A Saturday trip to Polperro…..Aug 2018

20180818_165257.jpgJennifer and David not having been to Polperro, off we went on the bus. First stop salted caramel ice creams (seems to be the in-flavour). Reminded me of when we sold ice creams in York with Top Gold the very best. It was always enjoyable selling ice creams as you knew you were giving pleasure.20180818_171059.jpgThen up to the cliffs where the fishermen’s net drying hut is…views over the harbour…20180818_171143.jpg20180818_171235.jpgand a bit of rock climbing for some…20180818_172055.jpg20180818_172118.jpg20180818_172118 2.jpgD + J didn’t quite get to the very top as this little lad did….20180818_171855.jpgWe popped over to the other side of the little town to see the shell house, 8452718585_d669cd6e97_b.jpg

20180818_174022.jpgand then caught a 72 double-decker, brand-new, to Looe where we were booked into the Old Sardine Factory for dinner….cropped-sf-new-cover-1.jpgand really good it was too. I can safely say that the hake main course was one of the very best fish dishes I had ever had…..The Old Sardine Factory with its cafe and resource centre and restaurant must be one of the best additions to Looe in a long while….and finally I was able to test my mobile phone camera in low light and the results were terrific…it was dark, but the resulting photos came out nicely exposed.20180818_211007.jpg20180818_211029.jpg

Jack The Ripper, amongst other things….

30848554._UY967_SS967_.jpgHaving seen some of Walter Sickert’s paintings at the Tate recently and convinced myself that the rumour of him being Jack The Ripper was not as far-fetched as it sounded, I was very keen indeed to read ‘Ripper’ by Patricia Cornwell the forensic scientist whose usual genre is Crime novels. I read the up-dated version which came out in 2017 (only available in hardback, luckily F. was away on holiday), Cornwell having spent somewhere between seven and eight million dollars trying to prove her theory. In essence it all came down to the writing paper. Not only did Sickert use the same brand as Jack The Ripper in his infamous letters, it turns out, but an expert has now demonstrated that their paper came from the very same pad.

“The Tate gallery suggested I use this paper expert, Peter Bower,’ Cornwell says. ‘I think they thought Peter would come in and show what nonsense this all was and they didn’t realise it was going to do the opposite. The paper stuff is just incredible. Peter examined three Sickert letters and two of the watermarked Ripper letters, The obsessive jealousy of a rich youn. Bit i.g American Adonis drives his Parisian wife to the extreme of retaliation. those five sheets of paper came from a batch run of only 24 that could have ever been made.” With persistent detailed forensic investigation Cornwell also ‘proved’ that Sickert’s movements  could quite well tie in with the murders. Now a lot of people pour scorn on Cornwell’s obsession and pick up on various parts of her arguments, but as far as I am concerned case proved. I have to say you need a very strong stomach indeed for this book both for its descriptions and photos.

Really, before anything else, an artist who can come up with these paintings must have a twisted mind…..incidentally, as you would expect from a Crime writer, this is a book you don’t want to put down.595_10.jpg669_10.jpg

Francoise-Sagan+Wonderful-Clouds.jpgWanting some bed-time reading that was different I dug out our 1961 edition of ‘Wonderful Clouds’ by Francoise Sagan. Now French writers really are an order-of-magnitude different from English language writers, and it is very interesting to consider why or how. But this is certainly not the place where any attempt at explanation will be attempted. She presents a disturbingly real picture of a neurotic marriage between Alan, a young American millionaire, and Jose, his sensitive French wife. His obsessive jealousy of her drives his  wife to extremes of retaliation. The two are characters who can’t live with each other and can’t live apart…think Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. Sagan’s son portrays his mother as the literary Brigitte Bardot, an author who introduced a generation of women to eroticism and empowered them to take control of their bodies without fearing punishment from God or man. But he also described to The Times how she died  amid debts and poverty that threatened to erase her oeuvre. a sad fate for a truly memorable novelist. A melancholy book with a strange ending…61STCZZ2HCL.jpg

Another book lifted from my shelves and not read since the Eighties is Godfrey Smith’s ‘The English Companion : An Idiosyncratic A – Z of England and Englishness’ I  know why my mother gave it to me as I am a Godfrey Smith, and love anything to do with England and Englishness. Inscribed in the front too, a custom which I think has declined almost to nothing now. What did surprise me was how interesting it still is. It is the book you would expect from one of their own whom The Times described in a recent obituary as ‘the last of the great gentleman journalists, certainly one of the most amiable, talented and charming……’ The sort of thing you get varies from how English writers have a passion for flowers to a brief history of fish ‘n chips, through the attraction of Rupert Bear, Traitors, Lawns, Blackberries and many more idiosyncratic choices…amusing in small quantities.9780571346226.jpg

 

I was really looking forward to this, ‘A Certain Justice’ by P D James after my last and satisfying read of hers. And for the first third of the book it was all I expected and more…… terrific stuff written in a language that her characters would certainly have used – in this case lawyers in one particular practice. Then the second third of the book drifted somewhat. But unforgivingly in the last part we were presented with sheer drivel, totally unbelievable, and seemingly ill thought through. How disappointing. So she is not the literary genius of Crime Fiction that I had thought her to be. And what is more, no more P D James for me, not for a while at any rate.

I have read other books in the last month or two which I can’t remember but as I haven’t 1608457.JPGput it away yet I know I have read Volume 1 of the 3 volume Folio edition of Vasari’s ‘Lives of The Artists’  Whilst it was moderately interesting to me who, only on retirement, have taken a great interest in Art, it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I had thought that it would be a remarkable historic document…..an account of the people behind the paintings by someone who in Renaissance Italy was quite a good artist himself. However, other than the odd throw-away line concerning their lives, this was more a detailed record of what each artist had created….such a painting in such and such a chapel commissioned by such and such Pope or Prince. It didn’t begin to tell us what the artists were like of themselves. And Vasari had rigid views, he didn’t like what he saw as the recent trends of the past centuries, in particular German Art and Architecture. He only thought that Roman and Greek work was of the highest quality and he loved those artists who contributed to the renaissance or re-birth of classical forms. I’m afraid he was a bit of a bore, and I shall only dip into the other two volumes if I wish to know about the works of artists covered there. Disappointing.

 

 

Walking the South-West coast path….6th August

20180806_101001.jpgWell a tiny bit of it actually. When we retired down here one of my objectives was to walk the parts of the path not already covered on earlier holidays. But for one reason and another – I don’t like walking on my own particularly (and F. isn’t into the ups and downs of the path any more), and the fact there are so many other things to do – I haven’t made any concerted efforts. Today was my first planned walk. We drove to the pretty little cove of Polkerris and, arriving by about 10am there weren’t many folk around and parking was no problem. There was a nice atmosphere. Leaving the beach we walked fairly steeply up the hill……20180806_101127.jpgthrough some pleasant woods…..20180806_101758.jpg20180806_102030.jpgand emerged onto a path with brilliant views of St Austell Bay….we noted the china clay works at Par (ok not pretty but interesting), Par beach, Carlyon bay, the headland hiding Charlestown, Mevagissey, and other enticing inlets…20180806_102749.jpg20180806_102442.jpgand the sea was beautiful, almost tropical……….anyway after a short while, as planned, F. turned on her heels and went back to enjoy a coffee on the beach and I proceeded on my walk to be met by her at the other end in Fowey.20180806_110353.jpgSoon the marker on top of Gribbin Head came into view, and after a number of the ups and downs for which the Path is infamous…..20180806_111339.jpg20180806_111559.jpgI reached the tower itself…Erected by Trinity House ‘for the safety of commerce and the preservation of mariners’ the tower pinpoints the approach to Fowey’s narrow and rocky harbour entrance.  This meant that sailors did not mistake the treacherous shallows of St Austell Bay for the deep waters of Falmouth harbour. William Rashleigh of Menabilly who granted the land for the tower expressed his hope that they would ‘make the Beacon an ornament to my grounds’; thus the tenders issued by Trinity House were for the erection of a ‘very handsome Greco Gothic Square Tower’. Must return on a Sunday in August when you can climb to the top for a stupendous panorama …20180806_112641.jpgMoving steeply down from the tower I caught a glimpse of a rather nice looking bay and then saw what appeared to be chalk cliffs (probably slate as is nearly all the coastline in Cornwall)…20180806_113030-1-1.jpg20180806_113528.jpg20180806_113859.jpg20180806_114031.jpg ……….one great thing about walking the coastal path is that you often find great views ahead of you (above) and behind (below)…..20180806_115817.jpgA very small cove with just two busy rock-poolers on it…20180806_121310.jpgwas followed by the beach at Polridmouth pronounced locally as “pridmuth”.20180806_125348.jpgThe cottage behind the beach is thought to be the inspiration for the boathouse in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel “Rebecca”, and indeed just inland from here is Menabilly which since the 16th Century, has been the ancestral home of the Rashleigh family, who originated as powerful merchants. The gardens were landscaped and the surrounding woodland was planted in the 18th Century. The house was rebuilt after a fire in 1822 and was greatly extended in size.                                                                                                      During the early 20th century, John Rashleigh III resided mainly near Okehampton and the house fell into decay. It was leased to Daphne du Maurier in 1943, who restored it and lived there until 1969 when it was returned to the Rashleigh family, who occupy it once again. Manderley, in Du Marier’s novel Rebecca, is thought to be based on Menabilly.                                                                                                                                               The ornamental lakes by the cottage were created in the 1920s by the building of a dam. It was used as the basis of a decoy airfield in the Second World War to emulate Fowey harbour. Dams additional to the one remaining were built to create a fake harbour and lights were then placed around the lake orchestrated to emulate those in Fowey. At least one bomb is known to have been drawn away from Fowey, and on average, it has been estimated that around 5% of German bombs were diverted by decoys, saving thousands of lives across the whole of Britain.20180806_125330 2.jpg  Another steepish climb out of the bay, more views back……20180806_125047.jpgand then a descent to a stream bed which had dried up in the extreme hot weather we are having which, curious, I followed for a few yards down to a totally deserted little beach where I enjoyed (another) well-deserved rest….20180806_131857.jpgand then a first sight of Polruan which lies opposite to Fowey…20180806_120949.jpg20180806_121519.jpg20180806_121001.jpg20180806_124803.jpgbefore descending to Readymoney Cove by this time of the day quite busy….20180806_123436.jpg20180806_124054.jpgFrom there a short stroll into Fowey to meet F. and a most welcome pint and a half at The Fowey Hotel20180806_125055.jpgwith its amazing view……in front…..20180806_130955.jpgand behind….20180806_131130.jpgChatting to the friendly barman we found out that the hotel had changed hands only the previous week, and expansion plans were afoot. I do hope they preserve this original and very ornate lift…..what a great survival from the age of elegance!20180806_134327.jpg To finish off we had a contemplative but uplifting ten minutes sit in the Grammar School gardens which are lovely and which apparently not many people know about…..20180806_135041.jpgas they walk oblivious pass the entrance…..20180806_134854.jpgA very good day. My phone tells me that I walked 15771 steps today, somewhat over my daily target of 6000(!), being a total distance of 7.36 miles. What I learned is that this will be my maximum on the Path at any one time. I felt that, what with all the ups and downs, I had done enough. It might take me a long while to fill in the gaps, but hey what’s the hurry?

The Emperor Maxentius…….

20180801_122429.jpgAs a result of our friend Allan giving me one of his collection of Roman coins, from the reign of the Emperor Maxentius (above), I have been trying to find out more about this not so well-known Emperor. Factual information is sparse, and although we don’t know the exact date of his birth it was around 278. His father was the Emperor Maximian. To understand where Maxentius fits into the scheme of things it is important to know how the Roman Empire was governed at this point in the third century (and this gets quite complicated….at one time there were 7 people claiming to be Emperor!).

Background

Back in the reign of Augustus his successor as Emperor, his stepson Tiberius,  was styled “Tiberius Julius Caesar”. This then set a precedent : the Emperor designated his successor by adopting him and giving him the name “Caesar”. After some variation among the earliest Emperors, the style of the Emperor-designate on coins was usually Nobilissimus Caesar  or Most Noble Caesar. Then, on the 1st March 293 the Emperor Diocletian established, with Maximian, father of Maxentius,  a system of rule by two senior Emperors and two junior sub-Emperors. Here is a coin showing Diocletian and Maximian as joint Emperors…..Db-D54cWAAIjeKa.jpgThis system was called the Tetrarchy. The two coequal senior Emperors were styled on coins identically to previous Emperors, as Imperator Caesar NN. Pius Felix Invictus Augustus basically meaning The Pious and Blessed and The Unconquered. They were called the Augusti. The two junior sub-Emperors, the Caesares, were styled identically to previous Emperors-designate, as Nobilissimus Caesar.

In 305 the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian abdicated and the former Caesares Constantius and Galerius became Augusti. This was despite the two sons of the Emperors being available – Constantine and our own Maxentius. Severus and Maximinus Daia were the ones appointed Caesars.

One of the main sources for the period, Lactantius’ Epitome states that Galerius hated Maxentius and used his influence with Diocletian to see that Maxentius was ignored in the succession; it may also be that Diocletian thought Maxentius was not qualified for the military duties of the imperial office. Indeed we don’t know of any important military or administrative positions that one might expect him to have held during the reign of his father. When Constantius died in 306 in Eboracum (York)………..below the impressive Roman multangular tower still surviving in York…..Mystery18.jpg……..the armies of Britain and Gaul, without observing the ‘rules’ of the Tetrarchic system, hastened to proclaim Constantine, the young son of Constantius, as Augustus and he was subsequently accepted by Galerius into the Tetrarchy as Caesar. This set somewhat of a precedent for Maxentius.

Coup d’etat by Maxentius

What happened next was that when rumours reached the capital that the Emperors would subject the Roman population to the capitation tax, like every other city of the empire, and also wanted to dissolve the remains of the Praetorian Guard, which were still stationed at Rome, riots broke out. A group of officers of the city’s garrisons turned to Maxentius to accept the imperial purple, probably judging that the official recognition which was granted to Constantine would not be withheld from Maxentius, son of an Emperor as well. Maxentius accepted the honour, promised donations to the city’s troops, and was publicly acclaimed Emperor on October 28, 306. The usurpation obviously went largely without bloodshed (Zosimus names only one victim); the prefect of Rome went over to Maxentius and retained his office. Apparently the conspirators turned to Maxentius’s father Maximian as well, who had retired to a palace in Lucania, but he declined to resume power for the time being.

Maxentius refrained from using the titles Augustus or Caesar at first and styled himself princeps invictus (“undefeated prince”), in the hope of obtaining recognition of his reign by the senior emperor Galerius. However, the latter refused to do so. Apart from his alleged antipathy towards Maxentius, Galerius probably wanted to deter others from following the examples of Constantine and Maxentius and declaring themselves Emperors. Constantine firmly controlled his father’s army and territories, and Galerius could pretend that his accession was part of the regular succession in the Tetrarchy, but neither was the case with Maxentius: he would be the fifth emperor, and he had only a few troops at his command. Galerius reckoned that it would be not too difficult to quell his usurpation, and early in 307, the Augustus Severus, doing Galerius’s bidding, marched on Rome with a large army.  However, the majority of this army consisted of soldiers who had fought under Maxentius’ father Maximian for years, and as Severus reached Rome, most of his army went defected to Maxentius, whom the soldiers saw as rightful heir of their former commander. No doubt they were also influenced by the fact that Maxentius dealt out large amounts of money. When Maximian himself finally left his retreat and returned to Rome to assume the imperial office once again and support his son, Severus with the rest of his army retreated to Ravenna. Shortly after he surrendered to Maximian, who promised that his life be spared.   

Maxentius As Emperor

After the defeat of Severus, Maxentius took possession of northern Italy up to the Alps and the Istrian peninsula to the east, and assumed the title of Augustus, which (in his eyes) had become vacant with the surrender of Severus. Maxentius managed to be recognized as Emperor in central and southern Italy, the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and Sicily, and the African provinces, all of which were due to be hit by the unpopular tax reforms of Diocletian and his father. The joint rule of Maxentius and Maximian in Rome was tested further when Galerius himself marched to Italy in the summer of 307 with an even larger army. While negotiating with the invader, Maxentius repeated what he had done to Severus: by the promise of large sums of money, and the authority of Maximian, many soldiers of Galerius defected to him. Galerius was forced to withdraw, plundering Italy on his way back. Some time during the invasion, Severus was put to death by Maxentius, probably at Tres Tabernae near Rome (the exact circumstances of his death are not certain). After the failed campaign of Galerius, Maxentius’ reign over Italy and Africa was firmly established. Beginning in 307 he tried to arrange friendly contacts with Constantine, and in the summer of that year, the father Maximian traveled to Gaul, where Constantine married his daughter Fausta and was in turn appointed Augustus by the senior Emperor. However, Constantine at the same time was trying to avoid breaking with Galerius, and did not openly support Maxentius during the invasions.

In 308, probably around April, Maximian tried to depose his son in an assembly of soldiers in Rome but, surprisingly to him, the present troops remained faithful to his son, and he had to flee to Constantine. In the conference of Carnuntum, in the autumn of that same year, Maxentius was once again denied recognition as legitimate Emperor, and Licinius was appointed Augustus with the task of regaining the usurper’s domain. Late in 308, Domitius Alexander was acclaimed Emperor in Carthage, and the African provinces seceded from Maxentian rule. This produced a dangerous situation for Maxentius, as Africa was critical to Rome’s food supply (which was often the key factor in deciding whether Emperors succeeded or not).

Maxentius’s Sister Fausta

Constantine  had set aside his wife Minervina in favour of Fausta. As the sister of Emperor Maxentius, Fausta had a part in her own father’s downfall. In 310 Maximian died as a consequence of an assassination plot against Constantine. Maximian had decided to involve his daughter Fausta, but she revealed the plot to her husband, and the assassination was disrupted. Maximian died, by suicide or by assassination, in the July of that same year.

Empress Fausta was held in high esteem by Constantine, and proof of his favour was that in 324 she was proclaimed Augusta…….. 1200px-P1070865_Louvre_tête_de_Fausta_Ma4881_rwk.JPG…….previously she held the title of Nobilissima Femina. However three years later Fausta herself was put to death by Constantine, following the execution of Crispus, his eldest son by Minervina, in 326. The two deaths have been inter-related in various ways; in one, Fausta is set jealously against Crispus, as in the anonymous Epitome de Caesaribus, but conversely her adultery, perhaps with the stepson who was close to her in age, is also suggested. Fausta was executed by suffocation in an over-heated bath, a mode of assassination not otherwise attested in the Roman world. David Woods offers the connection of overheated bathing with contemporaneous techniques of abortion, a suggestion that implies an unwanted, adulterous pregnancy according to Constantine’s biographer Paul Stephenson.

Constantine then ordered the ‘damnatio memoriae’ of his wife with the result that no contemporary source records details of her fate. Literally meaning ‘damnation of memory’ in theory, this punishment was meant to be inflicted upon traitors or those who brought discredit to the Rome. In practice, however, it could be imposed on anyone that was not in the Senate’s or the Roman Emperor’s good books. The name of a person was scratched away from public inscriptions. In addition, statues of a condemned individual could be reworked, or the faces of their images mutilated, and more rarely coins would be defaced. Eusebius, ever the sycophant, mentions neither Crispus nor Fausta in his Life of Constantine, and even wrote Crispus out of the final version of his Ecclesiastical History. 

Maxentius’ eldest son Valerius Romulus died in 309, at the age of about fourteen, was deified and buried in a mausoleum in the Villa of Maxentius at the Via Appia. Nearby, Maxentius also constructed the Circus of Maxentius. After the death of Maximian in 309 or 310, relations with Constantine rapidly deteriorated, and Maxentius allied with Maximinus to counter the alliance between Constantine and Licinius. He allegedly tried to secure the province of Raetia north of the Alps, thereby dividing the realms of Constantine and Licinius (reported by Zosimus); the plan was not carried out, as Constantine acted first. In 310, Maxentius lost Istria to Licinius, who could not then continue the campaign. However, by the middle of 310 Galerius himself had become too ill to involve himself in imperial politics and he died soon after on April 30th 311. Galerius’s death destabilised what remained of the Tetrarchic system…….

Tetrarchy was quickly abandoned as a system (though the four quarters of the empire survived as praetorian prefectures) in favour of two equal, territorial Emperors, and the previous system of Emperors and Emperors-designate was restored, both in the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East. On hearing the news of the death of Galerius and the failure of Licinius against Maxentius, Maximinus mobilized against Licinius, and seized Asia Minor before meeting Licinius on the Bosphorus to arrange terms for peace. In the meantime, Maxentius fortified northern Italy against potential invasions and sent a small army to Africa under the command of his praetorian prefect Rufius Volusianus which defeated and executed the usurper Domitius Alexander in 310 or 311. Maxentius used the opportunity to seize the wealth of his supporters, and to bring large amounts of grain to Rome. He also strengthened his support among the Christians of Italy by allowing them to elect a new Bishop of Rome, Eusebius.

The Beginning Of The End For Maxentius

Maxentius was far from secure, however. His early support was dissolving into open protest. By 312, he was a man barely tolerated, not one actively supported. Without the revenues of the empire, Maxentius was forced to resume taxation in Italy to support his army and his ambitious building projects in Rome. The election of a bishop did not aid much, either, as Diocletian’s persecution had split the Italian church into competing factions over the issue of apostasy. The Christians of Italy could easily see that Constantine was more sympathetic to their plight than Maxentius. In the summer of 311, Maxentius mobilized against Constantine while Licinius was occupied with affairs in the East. He declared war on Constantine, vowing to avenge his father’s “murder”. Constantine, in an attempt to prevent Maxentius from forming a hostile alliance with Licinius, forged his own alliance with Licinius over the winter of 311–12 by offering to him his sister Constantia in marriage. Maximin considered Constantine’s arrangement with Licinius an affront to his authority. In response, he sent ambassadors to Rome, offering political recognition to Maxentius in exchange for military support. Two alliances, Maximin and Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius, therefore lined up against one another. The Emperors prepared for war.       

War

Maxentius expected an attack along his eastern flank from Licinius, and stationed an army in Verona. Constantine had smaller forces than his opponent: with the forces withdrawn from Africa, with the praetorian and Imperial Horse Guard, and with the troops he had taken from Severus, Maxentius had an army equal to approximately 100,000 soldiers to use against his opponents in the north. Many of these he used however to garrison fortified towns across the region, but keeping most stationed with himself in Verona. Against this, Constantine could only bring a force of between twenty-five and forty thousand men. The bulk of his troops simply could not be withdrawn from the Rhine frontiers without negative consequences. It was against the recommendations of his advisers and generals therefore, and against popular expectation, that Constantine anticipated Maxentius, and struck first.

As early as weather permitted, late in the spring of 312, Constantine crossed the Alps with a quarter of his total army, a force equivalent to something less than forty thousand men. Having crossed the Cottian Alps at the Mont Cenis pass, he first came to Segusium (Susa, Italy), a heavily fortified town containing a military garrison, which shut its gates to him. Constantine ordered his forces to set its gates on fire and scale its walls, and took the town quickly. Constantine forbade the plunder of the town, and advanced into northern Italy. At the approach to the west of the important city of Augusta Taurinorum (Turin, Italy), Constantine encountered a large force of heavily armed Maxentian cavalry, labeled clibanarii or cataphracti in the ancient sources. In the ensuing battle Constantine spread his forces into a line, allowing Maxentius’ cavalry to ride into the middle of his forces. As his forces broadly encircled the enemy cavalry, Constantine’s own cavalry charged at the sides of the Maxentian cataphracts, beating them with iron-tipped clubs. Many Maxentian cavalrymen were dismounted, while most others were variously incapacitated by the blows. Constantine then commanded his foot soldiers to advance against the surviving Maxentian infantry, cutting them down as they fled. Victory, the panegyrist who speaks of the events declares, came easily. Turin then refused to give refuge to the retreating forces of Maxentius. It opened its gates to Constantine instead. Other cities of the north Italian plain, recognizing Constantine’s quick and clement victories, sent him embassies of congratulation for his victory. He moved on to Milan, where he was met with open gates and jubilant rejoicing. He resided there until the middle of the summer of 312 before moving on.

The Battle of Milvian Bridge

It was now expected that Maxentius would try the same strategy as against Severus and Galerius earlier; that is, remaining in the well-defended city of Rome, and sitting out a siege which would cost his enemy much more. For somewhat uncertain reasons, he abandoned this plan, however, and offered battle to Constantine near the Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. Ancient sources usually attribute this action to superstition or (if pro-Constantinian) divine providence. Maxentius of course had consulted soothsayers before battle, as was customary practice, and it can be assumed that they reported favourable omens, especially as the day of battle would be his dies imperii, the day of his accession to the throne (which was October 28, 306). What else may have motivated him, is open to speculation.

The armies of Maxentius and Constantine met north of the city, some distance outside the walls, beyond the Tiber river on the Via Flaminia. Christian sources, claim that Constantine fought under the labarum (a military standard that displayed the Christian Chi-Rho symbol) in that battle, revealed to him in a dream. Of the battle itself, not much is known – Constantine’s forces defeated Maxentius’s troops, who retreated to the Tiber, and in the chaos of the fleeing army, trying to cross the river, Maxentius fell into the water and drowned. His body was found the next day and his head paraded through the city, and later sent to Africa, as a sign that he had surely perished.Battle_of_the_Milvian_Bridge_by_Giulio_Romano_1520-24.jpg

The battle was one of a succession of victories that by AD 324 made Constantine master of the entire Roman Empire, but it is most famous for its link with his conversion to Christianity. The story, or a story, of what happened at the battle was told by Eusebius of Caesarea, the Christian biblical scholar and historian who wrote the first biography of Constantine soon after the Emperor’s death. He knew Constantine well and said he had the story from the Emperor himself. Constantine was a pagan monotheist, a devotee of the sun god Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun. However before the Milvian Bridge battle he and his army saw a cross of light in the sky above the sun with words in Greek that are generally translated into Latin as In hoc signo vinces (‘In this sign conquer’). That night Constantine had a dream in which Christ told him he should use the sign of the cross against his enemies. He was so impressed that he had the Christian symbol marked on his soldiers’ shields and when the Milvian Bridge battle gave him an overwhelming victory he attributed it to the god of the Christians.

In AD 315 the Senate dedicated a triumphal arch in Rome to Constantine (it was probably built originally for Maxentius), with an inscription praising him because ‘with divine instigation’ he and his army had won the victory. It tactfully refrained from saying which god had provided the ‘instigation’ and citizens could credit it to Sol Invictus or the Christian deity or whichever god they chose. What is not in doubt is that Constantine became a believing Christian who vigorously promoted Christianity from that point onwards without trying to force it down pagan throats.

The Cross of Light – A Meteor Impact?

What was the celestial event that converted Constantine and altered the course of history? Incredibly it might have been a meteor impact.

Jens Ormo, a Swedish geologist, and colleagues working in Italy believe Constantine witnessed a meteoroid impact. The research team believes it has identified what remains of the impactor’s crater. It is the small, circular Cratere del Sirente in central Italy. It is clearly an impact crater, Ormo says, because its shape fits and it is also surrounded by numerous smaller, secondary craters, gouged out by ejected debris, as expected from impact models. 

Radiocarbon dating puts the crater’s formation at about the right time to have been witnessed by Constantine and there are magnetic anomalies detected around the secondary craters – possibly due to magnetic fragments from the meteorite. According to Ormo, it would have struck the Earth with the force of a small nuclear bomb, perhaps a kiloton in yield. It would have looked like a nuclear blast, with a mushroom cloud and shockwaves.

After Constantine’s victory, he issued a ‘damnatio memoriae’ against Maxentius, c5b97cd67ad256769168023296d6a1f6.jpg………..and following the usual epithet that it is the victors that write History, Maxentius was systematically vilified and presented as a cruel, bloodthirsty and incompetent tyrant. While he was not counted under the persecutors of the Christians by early sources like Lactantius, under the influence of official propaganda, later Christian tradition framed Maxentius as hostile to Christianity as well. This image has left its traces in all of our sources and has dominated the view of Maxentius well into the 20th century, when a more extensive use and analysis of non-literary sources like coins and inscriptions and buildings has led to a more balanced image.

The Buildings of Maxentius

In fact, Maxentius was a prolific builder whose achievements were overshadowed by Constantine’s issue of the damnatio memoriae against him. He seemed to be fond of them! Many buildings in Rome that are commonly associated with Constantine, such as the great Basilica in the Forum Romanum (below), were in fact built by Maxentius.ff7ff680a9b23ca52a53c6398a08d6d8.jpg

Work on what we might call the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was begun by Emperor Maxentius in 306 but finished six years later under Constantine; it was marked by eight colossal pillars alongside columns that no longer stand today. Of the 66-foot-high columns, only 1 of the 8 survived the 1349 earthquake. That one was brought by Pope Paul V to Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore in AD 1614. Five meters up a large part of the square-paneled vault remains, called “cassettoni” in Italian; you can also see similar work in the dome of the Pantheon. The building rose close to the Templum Pacis and the Templum Veneris et Romae, whose reconstruction was also part of Maxentius’ interventions. The central nave was covered by 3 groin vaults suspended 128 ft above the floor on 4 large piers, ending in an apse at the western end containing the Colossus of Constantine (remnants of which we have seen in a courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini….truly colossal!).786874e5998f76bbb410ee31f1fc3447.jpg

The lateral forces of the groin vaults were held by flanking aisles measuring 75 x 56 ft. The aisles were spanned by 3 semi-circular barrel vaults perpendicular to the nave, and narrow arcades ran parallel to the nave beneath the barrel vaults. Similar to many basilicas at the time such as the Basilica Ulpia, the Basilica Nova featured an absolutely huge open space in the central nave. the nave itself measuring 83 x 265 feet creating a floor of roughly 21,528 square ft. Running the length of the eastern face of the building was a projecting arcade. On the south face was a projecting (prostyle) porch with 4 columns (tetrastyle).

Dehio_6_Basilica_of_Maxentius_Floor_plan_-_Location_of_Colossus.jpgInstead of having columns support the ceiling, the entire building was built using arches. This was a much more common appearance in therma than in basilicas. The Basilica is reckoned to be a marvel of Roman engineering work and used the most advanced engineering techniques known including innovations taken from the Mercatus Traiani and the Thermae Diocletiani. At the time of construction, it was the largest structure to be built. That in itself makes the Basilica Nova a unique building. It is one of the largest concrete structures built in ancient Rome, with remains that still stand today as the tallest structure in the ancient Roman Forum. One of the reasons the building is considered to be such a triumph of Roman engineering is due to its use of both cross and barrel concrete vaults. These vaults were not only notable for their size, but the vaults also stood unsupported and unreinforced which still causes many engineers to question how they were structurally able to stand.

1e1e776b99307ac33e8dd144190be082.jpg

Another difference from traditional basilicas is the roof of the structure. While traditional basilicas were built with a flat roof, the Basilica Maxentius was built with a folded roof, decreasing the overall weight of the structure and decreasing the horizontal forces exerted on the outer arches.

No wonder the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was one of the preferred models for Renaissance architecture, especially for Bramante.

Another of Maxentius’s impressive buildings is The Mausoleum of Valerius Romulus, his son, temple-romulus-roman-forum-rome-italy-may-entrance-112233446.jpgwhich reopened to the public in 2014 after 20 years of restoration. The large circular structure was built by Maxentius in the early 4th century, probably as a family tomb, on the Appian Way. When his young son died around 309 A.D. — he is said to have drowned in the Tiber — he was buried in the mausoleum.

But the tomb itself was part of maxentius2.jpga larger imperial complex that included Maxentius’ palace and a circus for chariot racing. Little of the palace is still standing, while the mausoleum has lost its second level but is still an impressive structure, inside and out. It is surrounded by a quadroporticus on the outside with its main entrance on the Via Appia and two smaller entrances facing the palace and the circus. On the mausoleum itself, the main entrance facing the Appia was walled up centuries ago. It has now been reopened in the recent restoration. Inside, the crypt has a large central pillar with a circular corridor onto which open niches where the sarcophagi of the royal family would have been deposited. A spacious vestibule connected to the corridor probably once led to the second floor.

There’s an 18th century brick home attached to the back of the mausoleum that was originally a farmhouse for use when the property was dedicated to agricultural purposes. It was later converted into a home for personal use by the princely Torlonia family, who owned the land before it was requisitioned by the Fascist government in 1943.1200px-Roma_Appia_Antica_-_Circo_di_Massenzio_Torri.JPG

The circus, while in ruins, is the best preserved of its kind, with pieces of all its major architectural components extant. Two of its gate towers have survived, as have the remains of the starting gates, the spina (the central median around which the chariots turned), and a triumphal arch. It’s also the second largest circus after the Circus Maximus at 500 meters (1640 feet) long and 90 meters (295 feet) wide. There was room in the stands for as many as 10,000 spectators to watch the races.

Parts of the circus were excavated by archaeologist Antonio Nibby in 1825, who unearthed a marble inscription dedicating the inaugural games to the deified Valerius Romulus, clarissimus puer (most highly regarded boy), nobilissimus vir (most noble man), twice consul of Rome, son of Maxentius the undefeated Augustus, grandson of the divine Maximian. Before that discovery, the circus was thought to have been Caracalla’s doing.

Maxentius would have been very put out to find his construction project attributed to another emperor. The Appia complex was part of a major effort on his part to legitimize his usurpation of the throne through the revival of great building in the city of Rome. In the years before the Praetorian Guard made Maxentius, formerly a Caesar or junior emperor, Augustus, emperors like Diocletian, Maximian and Galerius had focused imperial construction on other cities: Nicomedia for Diocletian, Milan for Maximian, Salonica for Galerius. They brought the imperial court and administration to these cities, diminishing Rome’s political and architectural importance.

With that in mind, Maxentius moved to build anew in Rome. The Appian Way complex was intended to be a new administrative center, not just a compound for private fun. The choice to place it on the Appia, outside of the formal boundary of the city of Rome where the tombs of the wealthy had for centuries dotted the roadside, was a break with tradition. He may have decided to build out there because he wanted his dynastic tomb to be part of the complex, and according to Roman custom, all bodies had to be buried outside the city.

Unique Roman Regalia

Maxentius-artifact.jpgIn December 2006, Italian archaeologists announced that an excavation under a shrine near the Palatine Hill had unearthed several items in wooden boxes, which they identified as the imperial regalia, possibly belonging to Maxentius. The items in these boxes, which were wrapped in linen and what appears to be silk, include 3 complete lances, 4 javelins, what appears to be a base for standards, and three glass and chalcedony spheres. The most important find was a scepter of a flower holding a blue-green globe, which is believed to have belonged to the Emperor himself because of its intricate workmanship, and has been dated to his rule. These are the only known imperial insignia ever recovered, which hitherto had only been known from representations on coins and in relief sculptures. Clementina Panella, the archaeologist who made the discovery states that “These artifacts clearly belonged to the Emperor, especially the scepter, which is very elaborate. It’s not an item you would let someone else have.” Panella notes that the insignia were likely hidden by Maxentius’ supporters in an attempt to preserve the emperor’s memory after he was defeated at the Battle of Milvian Bridge by Constantine.

St Catherine and The Emperor Maxentius

b7fb293b7a09577cd6565be503164bf3.jpgHere is the legend of Catherine……”Catherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Egyptian Alexandria during the reign of the emperor Maximian (286–305). From a young age she devoted herself to study. A vision of the Madonna and Child persuaded her to become a Christian. When persecutions of Christians began under Maxentius, she went to the emperor and rebuked him for his cruelty. The emperor summoned 50 of the best pagan philosophers and orators to dispute with her, hoping that they would refute her pro-Christian arguments, but Catherine won the debate. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death.

Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned. She was scourged so cruelly and for soSaint-Catherine-Of-Alexandria-Being-Whipped-In-The-Presence-Of-Emperor-Maxentius.jpg long, that her whole body was covered with wounds, from which the blood flowed in streams. The spectators wept with pity; but Catherine, strengthened by God, stood with her eyes raised to heaven, without giving a sign of suffering or fear. He ordered her to be imprisoned without food, so she would starve to death. During the confinement, angels tended her wounds with salve. Catherine was fed daily by a dove from Heaven and Christ also visited her, encouraging her to fight bravely, and promised her the crown of everlasting glory.

During her imprisonment, over 200 people came to see her, including Maxentius’ wife, Valeria Maximilla; all converted to Christianity and were subsequently martyred. Twelve days later, when the dungeon was opened, a bright light and fragrant perfume filled it, and Catherine came forth even more radiant and beautiful.

Upon the failure of Maxentius to make Catherine yield by way of torture, he tried to win the beautiful and wise princess over by proposing marriage. The saint refused, declaring that her spouse was Jesus Christ, to whom she had consecrated her virginity.

The furious emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, it shattered. Maxentius then ordered her to be beheaded. Catherine herself ordered the execution to commence. A milk-like substance rather than blood flowed from her neck.”

Obviously modern scholars have tried to find some substantive evidence for the background to this story and indeed whether Catherine actually existed, but there is no evidence that she was a historical figure. However she certainly inspired a huge amount of devoted worship in the Medieval period and since…..indeed her feast day is still celebrated in the Eastern Catholic Church.  Joan of Arc claimed that Catherine’s was among the heavenly voices that spoke to her. And of course, she gave us the popular firework the IMG_4664.JPGCatherine wheel….She is the patron of philosophers and scholars and is believed to help protect against sudden death. I even found an Italian Pizza establishment that put together a special pizza on her Saints Day!

But in terms of our history of Maxentius, her story just added to the flames in terms of the vilification of the Emperor……

The Coinage of Maxentius

The front of our coin reads….
IMP. C. MAXENTIVS P.F. AVG.

The full translation of the title reads:
‘Imperator Caesar Maxentius Pius Felix Augustus’.

This in English ‘The Emperor and Caesar Maxentius Pious and Wise Augustus’

I am unable to read the inscription on the reverse, but during AD 308 Maxentius gained control of the mint at Ticinum and issued folles bearing the reverse type legend CONSERVATORES VRB SVAE, stressing his role as protector of Rome. Maxentius added and restored many buildings in the city including the temple of Roma – and our coin appears to show a celebration of the the rebuilding of this temple, with Roma inside her temple holding an orb and sceptre. Could be the sceptre just found….

Here is a review of a Swiss study of the coins of Maxentius, which shows that we can find out rather a lot from these sources..

18th July 2013 – In the series “Etudes Suisses de Numismatiques”, issued by the Swiss Numismatic Society, a new, important work on Roman coins has recently been published. It is a corpus of the coinage of Maxentius with a detailed commentary that exceeds by far that what the RIC can provide.
Let’s start with the catalog that certainly will attract most interest. This is no die corpus – no one would be able to prepare such a thing given the wealth of material from the 3rd century, but a listing of all types and subtypes, i.e. literally everything Maxentius has to offer. Arranged according to mints, dates, metals, Vincent Drost presents the basis of his work, in which he is much more meticulous than the RIC. All collectors who enjoy the different variants of late Roman coinage will find a marvelous overwiew here.
As already said, this is the basis, and the catalog being written in French is no obstacle to its comprehensibility for every single type and subtype is illustrated in the plates. Strictly speaking, it is here where the author’s work truly starts, with the material he makes talk at great length.

Vincent Drost, Le monnayage de Maxence (306-312 après J.-C.). Wetteren 2013. Cloth-bound, thread-stitching. A4. 432 pages with 61 plates. CD-ROM added. ISBN 978-3-033-03991-9. CHF 150; 120 Euros.

Don’t worry if your schoolroom French is a bit rusty. As I said before, the Swiss Numismatic Society has published this book, meaning that the author provides a detailed 17-page summary of his results that was being translated into Italian, English and German. Quite a luxury one would wish for, for the sake of spreading knowledge in other countries as well. Additionally, the 17-page summary most likely gets more readers than the actual text that covers 200 pages.

By reading it you’ll learn that Maxentius possessed five mints that didn’t produce simultaneously, though; Rome was the only mint Maxentius had at his disposal during his entire reign. Drost describes in detail how coinage and minting were organized – and, of course, looking into the French text always pays off when you want to go into details. The author likewise clarifies the metrological basis and hypothesizes about the scale of the production.
The chapter on circulation goes beyond a mere listing of known treasure finds. On the basis of the content of treasure finds, Drost proves the emperor to be isolated both economically and politically. FYI, after Maxentius was being defeated at the Milvian Bridge, a large portion of his coins were collected and brought to the Constantinian mints to be melted down, evidenced by the Treasure of Gruissan that was lost in 313 near the Gallic coast.

Naturally, the author interprets the messages of the coins as well, and, by comparing it with coins of other emperors, proves that Maxentius actively sought alliances. His religious policy, which was overshadowed by Constantine, and his relationship with the city of Rome are magnificently mirrored in the depictions.

The biggest part, in terms of quantity, is taken up by dealing with individual mints and their products. The author patiently deals with series after series, before he gets to Maxentius in imperial coinage.

Unfortunately, the subject of modern counterfeits has received little attention. An overview of all the coins the author, him being the greatest expert on the coins of Maxentius, has excluded from his work would have been appreciated here. Writing this as the reviewer, one is inclined to be happy about that since, otherwise, how else would it be possible to pick holes in such a thorough, masterful and important study?

This book certainly needs no extra advertising. In the months to come, it surely will turn out to be the standard work on the coinage of Maxentius……”

Popular Culture

In popular culture Maxentius is the main antagonist of the 1961 film ‘Constantine andMV5BNWY0ZTVhYzMtNDZhNC00NzgzLWEwZjYtZjg5NzE5YmI3YWY1L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzM0MDQ1Mw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,703,1000_AL_.jpgthe Cross’. The character is played by Massimo Serato. Other films have also portrayed Maxentius as a ‘baddy’. In the 2014 film Katherine of Alexandria, Maxentius was portrayed by Julien Vialon. 

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Barbara Hepworth’s Garden…..27th July

20180727_105115.jpgThe view from the windows of the train on the St Ives line is always a joy but, when the tide is out, Lelant Saltings doesn’t look quite so prepossessing…..nevertheless, and despite it being a grey day, as soon as you see the bay you are cheered up straightaway.20180727_105526.jpgAnd the sea at St Ives always has a magical quality and colour..20180727_105643.jpg20180727_105715.jpgWe were here today to visit the Tate and Barbara Hepworth’s Museum (you get a joint ticket…half price for us with our National Art Pass). On our walk in from the station we saw the Parish Church open for the first time, so in we went, curious as to what we might find. It is dedicated to Saint Ia of Cornwall, a 5th- or 6th-century Irish saint, and is a Grade I listed building. “The current building dates to the reign of King Henry V of England. It became a parish church in 1826. It was built between 1410 and 1434 as a chapel of ease: St Ives being within the parish of Lelant. The tower is of granite and of four stages (over 80 ft high): the church is large but not particularly high and built in a Devonian rather than a Cornish style. An outer south aisle was added by the Trenwith family about 1500: this is now the Lady Chapel and contains a statue by Barbara Hepworth.” This was very beautiful and poignant, carved as it was in memory of her son Paul who was killed whilst serving with the RAF in 1953. The font is of granite and probably of the 15th century. It is carved with four angels holding shields. The pillars are made from sandstone possibly from Godrevy across the bay, and allowed for more decorative carving than if they had been the more usual granite. You might just see that they tend to lean outwards and this is probably because of subsidence….the alternative put forward is that they symbolise the sides of a boat. That seems a better story!20180727_111959.jpgThere are bench ends of the standard design and also two complete benches in the chancel. Very finely carved they are too…here is one of them. There is a brass to a member of the Trenwith family, 1463, and a monument to the Hitchens family by Garland & Fieldwick, 1815.20180727_112519.jpgAs we left the church and walked through St Ives there were flowers everywhere including a Cornish favourite of mine (tho not of Frances…..) – agapanthus. 20180727_113438.jpgWalking across the higher end of town, you always get more of a feel for the old fishing port it once was….20180727_113901.jpgNext stop the Porthmeor Beach Cafe20180727_115940.jpgand then just a hop across the road to The Tate.….views everywhere in the museum are fantastic, whether outside or climbing the stairs..20180727_125334.jpg20180727_125646_002.jpgThis, a second viewing for us, was not as memorable as the first – obviously, but we were able to take in things and paintings which we hadn’t been able to look at in any depth the first time round. One of the first striking paintings you see is this abstract by Patrick Heron..20180727_125950.jpgand the famous Modernist painters of St Ives keep on coming – all mixed with fascinating display cabinets with correspondence between the artists, brochures, catalogues etc20180727_131032.jpgI liked these two by William Scott – the first Mackerel On A Plate and then the second The Harbour which must surely echo the first in its composition.20180727_130112.jpg20180727_130117.jpgOne thing we couldn’t understand was that this Matisse you could go up to, examine the brushwork, and virtually touch, whereas elsewhere in the displays you were kept back by a cordon. I don’t think I would want anyone touching my Matisse!20180727_130344.jpgI love Snow On Exmoor by J A Park…20180727_131158_001.jpgand in the adjoining cabinet some newspaper clippings of him painting….20180727_131308.jpg20180727_131419.jpgThere was a special exhibition this time, a retrospective of Patrick Heron…..20180727_131955.jpgand then a little alcove where you could view the life story of Barbara Hepworth and film of her working with interesting commentary….20180727_132442.jpgThe last but one gallery gives out onto the entrance foyer…..20180727_132729.jpgand there we were taken with the detail of polished metal cladding positioned to reflect the world outside….20180727_133229.jpgA short walk would take us to our next stop, but the route was not without its distractions…20180727_135202.jpgSo at last the Hepworth Museum and Gardens. First some of her work seen indoors20180727_141722.jpg  20180727_142029.jpgbut then the beautiful bit, being in her garden with her magnificent sculptures..20180727_142116.jpgand seeing the raw bits of granite from which she created her masterpieces…and the covered patio areas and conservatory where she worked, and her coats and tools just as though she had put them down five minutes ago..20180727_142215.jpg20180727_142146.jpg20180727_142155.jpg20180727_143156.jpgIt was a fascinating insight into the working life of one of our great Artists, oh and by the way there was even a little outhouse with her simple bed in it….much needed I am sure, after toiling at shaping granite and marble!20180727_142312.jpg20180727_142637.jpgOn the way back to the station we called at the St Ives Harbour Hotel beautiful location, very boutiquey, and a good-looking menu…. a pleasant interlude whilst waiting for the train…..and the walk down through the hotel’s gardens was much better than trudging through the station car park!20180727_160838.jpgThese white agapanthus were terrific…20180727_170434.jpgSo now we know, if we have friends or family visit, a trip to the Tate and to the Barbara Hepworth museum will be well worthwhile….

Hospital visits and Saltram

derriford.jpgFor the second time this week a visit for Frances to Plymouth Hospital. I had a visit too, sandwiched in-between hers – to Liskeard Hospital. A worrying time today’s, but a terrific result. A suspicious small lump on the breast was diagnosed as a cyst by the Greek specialist and removed immediately, sucked out, with the minimum of fuss. We await the results of our other visits! Such it is to be retired…….I do dislike going to Derriford Hospital at Plymouth – you have to admit it looks like the Brutalist architecture of Moscow in the Fifties. Once inside it’s a bit friendlier. Good job really. After that we needed fresh air, so off we went to the NT house at Saltram which we were totally unsure we had visited before (despite living very near here in the Seventies). This was our first glimpse of the beautiful Georgian house, and no we hadn’t been before.20180726_124533.jpg First stop as nearly always was the cafe for lunch. No beer, only cider, and a menu which was disgustingly full of fat….there were hardly any nice healthy eating options. I had to have the soup, and F. a pork pie which was very dry. Very poor fare.20180726_131043.jpgWe then toured the house which was very interesting and cool enough (it was 30 degrees outside). The hall was Adamesque ( and indeed Robert Adam had a very influential input at Saltram for the Parker family who transformed what was a Tudor building into a magnificent Georgian house).20180726_133727.jpgand I did like the ‘Tenants Table’ where were stored the records for each tenant. I am sure it must be in its correct place in the entrance hallway. Wouldn’t want tenants coming too far into the interior!20180726_133252_001 2.jpgThe house is stuffed with valuable original pieces but it is disconcerting that this bust of Cicero for instance  is labelled Roman…is it original or not?! Anyhow, full of character. 20180726_133746.jpgWhat we loved were the walls cram bang full of paintings just as the owners would originally liked to have displayed them in order to show off their wealth…..You don’t often see this (you do at the RA’s Summer Exhibition ironically enough).20180726_134010.jpg20180726_134057.jpgThis card table was set with intaglio cards, gaming chips, and a letter…marvellous!20180726_134325.jpgThe inner courtyard had orange bins…very appropriate in this weather……20180726_135410.jpgand after that we passed into the core of the house which still retained its Tudor kitchen, with original and more up-to-date features…brass and copper are so evocative, are they not?20180726_135543.jpg20180726_135640.jpgNow here’s a picture with a story, it’s of Theresa Parker who, with her husband John, brought most of the valuable contents to Saltram. And it’s by Sir Joshua Reynolds. 20180726_140038.jpgReynolds was born only four miles from Saltram in Plympton, Devon. His first studio was in Dock (modern day Devonport, Plymouth) but as his popularity grew, he quickly moved to London to meet the demands of those who wanted their ‘likeness’ made by him. By1768, Reynolds had established himself as the leading portrait painter of his time and became the founding president of the Royal Academy.                                                       Reynolds was good friends with John and Theresa Parker and they met often both for business and on social occasions. In 1770 he began painting this full-length portrait of Theresa in a landscape. When it was still not complete two years later, Theresa joked that Reynolds was ‘very lazy’. She sat for him at least two more times in 1772 whilst heavily pregnant. There are many Reynolds paintings at Saltram as well as many by Angelica Kauffman, and here is her self-portrait…..49685portrait.jpg“Reynolds was not the only Academician to be patronised by the Parkers. Angelica Kauffman painted numerous portraits and history paintings for the interiors at Saltram. Like Reynolds, Kauffman was a founder member of the Royal Academy, but along with painter Mary Moser, shewas one of only two female members. Kauffman was born in Switzerland and rose to fame as an accomplished painter in Europe before even moving to London in 1766. Here, her work was so popular that by 1781 the Danish Ambassador wrote that the whole world was ‘Angelica mad.’                                                                    Despite being hugely famous, she was still a minority in the male-dominated art world. Kauffman was left in social and financial difficulty after a disastrous first marriage but it was through her talent and determination, along with the support of Queen Charlotte and patrons like the Parkers of Saltram, that she was able to continue working.” In the portrait (which NT want to restore, and for which we bought raffle tickets to help), it seems absurdly apparent that the right hand has been re-painted by someone else at a later stage – and someone who was not very good at painting hands! Have you ever seen such an awful hand? And compare its butcher’s fingers with the delicate digits of the left hand………On the stairs, Reynolds by Kauffman…nice and relaxed, it seems obvious they are good friends.NTI_STM_18737.jpgBut there are many paintings to catch the eye…the Victorian mother and child captures that couple superbly.20180726_141847.jpgAnd so to bed…well the bedrooms, nearly all in Chinoiserie style, obviously well-regarded at the period, certainly not to my taste. Much of it imported through the East Indian Company. These individually painted wall panels are rather good.20180726_142326.jpgThe last room on the tour however undoubtedly the best – the Library. Beautiful room, lovely books, lots of places to sit, not just to work – wonderful.20180726_143515.jpg20180726_143916.jpgA quick walk past some pretty borders to the Orangery was all we had time for.20180726_144732.jpg20180726_145152.jpgYet another eventful day in the life of the Smiths….. and, before I forget, the day before we had popped into Looe on the bus to do our usual walk and greatly admired the amazing conversion of the old Sardine Factory….20180723_111240.jpgwe went into the downstairs cafe….20180723_105144.jpgand admired the brand new and very good Heritage Centre, of which more another time…….D55_3266_00003-e1530799673869-1024x585.jpg

The Salt Path….

A1O3bIbUoHL.jpg‘The Salt Path’ is a book about walking the South-West Coast path. There are many books about doing that and I have read quite a few, but this is different. It starts with the background that the author, Raynor Winn, is being chucked off her farm at the same time that her husband learns he is terminally ill with a brain disease. They have nothing left and decide to do The Path walk investing what little they have in a tent and cheap sleeping bags . Everyone seems to find this very uplifting (look on the Net and it’s all ‘The Uplifting true story’…….blah, blah, blah….), but I am afraid that right from the start I felt unease about the whole premise, and where it would lead. The entirety of the book seems, to me at least, to be self-serving, and to offer exaggeration, and deliberate play on our sympathies throughout. When did the publisher get involved? Maybe it’s just my cynicism, but I really do have my doubts about a lot of things in here. And the fairy-tale ending? It’s all a little too good to be true….

Because we live on the borders of Cornwall and Devon it is just as near for us to go to4e941c905ae0e0d569616911b75c4577.jpg South Devon as many places in Cornwall, so I read the Bradt Slow Travel book ‘South Devon and Dartmoor’ with a great deal of pleasure. This really is one of those travel books that you can pick up and read from start to finish. And it’s a book that keeps on giving. Nearly all of the suggestions in here are things you really do want to do, and it is extremely well-researched and personal. We know the area very well, but I just kept finding things and places I didn’t know throughout. If you’re not acquainted with this series, please do get hold of one of their books…they’re great.

gallows-view.jpgI recently read three Peter Robinson crime novels one after the other. So they must be good? Well, yes and no. What I don’t like about them is that as the series develops Peter seems, like Ian Rankin, to be obsessed with music. Not only do his characters , and in particular the main one DS Banks (as he now is), listen to music but we have to be told in detail what their musical taste is, why they are listening to such and such, how it relates to other music. Frankly it is all a bit of a bore and totally irrelevant as far as I am concerned. It seems to be designed to show off how much the author knows about music. Why do these Crime writers feel they have to do it? Right that’s my gripe out of the way (and unfortunately it does mean I’ll be reluctant to pick up another one). The novels are otherwise very good. The setting – Eastvale, which seemed to me to be quite obviously Richmond in Yorkshire, but is apparently that town mixed with Ripon – is terrific and adds an awful lot to our enjoyment. Who doesn’t love the Yorkshire Dales, and Richmond is fantastic. The main character Banks is particularly well developed but not so much the other ones. And the plots are interesting and topical. Well, the first one I picked up – ‘Gallows View’ – happened by chance to be the first in the series and is about glue-sniffing amongst otherUnknown.jpeg things, so it was no doubt topical then (1987), but you don’t hear much about glue-sniffing now! The plot weaves together a number of themes and characters very nicely. And not much music….I also had on my shelves ‘Past Reason Hated’ (1992), probably when I last read it, and it too was satisfyingly complex with any number of suspects for the murder of someone who, we found out, was really the sufferer of abuse from her husband, a famous composer 9781444786750.jpg(music again!). Family secrets, lesbianism, a newly promoted Detective, it was full of interesting bits and pieces. Anyhow I also read ‘When The Music’s Over’ (I wish it was) where Banks has been promoted and has to deal with a case of historic sexual abuse, as well as being in charge of another investigation as Senior Officer. Nicely complicated plots. Good in nearly all respects. I thoroughly recommend Peter Robinson. How many years before I read another?

Yet another re-read from my shelves ( I barely remembered ) was ‘Devices and Desires’ Unknown-1.jpegby P D James. This is that great rarity these days – a literary Crime novel. It is so well written and certainly evokes tremendously well the area where this one is set – the remote Norfolk coast. And what an interesting plot, based on Larksoken nuclear power station which itself has an important brooding role. Commander Dalgliesh from London (nice to have an up-market detective) is staying at his aunt’s converted windmill in order to put her affairs to rest, but can’t help becoming involved in a local murder case. In fact as we learn he becomes too involved, and there is a very satisfying mix of local characters as well as outsiders working at the power station. I did enjoy it, and must read some more P D James.

 

A solo flight……

20180712_091938.jpgWell not quite, but the first time for many a long day I have done anything on my own (F. being in Spain…)! I had booked a very cheap first-class ticket to Exmouth (£13 return) which we had never visited before. The view from the train is always interesting, here rather burnt countryside near Liskeard.  And three or four rivers or estuaries passed in the short section to Plymouth…20180712_093945(0).jpg20180712_093954.jpgFirst glimpses of the Exmouth estuary promising..20180712_114238.jpgBut one reason I had come was to see how much Exmouth deserves its self-appointed accolade of floral town. As I exited the station and came towards the underpass it was clear that the work of the volunteers extended everywhere….20180712_115602.jpgThis really is how underpasses should be….and the shopping streets were well garlanded….20180712_120801.jpg20180712_115911.jpgand the parks flower filled….20180712_120801.jpgFlowers literally everywhere…20180712_121312.jpgI was glad to see the beach was pretty special too, it was quite a surprise…20180712_121947.jpg20180712_121738.jpg20180712_122522.jpgI visited more parks and enjoyed the wildlife….quite tame in Exmouth apparently…20180712_123130.jpgand who doesn’t get cheered up by the bright colours of beach huts?20180712_123654.jpg20180712_123943.jpgI found myself quite a long way down the promenade so doubled back, and as I approached town it was evident it had a certain Eastbourne or Bournemouth-like gentility with some nice seafront houses….20180712_124832.jpgand some quirky modern housing at the marina reminiscent of our recent trip to Amble but on a much larger scale…20180712_130406.jpg20180712_130620.jpg20180712_130046.jpgSo my verdict? Exmouth is well-worth a trip, and I am so glad that here is a place which its inhabitants take a genuine pride in…..at least enough of them to make a difference! they should be really proud of their efforts. It was strange being on my own for a change, and I was at a loss what to do at times. What could I do after all my wandering – 16,000 steps? I decided to make my way back to Exeter, and there I gave the main museum, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, another chance as we had found it disappointing on our first visit. Sure enough it was much better than expected. First I went up to the viewing platform to see the Roman wall…..quite impressive in its own way.20180712_141343.jpgI then started to explore the museum’s collections which whilst arranged chronologically really adopt the ‘highlights’ style presentation which seems common these days (Coventry, Edinburgh etc)…here is a beautiful clock face. 20180712_142257.jpgThis clock was made in 1619-21 by the Exeter craftsman Matthew Hoppin and is the oldest surviving clock in Devon. It consisted of a stone dial with a seated figure of Matthew above. The figures on the clock include Apollo, Ceres and Mars. It was actually located on one of Exeter’s poorest parish churches…no-one knows why. There is also a magnificent collection of medieval woodwork (one of the best). It is the Hems Collection of woodwork. An outstanding collection of nearly 500 pieces of medieval woodwork, collected by the Exeter master sculptor Harry Hems. The pieces were originally displayed in Hems’ workshop to inspire his craftsmen in their world-renowned work. The woodwork is intermingled with architectural fragments which are mainly fragments from historic buildings in Exeter. ‘Many of these items were salvaged during renovation or demolition of historic buildings in the post-war redevelopment of the city. The collection includes fragments of woodwork and plasterwork from the city’s Tudor houses, and fragments and casts of stonework from the Cathedral and the Guildhall.’

20180712_142513.jpgIn one room there is the remarkable Seaton Down hoard..’The Seaton Down Hoard consists of 22,888 Roman coins and three iron ingots. It was buried in around AD 350 but why, and by whom is a mystery. Could it have been wages for workers or a merchant’s savings? Were the coins stolen or were they being hidden from the taxman? We may never know. The coins were found a few fields away from known Roman sites. One was a farmstead, the other an army watch tower. The hoard is probably connected to these in some way.’20180712_142820.jpgBut the Roman object I found most fascinating was a tile where the person who made it used the wet clay to practice their writing….they scratched into it IABCDIIFF – the earliest recorded use of the Latin alphabet in Devon.20180712_143323.jpgThese Roman decorations are pretty unusual too…Medusa maybe?20180712_143403.jpgand Devon is famous for its stone-age axes…these all from one site – the earliest stone tools made by humans – a remarkable collection of 350,000-year-old flint handaxes from the gravel pits at Broom near Axminster. Quite quite amazing. I had time left for a quick look around Exeter…here a view from Wagamama.20180712_144546.jpgHere the beautiful Georgian area Southernhay…. 20180712_145703.jpgbut I was headed for the river and a well deserved (I thought) drink at The Prospect Inn which I took outside and enjoyed in the shelter of the old Customs shed20180712_151059.jpg20180712_151007.jpgThe Customs House  projects itself as the most prominent building on the riverfront……20180712_152303.jpgOne last glimpse of the Cathedral….20180712_153201.jpg20180712_153051.jpgand it was time to make for the station. On the way I noticed this plaque to perhaps the greatest local historian of them all W G Hoskins someone with whom I am very familiar, having studied much of his work………..an interesting day…on my own!20180712_154319.jpg

 

Wow, it’s Wimbledon…

20180709_130241.jpgTickets yet again (we are really lucky….) to Centre Court Wimbledon on Manic Monday. But first we have to get there. At our local station Liskeard there was a goods train waiting and I was amazed to see that not only is its signage not metric but apparently goes back to the old chains and furlongs days! How many chains in a furlong? 22 yards = one chain….10 chains = one furlong….8 furlongs = one mile……easy.20180706_090453.jpgThe thing about going to London on the train, even to Plymouth which is our nearest big city, is that you get some wonderful views. It would be nice to have a route map, and we talked to BR in the Seventies about producing them….but that’s another story.20180706_092911.jpg20180706_120319.jpgAnyway after leaving our bags at David and Jennifer’s flat we decided to use our National Art passes for the Courtauld Institute, a new one for us. All we knew was that is famous for its Impressionists paintings. the cafe was a huge disappointment as they had run out of food….how can you do that? Never mind. The gallery is arranged by period and one of the first things that greets you is this wonderful medieval marriage chest from Florence showing exquisitely painted scenes of Romantic knightly endeavours….20180706_164727.jpgAnd I did like this portrait, a young lady whom you could meet in the streets outside, painted with real feeling.20180706_165200.jpgMr and Mrs Gainsborough on the wall here….and here is the Courtauld on Mrs Gainsborough…. “Family legend holds that Mr. Gainsborough painted a portrait of his Mrs. every year on their wedding anniversary. Sadly we only know of 5 portraits of Mrs. Gainsborough by her husband, but this portrait is a beautiful testament to their (sometimes fraught) relationship. When painting family, someone the artist knows well, the experience is vastly different from a commissioned portrait or working with a professional model. This painting is more informal, the technique looser than in other Gainsborough portraits.”

20180706_165433.jpgThe start of the series of Impressionist paintings shows this Pisarro of a Lordship Lane station in a growing suburb, but curiously devoid of people….20180706_165648 2.jpgA famous painting of course is Degas’ Two Dancers On A Stage, of which the Courtauld indicates…For many years it was assumed that Degas’ depiction of two dancers on the stage did not represent any specific performance and was meant as a general representation of ballet. However recent research has shown that the costumes of the dancers, especially the one on the right, match the bell-shaped tutus and hairpieces with roses of the dancers in the Ballet des roses, a ballet section added to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787) for performances at the Paris Opera House from 1866 onwards. The scenery in the background suggests foliage, which would have been appropriate to the garden setting of the Ballet des roses. The new expanded version of Don Giovanni was performed more than fifty times at the Paris Opéra between 1872 and 1874, so Degas’ subject is very much engaged with contemporary life. The painting was shown at the dealer Durand-Ruel’s London gallery in 1874, where it was purchased by Captain Henry Hill of Brighton.” Incidentally the bronze is also by Degas….20180706_165815.jpgRenoir’s La Loge or Theatre Box shows a male with binoculars but the female (very unfairly in my opinion known as fish-face!) concentrating – perhaps knowing that she is being observed…..20180706_165830.jpgOver to Gaugin – they keep on coming – “The two figures in the background and the ‘bird of the devil that is keeping watch’, as Gauguin called it, seem to be conspiring against the reclining woman. She lies awake, perhaps conscious of being watched. The title evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in which a poet, driven mad by the loss of his love, hears a raven repeating endlessly ‘Nevermore’. Here, Gauguin suggests the loss of innocence. He was deeply disappointed by Tahiti, where he had moved from Paris, hoping to find a primitive and unspoilt paradise. Instead, he found a society marred by corruption and colonialism.”20180706_170103.jpgManet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe was considered shocking in its day “because his pastoral idyll made deliberate references to contemporary life. The men wore modern clothing, and the naked woman was considered ugly. As such, it seemed to mock academic ‘high’ art.”20180706_170134.jpgAnd now the painting the Institute has chosen to represent itself…Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère…..                                                                                                                                “The Folies-Bergère was Paris’s first music hall. A magazine described its atmosphere of ‘unmixed joy’ where everyone spoke ‘the language of pleasure’. It was notorious for the access it gave to prostitutes. The barmaids, according to the poet Maupassant, were ‘vendors of drink and of love’. This picture was Manet’s last major work, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. Manet knew the Folies-Bergère well. He made preparatory sketches on site, but the final painting was executed in his studio. He set up a bar and employed one of the barmaids, Suzon, to pose behind it.                                                                             Manet’s picture is unsettling. An acrobat’s feet, clad in green boots, dangle in the air. The quickly sketched crowds convey the bustle of the Folies-Bergères. In contrast, the barmaid is detached and marooned behind her bar, with her reflection displaced to the right. She stares at the viewer, but the mirror shows her facing a customer.” Strange indeed. What a hypnotic painting though….20180706_170510.jpg20180706_170319.jpgA good gallery visit wouldn’t be a good gallery visit without a bit of sex, and Van Dongen’s 1905 painting Torso, The Idol certainly gives us that. This is in fact the artist’s wife, and surely she is shown at a moment of post-coital abandon with her sexually charged posture and her flushed face. Did the artist pick up his brushes immediately after having sex? That would certainly seem to be suggested, and maybe she is just a bit embarrassed at being painted thus? An in-your-face picture that you can’t ignore.20180706_171801.jpgIn contrast, one of Renoir’s last paintings Woman Tying Her Shoes seems very decorous indeed….20180706_172403.jpgOne of my favourite paintings was this one – Bonnard’s the River Seine In Paris. The sky is so unusual and beautiful, and even the road in the foreground seems to reflect the overall mood. 20180706_172512.jpgNow to a really disturbing painting one of several by Walter Sickert depicting presumably prostitutes in sleazy rooms in Camden Town. The suggestive bent leg and the prostitute’s gaze (one would think at a client at the end of the bed) convey raw sex. But the whole thing is very seedy and threatening. This reminded me that Patricia Cornwall in a recent book, the result of many years research, presented what many would say is compelling evidence that Sickert was Jack The Ripper. Indeed even more disturbing Sickert paintings show depictions of women being attacked: “One of them is tied up in a chair and being stabbed.” Another shows decapitated heads. When you see this painting, you can perhaps see where it leads. Astonishing.20180706_172605.jpgMax Pechstein’s Portrait of a Man has recently been shown to be of his patron an architect of the time. It all seems a little incongruous with him dressed very smartly for the Opera but in an avant-guard setting with its bright colours. Just love it.20180706_172710.jpgGetting even closer to modern times (it was getting near to closing) Lucien Freud’s Girl With Roses is regarded as one of his more important early paintings. Although he went on to marry Kitty, the painting aims to set us on edge with her wide eyes and the fact she is grasping a very prickly rose. Not so much love shown here.20180706_173047.jpgI had to include this last image of Polperro, 20 minutes drive for us. Painted in 1939 by an artist who had just fled from Prague and settled there, Kokoschka it perhaps shows his unease and includes allegorical details such as the large crab which he said represented disaster, and a woman mourning over a prostrate body. Very prophetic.20180706_173223.jpgWhilst staying with David and Jennifer we had a nice ramble through Acton Park, just over the road from them, and another look at the Mini-Golf course which is much the nicest we have ever seen, planted superbly with all kinds of things including mature olives and terrific water features. I really must do a five star review for them.20180707_122728.jpg20180707_122746.jpgThe exercise area was pretty impressive too…20180707_124409_002.jpgOn another day we took the bus out to the river and had a wonderful stroll from Hammersmith with its amazing bridge to Barnes which we really love with its village-like atmosphere……20180708_123540.jpg20180708_123932_001.jpgSome exceptional buildings along the way including this – part of the library of St Paul’s school….20180708_124627.jpg20180708_123645.jpgand a very good pub to finish – The Bull’s Head, famous for its jazz apparently and with its Bolan Room (Marc Bolan died in a car crash nearby….).20180708_132810_002.jpgBeautiful buildings on the river frontage in Barnes…they really are…20180708_135503.jpg Very near to David and Jennifer is Bedford Park which many say is the world’s first real garden suburb. We just knew it was full of nice houses, many obviously by the same architect. But we explored its history a bit and it is fascinating. Do read about it. Sir John Betjeman no less described Bedford Park “the most significant suburb built in the last century, probably in the western world”. Herman Muthesius, the celebrated German critic who wrote The English House in 1904 said, “It signifies neither more nor less than the starting point of the smaller modern house, which spread from there over the whole country.”20180708_192514.jpgAnd now to the real reason we came to London for this visit. We’ve done this before but we always like to take the tube to Wimbledon (not the nearest tube station) and walk up the hill to one of many places for a nice breakfast. We chose well this time, although you can’t go wrong. It is then not too much of a walk to the venue, and what a venue. 20180709_105751.jpgWe like to look at what is going on in the outside courts first, where you get really close to the action, and realise what incredible athletes these people are. And anyway everywhere is so pretty….. it really is my best sporting day out ever even, I would go so far as to say, the best day out ever.20180709_115727.jpg20180709_115918.jpg20180709_120424.jpg20180709_121103.jpgAfter picking up some lunch and a drink we made our way to our seats in Centre Court, towards the back this time but what a view…20180709_130241.jpgand on such a hot day we were glad to be in the shade…first up was Federer who won easily…what an elegant and brilliant player, a privilege to see him..20180709_131904_002.jpg20180709_132248.jpgThen it was Serena Williams, also in super form and winning fairly easily….she’s big, strong and athletic (and with a lovely personality – when not on Court!).20180709_152252.jpgIt’s quite something to examine your fellow-spectators too, not all middle-class oiks by any means.20180709_163927.jpgNext up the masterful Nadal, what a trier he is. Jimmy Connors was one never to let a point go by without maximum effort, but Rafa excels even him. His efforts are super-human. Won in straight sets. maybe this was all a bit too straightforward. We saw the big names but not for long. 20180709_164047.jpg However, we had an amazing bonus because transferred to our court now was the mixed doubles match featuring Jamie Murray and his new partner Victoria Azarenko.20180709_190659_035.jpg20180709_190715.jpgand the match was so tight and went on for so long that they had to close the roof and finish under lights…..a wonderful experience. How exciting was this….5-1 down in the final set and led by the brilliance of Azarenko the ‘British’ partnership drew level and won. Fantastic! The atmosphere was indeed electric, a cliche but in this case so true. We couldn’t have asked for more…..Federer, Williams, Nadal and a Murray victory.20180709_205422.jpgOn our last day having a couple of hours before my train and F.’s plane we had lunch at the V&A. It never fails.20180710_121405.jpgHow could you eat in more impressive surroundings?20180710_122200.jpg20180710_123449.jpg20180710_123500.jpgAnd we had time to fit in things we didn’t see last time round, including the sculpture gallery….20180710_124445.jpgYou’ve just got to love this statue of the quack doctor Joshua Ward, maybe intended for a monument in Westminster Abbey (in the event this didn’t happen). Rather touchingly the V&A says ‘His hand gesture may indicate generosity, while his bulky figure suggest prosperity’. That’s certainly one way of putting it.20180710_124505.jpgEverywhere you get marvellous surprises like this striking portrait at the top of the stairs. I can’t for the life of me remember who this is, and I have searched the V&A archives to no avail….20180710_124723.jpg20180710_124800.jpgBut the real eye-opener came when we visited the jewellery rooms. No wonder the V&A say this is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of jewellery in the world. Over 3,000 jewels tell the story of jewellery in Europe from ancient times to the present day. The displays use themes…20180710_124910.jpg20180710_124926.jpgand a historical timeline…here is Etruscan gold jewellery for instance…20180710_130304.jpg….not too dissimilar, you have to agree, from the Art Nouveau jewellery except that they are separated by 3000 years!20180710_131025.jpg The piece de resistance  in the rooms is a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet, and a friend of Charles Dickens and later his literary executor.  The stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum, mainly in a series of standardised gold settings, often of the coronet or galleried type. How absolutely staggering!20180710_131546.jpgBut even the staircase to the upper level of the collections is amazing. You could spend hours in here……20180710_130006.jpgOn the way out we peeped at the Cast Halls, closed for refurbishment, but worth a look over the balcony….20180710_131811_001.jpg…..and so to the long, long tunnel leading back to the Tube…I certainly did my 10,000 steps today….How lucky we are that our son and lovely daughter-in-law live in London. I wouldn’t like to, but I love what London has (including Jennifer and David!)……20180710_133749.jpg

A trip to Wells Somerset……

20180701_133050.jpgTwo night’s away for F’s birthday present and I chose Wells, England’s second smallest city (after only the City of London). We stayed at the Lord Leazes Hotel in Chard as this got extremely good write-ups. However it was strange driving on a convoluted route through a large housing estate and then down a short country lane to arrive there. As our room wasn’t ready we asked to leave our suitcase and were directed to our room. Bad mistake! With unmade bed and the detritus of someone else’s occupation it was a horrible experience, and I nearly sought out somewhere else. Anyhow off we went to Wells and our first impressions on walking from the car park into the centre were very favourable, with neat streets of old houses (above and below)……20180701_143941.jpgand a historic market place crammed with characterful buildings…20180701_133342.jpg20180701_133318.jpg20180701_133540.jpgThe range of independent shops we had passed was impressive too…First stop for lunch was ASK which, as often with them, was in a lovely old building, in this case the former market hall also in the square. ask-italian-wells.jpgWe used a couple of offers by virtue of the kind waitress booking us theoretically onto two separate tables…mine a glass of Aperol spritz which was delicious..the meal and service were great.20180701_140522.jpgNext to the Bishop’s Palace free with our HHA cards and the major reason for our visit. On entering through the imposing gatehouse…20180703_110837.jpg…..the first you see is the moat which along with the battlements surround all fours sides of the grounds20180701_154354.jpg20180701_144504.jpgThe inner precinct is approached over a drawbridge. This is all a very impressive-looking assemblage of buildings. In the 14th century, Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury continued the building of the original palace and he had an uneasy relationship with the citizens of Wells, partly because of his imposition of taxes. Thus he surrounded his palace with the crenellated walls,  moat and a drawbridge. None of this was built for serious defence as the walls are flimsy and the moat shallow. But it served its purpose.20180701_144754.jpg 20180701_144729.jpgInside a harmonious range of buildings. In this view the original palace on the left, the chapel, and the ruined wall of the banqueting hall. 20180701_144934.jpgOn close inspection, the hall built by Bishop Burnell as a splendid dining and entertaining hall, was built c.1290 alongside his chapel. Although only two walls and the four corner turrets survive, it is still one of the most impressive examples of a medieval open hall; its huge size reflects the power held by Bishop Burnell as a leading statesman of his time. It is the third largest secular hall in England after Canterbury and Westminster Palace. Built in the Early English Decorative style, elements of this can be seen in the remaining wonderfully large windows…….20180701_145936.jpg20180701_150743.jpgAs part of our visit we did a grounds tour with a very knowledgeable guide, and here we are walking on a section of the ramparts…20180701_152411.jpgthen proceeding through one of the many beautiful gardens…20180701_152919.jpg20180701_152907.jpgbefore getting to a point where there are spectacular views of the Cathedral itself….20180701_153314.jpg20180702_094114.jpg20180701_153628.jpgWe then looked at the three wells or springs – in Anglo-Saxon, wella -, to which Wells owes both its name and its origins….they bubble up continuously at a point which is now within the gardens. The most northerly spring was held to be a holy well and was dedicated to St Andrew. The springs are a result of the geology of the surrounding area. When it rains, water runs off the Mendip Hills and disappears into a system of underground channels and rivers. When it reaches Wells the water hits a layer of mudstone and is forced up through clefts in the rock to form what are known as the springs. On average 4 million gallons of water flow from the springs every day.20180701_153836.jpg20180701_155131.jpguse of the springs is made in the community allotment gardens which are also within the precinct….20180701_155614.jpgWhat a wonderful spot for the citizens of Wells, the gardens are quite magnificent….20180701_155641.jpgInside the chapel was quite as restful as the grounds…Built by Bishop Robert Burnell at around the same time as the adjoining Great Hall in the late-thirteenth century, the windows are surprisingly large for the period and the tracery in them is an exceptionally fine example of the Early English style. The roof bosses are of naturalistic foliage and bizarre animals painted in traditional medieval colours.                                                           The Chapel was restored by Bishop George Henry Law in the nineteenth century. In the windows he used fragments of French medieval glass from churches in the Rouen area, which were destroyed in the revolutionary era.20180701_160201.jpgThe Bishop’s Palace dates from the early-thirteenth century when Bishop Jocelin Trotman, the first Bishop to hold the title Bishop of Bath and Wells, received a crown licence to build a residence and deer park on land to the south of the Cathedral of St Andrew, and inside there are lots of reminders of how it has developed through the centuries…20180701_160618.jpg20180701_160756.jpgThis piece of wood carving presumably very recent is very good….20180701_160907.jpgand the dining hall atmospheric20180701_160924.jpgI enjoyed the pictures of past Bishops including the large one of Laud who was responsible for the splendid Canterbury Quadrangle at my old college St Johns….20180701_161152.jpgUnsure which arms these are…more research needed, but obviously could be William Piers Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1663……20180701_161313.jpgOn the way back to Chard from Wells we pulled in for refreshments at The King’s Arms at a beautiful little village called Charlton Horethorne…vintage Jag sports car outside, not at all like the pesky Ford influenced ones now. We wished we were staying here…never mind……20180701_180522.jpgNext day first port of call was the NT’s Barrington Court It was a hot one. We were there to see the gardens mainly and the various rooms and borders were exceptional. It just made me want a herbaceous border of my own all the more. Must look into this.20180702_103804.jpg20180702_103856.jpgBuilt in c.1550 for William Clifton, a prosperous London merchant, Barrington Court is a typical early-Elizabethan E-plan house built of honey-coloured Ham stone. The original entrance façade to the south consists of two long projecting wings enclosing a forecourt and is topped with a riot of finials and spiral chimneys. Inside, apart from 2 overmantels, one of which depicts the Judgment of Solomon, little original decoration survives. In 1907, neglected and dilapidated, Barrington was the first country house to be acquired by the National Trust, although the Trust was unable to find the funds necessary for its repair. In 1920 it was let to Colonel A.A. Lyle, who restored the house and filled it with his fine collections of oak panelling and other interior fittings.                                           Strode House (below), built in 1674, was originally a stable block. This grand, red brick building bears the initials of William Strode II, who was keen to display evidence of his wealth by housing his horses and carriages in style. It was remodelled and restored in the 1920s for the Lyle family’s use, and they added a connecting corridor from it to the Court. So there are two houses to explore as well as the gardens.20180702_110346.jpg20180702_110626.jpgColonel Lyle (yes, of the sugar dynasty) really did have a passion for collecting historic woodwork and other architectural features, salvaged from houses that were neglected or abandoned. The items he saved included linenfold panneling, fireplaces and surrounds, and a staircase saved from a Scottish castle and installed in the east hall. Together with his architect, E.F. Forbes, Colonel Lyle put his collection to good use during the Court’s restoration between 1920 and 1925.20180702_113837.jpg20180702_113907.jpg20180702_115723.jpg20180702_114213.jpg20180702_120901.jpgIt is very instructive to see the before and after pictures of the long gallery, showing it when it was used as a farm building in the 1920’s and then after restoration….what a great job Lyle and his architect did.20180702_120043-1.jpg20180702_115950.jpgPlenty of inspiring views from the house both to the wider world and internally….20180702_120109.jpg20180702_113407.jpgWalking through the fruit and veg garden on the way back it was obvious the gardeners believe in the magic French marigolds can do!20180702_122012.jpgFootpaths everywhere were different and well-maintained….20180702_105229.jpg20180702_105608.jpgThe white garden……..20180702_105810.jpgOur next step was another NT property nearby Montacute House.…..We had a drink and something to eat in the rather nice pub at the end of the village and then admired the village of Monatcute itself. Built almost entirely of the local hamstone, from the 15th century until the beginning of the 20th century it formed the heart of the estate of the Phelips family of Montacute House. 20180702_130025.jpg20180702_130208.jpg First built in the 12th century the church contains monuments to the Phelips family, of Montacute House. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore20180702_130343.jpg20180702_131351.jpgMontacute House is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, the glow of the ham stone and its surrounding gardens, it is certainly a place of beauty and wonder. Sir Edward Phelips was the visionary force and money behind it, and it was completed in 1601. Built by skilled craftsman using local  stone under the instruction of William Arnold, master mason, the house was a statement of wealth, ambition and showmanship.                                                                                           Sir Edward Phelips made his fortune as a lawyer, enjoying a successful political career after entering Parliament in 1584 and becoming speaker of the House of Commons from 1601-1611.  Edward played a key role in one of the trials of the century, making the opening statement for the prosecution against the notorious Guy Fawkes and his fellow gunpowder plotters.                                                                                                                             The architecture is a mix of two styles, the traditional Gothic and the new fashionable Renaissance, with ideas and influences coming from the continent.  The house was built on a grand scale with turrets, obelisks, shell niches, pavilions and walls of glass.  On the east front stand the Nine Worthies, statues of biblical, classical and medieval figures, including Julius Caesar and King Arthur.20180702_141601.jpg20180702_141321.jpg20180702_141357.jpgSir Edward takes pride of place as you would expect in the entrance hall……20180702_141750.jpgFamily portraits line the walls …..20180702_142231.jpgThis remarkable C17 plasterwork frieze panel in the Great Hall tells a story. On the left, a husband is being chastised by his wife for drinking while minding the baby. On the right, a (perhaps the) man is seen “riding the Skimmington”, being carried around the village on a pole while being mocked…………20180702_142236.jpg20180702_142328.jpgIn 1787 the house was occupied by a later Edward Phelips, who gave it a face lift.  Remarkably he took an ornamental façade from another local 16th century house, Clifton Maybank, and added it to the west front.  It meant the layout of the house could be changed. On the ground floor, rooms were enlarged and fireplaces added. The first floor was transformed by the creation of a corridor; family and visitors could have privacy and their own door.  Before this, family and visitors would have to go through each other’s rooms to get from one side of the house to the other.    20180702_114402.jpg                                    20180702_145513.jpg20180702_145834.jpg20180702_143018.jpgBy 1895 Montacute House was being leased to tenants, the most notable being Lord Curzon, who took the lease from 1915 till his death in 1925.  Two portraits, one of the Lord and another his mistress Elinor Glyn are touchingly together. The painting of Elinor is particularly powerful…..20180702_144403.jpgHis personal bathroom in a cupboard is quite remarkable……20180702_144414.jpgFour years later, Gerard Almarus Phelips felt he had no alternative but to sell the house.  It eventually made its way into the possession of the National Trust, but the house was virtually bare except for the Phelips family portraits and Lord Curzon’s bath.  Much of the collection in place today came via a bequest from the industrialist Sir Malcolm Stewart, ‘…for the adornment of Montacute House in order that it may re-assume its former character.’                                                                                                                                        The Long Gallery extends the full length of the house. Measuring an amazing 172 feet from end to end, making it the longest surviving Elizabethan gallery in the country, and an amazing place to be. On a rainy day no trouble getting my 7000 steps in……     20180702_155308.jpgAnd in rooms off the Gallery there are lots of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, a great touch. Mind you most of them are by artists unknown or ‘after’ so the NPG not quite as generous as I thought first. If you’re interested in British History, there’s plenty to interest you….. and me. Here Thomas More (his hair shirt we have seen in Buckland Abbey).20180702_153231.jpgHere Jane Seymour, not exactly a beauty….’after Holbein’….20180702_153317.jpgand Katherine Parr…20180702_153339.jpg20180702_153405.jpgHere Sir William Butts ‘after Holbein’ and physician to Henry VIII. The original is in America and this is dated to Elizabeth’s reign, so it indicates an interest by Elizabethan patrons in early Tudor history…..20180702_153513.jpgAnd here Elizabeth ‘by an unknown artist’. Painted in the 1580’s this together with similar portraits copying early originals shows an increased demand for images of the Queen….It was discovered in a blackened state in 1890 built into the fireplace of a blacksmith’s cottage in Sussex. Astonishing!20180702_153801.jpgEssex ‘by an unknown artist’ shows him as the adventurer he was. Painted on English oak from the West Midlands…..20180702_153832.jpgand his co-conspirator the Earl of Southampton. they led a badly planned rebellion against Elizabeth. Both condemned to death, Southampton survived (he had been a favourite of Elizabeth).20180702_154704.jpg20180702_153907.jpgHere Sir Christopher Hatton (you’ve guessed it) ‘by an unknown artist’ . He became Lord Chancellor and was visited by the Queen on his deathbed. he is shown holding a cameo of the Queen.20180702_154040.jpgThis portrait of James I is thought to have been presented to the builder of Montacute Sir Edward Phelips. By John de Critz.20180702_154514.jpgand his daughter Elizabeth for a very short while Queen of Bohemia…there is a special exhibition about ‘the Winter Queen’ in one room..

Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662) was an extraordinary political and cultural figure in the networks of power that spanned seventeenth-century Europe. Born in Scotland, she was the goddaughter of Elizabeth I, sister of Charles I and grandmother of George I.

This special display in Room 4 exploring Elizabeth’s life and portraits has been developed by the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery, in partnership with the University of Bristol, as part of the National Trust’s year of events on ‘Women and Power’.

Strikingly beautiful and highly educated, at sixteen Elizabeth was married to a German count, Frederick, Elector Palatine. Ruling from Heidelberg, the Protestant couple were drawn into the religious wars that raged across Christian Europe when Frederick was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia. After little more than a year, they were expelled from Prague, the capital of Bohemia, and their German dominions by Catholic forces and forced to flee to The Netherlands where they settled in The Hague.

Elizabeth spent the rest of her life campaigning for the restitution of the German lands of the Palatinate, first to her husband, and then to her children. Hundreds of her letters survive, many written in code. Initially described in scorn as the ‘Winter Queen’ because her reign in Bohemia had lasted only a single winter, the term was adopted by her supporters as a sign of affectionate respect.

Elizabeth became a symbol of militant Protestantism in Europe whose supporters proclaimed allegiance to her as ‘Queen of Hearts’ and her descendants played a crucial role in the continuity of Protestant rule in Britain. Her grandson, the eldest son of her youngest daughter Sophia, was invited to take the British throne as George I after the Stuart line ended with the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

This display was inspired by the important early seventeenth-century bed associated with Elizabeth’s marriage that is on permanent display in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House. The ornate carved headboard includes the Royal Arms of James I, flanked by the Prince of Wales escutcheon and the arms of the Elector Palatine. Sir Edward Phelips, the builder of Montacute House, was closely associated with the Stuart royal family and paid for a masque written in celebration of Elizabeth’s marriage in 1613.

20180702_155049.jpgand her son, one of my favourites, the dashing and scholarly Prince Rupert20180702_155143.jpg20180702_154933.jpgA portrait you’ll agree absolutely full of character ‘by an unknown artist’.20180702_154310.jpgNow this which I like also for its character is by Joshua Reynolds but in this case of an unknown sitter!20180702_142547.jpgOutside the weather was still sweltering…20180702_160519.jpg20180702_160649.jpg20180702_160533.jpgso off we went to Lyme Regis…it could well be called a genteel watering hole, and whereas I dislike gravel beaches, the pebbles on this beach are lovely although, as my research reveals, imported!20180702_180631.jpg20180702_174001.jpg20180702_174353.jpg20180702_174438.jpg20180702_180918.jpgsome very quirky houses right on the front…20180702_181036.jpg20180702_181203.jpg20180702_181210.jpgand some nice looking pubs which I like to see……20180703_105655.jpgOn our last day we decided to return to Wells as we had liked it so much and visit the Cathedral this time. We parked near Waitrose and had a lovely walk in again.20180703_105734.jpgIt’s a pity we didn’t have time to visit St Cuthbert’s as it is often mistaken for the cathedral and a very impressive Grade I church….20180703_105920.jpg20180703_110837.jpgWe visited the cathedral first for a general look around…and then for an hour’s guided tour. Here the famous West front of course…… 20180703_135840.jpg20180703_133725.jpgand here the cloisters..20180703_111204.jpg20180703_111211.jpgand the unique scissor arches………. The scissor arches, which often visitors believe to be later, modern additions were constructed from 1338-48 as an engineering solution to a very real problem.                                                                                                                                           By 1313 a high tower topped by a lead covered wooden spire had been constructed but as the foundations were not stable large cracks began to appear in the tower structure.  In fear of a total collapse, several attempts at internal strengthening and buttressing were made, until the famous ‘scissor arches’ were put in place by master mason William Joy as a final solution.20180703_111441.jpgThe Stations of The Cross around the nave were beautiful, but it seems very Catholic?

“The Stations of the Cross is a very old devotion; it may well originate in the desire of Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and be in the place where Jesus went to his death. Most Catholic churches nowadays will have ‘stations’ (the name means ‘stopping-places’), in the form of fourteen pictures or sculptures or engravings, or sometimes simple crosses, to allow Christians to pause (‘stop’) and enter reflectively into those last moments of Jesus’s journey of love, and to pray by imagining themselves in Jerusalem with him. Over the centuries the number and format of this devotion has changed a good deal, but it has had its present form since the 15th Century.”

20180703_111520.jpgInteresting monuments as you would expect….here Bishop Still..20180703_111755.jpgThe Georgians in their desire to show ecstasy in the translation to Heaven often sculpted extremely sexy figures……dating from 1703 this figure is supposed to be Bishop Stiller’s mourning daughter looking up at urns containing her two dead parents, who were killed when a chimney stack collapsed on them….20180703_111832.jpgThese well-worn steps are probably some of the most famous there are…often called the ‘sea of steps’…….20180703_111858.jpg20180703_111932.jpgThey lead to the chapter house…an amazing piece of architecture…20180703_112027.jpg20180703_112258.jpg20180703_112039.jpgIntricate sculpture had developed considerably since the early Gothic period and the Chapter House is a triumph of the decorated style. Delicate ball-flower surrounds each window arch and the vault bosses have beautiful leaf designs. Seats round the outer walls give places to more than forty prebendaries or canons, to meet together and discuss the affairs of the cathedral…….20180703_112135.jpg Legal proceedings were also carried out from time to time. Each seat is marked with headstops under the canopies and in all the corners there are humorous and mischievous faces…..here one sticking out his tongue at the Dean’s place directly opposite….20180703_135421.jpg‘The Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral is one of the most splendid examples of 14th century stained glass in Europe. It dates from about 1340 and, considering its age, is still remarkably intact. Fortunately, the window has survived the vicissitudes of time and British history (narrowly escaping destruction during the English Civil War) and so what we see today is basically how medieval glaziers designed and created it and how our ancestors viewed it before us.’wellsjessewindowpic.jpgThe Choir is as one might expect splendid….20180703_112627.jpgand we managed to squeeze in a brief look around the Library with its chained books..20180703_125343.jpgThe tour guide we had was very knowledgeable about architecture, giving us an easily understandable explanation of the move in the cathedral from Gothic or ‘French Style’ through Decorated to Perpendicular. Great to have a good guide….now outside I was anxious to see Vicar’s Close. Vicars’ Close was built over 650 years ago to house the Vicars Choral and it has since been continuously inhabited by their successors.  Vicars’ Close is unique; physically connected to Wells Cathedral and the most complete example of a medieval Close in the UK.  It embodies an internationally renowned musical heritage. A privilege to see it…20180703_140220.jpg20180703_140127.jpgOn the way back to the car we passed through a couple of streets filled with Georgian architecture….20180703_140805.jpg20180703_140901.jpgand by chance the memorial to Harry Patch20180703_140407.jpgThe inscription says it all…….3780549_54e3f025.jpgSomerset is a very large county with a lot going for it, but we saw some of the very best during our visit…..