Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sir Munchmellow Cubely-Blunder

One of our esteemed members has been kind enough to share this mid-seventeenth portrait of his relative, Sir Munchmellow Cubely-Blunder, with us here on the Ragged Ramblers blog. In his days at Cambridge Munchmellow earned the nickname of 'Thud & Blunder!' in recognition of his huge losses at the cubes (dice) and for his tendency to suddenly collapse with a thud when asked to do anything that required logical thought. What a fine gentleman! Huzzah!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

St Nicholas, Castle Hedingham, Essex

At the weekend a small party of Ragged Ramblers visited Castle Hedingham. For one of us this had a special meaning as it was the village where they spent part of their childhood. Here are some photographs we took on the day. 

What a sight! This is a fascinating church in a wonderful setting. Much of the fabric of this church dates from the early 12th century. That 'wheel window' is certainly eye-catching! 

Phantasmagorical figure above the porch entrance.

We noted this curious creature forged in metal on the south door. Is it meant to be a boar - one of the symbols of the early patrons of this church, the de Vere family? According to some this door was once covered by the flayed skin of an executed criminal, but we remain sceptical about this.  

A Norman cushion-stoup which, curiously, features the carving of a cat that is upside down. This made us speculate as to whether this was re-used. 

This crudely carved figure is set into the south wall of the Lady Chapel and looks, stylistically, to be Norman. 

Nice view of the Norman apse, illuminated by the wheel-window, above. 

The heavily restored 15th century rood screen features a fantastic array of carved faces and creatures. 

Beautiful late Norman capitals.

Lion with lolling tongue, carved under the misericords (literal translation = 'mercy seat')

Fragment of a wall painting.

An accomplished 15th century hand inscribed this graffito into the surround of stairwell door in the west tower.

These appear to be masons' marks carved into the quoins of the buttresses. 

Rabbit Archaeology

Earlier today I returned to the site of the Roman town, Venta Icenorum, at Caister St Edmund near Norwich. My particular interest was in some Roman middens (rubbish dump) which rabbits continue to inadvertenly excavate. Although it's a little late in the season, and the nettles are growing rapidly, I did manage to get my hands on a range of material. Here are some photos:

Oyster shell - a staple of the Roman diet

Bone with evidence of tooling marks

Roman pottery - rim of a vessel

Roman pottery - fragment of base of a vessel

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Memorial to Heroic Self-sacrifice

Just around the corner from the Museum of London is one of my favourite places in the city. Situated in Postman's Park is Victorian artist, George Frederick Watts' Memorial to Heroic Self-sacrifice. 

Situated underneath a humble roof are beautifully glazed tiles that tell stories of ordinary people's remarkable bravery. Well worth a diversion to go and see this!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Lost in a Moment

Norwich Cathedral cloister: a wonderful place for quiet reflection; to solve it through walking. There was a stunning play of light and shadow as I stood on the top of the steps and stared, lost in the moment...

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Wenhaston Doom

Towards the end of my perambulation of the county of Suffolk yesterday, I made a point of stopping off at the village of Wenhaston to visit an old friend. Walking into the church of St Peter, there it was before me - the Wenhaston 'Doom'. Although I have been privileged to gaze upon this medieval treasure on many occasions, it never fails to excite me. 

As with so much of our medieval material church culture, this is a miraculous survivor. To think that if it had not rained heavily on one night in the late nineteenth century this would have been burned to ashes on a bonfire! 

Having originally formed the tympanum, occupying the church's chancel arch, it had been decided to remove it as part of a restoration in the 1890s. At the time, it appeared to be a plain whitewashed panel of eleven old planks. As such, it was decided to remove it and the discarded boards were piled up to form a bonfire in the churchyard. However, overnight the rain fell. By the next morning enough of the water-soluble whitewash had been washed away to reveal glimpses of the original painting, thereby sealing its survival.  

Probably painted during the early sixteenth century, this rustic painting depicts scenes from the last judgement, from the jaws of hell to the weighing of souls.  As Miri Rubin has observed, it is significant that in this depiction the souls selected for salvation are a minority. For, say, an early sixteenth rural labourer looking up at the naked, tremulous king and cardinal facing judgement, how satisfying it must have been to know that worldly pride and hierarchy meant nothing in the hereafter. 

The Wenhaston Doom offers us an important glimpse into the lost world of the pre-Reformation English medieval church. It is not a great work of art - far from it! However, it is a scene familiar to medieval congregations in 'ordinary' parish churches and, as such, is representative of thousands of similar examples that were lost during the long process of the Reformation. 

And yet, at its centre, there is an absence. Where the carved figures of the crucified Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist once stood, there remains a blank. Most likely the figures on the rood (or 'perke' as Suffolk folk would have known it) perished in the flames that so very nearly claimed the whole piece several centuries later. The Reformation played out in humble settings such as this - that is the story at the heart of this survivor. 

A photograph can only convey so much. If you ever have the opportunity, go see it for yourself. Time spent here will reward you well as you feel the weight of the history behind this remarkable insight into late medieval life. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

When darker days give way to light

Softly dappled blues and green
Spring's caress can be seen
Thoughts of warming sunlit walks
Friendly company, fervent talks

Wending, winding, wonder and wander
Enjoying moments, rambles to ponder
Can we wait for spring to arrive?
No, can we have it now please!

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