Saturday, 22 July 2017


As you may know, I've been caring for my 87-year-old mother in recent months. And I've also been looking after the garden, though it has to take second place to Mum's needs. At the moment the garden is a garish clash of bright colour, interspersed with rather more weeds than you might guess from the photos below. It would be nice to say that I've intentionally selected these showy plants with regard for my mother's failing eyesight. But alas that is not the case; it just kinda happened that way.....

These lovely lilies were grown by my brother Les. They grow in pots either side of the garden shed, beautifying the rather shabby woodwork for a few days each year.

Montbretia and Lavender growing together and setting up a dazzling colour-contrast. The Montbretia corms came originally from the house the family lived in over fifty years ago. Apart from being dug up and moved about the garden they've had no special care for all that time. Insinuating themselves amongst the lavender was entirely their own idea.

Dahlias: a burst of Mexican sunshine in the English garden. 

The Alexander Rose, bought by my father when our good friends and neighbours became the proud parents of baby Alex. The bush has grown rather tall and leggy over time, as indeed has young Alex who recently qualified as a doctor.

There's a large lavender plant whose scent makes an evening wander in the garden so addictive at this time of year. The bees are rather fond of it too.

My mother's favourite "pom-pom" dahlias are yet to really come to their peak and there are just a few blooms on them at present.

I've always been secretly fond of Petunias. If you can forget that they usually inhabit hanging baskets outside pubs and seaside hotels then you can start to appreciate them as cheerful flowers which go on blooming for most of the summer - if you remember to dead-head them regularly.

I've had this Dahlia for a few years now but the flower-heads have never had such a ragged, unkempt appearance as they have this year. Its bedraggled, early morning look makes me smile every time I see it.

Salmon-pink Pelargoniums. Recently our winters have been so mild that some of these have survived the winter outdoors, having been forgotten about the previous autumn.

About forty years ago my mother took it into her head that the garden needed some Hollyhocks and badgered my father relentlessly to grow some. Dad said very little about it and the idea was forgotten - till the next summer. Then Mum began the campaign again and eventually returned home with some seed. Father led her patiently into the garden and pointed out the big clusters of green leaves that were just beginning to send up their first flower spikes - the Hollyhocks he'd been growing since she first mentioned them!

Lavender and Petunias getting mixed up; I always underestimate just how far about the Lavender will spread itself.

My brother had a spell of huge enthusiasm for hardy Fuchsias and grew several different varieties. So many in fact that they rather outgrew his own little plot and stated to take over my parents garden too. And the delicate little ballerinas above are some of the survivors from that time. They're a lot tougher than they look!

It's always nice to see some insects in the garden, even common Greenbottles, seen here to advantage on the rich purple, velvety petals of this Petunia.

And finally some Runner Bean flowers in the vegetable garden. I understand that people grew these for their flowers at one time, long before anyone thought about eating them.

Take care.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Cambridge According To Conybeare

We first heard about Rev Conybeare when I visited Barrington church back in 2012 though I already knew his name from another context. I eventually remembered that he was the author of an old history of Cambridgeshire, oft quoted as a reference by later books, though I'd never blown the dust off the dear Reverend's august tome to read his words for myself. Still haven't. Though I did recently come across his Highways and Byways of Cambridgeshire, published in 1910, and it turned out to be surprisingly readable (in parts!). 

He's particularly good at coming up with interesting stories from the old days of the University. Here are some tales of varying degrees of truthfulness connected with some of the colleges we've visited on this blog.

Dr Perne from Peterhouse

Dr Andrew Perne was Master of Peterhouse from 1554 till his death some 35 years later, a remarkable achievement in those turbulent years when Catholics and Protestants were constantly at each other's throats. Many lost their posts and people were losing their lives as a result of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dr Perne however showed amazing versatility in his convictions. So much so that the Catholic Dr Perne preached the sermon when the bodies of the Protestants, Bucer and Fagius, were dug up and burned at the stake. When the decision was reversed and the pair were "rehabilitated" just three years later, it was Dr Perne, the Protestant, in the pulpit. 

Although none of this was of much concern to Bucer and Fagius, others within the University had great fun making jokes at Perne's expense. So that when he made a gift to the college of a weather-vane bearing his initials, A P, his critics said that it stood for A Papist or A Protestant, depending on which way the wind was blowing!

Fearful In Pembroke

Until the nineteenth century the colleges of the University, apart from Trinity and St John's, were very small indeed. But there was then a rapid expansion with more and more subjects added. Despite this in 1858 Pembroke College had just one new student. And he soon fled to Caius College. He was, according to Rev Conybeare, "afraid of being divided into sections by the authorities, to satisfy the demands of the Mathematical, Classical, and Philosophical lecturers provided by the College".

Parker Sticks His Nose In

Corpus Christi College has many pleasant buildings but probably no great masterpieces of architecture. It does however have a library. The Parker Library. A library which contains priceless ancient manuscripts including the 6th-century Gospels of St Augustine and the oldest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

These documents, along with many others, were plundered from the nearly 900 monasteries which Henry VIII dissolved between 1536 and 1541. Henry had no use for these books and was happy to see them used as waste paper. However Matthew Parker, the first Protestant archbishop, saw them as being vital to the founding of the Anglican Church and saved them for posterity, depositing them in his old college, Corpus Christi, where they can be seen to this day.

By a cunning clause in Parker's will, if a certain number of manuscripts were to go missing while in the care of the college, then the whole library was to be transferred to Caius College and thence to Trinity Hall, should a similar loss take place. The latter two colleges have the right to inspect the library every year to check the completeness of the library and indeed these annual inspections are still carried out, though as yet no books have been found to be missing.

Although Parker had a reputation for being a meddlesome busybody, there is sadly no firm evidence that the expression Nosy Parker derives from his inquisitive character.

A Noisy Ghost

Corpus Christi also has a reputation for being haunted, a notoriety largely based on unexplained noises heard during the night. (I've lived in student accommodation so this doesn't surprise me in the slightest!) 

The ghost is either 
        - the seventeen-year-old daughter of Dr Spenser (Master from 1667 to 1693) who died of fright having been discovered during what Rev Conybeare daintily describes as a "clandestine interview" with her undergraduate lover.... 
      - or it may be the lover himself who accidentally became locked in a cupboard while trying to hide....
         - or else a student from King's who, not wanting to haunt his own college, had the foresight to come over to Corpus Christi before doing away with himself.

The Early Days Of Student Protest

Trinity College has a splendid chapel, but you can have too much of a good thing. And when the Senior Fellows decreed in 1838 that all undergraduates must attend Chapel twice on Sundays and at least once on every other day of the week it was enough to spark a small rebellion. The method chosen was simple but effective. 

The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Students was formed and this secret body published league tables showing the Chapel attendance records of the Senior Fellows themselves. To their shame many were shown to be but irregular worshippers! At the end of the term the Society cheekily presented a Bible as a prize to Dr Perry, the Fellow with the best attendance. He went on to become the Bishop of Melbourne and cherished his prize for the rest of his days.

The members of the Society were eventually identified, but escaped punishment by agreeing to cease the publication of their lists.

Take care.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

All Human Life

In 1901 Charles Mackie collected together the most interesting articles published in The Norfolk Chronicle between 1801 and 1900 and published them in two books The Norfolk Annals vol I and II. They are now Public Domain and can be found free to peruse on line. They make fascinating reading to anyone interested in the history of East Anglia. So here are a few extracts from the first 10 years of the nineteenth century......

“To be seen alive in a genteel room at Mr. Peck’s Coffee-house, Church Stile, Market-place, Norwich, the largest Rattlesnake ever seen in England, 42 years old, near nine feet long, in full health and vigour.  He is well secured, so that Ladies and Gentlemen may view him without the least danger.  He has not taken any sustenance for the last 11 months.  Admittance, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1s.; working people and children, 6d.” April 11 1801 

 “Died, lately, at Strawberry Hill, near Collumpton, Devonshire, aged 78, the Earl of Montrath, of Weeting Hall.   His invariable dread of small-pox occasioned his lordship to lead absolutely the life of a recluse.  His terror was so great that he had five houses between his seat at Weeting and his house in Devonshire, to prevent the chance of infection, and at these houses small establishments were kept up, as he dared not sleep in an inn.” Mar 20 1802

Three gentlemen, for a considerable wager, undertook to walk blindfolded from Post Office Court to the great doors of St. Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich, in 15 minutes.  “Two of them performed it in less than the given time, much to the satisfaction of the spectators, but the other unfortunate gentleman bent his course rapidly for the Upper Market, and found himself at the expiration of the time at the great doors of St. Andrew’s Hall.” Oct 18 1802

“Lately, was married at Ranworth, Wm. Brown, aged 80, to Elizabeth Gunton, aged 63.  The bridegroom had had three wives, the bride three husbands, and the bridegroom’s daughter, who attended this wedding, had also had three husbands.”    May 7 1803

David Graham was convicted, before the Rev. J. Oldershaw, for driving cattle on Sunday at Harleston, and under the Act of Charles I. paid a penalty of 20 shillings. Nov 27 1804

“Died lately at Bristol Hot Wells, where she had gone for the recovery of her health, the Countess of Leicester.” Feb 13 1802

“At Diss, a number of labourers in husbandry refused to work for the customary wages, and being out of employment applied to the magistrates, who advised the parish officers to put them to work, which they accordingly did.  Their business was to carry bricks in a hod from Palgrave to Diss, a distance of two miles.  This medicine had the desired effect, for after two days they returned to their former employment.” July 27 1805

A woman, who had eloped from her home in Kent with a horse dealer, was found by her husband in a house in St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich.  She refused to return to him.  The dealer offered to buy the woman for £5, and her husband, agreeing, placed a halter round her neck, and surrendered all right and title to her for the sum named. Feb 9 1805

Died, aged 60, Elizabeth Clayton, of Wells-next-the-Sea.  “This woman, from an early propensity for masculine employments, had worked as a ship’s carpenter at the dockyard of the above port upwards of 40 years, and always in man’s apparel.  She used to drink, chew tobacco, and keep company only with workmen, yet would never enter into the matrimonial state.  She was a strong robust woman, and never permitted anyone to insult her with impunity.” Mar 4 1805

  “To be seen alive (from Mr. Kendrick’s menagerie, 42, Piccadilly), in a commodious room at Mr. Peck’s, the Church Stile, in the Market Place, Norwich, a most surprising crocodile from the Nile ever seen in this kingdom.  He is so remarkably tame that any lady or gentleman may touch him with safety.” Aug 9 1806

A woman, named Mary Hudson, aged 35, escaped from Norwich City Gaol under extraordinary circumstances.  She made a hole through the wall of the room in which she was confined, and crept through it into the street, taking her six months old infant with her.  The wall was two feet in thickness, and she must have been employed some nights in making the aperture.  The bricks were concealed beneath her bed, and the loose rubbish put into the pillowcase.  Another bed served to conceal the hole in the wall. Nov 9 1808

 At this date was published the statement “Norfolk grows the finest barley, and makes the worst ale of any county in the kingdom.” Aug 7 1813

 “There is now living at Oxburgh, in this county, William Durrant, a gardener, who yearly eats 1,095 red herrings, chews 18 lbs. of tobacco, and, to give his nose pleasure, takes 365 ozs. of snuff.  The total sum of tobacco, snuff, and red herrings is £13 18s. 10d.” March 3 1810

 At a meeting of the Trafalgar Lodge of Oddfellows, held at the Three Tuns, St. Andrew’s, Norwich, the floor of the upper room gave way and precipitated the members into a lower apartment.  No one was injured.  The meeting, at the time of the accident, had under discussion the question of the desirability of removing the lodge to other quarters. Dec 10 1811

Take care.