A DORSET SHEPHERD’S HUT: A LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY


shepherds-hut-4-copy

Shepherd’s huts are very vogue. For the price of a small- to medium-sized car you could have your own bespoke hut. For rather less, you could build one from a kit. If you had the time and patience. Then you could go glamping, even if only in your own garden. Or you could search online for a ‘pre-loved hut’, with the reassurance that apparently almost no hut, however dead, defunct or derelict, is beyond restoration. Even if what you end up with is, to all intents and purposes a new hut with couple of original parts (de-rusted). 

shepherds-hut-1-copy

For as long as anyone living remembers – and it’s at least 65 years – the hut featured here has been in situ by a gate in one of our fields. There’s some evidence that it may even have been brought over from Ireland sometime after my wife’s grandparents came to Dorset a hundred years ago. I first met the hut more than 40 years ago, when its condition seemed to be much as it is now. Over the passing years, until this winter, it had gradually become entirely concealed. First, there was luxuriant undergrowth. By the end, there was luxuriant overgrowth as well: you could have walked straight past without knowing there was anything under the thick tangle of bramble, hawthorn, old man’s beard and the like. Recently the area was cleared of much of the vegetation, and the hut stands revealed.

shepherds-hut-3-copy

As far as I know, no one has been inside – or even tried to open the door – for decades. The family that farms the fields is into its 3rd generation of pastoral care. They haven’t needed the hut. A bit more clearing of undergrowth will be needed before we try to get in. It may prove interesting. During WWII some shepherd’s huts were used to house prisoners of war who had opted to work on the land in preference to captivity. In one I know of, their graffiti is still visible inside.

Shepherd's Hut, Dorset: wheel

On the hub of the wheel is the maker’s name: Pierce Wexford Ireland – the Irish link. The company was established in 1839 and continued in operation until 2002. At one time, Pierce was the largest manufacturer of engineering and agricultural machinery in Ireland. Pierce stoves are still made, though elsewhere.15507008_1-2

the-forgotten-labour-struggle

The enormous former Pierce foundry is now mainly occupied by a huge Tesco supermarket, their largest store outside Dublin. A memorial to the historic usage, made from machinery parts, is all that remains there of Pierce of Wexford. However, the name lives on, stamped on machinery and other manufactured items from the past. I find there is quite a trade in Ireland for Pierceiana, as no doubt it is known.

tesco_pierce-copy

surprise_3-copysurprise_2-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-ahr0cdovl21lzglhlmfkc2ltzy5jb20vnwnlzjvlmzizodc0zgqxztyxmmnlnjzmotzlzwyzndrly2nhzjczmtdjndzmode5zjeyyzq3mdu3ztiymdrizc5qcgd8fhx8fhwzotr4

We have no plans for the hut, apart from having a look inside to see what (if anything) is there. A rattery, maybe. Its work is done, and it can continue to watch over the fields for many more years to come.

shepherds-hut-2-copy

Credits: Pierce’s info & images from random online sources, in particular Emma Stafford (Observations from Daily Life), who hasn’t posted anything for 2 years and who I hope will not mind a credited use of the Pierce tractor seat & drain cover if she comes across this post; Photopol for the Tesco / statue image; National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (gateway); History Ireland Magazine (foundry image); and adverts.ie for the other Pierce items

ABBEY OF SAINT-MARTIN-DU-CANIGOU (1)


Abbey of st-martin-du-canigou-a-9

The Pyrénées-Orientales department is rich in early medieval religious foundations. One of the most striking is the abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1009 on the flanks of The Canigou. This high mountain (2,784 m /9137 ft) – once thought to be the highest in the Pyrenees – is of particular symbolic significance in this Catalan region, one that has changed ownership and allegiances many times over the centuries. Even now the Catalan flag predominates in public places. 

Abbey of St Martin du Canigou

The Abbey is pleasingly inaccessible. Leaving aside a precipitous donkey track down a cliff, there is an easier track that leads up from the little village of Casteil. On certain days, at certain times, this can be negotiated by going in a small trailer drawn by a kind of skinny quadbike. Or else, it’s shanks’s pony. The steep walk is said to take 30 – 50 minutes. You’d have to be fit to reach the abbey in less than half an hour. We took 45 minutes, overtaken at intervals by serious walkers with kit to match. And gratifyingly, we overtook several puffing, wheezing and (frankly) sweaty pilgrims in our turn.

A view, as if from the upper slopes of Canigou (Google)St Martin du Canigou Map smdc-2-jpg

Much of the trek is through woodland, with encounters with red squirrels, nuthatches, black redstarts and a surprising variety of  butterfly species. The vertical rise from the village to the Abbey is well over 1000 feet, and the mountain air is sweet and clear. Apart from a small chapel on the way and the visitor centre, there are no buildings apart from the Abbey. Those with the energy left can climb  higher to a promontory overlooking the Abbey, from which the postcard and guidebook view can be replicated (header image). However there is the added advantage of being able to take zoom photos.

The gorge on the left side gives a good idea of how precariously the Abbey is perched on the cliff topst-martin-du-canigou-a-7-copyst-martin-du-canigou-a-5

Over the centuries, the Abbey has suffered earthquake damage, secularisation in the c18, and consequent abandonment by the monks. Thereafter, it fell into disrepair, then ruin. Most of the contents were dispersed. The buildings were then treated as a quarry. The wonderful and important capitals of the cloister were looted, as were the remaining sculptures. 
st-martin-du-canigou-a-2

And so the ruins were left for well over 100 years until, in 1902, a local Bishop of Catalan origin began the massive task of restoration. Thirty years later, the work was complete. The lower church – basically the crypt – was found to be largely undamaged, and is substantially as it was in the c11. Much of the upper church and the cloister was able to be reconstructed. The rest of the monastery buildings are early c20.

st-martin-du-canigou-a-3

The Abbey is currently occupied by the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes. This is a remarkable charismatic order, not least because both consecrated men and women can be members, as can priests. Furthermore, it is inclusive of unconsecrated people – even families – who share the broad beliefs and aims of the community and their missionary activities in parishes and hospitals. We were shown around by a remarkably spritely and down-to-earth young nun (at one stage she high-fived me!).

The cloister deserves separate consideration, not least because of the wonderful capitals, some of which were, amazingly, recovered as the result of a diligent search for dispersed original material during the restoration.

st-martin-du-canigou-a-8If you want to find out more about this remarkable place, it has its own website with plenty of information HERE

‘UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A SUNDIAL ON THE PONTE VECCHIO


sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-4

Florence in January.  -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-5

Since I was 17 I have been lucky enough to visit Florence quite often, not least because Mrs RH regularly goes there on business, and I am a keen ‘trailing spouse’. Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo opp’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-2

Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.

If you look closely at the pillar, you’ll see, halfway up the south face of the hexagonal column, a lizardsundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-1

Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-7

A PUZZLING SUNDIAL IN THE PYRÉNÉES-ORIENTALES


VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT is a small medieval walled town in Catalan country. It is watched over by Fort Liberia, one of VAUBAN‘s massive defensive constructions in this historically strategic area. The town is charming, and additionally famous for being the start of the ‘Train Jaune’, a picturesque narrow-gauge railway that climbs high into the Pyrénées. The amazing altitude rise is from 1250 ft at Villefranche to 5000 ft at the track’s summit just above the village of Mont Louis (which has its own Vauban fort) 

Double sundial, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Pyrénées-Orientales

The sundial above is high up on a house in the church square. It doesn’t exactly draw the eye, and would be very easy to miss. It’s on the house next to the Mairie (right, with the Catalan flag), below the small top windows.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

TWO DIALS IN ONE

The main dial is etched and painted on cement, with roman numerals and showing hours, halves and quarters. The long gnomon is attached beneath a small sculpted head from which sun rays radiate – a simple representation of a solar deity. Above the head can be seen numbers, of which only 11 and 8 at the start, and 3 at the end can be made out with any certainty. Possibly, it is a date: the dial (which is not ancient) is otherwise undated and it is very hard to guess its age. I can find no explanation for the initials DS (top left, Gothic font) and ER (top right, normal font). 

The small dial-within-a-dial shows the hours only, with arabic numerals. The gnomon points straight down. I am unsure of its purpose as a supplementary dial on the same plane, but I hope to find out.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

INSCRIPTION

The words “COM MES SOL FA MES BE ESCRIC” are Catalan and mean roughly “When it is sunny, I write (show the time) well”. This rather charming inscription was apparently added around 2000 by the village pastor.

Credit: for information, Michel Lalos, who has compiled a comprehensive illustrated record of the sundials of the Pyrénées-Orientales.

THE STRANGE STONE CIRCLES OF SHAP ABBEY, CUMBRIA


Shap Abbey, Cumbria

Even on a wet day, the ruins of the remote Premonstratensian Abbey of Shap in Cumbria are impressive. Although not much that is vertical remains, the layout of the extensive Abbey buildings can clearly be seen, with clarification from the helpful information boards. There was one particular puzzle that we encountered: a number of neatly incised circles on the floor of the nave, on both sides.

Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria

The purpose of the two lines of circles – we found 5 very clear ones – turns out to be quite straightforward. The nave floor dates from the c15. At that time, each Sunday there would be a procession involving the senior clergy. They entered the Abbey through the now-ruined west door. The circles marked the positions to be taken by the Canons, who then stood in two files before the nave altar.  So the circles are in fact place-markers.

Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria Nave Floor Circles, Shap Abbey, Cumbria

Shap Abbey, Cumbria

 

SPARROW CHICKS IN DORSET


Our house provides nesting opportunities for sparrows on all sides. Somewhat ramshackle, with plenty of holes in the thick walls and under the eaves, it is perfect for the communal sparrow lifestyle. Every year we think of filling the holes, and then to decide not to. The sparrows do no harm. We’d miss them. Here are some chicks in the most easily accessible hole for photography. It is used every year, usually twice. An iPhone is best for the purpose because the flash is right next to the lens.

Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 01 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 02 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 03 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 04 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 05 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 06 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 07 Sparrow Chicks, Dorset 10

Gable End Wall 2
Gable End date

JUMIEGES ABBEY: AN ELABORATE EARLY SUNDIAL


Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 1

A picnic lunch at the Abbey of Jumièges, Normandy, has much to commend it – not least tranquility and a stunning view. As we sat enjoying the sunshine on our white bench, we both noticed something unusual on the nearest tower, something not mentioned in anything we had read about the Abbey. On the south wall below the 4 levels of arcaded towers you’ll see in the header image a small red item pointing down at 45º. A gnomon – and where there’s a gnomon, there’s a sundial (although the reverse is often not the case). So we went to investigate.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 3

The Abbaye de Jumièges was a Benedictine monastery founded in 654AD. In the c9, the original abbey was burned down by Vikings, then rebuilt. A new and larger Abbey was consecrated in 1067, and it was further enlarged in the c13. Restoration work was carried out in the late c16. Subsequently, a vast sundial dated 1660 was crudely carved in the south face of the tower.

Mass (Scratch) Sundial, Jumieges Abbey, France 4

The primitive design and execution of the sundial is rather at odds with the architectural precision of the stonework and the daring of the conceit of  building a hexagonal tower on two square ones, and topping it off with a circular tower… just because they could. The rustic sundial has more in common with the medieval Mass or Scratch sundials on churches, primitive devices that originally evolved simply to indicate the time of the next Mass, with the Priest moving a stick into the appropriate hole on the wall to mark the forthcoming canonical hour. From being an ‘event marker’, the addition of a gnomon and roughly scratched numerals placed higher on a church wall would later provide a community with a way to mark the hours – at least when the sun shone.

A rough medieval scratch dial above a church door near Epernay (sans gnomon)France sundial

Longburton Church, Dorset: a more sophisticated scratch dial high on the Ham stone south wall – ?c16Longburton Church, Dorset: scratch sundial

Returning to Jumièges, here is a closer look at the sundial, with embellishments that seem to have been carved freehand and endearingly ineptly for such a splendid and august building. Yet the time markers have clearly been carved with precision. My only negative comment on this exuberant and enjoyable timepiece is the modern gnomon that looks completely out of place to me. Maybe it’s the colour that’s the problem. Or the flat utilitarian blade of metal. Anyway, without glimpsing it from our picnic spot we would never have seen that side of the tower, and we would have missed an unusual treat.

Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 5Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 2Mass (Scratch) Dial, Jumieges Abbey, France 7

All images: RH

 

ST MARY’S, MELBURY BUBB, DORSET: A “SINGLE-TREASURE” CHURCH


St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 03

St Mary’s Church in Melbury Bubb, Dorset stands on a hillside deep in Hardy Country. In The Woodlanders, the hamlet is called “Little Hintock”. The little-known church contains a particular pre-conquest treasure – a well-preserved c10 Anglo-Saxon font of great beauty and intricacy of carving. Simon Jenkins calls St Mary’s a “single treasure church” and praises its extaordinary “lack of pretension”. This remains one of the few un-electrified Dorset churches, with oil lamps for light and a coal-fired stove in the nave for warmth. The solitary church at nearby Hilfield is another. 

The interior has a carved wood rood screen and wooden ‘waggon’ roof. The stove and oil lamps are visible.St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 05St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 06

THE FONT

A quick glance at the font reveals that it is in fact upside down. The theory is that it is carved from the upturned base of a Saxon cross, perhaps a “preaching cross” that presumably predated the original early church building as a place of congregation and worship. The carvings appear to depict – possibly – a lion, a wolf, a horse, a stag, a dolphin or porpoise, and a couple of smaller creatures. It takes a bit of a leap of imagination, and of course the beasts may even be mythical rather than representational. However, the helpful memorial frieze on the wall certainly makes tentative identifications easier without having to crick one’s neck unduly. I thought I’d detected a fish of some sort, but it turned out to be an upside-down animal haunch… I have included photos of the documents that are on the wall by the font, which give additional information and historical interpretations about the “single treasure”

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 04St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 07

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 08 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 09

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 12

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 13 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 14

St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 15

Two c17 tombs in the churchyardSt Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 02 St Mary's Church Melbury Bubb Dorset 01

Credits: all photos RH; light-touch research from church documents and Simon Jenkins ‘Great English Churches’

MAPPERTON HOUSE, DORSET: FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD


Mapperton House in Dorset  is not hard to find, but it is somewhat off the beaten track near Beaminster. In the recent film Far from the Madding Crowd the fine manor house, which dates from the c16, became the farm inherited by Bathsheba Everdene. We planned to see the film the weekend it came out, and spent the morning at Mapperton to get into a Hardyesque frame of mind. A form of ‘method’ film previewing, I suppose. It was a dull day, but here are some photos from our visit. And yes, we thought the film was wonderful, with ‘Bathsheba’ and ‘Gabriel’ excelling in particular…

Mapperton House, Dorset 1 Mapperton House, Dorset 2 Mapperton House, Dorset - Gatepost The later west front of the houseMapperton House, Dorset - west side

The back of the house, from the gardensMapperton House, Dorset - back view

The sunken gardenMapperton House, Dorset - sunken gardensMapperton House, Dorset 5

The sundial (base and column old, dial and gnomon new)Mapperton House, Dorset - sundial

The orangeryMapperton House, Dorset - Orangery

The stables and yard, as seen from the house in the film; and as they areIMG_1487-1030x773Mapperton House, Dorset - stables A

Note Bathsheba’s modern carriageMapperton House, Dorset - stables B

An unusual double-stepped mounting blockMapperton House, Dorset - Mounting Block

The ChapelMapperton House, Dorset - chapel 1

St Ambrose, with his hive and bees – one of several very good pieces of stained glassSt Ambrose and bees, Mapperton, Dorset

Yah, Troy here, yah, the thing is I’ve sort of fallen for this feisty farmer girl, ok?

Tom Sturridge films a scene for the movie Far from the Madding Crowd in Dorset Featuring: Tom Sturridge Where: Sherbourne, United Kingdom When: 22 Oct 2013 Credit: WENN.com

Tom Sturridge films a scene for the movie Far from the Madding Crowd in Dorset
Featuring: Tom Sturridge
Where: Sherbourne, United Kingdom
When: 22 Oct 2013
Credit: WENN.com

Mapperton Map jpg

RAMSGATE HARBOUR, KENT


These photographs of Ramsgate Harbour were taken on a bright September day as we went on a 3-generational family seal boat trip, and on our return. Ramsgate Harbour 1 Ramsgate Harbour 2 Ramsgate Harbour 3 Ramsgate Harbour 4 Ramsgate Harbour 5 Ramsgate Harbour 6 Ramsgate Harbour 7

The photo below shows Pugin’s home The Grange, now a Landmark Trust property where we were staying for a family occasion. To the right is St Augustine’s, the church designed by Pugin and completed after his death by his son Edward. It has a nice walled garden, but overlooks the now-defunct ferry terminal, which slightly mars the charm…Ramsgate Harbour 8 Ramsgate Harbour 9 Ramsgate Harbour 10 Ramsgate Harbour 11 Ramsgate Harbour 12