AHEAD OF THE CURVE / A CURVE OF THE HEAD


Swan Neck, Prospect Park NYC (Keith Salvesen Photography)

A WOODPECKER DILEMMA


At the end of out garden we have – or had until last week – four trees. All were planted by us and all have taken well to the rather clay-rich soil. There’s a copper beach, an amelanchier, an apple tree (cookers) and until a few days ago, a pretty silver poplar.

The poplar, being soft wood, started to attract great spotted woodpeckers. After a couple of years chiselling into the trunk without much enthusiasm, they decided to press ahead and build No 1, The Poplars. The following year, they hatched and raised a brood, and I recorded their progression from tiny almost inaudible peeps to full-bloodied yelling for food. They ran both parents ragged with their insatiable demands. We were quite pleased when eventually they left the nest and peace was restored.

And so it went, first with an old hole being cleaned out frantically to make the nursery; then another hole was started higher up. Then, two years ago, we had our bienniel pollarding done, and done badly. Without a terminal ‘knuckle’ for the new growth to sprout from the following spring, the tree began to die back. 

By last summer, the foliage was pitiful – the tree was more dead than alive. The leaves were withered and crispy. Before the end of July, they had all blown off. Inevitably the tree had to come down and we arranged to have it done this month.

Which brings to us 2019, with a male woodpecker rushing up and down the trunk to find a perfect spot to drill a hole. We watched as he went about his work, spraying shards of wood-chip over a wide area. There was a sad franticness about it – especially as we knew that in a couple of weeks the tree would be gone.

After the crime scene had been cleaned up once the tree had been felled, the woodpecker came back and seemed genuinely puzzled (as well he might). He appeared to be looking for his vanished home. We watched him try half-heartedly on the other trees. They can’t have suited him – he flew away and we haven’t seen (or heard) him since.

As these photos show, the death of the tree  may not have been entirely due to bad pollarding; the trunk itself had had its core removed at two or three levels. As you can see, we kept a souvenir cavity from the woodpecker days.

The woodpecker in happier times

RED ADMIRAL BUTTERFLY STUDIES (WINGS CLOSED)


Red admiral butterflies – God’s gift to amateur photographers, including myself. Colourful, prolific, simple to identify, usually within easy camera reach. All very well, but sometimes they are so busy feeding that the colourful topside is kept hidden. These images from Dorset attempt to show that closed-wing images of feeding red admirals have the interest if not the good cheer factor of the popular view. See what you think…

ST PETER’S CHURCH, CHETNOLE, DORSET


St Peter's Church, Chetnole, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

St Peter’s, Chetnole is a pretty and very typical rural Dorset church with a long history. It is at the heart of the village, and the popular village pub is close by. The openness of the churchyard is one of its attractions, and helps the church to be seen to its best advantage.

St Peter's Church, Chetnole, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

St Peter’s dates from c13, including the nave, the south door and a lancet window. Later features date mostly from c15 including the barrel vault and the tower, which was rebuilt at least in part in the c16. The four gargoyles on the tower are of particular note. The south porch is later. In the mid-c19, the church was enlarged (controversially, apparently) with the addition of the north aisle, and the chancel was refurbished. The clock was installed in soon after (and remains reliable). I couldn’t find the trace of a medieval scratch dial, though (see Sundials) other local churches have one.

St Peter's Church, Chetnole, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

The bells are of particular interest, with the first and second of the three being among the oldest in Dorset. They were cast by a London founder, William Chamberlain, in about 1500 and inscribed respectively: wox augustinae sonet in aure dei (‘the voice of Augustine speaks in the ear of God’), and sante laurenti ora pro nobis (‘St Lawrence pray for us’). The third (tenor) bell was cast in 1865 by John Warner and Sons of London, and weighs about 8cwt. The fittings are not suitable for ringing, so the bells are chimed.

St Peter's Church, Chetnole, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

St Peter’s is worth making a detour for if you are in the area, not least because of its attractive setting, and after visiting the church the proximity of the pub with its ales, food and garden for those with a thirst after righteousness to quench.

Photos: Keith Salvesen; Info adapted from Three Parishes Benefice’s informative website

A BIZARRELY ANACHRONISTIC SUNDIAL IN FRANCE


Take one majestically ruined Viollet-le-Duc castle in central France, and simply add a c21 slate sundial of rather unsatisfactory design, fix it to a medieval wall with badly-chosen B&Q screws, and you get this…  Viollet violated.

Actually, I’m being a bit harsh on it. Looking closely, including at the gnomon, the dial  seems to be home-made by someone who knew what he was doing. The carefully sketched light markings indicate that he (or she) has taken a lot of trouble over it. Had I made it myself, I’d be proud of it. But I might have located somewhere less blatantly out-of-place (and maybe with different screws…).

 

BRITAIN’S OLDEST POST BOX: A GRADE II* CHANCE FIND


On a cold, sunny November day, we went to a local church that was slightly outside our usual territory. The purpose was to photograph the medieval mass dial on the porch – or, as it turned out, dials in the plural. Beneath a neat dial from roughly 1600, we found the traces of an apparently older and much more sketchy dial. Below that, the possibility of a  hint of a dial -possibly an original practice run. More of those another time.

As we drove home on a different road, we had a ‘stop the car’ moment. For there, outside a row of old cottages, was a small post or pillar box. Not only that, it was octagonal, Victorian, and worthy of immediate investigation. The location is at Holwell, Dorset – rather more of an area than a defined village. Its Church, St Laurences, is in its own hamlet known as The Borough, down a no-through-road. The box is actually at Barnes Cross near The Borough and Cornford Bridge, National Grid Ref: ST 69308 11775. 

The box turned out to be a wonderful find. Plainly, it was an early one. Research when we got home revealed that is is in fact the oldest box still in everyday use in Britain. According to HE, it is dated to 1853 and was made (as the box itself proclaims) by a Gloucester firm, John N. Butt & Co. Roadside boxes were only introduced in 1852, so this one is a very early example. There are apparently two other extant boxes made by them, one at the National Postal Museum in London and the other a private box at a hospital in Plymouth.  Standardisation of design was not brought in until 1859 – before that, designs varied from area to area.

  

The box is grade II* listed in 1987, designated thus for its ‘legacy record’. Despite the listing, the box became badly dilapidated, until in 2104 a restoration campaign by the local community succeeded. The Daily Mail carried an article with ‘before, during, and after’ images. The box had to be stripped before being fully refurbished to its former glory. 

             

This very early box has a number of interesting original features, most of all the vertical letter opening, the royal insignia, and the fact that the makers advertise their skills twice over. The most important modern feature is of course the collection notice in its inset – proof that it is business as usual 165 years after the box was installed.

I have referred to this box as a post box, with a nod to pillar box  (which is the name I grew up using). I realise some prefer postbox in one word. And clearly the correct description in the 1850s was letterbox, as shown printed on this example. But I imagine that in those early postal days houses did not have what we now usually call letterboxes, i.e. holes in the front door of a house, so there was no cause for confusion.

Credits: Historic England; Dorset OPC (Online Parish Clerks); BNPS Dorset Press Agency; Daily Mail. All photos apart from the 2 restoration ones are mine.  

A MEDIEVAL MASS DIAL IN PIDDLETRENTHIDE, DORSET


Medieval Mass Sundial, Piddletrenthide Church, Dorset (Keith Salvesen)

The village of Piddletrenthide in Dorset lies by the upper reaches of the River Piddle, Dorset’s most amusingly named river. Like its close neighbour, the larger River Frome, the Piddle flows roughly ESE to Poole Harbour. Piddletrenthide is an interesting village for many reasons, but I am heading straight to the northern end, to All Saint’s Church which dates from C12. And I’m zeroing in on the porch.

As you can see, centrally above the porch entrance is, firstly, a badly degraded tablet (only the letter A is clearly visible). Above it is a fine, well-defined sundial. Probably, the experts would not call it a mass dial at all, since it is not actually cut into the church’s stonework, but is on its own block stapled (now anyway) to the church wall. As British History Online (a great resource) puts it, Sundial: Above entry to S. porch, rectangular stone slab with enriched border, Roman numerals, wrought-iron gnomon and date 1602

There’s no doubt about the date. ‘1602’ is completely clear, though the preceding inscription is harder to decipher. By sight, I could only clearly make out the words TO BE, as mentioned by the British Sundial Society (see below). Photographs taken on a sunny day reveal more, and I have done a bit of work on one of them – making it black and white for a start. I believe the legible part of the inscription reads OCTOBER  ? ? 23 (possibly 1523).  A ladder might make the task of completing the inscription easier! 

The design is rather more sophisticated than earlier dials. For a start, marking the canonical hours is by now a thing of the past; this dial is on the 24-hour clock that arrived with the early timepieces. The dial marks from 6am to 6 pm, but it is old enough for IV to be rendered as IIII. Also, this is a ‘scientific dial’.  With very early dials, the distance between the markers was equal, an inherently unreliable system throughout the year. Gradually, dials acquired graduated markers that narrowed towards the lowest mark, and widened after it. This provided greater accuracy. Among the earliest – if not THE earliest example – is at LITLINGTON CHURCH in East Sussex.

The above photograph shows the stubby gnomon. I assume it is not the original one. I must have taken this photograph around midday. The face is decorated with a lattice design on both sides, the right side being rather more worn. In addition there are two attractive roundels with a design I can’t make out. A Maltese cross, perhaps? The British Sundial Society describes the dial thus: Shows 6am to 6pm in half hours. Two circular motifs cut into either side of gnomon, decoration cut into dial sides. IIII for 4pm. Triangular sheet gnomon with lead fixings – possibly not original. A possible inscription at bottom “.. ..To Be.. ..” .

All Saints is a fascinating Church, both outside and inside. There are many inventive gargoyles and other carvings; and the interior is very rewarding. Another post about this church will follow in due course.  Meanwhile, as a side note, the Piddletrenthide Parish Records detail a most interesting fact that will have me revisiting the church for sure: The first known use of Arabic numerals can be seen in an inscription on the west door of the church tower ‘Est pydeltrenth villa in dorsedie comitatu Nascitur in illa quam rexit Vicariatu 1487’. The use of Roman numerals continued in Europe for at least another century so it is quite something to find Arabic numerals inscribed over a doorway in a small village in Dorset.