To Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on England’s south coast for the unveiling of the last stages of the restoration of Henry VIII’s favourite ship, The Mary Rose, after the Museum’s six-month closure to the public.
The date is especially significant because today, July 19th 2016, is the 471st Anniversary of the Tudor ship’s sinking off the coast of England. Over the years since her discovery on the bottom of the seabed and her subsequent raising from this watery grave in 1982 (an event watched by 60 million people worldwide) she has attracted and thrilled people in equal measure.
During the excavation project, 27,831 dives were made, and 22,710 hours of marine Archaeological work was needed on the seabed. The struggles and hardships endured by all who worked on this modern project is a story all by itself, but after decades of hard work and 437 years under water, the Mary Rose is now finally on view to the public in a spectacular Museum inside Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, home also, to Nelson’s ship The Victory.
It took 600 trees, mainly oak but some elm, to build the ship in 1510 and now one can see displayed, some of these wonderfully preserved timbers. The Mary Rose sank on the 19th July 1545, as it left Portsmouth with 500 men on board (of which only 35 survived) to take part in the 3rd French War, and it sank to the bottom of the Solent within sight of King Henry who was watching its departure from Southsea Castle. It lay there, at an angle of 60ᵒ, until excavations began in 1971. (Below is an image of cannon balls taken through the glass floor of the ship).
Since it’s recovery, TheMary Rose has been undergoing continuous conservation. First, the hull was sprayed with a mist of freshly chilled water and then, from 1994 to April 2013 when it entered a stage of controlled drying, with a water-soluble wax. Thanks to these methods, the hull is now in a stable condition which means that the black drying ducts which provided the necessary conditions for this, can now be removed and visitors can now have a clear and uninterrupted view.
Close up of timbers of The Mary Rose – Mari Nicholson
To date, 19,000 artefacts have been recovered from the site, including
6,600 arrow bits
9 barrels containing bones of fully-grown cattle
1 full skeleton of a dog aged between 18 months and 2 years old.
The new look Mary Rose Museum provides stunning panoramic views of all nine galleries of the ship through floor to ceiling glazing on the lower and main decks, while on the upper deck visitors will enter via an airlock and are then separated from the ship by only a glass balcony. On the floor are glass panels through which they can view ‘below decks’ which holds cannon balls and work-rooms.
Gun from The Mary Rose – Mari Nicholson
A walk around the Museum gives food for thought as you see how life was lived below decks in the 16th century. Whole cabins can be seen, the carpenter’s cabin, the surgeon’s cabin, the captain’s cabin, the archers’ quarters and those of the deck-hands, as well as the everyday things that made life bearable for these sailors, dice (for illicit gambling), purses, sewing-kits, belts. It is a fascinating insight into history, and a couple of hours spent here can impart more knowledge than reading a treatise on naval life in the days of Henry VIII. The plaque on the gun boasts Made in England because most guns were made in other parts of Europe and imported.
The baker’s oven that is pictured below is the original in every way, right down to the bricks used.
Truly abstract I think. Love the subtle muddy colours and the starkness of the image.
This is a piece of graffiti on a wall in London’s East End (Brick Lane area). It’s a wonderful place in which to make artistic discoveries. This one comes from the camera of London photographer Steve Moore who has given me permission to use it.
My new camera, the Sony A6000, has a brilliant inbuilt programme that turns the image from a basic photograph to one that can isolate one colour, say red or blue, leaving the remainder of the photograph in black & white; changes the image to one that looks like a water-colour with the tints bleeding into each other; and, my favourite, illustration which alters the photograph miraculously so that it looks like a graphic illustration. It is tempting to embark on designing a comic strip, or to illustrate an article with an illustration instead of an image.
Here I give you a few samples of Illustration, taken on a walk along my local beach the other day, a cold wintry day but with a blue sky lighting the day. I hope they reproduce in the blog as they do on my screen, best viewed very large.
It seems a shame that King Alfred, the man who defeated the Danes and united the English, has gone down in popular history merely as the man who burnt the cakes. But the city he made his capital does the man proud and it is impossible to stroll through the ancient streets of Winchester and not be aware of how “the Great” came to be added to Alfred’s name.
An unspoilt city and England’s ancient capital (the Court was mobile during the Anglo-Saxon period but the city was considered the capital of Wessex and England at the time), the cobblestones, buildings and monuments of Winchester, just an hour from London, ring with history. If you like big bangs and all things military, it is also home to a host of museums dedicated to all things warlike. Surrounded by water meadows and rolling downland, it offers the best of city life – modern shopping, quirky open air events, and great entertainment and it can be covered in a day (although a couple of days will show more of what is on offer and allow trips into the surrounding villages).
To get a panoramic view of the streets and buildings laid out according to the original Saxon plan, a good starting point is St. Giles’ Hill (a great spot for a picnic), from where you can pick out Hamo Thorneycroft’s famous statue of King Alfred. Then follow in the King’s footsteps from the walls erected to keep out the Danes to what is the largest medieval cathedral in the world. Famous for its treasures, from the sumptuously illustrated 12th century Bible to medieval paintings and a 16-metre stained-glass window 66% of which dates from medieval times, Winchester Cathedral is that much-overused word, awesome.
The newest acquisition is Sound ll, the Antony Gormley sculpture now permanently installed in the cathedral’s crypt where it looks particularly striking when the crypt floods which it frequently does. Even if you don’t make a habit of visiting cathedrals, do make an exception to view this magnificent Gormley work.
Fans of The Da Vinci Code will be interested to know that the cathedral’s North transept doubles as the Vatican in the film of the book, but those of a more classical bent will head for the tomb of Jane Austen which can be found in the nave where there is also a stained glass window to her memory.
The novelist died in Winchester on 18 July 1817 and is buried in the cathedral. While in this part of the cathedral, take note of the black font which depicts St. Nicholas of Smyrna giving an old man three bags of gold for his three daughters, said to be the forerunner of the pawnbrokers sign of three golden balls.
Continuing in the footsteps of King Alfred you could then head up the High Street to the Great Hall, all that remains of Winchester castle, and which for 700 years has housed the legendary Round Table. Old it certainly is, and round, but it hangs on a wall where with its red, black and white colouring it resembles an enormous dartboard. According to myth, the original was created by the wizard Merlin, but carbon dating in 1976 proved that this particular table was not made in the Arthurian 6th century but in the 13th, and this use of HyperPhysics sadly put paid to the legend.
The Round Table, High up on the Wall
Just outside the south door of the Great Hall, is Eleanor’s Garden, a re-creation of a medieval herbarium with turf seats and a camomile lawn, named after Eleanor, wife of Henry III, and Eleanor, wife of Edward I. All the plants you see would have been grown in the 13th century, when floral symbols had priority over design. The rose, lily, iris and strawberry plants represent aspects of religion while the greens – the grass, ivy, bay and holly represent faithfulness.
The oldest continuously running school in the country, 14th century Winchester College which became a model for Eton and for King’s College, Cambridge is nearby. You can join a guided tour for an intriguing glimpse into the medieval heart of the college, the 14th century Gothic chapel with its early example of a wooden vaulted roof, the cloisters (where graffiti carved into the stones during the 16th and 17th centuries is still visible) and the original scholars’ dining-room. As a complete contrast, you could later check out medieval Westgate, a fortified gateway which served as a debtors’ prison for 150 years and where prisoners graffiti is also still intact, albeit rather different from that of the scholars!
One expects to find ghosts in most ancient cities and Winchester is no exception. The most famous haunted Inn is The Eclipse in The Square, where the spectre of Alicia Lisle haunts the corridors. Seventy-one years old when she was found guilty of harbouring rebel cavaliers and sentenced to death by Hanging Judge Jeffreys, she spent her last night here in 1685 listening to the scaffold being erected for her hanging.
At the Theatre Royal in Jewry Street, a wandering apparition haunts the dress-circle and gallery looking for her long lost lover while in the 18th century High Street offices formerly occupied by the county newspaper, the rattling chains of a woman dressed in grey has been known to rattle the staff on more than one occasion.
Streams and waterways punctuate the streets of the city giving it a homely atmosphere – especially when you see someone hauling a fine trout out of the river – and the Bikeabout Scheme means that you can tour around for most of the day for the small registration fee of £10. Reflective jackets and helmets are also available.
You don’t need to cycle of course: there is a good transport system from Winchester to the picturesque villages of the Itchen and Meon Valleys, handsome Georgian colour-washed Alresford (pronounced Allsford) for instance, home of the famous Watercress Steam Railway where you can make a childhood dream come true by riding on the footplate. Later, stroll down the town’s elegant streets with their antique shops, and discreet fashion boutiques or along the riverside where the thatched timber-framed Fulling Mill straddles the River Arle. Alresford is the home of watercress farming in the UK, so expect to sample gourmet dishes made of the green stuff – watercress pudding, watercress quiche and even watercress scones with afternoon tea – in smart bistros, tea rooms and old-fashioned pubs like the Wykeham Arms with its award-winning menu.
If there are children in the party, then don’t miss Marwell Zoo. Home to over 200 species of animals and birds, from meerkats to sand cats, and some of the world’s rarest big cats including the Amur leopard and the snow leopard. There are volunteer guides around the park to help visitors and to explain and illustrate the efforts the zoo is making to rehabilitate endangered animals back in their habitat.
And after all that history and ancient stones, Winchester can still surprise you with its pedestrian-friendly streets, colourful markets and exquisite boutiques nestling beside large-scale stores. The High Street – once the Roman’s east-west route through the city – is home to stylish shops with Regency and Elizabethan bow-fronted windows, while The Square offers quaint pubs and restaurants after your exertions, and everywhere you’ll find bronze and stone carvings, many by famous sculptors. It lies just one hour by train from London, 40 minutes from Portsmouth Ferry Terminal, and 15 minutes from Southampton Airport.
Winchester’s a winner, and whether you taste runs to real ale or English wines, pub grub or gourmet dining, Goth outfits to designer chic, you’ll find it all here amidst the quiet stones that hold history’s secrets.
It’s a bit late now to tell you about the Old Gaffers’ Festival at Yarmouth which was a great success last week-end 25-27 May. Coinciding with what we hope was the start of our British summer, it attracted people from all over the south of England plus the residents of the Isle of Wight who flocked to the little town in their thousands to welcome the Old Gaffers.
Crowds throng the streets over the weekend.
For those of you who may be wondering what, or who, are the Old Gaffers, they are a type of sailing boat (I’ve given a link to the website where you can find the technical details) and the Yarmouth Festival attracts the boats and their owners for a weekend of sailing and merry-making. The gaff-rigged boats, dressed overall, is something one doesn’t see every day and the harbour filled with the colourful boats is a complete contrast to the usual fleet of everyday boats. The main race was on the Saturday, but people were arriving on the Friday for the Continental Fair (this could be Continental Fare as there was food from France, Spain, Italy and Germany on sale, both as takeaway and to eat there and then).
Boats Dressed to Kill
Glorious weather on the Saturday and Sunday meant that the town was pretty busy but the exceptional stalls in the main square, the displays of food, bread, sausages, pastas and paellas were so enticing, that more than half the people spent time looking and tasting which left the beach and pier less crowded for those whose main interest was the sailing.
Various horticultural merchants were offering bargains in unusual plants and shrubs, craftsmen and women were demonstrating their workmanship and the whole event was like an old fashioned Fair. It was almost a novelty not to have the usual market traders hawking their goods.
Freshwater & Totland Samba Band
On the Friday night Rob da Bank topped the bill with some great acts and the tribute bands had their turn on the Saturday night. Bands played all day long, marching bands, bands in marquees, jazz bands, and even the Freshwater and Totland Samba Band paraded through the town. The Wight Hot Pipes (bagpipes, guitar and keyboard) were on hand, as were the Boogie Woogie Pianos with Team le Roc dancers, and The Crew sang shanties and sea songs in keeping with the Festival. There was even a male voice choir. Among the street entertainers was a magician, the Men O’Wight Morris Dancers, Irish country dancing from th Ceri Dancers and on the sea the RNLI lifeboat demonstrated a search and rescue mission.
Sea Shanties from the Boat
The Beer Tent and the Real Ale tent, the Strawberries and Cream Teas, and the local ice-cream makers were all kept pretty busy. Those who could tear themselves away from the eating and the fun around the harbour could inspect the Veteran and Vintage vehicles that were on display.
Once again, The Old Gaffers Festival has pleased thousands of people. Let’s hope the weather is equally kind for next year’s event.
The overflow found the shingle beach quite comfortable
Thanks to the glorious weather currently being enjoyed by most people in the UK, I’ve been able to explore some of the hidden gems on the Isle of Wight, England’s island in the Solent, and home for many years to Queen Victoria and her family. Just ten minutes by fast catamaran from Portsmouth, or twenty minutes by Fast Jet from Southampton, the island is one of the UK’s favouite holiday resorts.
Apart from the delightful sandy beaches of Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor, and the pebbly beaches and rockpools of Bembridge and Seaview, there are miles of coastal, forest and woodland walks. Yesterday I took myself into the woods at Borthwood Copse, near the old village of Alverstone, to view the bluebells. To see these at their best I shall have to return in about a week’s time I think, but meantime, those that were in bloom, made a lovely misty blue carpet under the trees.
Before entering the woods, I popped into the Hide at the Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve to see if I could spot a red squirrel (the island is one of the few places where these delightful little creatures have managed to fight off the grey squirrel predators) and I was lucky enough to see one. Just outside the entrance, there is a list of what birds have been spotted that day (see image). What a wonderful resource for anyone visiting, especially bird watchers. I spent far too long in the Hide, absorbed by the ducks, geese and other wildlife that had nested on the pond below, so had to cut my walk short in order to meet up with friends for lunch in nearby Godshill.
The woods were magical. Few people were walking there, a few had well behaved dogs on leads, most had cameras and many took advantage of the tree stumps dotted around the place, to rest and gaze at the myriad shades of green that formed the woods. There were copper coloured leaves on the ground which made a contrast to the young green of new shoots, the fallen tree-trunks stretched across them like an illustration from a fairy tale. I could imagine Red Riding Hood wandering through just such woods as these.
They flock here for the walking, the cycling, the clean, fresh air, and the sea and the sand. They also come for the Pop Festival which takes place every year and is such a success that the organizers are now talking of having two per year. Top groups headline the event, from The Rolling Stones, to Lily Allen, and the island almost sinks under the crowds that arrive for four days of music and fun. The original pop festival was way back in the sixties, when the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Doors, Tiny Tim (remember him?) and various other singers and groups thrilled the fans who flocked to the island from all over Europe. Now that pop festivals are two a penny, we don’t make the headlines as we did then, but it’s still an important date on the festival calendar.
When the visitors recover from the heady excitement of sleeping in tents and living on burgers and chips, they usually head off to see the sights. Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Italianate villa near Cowes and an English Heritage property, is high on everyone’s list as it is one of the few royal summer palaces that still resembles a family home. It is much as it was when Queen Victoria was on the throne, and the children’s nursery, their toys, her desk next to that of her beloved husband Albert, and the many stone statues of the family pets are still scattered about the house and grounds. Victoria’s tiny bed where she died is still on view along with the bathrooms and part of the kitchens and an amazing collection of family photographs.
There is now a delightful cottage in the grounds of the estate which can be rented for long weekends or a week, during which time the renters have the use of the grounds after the visitors have gone. Queen for a day!
Round then to Cowes to view the sailing boats battling the currents and the winds on the Solent. The world’s most famous Regatta, Cowes Week (actually ten days in August) may no longer attract the crowned heads of Europe but it still attracts the royally rich in their magnificent yachts to sport on the Solent’s famous waters. Yachts owned my billionaires and crewed by millionaire they say.
A stop at Farringford House for coffee in the former home of the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, where one can sit on the terrace and gazed at the magnificent lawns that sweep down to Freshwater Bay and then, suitably refreshed, a hike across Tennyson Downs where it is said the poet composed The Charge of the Light Brigade, reciting it as he strode along the coastal path, cape flapping in the breeze and breathing in air that he described as “worth 6d. a pint”.
Time must be allowed for visiting Carisbrooke Castle from which Charles I was taken to London and beheaded, the delightful Brading Roman Villa with an excellent shop on site, good restaurant/cafe and daily activities for children which involves dressing up. The island has a reputation of great pubs serving good beers (and wines) and in between visits to famous landmarks and museums, the traditional pubs – old, thatched, with flagged floors and old beams, offer great places for lunch or a snack, morning coffee or afternoon cream tea, and for the fresh home grown pork and lamb, home cured bacon and sausages, our own garlic dishes from the garlic farm, lobster, crabs, prawns and fish straight from the sea.
Truly, an Isle of wonders.
And maybe, book up again for the next music festival? The Blues Festival, or Bestival in September, another great week-end of music under the stars on an island that Karl Marx described as “a little bit of paradise”.