Onward into October

In the northern hemisphere October is the second of the autumn months. In the southern hemisphere it is a spring month, the seasonal equivalent of April in the north. The month has 31 days and is the tenth of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, although it kept its original name from the Roman calendar in which ‘octo’ means “eight” in Latin.

Among the Anglo Saxons, October was known as Wintirfilleth, Wintirfylleth or Winterfilled meaning winter full  or winter fulfilling. According to Bede, the word meant ‘winter full moon’, the first full moon of October, after which winter was supposed to begin. This idea stems from a time when the pagan Anglo Saxons believed the year was divided into two seasons, just summer and winter.

As winter did not actually start at that time, it has also been suggested that the full moon was simply a signal that winter was on its way, and a warning to people to start preparations for harsh weather ahead. Among several other tasks this could involve food preservation, the housing of livestock in byres and barns, and strengthening homes e.g. repairing thatched roofs, doors and window shutters.

The October birth flower is the calendula and the birthstone is the opal. It is said that the opal will crack if it is worn by someone who was not born in October.

The  October Zodiac signs are Libra (Sept 23 – Oct 22) and Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 21)

There are several historical anniversaries in the month of October in the UK. I imagine few are known, let alone ‘celebrated’ but here are some of them anyway:

  • 2nd Oct 1452:  Britain’s last Plantagenet king, Richard III was born.

Richard III painted in 1520, Author unknown. Uploaded to Wikipedia by Silverwhistle. Public Domain

  •  6th Oct 1892: Death of the English Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who immortalised ‘The Six Hundred’ in his poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1862. Photograther: Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1873). Public Domain

  • 7th Oct 1920: Women became eligible for admission as full members of Oxford University and given the right to take degrees.
  • 4th Oct 1066: Harold II, England’s last Anglo-Saxon King was killed at the Battle of Hastings in Sussex – possibly by an arrow in the eye as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry.

“Here sits the King of the English” . Harold II ‘s coronation 1066. Author: Norman and English embroiderers. Public Domain

  • 20th Oct 1632: Birth of English architect Christopher Wren who was responsible for the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral following the Great Fire of London..

Christopher Wren’s Cathedral, as built. Public Domain

  • 24th Oct 1537: Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died following the birth of the future king Edward VI.

Jane Seymour, Queen of England. Date 1536.Artist: Hans Holbein Public Domain

  • 28th Oct 1831: English physicist Michael Faraday demonstrated the dynamo, founding the science of electro-magneticism.
  • 29th Oct 1618: English courtier, writer and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded on the orders of King James I.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s first pipe in England. Author: Frederick William Fairholt (1814-1866)

There are a number of Special Events celebrated worldwide in October. The most well known one to many of us is probably HALLOWEEN. Here is just a little about the history of the event and its traditions:

Halloween or Hallowe’en  is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. It is also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve and is a celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31st.

Many Halloween traditions originated from the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’, which was celebrated at the end of the harvest season. Samhain was a time to take stock of supplies, prepare for winter and to ask the priests to pray for families as they faced the dark days of winter ahead. They believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the dead would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits, or appease them.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them. This festival was later Christianised as Halloween.

Halloween activities today include trick or treating, attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, playing pranks – to name just a few.  In many parts of the world the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve include attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve. This tradition can still be seen today in the eating of certain vegetarian foods, including apples, potato pancakes and soul cakes.

In Munich (Germany) the big October attraction is OKTOBERFEST!

This festival claims to be the world’s biggest folk festival as well as being a great time to enjoy drinking beer. Over the last ten years or so the festival has attracted around six million visitors every year. Between them, visitors get through almost seven million litres of beer and consume thousands of grilled sausages, chickens, giant pretzels,  and even wild oxen. The festival lasts just over two weeks (often from mid-September to early October) and takes place in a meadow outside Munich’s city centre. Besides eating, drinking and dancing, visitors can enjoy parades and fairground rides, and admire the many people dressed in traditional Bavarian clothes.

The history of this festival dates from the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. Celebrations involved shooting displays and horse-racing – as well as much eating and drinking. Such a fun time was had by one and all it was decided to repeat the event every year.

This post has now become far too long to add photos of our gardens and local lanes, so I’ll finish with just a few of the many photos we took around the grounds of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire last week. The autumn colours were a delight (although the red oak in the last photo is not a species native to Britain and was ‘imported’ from North America).

Refs:
Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October
timeanddate,com https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/months/october.html
Historic UK http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Historic-October/
Images are either my own photos or from Shutterstock, Pixabay or Wikipedia. Those from Wikipedia are credited as such.

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The Workhouse at Southwell

Anyone who has read Dickens will have heard of ‘the workhouse’ and the fear it struck into the hearts of some of the poorest people in society. Although the initial intentions of setting workhouses up may have been admirable, stories about just how harsh, strict, austere and, in some cases, cruel, these places were still linger today.

So what, exactly, were these ‘workhouses’, when were they set up and why?

In the early 1800s, the rising cost of caring for the poor and elderly in their own homes was unpopular with ratepayers. It was Reverend Becher in the town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, who devised a new system to cut these costs.

A network of hundreds of specially designed workhouses, 15-20 miles apart, was set up across the country as part of the most ambitious welfare construction ever attempted in Britain: the New Poor Law of 1834. Workhouses were places where the poorest people in society had to work in return for food, shelter and medical care. Life inside was intended to be basic and dull, so that only those people in real need (paupers) could find shelter there, while those who weren’t destitute wouldn’t ask for help, knowing they’d be sent to the workhouse.

The people who set up the Poor Law didn’t intend to be cruel, only fair and efficient, yet workhouses were an odd combination of care and deterrence. ‘Inmates’ were fed, housed and clothed, but the stigma on those who went there, together with the hard, tedious work and sometimes, corrupt staff, ensured workhouses were places of last resort. They not only catered for the most poor, but also for the elderly without work, deserted wives, unmarried mothers, children without parents and those with physical and/or mental disabilities. They also took in vagrants/tramps and offered them a meal and a bed for the night. Altogether, the Workhouse at Southwell could accommodate 158 paupers.

In the model of the Southwell workhouse below, we can see how the ‘wings’ to either side of the central section separated the men women and children – something so hard for most families to bear. The central area largely provided accommodation for the Master and Matron, with the children’s dormitory and schoolroom on the very top floor. Later on, a new schoolroom was built attached to the workhouse and can be seen to the far left of this model. Men were housed in the wing to the right of the front door (blue in the model) and women in the (yellow) wing to the left:

The plan below shows the layout of the site and the notes explain a little about different areas:

The workhouse staff was headed by the Master, who reported to elected Governors who were answerable to the taxpayers. The Master, who was often seen as cruel and corrupt, had responsibility for the day to day running of the house. The most important woman in the workhouse was the Matron, who would simply have been the Master’s wife in the earlier years of the system, with no formal qualifications. As nursing standards rose, things changed, and later matrons were expected to have the necessary nursing qualifications.

The Schoolteacher’s job was not an enviable one and the turnover of teaching staff was high. Schoolteacher’s were badly paid and of low status, despite high standards being expected from them by the school inspectors. It was usually a live-in job which involved supervising the children throughout the day as well as instructing them in the classroom. The Guardians abolished the Workhouse school at Southwell in 1885, and children were sent to local schools instead.

On entering the Workhouse, all new inmates were bathed and given the workhouse clothes/uniform to wear:

    Inmates were also categorised, with future treatment and daily workload in mind:
  • Able bodied (separate groups for men and women)
  • The old and infirm (also separate groups)
  • Children

1. Able bodied men and women were called ‘idle and profligate’ or, ‘the undeserving poor’. These people were considered to be physically capable of work but were not employed due to their own idleness, incompetence or lack of training – although it was often due to the general levels of unemployment and scarcity of work and not their own fault at all! Consequently, jobs in the workhouse for these people were hard and were what gave the workhouse its name. One of the jobs for able-bodied men was splitting rocks (or old bones for fertilizer) out in the men’s  yard at the back of the workhouse. They could also be given decorating duties, turning a mill handle and digging in the gardens.

Able bodied women generally came to the workhouse due to loss of a husband, or because the husband was out of work or she and a low-paid husband could not afford to keep a large number of children. These women did all the everyday housework, including cleaning the building and scrubbing stone floors, meal preparation and back-breaking clothes washing – which was done in buckets or bowls at the pump in the yard at first, then inside the ‘wash house’ once it was built:

Women also did needlework (e.g. lace-edged doilies for selling) and knitting.

2.  The old and Infirm were also called the ‘blameless’ or ‘deserving’ poor. They were people who could no longer work due to age-related disabilities. Younger people with disabilities were also in this category. Any elderly who were able to work could be given the task of picking oakum (old tarred rope) which was then sent to be made into caulking for ships. Oakum picking was a job that any groups could also be assigned to and was very hard on the fingers.

3. While the adults were working the children would be ‘educated’, which involved 3 hours a day in the schoolroom followed by what was called ‘industrial’ work: boys often worked in the gardens while girls did needlework and cooking. Children were allowed time to play in the little playground of the schoolhouse, and a large number of hoops were recorded as being ordered. Other toys came from local benefactors.

The main meal of the day at Southwell was dinner at midday, for which inmates were given one hour. This meal consisted of boiled meat, peas and potatoes on most days with soup on others. On Saturday a simple suet pudding was served. Although bland, the food was better than what these people would have had before they came to the Workhouse. Weekly and daily allowances/rations of different foods were strictly observed as lists around the kitchen areas show:

Food allowances chart 2

The Workhouse rules were strictly adhered to and anyone who broke them was punished. Punishments were different for different offences, but often involved limiting food rations, offenders typically being given potatoes, bread or rice instead of the usual meat. Repeat offenders were given solitary confinement for 24 hours and severe cases of injury to others for example, were sent to the magistrate.

These are some of the many photos we took of different areas outside the Southwell Workhouse (including a couple taken through upstairs windows):

And these are just a few of the dozens we took inside the workhouse:

By the late 19th century the focus in workhouses had changed from that of deterring the able-bodied to providing shelter and nursing for those who could never be in work. Consequently, the numbers of  inmates and staff changed. In the earlier days at Southwell, the ratio between the two was an average of 4 members of staff to 135 inmates. By 1900 it had become fewer than 80 inmates to the 135 staff, plus a porter, a nurse and assistant nurse. Seamstresses, laundry maids cooks and gardeners soon followed – all doing jobs formerly done by inmates. New, more comfortable  furniture was brought in, chamber pots replaced earthen closets, and eventually flushing water closets. A new infirmary building was added in 1871 and  by 1905 children were being housed in separate homes or were boarded out. In 1913 workhouses became ‘institutions’, though most adopted less stigmatised names: the workhouse at Southwell, for example, became Greet House, named after the river that runs below it.

The 20th century saw huge changes in the ways the poor, the elderly and people unable to work were treated. The Welfare State, which came into being in 1948, brought financial benefits and healthcare to many people. Many former workhouses were taken over by the new National Health Service as state hospitals, and at Greet House elderly patients were moved out of the old, Victorian building into the two infirmaries – one for men, one for women – while the old building housed staff and provided kitchens for cooking residents’ food. Until 1977, the former ‘women’s wing’ of the workhouse was used as temporary ‘bed-sit’ accommodation for homeless mothers and children awaiting more permanent housing. The last residents moved out in the 1990s when a new home was especially built. This is how the ‘bedsit’ looks today:

The Work house at Southwell was left derelict for some time and fell into disrepair until 1997 when the National Trust recognised it as being ‘the best preserved workhouse standing in England and well worth saving’.

“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, 1838. Public Domain. Illustration shows Oliver saying “Please, sir, I want some more”.

Refs: Most information taken from the book purchased, free leaflets and the information boards at the Workhouse in Southwell.

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Sauntering into September

September is the ninth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is also the third month to have 30 days and the month with the longest name – having nine letters.

September in the Northern Hemisphere is the equivalent of March in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, September 1 is the beginning of the meteorological autumn and in the Southern hemisphere, the beginning of the meteorological spring.

The word September comes from old Roman word, Septem, which means seven. September was the seventh month in the then Roman calendar. The Romans believed the month was under the care of Vulcan, the god of fire and forge – which led to their belief that the month would be associated with fire, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Vulcan. Roman god of fire and forge

The Anglo Saxons called it Gerst Monath, or Barley Month. September was the time for harvesting the barley and making barley brew. Another name they gave to the month was simply, Haefest Monath, meaning Harvest Month.

These are  a few of the customs associated with the Harvest:

1. Calling the Mare. When the last crops were being gathered in, farmers had a custom called ‘Calling the Mare’.  The last sheaf gathered in on each farm was made into the rough shape of a mare and sent round to any farmers who hadn’t yet finished harvesting. This was a way of warning them that any crops not yet in were in danger of being eaten by wild horses. Reapers from farms that had finished would run round to fields where the reapers were still working and throw the ‘mare’ over the hedge into  the field, shouting, ‘Mare, Mare’ before running away. In turn, when those reapers finished harvesting, they would run and do same to others not finished.  The last farmer to finish kept the ‘mare’  all year as a sign he was the slowest farmer of that year.

2. Making Corn Dollies  A corn dolly was said to house the spirit of the corn goddess and the custom of making them dates back hundreds of years. People believed the corn goddess lived in the corn and would die unless some of the corn saved and made into a corn dolly for the goddess to rest in until next spring.

Note: Corn dollies, or corn mothers are a form of straw work, traditionally made as part of the harvest. The term ‘dolly’ did not mean the same as it does to us today and the ‘dolly’ could be any number of shapes/designs. ‘Dolly’ may be a corruption of the word ‘idol’, or it may have come directly from the Greek word eidilon (apparition) meaning ‘something that represents something else’.

3. Michaelmas Day – the feast of St Michael, the Archangel, was celebrated on September 29 and represented the last day of the harvest season. The Harvest began on August 1 and was called Lammas (loaf mass) as I described in my August post.

Michaelmas Day was also the day for the winter night curfew to begin. It was the first hint that winter was on the way. It involved tolling of the bell (usually the church bell): one strike for each of the days of the month that had passed in the current year, and was generally rung at 8 pm.

Curfew bell iat Leadhills, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Author: Rosser1954 Creative Commons

The actual word, ‘curfew’, is thought to be derived from the French ‘couvre feu’ meaning fire cover’. It was the time for fires to be doused or covered before people went to bed.

Couvre feu utensil for extinguishing the fire in the fireplace. Date 1891. . Public Domain

‘Curfew’ lasted throughout the winter until Shrove Tuesday, which was, and still is, 6 weeks before Easter – usually in February or early March.

Michaelmas Day was also sometimes called Goose Day – the time for goose fairs to start in some English towns. Goose fairs are still held in places, the most famous one being the Nottingham Goose Fair, now held around October 3. Of course, geese are no longer sold and modern fairs consist mostly of various rides and stalls:

Nottingham Goose Fair at night, October 2007.  A view from the Ferris wheel Author: KickingKarl Creative Commons

The custom of goose fairs is said to date back to time of Queen Eiizabeth 1 (16th c). It is said that Elizabeth was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her – and the custom of eating goose as part of a celebratory meal stuck.

The Michaelmas Daisy, a type of aster (Aster novi-belgii), which has small pink to lavender flowers, obviously got its name from this time, as it is flowering then.

Some Michaelmas Superstitions:

1.  The devil stamps (or spits) on bramble bushes after Michaelmas, so don’t pick blackberries after that date.

2.  The Victorians believed that a tree planted on that day would grow very well.

3. In Ireland, finding a ring in a Michaelmas pie meant you were soon to be married!

September’s gemstone is the sapphire and the flower for September is the aster:

The astrological signs for September are Virgo and Libra:

Virgo (zodiac element, earth) is the sign from August 23-September 22. It is represented by ‘The Maiden’ and symbolises knowledge, shyness, clarity of thought and introspective behaviour.
Libra (zodiac element, air) is the sign from September 23-October 22. It is represented by the scales symbol because the Romans saw it as the sign during which the seasons are the most balanced. It symbolises people who are active, love being in the open, who are peaceful and fair and hate being alone.

Festtivals & Traditions associated with September include:

  • The Game of conkers. Conkers are the fruits of the horse chestnut tree and children have being playing games with them for years. Conkers are threaded with string and the object of game is to hit – and hopefully break or crack –  your opponent’s conker:
  • The Horn Dance is an English folk dance dating back to the Middle Ages held at Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire. It is s performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and stop to perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village to the tunes played by the musician. These include ‘The Farmers Boy’ and ‘Uncle Mick’. The modern version involves reindeer antlers, a hobby horse, Maid Marian and a ‘Fool’!
  • The Gurning Competition at Egremont Crab Fair in the English Lake District.  To gurn means to distort the face – so the object is to see who can pull the most awful face!

A man ‘gurning’. Originally posted on Flickr and uploaded to Creative Commons in 2009. Author: Mark

September Anniversaries:

There are dozens of anniversaries celebrated in September worldwide, so I’ve just picked a few British ones here. I’m sure you can all can think of lots in whichever part of the world you live in. (Not all anniversaries are of happy events, of course, and I’ve use the word ‘celebrated’ in the sense of something being ‘remembered’.)

  • September 1 1939: Germany invaded Poland, so beginning the Second World War.
  • September 2 1666: A fire started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in London. It spread rapidly and almost completely destroyed all of the old city of London. This became known as The Great Fire of London.
  • September 3 1928: Alexander Fleming returned to his laboratory after a holiday. He noticed that staphylococci bacteria growing on pieces of apparatus he’d left unwashed had been killed by an unidentified mould. This was the first step in the discovery of penicillin.
  • September 6 1997: The funeral of Princess Diana took place in London.
  •  September 22 1880: Christabel Pankhurst, the future leader of the suffragette campaign in Britain, was born at Old Trafford in Manchester.
  • September 27 1825: A steam engine called Active pulled the first passenger train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
  • September 29 1066: William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey with a Norman army. At Christmas he was crowned King of England.
  • September 29 1929: Under the direction of the home secretary, Robert Peel, Britain’s first professional police force, the Metropolitan Police, is formed. The force is based in Scotland Yard in Westminster, London.

To finish with, here are some photos of our garden and the lanes around the village as we stroll into September. First, the lanes, which are showing signs that leaves are now past their best and beginning to fade, while colourful autumn fruits are in abundance. Most of the wheat and barley has been harvested and bales of straw stand in the fields of stubble. Conkers and acorns are not yet ripe:

Our garden doesn’t look much different to the way it looked for my August post a month ago, although the apples and pears have grown and ripened and foliage in general has lost some of its vibrancy. The colours of the flowers are still good, although they will undoubtedly die off over the coming weeks.

And absolutely last, here’s a YouTube video of the beautiful song, Try to Remember… Unfortunately, it always makes me weepy – just like the willow in the song. (Too many memories…) The song was written by Paul McCartney and Harvey Schmidt and this version is sung by US folk-singing foursome, The Brothers Four.

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A Visit to a Japanese Garden

Last Friday afternoon, my blogging daughter, Louise (at thestorytellersabode) and I decided to drive out to the Japanese Garden, located at North Clifton, near Newark in Nottinghamshire. It’s a mere 6.4 miles from where I live, so it took no time at all to get there. I hadn’t visited the Garden since 2008, and Louise had never been before, so it made a nice change for a gloriously sunny day.

The Garden has been described as ‘One of the Inspirational Gardens of the World’ (AA) and as ‘The Best British Garden’ (ITV). It covers a relatively small area but is packed with all the traditional features of a Japanese garden. Water features and ponds with Koi carp, winding paths, bridges, moss, bamboo, pagodas and stone lanterns all blend with a sprinkling of English plants:

There is also a Crystal Garden – an indoor garden consisting of rocks, crystals and different marbles:

The Meditation Centre and Garden were created by a lovely man called Maitreya, who is often around the Garden. This is a summary of how it all came about from the information leaflet we were handed on entry:

Maitreya (Koji Takeuchi) was born in Handa, near Nagoya in Japan. In his teens he began a search for the truth. He was first led to Christianity but found it did not give him the direct experience of Jesus he wanted. So he turned to meditation and attended an intensive meditation course at a Zen monastery – and had the experience of ‘enlightenment’.

Aiming to become a meditation master, Maitreya went on to complete an MA degree in Buddhism and lived the life of a Zen monk for a time – a life he found too harsh and rigid, and out of date. After travelling and teaching meditation in Thailand, Nepal and India, on the invitation of a friend, he eventually came to England. After staying at various universities around the country, teaching and lecturing, he came across a property for sale in North Clifton, Nottinghamshire. This became the base from which he taught meditation: ‘Pure Land’ came into being in 1973.

In 1980, Maitreya began transforming a flat, 2 acre field – a ‘wilderness’ – into a Japanese garden. His aim was to create a peaceful area which guests to his Centre could enjoy. He had no previous gardening experience, but he set about creating small ‘hills’ in this flat place that would remind him of his mountainous homeland, Japan. The material for these came from the earth dug out to create the ponds. The large stones placed around the ponds came from a quarry in Derbyshire and the winding paths were determined by the positioning of the stones.

Refreshments are available at a Japanese Tea House, which is also where payment is made on entry ((£7 for adults). A variety of teas are offered, including Japanese and English tea and various fruit teas. (I couldn’t say whether coffee is available as Lou and I asked for tea). People can either sit inside the very small place, or outside in the garden, as we did.

An extra feature every year is that of the ‘Lantern Lit Evening Garden’, which can be enjoyed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights during August and September.

There are a few reviews of the Japanese Garden online but not all are favourable. It’s undoubtedly a pretty site, but it is small. The main criticism about it is the price – that £7 is too much for such a small place. Admittedly, it’s possible to walk round quickly, but most people tend to linger and spend time sitting at various nooks around the place or in the tea garden. We also walked around more than once in order to catch things we may have missed or overlooked the previous times. It isn’t cheap, but I suppose it depends what you want from a visit to a place like this.

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Bodnant Garden Revisited

Bodnant is a world famous garden, situated in the county borough of Conwy in North Wales, with wonderful views of the Conwy Valley and the Carneddau Mountains of Snowdonia. It is owned by the National Trust and visited by 190,000 people every year.

Bodnant is a perfect place to visit at any time of year – as my aunt and uncle, who live almost on its doorstep, will confirm. It’s open for 362 days every year, closing only on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The 80 acre garden is magnificent and has become a perfect venue for weddings. It is “home to the National Collection of Champion Trees”.

Yet there’s much more to Bodnant than trees.

The last time we visited Bodnant was on a lovely sunny day in early June, 2015. Due to my aunt’s mobility problems at that time, we stayed in the Upper Gardens, close to the Entrance and Garden Centre, as well as Bodnant Hall (which I’ll say more about later on). There’s plenty to see in this area alone, without heading down into The Dell (valley), including the Italianate Terraces and the many shrub borders edging the pathways and expansive lawns. The famous Laburnum Arch is also in the Upper Garden – which we were fortunate to see in flower in June 2015. Delightful ponds add to the tranquility of the setting. Roses of all descriptions were also in bloom in June 2015, so in late July this year we were treated to completely different displays of foliage and colour:

This fabulous garden was founded in 1874 when Leicestershire man, Henry Davis Pochin, bought the estate. He employed a local apprentice named Edward Milner and together they landscaped the hills and valley and planted American and Asian conifers on the banks of the River Hiraethlyn. The stream banks were reinforced to create woodland and water gardens and there is an unusual bridge across the stream called Waterfall Bridge:

Pochin’s daughter, Laura, married Charles Mclaren, the First Baron of Aberconway, and the Hall has been in that family ever since. It took successive generations of the Mclaren family to create Bodnant as we see it today, and although the gardens were given to the National Trust in 1949, the Hall remains the possession of the present Lord Aberconway and is not open to the public. However, Lord Aberconway and his family are still actively involved in the Garden’s management and improvement.

On our way down to The Dell it started to rain (no surprise there!) so we spent a while sheltering under the trees. But we still had some great views of the Old Mill:

At the furthest end of the valley, and Bodnant as a whole, is a large pond called the Skating Pond. I can only imagine it got its name because it froze over in winter and was used (literally) as a skating pond. But it’s a pretty pond anyway, with a boat house to one side and edged by trees, including a few huge willows.

Car parking at Bodnant is across the road, but pedestrians reach the gardens via an underpass. There are four places at which to find refreshments. One of the cafes, which serves actual meals, is next to the car park and one that serves snacks and sandwiches is by the Entrance. The other two small places for light snacks and drinks are down in the Dell – one close to the Old Mill and another, which we’ve never used, is by the Skating Lake.

To finish with, this is a photo of the famous Laburnum Arch. If you want to see it in flower like this, June is the time to visit.


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Boiling Point – FFfAW

Boiling Point

Zak’s temper boiled and finally erupted. He stomped round the room, fists striking at empty space. How could she! After the months of fun they’d had, he’d never imagined she’d betray him. All he’d asked was her support of his work – and her discretion.

Jodie claimed she was good at keeping secrets, and she’d more than benefitted from their affair. The costly gifts he’d showered on her after successful operations always made her smile – and very compliant…

His rage was rising again and he cursed. If he ever set eyes on Jodie again he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions.

‘Sit down,’ one of the burly officers snapped as they entered. ‘Chief Inspector Roberts is on the way. And don’t try any sweet talk. Roberts isn’t known for being nice.’

‘Morning Zak,’ Roberts said as she swept in, a polythene bag full of jewellery in her hand.

‘Jodie…!’ he croaked. ‘You’re a stinkin’ cop… You bitch! ’

Jodie smirked. ‘That’s me. Now, just for the tape, remind me of where this little lot came from…’

Word Count: 175

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers The prompt was kindly provided by artycaptures. It’s the first flash fiction I’ve done for a while – in fact, it’s the first thing I’ve posted at all for a few weeks – so I thought it was time to change things.

FFfAW is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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Ambling Along into August


August is the eighth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the fifth month of the year to have 31 days. In the UK, the hottest days of the year are often in August and it is a busy time for holidays as it falls in the six week summer break for schools. Similarly, in many European countries, August is also the holiday month for workers.

In the southern hemisphere, August is the equivalent of February in the northern hemisphere.
The original Latin name for August was Sextillis as it was the sixth month in the then Roman ten-month calendar, when March was the first month of the year. August became the eighth month around 700 BC when January and February were added to the year by King Numa Pompilius who gave it 29 days. The extra two days were added by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian calendar in 45 BC.

In 8 BC the month was renamed August in honour of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC until AD 14). Augustus is said to have chosen to name this month after himself because it was the time of several of his great triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt. The Latin term Augustus mensis means Month of Augustus. 

Statue of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (27BC-AD14) as a younger Otavian. Sculpted artwork dated around 30BC. Located int the Mus

So what else can I say about this summer month? Here are a few facts:

  1. August’s birthstones are the peridot and the sardonyx:

2. Its birth flowers are the gladiolus and poppy. The gladiolus represents beauty, strength, love, marriage and family. Poppies come in different colours but it is the the red one that is associated with August and it signifies pleasure.

3. The zodiac signs for the month of August are Leo (until August 22) and Virgo (from August 23 onwards):

4. The Anglo Saxon name for August was Weodmonath, meaning Weed Month. The word could refer to herbs or grass, as well as the unwanted plants we think of as weeds today. August was the month when all plants grew the most rapidly. The Venerable Bede (672/3 – 735) tells us: ‘Weodmonad means ‘month of tares (vetches), for they are plentiful then’. (The spelling of the word here is how Bede spelled it and (for a change) isn’t a typo on my behalf!)  Unfortunately I have no photos of weeds, as Nick won’t allow them to grow in our garden 🙂 but I have a not-too-wonderful photo of vetch growing along the lane:

5. Henry VI Part 1 and The Tempest are the only Shakespeare plays that mention August.

6. Warren Harding was the only US president to have died in the month of August.

Warren Harding. Photo taken 1882. Author:unattributed Public Domain

7. Certain meteor showers occur in August, including the Kappa Cygnids and the larger Perseids meteor shower.

156 (meteor) bodies detected in the sky on a single photographic plate during the Leonid meteor shower in 1998. Source: Astronomical and geophysical observatory at Comenius University in Modra, Slovakia. Author: Juraj Troth. Creative Commons

8.  In Ancient Rome, the festival of Supplica Canum was held in August every year. It was an annual sacrifice in which dogs were suspended from a furca, (fork) or a crux (cross) and paraded around the city. In the same procession, geese were honoured by being carried around adorned in purple and gold. The tradition stemmed from a nighttime siege of Rome by the Gauls during which the watch dogs failed to bark. On that occasion, it was the noisy, honking geese that alerted the city to the attack. The failure of the dogs led to them being ritually punished every following year. Gruesome!

9. On a more cheerful note, August is National Goat Cheese Month in the  U.S. I believe it involves the promotion of goats cheese as a healthier option than cheese made from cow’s milk. I love all cheese. In fact, I think I’m probably a cheeseaholic.

10. Lammas Day is in August and is a holiday celebrated in some European countries as a thanksgiving for the harvest. The name, Lammas, comes from the Anglo Saxon word hlaf-maesse, meaning loaf mass. The festival of Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest  and people say prayers in church for the first corn to be cut. (Note that in Britain ‘corn’ has traditionally referred to the cereal crops of wheat, barley oats and rye and not maize.)

Medieval illustration of men harvesting wheat with reaping hooks on a calendar page in Queen Mary’s Psalter. Dated around 1310. Author: Anonymous. Public Domain

In the medieval period, farmers made loaves from the new wheat at Lammas, and gave them to the church to use in the Communion. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534. Today, harvest festival services are at the end of the harvest in September, with Michaelmas Day (Sept 29) traditionally being the last day of the harvest season.

Lammas Day used to be a time of foretelling marriages and trying out partners (trial marriages). This was usually for 11 days, the duration of the fair. At he end of that time, if the pair didn’t get on they simply parted. Lammas was also a time when farmers gave each of their farm workers a gift of a pair of gloves. And to bring good luck, farmers would let a loaf of corn bread go stale, then crumble it up into the corners of their barns

August is a month for several festivals in Britain. These are 3 of them:

  1. The Edinburgh Festival. This was started in 1947 to celebrate the performing arts and includes concerts, plays, ballets and operas.

A street performer in the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh fringe in 2004. No machine- readable author provided. Creative Commons

  1. The Royal National Eisteddfod in Wales. Eisteddfod is an old tradition which was revived in 19th century. It originated in medieval times as a gathering of bards and minstrels, all competing for the prized chair at the noble’s table. It is held in the first week of August and attended by people from all over Wales.

Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, in 2012. Flag bearers in traditional Celtic dress parade in a festival of traditional folk music and dancing. Shutterstock image

3. The Notting Hill Carnival in London. This festival is held on the last Monday of August i.e. Bank Holiday Monday in the UK. It is a colourful procession with elaborate costumes. It originated in the 1960s to celebrate the cultural traditions of the many Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain at that time.

The Notting Hill Carnival in London, 2014.Author: David Sedlecky. Creative Commons

I found this great quote which fits in so well with the theme of festivals in Britain – and Europe in general. (Harry/Henry Rollins is an American musician, actor, writer, television and radio host, and comedian.):

Every summer, from late July and into August, I find myself in Europe, performing at any festival that will have me.’ – Harry Rollins

There are many anniversaries to be celebrated in August, worldwide, and  these are merely a few of the many British ones:

  • August 1st 1774: Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen at Bowood House in Wiltshire
  • August 4th 1914:  the First World War started.
  • August 14th 1945: the Second World War ended.
  • August 15th 1872: the first regular police detective force was formed.
  • August 25th 1919: daily flights between London & Paris began, thus starting the first international air service.
  • August 31st 1997:  Princess Diana was killed killed in car accident in France.

And to finish with here are some photos from the lanes around our village and in our garden:

All are bright with developing fruits and berries. Many of the early (sown last autumn) barley fields have already been harvested, although there are still a few fields of spring-sown barley around. The wheat has yet to be harvested:

And absolutely lastly, here are a few photos of our garden as we amble along into August. I was delighted to see the lovely butterflies in our front garden this morning (August 1st). They really love the Buddleia davidii bush!

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Music and Fun at Woodhall Spa’s 40s Festival 2017

Last Sunday, July 16th, we headed into rural Lincolnshire to the village of Woodhall Spa, considered to be one of Lincolnshire’s most attractive villages. It has an Edwardian character and is set in lovely pine woods. From our Nottinghamshire village on the Notts-Lincs border, we had a drive of 27 miles. I won’t go into the history of Woodhall Spa on this occasion, but yes, it was a spa town in the past. Its history during WW2 is also interesting. Like so many places in ‘flat’ Lincolnshire on the eastern side of the country, it was once an RAF base. (The pine woods were of utmost importance for concealing aircraft and ammunition supplies and such like).

Map of Lincolnshire to show location of Woodhall Spa. Base map from Wikimedia Commons, Author Nilfanion. Creative Commons

Woodhall Spa’s 40’s Festival is a free event – meaning there are no entry fees –  run entirely by volunteers and held over both days of the weekend: July 15 and 16 this year. It aims to spotlight ‘Life on the British Home Front’ i.e. Britain during WW2 – and it delivers on every count. This was the festival’s 6th year and its popularity has grown so much it has become one of Lincolnshire’s most popular attractions. 2016 saw 40,000 visitors over the weekend and this year it rose to 45, 000.

A wide variety of events take place at various areas of the village. A number of living history groups /re-enactors are involved and there are outdoor concerts and live music. Vera Lynn songs blasted out from one area, Glenn Miller music, and Scottish pipers from others. People danced and got into the spirit of the occasion whilst others watched and clapped:

Food and drink stalls were everywhere, including a few ice-cream vans. Of course, I just had to have a nice big cone! (What else are days out for, when all’s said and done?)

There were several little cafés, as well as pubs and hotels offering meals to suit all tastes. And before I plough on, I have to say that dressing in 40’s costume is encouraged. Next year, we may well do what the organisers suggest and take ourselves off to a charity shop, or suchlike, and grab some 40s gear! This smiling young lady looked lovely in her ‘get up’:


One of the first things to watch was the parade, primarily (re-enactors) of 1940s servicemen, as well as military vehicles from a variety of living history groups.

Along the village streets were so many vintage cars, motorbikes and military vehicles, I had a hard job moving (husband) Nick along to look at other attractions!  He was totally besotted with the old motorbikes in particular. These are a photos of just a few of  the  many vehicles:

Visitors in 1940s dress really made the day. They brought the whole 40s theme to life. Here are some photos of a few of the many people we passed on our walk about. Re-enactors mingled with the crowds, so  it wasn’t easy to differentiate between the two!

And this was a regular sight up and down the main street. One way of getting around to the various  parts of the village:


And to add to the authenticity of the event was the fly-past of Spitfires and Hurricanes from RAF Coningsby, less than 5 miles from Woodhall Spa, and home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Nick assures me the Hurricanes are the ones with more rounded-tipped wings, so I’ll take his word on that. It was overcast and grey as they flew over, as the photos show:

I later learned that a Lancaster bomber also flew over. We left about 3 pm, having been there since 10 am, and the Lancaster obviously graced the skies later than that. I was disappointed to know we missed it, but, when all’s said and done, I’ve seen Lancasters flying over this area before, so I shouldn’t moan. We’d had a lovely day out and, other than a few spits of rain in the morning, the day was fine. Still, some sunshine would have been nice…

Oh. look. Doctor Who just arrived in his/her Tardis! (i.e. 1940s police phone box):

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Book Promotion: A Dash of Flash is Free on Amazon!

Just to let you know that the eBook version of my flash fiction / very short stories book, A Dash of Flash, will be free on Amazon until Sunday, July 16.

Many of the 85 stories have been published on my blog but several were written just for the book. Almost two-thirds of the stories are accompanied by colourful images, although they are not the prompts provided by the challenges.

Honest reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads would be SO MUCH appreciated. I’d also love to hear what you think! These are snippets from the reviews I’ve had so far:

a unique collection of short stories…something for everyone

so many delightful characters and plot situations all in the small space called flash fiction. This book is a joy to read, the stories brief, interesting, and cleverly composed

 I loved the variety of stories. This, together with the ultra-short length of the stories, really keep your attention.

Links to my book on Amazon are in the side bar to the right ————–> then up a bit –^

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Some Well-Dressed Wells in Derbyshire

Well dressing involves the dressing, or decorating, of wells and springs with flower petals, and, as such, it is sometimes known as well flowering. The custom is an ancient one and seems to be unique to England. It is particularly associated with the limestone villages of the Peak District of Derbyshire and parts of Staffordshire (which I’ll say more about in the next few posts) although one or two other areas also practise the tradition.

Map of the Peak District National Park, UK. Source: Office of National Statistics Geography. Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion, created using O.S. data

The origins of the custom are still uncertain. Some maintain it could have developed from a pagan custom of sacrificing to the gods of wells and springs in order to ensure the continuing supply of fresh water. As many other traditions, it was later adopted by the Christian Church as a means of giving thanks to God for supplies of drinking water. A tradition of well dressing in the Malverns (a range of hills in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucester) dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Some sources hold that the practice began following the Black Death (plague) of 1348-9. A third of the population of England was wiped out at that time, although a few of the villages were untouched.

The Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) by Michael Wolgemut in 1493. Public Domain

The people of those fortunate villages attributed their luck to the clean fresh water supply from their wells and started dressing them as a way of giving thanks. Still other people believe the custom arose during a prolonged drought of 1615 when people celebrated their own wells’ reliability. Then there are those who attribute the custom to the time of another plague – the Great Plague of 1665 – during which time many Derbyshire villages, including Eyam, were decimated. Yet some villages had remained untouched, like nearby Tissington, and the people gave thanks at their wells for their deliverance.

Whatever its origins, well dressing seems to have disappeared for some time in most Derbyshire villages, with only a few still celebrating it in the 19th century. The main one of those villages was Tissington, as mentioned by Ebenezer Rhodes in his book ‘Peak Scenery’ in 1835. The custom was introduced in the town of Buxton in 1840 and was  recorded as being followed in Wirksworth in 1860. With the arrival of piped water supplies, the tradition was extended to include the dressing of not only wells, but taps, too.

The custom of well dressing rose and fell in popularity over the following years. Then, in the 1930s, the Shinwell family of Tideswell made considerable efforts to revive it. Well dressing has since been restored in many villages and small towns and, throughout the summer months, it is one of the attractions that draws people from all over the world to Derbyshire.

Today, the first well dressings are in May, with Tissington village being the first. Naturally, the flower petals don’t last for long, so the villages follow a regular calendar each year. While we  were in Derbyshire last week, we managed to visit four of the five places with newly dressed wells for that week.

Our first view of well dressings was in Buxton, a spa town which has the reputation of having  ‘the highest elevation …. of any market town in England’. These are a few ph0tos of the three ‘dressed’ wells in the town:

The next well dressing we visited was in the busy village of Hathersage. (Little John of the Robin Hood stories is said to have been born in Hathersage and buried in the churchyard there.) These are photos of the well we found. The theme of this one, as can be seen on the board itself, is ‘Give Peace a Chance’.

Peak Forest was the third of the well dressing villages we got to. It’s a small village and its one ‘well dressing’ was beside a tap. The theme was a very rural one:

On the last day of our stay in Derbyshire we headed out to the small town of Chapel-en-le-Frith (which translates from the Norman French as Chapel in the Forest). We found seven well dressings here, all with the theme of ‘Famous Britons’. Some had been created by children’s groups.

The construction of a well dressing is a long and skilful process which can take up to ten days. It often involves the whole population of the village. First, wooden frames are constructed and wet clay is spread to a depth of a couple of inches across the wooden backing board. The required design is sketched out on paper and ‘pricked out’ onto the wet clay.  The picture is then filled out with natural materials such as flower petal and leaves, entire flower heads, moss, sheep’s wool, wheat or barley straw, berries and nuts e.g. beech nuts, as on the Buxton Children’s well, and even immature fruits like the tiny apples on the Isaac Newton well dressing in Chapel-en-le-Frith. Coloured (or painted) stones, pebbles and gravel are sometimes used, too.

Throughout the well dressing season, some of the villages hold festivals or galas and decorate the streets with colourful and fun models. These are a few we came across in Hathersage:

It was very enjoyable visiting all these wells and looking at how they’re constructed. I think next year we’ll try to get out to Tissington in May. It’s a very quaint village, only a couple of miles from where we were staying, and we met some lovely ‘locals’ there. We’re looking forward to going back.

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