It’s all about the pecking order

Arrival

Last month whilst staying with my father I hid behind the Venetian blinds and poked my camera lens through to see what was occurring at the bird feeders. There were several phases of activity when several birds arrived at the same time.

Fat-for-me

This very beautiful long-tailed tit, timid and nervous, only really managed to tuck in once the other birds had flown away.

Long-Tailed-Tit-looking

Then a noisy chattering of starlings (well six or seven) turned up to muscle their way in.

Starling-squeezes-in

After initially flying away the long-tailed tit eventually plucked up enough courage to fly back and hang onto the feeder and wait for his turn again. He obviously knew his place in the pecking order.

Pushy-starling

Not all the birds were interested in the fat ball. The greenfinches were happy to peck away at the sunflower seeds. Much to my amusement I did see the starlings make an attempt at landing on the perches, but they were too big, and, after unsuccessfully flapping around and wasting energy, they gave up and returned to the fat ball.

Greenfinch

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Oxburgh Hall Part 2 – Interiors, ground floor

Library-chair-Oxburgh-HallFollowing on from Oxburgh Hall Part 1 let’s now take a tour of the interior of this National Trust moated manor house. As we wander through the ground floor rooms we find essentially a nineteenth-century, neo-Gothic revival aesthetic. As with any property surviving over 500 years the handful of grand rooms open to visitors is an eclectic mix of period layers, but essentially the top gloss is a Victorian version of Gothic.

The-Saloon-Woolworth-Chandelier-Oxburgh-Hall
Nineteenth-century cut glass chandelier. It is either of English or American manufacture and was brought to Oxburgh Hall in 1985. It is known as the ‘Woolworths Chandelier’ as it was purchased by the NT using funds from a charitable trust connected to one of the heirs to the Woolworths fortune.

The first noteworthy room on the tour is the Saloon. This is a large space built to be a picture gallery by the architect John Tasker in 1775. Today, all is not quite what it seems. For example, beneath the residual Neo-classical frieze (see chandelier photo) is a red Gothic Revival wallpaper. The original Pugin design for a red flock wallpaper was made by  J D Crace, but the paper on the walls today is a replica. This large room is also hung with a number of oil paintings that turn out to be mostly 19th-century copies of earlier royal portraits.

Lady-Arundell-of-Wardour
Lady Arundell of Wardour – oil on canvas. Circa 1694 – 1744

There are a few earlier primary pictures such as this portrait of Lady Arundell of Wardour that may have adorned this specific space when it was first built. Lady Arundell was a distant cousin of Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld’s (1689-1760) wife. As an interesting and valuable original painting, it was sold from the estate in 1951 before the house was given to the NT. However, in 2007, it was bought back by the NT for £11,250 from an auction at Sotheby’s in London and then restored to Oxburgh Hall.

Collectors' Cabinet - the Antwerp Cabinet
The Antwerp Cabinet – tortoiseshell, ivory, ebony and gilded copper.

The decision to style this room, despite its 18th century origins, with royal portrait copies, heavily carved neo-Gothic furniture, flock wallpaper and a 19th-chandelier giving it a high Victorian sensibility, is puzzling. Perhaps this is more a nod to a version of the manor house when it was in its Victorian heyday.  Of course, all these derivative oils may have been collected/bought by the Bedingfelds during the 19th century to boost their credentials during the period when the old English Catholic families were returning from exclusion. Interestingly, there is also a question mark as to the authenticity of one of the Oxburgh grand furniture pieces, the splendid Antwerp Cabinet. It looks like a Collectors’ Cabinet that was traditionally made in Antwerp during the period 1650 to 1670, but according to the experts it has features that suggest it may have been constructed in the 19th century to look like an older piece.

The West Drawing Room was also originally a Neo-classical room with floral chintz wallpaper, but was substantially changed in 1865. Today there is a painting by the renowned 18th-century portrait painter Angelica Kauffman hanging to the right of the original Neo-classical fireplace.

Angelica-Kauffman-portrait-of-Mary-Walsh
Portrait by Angelica Kauffman. Sitter is Mary Walsh, Mrs Ralph Clavering. Oil on canvas. c 1780

It’s a portrait of Mary Walsh also later known as Mrs Ralph Clavering, another Bedingfeld’s wife’s relative. It too was sold in 1951, but in 2008 it was also purchased back at Sotheby’s in London for £79,250 and returned to Oxburgh Hall by the NT. And, here’s what the NT has to tell us about finding the funding to make the purchase. It is an excerpt from their blog – Treasure Hunt, National Trust Collections:

It was clear that we would need significant funds to buy back the personable Mrs Clavering. However, the volunteers who run the second-hand bookshop at Oxburgh generously contributed a substantial sum, and we also managed to secure a grant from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. In the end we had just enough to beat off the competition, and the picture is now back at Oxburgh.

Next we walk past the West Staircase which is adorned by the most fascinating painted leather wall covering (early 18th century from the Low Countries), but it’s cordoned off. Then it’s into the library. This room displays more of a wholesome expression of Victorian Gothic as it appears less restored and has a more authentic feel.

Oxburgh Hall library with Buckler fireplace
The Library, Oxburgh Hall.

Naturally, a library has many books and along with the room’s original Buckler fireplace (1831) and the (mostly original) heavily carved Victorian Gothic furniture, the library contains little groupings of ephemera that bring the room to life.

For example there is a table set with a cut glass decanter, glasses, pipes and matches, and, predictably, a family photograph. Oddly the chosen photograph is not an early photographic portrait – though it could be. They could have used the 19th-century photograph of Margaret Paston who married Sir Henry Bedingfeld in 1826. It was she, together with her husband, who was primarily responsible for the creation of this room. Obviously, the original image cannot be displayed in daylight, but a good quality copy could be easily made.

The-Dining-Room-Oxburgh-Hall

After the library we walk into the Dining Room which used to be the library during the 18th century. Like much of Oxburgh Hall this is another room reworked by the Victorian architect J C Buckler. During the 1830s Buckler oversaw the installation of the heavily carved wooden panelling some of which also includes earlier carved sections dating from 1635 and 1731. The room has an enchanting atmosphere created by the slightly distressed, gilt and scarlet wallpaper thought to be designed by the Victorian stained glass artist, Thomas Willement.

However, the most beautiful arrangement in the room is the octagonal table in the bay window.

Octagonal table made by the Belgian cabinetmaker Malfait.
Octagonal table made by the Belgian cabinetmaker Malfait.

How delightful it would be to sit here, sipping coffee and gazing out over the moat towards the Norfolk countryside.

As National Trust visitors when you enter Oxburgh Hall you turn right, but if you’re “U” then you turn left . . . . . . . .  a bit like boarding a plane!

Turn-Left-no-private.jpg

 

 

A dog day at the beach

Terrier-inquisitive

Sometimes you just need to get away from everything for a couple hours and let the wind blow away all the cobwebs in your head. The exposed east coast of Norfolk often has a ‘brisk’ breeze and I usually come back from a walk at Waxham feeling as though I’ve been somewhat sandblasted.

Doggie-friends

Most of the dogs at the beach seemed to thoroughly enjoy running around off the lead.

However, not all of them appreciated a soaking by an unexpectedly, energetic wave catching them off guard.

Not-enjoying-being-wet

For me, I’m re-energized and feel ready to carry on with the wall hanging and now have a clearer idea how to achieve the finished piece – eventually!

silk and mixed fibre wall hanging
Detail of work in progress. ‘The Disintegration of Hilarion’ – wall hanging made with painted silk, silk taffeta, cotton velvet and wool.

It was windy at the beach this Christmas

It-was-windy-at-the-beach-Christmas

It was misty too with sea spray, but not really, really cold. Ending 2015 with unseasonal warmth.

Walking-into-the-wind-Waxham

The weather may have been grey, but there was plenty of new colour!

Go-on-convince-me

And, finally, end of the year brings parties and celebrations and – a very Happy New Year to all.

Cheery-Happy-New-Year.jpg

Captured but not criminal – the fascinating Marabou Stork and friends

Imprisoned-not-criminal

Pelican in her Piety. Mid 15th-century French manuscript illumination. MMW 10 B 25, f32r. Meermanno Museum, Holland.
Pelican in her Piety. Mid 15th-century French manuscript illumination. MMW 10 B 25, f32r.
Meermanno Museum, Holland.
Recently I’ve been looking at medieval sculptural details and one of the more interesting themes is ‘The Pelican in her Piety’. When food was scarce the female pelican was thought to peck her own breast until it bled in order to feed blood to her young. This Christian imagery of ‘The Pelican in her Piety’ would have been a familiar symbol across medieval Europe representing the self-sacrifice of Christ’s Passion.

It is intriguing to examine fifteenth-century English interpretations depicting pelicans despite these birds not being found naturally in the British Isles. The above sculptural representations of this theme can be seen in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in the South Norfolk village of East Harling. Searching out local, regional work is one of the pleasures of investigating the creative skills and imagination of the medieval artisan.

It is also thought-provoking to consider the dispersal and then acceptance of new ideas and symbols such as the pious pelican. Perhaps one route of transmission occurred through illuminated books. All kinds of real and imaginary combinations decorate their pages. This intriguing image of an ape riding a crane is from a fourteenth-century Flemish Psalter.

ape riding a crane
Ape riding a crane.
MS Douce 5 – f211v
Flemish Psalter probably from Ghent. c1320-30.
Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Of course, monks working away illuminating manuscripts in a medieval scriptorium in Europe may have seen a crane or a stork or even a pelican in the wild, but ever since the Ancient Egyptians there is evidence of humans capturing and keeping birds in cages. Nowadays, more often than not it is the rare and endangered birds that are kept not in cages, but in wildlife sanctuaries in attempts to save their species.

These birds – storks, cranes (members of the Great Crane Project) and ibises form part of a collection at the Pensthorpe Natural Park in North Norfolk. Sadly though there are no pelicans not even the Dalmatian Pelican whose current status is listed as vulnerable.

Reading round the bird forums on the Internet I saw somebody describe these stunning birds as ‘deeply ugly’, surely not! I agree they are, along with herons, not tiny, sweet and cuddly, but to me they appear, with a little visual imagination, to have flown in from the Cretaceous Period. They bring with them a hint of early Earth drama with their pterodactyl-like appearance.

Guild of St George Alderman builds Dragon Hall

Medieval-carved-dragon-on-arch-Dragon-Hall

Originally, a hall house in Old Barge Yard, Norwich, Dragon Hall was remodelled and extended during the 15th century by successful merchant, alderman and member of Norwich’s Guild of St George, Robert Toppes (c.1405-1467). Toppes wanted a building that was both a showroom and a warehouse with easy access to the River Wensum. This striking timber-framed building was known then as Splytts and the main showroom was the magnificent first floor hall (85ft by 21ft). Here merchant Toppes would have laid out his fine woollen cloth, the famous worsted wool, to be traded and exported to Europe. And, at the same time he would have set out his recent imports from the Continent to sell to his Norwich clients.

dragon hall model
Dragon Hall model showing how the main showroom/hall may have been used to display and trade woollen cloth during the 15th century.
crown post timbers
The crown-post roof of the main hall.
Dragon Hall, King Street, Norwich.

The showroom was made impressive by a high crown-post roof displaying arched braces and tie-beams. And, in the spandrel of one tie-beam we can still see the fearsome carved dragon (top photograph) showing traces of medieval coloured paint. Some of the roof timbers we see today are original 15th-century beams and these too would have been painted. The showroom/hall was lit by three projecting full-height windows on the west side and one similar large window on the east, river side, of the building. This would have been a bright, innovative, outstanding commercial space in its heyday.

Dragon Hall external east facade
East side of Dragon Hall, King St, Norwich showing the first floor full-height window.
Timber and brick 15th-century medieval trading hall originally known as Splytts.
c.1430s

Away from the showy hall the rib-vaulted, brick undercroft provided warehouse space.

brick built vaulted undercroft
The rib-vaulted undercroft provided a secure storage area.

Nowadays visiting Dragon Hall you can see the sensitive restoration (1979-1988) which has peeled back centuries of patchwork remodelling and, interestingly, at the same time leaves some very early reworking detail in place such as a three times altered doorway.

Ogee arch doorway, within rough segmental arch doorway now bricked up.
Ogee arch doorway, within rough segmental arch doorway now bricked up.

Scrimshaw with a difference

Fisherman-mending-netsIf you’ve ever wondered what the folks used to do in a few minutes of downtime before everybody had a smart phone to fiddle with – it was a spot of scrimshaw. Well, it was if you were a whaler in the 18th or 19th century.

Scrimshaw is the carving of images onto the leftover bleached bones or ivory from the carcasses of hunted marine mammals. Most commonly, the bones and teeth of sperm whales and the ivory tusks of walruses were used. Nowadays when you see these types of examples in museums, which in some cases so obviously look like the original whale tooth or tusk, it’s quite disconcerting. We know that the 19th-century industrialised hunting of sperm whales has taken the species to near extinction and knowing that coloured my response to the whalers’ handiwork. Of course, they were unaware of the extent of the damage being done, for them being a whaler was simply a hard and dangerous way to earn a living. I suppose the best that can be said is that whilst living this harsh life they still wished to be productive and creative, and their finished pieces were tradable and are now viewed as folk art.

Interestingly and unusually, at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, along with the carved sperm whale teeth there were a couple scrimshaw ostrich eggs. Still, I would definitely prefer a dark chocolate Easter Egg instead!

I spy a new Education Centre at Cley Marshes, Norfolk

Cley Marshes is a well-known and very popular Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) nature reserve. It has been a valuable, saved habitat since the marsh land was purchased by keen birdwatcher Dr Sydney Long in 1926, to be conserved as a safe site for breeding birds.

Some of the hides as viewed from the Visitor Centre at Cley Marshes NWT Reserve.
Some of the hides as viewed from the Visitor Centre at Cley Marshes NWT Reserve.

In 2007 the NWT opened the eco-friendly Visitor Centre just off the Coast Road to offer more wildlife information plus refreshments for the increasing numbers of visitors interested in birdwatching. The main building has a beautiful living/green roof planted mostly with sedums and the neighbouring thatched building provides an exhibition space.

The newest addition to the Visitor Centre complex is the glass and cedar wood building that is the ‘Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre’.

“The new Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre will provide visitors and groups with events for all ages and abilities. We want to inspire them through fun activities, talks, walks, performances and exhibitions as well as adult and school workshops.”

Chief Executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Brendan Joyce.

Attractive cedar seating fronts large flint filled gabions perhaps chosen to combat the strong winds whipping round such an exposed coastal site.
Attractive cedar seating fronts large flint filled gabions perhaps chosen to combat the strong winds whipping round such an exposed coastal site.

Then, when you look away across the marshes from the new seating area even on a very cold, extremely windy grey day, you can just see the North Sea.

View-across-Cley-marshes-North-Sea

And finally, why ‘I spy’, well, for non-locals Cley is pronounced like ‘spy’ and if you think that is a little odd how about Costessey pronounced ‘cossy’ and Happisburgh actually pronounced ‘haze brough’!

Saint Valentine’s Eve and the Victorians of Norwich

Make-your-own-Vic-style-ValentinesCelebrating Saint Valentine’s Eve – a new idea perhaps, but not so, in fact an old local Norwich jollification. During the evening of February 13th wrapped gifts labelled with ‘Good Morrow Valentine’ were left on doorsteps all over the city.  Anonymous admirers then knocked on front doors and hastily retreated. In 1862 one local resident Helen Downes commented, 

‘We do not here content ourselves with lace-cut papers, but everybody sends everybody real presents anonymously; and, as on all gift-bestowing occasions, the children come in for the lion-share.’

During the Victorian times in Norwich the weeks before Valentine’s Eve found the shops so busy with extra trade that additional temporary sales assistants were hired. The folks of Norwich were shopping for Valentine’s gifts. The grander gifts on offer included workboxes, vases, tea caddies and umbrellas or for a very lucky lady a ‘Norwich Shawl’.

Norwich Argus newspaper
Local retailers advertise their Valentine’s gifts in the Norwich Argus, Saturday, 5th February 1876.

However, the most typical gifts were gloves and perfume together with the familiar Valentine’s day card. Victorian Valentine’s cards were elaborate affairs with embossing, paper lace, feathers and even hand stitching.

According to the information at Norwich’s Bridewell Museum both young and old took part in celebrating St Valentine’s Eve. The museum is dedicated to the history of Norwich and as part of displays showing the story of local commerce it has a superb collection of high quality Victorian hand stitched Valentine’s card. Similar examples are sometimes sold nowadays by antique dealers and I’ve also found a few vintage survivors (pictured above and below) on Etsy from Moon Maiden Emporium, The Jewel Mystique and SCDVintage.

I couldn’t help but think how we so often assume we are living in the most consumer conscious times, but nothing is new and the Victorian Norwich shopkeepers obviously spotted a lucrative opportunity over a hundred years ago. Of course, you could just have a go at making your own version! (Sorry no delicate sewing with silk and lace trim just wrapping paper, doilies and reproduction Victorian scraps.)

Vic-style-homemade-Valentines

Renaissance tomb in Suffolk for a Tudor Norfolk

Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle, Framlingham, Suffolk.
One of the residences of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk.

As Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ receive the much lauded BBC period drama conversion to a television series, a new portrayal of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554) will appear on our screens. This time the Duke is played by Bernard Hill and as in Mantel’s books he is loud, angry and ferociously ambitious. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk was one of England’s most powerful nobles whose first wife, Anne, was sister to Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.

Despite the Duke of Norfolk being one of the most prominent courtiers, he remained a Catholic throughout the violence and upheavals of the Reformation during the latter part of Henry’s reign and the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI. However, towards the end of the Henry’s reign both Norfolk and his son, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, ended up in the Tower of London. The pair had been found guilty of treason and in January 1547 Henry Howard was beheaded at the Tower. His father’s execution date was set for 29 January 1547 but King Henry died the day before. Following the death of Henry VIII the old Duke of Norfolk was not executed, but instead spent the next six years in the Tower. As a Catholic he was finally released on the accession to the throne of Queen Mary. He died a year later aged 80 years old at his Kenninghall residence, but before his death he had commissioned England’s finest early Renaissance tomb.

duke of norfolk tomb
The tomb of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, Church of St Michael, Framlingham, Suffolk.
From the left St Andrew, St James the Less, St James the Great and St Matthew.
Alabaster. Mid 16th century.

The chest-tomb is exquisitely carved from alabaster depicting the twelve Apostles plus St Paul and Aaron carved round the four sides with effigies of the Duke and his first wife, Anne, lying along the top.

duchess of norfolk
Effigy of Anne, first wife of the third Duke of Norfolk, daughter of King Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort.

The representation of the twelve Apostles was a traditional Catholic theme that was found in churches across the country often painted on the rood screen. However, the interpretation of this popular medieval choice is created here in an early Renaissance European idiom, possibly carved sometime in the mid-sixteenth century. The sculptor is unnamed, but the work is regarded as Italianate in style, but also displaying French influences.

North side of tomb showing from the left St Philip, St Simon, St Jude and St Matthias with St Peter facing west.
North side of tomb showing from the left St Philip, St Simon, St Jude and St Matthias with St Peter facing west.

The individual saints stand in shell-headed narrow niches, four along the north and south sides, and three at the east and west ends of the tomb. The design of the tomb suggests it was intended to be viewed from all four sides, but this is no longer possible.

Instead, the tomb-chest is positioned up close to the east wall of the chancel. The Duke of Norfolk had been overseeing the partial rebuilding of St Michael’s Church when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The rebuilt and enlarged chancel was to provide space to accommodate the tombs that were removed from Thetford Priory with the dissolution of the monasteries. Of course, this tomb may originally have been destined for Thetford Priory where traditionally the Norfolks had been interred.

effigy thomas howard
Effigy of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk.

According to a visiting Venetian ambassador, the Duke of Norfolk was described as ‘small and spare in person’ and here he is displayed as stern, thin and angular. The effigy wears full armour, it has a long, pointed beard and around the collar the inscription reads ‘Gracia Dei sum quod sum’ – ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am’.

Early Renaissance representation of St James the Greater and St Matthew embellishing a grand tomb for a very ambitious mortal.
Early Renaissance representation of St James the Great and St Matthew embellishing a grand tomb for a very ambitious mortal.

Breakfast please – it’s been a cold night

Blackbird-food

First very cold night of the winter and this morning five blackbirds have been squabbling over the limited food resources round the garden. One of the birds came up close to the window and just perched on a pot staring out across the frozen pond.

Bird-frozen-pond

Blackbirds will feed from a high bird table, but they prefer pecking around at ground level. This morning I mixed up some uncooked oats with a little lard and chucked in a few raisins and left the mixture on the patio. One male bird attempted to claim the lot, but whilst he chased off one competitor another would dart in and sneak off with a beak full.

Blackbird-waiting