House-hunting in Cheshire……Part 2

we 20190617_122118 copy.jpgWe were off for another week’s house-hunting in Cheshire, having narrowed our search down to Sandbach and district and, rather than belt up the Motorway, we decided to use the ‘old’ route up through the border country. What a terrific decision. So pleasant driving through the rural and idyllic counties of  Monmouth, Hereford and Shropshire then into Cheshire. And always an impressive start to a journey to cross into Wales via either of the Severn bridges….20190617_122222 copy.jpgWe broke the journey for lunch at All Saints in Hereford. It was a wonderful find. The cafe is incorporated in the fabric of the church in such a way that it greatly adds to the atmosphere and the every day use of the church itself. It is so well done and the food is unusually delicious. More city centre churches should do this as well as this one does, and reap the benefits.20190617_134500 copy.jpgSuitably refreshed, we took the opportunity to look round the church itself (another bonus to the church of having the cafe) and it was fascinating. Basically it is      Fourteenth Century.               20190617_140504 copy.jpg                   There are some wonderful misericords….20190617_141127 copy.jpegbreathtaking Minton tiles…20190617_141204 copy.jpegand a famous, indeed infamous, rude carving in the roof…..d49df3f3892cec2874e7d2cbd2aa24c4.jpg        ….apparently the current vicar wanted to make some money out of this by publishing postcards etc but he was stopped by the PCC who ruled it out as too inappropriate! 20190617_141929-copy.jpg                   Our little tour of the church over, we wandered around the town itself to admire many wonderful buildings…..20190617_141631 copy.jpeg.20190617_142420-copy.jpg                 …we noted how bucolic the city really was….not many city centres after all have offices for a cattle society….

20190617_142221 copy.jpeg                        we said hello to Elgar on the cathedral green….. 20190617_142505 copy.jpg20190617_142540-copy.jpegand marvelled at the exterior of one of our great cathedrals…..20190617_142513 copy.jpg20190617_143525 copy.jpegResuming, we eventually reached our destination – Holly Cottage near Holmes Chapel, and settled in to farmyard life! 20190618_172231 copy.jpgThe cottage was everything you would want and we had our own little garden..20190619_114429 copy.jpgand the owner’s farmhouse was just typical of Black and White Cheshire…20190619_114403 copy.jpgAfter some serious hard work house-hunting the next two days, for F’s birthday on the 19th we went in the evening to ‘The Lost and Found’ in Knutsford. We travelled by train from Holmes Chapel calling at many little stations on the way – every small village in this part of Cheshire seems to have its own station. Remarkable.20190619_172121 copy.jpgThe restaurant was full of character and we really enjoyed ourselves.20190619_183927 copy.jpeg20190619_184637 copy.jpgOn a ‘day off’ we again used the train to go to Liverpool  – somewhere I haven’t been for a long time. As soon as you come out of Lime Street station you are confronted with the most marvellous array of public buildings among them St George’s Hall, the Walker Art Gallery, various museums and the Central Library, all worthy of a capital city. Indeed we both had the feeling that we were in somewhere much akin to Barcelona or Lisbon.  Who knew that Liverpool was as impressive as this? We were taken aback.20190620_112127 copy.jpeg20190620_112139 copy.jpgOpposite was the Empire Theatre where I once, with my first girlfriend,  saw Ken Dodd perform. The show started at 7.30 pm, and by midnight Ken was informing us that the doors were locked and we wouldn’t get out until he had finished! The Empire has the largest two-tier auditorium in Britain and can seat 2,348 people.20190620_112452 copy.jpegA lovely park set off all the buildings around here. 20190620_112958 copy.jpgAs we progressed through the city towards the sea the buildings remained impressive.20190620_113722 copy.jpg20190620_114532 copy.jpg20190620_114619 copy.jpeg20190620_114809 copy.jpeg20190620_114920 copy.jpg                       It’s always nice to see the Liver birds…on the Royal Liver Building……20190620_115113 copy.jpeg20190620_120354 copy.jpg20190620_120718 copy.jpgAnd the front of the city facing the sea was busy and stylish…..full of museums which unfortunately we had no time to see….20190620_120859 copy.jpg20190620_121114 copy.jpg20190620_121127 copy.jpg20190620_121427 copy.jpgWe walked from the pierhead towards the Albert Dock and along the way noted the last sailing ship to operate commercially out of the port, astonishingly working the Irish route until the 1950’s.20190620_121609 copy.jpg20190620_121635 copy.jpeg20190620_121834 copy.jpg20190620_122133 copy.jpgThe Albert Dock itself was lovely, a great conversion, full of people. The flats looked stylish but the shops and restaurants were leaning a wee bit towards tat and greasy food unfortunately. But that didn’t take away from the splendour of the buildings and setting.20190620_122251 copy.jpg20190620_122153 copy.jpg20190620_122651 copy.jpeg20190620_123309 copy.jpgWe moved into town to seek somewhere to eat…20190620_124225 copy.jpegand because we couldn’t find my carefully researched rooftop cafe with a view, we ended up in the shopping centre and a rather conventional lunch at John Lewis’s….not to be sniffed at with a glass of wine. The shopping centre was great too…… very clean, modern and sleek and there was a nice ‘grassed’ area for lunch and watching buskers…all in all a memorable visit to a city that has recovered all its old vim and vigour and self-esteem. I almost like it better than the greatest city of them all (Manchester).20190620_152600 copy.jpg20190620_143035 copy.jpgAnother of our trips out was to Tatton Park…..National Trust, although even as members we had to pay a £7 parking charge which seems a bit steep. Still all money goes to a good cause I suppose. 20190621_164104 copy.jpgJust as when last time we had visited Lymm Hall it was really notable how friendly, helpful and knowledgeable all the guides were. It makes a visit so much more rewarding. But then, as we all know, everybody is friendly in the north west! the entrance hall is rather splendid…..20190621_151722-copy-1.jpegand the spectacular painting ‘The Cheshire Hunt 1839’ almost dominating the hall shows three generations of the Egertons who owned Tatton.20190621_152005-copy.jpg20190621_151647 copy.jpegThe music and drawing room is the most ostentatious room in the house; Tatton’s collection of Gillow furniture is unrivalled. Wilbraham Egerton’s ownership (1777–1853) saw the commission of many pieces especially for the house. 4817085997_f6c7d05976_b.jpgViews from many of the rooms were of the 50 acres of gardens and series of lakes for which Tatton is well-known. they descend all the way down to Knutsford town centre. Lewis William Wyatt and Joseph Paxton, architect of Crystal Palace, designed various elements. 20190621_160243 copy.jpgThe Library is a perfectly symmetrical room, in keeping with the formality of the neo-classical style. It houses one of the largest and most important library collections owned by the National Trust with over 8,000 books in this room alone, many still in their original covers and in mint condition. We had a fascinating conversation with the guide in this room who is very knowledgeable about the books and gives one of their 10 minute talks on the library. We will be sure to go. 20190621_152927 copy.jpgNo-one can resist a portrait of any of the Tudors…..20190621_155640 copy.jpegAll in all time very well spent. We then were able to drive through the grounds past the lakes into Knutsford where we had another wander around this delightful town.20190621_174159 copy.jpg20190621_174437 copy.jpg20190621_170550 copy.jpgParts of Knutsford seem very Italianate….you could almost be on the side of Lake Garda. They are nearly all the work of Richard Harding Watt (1842-1913) who was a local philanthropist, traveller and idealist with a passion for building, who made his fortune from glove making in Manchester. He worked with four professional architects to transform the townscape of Knutsford with a series of eccentric buildings.20190621_172740 copy.jpg20190621_172958 copy.jpg20190621_173101 copy.jpgElizabeth Gaskell of course used Knutsford as Cranford and there is a suitable monument to her in the town……20190621_174750 copy.jpgWe also strolled along the side of Knutsford’s own lake…how pleasant!20190621_173613 copy.jpgOur little garden waited for us in the sun at the end of the day…20190621_191529 copy.jpgOne day we looked again at Tarporley a wonderful small village/town. nice to live here but a bit too expensive for us…..20190622_113023 copy.jpg20190622_125938 copy.jpg20190622_131126 copy.jpgSunday lunch was at the Bells of Lower Peover. yet another fantastic Cheshire pub….there are many.20190623_140435 copy.jpgWhilst there we had a good look at St Oswalds and a little stroll around the lanes….20190623_122901-copy.jpg20190623_122624 copy.jpg20190623_122712 copy.jpg20190623_123509 copy.jpgDriving on to Rostherene we were greeted by the vicar in the church and had a very interesting half hour conversation with him. Amusingly on the way out we bumped into presumably his wife who asked ‘Well, did you learn a lot?!’ with eyebrow raised!20190623_143053 copy.jpgAmazing how sentimental the Victorians were..there’s nothing like the Victorians!20190623_144454 copy.jpgThe view from the back of the churchyard to where the vicar directed us was lovely…..the deepest and largest mere in Cheshire. We had a great 10 minutes admiring the scene.20190623_151230 copy.jpg 20190623_151825 copy.jpgUnusual to see a gravestone we would more expect to see where we live near the sea…..20190623_152158 copy.jpg A good week both for house-hunting and enjoying Cheshire. We decided to return home the ‘old’ way again.  On our way a delightful village green…20190623_160113 copy.jpgand I couldn’t resist stopping to take a pic of the roadside verge. How much better it is when less cutting of verges takes place….20190624_112311 copy.jpgThis time before exiting Cheshire we called in to one of the prettiest villages in Cheshire in the deep south of the county – Malpas.20190624_114049 copy.jpgIn its centre and at its highest point stood the magnificent church of St Oswalds.20190624_114517 copy.jpgVery imposing gateways to the churchyard were set off by some imposing buildings…20190624_114153 copy.jpg20190624_114631.jpgInside there are many treasures. This oak chest dates from the second half of the 13th century.20190624_114728 copy.jpg20190624_114746 copy.jpgThe roof is quite exceptional being a fine late C15 camber-beam affair with ornate bosses and angels (restored but none the worse for that) on the corbels. 20190624_115307 copy.jpeg20190624_114751 copy.jpgIn the Brereton chapel the tomb is that of Sir Randal Brereton and his wife, and is dated 1522. The monument in the Cholmondeley chapel was erected in 1605 and represents Sir Hugh Cholmondeley and his second wife, Mary.20190624_115109 copy.jpegThe usual little children and followers carved around the tomb itself are cute….20190624_115153 copy.jpeg20190624_115418 copy.jpeg20190624_120102 copy.jpgLunch stop this time was in Church Stretton which I hadn’t visited since a sixth-form History trip in the sixties. Spreading over its hillside site it made a good last stop.20190624_133031 copy.jpg

A week in the heart of rural England…..part 5

20190326_135201 copy.jpgOn our last full day we drove south to Hednesford to meet F’s long-lost cousin Philip. Well a cousin she knew nothing about at all til recently. He had been in touch because of a clue thrown up in researching the family history. F’s grandfather was a miners leader and Mayor of Tamworth, and his brothers were all miners. Philip’s grandfather was one of the brothers. Thus it was that we met him for a nice chat and for him to show us where he had got to, and then he took us to the nearby Museum of Cannock Chase a lot of whose exhibits are to do with mining which proliferated around here. The museum site was once home to the Valley Colliery, the training pit for thousands of young men beginning their working lives in the local coal industry.20190326_133852 copy.jpgHednesford as with any ex mining community has seen better days and lost its soul along with the industry. What was impressive in terms of its buildings was, of all things, the Wetherspoons which was a summer retreat for the brother of Prime Minister Peel. A fine building indeed.20190326_140352 copy.jpegWe also liked the mining sculpture……20190326_140543 copy.jpgand the hundreds and hundreds of memorial bricks set around it and filling the square…20190326_140253.jpegAn interesting interlude which I hope will lead to further findings.20190326_141022 copy.jpgSo far, the following entry in Wikipedia gives some hope…..

George Henry Jones (1884 – December 1958) was a British trade unionist and politician.

Born in Hednesford, Jones began working as a pit-boy at an early age.[1] He became active in the Cannock Chase Miners’ Association, and was elected as its president in 1912. In 1914, he became the full-time general secretary and agent for the North Warwickshire Miners’ Association, and then in 1919 became general secretary and agent for the larger Warwickshire Miners’ Association.[1]

Jones was also active in the Labour Party, serving on Tamworth Town Council, and he stood in the Tamworth by-election, 1922, taking a distant second place, with 31.2% of the vote.[1][2] Eventually, he served as Mayor of Tamworth.[3] At the 1931 and 1935 UK general elections, he stood unsuccessfully in Lichfield.[4][5]

In about 1930, Jones was elected as secretary of the Midland Miners’ Federation, to which all his previous unions were affiliated; he remained leader of the Warwickshire Miners. He served on the executive of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB). He remained in post as the MFGB became the National Union of Mineworkers, but left his trade union posts in 1947, to become Labour Director of the West Midlands Coal Board, then in 1950 became its vice-chair.[3] He retired in 1952, although he continued to serve as a part-time member of the board until his death, four years later.[6]

  1. ^  a b c The Labour Who’s Who. London: The Labour Publishing Company. 1924. p. 94.
  2. ^ Debrett’s House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1922
  3. ^ a b “Obituary: George Henry Jones”. Report of the 58th Annual Conference of the Labour Party: 52. 1957.
  4. ^ Kimber, Richard. “UK General Election results October 1931”. Political Science Resources. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  5. ^ Kimber, Richard. “UK General Election results November 1935”. Political Science Resources. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  6. ^ “National Coal Board: Changes at West Midlands and South Western Headquarters”. Information Bulletin. National Union of Mineworkers. 1952.

Our next port of call as it was near was a place I had always wanted to visit. The church and vicarage which were at the centre of the novel by Julian Barnes ‘Arthur and George’. This was based on a true story about a solicitor George Edalji whose mother and father’s home this was. Unusually his father the vicar was a convert from a Bombay Parsi family. Anyhow George was accused of maiming animals at night in and around the village, a series of events that came to be known as the Great Wyrley Outrages. In a case of gross injustice he was found guilty and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took an interest and ensured that the matter of George’s conviction became a national issue. After a long campaign Doyle’s efforts led to a Court of Inquiry and a pardon. Some good came out of the whole affair as Edalji’s case and the associated campaign were factors in the creation of England’s Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907.        I have to say that our visit here was a great disappointment to me. There was absolutely no mention anywhere whatsoever of all of this case. I know the church’s business is religion and worship. But the vicarage and the church and Edalji’s father’s position were integral to the whole affair. Surely it might help draw people to this now anonymous suburb of Walsall to at least outline the story? Would that not be a good thing? Anyhow I am glad I came.

20190326_144956 copy.jpg20190326_145332-copy.jpg20190326_145050 copy.jpg20190326_145201.jpegOn the way back to our cottage we called one more time at Sandbach to have a further look around and shop at Waitrose for our evening meal (I said this town had everything!). It didn’t disappoint and we found even more lovely lovely areas….20190326_165719 copy.jpg20190326_165813 copy.jpg20190326_165851 copy.jpg20190326_170030 copy.jpeg20190326_170441 copy.jpgThe next day we set out reasonably early as we were undertaking the journey back to Cornwall not the way we had come by Motorway nearly all the way but on the ‘old’ route down the border country of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Gwent. It was a good decision. Marvellous weather, fantastic countryside and the bonus of stopping for lunch in Ludlow one of my favourite places…..20190327_135803 copy.jpeg20190327_140005 copy.jpgAs it happened, the Charlton Arms Hotel had just stopped serving so we made do with a drink and a bag of crisps, but with this view who cares?20190327_141112 copy.jpg

A week in the heart of rural England…..part 4

20190324_113352 copy.jpegOur cottage was near Holmes Chapel, but we hadn’t had a look there yet. So this morning  we parked up and explored. Not much to see except a perfectly pleasant town with everything you would want, well-kept, with a station (as have most towns around here), and a charming area around the church. A nice place to live, but too expensive for us (as are most ‘nice places’!).20190324_113443 copy.jpg20190324_113532 copy.jpegIt must have a good community spirit as you see from the herb bins..20190324_113658 copy.jpegOur prime destination today a Sunday was Capesthorne Hall which we could visit free with our HHA cards. A very imposing building, the red brick hall was built in the Jacobean style between 1719 and 1732, the turrets and pinnacles being added a hundred years later. Much remodeling was carried out by the architect Anthony Salvin following a disastrous fire at the hall in 1861.20190324_121510 copy.jpeg20190324_121548 copy.jpgWe were early, so we had chance of a bite to eat in the cafe and we walked around the gardens to visit the chapel 20190324_121745 copy.jpg20190324_125858 copy.jpeg20190324_125909 copy.jpg20190324_130102 copy.jpeg20190324_130244 copy.jpegAfterwards we built up our daily steps with a walk around the nearest lake. I say the nearest because there are several……20190324_130558 copy.jpeg20190324_130638 copy.jpg20190324_131011 copy.jpgOn our return to the Hall I took this pic of the front ‘veranda’ where every alcove held a glass case complete with stuffed bird, an unusual feature to say the least.20190324_132908 copy.jpeg                           As is normal with ‘private’ houses, no photography allowed inside, so a couple of shots from on-line. The staff were very friendly which is great and as I was asking after one or two of the paintings, a kind lady member of staff lent me her guide for the duration of our visit. Terrific.Capesthorne-Hall-interior copy.jpgholdenby.jpgWe wanted to see Northwich having visited the other two wiches, but didn’t linger very long as it is both industrial (salt and chemicals) and run down. Obviously there will be parts of interest but we didn’t want to waste any time looking for them! Instead we headed off into the countryside North and stopped at the extremely pretty Great Budworth. Could any village be pleasanter? Should you be able to afford living here, you might want to think about the cons of living on a film-set with thousands and thousands of  visitors………20190324_154658 copy.jpeg20190324_154457 copy.jpeg20190324_154630 copy.jpg20190324_155504 copy.jpg20190324_154709 copy.jpg20190324_154819 copy.jpg20190324_155635 copy.jpg20190324_154849.jpg20190324_154901 copy.jpg20190324_155106 copy.jpg20190324_155150 copy.jpg                  …..and then as Great Budworth sits atop a hill you have a fine view, admittedly in the far distance, of the nearby chemical works!20190324_163454 copy.jpgTo cap our day off Martin had recommended we visit Mow Cop a folly high up with a 360 degree view of the Cheshire plain and chunks of Staffordshire. It was well worth the effort in finding it (not simple).  20190325_180723 copy.jpeg20190325_181330 copy.jpeg20190325_181334 copy.jpg

A week in the heart of rural England…….part 3

20190323_110725 copy.jpeg A return visit to a pub I know well , Bells of Peover, but how its gardens have been transformed. They are absolutely beautiful. 20190323_110656 copy.jpg20190323_110747 copy.jpgThe church is rather good too in Lower Peover’s tranquil setting…20190323_110951 copy.jpeg20190323_111147 copy.jpg20190323_111032 copy.jpegand we loved the alert owl outside the local Primary School. As a matter of fact we saw many wooden owls during our week – must be someone who likes to carve them!20190323_112020 copy.jpgNext to Knutsford. This restaurant in the old town hall looked good.20190323_115755 copy.jpegBut we ate elsewhere….seemingly dozens of choices of eating places.20190323_121447 copy.jpegKnutsford was bustling, but it is the sort of place where peace and quiet is just round the corner….20190323_123418 copy.jpg20190323_123711 copy.jpg20190323_123927 copy.jpegand there are some lovely buildings…20190323_124105 copy.jpeg20190323_124239 copy.jpg20190323_124455 copy.jpgTatton Mere stretches from the town all the way up to the eighteenth century mansion Tatton Park  a beautiful long walk…20190323_124733 copy.jpgApart from the traffic, which however no doubt helps all the shops, a super play to live. Probably outside our price range unfortunately.20190323_125159 copy.jpgFrom there via super slick Wilmslow (champagne capital of Britain) to the magnificent viewpoint (and shopping centre) of Alderley Edge. 20190323_134654 copy.jpg20190323_135018 copy.jpgManchester is on the horizon.20190323_140300 copy.jpgOnwards then to Marton  a small hamlet with a Black and White church St James and St Paul…20190323_143003 copy.jpeg20190323_143207 copy.jpegIt was brilliant to see the survival of medieval wall paintings…..20190323_143343 copy.jpg20190323_143956 copy.jpgWe then chanced upon the picture-perfect little village of Astbury ………20190323_145747 copy.jpgUnfortunately the church was locked but it was enormous, a sight to behold in such a small place. I learned afterwards that its nave is forty feet wide, wider even than Chester Cathedral.20190323_145945 copy.jpeg20190323_150026 copy.jpg

A week in the heart of rural England……Part 2

We couldn’t visit this part of England without going to Chester of course. I have been a good few times but forgot how charming it is. Beautiful streetscapes….20190322_113357 copy.jpgWonderful cathedral….20190322_113413 copy.jpgand the impressive walls….we started our walk of the two and a half mile circuit at the cathedral itself….20190322_113437 copy.jpegand were soon enjoying unparalleled views…20190322_113627 copy.jpgI suspect this was the Deanery with its beautiful gardens. It is now desirable but expensive apartments. What I wouldn’t give to live in a place like that!20190322_113923 copy.jpgAt times the walls soared on high. In this section you got a good idea of how formidable they would have been….20190322_114028 copy.jpgAnd sometimes just occasionally it is nice to look at the backs of houses. Have you ever see a prettier back view than this?20190322_114454 copy.jpegEverywhere we went was full of interest. Here, near Telford’s wharf is a sculpture of Captain Morgan’s cannon – he waste of the Royalist defenders of Chester during the Civil War.20190322_114650 copy.jpgWhen walking West we had excellent views in the  distance of The North Welsh mountains…20190322_115029 copy.jpegIn comparison with even York, Exeter or Berwick these walls are momentous…20190322_115352 copy.jpgand what you see from them is soul-lifting in this day and age….20190322_115644 copy.jpegPlenty of handsome Georgian houses….20190322_120135 copy.jpegand even the Victorian terraces were special…20190322_123053-copy.jpg….as indeed most of the modern buildings we saw….20190322_121048-copy.jpegThe walk passes very close to the race course…who would pay to get in with views like these?20190322_120544 copy.jpgand daffodils everywhere as at York..20190322_121517 copy.jpegHere the castle…….rebuilt in stone in the twelfth century…20190322_121537 copy.jpgand later used as the county hall and for courts, as at Lincoln….20190322_121724 copy.jpgThe River Dee made its presence felt for a good part of the way….20190322_122310 copy.jpeg20190322_122602 copy.jpgand whilst we didn’t manage to see much of the Roman remains on this visit we did glimpse the Roman Gardens from the walls…..20190322_123315 copy.jpgIt wouldn’t be possible that this was the perfect small city would it? Not when we saw two monstrous concrete car parks agreed by the Planners in, what, the Sixties or Seventies….I could see at the time what disastrous results they were inflicting on our heritage. Honestly, I would line all these so-called planners up standing on one leg in the blazing sun to gaze for ever at their works…20190322_123402 copy.jpeg20190322_123700 copy.jpegWe finished our walk at the famous Eastgate clock, it being lunch time. It really is rather special.20190322_123852 copy.jpeg20190322_143522 copy.jpegAnd whilst scouting out where to eat we had a good look at the famous Rows (sadly with one or two empty or run-down premises as is almost inevitable with first floor shopping20190322_124625 copy.jpegBut on the whole we certainly got the feeling that Chester was bucking the trend for city centres and was prospering. Good to see.20190322_123917 copy.jpg20190322_123930 copy.jpeg20190322_124315 copy.jpeg20190322_124501 copy.jpgWe made our way then to Tarporley, a small town which we enjoyed very much and which would be second equal in our list of places to live. Again thriving, busy, beautiful buildings and shops you want to go to.20190322_161612 copy.jpeg20190322_161953 copy.jpgWe couldn’t resist going into the sixteenth century Swan Hotel for a quick cup of tea, splendid both inside and out.20190322_170605 copy.jpgThen into deepest Cheshire where we saw the famous two castles the medieval  Beeston and Peckforton gazing at each other from their eminences…..Peckforton was a Victorian country house now turned into a hotel.two_castles_1000x666-2 copy.jpgon the way back we stopped at this very picturesque village with its lovely houses and pond complete with rare black swans..20190322_175115 copy.jpeg20190322_175112 copy.jpgWe were also held up for a long while by cows on their way to milking……but no bother!20190322_175650 copy.jpegHome at last….20190323_104744 copy.jpg

A week in the heart of rural England……..Part 1

20190320_183454 copy.jpgLooking to the future, we decided to go house hunting in Cheshire. I would like to be within striking distance of Manchester where I come from, with its magnificent facilities, and Cheshire adjoins it and is the epitome of rural England. I have looked at thousands of houses on-line and know we can find one somewhere in Cheshire which will allow us to free up a bit of capital and give us a bit of leeway in our plans (mainly travel and going out – theatres, concerts etc). We weren’t scouting particular houses but looking broadly across the whole county to assess where we would like to live.                                                         I booked a converted barn for a week which looked great in Sawdays which is usually very reliable, and so it proved. We were greeted by Martin, who farms the land, and one of his lovely dogs Beth. Martin was a great host for the whole week and gave us lots of good tips on where to go.20190320_172020 copy.jpgWe settled in very quickly and were soon enjoying the March sunshine….20190320_172207 copy.jpgand on our first evening we drove to the local pub…the Swettenham Arms…just what the doctor ordered – a nice gastropub with good ales.20190320_183816 copy.jpg20190320_184601 copy.jpg20190320_185128 copy.jpgOutside, across the car park, was the church of St Peter’s which is very unusual and interesting with its stone build, but with a brick tower….unfortunately we never got around to visiting it. Another time.20190320_184524 copy.jpgOn our first full day we set out from our cottage in the grounds of Kermincham Hall past the pond and down its long drive which gave us a feeling of grandeur every time we used it, and…..20190321_102820 copy.jpegfirst of all explored Middlewich a historic town with its name suggesting a salt town and being the middle salt town in fact between Northwich and Nantwich. The Romans first mined salt here, and it was mined and processed til fairly recently. In reality the town itself apart from an attractive area by one of the three canals….20190321_110835 copy.jpgand by the green surrounding the church…was a bit of a dump – very poor High Street with downmarket shops and giving a depressing, run down feeling. Reminiscent in fact of many towns today.20190321_111151 copy.jpgOur mood lightened considerably however when we went next  to Sandbach, a peach of a town. The first great thing about it was free parking. To the two of us who have run shops in several places it is a no-brainer. But councils everywhere seek to bleed town centres dry with heavy rates and support for out-of-town developments and the results are as obvious as they were in Middlewich. We hit upon a lovely hotel for lunch – a gastropub and boutique establishment, The Wheatsheaf. We ordered something light and settled down to read our newspaper and do the crossword between us. Forty minutes later, having completed the crossword but without food, I caught the eye of  a member of staff and explained we were waiting. She could not have been more apologetic and efficient. Our open sandwiches and thrice-cooked chips appeared in no time. She explained that our order had been lost in a staff handover. Inexcusable of course, but I was gobsmacked when she again apologised and said we would not have to pay anything. Now that is, in the end, good customer service par excellence769b8318_z copy.jpg20190321_115629 copy.jpg20190321_115638 copy.jpegSatisfied and satiated, we strolled through town and discovered it was market day with lots of good food stalls….but we were more taken with the buildings….. 20190321_122158 copy.jpegmany of which were traditional Cheshire Black and White…20190321_122516 copy.jpegThe church and its grounds were exceptionally lovely…surrounded by Black and White houses on all sides…20190321_122541 copy.jpgand the pub opposite the church Old Hall where we called in for a quick half was amazing, believed to date from 1656 and once the residence of the Lords of the Manor of Sandbach. It is absolutely magnificent.20190321_122636 copy.jpegThe centre of the town is picturesque with its cobbles, more Black and White houses, good pubs on all sides (!)…..20190321_123234 copy.jpg20190321_124515 copy.jpgand a lovely Deli (amongst many other fantastic Independent shops in town)…..20190321_123400 copy.jpegand there were two impressive and massive Saxon stone crosses dominating the square. 20190321_123540 copy.jpeg They are elaborately carved with animals and Biblical scenes including the Nativity of Christ and the Crucifixion, and probably date from the 9th century. They were originally painted as well as carved, and they are among the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon high crosses. Later we found several towns and villages that we liked very much, but none of them matched Sandbach, our likely destination?                                         Anyhow, next stop was Nantwich. We had been before to have a chat to the local bookshop owner. It was as pleasant as we remembered. Again a great church and a pretty close surrounding it….20190321_145001 copy.jpg20190321_145115 copy.jpegThe streets were full of atmosphere and with a wonderful range of Independent shops again…and everywhere seemingly unspoilt and well cared for…. 20190321_145137 copy.jpg20190321_145429 copy.jpgEven the multiples were well hidden.20190321_150012 copy.jpg20190321_150219 copy.jpegAnd the range and quality of the buildings and streetscape was exceptional …20190321_145840 copy.jpeg20190321_150123 copy.jpegOne thing that wowed us was this boulder. 20190321_150717 copy.jpegThe inscription reads that it was  found during the building of the by-pass, is 400 million years old, and is probably from of all places Dumfries in Scotland, having been carried here by glacial action. Incredible.                                                                                              Having decided to look at a range of new houses here, we had a delightful walk along the river….20190321_150725 copy.jpg20190321_150944 copy.jpg20190321_151137 copy.jpgIt was a long walk so we were glad of a suitable place of refreshment back in town..A terrific medium-sized town but not quite as lovable as Sandbach was our conclusion.20190321_161238 copy.jpgThat evening we walked to the Swettenham Arms across three fields, by the nascent River Dane, 20190321_175322 copy.jpegsliding across the occasional fence to avoid the mud, 20190321_175332 copy.jpgand getting back just before sunset….20190321_184340 copy.jpg

Doors and surfaces in Looe….

20190219_105502 copy.jpgA lot of house walls and boundary walls in Cornwall have a veritable small world of green growth……they are almost becoming Cornish hedges.20190221_105737 copy.jpg20190221_105755 copy.jpgYou don’t see many bricks but some incorporate ‘Looe bricks’ as a design feature…20190221_105534 copy.jpg………..and here is the explanation for Looe bricks on a little glass panel to be found in a bus shelter on the front at Hannafore….20190222_110847 copy.jpeg20190224_122539 copy.jpgI do love this feature in a tall wall at the end of the bridge in Looe……’Repeared By Ye County 1689’…..20190222_112824 copy.jpg20190221_105910 copy.jpgIt wasn’t such a nice day when we were there this time!20190222_111756 copy.jpg

A visit to a medieval abbey…….

20190125_130152 copy.jpgTorre Abbey in Torquay was our destination in January last year but we were very much looking forward to returning. Two buses and an interesting enough journey in the daytime. Then a short walk through a delightful park to get there….20190125_125953.jpegThe thirteenth century gatehouse is a fitting  introduction to this originally medieval abbey complex…..20190125_133324 copy.jpg and inside there is a fascinating exhibit about the stone used in the building and where it came from….a lot of it from the nearby headland.20190125_133352 copy.jpg20190125_151337 copy.jpg20190125_133403 copy.jpgAlthough the abbey was developed into a residence after the Dissolution, the first thing you see is the medieval undercroft which is very atmospheric.20190125_133720 copy.jpgOnce inside we visited the chapel which we did not see last time. The  chapel exhibits an unusual ‘barrel vault’ ceiling dating from the 15th century. Prior to being converted into a chapel by the Cary family it used to be the Guest Hall. 20190125_135706 copy.jpgWe also saw inside the gatehouse with an original knocker on the medieval door, 20190125_140010 copy.jpgand we could clearly see how the abbey buildings had to have a defensive purpose – in fact a licence to crenellate (erect fortified defences) was granted by Edward III in 1348. 20190125_141750 copy.jpgWhat really astounded us was the thickness of the walls, easily six feet, and amongst the deepest I have ever seen.20190125_140827 copy.jpgThe Thrupp Collection draws art lovers from all over the country, as it’s the most extensive collection from the studio of a Victorian sculptor. It includes statues, busts and bronzes as well as plaster reliefs. Magnificent………20190125_140621.jpgand I liked the furniture panels by him which reflect a George Herbert poem (I studied Herbert as one of the Metaphysical Poets at school).20190125_140714 copy.jpeg20190125_140700 copy.jpegProceeding, we were diverted very briefly by an exhibition called Torbay Rocks which was memorabilia, mainly posters, from the 60’s and 70’s music scene. It didn’t really have much interest for me I’m afraid.20190125_141612 copy.jpegI mentioned last visit the superb way in which the museum puts together how art is made……with artists’ sketchbooks……20190125_141957_002 copy.jpeg and before and after like this plaster cast with its bronze finished article. The standard of the museum’s displays is exceptionally high and never patronising.20190125_142558 copy.jpg20190125_142604 copy.jpgI do like this watercolour of Torquay with its castle on the hill. This was knocked down in the 60’s. Architects and town planners in the 60’s and 70’s have a lot to answer for! This painting also shows the hilly terrain on which Torquay spreads itself out. In fact it is built on 7 hills – just like Rome!20190125_142112 copy.jpegThe abbey is a real maze over several floors and without a plan you never know where you will find yourself next, but throughout there are paintings everywhere.20190125_144117 copy.jpg Here rather a nice marine oil…….20190125_142301 copy.jpegI knew nothing of Torquay Pottery but it was widely made in its day……’‘Torquay Pottery’ has become the generic term covering the numerous potteries that made Art Pottery and later souvenir/household pottery, from around 1860 until the late 20th century, mainly using local sources of red Devon clay. These potteries were based within about 5 miles of Torquay, in Devon, but also include a few other West Country potteries which copied the Torquay style. They were usually established by craftsmen who had learnt or practised their skills in Torquay.’ Some made for the tourist market…….20190125_142420 copy.jpgand some for the more genteel collectors….20190125_145354 copy.jpgThis time there was a display by local photographers in one room…the tobacconists with skeleton shopkeeper was amusing,20190125_142723 copy.jpgand this disused quarry at Llanberis was spectacular…being reclaimed by Nature already…..20190125_142827 copy.jpgThere is plenty to maintain your interest everywhere including some of the rooms used by the Cary family which owned and occupied the house from 1662 to 1930. 20190125_143429 copy.jpegBurne-Jones was one of the most influential and successful artists of his time and supported the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He is credited with single-handedly reviving the medieval tradition of stained glass in the United Kingdom. Torre has some good examples but only one original.20190125_143622 copy.jpgAs elsewhere, not all Torre Abbey’s collections can be displayed in its galleries. The Behind the Scenes Gallery on the first floor was interesting as it houses a number of paintings on a racking system. This allows visitors to see how paintings are stored and gives access to some great paintings.20190125_143245 copy.jpgAfter having our fill of culture we wandered out into the extensive ruined sections of the original abbey……20190125_151226 copy.jpg20190125_151255 copy.jpg 20190125_151305 copy.jpgthrough the gardens…..20190125_152036 copy.jpgand to the palm house which is always good when it’s raining….20190125_151515_001 copy.jpg20190125_151529 copy.jpg20190125_151544 copy.jpg20190125_151630 copy.jpgand just as we were exiting the grounds I noticed the door to the ‘Spanish Barn’ was ajar. I had asked about this building and was told it was only open when exhibitions were in there……luckily someone was preparing for one and didn’t mind us having a quick look.20190125_152419 copy.jpgRather than wait for our bus in the cold we went into the Grand Hotel for a pint for me, and tea for F. Good hotels  – this is 4 star – are always a good bet for the odd drink as you have luxury surroundings for the price of the drink. The brasserie menu looked good too. We could spot the bus passing on its way into Torquay and knew then when we would have to leave the hotel to catch it on its way back. A nice end to a very good day.20190125_153550 copy.jpeg

 

Opera, cinema and historic Plymouth….

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This weekend to an unknown (to us) Met opera at Vue cinema in Plymouth. The thing about this particular opera for us was that there were absolutely no tunes or melodies throughout. Everything seemed like speech that was sung in one plane as it were. Yes, the singing yet again was admirable and amazing in its power and intensity, but the plot was light and, as I say, no tunes to be hummed on the way home. Not at all memorable. The divas get huge praise in the press however.

Adriana Lecouvreur unfolds in Paris in 1730. The setting reflects a nostalgia for the Rococo era that swept over Europe and the Americas around the turn of the last century when Cilea was composing, evident in other operas (for instance, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut) and in architecture.785x590_adriana4.jpg

ACT I

Paris, 1730. Backstage at the Comédie-Française, the director Michonnet and the company prepare for performance, in which both Adriana Lecouvreur and her rival, Mademoiselle Duclos, will appear. The Prince of Bouillon and the Abbé de Chazeuil enter, looking for Duclos, who is the prince’s mistress. They encounter Adriana and compliment her, but she says that she is merely the servant of the creative spirit (“Io son l’umile ancella”). The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter to someone and arranges to have it intercepted. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet confesses his love to her, only to be told that she is in love with Maurizio, whom she believes to be an officer in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio enters, declaring his love for Adriana (“La dolcissima effigie”), and the two arrange to meet after the performance. Adriana gives him a bouquet of violets as a pledge of her love. During the performance, the prince intercepts the letter from Duclos, in which she asks for a meeting with Maurizio, who is in fact the Count of Saxony himself. He is to meet her later that evening at the villa where the prince has installed her. Determined to expose his seemingly unfaithful mistress, the prince arranges a party at the villa for this same night. Unknown to him, Duclos has written the letter on behalf of the Princess of Bouillon who was having an affair with Maurizio. Maurizio, receiving the letter, decides to meet the princess who has helped him pursue his political ambitions. He sends a note to Adriana to cancel their appointment. Adriana is upset, but when the prince invites her to the party and tells her that the Prince of Saxony will be one of the guests, she accepts in the hope of furthering her lover’s career.

 

ACT II

The princess anxiously awaits Maurizio at the villa (“Acerba voluttà”). When he appears she notices the violets and immediately suspects another woman but he quickly claims they are a gift for her. Grateful for her help at court, he reluctantly admits that he no longer loves her (“L’anima ho stanca”). The princess hides when her husband and the Abbé suddenly arrive, congratulating Maurizio on his latest conquest, who they think is Duclos. Adriana appears. She is astounded to learn that the Count of Saxony is Maurizio himself but forgives his deception. When Michonnet enters looking for Duclos, Adriana assumes that Maurizio has come to the villa for a secret rendezvous with her. He assures her that the woman hiding next door is not Duclos. His meeting with her, he says, was purely political and they must arrange for her escape. Trusting him, Adriana agrees. In the ensuing confusion, neither Adriana nor the princess recognize each other, but by the few words that are spoken each woman realizes that the other is in love with Maurizio. Adriana is determined to discover the identity of her rival, but the princess escapes, dropping a bracelet that Michonnet picks up and hands to Adriana.

 

ACT III

As preparations are under way for a party at her palace, the princess wonders who her rival might be. Guests arrive, among them Michonnet and Adriana. The princess recognizes Adriana’s voice as that of the woman who helped her escape. Her suspicions are confirmed when she pretends Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana almost faints. She recovers quickly, however, when Maurizio enters uninjured and entertains the guests with tales of his military exploits (“Il russo Mencikoff”). During the performance of a ballet, the princess and Adriana confront each other, in growing recognition that they are rivals. The princess mentions the violets, and Adriana in turn produces the bracelet, which the prince identifies as his wife’s. To distract attention, the princess suggests that Adriana should recite a monologue. Adriana chooses a passage from Racine’s Phèdre, in which the heroine denounces sinners and adulterous women, and aims her performance directly at the princess. The princess is determined to have her revenge.

 

ACT IV

Adriana has retired from the stage, devastated by the loss of Maurizio. Members of her theater company visit her on her birthday, bringing presents and trying to persuade her to return. Adriana is especially moved by Michonnet’s gift: the jewellery she had once pawned to secure Maurizio’s release from prison. A box is delivered, labeled “from Maurizio.” When Adriana opens it, she finds the faded bouquet of violets she had once given him and understands it as a sign that their love is at an end (“Poveri fiori”). She kisses the flowers, then throws them into the fire. Moments later, Maurizio arrives, summoned by Michonnet. He apologizes and asks Adriana to marry him. She joyfully accepts but suddenly turns pale. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that the violets were sent by the princess and had been poisoned by her. Adriana dies in Maurizio’s arms (“Ecco la luce”).

 

Before going to Vue we had a bit of time to kill so, for a coffee and exploration, we drove to the Royal William Yard which we had not visited before. It was a revelation………20190112_161929.jpg…………..an historic piece of Plymouth restored with sensitivity but very grand. Constructed between 1825 and 1831, Royal William Yard is in fact considered to be one of the most important groups of historic military buildings in Britain and the largest collection of Grade I Listed military buildings in Europe. Pretty impressive credentials.20190112_162004.jpegDescribed as the grandest of the royal victualling yards, ‘in its externally largely unaltered state it remains today one of the most magnificent industrial monuments in the country’. Released by the MOD as recently as 1992, Urban Splash have transformed the buildings into mixed-use restaurants, shops and flats, and it is all pretty special, although you do get the impression that it is not as well-visited as it ought to be.20190112_164837.jpg20190112_164854.jpg20190112_165209.jpg20190112_165501.jpg20190112_165621.jpg20190112_165759.jpegBistrot Pierre where we had our coffee was pretty good too, an excellent looking menu, and they have just opened two of the buildings across the square as hotel rooms. They look swish.20190112_164721.jpegYesterday back to Vue Plymouth this time to see the film ‘Stan and Ollie’. Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie were absolutely brilliant and with oodles of preparation took to their parts with perfection. ‘Stan & Ollie’ tells the story of how Laurel and Hardy, with their golden age long behind them, embark upon a tour of the music halls of Britain and Ireland in 1953.
Despite the stresses of the tour, past resentments coming back to light, and Hardy’s failing health, the show must go on: in the end, their love of performing – and of each other – ensures that they secure their place in the hearts of the public. It’s about love, passion and comedy. You come out of the cinema just loving their humour but at the same time feeling for them….when up becomes down it’s tragic to see. For once all the five star reviews are thoroughly deserved. If you get chance, watch it…….1353.jpg

Reading Matters….

the-daughter-of-time-7.jpgDuring our recent visit to Edinburgh I found this ‘The Daughter of Time’ on my daughter’s shelves. I had already read it but was anxious to do so again as I got terrific enjoyment the first time. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination you could call Tey a great writer….I have read other of her titles and been immensely disappointed, but this is something else. A detective recovering in hospital, flat on his back most of the time, comes across, amongst the gifts friends and colleagues have been bringing in, a portrait of Richard III. He asks himself…is this the face of a man who could commit the murder of his two nephews in the Tower, an event heinous even then. His detective brain starts whirling and he is soon loaded down with serious histories, copies of documents and more trying to sift the evidence looking for clues as to who did actually ‘commission’ the murders. A brilliant tapestry of the times is woven as he refuses to accept the history written by the winners, in other words the Tudors, unless there is factual back-up. Although a Lancastrian myself, and a historian, I have always had a soft spot for Richard III and thought him ill-used by History. Although this is a novel it grips as real history always does. My two favourite subjects, History and Detectives, and this is part History/part Detective. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Since we had a leak in the new roof in the conservatory I have had to move a lot of Unknown.jpegthings out of there, including many books. Noticing one of these, ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ I picked it up and started idly leafing through it. I saw immediately that this was only part-read so I resolved to start again. I am so glad I did. It is so well-produced with clear text and beautiful images, and so well-written by ex-Director of The British Museum Neil MacGregor, that it is sheer pleasure. Neil has chosen 20 objects (not only from the BM) to illustrate various aspects of what Shakespeare’s world was really like. These range from the failed attempts of James I to put together a joint flag for the Great Britain he wanted to be a reality, to a woollen apprentice’s cap in absolutely remarkable condition, to a pedlar’s trunk complete with contents, to a brass-handled iron fork lost at the Rose Theatre, the ownership of which was a sign of absolute sophistication. And he uses the objects to telling effect, delving deeply into the full range of Shakespeare’s work. So, my other favourite subject History/Shakespeare is well catered for in this splendid book.

hamlet-arden-shakespeare.jpegWhich leads me on to saying that, having aroused my interest in WS once again, I could not forgo the immediate and absolute pleasure of reading again for the umpteenth time the play ‘Hamlet’ which for me represents the height of literary achievement. It was something I studied in great detail for ‘A’ levels. I have seen the play a few times. I have seen a couple of films. For me it never palls. I read this time round the Arden edition which has copious footnotes and explanatory material, but I must admit that I am easily distracted by these and actually found all of this tiresome as the Editor Harold Jenkins seemed to be engaged a lot of the time in scoring points off previous editors and commentators. Hamlet is too good for this. Best just to read it straight through and make your own sense of it.