The Cottages of Helen Allingham….

Recently, via my work in the antiques/vintage field I came across a couple of framed prints from the early 1900s, by artist Helen Allingham.

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Photograph from “Happy England” published 1903 (public domain)

Helen was undoubtedly one of the finest painters of the Victorian era, well-known for her paintings of cottages; Helen had close links to this area of Surrey and many of the cottages that she painted were local to here….

Helen was born Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson on the 26th September 1848 in the small village of Swadlincote, near to Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire. She was the eldest of seven children; her father, Alexander Henry Paterson was a doctor and her mother, Mary Chance Herford, the daughter of a wine merchant. Before Helen reached her first birthday the family moved to Altrincham in Cheshire. Tragedy was to hit the family when Helen was just 13 years old; in May 1862, after treating victims of a diphtheria epidemic her father caught the disease himself and died, along with her 3-year-old sister, Isabel….

Helen’s mother took her young family to Birmingham to live – to be near to family who could help provide for them. From a young age it became obvious that Helen had talent as an artist; her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford and aunt, Laura Herford were both successful artists in their own rights – and so it was only natural that Helen was to be encouraged…. She enrolled in the Birmingham School of Design – and then at the age of 17 achieved a place in the Female School of Art, London…. In 1867 she was accepted into the Royal Academy School, where she became influenced by Masters, such as Sir John Everett Millais – co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement….

Having a need to support herself, whilst continuing to study, Helen took on work from engraving companies, sketching figures and scenes.

In 1869 she was commissioned by a magazine to produce a series of full-page illustrations; she also did commissions for other publications and for children’s books…. In 1870 she was employed by The Graphic, a high quality magazine – she was the only woman at the time to be taken on by them – her reputation was gaining and she became more and more in demand…. She finished training at the Academy in 1872, to concentrate on her career producing illustrations – such as those for Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’….

It was around this time that Helen met fellow artist Kate Greenaway, at evening classes and they were to become life-long friends. It was also about this time that she met well-known Anglo-Irish poet and editor of Fraser’s Magazine, William Allingham, 24 years her senior; they were married on 22nd August 1874.

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As William was well established, Helen no longer had a need to work; they moved to a house in Trafalgar Square, London and she began to concentrate on painting watercolours, her absolute passion….

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Study of flowers…. Public domain – Image: Irina via flickr.com

In 1874 two of her pieces, ‘The Milkmaid’ and ‘Wait for Me’, were accepted for an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Both paintings sold and further commission works came in….

In 1875 she became the first woman to be granted full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society; this was also the year her first child was born. Helen and William had three children, Gerald Carlyle in November 1875, Eva Margaret (Evey) in February 1877 and Henry William in 1882….

Having spent happy family holidays in the countryside Helen started to paint rural scenes…. It wasn’t long before the Allinghams decided to relocate to the country and moved to Sandhills, a hamlet close to the village of Witley, in Surrey. It was here that she gained her fame for painting cottages….

The time at Sandhills was a productive, successful period for both Helen and William. He found inspiration for his ‘William Allingham’s Diary 1847-1889’…. A work that reveals much about Victorian literary life…. William had many great writer friends, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson (a life long friend), George Eliot, Thackeray, the philosopher Carlyle and others….all who feature prominently in his writing….

Helen’s own work flourished; her cottages became particularly popular back in London and were much sought after. In 1886 she was invited by the Fine Art Society in London to hold her own exhibition entitled ‘Surrey Cottages’ – she exhibited 62 paintings. The following year another exhibition, this one called ‘In the Country’ saw her display a further 82 paintings….

However, Helen had another reason for painting cottages…. She was an environmentalist – following the same path as the likes of William Morris and John Ruskin…. Old cottages were being destroyed, either literally by demolition or by unsympathetic restoration – as, with the arrival of the railway network, wealthy Londoners were buying up rural properties for weekend retreats – old cottages that had stood for centuries…. Helen’s way of preserving their memory was through her painting, she would endeavour to capture their image before they were destroyed or changed beyond recognition. She paid great attention to detail and portrayed them with intense accuracy…. Occasionally she would add ‘licence’ by reverting modernised features back to the original; maybe reinstating lattice windows or a thatched roof for instance…. In fact, even today, her works are still studied by architects to understand how these old cottages were built….

William and Helen lived a happy life during their time at Sandhills. Witley and the surrounding area had a large, thriving community of artists and like-minded people. Helen’s friend Kate Greenaway lived close by….as did others, such as printer and engraver Edmund Evans, illustrator Randolph Caldecott and watercolourist Myles Birket Foster. The Allinghams knew Gertrude Jekyll, who lived in nearby Busbridge and Helen painted in Jekyll’s garden; one such piece ‘The South Border’ is now displayed in Godalming Museum….

In 1888 William’s health began to fail. Wanting  to be near their London circle of friends – and where their children could obtain the best possible education – they decided to return closer to the city and moved to Hampstead. Helen however, continued with her work recording the timber-framed cottages and their inhabitants, by travelling back to Surrey and Kent by train….

William died in 1889, leaving the family with little money. Once again Helen had to depend upon her skills to support herself – and now her children too…. Her cottage paintings continued to sell well, often fetching a good price. In 1890 she became the first woman to be elected into the Royal Society of Watercolours….

Sometimes she would travel further a field to paint – such as Ireland, France and Venice.

Once a year she would exhibit in London, her cottages ever gaining in popularity…. A collaboration with Marcus B. Huish on a book, ‘Happy England’, published in 1903 about English country life, featured some 80 of her colourplates. A further book in 1905 with her brother, Arthur Paterson, ‘The Homes of Tennyson’ saw another 20 plates and Stewart Dick’s ‘The Cottage Homes of England’ published in 1909 featured 64 more…. Whilst Helen was never particularly wealthy, she and her children lived comfortably….

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The Homes of Tennyson…. Image: emmeffe6 via flickr.com

It was during a visit to a friend in Haslemere that Helen was taken ill; she died on 28th September 1926, two days after her 78th birthday…. An incredibly talented lady – (once remarked upon by Vincent Van Gogh whilst he studied English illustrated journals) – who lived an extraordinary life…. I, for one, am delighted that I came across those prints from 1903….needless to say I have decided to keep them rather than sell them on and I’d love to add to them to make a collection….

As I have gathered together the images for this blog I have been looking closely to see if this old place could possibly be the subject of one of Helen’s paintings…. However, I suspect it would be highly unlikely, as fortunately over the centuries little has really been done to completely change its original appearance…. Who knows, when Helen Allingham was painting her cottages, this one may even still have had its thatched roof…. Sadly it no longer has – but it did have one once – I’d love to have seen it then….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you have found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX…. (Below are some more images of Helen’s paintings for you to enjoy)….

Eyes to the skies….over Dunsfold….

I suppose you would hardly call Dunsfold a “chocolate box” village – however, it does have a certain charm all of its own. Indeed, William Morris once described its church as being the most beautiful in all of England; Saint Mary’s and All Saints can even claim to have the oldest pews in the Land…. The church was built in the late 13th Century, on the site of a Norman chapel, close to a holy well, which was once visited by pilgrims, as it was believed its waters could cure diseases of the eye….

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Dunsfold is a village in the county of Surrey, in the South East of England; it lies in the Weald (the area between the North and South Downs) – 14km South of Guildford and the nearest town being Godalming. It is neighboured by Cranleigh, said to be the largest village in England…. Dunsfold covers an area of 16.06 km² (6.2 sq miles) and the 2011 Census recorded a population of 987, with 467 dwellings, some of which are particularly old…. The village is surrounded by farmland and woodland and is situated at the base of the Surrey Hills…. Dunsfold itself is spread out over grass-land and common-land, with several ponds of notable size, attributed to being located on Wealden clay…. There is an extensive network of bridal-ways and footpaths in and around it, enabling walkers to explore and discover the village and surrounding area…. Maybe the privately owned deer-park – with its herd of white fallow deer – or within the village itself, the pub – (The Sun Inn)….or the cricket pitch – the village shop, with its own post office (a ‘hub’ of local life) – the fire station…. Yes! I did just say ‘fire station’…. Why on Earth would a village the size of Dunsfold need one of these? Ah! Now that is because it is the location of something that really does put it on the map….Dunsfold Aerodrome; (well to be correct half the area the airfield occupies does actually officially lie within the boundaries of the neighbouring village of Alfold)…. “Never heard of it”….many of you will mutter – but you may well of heard of one of the BBC’s most popular TV shows – Top Gear….

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Top Gear! Fenners1984 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fenners/9367527706/

Even if you are not a fan and don’t watch it, no doubt you will recall the controversy that surrounded it in recent times…. Since 2002 the aerodrome has been home to Top Gear; one of the hangers is used as a studio and it is the residence of the famous test track, (designed by Lotus test drivers), with its Hammerhead, Chicago and Wilson Bend…. A test track now also used by local driving schools for the under 17s to learn how to drive a car, before venturing out on to the public highways….where my own boy, Jordan, is taking a lesson this very coming Saturday morning…. Wish him luck as he’s let loose on that very famous test track….

Of course, the use of the aerodrome doesn’t just stop there; the track itself is used for cycle racing during the summer months and until recent years the airfield was the base of the Surrey Air Ambulance. It is also home to many businesses, including warehouses, storage and offices….but we must come back to the filming…. A part from Top Gear a number of other popular TV programmes have been recorded there; Panorama, Watchdog, Spooks and the well-known ITV science fiction drama Primeval, to name but a few. Several major films have also made use of the location, such as The Da Vinci Code, Nanny McPhee and the James Bond movie Casino Royale. One of the main reasons Dunsfold Aerodrome is such an attractive proposition for film makers is down to its resident Boeing 747 – the only one in Europe that is used exclusively for filming. The 747 was in service with British Airways until its retirement in 2002; it was then bought by a company called Aces High Ltd., who specialise in supplying aircraft for film and TV work. You may have seen it in the series ‘Come Fly with Me’, starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams….or perhaps more recently when it was dressed as Air Force One in the 2016 film London has Fallen….

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Photo credit: Andrew Ebling Boeing 747 G-BDXJ (previously known as City of Birmingham)

Dunsfold Aerodrome also holds various events, from supercar racing to the annual Wings & Wheels airshow and motoring display. Held every August Bank Holiday, the two-day show attracts some 40,000 visitors; it was first held in 2005 with the aim of fundraising for numerous charities. Although the roar of noisy ‘planes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, many villagers either gather on the Common or watch the air display from their gardens…. The weekend before last was indeed August Bank Holiday and we were, for once, blessed with glorious weather….perfect to spread a picnic rug out on the grass and enjoy what was a spectacular show…. For those actually attending the event there is obviously so much more to see; motoring demonstrations, static displays, all kinds of cars – vintage to supercars, monster trucks to military vehicles – for those inclined there’s something for everyone…. For the rest of us, observing from the outside, it’s all eyes to the skies…. The most adrenaline fuelled contribution has to come from the Eurofighter Typhoon; the roar from its twin EJ200 engines sends a thrill that goes right through you….

This year we were also treated to displays from the Norwegian Historic Vampire Pair, B17 Sally B, RAF Chinook and the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team.

A Hurricane, Spitfire, Messerschmitt 109 and Mustang added some nostalgia….(usually the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight attends the show but unfortunately, due to technical problems it was absent this year).

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Hurricanes – Flying Legends 2017 Airwolfhound via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24874528@N04/35625023842/
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Spitfire and ‘109’ – Flying Legends 2013 Hawkeye UK via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajw1970/9293981825/

We were entertained by The Blades, chasing each other across the skies and saw a variety of helicopters, including the Apache…. Then of course, there was everyone’s favourite….The Red Arrows – The Royal Air Force Aerobatics Team; their motto being “Éclat” – meaning “excellence”….for they really are the best of British….

The Red Arrows are pictured as they fly in tight formation during display training
The Red Arrows are pictured as they fly in tight formation during display training Defence Images via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/defenceimages/5038167323/

The Red Arrows were formed in late 1964 and flew for the first time in 1965. Prior to this time there were several other aerobatics teams operating; it was felt too much time was being spent by pilots practising and so it was decided to amalgamate the teams into one. 1947 saw the first jet team of de Havilland Vampires based at RAF Oldham; in 1950 another team of 7 Vampires formed and were the first to use smoke trails in their display. Hawker Hunters were used for the first time in 1955.

The first official RAF team was formed in 1956 and used a uniform colour scheme of black – they became known as The Black Arrows…. In 1958 they set a World record by performing a loop and barrel roll involving 22 Hunters. They were the RAF’s premier team until 1961, when the role was taken over by The Blue Diamonds, with their 16 Hunters. 1960 saw the arrival of The Tigers with their supersonic Lightnings, who sometimes performed co-ordinated displays with The Blue Diamonds…. In 1964 the position of lead RAF display team was taken over by The Red Pelicans, flying 6 BAC Jet Provosts. At the Farnborough Air Show, that same year, another team flying 5 yellow Gnat Trainers from No.4 Flying Training School also flew….they were known as The Yellowjacks….

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Yellowjack Gnat G-MOUR Take Off eppingforestdc via Foter.com / BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eppingforestdc/12790881633/

Initially The Red Arrows flew Folland Gnat Trainers, which were inherited from The Yellowjacks; the Gnat being less expensive to run and maintain than other fighters. The ‘planes were painted red, possibly in homage to The Red Pelicans but also because the colour is more visible and thus safer….

That first season saw the team fly 65 displays, the first public performance being the Biggin Hill Air Fair  on May the 15th 1965. In 1968 the team increased to 9, allowing that classic diamond that has become the team’s trademark formation….

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RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire was the first base used by The Red Arrows but after Fairford became the test flight centre for Concorde in 1966, The Arrows moved to RAF Kemble. 1983 saw another move, this time to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, (famous for its role in the Dambusters raid in 1943). Scampton was closed in 1995 and The Arrows moved to nearby RAF College Cranwell; but as they were still using the airspace above Scampton, for practise purposes, the runway and emergency facilities had to be maintained…. So, on the 21st of December 2000 The Red Arrows returned to Scampton and it has become their permanent base and will remain so until at least the end of the decade….

The Gnats flew 1,292 displays in total and were replaced by the Hawk in 1980…. In 2002 the team flew with Concorde over London as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations and again, a decade later, The Arrows flew a fly past for her Diamond Jubilee…. They were also included in the 2012 opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games…. Each year they have a packed programme of air shows to attend; for example, Sunday the 27th of August they were here with us in Dunsfold at midday – then at 5.30pm they were entertaining the crowds at the Rhyl Air Show on the North East coast of Wales…. 2017 is the 53rd season for the team, which now consists of 9 pilots and 91 support members…. Long, long, long may they continue….

Dunsfold Aerodrome itself was built by the Canadians, as a Class A bomber airfield – it took just 6 months to build! It was known as Royal Canadian Air Force Station Dunsfold – later it was to become RAF Dunsfold….

Life as an airfield began on the 11th of May 1942. The very first ‘plane to arrive at Dunsfold, on the 20th of July 1942, was a RCAF Tiger Moth – de Havilland DH.82 – a 1930’s bi-plane…. Some of the first aircraft to be based at the airfield included Curtiss Tomahawks and North American Mustangs. Later the B-25 Mitchell Bombers and Mosquitoes became resident…. 1944 saw the arrival of Spitfires, Typhoons and Tempests….

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B-25 Mitchell Kimbenson45 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimbenson45/14879394927/
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Ground personnel of No.98 Squadron RAF, who serviced North American Mitchell Mark III, HD372 ‘VO-B’ aka ‘Grumpy’ Date WW2 Photo CH 13734 from collections of the Imperial War Museums.
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Mitchell Mark II arriving back at Dunsfold after sortie over enemy targets in France – 1943. Photo CH 11037 from collections of the Imperial War Museums.

After World War 2, the airfield was used to repatriate prisoners of war. Using Dakota, Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster aircraft, over 47,000 were brought back to British soil….

Dunsfold was declared an inactive airbase by the RAF in 1946. It was then employed by Skyways Ltd., an early British airline, which went on to become established as the largest non-scheduled passenger and cargo air service in Europe…. It also notably played an important civilian part in the Berlin Airlift…. As another ‘arm’ to its business, Skyways refurbished ex-RAF Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes for the Portuguese Air Force…. Skyways went into liquidation in 1950….and so enter a new chapter in the history of Dunsfold Aerodrome…..

In 1950, the Hawker Aircraft Company took on the lease for the site and it became the development site for the Hunter Jet Fighter….a jet fighter that was to remain in military service until 2014, when it was still being used by the Lebanese Air Force….

In October 1960, Hawker Siddeley flight tested what was to become the Harrier; in 1961 the final assembly and test flying of the Harrier and Hawk trainer aircraft came to Dunsfold.

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Spanish Harrier joseluiscel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joseluiscel/35193485382/

The Hawker Company, based at Kingston, used Dunsfold Aerodrome as its test flight centre for testing and also the refurbishing of Hawks, Gnats, Harriers, Hunters, Sea Hawks and Sea Furies…. The Dunsfold site was protected by the Official Secrets Act right up to the 1990s and so limiting public access…. In 1977 Hawker Siddeley became part of British Aerospace…. In 1999 British Aerospace announced its closure of operations in Dunsfold….

Before closing this blog post, I feel it is important to remember all those who lost their lives at Dunsfold; those who flew from the airfield during WW2 and also the losses that occurred in the years to follow…. In 1975 a test flight of a Hawker Siddeley encountered a bird-strike shortly after take-off….which resulted in an emergency landing. The ‘plane over-shot the runway and ended up hitting a car on the A281 – killing all 6 occupants…. The aircraft then went on to burst into flames in a field….all 9 passengers and crew survived….

In 1986 Deputy Chief test pilot Jim Hawkins was killed, whilst testing a developmental Hawk 200, when it crashed on to farmland…. In June 1998 a Hawker Hunter crashed prior to an airshow….the pilot John Davis was killed…. (BAE, in those days, used to hold a staff family fun day, which included an airshow – it attracted some 13,000 visitors….a predecessor perhaps to Wings & Wheels)….

The most recent crash was in 2014 but luckily no major injuries were incurred….

In 2002 the site was sold to the Rutland Group and Dunsfold Park Ltd was formed. Thanks to this present ownership we have the likes of Top Gear and Wings & Wheels….and not to mention the many other fabulous events and productions it hosts; plus it is still an operational airfield for private and business flights…. Controversially, its future hangs in the balance….because of the proposal to build 1,800 houses on it. Obviously, this is a very emotional issue for many, one that divides opinion. An impending decision from the Government will soon decide its fate….I wont say which side of the fence I am on – but I think you can probably guess….

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Most definitely an omen….

I am a great believer in omens, I suppose that goes hand in hand with being superstitious…. I’m one of those people who, when I see a magpie on its own, have to wish him ‘good day’ and enquire after his lady wife…. If I see a pair together, it always cheers me up – as I am convinced something good is about to happen…. I saw a pair just the other morning, attempting to ‘hijack’ the bird feeder – it was all quite comical and their antics made me laugh….

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post – Standing at the cross roads…. – inspired because – at that point in time – I felt as though that was exactly what I was doing….trying to decide which way to go…. I had to choose whether to continue waiting to return to the antiques centre where I have a room (but had to vacate some 18 months ago, due to a serious fire – complications have meant rebuilding has been delayed). Taking the decision to wait required finding a way to fund the continuation of keeping all my stock and fittings in storage – i.e. “go out and get a new job, Haze”…. I must admit, this idea seemed favourite….but I knew what would happen…. I would become involved – adapt to a new life….that’s human nature…. Besides, I love what I do, it’s a passion; so, after careful consideration, it was clear, I needed to find another venue from which to trade….

After initial investigations, I was surprised by the lack of antiques centres in my local area; those that do exist are just that little bit too far away to be practical…. There are two or three others near to the Mill but as I will hopefully be returning there eventually, having two bases so close together seemed counter-productive to me…. I needed something a similar distance from home but in the opposite direction….but nothing appeared to be available….

It was whilst discussing this matter with my Mum one afternoon last week, that I picked up my phone to do another quick search of antiques centres in the local area….and there it was! How could I have missed this one before? Right there, under my nose, just half an hour away…. I must have passed it scores of times, as it lies on route to where my mother-in-law used to live…. From what I could see from the website – it looked lovely, absolutely perfect…. Obviously I was going to have to find out more….

Now this is where it gets uncanny….

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote another blog post – A stitch in time…. – As with all my ‘mini project’ posts, I became completely engrossed in finding out about my chosen subject; I was totally absorbed with this particular one – especially with regards to the treatment imprisoned suffragettes were subjected to – in the form of force-feeding…. In the blog, I mentioned several prominent activists who had been based in the Surrey Hills area…. One couple, who helped Emmeline Pankhurst found and run the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU), were husband and wife Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. It was their home, ‘The Mascot’, in South Holmwood, where many of the suffragettes who had been on hunger strike whilst in prison, went to recover upon their release…. Bearing in mind how I had taken this subject to heart – imagine my surprise when I found out this antiques centre neighbours that very house once occupied by the Pethick-Lawrences….

I knew as soon as I walked in to The Holly and Laurel Emporium that this was going to be the new place for me…. Everything about it felt ‘right’ – the friendly atmosphere, the delights around every corner waiting to be discovered…. My idea of ‘Heaven’….(and a gorgeous tea room – always an important factor in my book)…. So, at the end of this month, I will be taking up residence in a room at http://www.thehollyandlaurelemporium.com – and I can’t wait…. It will be so good to get my teeth back into what I love doing so much…. Then, of course, once the Mill reopens, I’ll have double the fun….

So, I am no longer at the crossroads, I am off down a chosen route again. I have always been of the opinion ‘what’s meant to be’…. Some may say all this is simply coincidence – but for me it is definitely an ‘omen’….

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Magpie Fledglings ressaure via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ressaure/7465779804/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strew thy floor with herbs….

After a month of having a poorly rabbit living in the bathroom I have got used to constantly clearing up a trail of straw and hay that seems to find its way around the rest of the house…. In days gone by that would have been perfectly normal in this old place; in fact, the floors would have been totally covered with the stuff….

When we first took possession of this cottage, one of our first jobs was to take up the brick floors of the bathroom and what is now the dining room. The brick was prone to drawing up moisture and so constant damp floors were an issue.  That said, even that – in its time – must have been an improvement on what was there before….plain, simple compacted mud. Yes, we often joke about living in a place with mud floors, this old cottage had literally just that….

The kitchen has old Victorian flagstones (unfortunately they are un-aesthetically pleasing – so now provide a base for wooden laminate flooring) but this floor too would once have been plain mud….

Grander abodes may have had stone floors – but mud or stone, neither offered much in the way of home comfort when left bare…. So, to overcome this, the floors would have been covered with reeds, rushes or straw. This made a soft ‘carpet-like’ covering, providing a little warmth and helping with cleanliness by soaking up spillages (and worse)….as in days gone by it wasn’t unusual for the inhabitants to share their dwelling with their most valuable assets….their livestock. Of course, cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are difficult to house train….

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Photo credit: Shy Goats Daveography.ca via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/raptortheangel/14685132727/

As if the smell of ‘eau de goat’ constantly lingering in the air wasn’t bad enough – the people probably didn’t smell much better either, as folk did not tend to bath much in the Middle Ages….

Then there were the other uninvited household inhabitants to be considered; rats, mice and other scampering rodents….and with these creatures came fleas, lice and ticks; the straw covering the floors and providing the stuffing for mattresses….an absolute haven for them….

Some households may have replaced the straw or reeds on a fairly frequent basis but the majority would have only changed them a couple of times a year, some may have not bothered at all…. Quite possibly a new layer would just have been added as required, the bottom, rotting layers staying in place for years….

In a previous blog I talked about how nose gays were used by people to overcome unpleasant odours – that was not the only way powerful smelling herbs were used to mask rancid, disagreeable whiffs….

All areas of the home, kitchens, dining halls, sleeping areas would have had herbs strewn amongst the floor covering. They would have been put amongst the straw of bedding and scattered across tabletops….any where they could release their sweet aromas….

When scattered on the floor the herbs would be crushed underfoot when walked upon; some herbs were chosen for their scent, others because they acted as a deterrent to insects, such as fleas….

The best strewing herbs according to Thomas Tusser’s “Five Hundred Good Points of Husbandry” (1573) were:- Bassel (basil), Bawlme (lemon balm), Camamel (chamomile), Costemary (costmary), Cowsleps and Paggles (cowslips), Daisies of all sorts, Sweet Fennel, Germander, Hysop (hyssop), Lavender, Lavender Spike, Lavender Cotton (santolina), Marjoram, Mawdelin, Penny Ryall (pennyroyal), Roses of all kinds, Red Myntes, Sage, Tansy, Violets and Winter Savery….

Many other herbs may have been included; mint, thyme, rosemary, meadowsweet, wormwood, rue, sweet woodruff…. Pennyroyal was used particularly as a flea or tick repellent and meadowsweet was a fond favourite of Queen Elizabeth I…. Part of the purpose of the Mediaeval and Elizabethan garden was to grow herbs for strewing….

Of course, it wasn’t just private abodes that had mud or stone floors, just about all buildings did, including churches. Church pews did not arrive until the 1400s; in fact, our very own church, St. Mary and All Saints, here in Dunsfold, is reputed to have the very first pews in the Country. Before seating was available those attending Services had to stand, kneeling when required to pray…. Only the rich could afford cushions, so it is not hard to imagine the discomfort such floors caused to the knees….

Once again the floors would have been strewn with rushes and herbs….making things a little more comfortable and at the same time disguising nasty odours from the unwashed bodies of the congregation packing the church, or perhaps those of the deceased buried under the church floor…!

Each year, typically in the late summer, the old, rotten rushes were cleared out ready to be replaced. It didn’t take long for the process to become an annual Parish event…. It became an excuse for villages across the Land to celebrate and party when the church’s rushes were replaced; a celebration with revelry, feasting, drinking and Morris dancing….

The rushes were taken to the church in carts, in what was to evolve into Rush Bearing Processions. The rush-cart would be decorated with garlands of flowers (which were then used to decorate the inside of the church) and often silver plate items, borrowed from those in the community fortunate enough to own some….and then the cart would have been pulled along by a team of men….

The processions became competitive, with each village trying to ‘out-do’ the next…. Competition was intense, to who had the biggest and best cart…. Possibly due to the large quantities of ale consumed, sometimes brawls broke out between opposing teams…. It was not unusual for church ministers to refuse entry into their churches of rowdy rush-bearers….

Sweet flag, a strongly aromatic perennial plant, was introduced to Britain during the 1500s and became the centre-piece of rush-bearing ceremonies. A versatile material, with medicinal and culinary uses, it was also used on some English cottages as thatching….

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Photo credit: Sweet Flag milesizz via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8583446@N05/3690603555/

Each church tended to allocate one day in the calendar for the ceremony. By the 16th Century, the bells were rung and ale, wine and cake were provided for the rush-bearers. Each church has a patron saint allocated to it at the time of consecration; an annual feast (wake) was held on the nearest Sunday to the official feast day of the allocated saint. By the 18th Century the rush-bearing ceremony usually formed part of the church’s feast day….

Rush strewing in churches died out in the early 1800s, as floors became flag-stoned…. Records show that one of the last was the church in Saddleworth, North Yorkshire, its floors were covered until 1826. Nowadays, certain areas, mainly confined to the North West areas of Cheshire and Lancashire, (although a small part of West Yorkshire participates too), have revived the tradition. Processions attract large crowds of spectators; the carts are highly decorated, with teams of men pulling them, whilst the ladies ride on top…. Who knows, perhaps it will become a celebration which spreads to the rest of the Country….let’s face it, nothing’s changed in that respect….any excuse to party….

The tradition of the little girl at a wedding, preceding the bride with a basket of petals and herbs comes from herb strewing…. Herbal weddings are becoming increasingly popular. Very often newly wed couples are showered with natural confetti, either fresh or dried. Many people like to make their own, maybe blending certain flowers and herbs to convey a personal message, they may incorporate: lavender – for luck and devotion, rose petals – for love, marjoram – for joy and happiness, chamomile – for patience and sage – to wish a long life….

To gather herbs for strewing in the home, they need to be picked in dry weather and it is best to hang them upside down in bunches to dry….

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Photo credit: Dried Herbs Caitlinator via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/caitlinator/4534924413/

To make a herb powder for use in the home:

1 cup borax : 1/2 cup salt : 1/2 cup powdered mint : 1/2 cup powdered rosemary : 1/2 cup powdered mug wort : 1/2 cup dried lavender

Herbs can be ground in a coffee grinder or spice mill (kept solely for the purpose) to make powder

Mix dry ingredients together – add 12 drops of essential oil of choice…. Sprinkle on rugs and carpets; leave overnight and vacuum in the morning….

Another easy tip: sprinkle lavender under rugs and doormats, to keep rooms smelling sweet – the scent is released when the lavender is crushed when the rug/mat is walked upon….

Happy strewing….

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Photo credit: A pile of dried lavender herb fotografeleen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fotografeleen/7839750708/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within these walls….

Eager to use every inch of available space in No.3, our attention turned to the area under the stairs, that for some reason had been ‘bricked up’ – literally, it was inaccessible.  As we set about removing the bricks, I jokingly remarked to John, “I hope we don’t find a body under here….”

John made a hole big enough to poke his head through and using a torch, peered into the darkness…. Inside could only be described as resembling a ‘midden’ – and there on top of a mound of earth, lay a bone! Slightly nervous of what we were about to find, we continued to break our way in…. What we found was an assorted pile of rubbish and a quantity of animal bones, we can only assume what we had unearthed was a very old rat’s lair….

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Bones found under the stairs of No.3….

Oddly though, amongst the debris were a collection of marbles and another of old bottle tops…. We never did get to the bottom of why the under stairs had been bricked up (perhaps it really had been a midden and previous occupants, long gone by, couldn’t be bothered to clear it out – who knows) ; it now serves as a very useful cupboard space….

As this was one of the last areas to be explored, I think we were secretly hoping we were going to find something like a ‘concealed shoe’….or perhaps some other ‘offering’ hidden away….protecting the house from evil spirits. We had gone over just about every other inch of the place and all we had found were a few hairgrips under a window sill, a magazine from the 1950s under the bath and a few giant acorns stashed in a hole in a beam….

‘Caches’, the correct term for offerings, (from the French ‘cache’ – meaning to give), are items that have been concealed somewhere in a building; under floors, above ceilings, up chimneys, around windows and doors, plastered into walls….

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Photo credit : ‘Semaphore Reno 004’ – Marlene Manto via Foter.com / CC BY-NC  Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marlenemanto/2874151309/    (Shoe plastered into wall….)

They were believed to protect the inhabitants from evil influences; witches, ghosts, demons and the like. It was a custom that was with us for centuries, only really dying out at some point in the last century (may be the advent of burglar alarms made people feel safer?!)…. It is not a custom that was confined just to the UK, by any means; such offerings have been found in buildings all over Europe, parts of Scandinavia, North America, Australia, even China….

Shoes are the most common; nearly always a single shoe, usually well worn and often repaired. In days gone by, as much use as possible would be gleaned from possessions, unlike the throw away society we know today….

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Photo credit : Edmund Patrick – CC BY-SA 3.0  Collection of concealed shoes from East Anglia held by St. Edmundsbury Heritage Service

About half of the shoes recorded have been those of children; it was believed the innocence and purity of children would over power evil spirits…. The earliest shoe that has been found to date was discovered behind the choir stalls in Winchester Cathedral, the stalls were originally built in 1308; it is thought the shoe may have been there since that time….

It is assumed many shoes are found and simply thrown away, never to be recorded. Northampton Museum has a ‘Concealed Shoe Index’ that it has been compiling since the late 1950s; it has approximately 2,000 entries. Shoes have been found in a large variety of buildings : monasteries, churches, hospitals, theatres, schools, even army barracks. They have been discovered in pubs and breweries, museums, factories and of course private dwellings, from tiny cottages to manor houses, even the likes of Hampton Court Palace….

The shoe is the only item of clothing that truly takes on the form of the wearer, it shapes itself to the foot…. It was believed that the spirit of a deceased person would be trapped in the shoe – a ‘spirit trap’…. It is thought this belief comes from the 14th Century, when it is said John Schorn, the Rector of Marston, Buckinghamshire, cast the Devil into a boot, thus entrapping him….

The largest cache found in the UK was in a 400 year old cottage, which was being renovated in Snowdonia, Wales. Here, building contractors found nearly 100 single shoes buried under a chimney stack. The nearest recorded example of a concealed shoe being found to here, was in the neighbouring village of Hascombe. A house was undergoing repair work and from the rafters fell an 18th Century child’s shoe….its heel broken down where the child had continuously pulled it on and off….and the toe was worn through.

Although many think the ‘concealed shoe’ was to keep away evil influences, there are also others who believe shoes were hidden as a fertility offering. Shoes have long been associated with fertility. In Lancashire, there is an old custom called ‘smickling’ – it involves trying on the shoes worn by a woman who has recently given birth, supposedly this brings luck in conceiving…. Casting a shoe after a bride departing for her honeymoon was another old tradition, even today we still tie shoes to the car of a newly wed couple….

Bröllopsfotografering Frida Pettersson och Pontus Svensson 2007-07-28
Photo credit : Just Married – Johan Lindqvist Fotografi via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johanlinqvist/4297282191/

Some think the connection between shoes and fertility is reflected in an old English nursery rhyme from Mother Goose :

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed….

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Photo credit : Internet Archive Book Images “Mother Goose’s Melodies : or songs for the nursery” (1879) via Foter.com/No known copyright restrictions : Original image URL: https//www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivesimages/14583156277/

This rhyme dates to 1794 and there are some that think it refers to King George II, who’s wife, Caroline, had eight children. George II had the nickname ‘Old Woman’ and it was widely believed that Caroline was the one with the real power….

Of course, it wasn’t just shoes that were used as caches. Other items of clothing have often been found; gloves, hats, belts, breeches, jackets. In a thatched cottage, in Pontarddulias, South Wales, a mid 18th Century corset was found in a wall…. It is not just clothing that has been found; objects such as coins, spoons, knives, books, goblets, pots, pipes, children’s toys and dolls and more macabre things, horses skulls and mummified cats….

Dried cats have been found on numerous occasions. It was thought the presence of the cat would deter vermin, such as rats. However, there was another reason cats were hidden within the house, cats were believed to be highly susceptible to detecting evil spirits : and because of their connection to witches, it was the belief that they would provide protection from such….

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Photo credit : Radarsmum67 via Foter.com / CC BY Mummified cat, found between floorboards in the attic of a Victorian house, built 1879, being renovated in Seaforth…. Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/radarsmum67/27029137971/

Witchcraft was greatly feared in centuries gone by. Witches bottles are also regularly found, no where more so than in East Anglia, where the belief in witches was very strong indeed…. Very often they are discovered buried under a fireplace, the floor or plastered into a wall. It was believed that as long as the bottle was kept well hidden and remained unbroken, the ‘spell’ contained within would keep on working…. The origins go back to the 1500s and they are particular to the Elizabethan period….

The earliest bottles to be found were typically ‘Bartmann jugs’ – made from salt glazed stone. During the 1500s and 1600s, Bartmann jugs were made throughout Europe but most especially in Germany. Shaped in the form of a bearded man, their intended use was to store food and drink. They were also manufactured in England, either by copycat potters or German immigrants. Because of the malevolent face of the bearded figure, it became adopted by many as the perfect vessel for a witch’s ‘spell’….

The contents were usually prepared by the local ‘witch’ or folk healer. The spells would be used not only to ward off evil but very often in an attempt to cure an affliction, condition or illness. Earlier spells would contain something personal of the person it was intended for, usually urine but sometimes hair or nail clippings….

Later witches bottles were often made of glass…. They would be filled with red wine, rosemary, pins and needles. The bottle would be buried and it was believed evil spirits would be caught on the pins and needles, drowned in the wine and then banished by the rosemary….

Other ‘ingredients’ could be added to the bottle; depending on the requirements of the particular spell – sea water, stones, earth, ashes, feathers, shells, vinegar….

Sometimes, instead of burying the bottle it would be hurled into the fire, causing it to explode; so if someone was thought to be ‘cast under a spell’, it would be broken….

Generally though, it was customary to bury the bottle, especially under the fireplace….

Now, there’s somewhere we’ve never looked…. Any one got a spade….?

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Photo credit : The British Library via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions  –  From the Ingoldsby Legends. Illustrated by Cruickshank, Leech and Tenniel (People’s edition) [A selection]  Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11276749235/