Leeds, Yorkshire – “Skeletons: our buried bones” exhibition

Julie and I are thoroughly enjoying our MA in Public History and Heritage at Derby University – website – but trying to work full time and do an MA has taken its toll on this blog. We had a great day trip to Leeds to visit the Discovery Centre – website. Lucy, one of the curators showed us round, and it was a fascinating (and fun) afternoon. I picked up a flyer for their “Skeletons: our buried bones” exhibition at the City Museum, and managed to go back on Monday 24 October 2017. As I have an essay to write on the ethics of displaying human remains, this is a long blog in preparation.

The Skeleton exhibition is on the third floor of Leeds City Museum, about 10 minutes walk from the station. A lift is available to the third floor.  The web page for the exhibition is here.

It is an exhibition of twelve skeletons, seven from London (labelled 1-5) and twelve from Yorkshire (labelled A-G) – a remarkably sensible piece of labelling. The exhibition is in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust and the Museum of London. The latter’s website says the exhibition has been in Glasgow and Bristol before coming to Leeds. In each case, there is a selection of London skeletons plus others from the local area. The free leaflet details the Yorkshire bodies – there is no suggestion there was a London leaflet produced, and rather amusing we are divided into Regions even in death.

Later research has found a book about the London skeletons available from the Wellcome Trust at £7.99 – website – it was not on sale in Leeds. I purchased the last copy of what my dad would have called “this slim volume” when I was in London a few weeks later. The Wellcome’s page about the exhibition – website – includes a 7 minute youtube video. There is no link to this from the Leeds website. The exhibition is in Leeds from 22 September 2017 to 7 January 2018.

The Museum of London has their human remains policy available here. The Wellcome Collection’s policy is here. Leeds policy is here.

This is one of the notices which greets you as you enter. It took me a few minutes before I decided I was OK using my camera. No one challenged me – perhaps my age, college scarf, beard and notebook made me look like a proper researcher. I did not notice anyone using their mobile or taking selfies. At one point I was about to photo a wall display and realised a child was in the way. Safeguarding stopped me photoing until he had moved.

When writing this up, I was wondering whether I could put the photos on my blog. There was nothing that said I couldn’t, there was no sign restricting the use of photos on social media. I decided I should ask the museum for permission, emailed them with the first draft of this blog, and was assured I am welcome to use them. I had lovely emails from curators Lucy and Ruth discussing my thoughts, and giving me some of theirs’. I am very grateful. Lucy gave me this information – “Links to human remains documents are in the policies and practice part of the website and human remains is here. You might also be interested that we have an evolution position statement – here – (which came as the result of a project we did on human evolution)”.

The skeletons are displayed in twelve cases, in one room, each with a label. There is other display material around the wall, with photos of the burial sites. There are no photos of the skeletons in situ on display, but they are in the leaflet. There are no reconstructions (either physical or drawing) of faces or costumes.

The first two skeletons (A & B) are a Double Burial from Wattle Syke near Wetherby, Iron Age 170 BC to AD 30. A search found this website which has reports of the dig. The two skeletons were found together in a double crouched burial, a woman aged 46 or over was found positioned behind a younger male (36-45). As the leaflet says “We can only speculate what their relationship was”.

This is the skull of the woman, it shows a benign, non-cancerous tumour. She had osteoarthritis, heavy dental ware and three abscesses. The male skeleton shows evidence of large muscle attachments on shoulders, arms and legs, showing he was probably carrying out manual labour.

This York Archaeology website  has a full list of guidance notes about human remains and churchyard archaeology – and even a diagram of how to pack a skeleton.

The first London skeleton is a Roman male, over 46, excavated from Spitalfields. There is a full report of the excavation here. He suffered from Osteochondritis dissecans, a painful joint disorder, which usually occurs in the 20s and is associated with excessive use of a joint, and Sinusitis and inflammation, which may indicate that he lived in a polluted environment – Roman London full of smoke.

The Roman from Yorkshire is a male from Dalton Parlours, near Collingham – website. According to the leaflet, he was buried face-down, which is unusual, and he was buried in a position as if he had suffered a spasm of his muscles, causing the extreme backward arching of his head, neck and spine. This could show he was suffering from a disease like tetanus. This burial position is very different to the way he has been displayed in the exhibition – and you don’t get any impression of his pain.

From London we have a skeleton with a green tinge. She came from East Smithfield, and is a young woman with no visible trauma. She was found in the first dedicated Black Death cemetery in London. The outbreak started in 1348, and wiped out between a third and half of London’s population. The bodies were buried five deep, with children placed between adults to maximise the space. Although buried in mass graves, they were neatly stacked and properly arranged, laid feet facing east according to the Christian tradition. (The notice does not explain where this tradition comes from – when the Lord comes at the Second Coming he will come from the East (Matthew 24.27). Humans will rise to face him. (We priests are buried facing west. We will rise to face our people)). Later the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary Graces was built on the site. Excavation report here, and images here. The green tinge on the skull is because, after the Dissolution, it became the site of the Royal Mint, and the metal stained the skull. Death from plague leaves no signs on the bones  – it is too fast to leave a mark.

The second Smithfields burial shows a projectile injury in the spine, but the bones had healed, indicating that the individual, a man, survived the attack – it just missed his spinal cord. The projectile, an arrowhead, is not displayed.

From York we have a skeleton from All Saints, Fishergate. She is a female over 46 and had tertiary venereal syphilis – you can tell this from the pitting on the skull. I am no expert on syphilis, though now I’ve looked it up on google I will get lots of emails offering me cures … but I made my own conclusion as to the sort of woman she was. Then I was surprised to see that the label said she was an Anchoress – anchoress is the female of anchorite. This was a woman who spent years walled up in a small cell, in prayer and contemplation, the most famous being Julian of Norwich … hardly how I pictured her. The leaflet said she was excavated from the apse of the church – for more information on the dig see this website and an article from Current Archaeology, here. Historical records say there was an anchoress called Lady Isabel German who lived in the church from 1428 to 1448. The bones also show she suffered from severe osteoporosis, not surprising if she was confined to such a small space.

The leaflet asks “Is it possible that Lady Isabel German became an anchoress to repent her sins because she contracted this disease as a young woman? Was she forced into retreating from society or was it a path she chose for herself? Although we can speculate, we do not know the answers and much of her life remains a mystery.”

This was the skeleton I felt most uneasy with. Perhaps it is my own guilt about jumping to conclusions about her lifestyle. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had met her while she was alive – and I assume I would have met her as an anchoress (!) – she would have been looking at me through a small window, and I would have seen very little of her. Now I could see her whole skeleton laid out before me. How would she feel about all the visitors to this exhibition knowing about her past – and even a cleric like me concentrating more on her “interesting” past than on the twenty years she spent in prayer and meditation? I found this picture, but I don’t know where it came from.

Also from All Saints, Fishergate, York, is the skeleton of a Parliamentary soldier who was buried in 1644. During the dig, which was in preparation for the extension of the Barbican Centre, ten mass graves were found containing over a hundred skeletons. The graves had been dug inside what was by then the shell of an abandoned church. The skeletons were arranged in rows, often with limbs overlapping, and are probably Parliamentary soldiers killed during the Civil War Siege of York – they ranged in age from teenagers to men in their 50s. Few of them show evidence of battle injuries, so it is possible that they died of disease – diseases like dysentery, typhoid and typhus would leave no marks on the skeletons.

The next skeleton was from Cross Bones, London. The wall panel tells this cemetery originally served the poor of the parish of St Saviour’s in Southwark, originally established as a cemetery for “single women” (a euphemism for prostitutes), which then became a paupers’ graveyard, before being closed in 1853. For some reason the notice tells us all about the prostitutes, the Winchester Geese, but the skeleton is male. He died of Prostate cancer. If it’s left untreated it often spreads to the bone, forming painful tumours which can make the bones more prone to fracture. These, and the fractures he suffered, can be seen on his skeleton. A reminder to take prostate cancer seriously – this poor chap must have suffered.

There were three students chatting away about his illness, and I asked if they were medics. No, studying archaeology at Bradford University. One of them was doing work at Bamburgh, and we chatted about the burials at St Aidan’s.

Back in Yorkshire a skeleton from Carver Street, Sheffield, did not make it into the leaflet. The largest Methodist chapel of its time was constructed here in 1805, and 1,600 people were buried here before the cemetery closed in 1855. 100 skeletons were discovered during excavations to install a beer cellar for the pub which is now housed in the chapel building – what would the Methodists make of that? The man had suffered fractures to both his bones on the right hand side – apparently it must have been a fall from some height to break his femur. His disability is seen in joint disease to the shoulders, the result of using crutches for support. “The wear in the left canine in the upper jaw could have been caused by holding a pipe between the teeth – known as a pipe facet.”

At this point my mobile rang – it was on silent – and I left the exhibition to take a call from Becky, Vicar of St Nick’s Allestree. We discussed the burial of some ashes in St Edmund’s – now three quarters of us are cremated, will we have skeletons to display? – and whether the stories of those on our War Memorial have been collected.

As I returned, a young lady was on duty, and we sat and had a chat. She told me she is called Afreen (I hope I have spelt that right), and is a Muslim – but she wasn’t sure what Muslim teaching was on the display of human remains. She said that she thought it was fine because of the need for education, and told me how well behaved most visitors have  been. She said she loved visiting old churches – so I gave her my northernvicar card – and she wishes Muslims in Britain had old buildings. We had a chat about Lady Isabel.

The final skeleton was from the Battle of Towton, 29 March 1461. 50,000 soldiers were involved, and there were more than 20,000 casualties. The retreating army was forced to scramble over piles of bodies in order to escape. If that’s not bad enough, in 2006, builders installing a new garage at Towton Hall uncovered a mass burial of 40 skeletons, tightly packed and buried in a shallow grave. “The bones showed evidence of violent injuries, particularly to the skulls. It is likely that these individuals were executed after the battle rather than be killed on the battlefield itself.” There are several websites about the battle, including bbc news, and the battlefield group. There is a Visitor Centre in the grounds of the Crooked Billet pub in Saxton near Selby – SE 475368 – a few miles south of Tadcaster, nearest station Church Fenton.

Room 2 includes a Roman Cremation Urn from Adel in Leeds, dated AD 100-300. The leaflet makes the point “although we can’t analyse cremations in the same way as skeletons, they are still the remains of once-living people.” It is interesting how we deal differently with ashes – I will regularly received a box from an Undertaker and leave them in my study for a few days until I take them to church (though Julie tells me off if I do). We usually pour ashes straight into a hole in the ground, but some families insist on them being in a casket. My parents were cremated and dad just want the ashes scattered in the garden of Cambridge Crematorium – on one occasion he said “I don’t need to know where mum is buried, I know where she is”. We buried our boys, Gareth and Theo, at Holy Saviour, Milbourne – we want to know where their bodies are (even though I find it difficult to visit the graves). We didn’t even think about cremating them – and I don’t want to be cremated myself. I’m not sure why not … after all, I’ll be dead.

The displays say that “The earliest acquisition of human bone is recorded in the 1833 Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society report as human skulls … from Cuzco, the ancient capital of Peru. But mummies were collected even earlier. The mummy of the Egyptian priest Nesyamun … was acquired in 1823, and other mummies came into the collection the following year. We still collect human remains today in certain circumstances usually as part of local archaeological excavations.” Elsewhere it is recorded that bomb damage in the last War destroyed all their collections of mummies, except Nesyamun. The display notes that “The human remains collection includes items which range from a complete human skeleton to a single lock of hair, as well as objects made out of human bone, hair and teeth.” Here are three brooches, each containing a lock of human hair.

There were three videos with members of the museum staff discussing different digs in Leeds. One person talks about how the obvious  violent death of one of her skeletons affected her – she uses the phrase “she has a home now”. I wondered if a cardboard storage box, presumably at the Discovery Centre, is a home. Yet there is no doubt that the remains are treated with sensitivity, that each has a unique and personal story to tell, and that we are making a connection with another human being. One of the developments is the Victoria Gate site in Leeds – which was one of the poorest parts of Leeds. Apparently some of the children’s skeletons show an overdeveloped left side, which may show they worked under the looms, collecting threads with their right hand, supporting themselves with their left. It was agreed that bodies from this site would be reburied, rather than stored.

Another display says English Heritage commissioned a survey in 2009 to capture different viewpoints. 91% of respondents supported museums that wished to keep human bones for research and display. There was more concern about the age of the bones (many wanted them to be at least 100 years old) and using bones of people who could be identified by name.” The survey is here.

We were invited to leave our comments or tweet @leedscitymuseum #skeletonsethics. A quick look has led me to a Conference “Skeletons, stories and social bodies” at the University of Southampton, 20-22 March 2018 – website – I wonder if anyone from the Church of England is going, or if I could find a reason (and the funding) to go.

Church of England guidance is here, with a link to the Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England – here.

I did not visit the rest of the museum, but there was a huge children’s workshop happening downstairs. “A day of scientific discovery for all the family, with hands-on CSI activities.” Lots of bone-related activities which looked great fun.

So, my thoughts …

Well presented display – though I would have liked more information about the London burials (I’ll buy the book).

Probably a wise decision not to have too many extra pictures, reconstructions, etc. – though the pictures of the sites added quite a lot.

How much information do we give about each skeleton?

Was I too intrusive with my camera? How do we define “respectful photography”. Do I put this on my blog?

What do young children make of it? It would have been good to have chatted to a family.

I still worry about Lady Isabel – is my unease because she is not anonymous? I know they are real people, but is she too real?

When the exhibition is over, I assume that the skeletons will go back into storage in London, Leeds, Sheffield, or wherever.

My Christian faith believes in the soul – and it is the soul that will survive death. (Ideas of a bodily resurrection were important in previous centuries, but became less important as cremation became more acceptable). I won’t need my organs, or my skeleton, once I’m dead.

Christian burial is final – and any exhumation requires the agreement of the Church and Secular authorities. If I’m going to be dug up, I would like to be reburied.

But I understand the archaeological interest, the use for education, and all that the skeletons can teach us. Seeing the marks on the bones brought home the pain and suffering people had before decent dentists, the pain and suffering of the Civil War, and the pain and suffering of a child working in the factories.

As I walked back to Leeds station I passed the Job Centre and read this sign. It seems we treat the skeletons of medieval paupers with more compassion and care than we treat those who are living in the Twenty-first century.




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Chesterfield, Derbyshire – St Mary and All Saints

I am sure there are not many people who visit Holy Trinity Chesterfield before they visit the parish church – St Mary and All Saints. They are in the town centre, SK 385712 (although the OS does not have a symbol for twisted spire). They have got the obvious web address – here. On Tuesday 3 October I had had a morning meeting – they have an excellent café and meeting rooms nearby – and then went and explored the church. I wasn’t expecting a church geared to tourists, with staff and a lovely welcome. My fault for thinking that it is simply a church we see from the train and smile at its spire. It is more than its spire! They do have tours up the spire – must go back and do that.

One of the displays in church tells the story that the spire was so surprised a Virgin was marrying in church that it turned and looked – the Children’s Guide says she was a beautiful bride!

The first mention of a church here dates to a document of 1093, and the present building dates from the 1200s. The spire was added at the end of the 1300s. The West Front was rebuilt in 1509-49. Much damage was done after the Reformation, and the church was restored in 1843 by George Gilbert Scott. A fire in 1961 destroyed the North Transept, organ, and nearly reached the spire.

You enter through a small shop at the west end, and enter the Nave. This is one of those churches where the determined blogger should go round with a notebook and work out what he has photoed. Or he just records that the pulpit is Jacobean, dating from about 1620 – it may have been made by the carvers of the Long Gallery at Haddon Hall. The font is Saxon, and the Madonna and Child by Peter Eugene Ball, a Millennium gift to the church. I think this is an early C14 effigy of a priest.

The West Window is by Hardman, and dates to 1890. It shows scenes from the life of Joshua, in the Old Testament. The Anniversary Window was given to the church by the people of Chesterfield in 1984 to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the church. It dates the history of the town from the C13 to the present day. Here we have Clay Cross foundries and mines, the Midland station, Tapton House (home of George Stephenson), Holy Trinity church, and one of Stephenson’s locos. (Locomotives in windows also appear on this blog at Byrness and Cadeby). There is a display board about what you can see in the window, and a whole page in the guidebook – but neither tells you who designed and made the window!

The guide says that this St Francis window is by Sep Waugh, and a search gives me an obituary dated 2013 – website. He seems to have produced a lot of Millennium windows. I like much of the other glass, including St Edmund.

The east end of the church is unusually wide for a parish church, and indicates the prosperity of the town at the time of its construction (the thirteenth century). At the south side is the Lady Chapel, and it has some wonderful tombs. I asked permission to cross the rope and get the camera out.

They are the tombs of the Foljambe family. The earliest is the one on the left, Henry Foljambe and his wife Benedicta. It was carved out of alabaster, with a marble top, by Harpur and Moorecock at Burton-on-Trent in 1510 and cost £10. The kneeling figure is thought to be the 13 year old Sir Thomas, who died in 1604. The head doesn’t belong to the body!

The centre tomb chest (the four photos above) is of Sir Godfrey (died 1585) and his wife Troth. I like the idea of being married to Troth – I pledge thee my troth.

The tomb to the right is Godfrey (died 1594) and his wife (unnamed in the guidebook). There are other memorials against the wall.

The Parish Chest, a lovely old clock – it would look nice in the Allestree Vicarage – and this chandelier would look good in my hall. This is a church to re-visit.






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northernvicarwalks September 2017

At the end of August I had walked 434 miles. I walked 48 miles in September. By the end of the month I have walked 482 miles.

The first week was 8 miles locally and 10 miles while in Cambridge on 8 September. Clare Fellows’ garden, Cambridge North station, and my birthplace (23 Long Reach Road, Cambridge).

The second included walks to and from College, walks in Cumbria and London, and a lovely day round Kedleston with the University History department.

Local and Brodsworth in week 3. Local and Jarrow in week 4. No extra walking photos, so here is the wonderful Voces 8. If you have not heard them, go and do so. Their website is here. We heard them singing at Penkridge, but it was too wet and dark for decent photos. I assume it is OK to use this photo – Andrea, the lass in blue, used to sing in RSCM choirs with Hannah. They’ve all grown up a bit since then!

Voces8 Group Promo

We also had a day on the Severn Valley Railway, and a great concert with the Fron Male Voice Choir and Julie’s cousin Roger in St Mary’s Bridgnorth. It is another church that will need to be re-visited and blogged. The Fron’s website is here. The morale of the bottom photo is that, even if your train is late, you can’t get stressed if you’re waiting for the train coming in the other direction. You can’t go until it’s arrived.

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Jarrow, Tyne & Wear – St Paul, and Jarrow Hall

On Friday 29 September I headed North to give my Carmichael talk to the Friends of Beamish. At Newcastle I jumped on the metro and headed south to Bede. I last here with Hannah one Christmas Eve as she wanted a Barbour jacket from the factory shop next door. Today’s purchase was a Gregg’s pasty – purchased with my first Jane Austen £5. I wonder what Jane would make of walking down the street stuffing one’s face with a Gregg’s Pasty (“O Mr Darcy”).

My first stop was St Paul’s church – NZ 339652 – website. I got a nice welcome, and the first person to greet was the Reverend John Hodgson MA. He was a great Northumberland historian, and worked with Faraday and others on mine safety. I knew I’d heard of him, but he doesn’t appear in this blog (even though he is buried at Hartburn).

First we must go back to an evening more famous Northumbrian historian – the Venerable Bede. Here is a website about him (with a film to watch). 673-735, he spent most of his life at this monastery and the one at Monkwearmouth – website. I won’t re-write his life, look at my previous blog.

There is an early dedication stone, recognising that the Chancel is Saxon. Here you feel that you are in one of the earliest churches of our country. There is an ancient dedication slab, and some Saxon glass in a small, round window. Statue by Fenwick Lawson – we came across his work at Lindisfarne and Durham. His website is here.

The east window is a wonderful Evetts window – I do miss his lovely glass. (If you want to know more about him and his glass look at Wylam on my blog, or the Evetts glass category. His obituary is here.

There is some lovely, ancient wood work. The Stalls are C15, the revolving arm chair was made from monastery timber in the C19, and the other was sat in by Bede (of course it was).

Here is the view from the Chancel looking back into the Nave.
I was involved with these Spirit in Stone banners when in the Diocese of Newcastle – it is good seeing one still doing the job it was designed for. The Risen Ascended Christ is by Fenwick Lawson. It is a little sad that we ignore all the other history of a place like this – especially the huge numbers of men who went off to fight in WW1.

Thank you, as well, to the volunteers who keep this church open today. Theirs is not the easiest of parishes – and not one that tourists will naturally visit. I’m glad that when we do, even on an autumnal September afternoon, the church is open and welcoming.

I went for a wander round the ruins of the monastery itself – ruins in the care of English Heritage. There is a website and you can download an audio guide, I must have a go at that sometime. We’ve also been doing some work on the World Heritage Sites – so here is the listing.

I walked across the park to Jarrow Hall – website. For many years this was Bede’s World. We first came here in about 1995, and have returned several times since. It went bust last year, has now re-opened, but not a lot has changed. It is going to need vision to stay open, the building and displays need some work. Jarrow is not a tourist centre, Bede does not have much pull (interesting that the Jarrow Hall visitor information leaflet does not even tell us who he is), and although there were several school parties in, they are going to need to appeal to a lot more people. I wonder if Durham Cathedral and their Open Treasures exhibition – on the list for 2018 – Beamish and the other big museums in the North East, can do anything to help get visitors in their direction. Surely someone has some Anglo Saxon treasures in a store somewhere that could make a wonderful exhibition to pull in the punters.

It is depressing that English Heritage do not mention the existence of Jarrow Hall on their website. You wouldn’t think it would hurt Tyne and Wear Museums (now minus Wear, but that’s another issue) to have “Other local museums” on their webpage. Nexus, the metro, operators have the now closed Monkwearmouth station museum on their website, but not Jarrow Hall. Does the North East want Jarrow Hall to suceed? I hope and pray it can be made to work – and I wish them all the very best.

The nice bunch of Friends at Beamish seemed to enjoy my talk, and my thanks to Clare and Lyndon for their hospitality.


Posted in Durham, Evetts' windows, World War 1 | Leave a comment

London Open House 2017 – Supreme Court, Admiralty House

After visiting 55 Broadway Bertie and I walked along to the Supreme Court, and found the queue was so long we weren’t going to get it. Julie and Hannah had enjoyed their explore. The building was completed in 1913, designed by the Scottish architect James Gibson. It was used by Middlesex County Council until 1965, then became a Crown Court. The outside reliefs depict historical scenes, including King John handing the Magna Carta to the barons at Runnymede. You can download an audio tour here and visit quite easily. I would like to do so.

We had a snack for a very late lunch, then finished our explorations with Admiralty House. We were shown to the front of the queue, and the wheelchair ramp was fun! The staff were lovely. Photos here were fine.

It was built in 1785 for Earl Howe, the first Lord of the Admiralty, and designed by Samuel Pepys Cockerell – he was a great, great nephew of the diarist. He also designed the Foundling Hospital, bits of Bloomsbury, and Sezincote House in Gloucestershire. It is now owned by the Cabinet Office, and has been used temporarily as the Prime Minister’s office – Harold Macmillan’s “Night of the Long Knives” took place here. The Inner Reception has a wonderful black stove and clock – I wanted to walk off with the clock. The staircase is very tight, and there is a list of First Lords of the Admiralty – including Admiral Lord Barham, 1805. Julie pointed out that he is the one the loco is named after – and I have found an article about him in History Today 15.5 (1965).


Here are two lovely fireplaces, and a couple of other photos to whet your appetite for next year’s Open Houses. Thank you for this year – next year we’ll try and get the whole weekend off.

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London Open House 2017 – 55 Broadway

After Marlborough House, Bertie and I headed to 55 Broadway, Hannah and Julie to the Supreme Court. For all people of a certain age “55 Broadway” is the London Transport HQ – indeed, it still is (but for how much longer – see this website). I had photoed the outside a few weeks ago – see northernvicarwalks june

The line underneath, and St James’s Park station, was constructed in the late 1860s, and thirty years later the District Railway Company opened new offices above. They were rebuilt and extended over the years, and by the late 1920s the Board of the Underground Group (running the tube, buses, trams and electrical supply companies) were anxious to house all its staff in one new purpose-built block on the site.

The plans developed by Adams, Holden and Pearson, were radical – the tallest office block in London, cruciform design allowing natural daylight to reach more of the offices, a central service core that houses lifts, staircases and other services, and contemporary artists involved. Charles Holden was the architect behind it, and was very ingenious in his designs.

It was constructed between 1927 and 1929, and is supported by 700 concrete piles sunk to an average depth of 40 feet below basement level. Nineteen steel girders span the railway, and special insulation was used to reduce vibration from the trains. It has a steel girder skeleton, supplied and constructed by Rubery, Owen of Darlaston, Staffordshire, and faced with 78,000 cubic feet of high quality of Portland Stone, plus Norwegian granite and black Belgian marble. There are sculptures on the side – Night and Day by Jacob Epstein, and a further eight, representing the Four Winds, by other well-known artists. The building was hit during the Blitz in 1941, but was carefully reconstructed. It was refurbished in the 1980s, and it was sad to see how much of the interiors had been destroyed.

It was a good guided tour, with two members of staff who knew their stuff. In Reception is a fascinating train describer, so management could see exactly how the service was running. Lovely art deco touches in the detailing of lifts, banisters, etc.

There was some LT art that I had not seen before, and it was good to stand in the offices of Holden, Pick, etc.

We managed to get access to the roof – and the views were worth the climb.

There are regular tours – website. Well worth it!

Posted in London, Railway interest | 1 Comment

London Open House 2017 – Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace, and Marlborough House

Saturday 16 September was one of the days of Open House London – which happens every year – website. Bertie got organised with tickets for 55 Broadway, so we caught the 0821 from Derby and met them at Waterstone’s Trafalgar Square. We walked along towards Buckingham Palace and came to the Queen’s Chapel. Bertie had not realised you needed to book (free) tickets in advance for this, but the family in front had a spare, so I was allowed to enter.

It gets a bit complicated when you look up “Queen’s Chapel” or “Chapel Royal”. In the earliest days the Chapel Royal was not a building, but an establishment, a body of priests and singers to serve the spiritual needs of the Sovereign. According to the Open House website “Its first choir school was founded by King Sighbert of the East Angles in 635 AD – the East Anglians know how to do things properly. They sang on the battlefields of  Crecy and Agincourt, and in Tudor times would follow the Sovereign around the country – singing at the Tower, Westminster, Greenwich and Eltham Palaces. In Stuart times it came to rest largely a Greenwich, St James’s, Whitehall and Hampton Court Palaces.

Since Whitehall burned down in the late C17 the choral headquarters has been based at St James’s Palace – in two chapels! The Tudor Chapel Royal was consecrated by Henry VIII in 1531 – this is the chapel used for the baptism of Prince George in 2013. The Queen’s Chapel, the one I visited, was begun by King James I for the Spanish Infanta as the intended Catholic bride of his son, later Charles I, but was completed for his eventual French bride! Designed by Inigo Jones and operational by 1626 (“Well Mr Jones, is our chapel operational yet?”) it was used by the Roman Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria until the outbreak of the Civil War. The guide says it was used as a library during the Republic and Commonwealth, another source said Cromwell stabled his horses here (seems as if he did that everywhere!). After the Restoration in 1660 it was refurbished by Christopher Wren for Charles II’s Portuguese Queen, Catharine of Braganza. The Stuart and Braganza Coats of Arms appear over the East Window, adorned with botanic garlands from England and the plams and botany of Tangier, part of the bride’s dowry.

Later it was used by the Duke of York (later James II) and Mary of Modena until 1688.  Then it was given over to reformed church worship. Purcell and Handel were both associated with the building. In later years it has been home to French and German Lutheran members of the Court, and to the Danish Church in London. Although originally designed to be part of a much larger C17 extension to St James Palace, much of the rest of the design was never completed. Marlborough Road was built in front of it in 1856-7, thus separating the Chapel from St James Palace.

It is a beautiful building, and I would have loved the chance to poke around with my camera – sadly photography is not permitted. Apparently it is used for Sunday worship between Easter Day and August , but I haven’t found anything which lists when they are.

I went and found the others next door at Marlborough House. They were having problems with disabled access – part of the problem seems to be Open House only happens once a year and seems to overwhelm them. No photos inside this Commonwealth HQ – website.

The house dates back to Sarah Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough, who needed a town house. She appointed Wren as her architect, but fell out with him, and completed it herself. She lived her for over 20 years, and died here in 1755. The guidebook says “The actual design was probably drawn up by Sir Christopher Wren’s son, under the supervision of his father.” The poor lad doesn’t even get named – you’ve guessed it, he was Christopher too!

The house is built of red Dutch bricks which where brought back to England as ballast in the troop ships that had carried soldiers for the Duke of Marlborough’s European campaigns. The house was lived in by five Dukes and Duchesses of Marlborough, then the lease on was bought back by the Crown in 1817. It has been lived in by three dowager Queens, three Princes of Wales, the future Kings Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII, and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, before he became King of the Belgians. It has housed the Government School of Design and the Department of Practical Art, and was extended in the C19.

It became the Commonwealth Centre in March 1962, and then the HQ of the Commonwealth Secretariat three years later. Many major conferences and meetings have taken place here, and there are portraits of world leaders you think you vaguely recognise.

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Penrith, Cumbria – St Andrew

St Andrew’s church, Penrith, is in the middle of the town – NY516301. It has a website. I picked up a lovely flyer “A Church for all Seasons – The Wedding Season is all year at St Andrew’s – Begin your married life with God’s blessing – Christ in the heart of Penrith”. 10 out of 10!

We started the day in their coffee shop – very nice scones, fresh out of the oven. Then we were about to visit the church and realised a hearse was pulling round the corner. We did the Brougham churches, and came back. It was a flying visit.

As we know, Christianity came to this area with St Ninian, and there is written evidence of a church here by 1133. The tower dates back to this church, most of it was rebuilt in 1605. Dr Todd became Vicar at the end of the C17. In 1716 he petitioned for the old church to be knocked down and a new one built – questions are still asked whether it was derelict, or he just wanted a new one in the new classic style. The foundation stone was laid on 10 April 1720, the church was consecrated by Bishop Nicolson, the Bishop of Derry, in 1722 – Inverness Cathedral was dedicated by a later Bishop of Derry. There must be a PhD thesis here somewhere. The church cost £2,253 16s 10½d, and the architect is believed to have been Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Christopher Wren. There is quite a lot about him – website – and an excellent article about the restoration work on one of his London churches here. The two chandeliers were bought with 50 guineas which were given to the town by the Duke of Portland as a thank you for their help in driving Bonnie Prince Charlie back to Scotland after his failed attempt to take the English throne in 1745. Each one holds 24 candles.

There was a restoration in 1863 and another in 1867 – the pews and ceiling date to 1867. More work in 1951 and Stephen Dykes Bower was behind one in 1972. The bowl of the font dates to 1661, the eagle was given to the church by George Gorton of Lancashire in 1845, a Harrison organ of 1870 (rebuilt by Wilkinsons of Kendal 18 years later), and the altar is rather lovely.

The top window is the Richard II window and he has been confirmed as the  chap with the sceptre (it does make you wonder how they know?) Early C15 glass. The second is the Neville Window, with Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, and her husband Ralph Neville of Raby Castle. Much of the rest of the glass is Victorian, although I’m sure the one with the red cross is C20. The Christ Church window commemorates the Reverend William Holme Milner, who died in 1868. He was instrumental in erecting Christ Church in the town – website – and he is pictured with the church.

The East window is a painted window, “one of the finest of the painted windows in any parish church in Cumbria” says the guide – by Herdman and Powell of Birmingham, 1870. These murals were painted in 1845, by a local artist Jacob Thompson. He was only paid 100 guineas for six months work. Apparently all the faces belonged to local people, and the landscape is taken from near Pooley Bridge and shows Ullswater.

There are two very large war memorials, and the town is continuing to remember those from WW1. They have an excellent leaflet “Penrith Remembers 1914-18 – We will remember – The hard road to the end of the First World War”. They have also produced some excellent videos on youtube. Well done!

Outside we visited The Giant’s Grave, the birthplace of Own Caesarius, the King of Cumbria between 920 and 937 AD. The hogback stones are said to represent the wild boards that the king killed, and they all date to the C10.

The final monument is that to Robert Vertue, late superintendent in the company of John Stephenson & Co, who built the Lancaster and Carlisle railway. The church guide describes him as “engineer and supervisor of the construction of the line”. I have googled him, used the NRM website, and looked in my own extensive library. I cannot find him. John Stephenson (1794-1848) is no relation to George. His company built the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway, “then offered James Falshaw the charge of the construction of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, the contract for which, as a single line, had been taken by the firm” – website. No mention anywhere of Robert Vertue. At the Ecclesbourne Railway second hand bookshop I found a copy of “Main Line over Shap, the story of the Lancaster-Carlisle Railway” by David Joy  (Dalesman, 1967) and he isn’t mentioned in there either.


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Brougham, Cumbria – St Wilfrid

We are parked on the north side of the A66 having visited St Ninian’s. We managed to turn right across the A66, and then turned left to go down into the village of Brougham. There is a car park opposite Brougham Hall, and the church is next to it. St Wilfrid’s Brougham – NY527284. The Betjeman Best Churches app – which has, sadly, since died when iOS11 updated my phone – said it was very special. Unfortunately it was severely locked and bolted, no welcome notices at all. However Clare did a bit of research and realised she knew the churchwarden, so we gave her a ring and went to borrow the key. I am very glad we did.

When I read the guidebook I read that in 1977 the parishes of Clifton and Brougham were united. 40 years later it is one of eleven. The website of the North Westmorland group is here – it is under development, so there isn’t any information about the church or the village. I think the church has a monthly service, but it did not feel very loved or cared for – sorry if that sounds rather brutal. Let’s enjoy the church, be amazed, then try to be positive about its future.

Lady Anne Clifford has been at work again. In her diary she wrote “This Summer I caused the Chappell at Brougham to be pulled down and new built upp again larger and stronger than before at my own charge and it was wholly furnished about the latter end of April 1659 for which God be praised”. It was built as a chapel of ease for parishioners living near the Hall. Within 50 years the next owners of the Hall removed the village, probably to Eamont Bridge, thus removing the congregation. For a while it was used as the village school – children were expected to walk 1½ miles in those days.

By the 1830s the estate was owned by Henry Brougham. He was a very successful solicitor who defended Queen Caroline when King George IV tried unsuccessfully to divorce her. He later became Lord Chancellor, and was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux. He inherited Brougham Hall, pulled down most of the medieval and Tudor buildings, and built a magnificent house on the site. He is the one who put the imitation medieval brasses in the sanctuary at Ninekirks (the previous church we visited). His brother William shared the Hall with him, and became interested in Church furnishings. 1843-6 they started rebuilding the church.

Pevsner says “The interior is dark and baffling. Seated college-wise around a sunken centre, it is cram-full of carved woodwork and crusty stained glass. Both Brougham and Cottingham (the architect) were enthusiastic collectors of Continental spolia, but it is too easy to write this off as a purely C19 creation. … Carved panels and stall-ends are incorporated into C19 and older work like a mixed-up jigsaw”. Here we are looking east and west.

Let’s start at the west end and see what we can decipher. The organ case on the West Wall, the centre piece of which is now used as a reredos, is C15. The panel of gilded carvings are Flemish, representing St Martin, St George, the Adoration of the Magi, and probably St Ann and the Virgin.

Pevsner asks “What about the hall pew screen at the W end? This is a mysterious piece. It has closely set uprights, each jazzily carved in three sections with chevrons, spirals, flutes, diamond-shaped flowers, scales and leaves, linked at the top by highly stilted little cusped arches. In the spandrels, on both sides, delightfully inventive faces, figures and animals, all having to tumble or recline in order to fit the space.”

The Stalls and Pulpit have canopies “after those of c.1308 at Winchester Cathedral”. There is late Flemish work, a most wonderful mixture of wood, cherubs and leaves. The following day Clare entered the “photo of leaves” category at the village flower show – she won third prize!

This is the altar piece at the east end. C15 Flemish, I think. The original triptych or reredos is in the north transept of Carlisle Cathedra, it was removed there for safe-keeping – see my blog.

There’s more interesting woodwork – I’m running out of things to say, and given up trying to work out what’s what.

Also at the east end is an aumbry – the resurrection in all its glory.

The glass is slightly older than the wood – apparently.

Pausing to get our breath back we went over the bridge into the main part of the Hall.

The website says “Brougham Hall, just a mile south of Penrith, Cumbria, was built in the 14th century and has a fascinating history. Rescued from dereliction in 1985, today it is one of the largest country house restoration projects in England and is home to an array of arts and craft workshops and businesses.” On the website it says that the Chapel can be opened for special tours or events, but gives no indication that it is anything special. It is not mentioned on the publicity leaflet at all. Why, o why, is an amazing church like this, next to a tourist attraction, always locked, and what can be done about it?

The house has been rescued from dereliction, so can we rescue the church before it becomes derelict? The Church of England is putting all its focus on “mission” and Carlisle diocese has the strapline “Growing disciples”, but when you’ve got what I suspect must be a tiny and tired congregation, how do you do that? (I’m struggling to do that with two large (by Cumbrian standard) congregations). One service a month with a handful of people is hardly going to get the zing back. Can you get a group of eleven churches to care for each other, when there are eleven lovely church buildings that all need TLC, and more than eleven communities that need work? Is it any wonder that so many Christians have given up on their local parish church and drive to something more exciting – often in an industrial unit or a hall that someone else looks after.

So – do we flog the church and its furnishings off? After all, it’s only a building. Or do we hand St Wilfrid’s over to the Churches Conservation Trust like its neighbour down the road? Their website says they need £1.5 million to care for the churches they’ve got already – they’ll need a few more million if we give them all the important churches that communities can no longer care for. Do we ask those who restored the house, and now run it as commercial businesses, to take the church under their wing too? – although it’s unlikely to earn anyone much money.

I think most churches can simply be left open (although I have failed to persuade one of my PCCs of this), but this one can’t. Too much of value inside. So someone needs to hold the key, check those who borrow it, keep an eye on security – a big responsibility, who will take it on? Ideally we’d say the church was open two or three times a week, and have a couple of people on duty. I tried to open one of mine three afternoons a week this summer and, despite a congregation in the 50s, found we were struggling to get volunteers, especially on Sunday afternoons when people would be most likely to visit. Nothing puts visitors off like being told a church is open, then finding it locked.

Could somebody, perhaps working with English Heritage or the Tourist Authority, put together a funding proposal to pay for a couple of summer people, employed full time Easter to September to ensure that, say, five churches could be open at set times through the week? Or could we come up with a scheme – cheap rent on a cottage in the Lakes in return for two or three days a week acting as church custodians? Are there people who would take early retirement and be happy to do that? (Me, me, choose me).

I went on the Carlisle Diocese site and found they have a page on Tourism – here. You have to dig a little to find it – after all, we don’t want our buildings advertised on the home page, do we? It has lots of wonderful church trails – get them out there and inspire people to visit.

I despair at this paragraph:

“The primary function of all churches, whether pre-Norman or present day, is as places of worship; and it is hoped that visitors will spare some time from admiring the structure of the buildings to join the local congregations at their services”.

Yes, it would be lovely if you join the local congregation – the locals will (I hope) be encouraged by your presence, and you will (I hope) find a wonderful friendship. But please remember it is not their service, it is part of the worship of all creation. You are part of that worship, that rhythm of creation, and you can worship God when the building is empty. You can, and will, find God in a holy place. The job of the Church is to ensure you are welcomed in.




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Brougham, Cumbria – St Ninian

While on holiday in Orkney, Virgin Trains had a seat sale. Thanks to the power of web I organised a day with Clare, and got a single from Crewe to Penrith for £4 for Friday 15 September. We started with coffee, then headed out to Brougham. Brougham Castle is English Heritage – website – and will be saved for another day. We drove a little further east along the A66 to visit St Ninian’s Brougham – NY559299 – a Church’s Conservation Trust church – website. If you are visiting, approach from the Penrith direction, have someone else map reading, and slow the traffic down before you turn left into the parking space. The A66 is a very fast road – be careful. Once parked, it is a lovely walk of about a mile beside the River Eamont.

The original Norman church was completely rebuilt in the C17 by Lady Anne Clifford, who inherited Brougham Castle. The porch dates to 1841, but once you are in, it feels a much older church. Tradition has it that the church was founded by Ninian in the C5, and a horde of coins dating from this time was found in the vicinity. In the porch is a medieval corbel, and the present chapel is mentioned as a chapel of ease in 1393. The medieval chest probably dates to this time.

Under a wooden cover in the chancel is a sandstone grave slab with cross and sword, believed to be that of Odard and Gilbert do Burgham, father and son. Although the brasses are dated from 1570 to 1830, they were installed in 1846 – part of the process of reclaiming the family history.

Lady Anne Clifford’s restoration work is recorded in the plasterwork above the altar, in a wreath with her initials AP (Anne Pembroke; the Earl of Pembroke was her second husband) with the date 1660.

The furnishings date to her restoration, and are wonderful. You can imagine curtains in place, drawn to keep out the cold and the preacher.

In the pulpit is a proper Queen Victoria copy of the Book of Common Prayer. The font is dated 1662 and the poor box 1663.

Up against the south wall of the Chancel is some wonderful Jacobean panelling, probably from a vestment chest. My apologies to Clare that it is not the most flattering photo of her. The carving on the panel is wonderful.

This is a lovely spot, but a very long way from habitation. It is not surprising that the church was replaced by the next one we’ll go and visit. It was worth the walk.



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