they may have chanced upon hidden treasure.
The cloth was unwrapped and what was actually revealed was a mummified human heart, the men naturally were stunned and word spread quickly throughout the local area with people flocking to the church.
St Mary The Virgin Church Woodford Northamptonshire
The people were asking questions, and the question most on their lips that day was, whose heart was this, how had it come to be hidden in their Church ?
At this juncture two women of the village told tales of ghostly appearances in the building, one telling how she had been alone in the Church arranging some flowers when she had seen what appeared to be a monk move towards the altar and upon reaching it knelt and prayed.
Another woman told a similar tale of being alone and her attention drawn to a movement near the altar she witnessed again what appeared to be a monk moving in her direction, only to disappear near the spot where the mummified heart had been discovered.
The answer to the question of how the heart came to be hidden in this Church will never really be known with certainty but much speculation has gone on over the years, some saying that it was the heart of a Crusader who had lived locally, some speculated it belonged to the monk whose ghostly apparition appeared to the two women.
You can still see the heart behind glass, set into the stone of one of the transepts, it was placed there a very long time ago for posterity.
So today I visited the Church to see for myself, above you can see the Church and below that the river Nene as it runs through fields at the back of the building.
Was it a recess like the one below where the heart was discovered ?
Below you can see the heart as it is on display now set into the stone but safely behind glass. Its a strange feeling to be looking at something which once beat strongly in the body of a human being who lived so long ago.
Aside from the novelty of its strange occupant the Church is a beautiful old building, andalthough I am not a religious person I can always appreciate the beauty of stained glasswindows, and the work that went into building these wonderful places of worship.
The two figures below are the oldest remaining memorials in the Church, they are the figures of Sir Walter Trailli and his Wife Eleanor, Sir Walter died in 1290 and his Wife in 1316.
They are effigies made from wood and the fact they have survived this long and are in such good condition is remarkable.
Sir Walter is dressed in his armour which would have been from around the period of Edward 1 and Eleanor is wearing a rather elegant costume as befitting her status.
Ghosts and stories about ghosts have always created lively conversations between those that believe in them and those that don't. As for myself I can say I have never witnessed or even thought I may have seen one, but I like to keep an open mind.
Last year I read a book about a well known outbreak of Poltergeist activity in a family home in Enfield North London, Some of the things that were described made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and the two men who investigated the case were sure the events were in no way staged by the occupants. In any case the chaos and disruption and it has to be said terror that were caused to the family were obvious, and nobody would inflict that on themselves. Eventually they were forced to leave their home and live with neighbours and friends.
This was in 1970's England pre the internet and all the easy publicity that brings so the family who some thought were staging these happenings for some short term fame for themselves did not have the easy and readily available outlets that people do today,
After watching this and then reading the book I certainly was convinced that an open mind is definitely the best policy, after all can everything be explained rationally, and would we really want to live in a world where it could. ?
So I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up a well known television and radio listings magazine this week and saw that on the 21st of this month the BBC are going to broadcast a new drama named Gunpowder,
It will centre around a certain gentleman, one Robert Catesby who I wrote about a short time ago in a short piece about November 5th and my experience of it many moons ago, methinks it will be quite interesting to see how the story of the plot and its protagonists are portrayed,
I'm hopeful as anything the BBC produces of this genre is usually pretty good, and I'm hoping they did some of the filming in and around the Catesby family home where a lot of the plotting was done. The actor who will play Catesby is a real life descendant of the man himself on his Mothers side of the family.
I was thinking about this and thought what a good idea a follow up series which told the story of how things may have turned out had the plot succeeded might be, after all not too long back we had the story of a UK ruled by a victorious Germany,
That aside its good to see our history being given an airing, and sadly I suppose it shows that for all our assumed sophistication the human race will always be at war with itself, maybe one day we we learn to live without religion, would that be a positive thing ? you tell me.
So an update now that the first episode has been shown.
You know when you hear someone's voice on the telephone but you have never met them, without realising it you build an image in your mind of what you think they will look like.
I did a similar thing leading up to the first episode of Gunpowder, I thought "Ah the story of those bad men who plotted against the good me but were caught and rightly punished".
This is a sad admission on my part as it shows I was still seeing and thinking about the story through the prism of what I had been taught, or maybe not taught at school. If you read my blog on the mummified human heart and ghosts I mentioned always keeping an open mind. Obviously I'm not always following my own advice and I need to think about that in the future.
What did I think after the first episode, well it opened my eyes to the cruelty we as humans can inflict on each other for no real reason, I knew that Catholics had suffered persecution,
but had never thought what the realities of that might be like.
The scene where the lady of the house was slowly crushed to death was truly horrific, and worse was to come with the dismemberment of the young man.
I am not religious and never have been, and for me the lunacy of one set of people inflicting such barbarity on fellow human beings on the basis that the method of worship they practice differs although they believe in the same God suggests to me we could do without formal religion.
You can see how one mans terrorist can easily become another mans freedom fighter, anyway I look forward to episode two and the comments that will appear on Twitter, I love reading other peoples thoughts and opinions.
OK its not about Northamptonshire but last night there was a wonderful Harvest Moon which I attempted to capture,
Some of the shots I saw on Twitter were magnificent and my own attempt can't match those but I thought I would post it up for posterity anyway.
A few days later I took the picture above, the sky was looking like something out of a Hammer Horror film, with the Moon just visible.
If you travel through the countryside and visit some of the many villages of the county you will see many examples of the use of Northamptonshire stone, it is not a well known fact but many different types of stone were available to craftsmen.
The county at one time had many small quarries producing stone, and one point over forty existed but many of these diasappeared as mining for iron ore boomed.
John Morton writing in The Natural History of Northamptonshire, 1712:
“And no County in England affording a greater Variety of Quarry-Stone than this, or exceeding this in the Goodness and Plenty of it, upon that account it deserves a more particular consideration.”
‘Quarries: here of White Stone, there of Red; here of Freestone, there of Ragg.’
The most common for use in construction were Ironstone, brown sandstones and pendle limestones, and dustin slates
I saw something on Twitter today which reminded me that November 5th will soon be upon us and I was also reminded of the link to my home County Northamptonshire and in particular the village of Ashby St Ledgers and the Manor House, of which more later in this post.
I have to be honest its a day like any other day as an adult but November 5th or bonfire night as we called it then was a night for me and my mates that was second only to Christmas.
That sounds fairly improbable now in the days of Halloween and its commercialisation and all the stress and cost that must involve for parents, but back then certain times, notably the time you finished the school day, when you got your pocket money, bonfire night, those were moments that had magic.
Bonfire night was a big one, and it wasn't just the night itself, in fact the days and nights spent in preparation were if anything even better, we had something called anticipation which is grossly undervalued now, defered gratification I think its called not much in vogue these days. Building the bonfire meant collecting combustible material wherever we could find it, scouring the countryside for firewood, carrying it back, or loading it onto our home made carts.
I can remember looking into an open box of fireworks and visualising what each one of them was going to do, my Dad putting up a post so we had somewhere to attach the Catherine wheel, a firework which would would spin around like a whirling dervish until spent. The rockets, jumping jacks, bangers, and all the other fireworks we looked at in shop windows with a wonder in our eyes only experienced by the young.
We must have been taught the history behind this yearly ritual but how much of that we were really interested in is debatable, although I suspect the tradition of building a Guy and requesting a penny for the guy must have least at given us an inkling that the main conspirators name was Guy. We were not to know the main conspirator was one Robert Catesby.
The Manor House Ashby St Ledgers.
So the story behind our childhood excitement and joy is this.
In the village of Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire is a grand house, it is one of Northamptonshires many historic houses.
From 1375 to 1611 it was the home of the Catesby family, In 1605 it was in this house that Robert Catesby and his fellow conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, gathered regularly in the Manor’s gatehouse.
In the gatehouse they conspired together to assassinate King James I together with his courtiers by blowing up the Houses of Parliament in one of England’s most notorious acts of treason, the Gunpowder Plot.
Its likely that you have never heard of Robert Catesby because Guy Fawkes is the name most well known in relation to the plot,
Catesby was born in 1573 to a wealthy Catholic landowning family from Warwickshire, Robert Catesby was the only surviving son of Sir William Catesby and Anne Throckmorton.
The Catesby family were highly respected and well-established. Their Catholic faith meant that they were in constant conflict with England’s Protestant establishment.
Robert’s father was subjected to heavy fines and many terms of imprisonment, this lead Robert Catesby quite understandably to take an anti-Protestant stance.
When James 1 of England succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, Catholics were hopeful that the new king would be more sympathetic to their plight. When this hope proved to be futile, Robert Catesby decided it was time for action. On 20 May 1604, he gathered together a group of cousins and close friends for a meeting in London.
It was at this meeting that Catesby unveiled his plan to use copious amounts of gunpowder to blow up the Palace of Westminster. The attack would mean certain death for the new King, members of the Royal Family and the sitting Government. In the chaos which would inevitably follow, Catesby hoped that the oppressed Catholic nobility would stage an uprising and seize the reigns of power from the Protestant establishment.
The date was set for 5 November 1605 – the official opening of Parliament. Over the course of the next year, Catesby’s attack was meticulously planned. But it wasn’t to be. Late in the night of 4 November, the Plot was uncovered by the King’s men. When news of the plot’s failure reached Catesby, he fled to the country with some of his fellow conspirators.