Saturday, January 26, 2008

A walk around Ashbourne

I'm going to take you on a walk around one of my favourite Derbyshire towns, Ashbourne. If I could chose where I want to live then this place would be high on my list, it's just a dream though as we could never afford to live there. Small, two up, two down cottages with a tiny back yard and on-street parking cost more here than our three bedroomed, detached house with garage, conservatory and huge garden in Stoke. I just love the busy market town atmosphere of the place coupled with its historic buildings and proximity to the Peak District. Park near the swimming pool and wander through the old railway tunnel and you are straight on to the Tissington Trail. Last year we walked most of the Tissington Trail and all of the High Peak Trail which joins it at Parsley Hay. Up above the railway tunnel and road bridge is the main road into Ashbourne and this end of the town has so many old buildings.

This is St Oswald's Church, which has a very rich and interesting history far too detailed to go into here but you could visit the Ashbourne Town website to find out more. Below is the 18th century home of Dr. John Taylor who was a great friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson of Lichfield. Dr Johnson often stayed at this house with John Taylor who intended leaving the property to his good friend; unfortunately Dr Johnson died before him.

Next to Dr. Taylor's house are the Owlsfields Almshouses, built in 1640 with the upper stories added much later in 1840.

Opposite the alms houses stands the old Grammar School, founded by the Cockayne family and built between 1585 and 1603.

Ashbourne is noted for its Antique shops, of which there are many. This interesting one is just a little further down the street from the old grammar school on the walk towards the town centre.

And the one below is across the street, just up from where where the arch of The Green Man public house spans the street from one side to the other. The Green Man was Dr. Johnson's favourite inn, when he visited Ashbourne and it is said that he had his own chair there with his name carved into it.

Below are some more views of the town and market place. You can see The Green Man's arch across the street in the first photo.

There are lots of lovely little shops off and around the market place including a teddy bear shop, an 'Aladin's cave' of a kitchen and gift shop and a wonderful cut price book shop. Talking of books the writer George Elliot (Mary Anne Evans) used the town of Ashbourne in her novel Adam Bede but renamed it Oakbourne.

Below is the millenium clock opposite the Gingerbread shop and cafe.

There are lots of little alleyways and shops to discover around corners.

Places where you can poke around for bargains at your heart's content.

I didn't photograph it but there is also a wonderful art gallery in a Victorian building, formerly a magistrates court, where, on the top floor with its new mezzanine level built into the lofty roof space you will be served wonderful hot coffee and tasty, warm cheese scones. Who could ask for more?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fragile Beauty

We nearly missed these lovely little snowdrops as we passed them by on our walk this morning. They were well back from the path, under the bare winter trees having pushed themselves up on sturdy yet fragile looking stems through all the dead, brown, damp leaves left from autumn. This was my first sighting of snowdrops this year.

To make a loose connection with my last post on the bulb industry in and around Spalding, snowdrops were one of the first flowers sent, in the 19th century, to the London markets from Spalding and they were sent to be used for medicinal purposes. I couldn't find out what exactly they were used for then but several references said that they were used in pain relief particularly for headaches. More recently extracts from the plants have been used in the making of the drug Reminyl which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

I've been reading up on the history of the snowdrop and it is quite fascinating. The first reference to them growing in gardens is in Gerard's Herbal of 1597 and it is generally thought that they were brought into the country during the 15th century from Italy by monks to grow in their monasteries. They must surely have discovered the medicinal benefits of them and grown them in their physic gardens. The first record of snowdrops growing in the wild is as late as 1770 and it is widely accepted that most of the ones found in the wild will have come originally from the cultivated ones.

Not surprisingly there are also lots of folklore tales attached to snowdrops. According to legend snowdrops first appeared when Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden of Eden into a barren, cold and wintery world, an angel appeared to assure the couple that there was hope, and that spring would come. The angel blew on some snowflakes and they fell as snowdrops. Thus snowdrops are a sign in the bleakest of winter that there is hope and that better times were on the way.

There are lots of superstitions attached to snowdrops too, mostly that it is bad luck to bring them into the house and that a single flower appearing in a garden was thought to foretell impending sadness or disaster. Like other white flowers they were associated with death. My first sighting of snowdrops always gives me the feeling of hope and that their appearance heralds the first death throes of winter, not gone yet, but eventually it will disappear to be replaced by the glories of spring.

I love snowdrops and would like to grow them in the garden. I've tried several times to plant them but in our heavy, damp, potteries clay soil they don't survive so now I seek them out on walks, on roadsides and in local gardens who specialise in growing them and open up trails and walks to the public in February each year. Nearest to us are Rode Hall in Cheshire or Hopton Hall in Derbyshire. Last year we visited Rode so perhaps this year we will visit Hopton.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Photos as promised

In my post 'Tommy and the Tulips' I mentioned a project that I had done for the Museum Association's Diploma and that I would post some photos that I had used of women connected with the Bulb Industry around Spalding.

Apologies about the poor quality of the photo above which shows Elizabeth Quincey of Fulney Hall, Spalding. Elizabeth was one of the earliest recorded bulb growers. After her father's death she carried on his work of market gardening, experimenting with bulbs and flowers and she is listed in an 1885 Trade Directory as a 'wholesale fruiterer and bulb grower'. On the 1881 census her husband, Christmas Quincey, is listed as a 'gardener and seedsman'.

Below are a couple of photos of women workers in the tulip fields, the first one is a particular favourite of mine, probably taken around 1910, when the bulb and cut flower industry was at its height, all the women are tidy and spruced up ready for the photographer, stern gang master or farmer in the background. The second photo is slightly more natural, although again posed and all of the women except one wearing the regulation bonnets which were worn, both in agricultural and horticultural field work to shield the face and neck against the sun and to guard against sun stroke. These bonnets were worn well into the 1950s but were gradually replaced by hats and scarves.

The photographs are charming and make the work look clean and easy, but of course it wasn't, as we all know any land work can be a back breaking, thankless and sometimes extremely miserable task, especially in inclement weather conditions.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Trying to be Crafty

Since last summer I'd been thinking that I ought to try and make little things like lavender bags and pin cushions. I'd kept putting it off but over the last couple of weeks after finally getting out to the fabric shops to see what material they had in their sales I was ready to go. Now, I'm not by any means a natural in this art form, in fact, I usually avoid anything to do with needles and thread apart from sewing on buttons and I really have to work myself up to doing that. I think it all stems from my first year at grammar school when, in what were then called domestic science classes, we had to sew our own cookery aprons and little hats. Oh, what a picture mine was and I spent the first couple of years in an oddly shaped, bunched up apron and a very strange looking hat. I still enjoyed the cooking though and I remember being pleased when my Christmas cake and later my jar of marmalade both went on display in the cookery lab.

What really inspired me was getting a new sewing machine last year. I have my mother's old Singer hand machine but I couldn't get it to work any more and I had a voucher for fifty pounds off this little treasure - so it only cost me just over 30 pounds. As you can see, Tom decided he had to have a ringside seat to watch the action.

I decided to venture further and make a bag from a very simple pattern that someone gave to me - Paul helped me by making the paper template and I pinned it to the fabric and cut it, he worked out where the folds had to be pressed in and I did all the sewing to put it together. I've got another one cut out and ready to sew and enough material left to make a couple of cushion covers.

I'm quite pleased with the finished articles and plan to make loads more things - so friends and family beware; you now know what you will be getting for presents in the future - as well as the homemade jam, marmalade and chutney of course.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Walk by the River Severn

We decided that today we would visit Shrewsbury. It is one of my favourite towns and only 40 minutes away from where we live. We always drive to the Park and Ride and take the bus into town. It was such lovely weather that we decided to walk along the riverside path from the Welsh Bridge -

to the English Bridge. As you can see the river was very high and in places was lapping over the paths.

It was really too bright to take photos. Many of the willow trees were dangling into the river.

and the grassy banks were soaked.

We saw many different species of water birds including a cormorant but that was too quick for me to photograph as it went dipping and diving over the swollen river.

The gulls were having a great time. We passed this house on our walk it was called Julian's House. Lucky Julian.

This is Marine Terrace taken from the English Bridge you can see where the river has covered the pathway below.

Last, but not least, Shrewsbury Abbey church, nearly all that is left of the Abbey buildings, the little tree in front had white blossom on it!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I've been given this award by Lois at Matsqui Musings and Rosie at Wuddled Murds - thanks both. I have to name others to pass this on to and also do a meme of '7 weird things about me' - I'm going to think about that but I will pass the award on to 7 of my favourite bloggers:-

Catherine at Alchamillamolly, Steph at Curlew Country, Robert at Park Views, Michelle at Sitting on a Cornflake, Rowan at Circle of the Year, Paul at Distant Thoughts and Tea at Tea and Margaritas.

Just a few things about me don't know if they are weird or not:-

1) I have to read the Guardian Weekend Magazine from the back to the front - any other magazine I'll read front to back - perhaps I find the things in the back of the magazine more interesting? I don't know.

2) When I'm pegging washing outside I match the colour of the pegs to the colour of the items I'm hanging out so that they don't colour clash.

3) I have to tidy up the living room at night before going to bed - fold newspapers, plump cushions and make sure the curtains don't have gaps where the cats have gone through into the windowsill. The cushions have to be pointed end up with zips at the bottom.

4) I don't like to see the underside of ships in dry dock, dark still water or boathouses on lakes - they all make me nervous.

) I'd rather go to the dentist than the hair dresser - I hate having my hair done - stems from when I was a child and my mum used to take me to a hairdresser who used to push me face down over a bowl and then stand me on a small stool and pull me about to make me stand straight; she once nicked the back of my neck with the scissors as well.

6) I'm a morning person, I like to get going first thing when the day is new and fresh and full of promise. If I have to go out I like to get things done and be home by early afternoon because of:-

7) I really dislike the hours between 3p.m. and 6p.m. I get distracted, can't concentrate and totally slow down. Someone once told me that you were at your lowest ebb around the time you were born and as I was born at 4p.m. I can quite relate to this.

Are they suitably weird? They don't seem very unusual to me so perhaps I'm not totally weird:)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tommy and the Tulips

I bought myself a bunch of yellow tulips to try to bring a bit of colour into my life, which, at the moment, seems very grey. The weather outside is wet and grey, the garden is dripping and sodden, the house seems dark, grey and dreary inside now the Christmas decorations are down and I feel - well - grey.

We thought, rather naively I suppose, that after Christmas things would get better, that maybe someone would want to look at our house but no. Over the last few days I've seen a couple of cars pass by and stop and look and I've thought that maybe they will book a viewing, again no. It is not to be.

I was pleased to see that the tulips were from Lincolnshire. It brought back memories of our time over there and of all the research I did for the Museum I worked for on the Bulb Industry in and around Spalding. I was looking through the project I did at Leicester University for the Museum Association's Diploma and there are some wonderful photos in it of our setting up the galleries at the museum and some lovely old ones of workers in the flowers fields which I may scan and share with you in a later post. I remember as well as producing the project I had to give a slide show and talk on our little Museum and how we had set it up and of the history of the building it was housed in - a 15th century merchants house. I was so nervous I could hardly speak as some of my fellow students were from huge museums like the V&A and the British Museum and there was little me from Spalding. It went ok and I had lots of questions and comments.

Of course, today, I think fields of cabbages, cauliflowers and pumpkins are more prolific than those of daffodils and tulips but the memories of fields of colour don't fade and the interesting history of the industry is still there to be explored.

So, in the meantime, here is Tommy with his tulips to bring a little colour and warmth into my life.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I've found great inspiration this morning from a post I read over on Rowan's blog - Circle of the Year. She has a wonderful collection of 'Home Front' wartime ephemera and it had me searching through my mother's things to see what I could find of the same era.

As you see it is quite a small collection and I'm sorry about the quality of the photo as I have sun streaming through all windows this morning; which is actually quite cheering.

There are a couple of recipe leaflets, a letter dated 2nd September 1947 from The Board of Trade accepting my mother's resignation from her job as 'temporary Grade III clerk (part time) - I'm not sure what she did but it was something to do with the rationing of rubber to the shoe industry - Leicester, where she lived during the war was famous for it's shoe factories. There are two identity cards Mum's and mine - yes I have an identity card as I was born in 1950 and they were issued until 1954. The diaries are from 1945 and 1946 and full of inconsequential things like going to work, films seen, friends visited, distempering walls and having loads of family coming to stay and also her travels from Leicester to Shirebrook to visit her family. She writes letters to my father and waits impatiently for him to come home. The silk handkerchief was sent to mum by my father and has the insignia of the regiment he was with 'The Royal Army Medical Corps'. I know he served in North Scotland, Tripoli and I think Italy as the lovely sepia post cards he brought back are of buildings in 'Firenze Antica'.

The recipe book 'Kitchen Parade - Day to Day Menus for All' was published in September 1941 in order to 'help the housewife solve problems peculiar to these perplexing times'. Here is a typical menu for a Wednesday - Old Fashioned Bean Soup, Fried Sausages, Mashed Potatoes and Prune Mould - and for a Friday - Bean Soup, Baked mackerel or herring, boiled potatoes and apple pudding.

Mmm - I think it is time for lunch!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Into 2008

Sometimes life is just full of little surprises - Happy New Year!

Today I began to feel a little better. We had a long walk in a very misty and murky Manifold Valley - not many people around when we set out but quite a few when we came back - too misty for photos I'm afraid. Paul cooked a lovely lasagne later on, I put up the new calendars and we had visits and phone calls from friends and neighbours - I'm still coughing but it all seems easier now.