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?
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 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.
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.
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.
End 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.
Walking 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.It 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.
Naturally, 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.
Last 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.
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!
But, of course, the big winner was the Fresh Start Charity as £10,000 was raised for such a worthwhile cause.
Some 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!
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.
However, 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.
Cardinal 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 – by Jacques le Boucq (1520-73) circa 1550. This drawing is thought to be a copy of a lost portrait dated 1508 when Wolsey was in his late thirties and a royal chaplain.
Thomas Wolsey – unknown artist 1589-95. This oil on panel painting is a later copy of a lost original work painted about 1520 when Wolsey was at the height of his power. He’s shown in his cardinal’s robes.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . . . .
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.
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).
Although I have finally moved into my permanent house and I do have a small backyard it will be some time before I can start to think about making a garden. Priorities have been sorting out my work and studio space, the main reason for moving, and trying to create a little order from the overwhelming chaos.
Without a garden visiting the local parks has been very important to my sanity
and they are also a great resource.
Drooping catkins, bursting buds and the early blackthorn flowers are all potential motifs to be worked into a silk scarf design.
It’s not just in the parks there’s plenty of new activity, but down on the Ipswich Waterfront building work on the skeletal ‘Winerack’ has begun after standing unfinished for over a decade.
It will be interesting to watch the framework finally become a fully, functioning building. Perhaps it will be a stunning, remarkable piece of architecture, but however it turns out I suspect the good folk of Ipswich will probably always refer to it as The Winerack.
When I moved to Ipswich last year my father and I went for a walk up to the Old Cemetery. It was summer and it was one of the year’s three hot days.
My goodness what a difference yesterday was to last August. ‘The Beast from the East’ has been blasting Siberian freezing air across the North Sea and mini blizzards have been whipping across the East of England.
During our summer visit, my father reminisced on attending the funeral of his grandfather in the Old Cemetery and as we strolled around he tried to work out in which of the pair of chapels the service had been held.
It looked very dramatic today in the fading light and bitter cold. The snow didn’t ease off and after 45 minutes my hands were so cold I could hardly hold my camera. (I know, I know, I should have some of those fancy Tech gloves, but at about £30 per pair it’s hardly worth it when we’ll probably get only three days of properly cold weather in a single year.) So back home it was, but fortunately that’s only now a few houses down from the cemetery gates.
Although Ipswich, a town of about 134,000 people, is not a large place it has some beautiful parks. Recently I went along to Christchurch Park for the first time. The so-called golden hour for taking photographs may be a great time for capturing a weak wintery sunset and the fabulous rich colours of the last leaves, but it was a bitingly cold afternoon.
Nevertheless, despite my fingers becoming stiff with cold, I managed to take a few interesting photos. As I have already mentioned previously my favourite park in Ipswich is Holywells Park, however probably the most well-known park is Christchurch Park.
Originally, this parkland was the grounds of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity founded around 1177.
However, the land has changed ownership several times since it was seized by the Crown as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The park is also the site of the beautiful, late-Tudor mansion, Christchurch Mansion.
The Mansion’s last private owner, Felix Cobbold, gave it to the community in 1895 on the condition that the Ipswich Corporation purchased the rest of the associated property within which the mansion was set. And, as an urban space open to the public, it has belonged to the people of Ipswich since 1895.
The park is slightly bigger than Holywells Park with more open spaces and vistas, and consequently feels less intimate and domestic than Holywells. It is more like a traditional urban park, but still offers a restorative green space within a five minute walk of the town centre.