September 2015

IMGP3111We are currently about midway between Summer and Autumn as gradually the warmth from the sun becomes a little less each day, and increasingly chillier nights start to make their presence known. Living in an area where there are no gas supplies and with no prospect of ever having such luxuries, most county dwellers have to be like good boy scouts in terms of being prepared for winter. This entails having oil boilers serviced and oil tanks replenished. Unlike most urban areas where gas is readily available, many country folk are heavily reliant on oil for heating. It is not possible with oil to just turn the tap on demand in the event of a cold snap as oil has to be purchased, delivered and stored in advance. It also means that unlike gas where the price for the winter ahead is usually known in advance, the cost of oil can be unpredictable.

Domestic oil prices are subject to wild day to day fluctuations dependent on the world oil markets. Fortunately a combination of economic depression in China and the USA once again having oil surpluses due to increased shale oil production, the price of oil has been dropping like the proverbial stone.Oil users do have at least one silver lining over gas users in that there is never a worry about foreign countries having the power to turn of the UK’s supplies in the event of a international spat, as the UK’s gas now originates or passes through pipelines that we have no control over. I always though the UK’s policy of abandoning our own gas industry in favour of foreign supplies very unwise for this very reason.

IMGP3115During the Summer I had one of my Australian nephews and his partner staying with me for a few days. The were on a around-the-world holiday visiting the US, UK and Europe. One thing they had asked to see during their stay with us was the City of Bath some 35 miles from where I live. They had read so much about it in advance and for them it had become a must. They were particularly keen to see the Roman Baths something I had not seen before myself. On my previous visits to Bath, the Roman Baths had been closed due to on-going excavation and construction work. The closest we had been was in the delightful restaurant known as the Pump Room which has windows that overlook the Roman Pool. Whenever I had seen news items on the baths be it television of newspapers, they had always been set against the almost obligatory background of the pool itself.

I was pleasantly surprised during our visit to discover that not is there only the famous pool but also a large underground complex covering a Roman Temple and the spring that feeds the baths much of it still well preserved. The route through the complex is reminiscent to a slowly descending helter-skelter as the path slowly meanders around the top of the baths down through various rooms to the temple complex before eventually emerging by the pool itself. I could thoroughly recommend anyone who has not had the opportunity to make a visit to add it to their wish list.







Folklore is often stronger than Fact.

Boleyn Castle 01

Green Street House (Boleyn Castle)

Most of us are aware of folklore, enticing tales that pervade through the centuries be they global like the fabled lost cities of El Dorado or Atlantis. National folklore like King Arthur and Camelot, down to local folklore often based on local gossip and false rumour.


All such folklore tends to have the common characteristics of whetting peoples appetites of the unknown. At face value they all seem tangible even if  lack of known or credible facts, if any, exist at all. The absence of known facts usually tend to belie the truth of such stories. But so intriguing are some of these myths that individuals have felt compelled to spend their lives attempting to prove them and all without success as far as I am aware.

One such piece of local folklore I have been aware of for many years concerns the former Green Street House in Newham in London, which was subsequently dubbed the Boleyn Castle by locals due to a castellated decorative tower which formed part of the building. Locals believe Anne Boleyn once lived there  despite there being no evidence to show that she ever did. The myth goes on to say the building was festooned with secret tunnels emanating from the site that were used by Henry VIII for the purposes of secret romantic trysts with Anne Boleyn at a time when he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.

It is not quite known when Green Street House was built but there is however a detailed description of the building that was written in the mid-16th century. The building was demolished in 1955 and West Ham Football Club stands on part of its former land hence the name ‘Boleyn’ ground which refers to the club’s football stand.


Map 1777 Chapman & Andre - 03Depending on which version of local folklore is being related, the supposed secret tunnels run from Green Street House marked ‘A’ on the 1777 Chapman & Andre map, to either the Black Lion public house in Plaistow marked ‘B’, the Spotted Dog Inn in Upton Lane marked ‘C’ or, Saint Mary Magdalene Church  marked ‘D’.

While it is known the Black Lion Public House does indeed have a bricked up tunnel in its basement, the use of secret ‘Priest Holes’, (hiding places built for Roman Catholic priests during Henry VIII’s reign), cannot be discounted. In each case, digging a tunnel to any of these locations would have been a major feet of engineering and could hardly have been classified as secret. It would also not be unreasonable to question if Henry VIII as King of England would need to make his way from Hampton Court Palace presumably with the large entourage that normally accompanied him, and then clandestinely forage through lengthy dirty tunnels to engage in a secret romantic relationship with Anne Boleyn. I personally think this is most unlikely.

As for the tunnels themselves, Newham rapidly grew from a cluster of rural hamlets after the late 19th century into a heavily populated and industrialised area including London’s largest shipping docks. The earth was repeatedly dug up during building operations and not once is there any recorded evidence of a tunnel being uncovered.

No one who relates the tales of the tunnels has actually seen them, at best it is always some other unknown person that claims to have seen them, or it is a story handed down in the family through the generations. Even if during conversation the lack of any credible evidence is cited, likely local responses are, “You never know, something might still be down there” or, there must be some truth in the rumour otherwise so many people would not know about it.

Either way it tends to show that people are often more inclined to believe in folklore rather than fact.

Maiden Castle

Maiden CastleOn one of our recent trips to Dorchester Market, my wife and I planned to follow our shopping spree on a trip to nearby Maiden Castle. My wife and I first fortified ourselves with a delicious real Cornish Pasty from the Celtic Kitchen in Antelope Walk. The pasties from this shop are made in Helston, Cornwall and shipped fresh to Dorchester on a daily basis. They are amongst the best and tastiest pasties I have come across. A visit to the Celtic Kitchen is one treat my wife look forward to with great relish.

Maiden Castle now owned by English Heritage is free to visit. It is one the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe and the largest in the U.K.. Evidence of human activity on the site has been found dating back to about 1,800 BC during the Bronze Age with defensive landscaping beginning about 600 BC in the Iron Age, Work continued on and off landscaping the embankments during the following centuries.

In keeping with many hillforts which were built in good defensive position, the Romans during their occupation evicted the inhabitants and used them to aid their own governance of the country. The Romans also founded nearby Durnovaria which later evolved into modern Dorchester, the County Town of Dorset.

The enclosed area at the top is some 19 hectares in size which is more than enough space to house a large army and accompanying settlement. Dorchester is steeped with the history of Thomas Hardy and readers may recall the 1967 film adaption of his novel “Far from the Madding Crowd” in which Maiden Castle was used as a film location. The film starred Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp in the leading roles.

I can well recommend a visit to Maiden Castle even if to soak up the atmosphere of the place and with Summer holidays fast approaching, it is well worth any holiday maker in the area placing this on their itinerary.

I have added some view of Maiden Castle and its fortified embankments below.





The wind of political change

Ballot BoxThe ink on the General Election  ballot paper is barely dry, yet the die for the next five years is already well and truly cast. As the individual politicians either celebrate their victories or lick their wounds with various party leaders already falling on their proverbial swords, thoughts must turn to what the next five years will mean.

Surprising as it may seems, in the longer term and by that I mean after the next five years and the next General Election, the outlook for working people could be far better than it has been for a long time provided the Labour Party quickly learn their lesson. In the short-term, provided there is no political trickery, it should also mean that finally the electorate will  have its say on Europe which they have been denied by politicians for the last 40 years.

No one can say if the majority of the electorate will eventually vote to stay in the EU or not but there can be no doubt of the hue and cry from the electorate over the years that people want their say on the matter. With the leader of the Labour Party saying  a EU Referendum is unlikely  to take place if Labour won the next General Election and another Labour politician suggesting that British people could not be ‘trusted’ to decide if they wanted to stay in the EU or not, caused resentment amongst many voters.

Equally ignoring issues like over immigration and the real consequences it has caused in employment,  housing, education and health did nothing to curry any favour between the electorate and those they perceived dismissive of the problem in the past.

Although I do not support them, the SNP has won a massive victory in Scotland and must be congratulated for that as clearly that is how Scottish voters feel. However although they will now form a sizeable minority party in Parliament, their political teeth have been pulled in terms of hopes of ruling the whole of the country through a coalition. The SNP victory also shows how dependent Labour had become over the years on their Scottish politicians at the expense of other and less urbanised areas of the country. With that support taken away overnight, the numbers simply did not add up in terms of parliamentary seats of them ever hoping to form a government on their own.

And there lies the nub of Labour’s problem, one of trust or more accurately lack of trust in them by many of the electorate. Lack of trust or faith is something that did not happen overnight, it has been building for years and Labour did not appear to have the foresight to see it coming, understanding it, or countering it.

The electorate is not a single entity that can be taken for granted and used as a rite of passage into Parliament,  it is millions of decent hard working individuals each with their own independent thoughts and aspirations most whom loathe being lectured at by elitist politicians. Many working people now feel they have no political party to represent their views. For many it was once the principles of Keir Hardie they supported, strong principles which sometimes seem more recently to have become clouded or evaporated.. For a great many people it is not a case of them having moved away from the Labour Party, to them it feels more of a case that the Labour Party has moved away from them.

The Labour Party is now begun the process of choosing a new leader and it is likely unless they choose a person that voters can believe in, that any future policies Labour develop will be seen as anything other than words on paper. This point on the choice the right leader has already been expressed by some Labour politicians fearful Labour may once again be sleepwalk into the same mistakes of the past.

Something I often hear in conversations is peoples distrust in careerist politicians who they feel  lack the contact, experience and understanding of everyday folk and their hopes, fears and aspirations. Nothing makes many peoples blood boil faster than politicians they perceive as “champagne socialists” glibly deciding what is best for them rather than asking or understanding them.

At the end of the day, it is those same people who are going to put their X on a future ballot paper against a particular politician’s name or not. Politicians who appear to alienate people  are only alienating themselves.

Choice of their new leader is a matter for Labour alone although some bloodletting over their General Election defeat has already begun. Even if they choose the right person, Labour still face the monumental task of rebuilding its trust and faith with the electorate. Choose the wrong person and they face many more years in the wilderness.

Wells Cathedral

DSCF1424Recently my wife and I paid a visit to Britain’s smallest and I think most pleasant city of Wells in Somerset. Although deemed a city, Wells is about the size of a small market town and indeed still has a thriving outdoor market held in the shadow of Wells Cathedral.

The city is nestled in the foothills of the Mendips close to Cheddar Gorge and derives its name from three freshwater wells. One is located in the market place and is dedicated to St Andrew, the other two are within the adjacent Bishops Palace the traditional home of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Wells was originally a Roman settlement but started to rise in prominence when the Saxon King Ine of Wessex built a minster church there in A.D. 704. In A.D. 909 Wells became the seat of the newly formed Bishopric of Wells. The Cathedral and Bishops Palace were built between 1175 and 1490 with the original Saxon minster church being replaced.

One item that Wells Cathedral is renown for is the 14th century astronomical clock built about 1390. The clock which does not have the traditional hands displays the time. date and moon phase on a series of dials. The clock is the second oldest in the UK, Salisbury Cathedral possessing one that was built a few years earlier. On the hour, a seated man to the top right of the clock rings the hours out on a bell and a series of jousting knights facing each other revolve on two turntables above the clock.

I created a Photosphere of the High Altar to allow viewers a 360 panorama of this part of the building.

The exterior facade of the cathedral consists of numerous alcoves containing some 300 statues all surmounted by Christ and his disciples.


.I have also added below a series of photographs showing others aspects of the interior including the ornate ceilings.







The 27 Letter English Alphabet

Early English AlphabetAsk many people how many letters are there in the English Alphabet and most will correctly say 26 letters. However until the early 19th century the alphabet consisted of 27 letters. A character we often see used in text and business titles but not on the standard alphabet chart is the Ampersand. & which can be traced

back to the Romans in the 1st century.

It is thought the ampersand symbol evolved from usage of the Latin word ‘ET’ or ‘ET AL’ meaning ‘AND’ or ‘ALSO’ which became truncated over time to form the one symbol.

It is not clear if the Latin version of the ampersand had a name but it is likely English school children reciting the alphabet would describe the ampersand concluding at the end of the alphabet with the Latin phrase  ‘and  Per Se, and’  which translated means ‘and by itself, and’.  The difficulty is pronouncing this latter phrase soon became truncated into the word ‘Ampersand’.

There does not appear to be any formalised instruction to drop the ampersand from the recognised English alphabet, it is just something that fell out of more general usage during the 19th century.

English is in itself, (per se), a rich, descriptive and flexible language which has never stopped evolving. Many words which nowadays are considered English can have their origins traced back to many countries and time periods and which now have been embraced into the language. Other words like the ampersand example above have been adapted from other languages. Who knows in the fullness of time what other words that may not exist today but will one day be considered English, or what they will mean?

And did those feet in ancient times

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

There can be few Englishmen who do not know the hymn “Jerusalem” written by William Blake be they devout Christians or atheists. So popular and well known has the hymn become, it is almost like a second national anthem.

Stirring as the hymn is, sometimes the origin of the words are overlooked. One might easily initially believe from the title the hymn refers to the biblical Middle East but the words are actually entwined with the myth and legend of Somerset, England and in particular with Glastonbury. For centuries Glastonbury  has been steeped in myth. It has at times been linked to the legendary Island of Avalon of Arthurian myth and is a name the area still goes by today. There can be little doubt that in the past before the surrounding marshland of the Somerset Levels was drained, Glastonbury with its mighty abbey and distinctive towering tor would have seemed like a mystical island thrusting upwards from the surrounding watery landscape.

The Bible tells about the life of Jesus as a baby and a child and is then silent on what would have been his teen years only picking up the story again of his much later life. This apparent absence of detail of his teenage years has led to many unproven theories including the possibility he may have travelled abroad during this time. One such theory is that he may have travelled to England and in particular Glastonbury in Somerset. A story that developed during the Middle Ages was Joseph of Arimathea  who may have possible been an uncle or a councillor to Jesus, also during this time had connections with Glastonbury and that Jesus possibly accompanied him on his travels there. The myth developed further after the crucifixion to say that Joseph of Arimathea  travelled once again to Glastonbury carrying the Holy Grail which he buried on Glastonbury Tor. Although the is no real evidence to support such a theory there is a well at the foot of Glastonbury Tor which has been named the “Chalice Well”. The opening line of the hymn Jerusalem, “And did those feet in ancient time. Walk upon England’s mountains green.”, alludes to this legend.

Joseph of Arimathea  is also attributed in the legend of donating his tomb to Jesus’s body following the crucifixion and returning to England where he planted his staff in the ground at Glastonbury which miraculously took root and flowered into the tree known as the Holy Thorn. Off-shoots of a tree by that name certainly exist there and a sprig of the tree is sent to Buckingham Palace every Christmas to adorn the monarch’s dinner table.

Another phrase of the hymn Jerusalem refers to the “Dark Satanic Mills” and this is thought to refer to the author William Blake’s experiences of the early Industrial Revolution with it’s newly created dreadful working and housing conditions.

Are any of these stories true? There is no known evidence to support them but by the same token, there is also no known evidence to disprove them.

Whatever the truth, the unwritten tales of Jesus’s teenage years entwined with the Arthurian legend certainly attracts those in search of the spiritual and mystical plane to Glastonbury every year.

So the next time you either hear or sing the hymn Jerusalem, perhaps you will cast a thought at the unproven myth behind the words.

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