Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Merrie Month of May

Song on a May Morning

Now the bright morning-star, day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth and youth and warm desire!
Woods and groves are thy dressing,
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.

John Milton (1608-1674)

John Milton's best known work is 'Paradise Lost' but the lovely poem above was written when he was a student at Christ's College in Cambridge.

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire!
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green;
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours;
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.

William Shakespeare

These lines are from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and are a fairy's reply to Puck when he says 'How now, spirit! whither wander you?' I went to see a performance of Benjamin Britten's opera 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' a few weeks ago and shall stick to watching it as a play in future! The music is, frankly, unbelievably dreary.

Sumer is i-cumin in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!
Sing, cuccu!

Say the words out loud and they will make more sense:) These are the first few lines of the oldest known English part song, it was written in the mid 13th century.I can remember learning to sing it in music lessons at school when I was 12 or 13 years old. (The word 'sing' is used very loosely here!) It's written in Middle English, the language of Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales. In case you're struggling it translates:

Summer is a-coming in,
Loud sing,cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
And springs the wood anew.
Sing, Cuckoo!
Sing, Cuckoo!

Mead means meadow here, not the rather scrummy alcoholic drink made from honey!

Bilbo Baggins and I have been going up on Blacka Moor for our morning walks recently and to my delight I've heard the cuckoo calling almost every day. No matter how many times I hear it I always feel a thrill especially now that it is declining in numbers.

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight

William Shakespeare

The lines are from 'Love's Labours Lost' and the photos show the 'daisies pied'. If you click on the second one to enlarge it you can see that the some of the daisies are pink and white which is what makes them 'pied'.

These are Shakespeare's cuckoo-buds better known to us as buttercups.

This could be a much longer post, May is such a beautiful month filled with new life - the freshly unfurled leaves on the trees, wildflowers everywhere, fields full of lambs and calves and the air filled with birdsong. It's all there for everyone to enjoy so stop, look and listen before the wheel turns again and the joy and freshness of Spring passes for another year. Other lovely sights and sounds lie ahead but there is nothing quite like the Merrie Month of May.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I am the sun's remembrance, the boy
Who runs in hedgerow,and in field and garden,
Showing his badge, a round-faced golden joy
With tips of flame. I bear my master's pardon
For my long,greedy roots. I bring his message
And pay his sovereign coin for my passage.
If any call me robber of the soil,
Let him but wait on windy weather, note
How easily,without a mortal's toil,
I change my gold to silver treasure,float
The fairy mintage on the air,and then
Defy the curse of all industrious men.

Richard Church (1893-1972)

Many people seem to regard dandelions as weeds (including me at times!) but actually it's lovely golden face brightens up the most unpromising places and makes little patches of cheerfulness even in grim inner city areas. In the countryside a field full of dandelions is a lovely sight(click on the photo to enlarge it). It's also a very useful plant and has been used as both food and medicine for centuries. The leaves have a very high mineral content and can be used in salads or made into a tea and they are an excellent detoxifier. The flowers can be made into wine or beer and, like the leaves, can be eaten in salads. The roots can be dried, ground and made into a coffee substitute though I confess I've never tried it.Dandelion is a mild diuretic too and one of it's nicknames is the rather down to earth 'pissabed'! Dandelions are, in fact, all round good eggs of the plant world and before we developed the fad for bowling green lawns they were encouraged because people knew how useful they are. The leaves are high in Vitamin C and the Anglo Saxons and Normans used them to control scurvy. Dandelion infused oil is good for muscle tension and stiff necks and, if we ever get another sunny dry day, I shall be making some of this.

The dandelion makes a good barometer, when the flowers have seeded and are in their fluffy stage, you can tell if the weather is going to be wet or fine. In fine weather the ball extends to full, but when rain approaches, it shuts like an umbrella. If the weather is going to be showery it keeps shut all the time, only opening when the danger from the rain is past.

There is a legend that tells of how the dandelion first appeared on the earth. In ancient days when the world was populated by fairies, elves and gnomes, the first humans to arrive caused problems as they could not see these beings and so kept treading on them. Some of the sun-loving fairies dressed in bright yellow gowns had nowhere to hide, unlike the gnomes and elves who took refuge behind rocks or under the ground, so they were transformed into dandelions. If you step on a dandelion it will soon spring up again, as it is said to contain the spirit of the fairies. Dandelion clocks are said to transport fairies, and as a reward for blowing on the clock and sending a fairy on its way you can make a wish - the legend doesn't make it clear whether it will be granted though:)

Little Dandelion

Bright little Dandelion
Lights up the meads,
Swings on her slender foot,
Telleth her beads,
Lists to the robin's note
Poured from above;
Wise little Dandelion
Asks not for love.

Cold lie the daisy banks
Clothed but in green,
Where, in the days agone,
Bright hues were seen.
Wild pinks are slumbering,
Violets delay;
True little Dandelion
Greeteth the May.

Brave little Dandelion!
Fast falls the snow,
Bending the daffodil's
Haughty head low.
Under that fleecy tent,
Careless of cold,
Blithe little Dandelion
Counteth her gold.

Meek little Dandelion
Groweth more fair,
Till dies the amber dew
Out from her hair.
High rides the thirsty sun,
Fiercely and high;
Faint little Dandelion
Closeth her eye.

Pale little Dandelion,
In her white shroud,
Heareth the angel-breeze
Call from the cloud;
Tiny plumes fluttering
Make no delay;
Little winged Dandelion
Soareth away.

Helen Barron Bostwick [1826- ? ]

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Two Derbyshire Villages

My gt-gt grandfather, George Robinson, was born in the Derbyshire village of Tideswell. I've never been there in spite of the fact that it's only half an hour's drive from my house so the other weekend I decided to go and have a look round. The 14th century parish church of St John the Baptist is known as ' The Cathedral of the Peak'. The building of the church began in 1346 but was interrupted in 1349/50 when the Black Death devastated England killing a third of the population. Eventually the building began again though and the Tower and the chancel were added. Since then the exterior has remained unaltered and looks today exactly as it did when it was completed in 1400. It wasn't the first church on this site though, there was a church in Tideswell from at least 1193 when 'Henry, clericus de Tideswelle' was appointed as priest.

Inside the church is huge and there is a wonderful feeling of light and space thanks to the enormous traceried windows filled with clear glass. This photo is taken from the end of the nave looking up towards the chancel.

This is the 14th century font in which George, his parents and his grandparents and almost certainly many previous generations were christened. So far I only know George's parents, Joseph Robinson(bap 10 Dec 1789) and Ellen Hall(bap 14 Feb 1790), and their parents, John Robinson and Hannah Fletcher and Robert Hall and Sarah Wyatt. More is going to be discovered later today I hope as this morning's post brought me the CD containing all the baptisms, marriages and burials for Tideswell going back to 1635!!

This is one of several pew end carvings done by a local man with the marvellous name of Advent Hunstone. The carvings portray the sacraments - this one is baptism. The Hunstones of Tideswell were a well known family of woodcarvers.

The Lady Chapel contains thes two stone gravestones of women, dating from 1300 and 1375. It isn't a very good photo as they were the other side of the altar rail and I had to perform all sorts of contortions to get it at all.

This is the tomb of Sir Sampson Meverill in the centre of the Chancel. Sir Sampson was born on the 29th September 1388 and was a famous local Knight and landowner. He fought at Agincourt and against Joan of Arc surviving both those and many other battles and eventually dying peacefully at home at the ripe old age(in those days) of 74.

If you crouch down and peer through the stone tracery of the tomb you see this rather unsettling sight - a cadaver wrapped in a winding sheet! I've never seen anything quite like this before. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and there was too much light streaming through the windows to get a good photograph unfortunately.

More carving, this time done by Suffolk craftsmen in 1800. Here we have St George slaying the Dragon which rather ties in with my previous post.

Tideswell was granted a market charter in 1250 and was an important centre for both wool and lead. The area was famous for lead mining and this is the source of the wealth which enabled the building of such a fine church. The Tideswell lead miners were well known for their strength and were greatly prized by the military authorities. George III is reported to have remarked when a platoon of Tideswell miners were paraded before him in London-

“I don’t know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God they frighten me!”

Next door to the church is The George Inn (above) which was built in 1730. It was known originally as The New George Inn and was a busy coaching inn serving routes to Sheffield, Derby and Buxton. These days the road through Tideswell is surpringly quiet and it's a pleasant place to wander round. At some point I shall go again and explore some of the medieval lanes and alleys that apparently lie behind the main street.

I decided to go home via the little village of Foolow which must be one of the most delightful villages in the Peak District. The Bull's Head is the village pub,a pleasant place to spend some time on a warm summer's evening.

A solitary duck on the village pond! Three more appeared a few minutes later but this was really the place where the four farms in the village watered their cattle and horses. Sadly there isn't a single one left now, all are private houses.

A medieval cross stands on the village green.

Just to one side of the pond stands this marvellous stone well. An elderly gentleman who was passing told me that there are two wells in Foolow and this one on the Green was water for animals and I would guess also that water for washing clothes and other domestic tasks would come from here.

I imagine that Foolow had many fewer people suffering from water borne diseases than most places as it has a second well which I wouldn't have found if my elderly gentleman hadn't told me about it. This one stands a good few hundred yards outside the village and is the one that was used for drinking water. Being so far from the houses and fed by a spring it wouldn't have been tainted by water from the local privies and other unpleasant sources as so many water supplies were. It would have been hard work hauling buckets of water up and down the lane though especially on a freezing winter's day.

This is the view from the drinking water well with the lane to the neighbouring hamlet of Bretton snaking away over the moor.

The tiny church of St Hugh of Lincoln was originally the village smithy and only seats about 80 people. It was converted to a church in 1888.

I haven't come across a St Hugh's Church before so I did a little research and discovered that Hugh was born in Avalon,France in 1135. He came to England in 1179 and eventually became Bishop of Lincoln. He died in November 1200 at his London residence but was brought back to Lincoln cathedral for burial. There is a lovely story about the white swan which is St Hugh's emblem. The Manor of Stow was held by the Bishops of Lincoln and a particularly fierce swan which lived there formed a great attachment to Hugh and would follow him about, and was his constant companion whilst he was at Lincoln. In case you are wondering Stow is about 10 miles from the city.

Foolow is full of attractive buildings, this is the 18th century Manor House.

According to my elderly gentleman Old Hall Farm dates back to 1630 and inside it still has cruck beams and two stone staircases. It's now divided into two separate homes, it always makes me feel so sad when the old farmhouses are turned into upmarket homes and all the land is sold off.

A final little touch of history, just along from the modern postbox is the original Victorian one set into a wall. You don't often see these now and this one is only a decorative feature these days but at least it's still there.
This is a lovely area, one I've only driven through on the main road on my way to somewhere else in the past but I've decided that this summer I shall go and explore some more of the villages and lanes of the White Peak.