30 May 2012

Bosky Boscobel

Built as a farmhouse in the 16th century on lands that had, prior to the Dissolution, belonged to White Ladies Priory, Boscobel was converted into a hunting lodge, in around 1632, by John Giffard, who gave the house its name. This is believed to derive from bosco bello, the Italian for "amidst fair woods", and the root of the word "bosky." 

The Giffards were recusant left-footers, and it has been suggested that Boscobel was intended to hide persecuted Catholics. It thus boasted at least one priest-hole, but the two described as such at the property would have been too easily found to be considered genuine.

A priest-hole at Boscobel hid the future King Charles II, the night following a day he had spent hiding in the nearby branches of what became known as The Royal Oak. Charles was on the run after the Battle of Worcester, of 3 September 1651, and later escaped to France.

The surrounding woodland has gone, and the original tree fell victim to souvenir hunters in the 17th and 18th centuries. But a scion of Charles's oak remains, although badly damaged by a storm in 2000. Ten years later it was strapped to prevent splitting of the main trunk.

The three phases of building are very distinct - the 16th-century farm at left in the photograph at top, the large 19th-century additions, in painted brick, to the right, and Giffard's hunting lodge to the rear (second photograph). There are extensive cow byres and stables. Unusually, the farm had its own blacksmith, the forge and bellows still in full working order.

White Ladies Priory

A few miles north-west of Wolverhampton are the sandstone ruins of White Ladies Priory, the name derived from the white habits of the half dozen or so Augustinian canonesses who lived here prior to dissolution in 1538.

The church, of the twelfth century, was dedicated to St Leonard of Noblac, associated with the liberation of prisoners. Quite fitting thus that the future King Charles II hid here before moving on to Boscobel House, just a mile away.

29 May 2012

Bird's Nest Scoop

A nest from last year that dropped out of a tree whilst the latter was being pruned. Eat your heart out Ai Weiwei - nature does it better!

26 May 2012


Barmouth, on the north-west coast of Wales, may be tacky, full as it is of shops selling seaside tat, faux hippy emporia, and tattoo parlours, but the light there can be spectacular, and one can soon leave behind those who don't like to get too far away from a burger joint.

The name of the boat at top, Buey 2, is pronounced the way American English (and modern French) pronounces the buoy in the foreground, and that in the second photograph. The word is of Old French or Middle Dutch origin.

21 May 2012

The Ampthill Mob

Ampthill is a pleasant Bedfordshire town, boasting numerous Georgian houses, and even more houses of an earlier age to which Georgian fronts were attached. The name has Anglo-Saxon roots, and means ‘ant-heap.’ There was a fifteenth century castle here, of which there are only fragmentary remains. This was famous for housing Catherine of Aragon between 1531, when Anne Boleyn became Henry VIII’s favourite, and 1533, when ‘The Great Whore’ was elevated to queen and Catherine was moved to Kimbolton in Cambridgeshire.

08 May 2012

Royal Leamington Spa I

Erstwhile Newbold Gardens, which run alongside the River Leam, were originated in 1831. They opened free of charge between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., after which time they were restricted to patrons of the nearby spa bath-house, although a sunken right of way, which still exists, was provided to enable transit by the hoi polloi.

A lake was excavated in 1843, and the gardens were renamed, three years later, after Dr Henry Jephson, a promoter of the town's spa waters (which taste rather like St Yorre). A statue of Jephson sits within a Corinthian temple, before which stands the Czech Memorial Fountain, unveiled in 1968 in memory of the Czech Free Army that, during WWII, was quartered in the town.

Another philanthropist, Dr Hitchen, is memorialised by a fountain of 1869 (top). Once in the hands of the local council the gardens declined after WWII, but lottery money won in 1999 was used to successfully return them to full glory. A new sub-tropical glasshouse and restaurant was added to the gardens as part of the upgrade, a fine piece of modern architecture.

Royal Leamington Spa II

In 1800, Leamington Priors was a village of just 300 people. By 1850 exploitation of the local springs had given birth to Royal Leamington Spa, with a population of 15,000. The Royal Pump Room and Baths were built in 1813 by Charles Smith. It was significantly extended in the early 1860s, to include hot, tepid, cold, douche, plunge, shower, swimming and Turkish baths.

The Turkish baths consisted of apodyteriumlabrum, calderium, tepidarium, and frigidarium - changing, washing, hot, tepid, and cold rooms. A larger swimming pool was added in 1889. The Turkish baths closed in about 1977 and the remainder of the complex in 1989. Thankfully, the building has been saved to home a museum, gallery and library. Just around the corner is the Art Deco Bath Assembly Hall of 1926, now a music venue.

07 May 2012

Bala Lake Railway

Running four-and-a-half miles between Llanuwchllyn ("the village above the lake") and Bala, the Bala Lake Railway operates on two foot narrow gauge track laid on the bed of the original standard gauge GWR railway that ran between Ruabon and Barmouth. The Llangollen Railway utilises another section of the GWR trackbed.

Passenger services ceased in 1965, and the line closed in 1968, but the lake railway was operating just four years later. All of the locomotives are ex-quarry engines, all bar one from the Lanberis slate quarry. Four, including Holy War, were built by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds. The signal box at Llanuwchllyn is of 1896.

01 May 2012

Warwickshire's Beautiful Waste

Immediately adjoining the parish of Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, is that of Beaudesert. The de Montfort family held the manor here subsequent to the Norman conquest: Thurstan de Montfort built a castle in the twelfth century. Unfortunately, nothing remains of this other than the motte, now known as The Mount.

At the foot of The Mount, and of the same period, circa 1170, is the church of St Nicholas, likely built on the site of an earlier edifice. This boasts gorgeous Norman arches and, on the north side of the chancel, stone rope-work that could just be Saxon. The stained glass is of a quality commensurate with a much larger church.