Archive for December, 2012

The Pike – a fable

Posted: December 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Pike An appeal to justice was made against the pike, on the ground that it had rendered the pond uninhabitable. A whole cart-load of proofs was… Read story


All Hallows by the Tower

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

all hallows by the towerYesterday I finally got to visit this ancient church, the oldest in the City of London, and one which survived both the Great Fire and (just), the Blitz.

All Hallows by the Tower was founded in 675, a good 400 years before the eponymous Tower itself. There are a few remains of the original Saxon building in the form of an arch, but older still are parts of a floor from a Roman dwelling which can be seen in the crypt. Today the crypt houses an excellent small museum, one of whose many artefacts includes a crow’s nest from Ernest Shackleton’s ship “Quest”. The church is very much associated with sailors, Merchant Navy and Royal Navy alike: there are ships’ models and memorials scattered around the building. It’s no coincidence that the Merchant Navy war memorial is just across the road.

Most of  the post-Blitz surviving parts of the church are mid-17C. Samuel Pepys observed the Fire from what would have been the very new bell tower. In fact, All Hallows survived the conflagration thanks to firebreaks having been made around it.

Proximity to the Tower inevitably means All Hallows has close associations with executed martyrs, whose heads were delivered there for burial. Noteworthies include Thomas More (1535), St. John Fisher (1535) and William Laud (1650).

The church has very close ties to the USA owing to William Penn having been baptised there in 1644 and John Quincy Adams’s marriage there in 1797.

So a massive store of history. Yet, I found myself most taken by a more recent tale, the inspiring story of  Philip “Tubby” Clayton (1885 – 1972). Do you perhaps remember your  parents, when describing a stupid person, to say: “as dim as a Toc H lamp”? I know mine did. Well, it all started with Tubby. As an army chaplain in World War One, he founded what became the Toc H movement. It was a Christian friendship association for the soldiers, begun in a building behind the lines where they could fraternise and use the library which Tubby set up. To prevent the theft of books, he instituted a system whereby the soldiers had to leave their hat as collateral. After the war, he continued to develop Toc H, but was also the Vicar of All Hallows for some 40 years. He suffered the destruction of his church by the Luftwaffe but it must have been most uplifting to witness its restoration in the following decades.

Did I mention the gorgeous Grinling Gibbons font cover in the Baptistery?


All Hallows by the Tower is welcomes visitors seven days a week. Check their website for opening times.

All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower

all hallows by the tower

The altar.

all hallows by the tower

Memorial to Philip “Tubby” Clayton…

all hallows by the tower

… but how cute is the wee dog at his feet?

all hallows by the tower

All Hallows commemorates British seafarers down the ages.

all hallows by the tower

If you take your sword to church, you might make use of this 18C sword holder. Very rare in churches nowadays, All Hallows has three of them.

all hallows by the tower

Grinling Gibbons font cover.

all hallows by the tower

Crypt Museum: Shackleton crow’s nest.

all hallows by the tower

Crypt Museum: Bomb-damaged memorial to William Penn.

all hallows by the tower

Crypt Museum: Recording of the marriage of John Quincy Adams.

all hallows by the tower

Temporary grave markers recovered from World War One battlefields.

 Read story

A MALEFACTOR by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
translated by Constance Garnett An exceedingly lean little peasant, in a striped hempen shirt and patched … Read story


The first Christmas celebrated in the United States was the same celebration we’d recognize today, but rather a strictly religious service.

The first Christmas celebrated on land that is now part of the United States took place near Tallahassee, Fla., in 1539, according to historians there.

The region is known for its sunny weather, so it definitely was not a white Christmas.

“It was not a very festive celebration either,” Rachel Porter, special programs coordinator for the Florida Department of State, told Discovery News. “There were no Christmas trees or presents. Instead, it was a religious observance with a Christmas mass.”

Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto established his winter encampment site of 1539-40 near what is now the Historic Capitol in downtown Tallahassee. He, along with other members of his expedition, celebrated the first U.S. Christmas.

Porter, who is also an archaeologist that helped to excavate the Florida site, said a written chronicle from the 16th century sheds light on what took place there.

PHOTOS: Oh Christmas Tree!: A History in Photos

Eight months before Christmas, in May 1539, de Soto landed nine ships with over 620 men and 220 horses at present-day Shaw’s Point in Bradenton. De Soto named it Espíritu Santo, meaning Holy Spirit. The ships brought priests, craftsmen, engineers, farmers, and merchants; some were with their families. Some came from Cuba, but most were from Europe and Africa. Few had traveled before outside of Spain.

Women from that group probably would have cooked the food served on Christmas Day. “During the excavations we found pig bones,” Porter said. “The Spanish were the first to bring pigs to Florida.”

Though pork was likely on the menu of the first Christmas celebrants in America, such meat was not plentiful, Porter adds, so the meal likely would have included plenty of local vegetables, fruits and seafood. Turkey might have been on the menu too.

In addition to pig bones, Porter said archaeologists digging at the site found “artifacts such as chain mail, from armor worn by soldiers, cross bow darts, coins and pottery.” Most probably would have been put aside on Christmas Day. Music, however, might have been enjoyed after the service.

De Soto recruited guides from local Native American tribes during his U.S. travels. In the Tallahassee region, these came from the Apalachee tribe. The Apalachees are the original residents of northwestern Florida, but a war in the early 1700’s nearly destroyed their population. Some fled to Alabama and Louisiana, where the remaining Apalachee people live to this day.

The Spaniards learned from the Apalachee, who knew how to live off the land. Basket weaving, for example, allowed them to construct useful containers out of local plant materials.

The most vivid architectural legacy of the de Soto settlement is Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. The first permanent buildings associated with the mission were erected in 1633. As a commemorative sign at the mission shares, the buildings housed descendants of the Native Americans whose village Hernando de Soto and his men appropriated.

PHOTOS: Reindeers Help Christmas Trees Grow

For three generations, more than 1,500 Apalachee Indians and Spanish colonists lived together at Mission San Luis. It preceded missions in California by more than 150 years.

Mission San Luis includes a reconstructed Franciscan church, Spanish fort, living quarters, and a five-story Apalachee council house. Porter said the church was a challenge for the excavating archaeologists.

“The most challenging aspect of the excavation and reconstruction of the church was avoiding any damage to the cemetery located beneath the church’s floor,” she explained. “An estimated 900 mission residents are buried there.”

While the first Christmas likely was celebrated outside, the mass would have been very similar to those held in the Franciscan chapel.

In 2013, Florida will celebrate this period during the state’s 500th anniversary of Spain’s arrival. As part of the “Viva Florida 500” commemorative events, on Jan. 5, Mission San Luis will host “First Christmas in La Florida.”

Visitors on that day can celebrate Christmas the way explorer Hernando de Soto likely did. Activities include a reenactment of the winter encampment and Christmas mass, music, Spanish plays from the era and military arts, including black powder musket shooting, cannon firing and archery.

Photo Credit: Visit Tallahassee

 Read story

At the time of this story the New Spring Gardens (later Vauxhall pleasure gardens) was the most auspicious recreational facility in London. Until abo… Read story

I rarely use the term, “museum-caliber” when describing historic properties.  This house is museum-caliber. In my mind, museum-caliber means several things: exceptional architecture, a large amount original (or early) details, accurate historical information, and perhaps most importantly, the house must feature a lot of early period furniture & decoration to make the house “feel” the part.  That’s what gives it that “museum” feeling — like you’re suddenly immersed in daily life, say, 200 years ago.  Well, the “Abner Richmond Tavern” in Westford Village, Connecticut, is “museum caliber.”

I’ve been inside this house (several years ago) and I was in awe for most of my visit.  Each room revealed a new scene that seemed to transport me directly into the 19th century.  Going beyond a meticulous & thorough restoration, the current owners (who are dealers in early American antiques) have also permanently “staged” the house to an late-18th/early-19th century appearance.  It’s amazing.

The Richmond Tavern, c. 1765 & 1805, is located at the crossroads of a rural New England village, on the former stage route to Boston and Hartford.  It is an exceedingly rare example of original high-style Federal architecture and impressive interior detail.

The house features nine rooms (each one with a fireplace!), including 4 bedrooms, 1 ½ baths. The property was thoroughly researched & studied.  As such, everywhere you’ll encounter impressive historic features like raised paneling & historic sheathing, and authentic original colors. There is beautiful formal woodwork in parlor and drawing room — including rope moldings over the fireplace, around window casings, and on the chair rail.  You can step in to an original buttery and a separate pantry off the summer kitchen in an early ell.  One of the more striking rooms is in the front of the house — an early “tavern room,” complete with wooden bars in the tap area.

Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms, remnants of early stenciling were restored and duplicated.

Despite all the historical accuracy & more rustic features, the house includes an elegant modern kitchen with a center island and custom cabinetry that reflects the classic, historic woodwork of the home.

There are also impressive bathrooms that cleverly yet stylishly camouflage some of the modern fixtures.  The house retains wide board floors throughout, early doors and hardware, and meticulous attention to period detail combined unobtrusively with the comforts of the 20th century.

The exterior facade includes a Palladian window & an impressive fanlight over the front entry.

There is plenty of room to roam, both inside and out, with over 3,500 square feet of living space & 4.5 acres of land — including meadows, gardens, and stone walls.  Behind the house, the property includes a large period barn.

The house even features central air.  It’s obviously well suited for bed & breakfast, antique shop & home, or prestigious residence for the antiques connoisseur. The house has been featured in books & magazines, a truly spectacular property!  Check out the rest of the pictures — about 40 of them! — and you’ll agree.  To get the houses specs or to contact the Realtor, check out the listing by clicking here.
































































 Read story

Picture of the Week #207

Posted: December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Chester Cathedral. Photo May 2000.