Summer 2015

Summer 2015

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River Thames at Twickenham


It was, strictly speaking, not quite summer officially until 1st June but it should have been warmer than the 13 degrees on 30th May for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Union cup final.

This year Bath Rugby progressed to the play offs finishing second to Northampton Saints with Saracens third and Leicester Tigers forth which meant we would have home semi against Tigers at the Rec.

The Web Ellis Rugby World Cup

Sarries turned up at Franklins Gardens and against the odds beat the home team 24-29. Barf once again took the Tigers to the cleaners running in seven tries 47-10 so it was a Saints v Barf final.

We had pre-booked tickets and a hotel in nearby Feltham which was only a 10 minute train ride to Twickenham. We ate in a new Vietnamese Cafe in Feltham which was interesting. We were newcomers to this cuisine and were surprised that so much of what we ate was cold, intentionally, but tasty and, well, different! The next day we both paid many visits to the toilet so any hard drinking at the game was definitely out!

We wandered around Twickers and found a nice Italian restaurant where we booked a table for the evening but I had to drink Sues coffee in addition to my own when another spasm of stomach cramps hit her!

We walked to the stadium with 82,000 others and found our seats next to a Tigers supporter who was much the worse for drink but was determined to support Barf. The game began and Barf were still asleep with Sarries on the front foot from the start. Every time they scored we were treated to a rendition of the Sarries song "Stand up for Sarries" from the stadium speakers such that our Tigers friend suggested a Barf song might be "We'd like a Bath but we're such a shower"! At half time we were 22 points adrift!

Sarries Win

We won the second half but not by enough and lost the game 16-28. Sarries line speed in defence was fantastic and everyone turned up big time while the Barfites never really got going. Never mind aye. Maybe next year but that was our first final since 2004 and I was at that one as well when I watched them lose to Wasps.

Bridgnorth RFC also made the RFU intermediate cup final and went to Twickers with 15 coaches full of supporters. They played Maidstone and lost 31-18 but will go up to the next league level 6 as this game was the only one they lost all season. So that is it for the Rugby this season but we have the World Cup to look forward to beginning on the 18th September.


Bridgnorth from Jacobs Ladder

Summer arrived on June 4th so we put on our walking boots, bought a picnic from M&S Simply Food and walked up onto Jacobs Ladder high above the Severn Valley overlooking Bridgnorth. We walked through the woods then down to the River Worfe and the picturesque little hamlet of Rindleford. Back up on Heritage Hill and after about 7 miles of walking we sat to admire another view across Bridgnorth and the lovely Shropshire countryside.

Bridgnorth from The Heritage

I used to get criticism for putting too much rugby union on this web site. Some of you could not be bothered reading about a sport in which they had no interest so to pacify those unenlightened people I wrote a bit of code that would hide the rugby rants but a click could reveal everything for those of superior intellect! I also hid other subjects like politics which were perhaps not of interest to some as I have done above. I have now refined the code which might be of interest to any nerds who can read and write javascript but I have of course hidden the details below.


Our garden

The weather in June continued dry but below average temperature for June. My daughter Rebecca sent me a subscription to Gardners' World magazine for Daddies Day which included a 2 for 1 entry to many gardens all over the country including Kew so we decided on a long weekend break in mid June. As members of English Heritage there are quite a few properties that were on our list to visit so we also decided in addition to go to Eltham Palace which had a jousting tournament the same weekend. We found a pub in Surry near Camberley called The Ely and did us a 3 night deal B&B for £55 a night, a real bargain. The hotel itself is a modern construction built behind the pub with large rooms and all en-suite. We ate in the pub on the evening we arrived which was also a 2 for 1 price and at breakfast next morning there was a good selection of freshly cooked meals. The only complaint was the mattress protector they used which was from some material which did not breath and made us overheat even with no Duvet covering us.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace was originally built by the Bishop of Durham, who was a mate of King Edward 1st, from about 1290 AD. It was a moated manor house favoured by kings through the ages right up to Henry VII but eventually fell into disrepair and after the civil war became a farm with the great hall used as a barn. In the 1930's Stephen and Virginia Courtauld bought a 99 year lease from the Crown. Stephen was a member of a family that had accrued immense wealth through their business activities although he never participated in the business and Virginia was of Hungarian/Italian ancestry.

Together they built a new house attached to the remains of the great hall which was restored to its original appearance and use. The house interior was largely in the art deco style and attracted much criticism at the time as it was a modern house attached to a medieval palace. The moat was partially restored and the rest turned into gardens including a rock garden where real rock were imported by Stephen who was an accomplished mountaineer and wanted the real thing.

Rock Garden at Eltham Palace

At the outbreak of WW1 Stephen had joined the Artists' Rifles and in 1918 was awarded the Military Cross, then a major in the Machine Gun Corps. In 1919 he completed the first ascent of the Innominata face of Mont Blanc. He married Virginia in 1923 and they were both enthusiastic supporters of the Arts, Stephen a trustee of Covent Garden, making a large donation towards the building of the Courtauld Galleries at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and building the first post-war ice skating rink in 1926.

Virginia's bedroom at Eltham Palace

Kew Gardens gave advice on the planting of the new gardens and in Stephen's bedroom there is a mural of the gardens with the famous pagoda on the wallpaper but it is Virginia's bedroom that has the better art deco together with the triangular entrance hall with its circular glass domed roof, curved marquetry panelled walls designed by Swedish architect Rolf Engstrõmer which is the masterpiece of interior design in the house.

Eltham Palace entrance hall

The pair had a pet Lemur called Mah-Jongg who had his own room and whose portrait was incorporated in a modern replica of a medieval painting in the billiard room as well as a ceiling in the corner of the great hall. A minstrels gallery was built at the house end of the hall and was used for parties where a swing band would play.

Eltham Palace entrance hall

Under floor heating was installed and incorporated throughout the house and in 1936 stained glass windows were installed in the hall incorporating the coats of arms of the various kings that had used it. They both cruised extensively abroad, first on their steam yacht "Eun Mara" until they built a new twin screw motor yacht "Virginia" in Glasgow with a length of 64m and a beam of 8m displacing over 700 tonnes and having a crew of 30.

The Courtauld's lived at Eltham throughout WW2 when the great hall roof was a casualty of incendiary bombs and the basement was used during air raids. After the war they moved to Scotland and gifted the remainder of the lease to the Army School of Education. They eventually emigrated to Rhodesia in 1951 where Stephen bred Highland cattle and continued his financial support of the Arts. He was knighted in 1958 and died in 1967. When Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and the violence began, Virginia moved to Jersey in 1970 where she died in 1972.

The Army finished with the palace in 1992 which since 1984 had been in the care of English Heritage who since 1995 have been busy restoring everything to their appearance at the time of the Courtaulds.

The Tilt area for the Joust was surrounded by a medieval encampment with lots of strangely dressed people selling medieval replica articles and cooking on open fires! There was also a falconer and his wife who we engaged in conversation. They had been flying birds for over 30 years and explained that they had to be flown every single day so had not had a day off in that time. Birds have limited intelligence and only operate on instinct so are trained to perform for the reward of food. The highlight of the display was the flight of his Gyrfalcon, a white bird from the arctic and the largest of the species. It flew high and very fast, dive bombing down for the kill and missing our heads by inches!

The Joust

The joust itself involved a contest between four knights from the four points of the compass. Unfortunately the Green Knight from the West of England came last!
The Knights all wear full armour and when we saw them later with their helmets off were all of advanced age.

The pagoda at Kew Gardens

They ride either side of a barrier at full "tilt" and their lances are tipped with balsa wood. They aim for a shield fixed on their armour and if it is hit they get three points. If the head is hit they get four points and anywhere else one point. The horses seem to enjoy each gallop and I tried to record the point of contact but it was too fast so you will have to be content with a photograph of them stationary!

Sunday was Daddies Day and the summer equinox so the nights are fair drawing in from then but the weather was more like summer as we set off for Richmond. We parked in the multi-storie in Paradise Rd for another bargain £4.50 (Sunday all day rate) and caught the 65 bus to Kew Gardens Lion Gate using our free bus pass. We had not visited Kew since the late 70's so had much to see and they had a summer festival on entitled "Full of Spice" featuring plants that produce taste, scent and colour.

After wandering round the Mediterranean garden we found ourselves in the Rose garden which was in full bloom and highly perfumed, especially one which took our fancy called Gentle Hermione.

Rose Gentle Hermione
Roses at Kew Gardens

The Victorian Temperate House was closed for a multi million renovation which will take a further two years to complete but adjacent to the rose garden was the Palm House. This not only has a high level walkway above the canopy but you can descend down to a basement where there is a display of aquatic plants in a series of aquariums from different climates complete with colourful fish.

A couple of old Citroen vans were parked beside the Lake dispensing No.3 London Gin (46% proof) cocktails full of exotic spices and French crepes in which we indulged at great expense!

One thing I did notice since our last visit long ago was the number of aircraft that now pass overhead before landing at Heathrow. It now has two parallel runways operating at the same time so that an aircraft roars over every 30 seconds and they want to build a third runway?

A visit to the gardens where plants are grouped by their species was followed by the "Kew on a Plate" kitchen garden created for the BBC TV series and vegetable gardens created by students of the Kew School of Horticulture. The Bonsai House specimens were fascinating and many years old as were several "Heritage" trees scattered round the gardens.

Kew Palace

Kew Palace built in 1731 brought back memories of the 1994 film "The Madness of King George" starring Nigel Hawthorne as it was here that George III spent most of his time during his mental illness. One of my favorite lines from the film was the King in bed with Queen Charlotte saying "I think I'll try for a fart Mrs Queen", classic Alan Bennett humour who wrote the screenplay! King George was treated by the physicians of the time who used various plants to induce vomiting and those with laxative properties as they were the accepted medicines of the age. Some of these plants were poisonous so the King was fortunate to have survived the treatment. The palace garden is devoted to medicinal plants of that time with descriptions of how and what they were each used for.

King George was certainly active in the bedroom department having fathered 15 children with Queen Charlotte. His virility gene seems to have been passed on to other family members and there is a plaque placed in the palace by Queen Victoria in memory of her Great Grandfather.

The Lily Pond

The Princess of Wales Conservatory takes you through 10 different climate zones and the hanging orchids presented a spectacular display. But the lily pads of the giant Victoria cruziana were fascinating and about to produce it's one flower which opens for just two days. Our final visit after six hours of walking was the Treetop Walkway, situated 18 metres high in the canopy. It was moving in the wind with the trees and Sue, who suffers from vertigo, could not get down quick enough!

Kew Palace Garden

Back in Richmond we had noticed a nice little French restaurant opposite the church called La Buvette which has since closed. They were open just after 6pm when we walked in and we opted for the Onglet steak which is similar to Bavette which we call Skirt and must be cooked rare or it goes tough. We used to order it in France where it is usually served with a shallot sauce and often get our butcher to prepare it for us here in Bridgnorth. Proper French Baguette bread was served with a half litre carafe of Cabernet, chips and lambs lettuce completing the main course. We ordered Café Gourmet as a desert which came with mixed berry fruit, creme fraiche and creme brûlée. We drove back into Surrey replete.


Daphne Satnav was set to take us home the pretty way and we stopped at Burford in the Cotswolds to explore. We discovered the Cotswold Cheese Company and purchased some local cheeses before visiting the parish church. Many of my forebears came from this neck of the woods, my great great grandfather George Lane and family being on the Chipping Norton Census of 1851. His sister Charlotte married John Pratley from Great Rissington and were my other great great grandparents as their son Charles Pratley was my great grandfather and his wife was Mary Eleanor Lane, George's daughter. Charles married his first cousin.

Sue spotted the name Pratley on the WW2 memorial in the church so we must spend some time in this area looking at tombstones to see if we can discover more but the problem will probably be that Cotswold stone does not weather well and carved inscriptions may be hard to see.

Burford Church

Another plaque on the church wall said "To the Memory of Three Levellers, Cornet Thompson, Corporal Perkins, Private Church. Executed and buried in this churchyard 17th May 1649". So who were the Levellers? Well, on May Day 1649, three months after Charles 1st was executed, eight troops of Roundheads on their way to fight in Ireland, mutinied in Salisbury and refused to go any further. Pursued by troops loyal to Cromwell they found themselves in Burford where the ringleaders were caught, tried and executed. They were called levellers because they demanded that Parliament should have no power to "level men's estates, destroy property or make all things common" and Cromwell had not kept his promise given in 1647 that a General Council of the Army drawn from each regiment should chart the way ahead.

George Hung

Back in 2013 we met a a local couple from Ecklo in Belgium where we were berthed on our barge Harmonie II.
Andy was Belgian and Elizabeth was an American and ethnic Chinese so we always referred to her as "Chinese Liz" and still do.
Each time we were in Ecklo we used to meet up with them socially, often with Andy's family and on the last occasion they anounced that Liz was pregnant which we all celebrated at her friend Lily's Chinese restaurant in Somergem Liz had introduced us to.

Unfortunately this happy state of affairs did not continue. Andy went off to sea with Holland America Line, met a new girl, he and Liz split and a heavily pregnant Liz Hung returned to New York to have her baby.

We have remained in touch with Liz. She had a lovely little boy she has called George and who, as you can see, loves us both even though we have never met him!


After our return from our Greek holiday I commented on the economic and political situation and finished by concluding that the only way out for them was to default on their debts to the IMF and the mainly German banks, go back to the Drachma, suffer the consequences of devaluation and reform their economy at a sensible pace. Events have moved on, the Greek government has now accepted even more austere measures despite a referendum vote of 61% against further austerity in return for a bridging loan to pay their creditors and the promise of talks for a third bailout, all because they want to remain in the Eurozone?

The European Central Bank refused to continue to support the Greek banks with funds, forcing their closure and capital controls to be introduced, bringing business to a halt. With this blatantly political interference in the Greek economy that a central bank is supposed to support, the ECB forced the Greek government to concede to an economic solution which is bound to fail. If there is a further bailout this will mean more debt on top of the existing debt which is already unsustainable?

I am reminded of the definition of political correctness by US president Harry S Trueman back in 1945:

"Political Correctness is a doctrine, recently fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and promoted by a sick mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end!"

That definition could be equally applied to the tactics and solution applied by the Eurozone leaders to the Greek problem. They have inflicted further hardship and further loss of sovereignty on the Greeks so they can pay back their EU creditors and stay in the EZ. It is yet another reason why us Brits should get out of the EU at the earliest opportunity.

Replica steam tractor at Bridgnorth

In July we visited the "Rally in the Valley" held on Bridgnorth Rugby Ground. We thought we were going to a steam rally but, apart from a few little toy steam tractors and this full size one pictured right which is a replica of an 1840 Canadian one built in Cornwall, that was not the case. There were a lot of old cars but the oldest was circa 1938 so not vintage. There was a selection of old camper vans, motorbikes, some nice old trucks and a few little stationary engines driving an assortment of pumps, all fairly uninspiring. We did meet some WWII re-enactors under the command of Captain Mannering who had all the paraphernalia associated with the Normandy invasion and they did have a rock band in the evening.

Copper Beech at Bolsover Castle

Bolsover in Derbyshire, has two claims to fame. One is its wonderful castle and the other is the "Beast of Bolsover" otherwise known as Dennis Skinner, its Labour Member of Parliament since 1970. We joined the list of distinguished visitors over the centuries on the last day of July 2015.

Dennis is one of four MP's who are the longest continuous serving members and is famous for his remarks to the Queens representative in the Lords, "Black Rod", at each ceremonial opening of parliament. He made no comment after the last election as he said that he was too pre-occupied with ensuring his seat on the opposition front bench was not taken over by the newly elected SNP members. His politics are very far to the left, he is anti monarchist, was a miners union leader, has been suspended from the commons on several occasions for un-parliamentary remarks but despite this, often talks a lot of sense.

The view from Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle was built on the site of a more ancient castle from about 1611 by Charles Cavendish as a "weekend retreat", his principal residence being Welbeck Abbey. His mother was Elizabeth Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury and known as Bess of Hardwick who had acquired great wealth by marrying four times, the second being William Cavendish who was his father. Bess's last husband George Talbot was charged with the custody of Mary Queen of Scots at Chatsworth House and she and Bess, both accomplished needlewomen, worked on what have become know as the Oxburgh Hangings which can be seen in Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, a National Trust property. George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury died in 1590 and Bess found herself owning Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall on which she became well known for her building projects.

Bolsover little castle entrance

Charles was a soldier with a passion for the arts, music and architecture in particular which he probably acquired from his mother. Known as "The Little Castle", Bolsover was not completed by the time of Charles death in 1617 so it was left to has eldest son William, then aged 25, to complete. William was a well travelled, cultured man who inherited his fathers passions. He became Viscount Mansfield in 1620 and in 1628 was created the Earl of Newcastle upon Tyne. He entertained King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria at Bolsover in 1634 and was subsequently rewarded by being made governor to Charles, Prince of Wales.

In 1639 William lent the King £10,000, equal to £1.5 million today which gives you some idea of his tremendous wealth, and rode North with his Prince of Wales Troop of cavalry to join the Kings army at Berwick. The English army were eventually defeated by a Scottish Covenanters army at the Battle of Newburn in Northumberland and it was Charles I dispute with his parliament to raise funds for this venture which began the process that would eventually end in the English Civil War. In 1640 William joined the Privy Council and at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 was appointed Commander in Chief of the northern Royalist counties. In 1644 he lost the decisive Battle of Marston Moor and went into exile, first to Hamburg and then to Paris. Bolsover was surrendered to the Parliamentarians who eventually "knocked it about a bit" as they tended to do in those days.

Little Castle Gardens

Above is a photo of the little castle garden. Note the fountain with the rather Rubenesque Venus and the new battlements.

William eventually moved to Antwerp with his second wife Margaret Lucas, renting the former home of artist Peter Paul Rubens and establishing a riding school to teach menège for which he became renowned. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660 he returned to Bolsover where he built his Riding House Range (see roof structure below right) and rebuilt Nottingham Castle.

William died in 1676 and his son Henry inherited Bolsover but after his death in 1691 the castle gradually fell into disrepair until in 1818 the local curate (eventually vicar) became the tenant and lavished some TLC, the castle becoming the vicarage.

Riding House Range roof structure

In 1889 coal mining was started in the valley below the castle and its eventual effect was to de-stabilise the castles foundations. In 1936 a Coalite plant was built nearby to make smokeless fuel which caused acid pollution damaging the castle stonework and probably shortened the life of some local residents along with the Bolsover coal mines which in the same year claimed 79 miners lives.

In 1945 the castle was gifted to the Ministry of Works who stabilised the structure and replaced damaged stonework. The miners strike of 1984 bought mining in the area to an end much opposed by the "Beast of Bolsover", Dennis Skinner and in 2004 the Coalite plant finally closed, thus ending the other threat to the castles survival and those of Bolsovers residents.

English Heritage, who are now its guardians, have just spent £1.5 million including replacing the stonework on the walls walk and other refurbishments. It certainly deserves to be preserved.

Rolf Harris

Just above here on this page is a section describing the Ashes Cricket test series but it is hidden from view to save you having to read it if you have no interest in cricket. You will need to click on the link to see it, however, I thought some of the latest developments in the test series would be of more general interest.

England had to win the fourth match of the series to win back the Ashes from Australia, the current holders. England managed to bowl out the Australians in the first innings on the first day before lunch with a very low record score which excited comment around the world in other cricket playing nations and the inevitable humorous comments began to be circulated.

Here is one on the left sent from Sues brother in New Zealand which raised a laugh.

There is more cricketing humour in the section above together with a selection of on field comments from England and Australian cricketers known as sledging in addition to a detailed commentary on each game.

Andy and Gilly Corp paid us a flying visit from Australia and were none too pleased with the result of the Ashes series! They only stayed one night and were gone even quicker than their compatriots in the Oz test side who did mangage to hang on a little longer! The Ashes are now back in their rightful place.

The neighbourhood cat
Cat monument at Shugborough Estate

We are often visited by a magnificent cat with markings like a leopard and I managed to take some photographs of him on a recent visit.

Our next visit to a place of interest was to Shugborough Estate which was the family estate of Admiral Anson whose pet cat accompanied him on his circumnavigation of the world. The great man built a huge statue to the cat at Shugborough which kept the rats at bay on his ship HMS Centurion during the voyage! Round the base are Corsican goats kept on the estate during his lifetime.

Shugborough Estate near Stafford was owned by the Bishops of Lichfield until Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the 16th Century. It was eventually purchased by William Anson who was an ancestor of the Earls of Lichfield and it was his grandson, another William who began construction of the present manor house in 1693. William's oldest Son Thomas inherited the estate in 1720 when the manor stood in the village of Shugborough. Thomas's younger brother George joined the navy and by all accounts was not popular with his elder brother, however, George rose through the ranks to become an Admiral and in 1739 was commissioned to lead a Naval expedition to the pacific to capture a Spanish treasure ship.

Shugborough Hall

As is the case today, the Navy of the time was short of cash and ships so Admiral Anson set out in 1740 with only eight ships crewed by 1850 men of which 170 were sick and taken from hospitals, 259 were Chelsea pensioners with an average age of 70 and 210 were new recruits with minimal training! By the time Anson reached Maderia most of the pensioners were dead or dying. Three ships were lost rounding Cape Horn and by the time they reached the Pacific a year had past and two thirds of his crew were dead without a single combat.

The Red Drawing Room, Shugborough Hall

After searching in vain for a several more months for a Spanish Galleon only 200 scurvy ridden men remained when, quite by accident, they came upon the treasure ship "La Nuestra Senora de Cavadonga" which was heavily armed. Despite his depleted resources Anson attacked the Spaniard which, after a broadside from Ansons ship HMS Centurion, the Spanish captain surrendered his sword which can be seen now at Shugborough.

The Chinese House at Shugborough Estate

The Spanish ship had over 1.3 million pieces of eight on board which in todays money would be the equivalent of about £70 million so he became a very rich man with his share of the loot! That voyage ended in 1744 and completed a circumnavigation of the world with only 188 survivors. Anson went on to command the fleet at the first battle of Cape Finisterre which defeated the French squadron in 1747 and made him even richer. It also made him very popular with brother Thomas who was busy spending George's money on building up the family estate at Shugborough!

Thomas bought up every cottage in the village and demolished it, creating the lovely rolling parkland you see today, further extending the house creating gardens and erecting classical monuments. George meanwhile was elevated to the peerage for his exploits and eventually became First Lord of the Admiralty. George died in 1762 and Thomas in 1773, both childless so the estate passed to his sisters son George. In 1806 George's son was created Viscount Lichfield and the second viscount, the 1st Earl of Lichfield, lead an extravagant lifestyle and dissipated much of the immense wealth acquired by his forebears.

The back of Shugborough Hall

After the death of the fourth Earl in 1960 the house became the property of the National Trust in lieu of death duties and was leased to Staffordshire County Council to manage it but the fifth Earl retained a suite of apartments in the house until his death in 2005. Thomas Patrick John Anson (1939 - 2005), 5th Earl of Lichfield ("call me Patrick") became famous as a photographer. He became renowned for his photographs of royalty as he was related to the family through his mother who was a niece of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The present queen employed him to photograph the wedding of Princess Diana to Charles.

Nude on Moscow Underground escalator by Patrick Lichfield

There was a time in the 70's and 80's when if you were photographed by Patrick Lichfield you had "arrived" so the walls of his apartments in the house are full of photographs he took of writers (Antonia Fraser) actors (Susanna York), pop stars (Lulu and Mick Jagger)and models (Joanna Lumley and Jean Shrimpton) of his era as well as politicians and royalty.

Princess Margaret often visited Shugborough and the bedroom she usually occupied was strategically situated next to the bar replete with bottles of Lichfield Gin! Many photographs were taken on the Caribbean island of Mustique on which Princess Margaret had been given property.

Patrick had an eye for the ladies, preferably without any clothes on and one room is devoted to his nudes, photographed all over the world and in the best possible taste of course! On the left is one taken on an escalator in the Moscow Underground railway.

He died unexpectedly in 2005 from a stroke.

Apart from the house itself which is beautifully decorated and furnished, the external stables and servants quarters have been turned into the county museum with an exhibition of old carriages, a kitchen and laundry set in the 19th century with actors in period costume. There is also a schoolroom and many different rooms devoted to the various activities of the age and products manufactured in Staffordshire. Replica shops are also depicted.

English Longhorn herd at Shugborough Hall

A model farm was built at the turn of the 18th century, part of the agricultural revolution where the latest techniques of animal husbandry were practised. A walled garden was built at the same time to supply the house with fruit and vegetables with extensive greenhouses on the southern wall. The old methods of cultivation are now carried on by volunteers and a herd of English Longhorn cattle has been re-introduced. This is a rare breed which look ferocious but are supposedly very gentle creatures and easy to handle. An outdoor photographic exhibition of the herd can be found beside the River Sow which flows though the estate and their meat is sold in the local Canalside Shop.

Cannock Chase

Glorious summer weather accompanied our visit to Shugborough which is located at the Northern end of Cannock Chase so we drove back that way. We found the German War cemetery where German soldiers from the first world war are buried. What we later discovered was there are two cemeteries and we only visited the smaller of the two which we were surprised to find also contained the graves of New Zealand soldiers. This was called the German and Commonwealth War Cemetery and contains 97 commonwealth graves, mostly New Zealanders and 256 Germans. Three of the graves here are from the second world war.

Cannock Chase German and Commonwealth War Cemetery

During the first war a large training base was situated on Cannock Chase for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Wounded servicemen were sometimes repatriated to local hospitals from the front, including German soldiers and those who did not survive their wounds were buried here. In 1959 the British and German governments agreed that German and Austrian military and civilian internees interred elsewhere from both wars would be relocated in one place and that cemetery is a few hundred yards away which we did not discover on this occasion but will visit in the future.


My maternal great grandparents and their ancestors were from the Cotswold Hills around Chipping Norton in Gloucestershire and around Banbury in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. It is a very picturesque part of the world which is a good enough reason to visit but further research on my ancestors and to experience where they lived gave us an added reason. We booked a couple of days in August at the Wild Thyme Restaurant with Rooms at Chipping Norton with this objective.

Icomb Church

On the drive down from Bridgnorth we first visited Alderton in Gloucestershire from where my Great Great Great Grandmother Sarah Lane nee Day was born in 1799. We soon discovered that gravestones made from Cotswold stone did not weather well so anything older than the mid 19th century was unreadable. We did find the commonwealth war grave in the churchyard of V R Day who was an observer in the RAF, killed in 1943 aged 21 and the church burial records showed he was known by his middle name of Robin but as to if he might have been a distant relation I have no idea. We had coffee at the Gardeners Arms here which looked like a really good pub but we had to continue to the next destination of Icomb of which there are pictures above.

Sarah Day married John Lane who was born in Icomb, about 17 miles away and not far from Stow-on-the-Wold, nestled in a little combe and pretty as a picture. My Great Great Grandfather George Lane was also born here in 1824 so there was a chance that the family may have settled here but there were no burial records in the church. I also have a record of William Lane who was John Lane's father and married a Lady Elizabeth Taylor. I always knew that I had aristocratic roots as my maternal Grandfather's ancestors have been traced back to Sir Patrick Fox who was born in 1550!!

Great Rissington Church
Lower Brailes Church

We did find a few Lanes on churchyard tombstones but none that seemed related to our lot. We had more success at Great Rissington where we found a recent book in the church about those from the village who fought in the Great War and I have ordered a copy for further research. There were several pages in the book about the Pratley boys. It was here that my Great Grandfather George Pratley came from who married Mary Eleanor Lane, George's daughter and they were married in a Babtist Chapel in Banbury which perhaps explains why we were unable to find any evidence of Pratleys in parish churches.

Chipping Norton Almshouses

On then to Chipping Norton and a sumptuous dinner at The Wild Thyme Restaurant after a pre-prandial pint at the Bitter and Twisted pub in the High Street. We wandered around the town as rellies were born and died here but no traces of Lanes or Pratleys.

Great Great Grandad George Lane married Sarah Rainbow and her ancestors back to 1727 were all born in Sutton-under-Brailes in Warwickshire so off we went expecting to find lots of Rainbows. What a lovely Cotswold village this was, a pleasanter spot you never spied and you would never find it if you were not looking for a Rainbow of which we could find no trace. In nearby Lower Brailes we got talking to some local worthies who knew one Rainbow who died recently but not from Sutton.


Sarah was born in Bishops Tatchbrook, 20 miles up the Fosseway and her Great Grandfather Nicholas married Ann Prestage from nearby Southam. While wandering around Southam churchyard we met up with John the gravedigger who pointed us in the direction of the Parish Clerk who he said was a Rainbow before she married. Sure enough she was but was from Lutterworth in Leicestershire, however, she told us that Southam churchyard was full of Rainbows and I photographed her records of all those buried there and the Prestages.

We declared that was enough family research for one day and decided to visit Stowe House and Gardens in Buckinghamshire which had been featured recently on a couple of TV programmes. Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham (1675 -1749) built up the family estate at Stowe in the early 18th Century. He attained the rank of Field Marshal, became an influential Whig politician and later fell out with England's first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole in 1733 but remained active in politics. His gardens were then created to illustrate his political and social beliefs.

Stowe House

The Temple family, who eventually became the Temple-Grenvilles, were now one of the richest and influential families in the land. Four Prime Ministers, George Grenville, William Pitt the Elder and Younger, and William Wyndham Grenville were all from that family and if you think today's politicians corrupt, they are saints compared to these guys who even had their infant sons paid millions as ministers of state! Eventually, as usually happens, along came the family gamblers and spendthrifts and by 1848 the family went spectacularly bankrupt owing £1.5 million.

The Saloon at Stowe House  The Gold venus in the Rotunda at Stowe House Gardens

A sale of all the house's treasures only raised £75,000 so was closed. By 1922 after repeated auctions of most of what was left of value in the house it was decided to demolish it. Fortunately it was then bought by Stowe School and eventually the Stowe House Preservation Trust who lease it to the school. The Trust has largely restored the house to its original state at a cost so far of £40 million with the principle funding coming from the National Lottery Fund. We visited the house for which National Trust members are charged £4.50 including a guided tour and it was well worth the visit.

The gardens are owned by the National Trust and are extensive, requiring walking several miles to see the many monuments and statues which Viscount Cobham created. We first visited the Temple of Venus which is dedicated to the unfaithfulness of women. All the temples in this area are supposed to be concerned with lust and illicit love but I must say they were all rather tame by todays standards! The gold Venus in the Rotunda was the closest we came to anything resembling vice!

The Temple of British Worthies at Stowe House Gardens

The house itself is stunning and is supposed to be the longest of any in England with a tremendous vista from the Southern Front across the lake through the pavilions to the Corinthian Arch at the top of the hill in the distance. From the Temple of Ancient Virtue one looks across a lake to The Temple of British Worthies containing busts of who Cobham thought were the virtuous Brits of his age. He included Sir John Barnard who was a Whig MP and an opponent of the Whig Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole with whom Cobham had fallen out so this was a not so subtle political dig at the then PM.

Pavilions and Corinthian Arch at Stowe House

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we went on to visit Bicester Designer Outlet Village which was full of ostentatiously rich Arabs and Asians spending large amounts to the extent of pushing round large bulging suitcases to hold all their purchases! We bought nothing and continued on the George and Dragon pub at Shutford for dinner. My Great Grandfather became the publican here after he "retired".

We visited nine English counties on this trip, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Herefordshire as we drove back over the Malverns.

The end of August is the official meteorological end of summer so it is time for another page.

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