Chester’s collection of Roman gravestones

Chester is not a city I know particularly well. We had a couple of nights here on a narrow boat when we were young and in love – I remember going to early Communion in the Cathedral, and taking the boat down the staircase locks at the end of a long day. I’ve changed trains here on a few occasions since, but haven’t visited the Cathedral for years. On Saturday 26 January we drove across and met our friends Jeremy, Sue and Ella. The girls went shopping – Jeremy and I did the museum and a church.

I wanted to go to Grosvenor Museum – – as they had a exhibition entitled ‘Dead Normal’, exploring the ways different cultures and communities have tried to make sense of the end of life. There was another entitled ‘Memento Mori’ which had a collection of images showing how Cheshire had commemorated its dead. Both interesting little exhibitions – and the Art galley was a lovely place to sit and contemplate.

I enjoyed the Roman galleries most. In one is an extensive collection of gravestones (or should I write ‘memorial stones’?) which were discovered during repair work to the city walls which started in 1883. The City Surveyor, Mr I. Matthews Jones, was overseeing work on a length of the Wall near to the tower known  as Morgan’s Mount. He noticed that fragments of Roman stonework were packed into the fill of the lower courses of the walls, and rescued them – we should be very grateful to him.

Caecilius Avitus, an Optio (a junior officer, next in rank to a centurion). He is dressed in a heavy cloak, wears his sword, carries his staff of office and writing tablets. We rarely see these stones in the colours they must have been.

This stone shows Sextus, son of Sextus and shows him on horseback – he may have been a member of a small cavalry squadron attached to the legion, based here in Chester. The boy walking next to him, carrying a shield, might be a captive slave – I wonder what sort of life he lived. There is a portrait of Sextus at the top, and on either side are the heads of two lions – lions are commonly shown on Roman stones because they symbolise the suddenness by which life can be turned into death.

This is the lower part of the tombstone of a man who died in a shipwreck. The inscription reads “… optiois:ad:spem ordinis;>:Lvcili ingenvi:qvi navfragio:perit; S : E” which means “… optio ad spem ordinis in the century of Lucilius Ingenuus, who died by shipwreck. He is buried …”. An optio ad spem ordinis was an optio who was designated for promotion to the rank of centurion. The last section of the inscription would usually read “H.S.E” which stands for ‘hic situs est’, ‘he is buried here.’ On this stone the H has been missed off indicating that the body was never recovered from the sea to be given a proper funeral. I appreciated the lesson in Roman abbreviations, and wondered who mourned the Optio enough to erect a stone to him – and grieve that they had not got his body.

This stone shows a Roman cavalryman on horseback trampling a naked barbarian. The cavalryman is wearing a long shirt of chain mail, and the barbarian is clutching a six-sided shield.

This is a Sarmatian cavalryman – they were a nomadic people who lived north of the River Danube in the area that is now southern Ukraine and northern Romania. The horseman is show wearing a tall conical helmet, his cloak streams behind him and his sword scabbard can be seen at his side. He is carrying a dragon’s head standard of which only the tail survives on this damaged stone. The dragon’s head was designed to make a horrible noise as the wind rushed through it when the soldier raced into battle. We heard one of these at an English Heritage display at Corbridge years ago – quite fascinating. I did a bit of researching – “Corbridge trumpet” found me brass bands in Northumberland, but “Corbridge Roman trumpet” got me a carnyx – have a google and you can listen to one being played.

Two stones show banquet scenes in the afterlife. On the left a man and his son are together. The deceased man was called Flavius Callimorphus and his son was called Serapion. They are reclining on a couch next to a three-legged table and a large wine amphora. The stone was discovered in 1874 not too far from the museum. It was found with two skeletons – I wondered if they reburied them, or if they’re in a box somewhere. On the right, and giving a view of the gallery, this lady is called Curatia Dionysia.

This stone shows a centurion called Marcus Aurelius Nepos and his wife. She is shown much smaller than him and her name has not been inscribed. The Centurion has a vine staff in his right hand, which is the symbol of his rank. He is bearded and wears a heavy cloak, she wears a mantle and is lifting the hem of her overdress to show the skirt beneath. A space was left for epitaph to be carved, but it was never done. The caption panel had a drawing of the two, and there was a video playing nearby of her talking about her husband, how she loved and missed him. It was quite moving – reminded us that these are not just stones, they are memorials to ordinary people, people who loved and lost.

A few other Roman things worth photoing. I wonder how many pigs of lead were transported from the Peak District south through my parish to the rest of the Roman Empire.

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northernvicarwalks – Beside the Tyne to Dunston Staithes

After a morning in Newcastle we crossed the Tyne and had a late lunch at the Sage. Then Julie sat with a book, and I went for a walk. I did about 5 miles west along the river to Dunston Staithes and back. As I blog it I need to go back and add up what I really did in 2018 – and the total was 500 miles exactly. I last recorded it at the end of August when the total was 408. In September I managed 32 miles, October was 24, November 17 and December 19. That makes 500 – so I am a Proclaimer. I managed 2 miles on 4 January, and now 5 miles on 18 January. So that is 9 miles in the first month of the year … . Could do better.

I walked down from the Sage under the Tyne Bridge, by the Swing Bridge, and under the High Level Bridge. The old oil terminal has been derelict for years, but we have some modern art – this is called Rise and Fall, and is by Lulu Quinn (2007). I wonder if it is still “animated with white light”.

Under the King Edward Bridge and the Redheugh Bridge. The art on the old bridge parapet is called Once upon a Tyne, Richard Deacon 1990.

I continued along, past the nice flats, many of which were built after the 1990 National Garden Festival was held here in Gateshead, to Dunston Staithes. These were built in 1893 for the North Eastern Railway. Here trucks of coal from the Durham coalfield were loaded onto colliers on the Tyne. 5.5 millions tons of coal at its peak. They closed in 1977 – much more information at and They are open in the summer months, so I must come back for another explore.

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Newcastle upon Tyne – St Andrew

Friday 18 January. We drove into Newcastle and I went for a walk while Julie and our friend Katie spent a happy few hours in Waterstone’s. I went to J&M Sewing Services to buy new clerical shirts – they have a website at I have been a happy customer since they came to Lincoln Theological College in 1992. They are such an Anglican institution I think they should really have their own blog page.
I walked back via St Andrew’s church. It is silly that in the seven years I lived here, northernvicar went into the depths of Northumberland, but failed to visit all the churches in the centre of Town.

St Andrew’s is on Newgate Street, not far from Eldon Square, and has a websit – It has a busy ministry working with Chaplaincy across the City, and traditional Book of Common Prayer services in church. The nice thing was I found it open, lit and warm. Thank you! Excellent guidebook too. Good to see the heritage of Inspired North East too.

Traditionally St Andrew’s is the oldest church in Newcastle, probably having Saxon origin. The earliest building work in this church is the Normal Arch between nave and chancel, which dates from the middle of the C12. It is said that the church was founded by David I, King of Scotland – he and then his grandson occupied this part of the world between 1139 and 1157. The rebuilding started in 1140, and ended with the addition of the tower by 1207. By 1265 the good folk of Newcastle were building a town wall to protect themselves  from the Scots – I should have a proper look at the remains of the Wall sometime. In 1644 the church was in the line of Scottish gunners, and the fabric was damaged. (In Ponteland we used to host the Northumbrian Police Carol Service. On one occasion they paid a piper to stand by the church door and play as we arrived. I told the Chief Constable it was her job to keep the Scots out, not invite them in). John Wesley worshipped here in 1745 and wrote in his journal that “I never saw before so well-behaved a congregation in any church in Newcastle as was that of St Andrew’s this morning.”

Here is the Nave and the Norman arch, and a lovely collection of Offertory bags. Beauty in masonry and embroidery.

They had a lovely selection of Cribs on show – here are three of them. They had obviously been working with local shops and businesses.

There are some interesting memorials in the Chancel. The Reverend Henry Griffith died in 1837. The tablet is by David Dunbar and shows a seated classical figure above the text and a portrait of Griffith below. William Chapman (1750-1832) was born in Whitby, and was captain of a merchant vessel by the age of 18. He trained as a civil engineer and found work as consulting engineer to the Grand Canal of Ireland. In 1795 he was involved in a survey of a proposed canal from Newcastle to the Irish Sea (a project which never came to fruition – eventually the Newcastle-Carlisle railway did the job. Apparently he was involved in a design of the first skew bridge, invented the coal drop (patented circa 1800), and the bogie. Luke Clennell (1781-1840) was one of the most gifted pupils of Thomas Berwick. Sadly he had a mental breakdown, and his last years were spent most as an inmate of the lunatic asylum on Bath Lane. He was buried in an unmarked grave, but friends later subscribed to this marble tablet.

The organ is a Binns of 1895, rebuilt by Harrison in 1971. There’s a couple of Paupers’ benches, East Window, and a Nave altar.

Some Victorian stained glass, and one with no colour in.

Outside is the grave of Charles Avison, a Georgian musician – I don’t know his music, I can listen to a Radio 3 podcast – more to discover!

Back at Waterstone’s the girls were still discovering.

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Elsdon, Northumberland – St Cuthbert (for the third time)

From Hartburn we drove on through Cambo, and the gorgeous road to Elsdon – stopping before the village to get a few photos. I do love Northumberland.

St Cuthbert’s church is a favourite. I’ve blogged it twice, but visited a couple of times more. On one occasion I came here for a meeting to discuss what adaptations they could make to the building to make it more of a tourist centre in the village – although nothing like on the scale of Derbyshire, Elsdon is one of those hub villages. I wanted to see what they had done in the three years since we met.

I was very impressed with the War Memorial displays on the north wall. They have done an excellent job researching those who gave their lives. I had two complaints – the sun was in the wrong place (and they can’t do anything about that). My other is that there is a headstone of Rufinus, a Roman soldier. He was commanding officer of the fort at High Rochester, and it was erected by his wife Lucilla, the daughter of a senator. I would love the display to make a link between the soldier of the Roman Empire, and the soldiers of the British Empire.

Lots of pews in this church, and a lovely view through the East Window. Some nice memorials, and the plans to remove some of the pews are on display. A refreshment area in the north transept, a display area in the south, and the area around the font was going to be levelled. They have done a good job of the south transept floor, and they are displaying a model of Harbottle Castle, but no sensible noticeboards or proper displays. Nothing done on the north or west ends – rather depressing.

Inspired North East was set up while I was in Northumberland – £¼ million of lottery funding, a “Spirit in Stone” website listing exciting churches in Durham and Northumberland, a guide book, display boards in various churches, links to the visit of the Lindisfarne Gospels returning to Durham in 2013, and projects for churches to work on their heritage. Less than a decade later, Durham diocese seems to have withdrawn, Newcastle seems to have one part-timer, neither the Spirit or the Inspired websites have been updated recently, and you won’t find “Churches to visit” on a visible page of the Diocese of Newcastle website. Search for “tourism” and you will find just one reference – leading to Inspired, and their out of date website. So depressing.

I cheer myself up with the knowledge that this church, the West Window, and the life of the village will last longer than a diocese and its slogans.

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Hartburn, Northumberland – St Andrew (for the third visit)

Monday 14 January was a beautiful day. We’re on holiday in Northumberland, so we went for a drive. We went through Morpeth, and stopped at Hartburn. St Andrew’s church is rather lovely, and this is the third time I have visited. I left Julie in the car park with a book, and strolled across. The Norman tower is very impressive, even if the strong Winter sun made it difficult to get the right exposure. Nice arch over the door, and it is a pleasure to open the door and enter.

It was also nice to meet another photographer – Ian Lees, who is a photo-archivist. We discussed lots of places we had visited, and places we would like to. His work is on the website of Scotland’s Churches Trust – which is full of lovely places I want to visit. Please can I retire? Have a look at the stained glass blog posts – There is a page of his stained glass photos on the website of Crichton Collegiate Church – – another one to visit. He takes a lot longer about his photos than I do – and I stand in awe. Here is the gorgeous Evetts window in Hartburn.

I like the Victorian window which has Hilda and Cuthbert (she’s holding Whitby abbey, he is holding the head of St Oswald – the way one does).

I need to play with the exposure setting for the East Window. The first time I came the church was locked for building work, the second time they had a Nave altar and I wrote about “what do you do with a Chancel?” They have now gone back to a proper East End altar – the Chancel is back in use. Napoleonic flags, a wonderful light, and two beautiful memorials. The lady is Mary Ann Bradford, the gentleman James Henry Hollis Atkinson.

It was good to visit this church again, to chat to Ian, and my wife understood why I had been gone so long.

Posted in Evetts' windows, Northumberland | 1 Comment

Haworth, West Yorkshire – St Michael and All Angels

We had arranged to start 2019 by meeting friends at 11.30 for a ride on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. We overslept. We met our friends off the train at 12.30, then realised the steepness of the hill in Haworth. There is a disabled parking space in the car park by the Parsonage, but no flat access out of the car park unless you push along the road. It wouldn’t be rocket science to get rid of these three steps. We found a café and had a good lunch – Haworth is busy, even in January.

We went into St Michael and All Angels – SE 030373. They have a website at, and strive to have the church open all the time. I did have a smile that the first poster I saw was for a Burns’ Supper – now I’m really getting confused … We got a nice welcome, and had an explore. There’s some good photos at

There is written evidence of a C14 church on this site – there may well have been an earlier building. The bottom of the church tower dates to this period.

The church website says “In  1742 William Grimshaw, who was a close friend of John Wesley, became curate at Haworth. He was an enthusiastic and hard working curate, preaching as many as 30 times a week. He was also not averse to leaving his services and driving men out of the many public houses at the top of Haworth to listen to his long sermons. Haworth legend says that he even used a whip in order to encourage people out of the pubs into the church.” I must warn the Red Cow in Allestree that it will be my new technique (the CofE could list it as a “fresh expression”). “In 1755 the church was enlarged to accommodate the many people who wanted to attend” says the website, interesting definition of the word “want”!

Patrick Bronte became priest in 1820 and moved to the Parsonage with his family. His workload was incredible, and he was a conscientious parish priest. To quote the website “he baptised an average of 290 people per year, but due to the high mortality rate and the fact that the average life expectancy was just 22 years of age with 40% of children dying before the age of 6, Bronte also performed over 100 funerals per year.” As I commented in my magazine, I must not moan about my workload. Patrick Bronte died in 1861 at the age of 84, having outlived his entire family. He served the parish for 41 years, the longest serving incumbent they have had. In 1845 Arthur Bell Nicholls had been appointed as a curate. He later married Charlotte Bronte, and due to Patrick’s failing eyesight he soon took over the bulk of the official church duties.

By the 1870s the church was unsafe and unsanitary – water from the huge graveyard was seeping through the floor. It was decided to take down the old church building and build a new one, and there was a national outcry. The church had already become a place of Bronte pilgrimage.

The foundation stone of the present church was laid on Christmas Day 1879 by Michael Merrall, a local mill owner. He contributed £5,000 of the £7,000 needed. A couple of stained glass windows are dedicated to his memory – I think that these two figures in the West Window are members of the Merrall family (but I can’t find the guidebook).

I had a look at the rest of the stained glass as I worked my way round the church. The War Memorial window has Sir Galahad – don’t think I’ve ever seen him on a war memorial before. The East Window has some good glass with the Te Deum.

I liked the Epiphany window, the colours of the angels, a man handing out bread, and Mary serving at table – nice plaits.

Font and pulpit look like a pair, and there is an interesting painting high above the Chancel arch – it needs a proper clean and display. There’s one under the tower too, but I didn’t get a photo of it.

There are some Bronte memorials too. How many words on a memorial tablet? No doubt northernreader – and if you haven’t read my wife’s blog, have a look at – can tell me if his daughters were paid by the word.

I had a good chat with the couple on duty, who turned out to be churchwarden and wife. We talked about the difficulty of staffing the church so it is always open, and the problem of finding a second churchwarden. Asking a parish to staff a major tourist attraction without enough resources to do it … are we ever going to work together to handle our tourism ministry? The Diocese of Leeds, covering one of the most tourist-areas of England, has nothing about “Visiting churches” or “Tourism” on its website.

I walked round the churchyard. Apparently there are estimated to be 42,000 burials in the graveyard. Many of the graves from the time of the Bronte family hold entire families including a number of infants – I cannot imagine the toll that must take on the clergy, and we forget the toll of living in a town like this. It was not a rural idyll.

We walked up past the Old School Room to the Parsonage Museum.

We went into the Parsonage Museum. It is not a Julie-friendly building, but the lovely staff did their best to get Julie into the ground floor. I have to say they could do a bit of work to make it more accessible, though I doubt fully accessible will ever work. You could imagine Patrick doing parish business in one room, the sisters writing in another – and their father telling them not to stay up too late as he walked up the stairs and wound the clock on his way to bed.

It is slightly ironic that normal admission to the Parsonage is £8.50. With that level of income they can afford paid staff and put a lot of money into the “visitor experience” (to use the jargon). Funny how we expect the church to be there, free to enter, but we’ll pay to visit the parsonage.

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Derwent Valley Heritage Way 7 – Matlock to Whatstandwell

On Thursday 13 December I caught the 1259 from Duffield to Matlock to set off and do the next bit of the Derwent Valley Mills Trail. I avoided the railway bookshop at Matlock station, crossed the river, and walked through the park.

A display board reminded me that this was the bottom of the Matlock Cable Tramway – this is an 1891 set of pictures licensed by Commons.wikimedia. It was opened up Matlock Bank in 1893 and lasted until 1927 – there was a continuously moving cable under the road and the trams had a speed of 5 mph. Having walked up Matlock Bank on a previous occasion all I can say is bring back the tram. This is an excellent site –

There is also a memorial to Arthur Wright, a Police Constable who drowned in the River Derwent on the 27th March 1911 while attempting to rescue a girl who was also drowned. So sad – may they rest in peace.

I walked through Hall Leys Park and found the miniature railway – gauge of 9½ inches, opened in 1948, apparently still running in the summer.

The path runs beside the river, under the railway, and by this stage you realise this is not going to be a flat amble beside a Fenland river.

Up, under the railway again, and up. High Tor pleasure grounds were opened in the 1860s by Peter Arkwright (grandson of Richard, of Cromford Mill fame – we’ll be there later). By this stage both Matlock and Matlock Bath had lots of visitors, and this was an alpine route between the two resorts. I have never walked in the alps – so this is a start. I kept to the footpath as instructed.

I came down to Matlock Bath by the Heights of Abraham cable car – I would love a ride, Julie will hate it. It is closed until the Spring, and they are looking for staff – shall I chuck in the Vicaring and go and run a cable car? Matlock Bath station was opened in 1849, closed in 1967 and re-opened in 1972 – it fits the Swiss notion of the Alps.

I then explored Lovers Walks – a park and paths opened in the mid C18. I’m not sure exactly what path is the Derwent Trail, and the whole complex is not very well signposted – I seem to have walked an interesting route and got back on the A6 not very far from where I had started.

Holy Trinity Matlock Bath has a website with a biblical quote from Zechariah on the front page – that’s where I’ve been going wrong.

I walked passed Masson Mills – I will be honest – it is a World Heritage Site mill that does nothing for me. A shopping outlet centre is not on my list of top places to visit, and I must admit I have never been to the Museum. Now I’ve read the website, I feel I probably should.

Richard Arkwright was involved in the building of a mill in Nottingham, then built mills at Cromford – we’ll walk past that in a couple of miles – using the power of the Bonsall Beck and the Cromford Slough. The first was opened in Cromford in 1771. A paper mill was built here on the Derwent in 1771, and a decade later Arkwright built his cotton mill here at Masson – the Derwent has ten times the power he had had in Cromford. Masson Mills were cotton yarn producing mills from 1783 until 1991, when they were the oldest continuously working mills in the world. I783 Masson Mill was built with a high parapet concealing a low pitch roof. Around 1800 the roof was raised, so that the mill acquired a useable sixth storey. Buildings were added to the north and west of the mill by c.1835, some of which were subsequently demolished. In 1911 the central section with the Masson tower was built, then in 1928 Glen Mill was added to the southern end. In 1998 extensions were added to adapt Masson Mills to their new future as a shopping complex.

The route follows the path beside the A6, then cuts down beside Scarthin Rocks to cut the corner off round to Cromford Mills. Willersley Castle, Arkwright’s home is on the other side of the river. It is now a Christian Guild hotel – Construction began in 1790, but Arkwright died in 1792, before it was completed. His son Richard moved here in 1796, and the family owned it until the 1920s.

It is a nice view along to St Mary’s church – which I blogged recently – but you don’t get to the Mill complex itself. The mill was built in 1771 and developed for a couple of decades. By 1840 problems with the water supply imposed severe limitations on textile production here and the buildings were put to other uses, including a brewery, laundries and cheese warehousing. From 1922 it was used as a colour works, producing colour pigments for paints and dies. This lasted until 1979, and left the site very contaminated. The Arkwright Society has done a lot of work since then. There is an excellent visitors centre, shops (quilting and antiques are favourites), and café. Good website –

At a meeting in 1788 a canal was proposed to link the southern side of the Peak District to the Erewash canal, north of Nottingham. Arkwright was desperate for good transport links to his mills. William Jessop surveyed the route, and construction started in 1789. It opened in 1794. The Wharf buildings are lovely. The Cromford Canal has a shop and a trip boat, and a very nice café – which was open! I had an excellent scone. Website – It was getting dusky by now, so we went back the following day for a few more photos, another scone, and a wander round the Mills.

The route follows the Canal to High Peak Junction, once the terminus of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. This was an amazing route which went up over the top of the Peaks – I have walked bits of it, but must do the whole thing – You walk beside the Matlock line, still with proper telegraph poles in place.

The Leawood Pumphouse is owned by Derbyshire CC and is steamed on a regular basis – It was built in 1844 to take water from the River Derwent up into the canal – it’s well worth a visit, but not when it’s getting cold, dark, and is under scaffolding. The canal is only open for boats (or to be precise, boat) from Cromford as far as here – it is walkable through to Ambergate, across to Ripley, and to the Erewash Canal. I’ve done some of it.

I walked on through the gathering gloom, and through a tunnel. Past some swans and a nice warm house – I do miss my log burning stove. After 8 miles I arrived at Whatstandwell station and caught the 1647 back to Duffield. There was a group off to paint the town red – I decided I am getting a bit too old for such Christmas excitement.

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Alnwick, Northumberland – St Michael’s (again)

We had a weekend in Northumberland, and on Friday 7 December we drove north to Alnwick. As my wife and Anne settled in for several hours in Barter Books, I went for a walk to St Michael’s church. I did a very brief blog of this church several years ago (I’ve just checked … 2011!,  when the Bailiffgate Singers were singing for a wedding – now was my chance to improve it, and play with the new camera. The church is on the north side of the town, NU 184137. Their website is here, and the Bailiffgate Singers look to be in good voice – website.

Christianity has deep roots in this part of Northumberland, and the first church here must have been Saxon. The first reference to it is in a document of 1147 when the Baron of Alnwick, Eustace Fitz-John, linked the church at Lesbury with chapels at Alnmouth, Houghton and Alnwick, to support the founding of an Abbey at Alnwick. It was the French order of White Canons who were here until 1539 – part of the Norman power structure. They didn’t do a brilliant job of looking after the building, though the Border conflicts made their life difficult, and in 1464 a Charter of Henry VI decreed that the almost ruined building should be rebuilt in its entirety The burgesses of the town were granted £20 per annum for 30 years, much of it coming from tolls on coal exports from Alnmouth. They did a good job of the rebuilding, and it is a beautiful church.

Working your way round the church, the two figures are rather splendid. They were dug up from the foundations during repair work in the C18 – the heads are modern. Probably Henry VI and St Sebastian. Medieval grave slabs – Vxorsimois is probably the wife of Simon of Lucker. An C18 lectern and book.

The font is early C21, made by David Edwick of Hexham using Kilkenny limestone. Since Society has turned it back on the importance of baptism, a process so often aided by the Church, fonts tend to be unused or replaced with something that doesn’t get in the way. Not so here! I love the birds – beautiful.

Some Victorian glass in the North Aisle, and figures on the organ.

St Catherine’s altar, and the High Altar – wonder how long the WW1 decorations will last. Why didn’t I make a note of who this stone commemorated, and why did they run a wire down beside it? Apparently the altar was a table in the castle, until it was bought here in the 1980s. “We need a new altar” said the Vicar. “I’ve got a table you can have” said the Duke.

Look up to the carving on the pillars – the De Vesci/Percy coat of arms, and some wonderful faces. Look down at a C14 knight and lady – she may be Lady Isabella, wife of William de Vesci, the last Baron of Alnwick.

I played with the exposure settings as I tried the windows in the south aisle.

I had enjoyed this visit. Happy memories of singing in Alnwick. I wander back to Barter Books – and the girls had still not finished.


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Coventry Cathedral – a personal pause

My beautiful wife Julie is a Coventry girl, and Monday 3 December 2018 was our 35th wedding anniversary. We drove to Coventry, parked at the west end of the old cathedral and then went in to the new one. We needed a verger to take us down from the nave floor to the basement, and direct us through to the café. After a snack we went back upstairs, and had an explore – the photos were taken on my phone. We also purchased lots of guidebooks to write a full blog next time we come.

The Cathedral was destroyed in an air raid on 14 November 1940, and then rebuilt on the north side, opening in the early 1960s. It was designed by Sir Basil Spence, the stunning tapestry at the “east” end is by Graham Sutherland, some of the windows by John Piper, and there are so many lovely things to photo. When I blog, it will be a very long blog.


The Cathedral crib is rather special too. Its design is contemporary with the Cathedral, and it was commissioned by Spence himself. He approached Alma Ramsey-Hosking, who had already contributed some public art in the city. She trained as a sculptor under Henry Moore in the last 1920s at the Royal College of Art. In October 1940 she was in Southampton, and gave birth to her daughter in the middle of the aerial conflict above. When the child was born, the midwife handed her over saying “Do not put that baby into her cot, but keep her on your hand, where it is safest.” Mary holds her baby on her hand, she is depicted as a young woman, with the delicate neck of girlhood and modelled with looped plaits around her ears. All the figures are constructed from wood and wire armatures, while the figures’ heads and hands and the beasts in their entirety were modelled in bronze powder suspended in a thick resin so when, when hard, it could be burnished. Alma also designed the clothes and, if I’ve read the leaflet correctly, the shepherds become Kings at Epiphany, and Mary moves from being a simple peasant girl to the Queen of heaven. Taking photos was not easy as the Cathedral was full of children so one had to be careful where I pointed the camera. Julie wanted to borrow their Christingle.

We went outside into the Old Cathedral. I searched for the bench dedicated to “Coventry Meat Traders” on which she was sat when I asked her to marry me in 1982. Our marriage has obviously out-lasted the bench. We had a selfie – no one had invented selfies in 1982!

We went into the Herbert Art Gallery and spent a little time there, then walked into town. I spent a while in the café at Waterstones, and tweeted asking how many hours of my married life I have spent waiting in bookshops. We had supper at the Cosy Club, and the staff were lovely. I mentioned it was our 35th anniversary and told the lass that I had fallen for a Coventry girl (“I’m from Birmingham” she said). When the bill came our puddings were free. Thank you! We then went to see Over the Top at the Belgrade Theatre, this year’s alternative pantomime. “The year is 1918 and the troops on the Western Front have had a surprise visit from a fearless group of suffragettes who’ve come to perform a show to life their spirits.” It made us laugh, and made us think. If you are near Coventry this Festive Season go and see it.

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Derwent Valley Heritage Way 6, Rowsley to Matlock

On Friday 16 November I got up early and caught the first Transpeak bus north to Rowsley. Why is it taking me so long to walk this Derwent Valley Mills Trail? It’s only 5.5 miles from Rowsley to Matlock and as it was a damp, grey morning, that would probably be far enough. I cut through the industrial estate on the side of the old station, then headed south on a footpath along the east bank of the river.

Then you come to the northern end of Peak Rail – I haven’t had a ride on the line since I moved to Derbyshire – thirty years ago my brother was teenage volunteer here, trying to build the Buxton end, in the days when there were hopes they could re-open all the way through. It would be wonderful if trains could run from Derby to Manchester again, but I doubt it will happen in my lifetime.

A walk across the fields to Churchtown – not helped by farmers putting fences across rights of way.

St Helen’s church was locked, but they do have coffee every second Saturday which might be an opportunity to get in. Some interesting stone in the porch, an ancient yew tree and war memorials around it.

I crossed the river at Darley Bridge and walked down the west side. As you come into Matlock there are a large derelict site at Cawdor Quarry. In a sensible world we would be building new houses here, rather than on green field sites around Derby.

The Peak Rail bridge north of the town does not look to be in a good state. I stopped and chatted to a lady on a mobility scooter who then offered me a JW leaflet “Suffering – when will it end?” The walk hadn’t been that bad! I ambled to the station and photoed the 1850 Station Master’s house.

On the way north the bus had stopped at the bus station. On the way south the bus does not stop at the bus station. I made it to the stop in Bakewell Road … just!


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