The Unbearable Emptiness of Lockdown

I was going to write about my experience of walking from the Waterfront to the Town Centre on a ‘busy’ Friday lunchtime in Ipswich, but I think on this occasion the pictures speak for themselves.

The Hold – on hold
Shoppers’ car park
Busy Buttermarket
Tree parking
A delivery

Contemporary or Early Medieval?

Sometimes it is only too easy to make assumptions. This image of a rather smug looking cat could be a ‘Good Luck’ greeting card or a contemporary print.

In actual fact it is one of twelve similar, although not identical, twelfth-century lions carved in relief to decorate a marble font bowl.

The square font bowl is made from black Tournai marble and is set on a Tudor stone base. Although Tournai marble fonts decorated with lion motifs are found throughout Europe, there are only nine in England. This particularly fine example can be found in St Peter’s Church, College Street, Ipswich.

There is evidence of a church on this site since Saxon times and further evidence of a stone building from 1130 when an Augustinian priory dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul was established to the east and north of the church. It is thought that the font dates from the latter part of the twelfth century and that it is almost certainly the original priory font.

The font arrangement we see today in St Peter’s was organised by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey when he claimed St Peter’s in 1528 following the dissolution of the priory.

A frieze of monumental lions passant decorate the font.

However, the damage to the font base we see today occurred after the Cardinal’s time. This deliberate defacing of the figures was carried out by William Dowsing, when according to his journal, he visited Ipswich on 29th January 1643.

The black marble font atop the Tudor base featuring now defaced figures.

Through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Suffolk wool trade brought prosperity to Ipswich. The extensive rebuilding of the old church begun by Wolsey was continued after his fall and death with the wealthy parish funding the rebuilding work.

These days, something that no doubt would have surprised Cardinal Wolsey, St Peter’s is no longer a site of Christian worship. The church, redundant since 1973, was converted in 2006-08 to a music and arts centre. It is a popular venue in normal, non-Covid times regularly hosting ‘The Ipswich Hospital Band’ and a ‘Jazz by the Waterfront’ series.

These cats look like they’ve taken a few sips from those beer glasses momentarily balanced on the rim of the font as enthusiastic jazz fans offer their applause at the end of a set. And, here’s to a return of the music in the not too distant future.

Note – April 2020 – I made this visit before the Covid Lockdown and like many public places this building is currently closed.

Civic Spaces at Christmas Time

Last year at Christmas time the Cornhill in Ipswich was a public space that, although newly refurbished, was a cluttered muddle.

The Cornhill, Ipswich – December 2018. The Christmas tree squeezed in next to the new sculptural installation – The Plinths.

The splendid Town Hall and Corn Exchange was dressed with lights and the traditional, tall Christmas tree was erected, but any civic grandeur was lost with an ill-considered large new sculptural artwork and an additional seasonal shopping marquee plonked in the middle of the concourse.

During the course of 2018 there had been an extensive remodelling and refurbishment of the Cornhill as part of £3.6 million revamping of the town centre. Previously in front of the Town Hall the old paved pedestrian area that hosted the market stalls had sloped down towards the Town Hall. These stalls have now been moved to a pedestrian street to the side of the Town Hall, whilst to the front the Town Hall most of the sloping concourse has gone to be replaced with steps and a level area with a pavement fountain arrangement. Surprisingly and pleasingly, the new steps provided a good vantage point to view the youngsters participating in the Global Strike that took place earlier this autumn.

Global Strike, 20 September 2019

And, incidentally, whilst enjoying the passion and energy of the striking youngsters, I noticed the less than impressive sculpture ‘The Plinths’, often referred to by the locals as Cornhenge, was no more. It had not been well received (that’s a polite understatement) and despite costing in the region of £45,000 (according to the local paper), it has been removed. Its departure has left us with a clear view of the Town Hall and a more grand and impressive yet welcoming civic space.

Of course, with the sculpture gone it has also meant that the purely functional and expedient move to squeeze in more retail opportunities into the area (for example that seasonal Christmas marquee) have also been dropped.

However, we do not get off that lightly. In what looks like a last minute desperate decision the marquee has been squeezed into Lloyds Avenue.

Seasonal Christmas marquee crammed into Lloyds Avenue, Ipswich.
Bit of a tight fit.

One positive thought for this seasonal period is at least Ipswich doesn’t yet suffer from the faux Christmas Markets that have sprung up round the country in a pale imitation of the traditional community Weihnachtsmärkte of Germany.

That’s enough of the complaints, Scrooge has left the building, and instead let’s feast our eyes on a very attractive display of lights decorating the Town Hall.

Or, take an evening stroll down the Buttermarket with its eclectic architectural mix of buildings enhanced by an elegant display of Christmas lights.

If we go down to the woods today. . .

It’s that time of year, if you are lucky and live near a bluebell wood, to go strolling through one of Mother Nature’s more enchanting realms. Delicate English bluebells form carpets of violet-blue beneath deciduous trees tinged with the palest of lime green.

I remember several childhood ‘bluebell’ walks. A couple were through the woods near Little Baddow, in Essex and another was an occasion when my family visited the woods near Butley Priory in Suffolk, decades before the remaining gatehouse was restored into a wedding venue.

But what if you live in the middle of a town?

A glade of bluebells, Holywells Park, Ipswich

Well, Holywells Park, Ipswich, does it again. The wooded area of the park may not be vast nor the ‘Bluebell Walk’ exactly long, but they are there, delicate, bluebells nodding gently in the breeze.

The Woodland Walk, Holywells Park

The Woodland Walk partly runs along one side of the park. On the other side of the high, brick boundary wall there’s Bishops Hill, also known as the A1156, busy with traffic. Yet as you walk on down into the peace and quiet of the park you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a large country estate complete with a wildlife pond.

February flowers in the cemetery

On Monday I had a scarf order to despatch and as it was a gorgeously, bright and sunny winter morning I decided to take a detour and walk through the cemetery to the Post Office.

This is my first visit to the cemetery since just before Christmas and what a pleasant surprise.

A tapestry of snowdrops and crocuses in various stages of blooming flowed in between the old headstones and graves.

Of course, the bright, but low winter sun enhanced the scene although the recent storms and high winds has left a muddle of fallen twigs amongst the blooms.

As I walked through this enchanting green space not only was it a feast for my eyes, but there was also a full chorus of birdsong including the sporadic rat-a-tat-tat drilling of a woodpecker.

Sunsets on the Waterfront

During the last two months of 2018 the weather was surprisingly benign with a number of clear winter days ending with beautiful sunsets. 

The low sun and the still water down on at the Ipswich Waterfront provided a variety of opportunities for interesting images, some vivid and some gently serene. Here’s a selection.

Decorated Trees for the Festive Season

It’s interesting to see the civic responses to decorating public spaces at this time of year. Some Christmas trees work well for their locations. Down on Ipswich Waterfront the tree elegantly adds seasonal spirit to its setting whether it’s a drab December day or a winter sunset.

And some Christmas trees simply brighten the mundane places for all those travelling at this time of year.

Ipswich Railway Station

However, some trees are magnificent in their own right only to have their charm reduced by a cluttered civic space that should have been spectacular. It is disappointing that the lovely tree in the newly revamped Ipswich Cornhill is being obscured by a large temporary marquee (which I have tried not include in the photograph). I see from our local paper that I am not the only one to consider this set-up a disappointing mess.

Of course, most Christmas trees are in people’s homes and it’s been seven years since I have had a tree at home. I think it’s probably because it will be my first Christmas in this old house and the Victorian bay is such an obvious and familiar setting for a decorated tree.

It was a little walk down memory lane as I unwrapped the forgotten ornaments for the first time in seven years. I have some of my mother’s decorations and memories of family Christmases with my mother and my grandparents filled the room along with intermittent showers of glitter and the scent of pine.

Parched

Hot-at-Shingle-StreetEnd of July, hottest day of the year so far (35 degrees C) and there’s still no sign of significant rain for the eastern side of England. We are used to low rainfall as the norm here in East Anglia, but this heatwave is taking its toll even in our region where we tend to plant for dry conditions. The main barley crop has been harvested two weeks earlier than usual and there is concern that wheat yields may be down as much as 50% from their normal average for some Suffolk farms.

Green-but-not-grassWalking around Ipswich the grass is bone dry and the colour and crispness of ancient mummy bandages. Let’s pause and think for a moment who would spend hours irrigating with drinking water to keep grass green? Surely no-one as the grass will quickly recover when the rain returns and it is such a waste of clean water. Oh and, don’t be fooled by the ‘green’ photograph from Ipswich Cemetery (above), in fact that is fallen blossom from the Pride of India/Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) dusting the path. The grass is the same as everywhere else, parched.Parched-grass-cemeteryIt is pretty much the same about 15 miles away on the Suffolk coast at Shingle Street. Here the grass is dried out too, but it is dotted with colour from the wild thistles and mullein (Verbascum) enjoying the hot, dry weather and free draining coastal soil.

Interestingly more green vegetation and floral colour has been achieved by some judicious planting at the back of the Coastguards Cottages. Still hot and dry conditions for the plants, but here they are protected the rest of the year from the east wind coming off the sea.

Back-of-Coastguard-Cottages-Shingle-StreetNaturally, on the beach side of the cottages it is tough Mother Nature doing her thing as clumps of sea kale (Crambe maritima) survive on the windswept pebble shore.

crambe-maritima.jpg

Dragon Boat Racing for Charity

ArrivingLast Saturday some seriously energetic folk climbed into their boats and spent the day racing in the Fresh Start Charity Dragon Boat Challenge. Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese tradition rowing to the rhythm of the drum and has grown into a global sport. On this occasion the racing was all part of a fundraising initiative to collect money for the Fresh Start Charity which provides support for children who have suffered sexual abuse.

Lined-up-ready

Down at the Ipswich Waterfront 18 crews from a variety of local businesses rowed heats of 200 metres during the course of the day. The challenge was finally won by the Ipswich Canoe Club. I guess no shock surprise there!

RacingBut, of course, the big winner was the Fresh Start Charity as £10,000 was raised for such a worthwhile cause.

Another-heat

A Little Wisteria Appropriation

May-blooms-arrangementSome of you may remember seeing photos from my old garden of the white Japanese wisteria that I trained over a pergola. I originally bought it as a grafted specimen and it flowered from the first year, but it really got into its stride around about its fifth year. By the time I left that garden to a new custodian the wisteria was 11 years in place and blooming spectacularly every May. It also provided a canopy of green shade for all those long hot days of summer!

Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria)
Drooping white Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria) flower arrangement and my one attempt at stained glass behind.

I have moved from the outskirts of city living back to urban life proper and no longer have the space for such a rampant plant in my backyard. Well, that’s not entirely true, but I need the sunny area for some fruit as well as flowers.

White-flowers-wisteriaHowever, despite my ‘restricted space’ predicament, I am not entirely starved of this beautiful, May blooming flower as from the bedroom window I can see the charming Chinese wisteria decorating my next-door neighbour’s pergola.

Nextdoors-chinese-wisteria.jpg

Cardinal Wolsey – A Tudor Titan

four-wolsey-Angels2Cardinal Wolsey (1470 or 1471-1530) sadly ended his days being hounded by King Henry VIII and died in Leicester en route to London following his recall from York to be tried for treason. It hadn’t always been so as Wolsey had spent much of his life and good fortune entwined with the Tudors despite being born the son of a butcher in Ipswich.

Thomas Wolsey was clever and after attending Ipswich School he studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. Henry VII had made Wolsey Royal Chaplain, but when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, Wolsey’s intelligence, administrative competence and diplomatic skills began to be recognised and rewarded. He rose through the ranks, both ecclesiastical and secular, to become Archbishop of York in 1514, Cardinal in 1515 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529. And, he was passionate about the role of education creating the Cardinal’s College of Mary, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford, although neither of which outlived him in their original form.

Charter-detail
Rampant griffin detail at the head of the Charter of Foundation of Cardinal College, Ipswich.

Despite all his accomplishments Wolsey ended his days in disgrace and was buried in ignominy in Leicester Abbey without a significant, grand monument to mark his burial.  In fact Wolsey had been overseeing arrangements for his eternal resting place including a design for a sarcophagus and accompanying sculptural adornments some six or so years before his death.

Wolseysangels450
Proposed arrangement for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey as imagined by a Victorian Mr Somers Clarke, Architect to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1894.

By 1524 the sarcophagus had been made and the Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano, was commissioned to create four bronze angels to complete the monument.

Wolseys-sarcophagus-used-for-Nelsons-tomb
Wolsey’s black touchstone sarcophagus eventually used for the monument to another national hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, and installed in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

However, despite these exquisite Renaissance angels being sculpted and cast by 1529 a year before the Cardinal’s death, the full memorial tomb was never assembled and erected in its entirety as .   .   .   .   .

Four-Angels-Wolsey
The Wolsey Angels by Benedetto da Rovezzano. Bronze about 1 metre tall. 1524-29. Claimed by King Henry VIII on the Cardinal’s death, hidden, dispersed and lost until reunited again in 2008.

unfortunately for the Cardinal he dramatically and cataclysmically fell from the King’s favour following his failure to obtain a divorce from Pope Clement VII permitting Henry to escape his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Wolsey-Angel
One of the two Wolsey Angels found in 2008 mounted on gateposts at the entrance to Wellingborough Golf Club, Northamptonshire. They joined the other two which had surfaced at an auction in 1994 simply listed as ‘in the Renaissance style’. The pair were subsequently attributed by the Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti to be Wolsey Angels by Benedetto.

There may not be the grand tomb in Westminster Abbey for Cardinal Wolsey that he had envisaged, but there is an engaging tribute to Wolsey in his home town of Ipswich. It is a commemorative statue by David Annand that I hope Wolsey would have deeply appreciated as it depicts him not only as the Cardinal, but gesticulating, as if in full flow, educating the world (or at least the good folk of Ipswich as they stroll up St Peter’s Street).

Wolsey-Educator
Thomas Wolsey by David Annand. Bronze. 2011. The text running round the plinth reads ‘Thomas Wolsey born in Ipswich 1470 or 1471 died Leicester 1530 Cardinal Archbishop Chancellor and Teacher who believed that pleasure should mingle with study so that the child may think learning an amusement rather than a toil‘.