Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England


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The Hoard

Having visited Soho House, we headed back into the centre of Birmingham, to dry out and warm up with lunch at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the museum is a one of those classical buildings,  built when such cities were rich and philanthropists gave generously. Its galleries have high lantern windows in the roof, and it being such a grey day, there were times some of the galleries felt a little dreary, I wanted to ‘put the big light on’!

But there was no shortage of bright shiny things in what we had come specifically to see,  Staffordshire Hoard,  some of the 4,0000 items, from the sixth and seventh century AD, found by a metal detectorist in a field, nr Litchfield in Staffordshire.  My photos are somewhat dismal, as per the light, so I’ll direct you to the excellent website for the find

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The craftsmanship in these items is astounding, I was blown away by it; over 3,500 garnets, from the Czech Republic and Indian subcontinent, delicate braided gold and gold foil  what puzzles me is how on earth the makers managed to see to do this work, what tools do you use to slice garnets in to wafer thin slices, and then place them over gold foil, to make them sparkle? They must have had perfect vision, no glasses or magnification and no ‘big light’ would have been available, they must surely have all been under the age of 40, to see what they were doing, they’d have had to perfect their craft from an early age? (Mind you, I don’t imagine life expectancy was very long either!)

What a find for the detectorist and the farmer who owned the field! There was a fear once the significance and scale of the find started to emerge, that the finds might fall victim to Nighthawkes, who would plunder the items for their value as scrap, what a tragedy that would have been, so as a deterrent, whilst the archaeological dig was underway a rumour was allowed to grow that it was a police murder investigation that was going on in the field.

We’d rather like it if another series of The Detectorist, would return, a rare, gentle and rather lovely drama, set in ploughed fields, and the  accompanying music is all of those things too.

 

 

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The sum of the parts.

We’ve been been travelling around a bit over the last few months, and it’s time I caught up with my blog posts.

We took the train to Birmingham, to visit Soho House, Soho House was home to the entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, from 1766 to 1809,  it was January, it was raining, we didn’t linger on the outside, so here is sunny photo, to get you in the right frame of mind. Rather elegant isn’t it?Soho house Copy

Matthew Boulton, was a member of the Lunar Society

Soho House was also a favourite meeting place of the Lunar Society, a leading Enlightenment group. The Lunar Society would meet every month on the night of the full moon to dine, conduct experiments, and discuss philosophical matters of the day.

Members of the society included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt and Joseph Priestly who all gathered around the Lunar Room table and engaged in a lively exchange of ideas which inspired many new discoveries and inventions.

They would meet in this room

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To dine

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and no doubt have a glass of wine or two

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They were an amazing group of people. One of Mr Uphilldowndale’s ancestors was a member.

They were led by the larger-than-life physician Erasmus Darwin, a man of extraordinary intellectual insight with his own pioneering ideas on evolution. Others included the flamboyant entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, the brilliantly perceptive engineer James Watt whose inventions harnessed the power of steam, the radical polymath Joseph Priestley who, among his wide-ranging achievements discovered oxygen, and the innovative potter and social reformer Josiah Wedgwood. Their debates brought together philosophy, arts, science and commerce, and as well as debating and discovering, the ‘Lunarticks’ also built canals and factories, managed world-class businesses — and changed the face of Birmingham.

It seemed there was nothing they weren’t interested or curious about, this is one of Boulton’s creations, made from Derbyshire Blue John stone,  I have a little Blue John, but nothing on this scale!

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This is Boulton’s study, where they conducted experiments and studied fossils,

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I suppose those evenings must have looked something like this! (with added dramatic lighting)

Fixed size image

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

as this painting is by one of the Lunar Society members, Joseph Wright of Derby. Note the moon visible through the window.


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National Memorial Arboretum

I’m not sure how we didn’t really know anything about the National Memorial Arboretum , other than we’ve often passed the direction signs to it on the A38, and said to ourselves ‘we’ll call in there one day.’

It was much busier and bigger than I’d imagined, its 150 acres and over 300 memorials.  We didn’t mange to see everything we’d planned to before the winter light faded, we will return another day.

This memorial was one of many that stopped us in our tracks.

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the plaque says it all.

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nma sapper support hand full shot

It was seeing the maquette, for the next memorial, when we visited the Flanders Museum in Belgium earlier this year, that was the driver for me to find out more about the arboretum.

This is the memorial to the soldiers who were shot at dawn, during the First World War

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Commemorates: 309 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for desertion or cowardice during World War I.  Most  were sentenced after a short trial at which no real opportunity for defence was allowed. Today it’s  recognised that many of them were underage and suffering from shell-shock. Andy Decomyn’s statue is modelled on Private Herbert Burden, of the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot at Ypres in 1915 aged 17. In 2006 a posthumous pardon was granted.

Each post bears the name of those who were executed, so many of them were so young, just children.  As the women stood next to me said, ‘it’s chilling’.

shot at dawn memorial

 


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Let there be light, and transparency

It might have been cold the day we visited Haddon Hall, but at least it was bright. We’ve had some very wet, slag grey days this last week, I doubt we’d have managed to see some of the historic detail had we been there on those days.

The windows at Haddon are beautiful.

Haddon leaded light

We debated the windows, Mr Uphilldowndale said the undulating waves of glass was a feature designed to add strength, I said it was to make it look sparkly.

Haddon leaded light 3

During the 19th and early 20th century a great number of important medieval houses were restored and had their windows returned to an earlier style of glazing. The glazing of the western range of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, is particularly effective as each pane is set at a different angle to those adjacent, creating jewel-like facets when seen from the exterior. 

Look at the graffiti,  you’d need to be posh to leave your mark, back in the day, not every one had a precious stone ring, with which to make a statement. Haddon leaded light writing_

this window tells you what a posh gaff it is.

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A very pretty addition to the Christmas decorations was the Wishing Tree, set by the window and bathed in sunlight, it was beautiful in its simplicity

Haddon wishing tree

You could add your own wishes if you  wanted too. I guess we all have many things to wish for in 2019,  I for one wish for a little more light and transparency from our world leaders and politicians, is it too much to ask?

Haddon wishing tree 2


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Time Capsule

Haddon Hall Derbyshire,  a film makers dream location.

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Haddon Hall is probably the finest example of a fortified medieval manor house in existence. Present-day Haddon Hall dates from the 12th Century to the early 17th Century, whereupon it lay dormant for over two hundred years from 1700 until the 1920s, when the 9th Duke and Duchess of Rutland restored the house and gardens, and once again made it habitable.

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So the key was turned and other than a house keeper and gardener, the house was left untouched for two hundred years (I’m guessing more than one house keeper and gardener were involved.)

Such neglect has meant that many of its early features remain.  This is the kitchen, to the left the chopping block, on the wooden uprights you can see the blackened burn marks, from the rush tapers used for light.  I adore the stone step, just imagine how many feet have dashed across this threshold, to  wear it so deeply,

Haddon kitchen step and block

The main entrance hall also shows where ancient feet have trod. I wonder what precious goods the chest on the left once held.

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Only the very wealthy would have had goods to keep safe, deeds, fine linen, pewter; the family obviously had quite a bit to stash away.

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Not sure they’d have a TV room though.

Haddon TV room!

The house is decorated for Christmas, with music each day, handbells they day we visited, so pretty.

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My it was cold though, it seemed a little warmer in the garden, in the pale winter sun

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Rooms that had fires lit were very welcome.

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Although some of the fireplaces seemed pitifully small, maybe the fourth chair leg was used to pep the fire up a bit?

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On a more serious note, we paused to reflect that fire safety regulations were made and enforced as far back as Tudor times, the people of Grenfell Tower have been let down dreadfully by our government.

Haddon fire regulations_

And many more people continue to live in homes that are unsafe. It’s appalling.

 

 


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Applied Art

I came across a beautiful gatepost today, crafted not just to carry the weight of a gate, but something rather handsome too. It was hewn from the lovely soft blush pink gritstone that can be seen in many of the very old houses around here, the quarries it came from, long since worked out and disused. It’s a precious stone to those of us who live within its walls.

It was facing its partner, however I don’t think they spent their lifetimes together, but they had common ground. Both posher that your average gatepost.


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The Day After the Guns Fell Silent

I’ve tried to imagine what it was like as the troops started to come home. To a landscape that had changed forever.  And wondered what those who came home, brought home with them.

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Memories so horrific, that they could never be spoken of, so horrific that they haunt the subconscious twenty four hours a day. Shattered lives, broken bodies and minds, the camaraderie of shared experiences, disbanded.

Peace Poppy Cornflower

Flowers of remembrance, Flanders Fields Museum Ypres Belgium

We went to the local park, its a memorial park, with a war memorial, we gathered round at 11am, for an act of remembrance and of course two minutes silence. The rain stopped, a wind shook the trees, and a drifts of amber coloured beech leaves drifted down on us, it was easy to think of them as poppy petals.

It was special, and a lot of people had worked very hard to make it so. As just a few weeks a go a mighty oak had fallen and smashed the memorial, it was  quickly made safe and temporary repairs put in place (fortunately they panels inscribed with names, survived the impact).

There has been a lot to learn about the Great War. I’ve been discussing and reading about how  those grieving (and there can’t be many who weren’t) coped in the aftermath of WWI. It seems that it  many ways, open display of grief was suppressed as it seemed like the only way of coping. Maybe its something we’ve made a habit of?

It made me think of the other fallen oak I’d seen this year, in the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres

Ypres Oak slice_

The dark stains are caused by the wounds of war

Oak detail

I’ve heard grief described like this, as rings within a tree, grief is not something that goes away, or is ‘got over’; its wounds stay there, inside, time passes, but the wounds, like in the damaged rings of this tree, are there, deep within and hidden from view, but always there.

Lest we forget.