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Friday, 30 September 2011


The main reason I ventured over the border into Lancashire last weekend was to visit the city of Manchester's lovely Art Gallery.  There's so much to see there.  In the end, we didn't pay (£8!) to enter the current major exhibition ('Ford Madox Brown, pre-Raphaelite pioneer') but contented ourselves with browsing the permanent exhibits.  You generally can't take photographs in British art galleries, but there was an interactive space aimed at children that was more informal.  I took this colourful picture inside a huge kaleidoscope there.  I've always been fascinated by the patterns they make in their mirrors.  As a child I had one as a toy, with coloured plastic chips that rearranged themselves when you shook it.  It was quite absorbing.

I haven't joined in 'Weekend Reflections' for ages, so this can be my contribution this week.  See here for more wonderful and varied reflections from around the world this week.

PS: I suspect Manchester doesn't count itself as being in Lancashire, as technically it is part of Greater Manchester... but, to someone from Yorkshire, it's definitely in Lancashire.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

In with the new

One of the things Manchester does extremely successfully, in my opinion, is to mix contemporary architecture with the older buildings.  The blocks here are just average office blocks, but I liked the orange and blue juxtaposition.  There are many lovely Victorian (and in some cases, even older) buildings that have been beautifully renovated and repurposed, as we saw yesterday.  Some of the much newer stuff is really quite exciting - like the 47-storey Beetham Tower.   The WWII blitz badly damaged the city and you may recall that in 1996 the city centre was bombed by the IRA, with many people injured and a lot of destruction.  But Manchester doesn't let things like that get it down.  In fact you could argue that it is the stronger and better because of that.  It's a lively, cosmopolitan, forward-looking city and I love visiting it.

Last Saturday it rained all day. (Situated west of the Pennines, the city can be rather wet.)  Not a great day for photos - but a good excuse to hit the shops.  I am not generally one who shops recreationally.  I am more likely to need therapy after shopping than to use shopping as therapy.  But my friend and I enjoyed our day out, and I will go back again hoping to get some better photos.

I've just come across a good Manchester blog - 'mancunian wave'.  Have a trip over there and dip into Chrissy's unique look at her home area.  And while you're there, vote for her - she's been shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards.

Word verification does slow down the process of commenting.  I find it a bit tedious when I haven't much time to visit other people's blogs and comment, which I like to do. So I've heeded Francisca's plea and taken it off mine.  Last time I tried, I did get some very weird offerings, so apologies if you see any strange comments.  I will monitor things for a week or two and see how it goes.  I've left comment moderation for older posts as otherwise I tend to miss the comments. ( I don't get them sent by email - I have enough email as it is!)

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Mouse-over trial

Ho ho ho! Look at this, Francisca.  Thanks to your brilliant instructions, I have done a mouse-over that works!   Isn't it great how blog friends encourage and support each other?  Thank you so much. And thanks to everyone for their comments on the B&W v colour dilemma.

It's those Italians again!

Does this look familiar?  It's NOT in Saltaire (or Venice!)... but it could well be.  It's a building in the city of Manchester.  It was formerly the Manchester Reform Club - a Victorian gentlemen's club for Manchester Liberal Party's elite.  Designed by Edward Salomans, it was built in 1870-71, just as Saltaire was being completed.  It too is Italianate, built in the Venetian Gothic style and it shares many motifs in common with Saltaire's buildings.  In fact when I first saw it, I wondered if the architects were Lockwood and Mawson.  Look at the arch and roundel pattern of the windows - seen here in Saltaire - and the patterned tops of the arches - see here.  The elegant building now houses shops and a restaurant.  You can see the whole building and a bit more about it here.

I couldn't decide if I like the B&W or the colour version best.  If I was clever I'd have done a mouse-over but I still can't figure out how to add the html.  So you can have two big pictures in one post today.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Saltaire Visitor Information Centre

After years of campaigning and many false starts, I am pleased to say that Saltaire now has a 'proper' Visitor Information Centre to assist the thousands of visitors that come to explore the World Heritage Site.  It is magnificently housed in the part of Salts Mill that used to be Sir Titus Salt's private quarters (though he actually lived in Crow Nest near Halifax).  I understand at one time this room was a dining room and it later became the company's boardroom.  It still has a grand fireplace and the furniture has been brought out of storage from Bradford's City Hall.

The Information Centre is well worth a visit, with books and maps not only about Saltaire but about Yorkshire as a whole and various souvenirs for sale.  (The whole room smells deliciously of wool fat soap which is on sale.)  You can also book tickets for Bradford's theatres.  In the Centre and its entrance hall there are photos and displays about the history of Saltaire.  The aerial photo above the fireplace (one of the C H Wood archive) is especially absorbing.  They could do with a better selection of postcards though.  I'm thinking of asking for a commission!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Inner courtyard

A few days ago I showed the inside of what is now the Pace canteen and was formerly the combing shed of Salts Mill.  Here's the outside, with its set of huge double doors.  This inner courtyard has recently been prettified a little bit with some sculptural planters because it now affords access, for those who can't climb the steps at the main entrance, to the new Information Centre.  But in essence I don't think it has changed that much since the mill opened.  I nearly entitled this 'a load of old cobbles'.  Most of the roadways in the mill complex are still the original stone setts. (It's a bit of a bumpy ride for a wheelchair user, I'm afraid.)   The setts at the front of the Mill (see here) had been covered in tarmac and Jonathan Silver had them reinstated after he bought the mill in the late 80s.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Nature's paintbox

'You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.'  Isaiah 55:12

Quite apart from this being a rather glorious celebration of Nature's paintbox, one that put me in mind of the quote above, I am posting it as an illustration of how autumn seems to be creeping in rather early this year (it was taken on Thursday 15th).  The leaves, especially on the more ornamental trees, are already showing a flush of very vibrant colour.  I took a photo of this same tree a couple of years ago in October and it was not much more colourful than it is now.  It's a joy to see the coral tones against a blue sky, though we have had only one day this week when the sun shone and the sky was blue.  Otherwise - wind, heavy rain showers or grey drizzle.  When the wind blows, trees really do look as though they're clapping, don't you think?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

My first car!

There was something for everyone at the Saltaire Festival, including a feast of classic cars.  As I said the other day, I still have a few 'vintage' clothes.  Sadly I no longer have my first car... if I did it would be 'classic', and I was delighted to see one in the line-up.  It was a Rover '90' (the mascot above is from the '80', which was very similar; the '90' is below.)  Ours was black with grey leather seats (the front one was a bench seat, oh joy!) and real walnut fascia - and it was old even then.  So solid and heavy, but I used to love driving it. 

I remember well the long debate we had (my then-fiancé and I) in the university Student Union cafeteria, consuming quantities of 'Wagon Wheels' (a kind of chocolate biscuit - remember them?) whilst we wrestled with whether we could really afford £100 to buy a car.  We did - and it did us proud for several years, until, exhaust held together with baked-bean cans and gun-gum bandages and with various other ad-hoc repairs painstakingly carried out in my dad's garage, someone ran into the back of us at some traffic lights.  It was never quite the same after that (nor was I!) so we decided it had to be scrapped and we moved on to a sleeker model (a Ford Cortina, I seem to think).  But that Rover 90 has a special place in my memories.  Ah, happy days...

Friday, 23 September 2011

The shed's story

A number of events connected with the Festival took place in the Pace Canteen in Salts Mill.  (Pace plc is one of the big companies that now inhabits the bulk of Salts Mill's buildings.)  It's not an area that is generally open to the public so, in the interests of research (in other words, being nosey!) I went in for a look round.  Very nice it is too - very light, modern and airy.

This space has an incredible story to tell.  It was built as the combing shed of Sir Titus Salt's amazing new mill, and would have housed row upon row of machines, something like the one on the picture here.  When the Mill was first opened, on Salt's fiftieth birthday, 20 September 1853, the combing shed, all decorated with garlands around its pillars (the very same ones you see here!), welcomed over 3500 invited guests to a lavish banquet.  It must have seen many changes since then...  Isn't it strange that it once again welcomes people in to enjoy food?

In my photo you can see a screen to the left, showing film of Salts Mill's centenary trip to Blackpool in 1953.  (You can watch it here - it's wonderful, especially the first few minutes which give a very good idea of what the Mill and Saltaire were like at that time.)  There were several different films showing on a loop in the Canteen, part of the Yorkshire Film Archive that I have mentioned before, a fascinating resource.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

What's on...

I'm not sure whether this signwriter was simply updating the main Festival Noticeboard, or whether he was repairing the damage that several very heavy downpours of rain had caused.  Either way, he was doing a very neat job.  I wonder if he drew Sir Titus?

Seeing him hard at work made me realise just what a lot has to go on 'behind the scenes' to get a major event like the Saltaire Festival up and running - publicity, funding, organising venues and events, ticketing, security, first aid... There are people working on it the whole year through, as well as an army of volunteers co-ordinating, stewarding and making sure everything goes to plan during the ten days of the Festival itself. Whilst some of the funding comes from grants and sponsors, as far as I know all the organisation is done by Saltaire Community Festival Ltd - a charitable, not-for-profit company staffed largely by volunteers.  They do - and have done this year - a brilliant job.  Even though the weather wasn't very kind this year, there were still hundreds of people out enjoying themselves in the village.  It's good for Saltaire's community and businesses and good for the local area.  Well done, everyone!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Kind hearts and coronets

The King and Queen of Hearts - larger-than-life storybook characters from 'Alice in Wonderland', bringing a bit of fun and goodwill to the Saltaire Festival.  There were a number of different characters wandering around, chatting to the children, posing for photos and indulging in a bit of impromptu theatre.  The next day these same two actors were striding around in tweeds as 'Lord and Lady Fetlock' (very clever to be be playing someone inebriated, on stilts!)  They are members of Shipley's Q20 Theatre Group, a local entertainment company run by John and Jacqui Lambert that seems to be going from strength to strength, with a huge repertoire of characters, including Pirates of the Caribbean and of course Harry Potter.   They provide entertainment all over the country at festivals, parties, corporate events and anywhere a little 'something different' is needed.

I'm always impressed by stilt-walkers. (I can't even balance standing on a chair!)  I was amused to note that The Queen had tiny pink wellington boots on her stilts.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I'm sure there's fat bloke with a burger on this somewhere (see yesterday if you don't know what I'm talking about!) but somehow the busy Festival scene looks better as a reflection.  There was a good turnout of brass, when those festival favourites, The Peace Artistes, performed outside the Victoria Hall.  I defy anyone not to be cheered up by their lively music. It's hard not to start jigging about, so infectious is the rhythm.  A street band of anything up to about 15 musicians, they play a lively blend of music drawing its origins from Africa, salsa, jazz, pop - in fact anything can creep in, especially when one of the band starts a solo passage in and amongst.  Usually eccentrically dressed and quite unpredictable, nevertheless they are fine musicians, with percussion, saxophones and of course the brass.

There's a Yorkshire saying: "Where there's muck, there's brass" (meaning there's money to be made in the jobs most don't want to do because they're unpleasant).  Well, there was plenty of brass but not too much muck in evidence in Saltaire at the weekend.

If you're interested, there's a write-up of the Saltaire Festival on our local newspaper's website - together with an odd little video of the Victoria Hall's Wurlitzer organ (see this 2009 post about the organ). (If you're overseas, the video may not work. Try it and see. Sorry if it doesn't.)

Monday, 19 September 2011


I've tried for several years running to capture a flavour (ha!) of Saltaire Festival's Continental Market.  It really is something.  Probably 30 or so different stalls, a good half of which sell foods, both cooked ready to consume (paella, tartiflette, churros, noodles, crêpes, hot dogs, hog roast - you name it, it's there) and produce to take away (breads, chutneys, cheeses, sweet pastries, biscuits, olives, salami, nuts, coffee beans in amazing flavours, garlic).  It's always lively and thronged with people and as you walk up between the stalls it smells delicious.  It's all pretty expensive, I think - £1.50 for a fist-sized meringue? - but that doesn't seem to deter people.

Anyway, I always feel there's a photo to be had in the wide-angle view, with Salts Mill in the background.. so I take a few shots and bring them home and upload them.  And there he is, a fat bloke with a beer-belly and a mouth full of burger, taking centre-stage... or there's a scowling mother with a child with a pacifier that isn't pacifying enough, or someone wearing a silly hat walked into the frame. So I haven't managed a 'good' shot in all the years I've tried.  Never mind, there's always the garlic... isn't it pretty?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Fashion Show Spectacular

On Friday evening I went with some friends to see the Fashion Show Spectacular, part of the Saltaire Festival.  It's a catwalk show with a few twists.  All the models are local girls, not professionals, though they make a splendid job of it.  I can't imagine it feels easy walking down a catwalk in front of an audience, when you're not used to it.  The clothes are all vintage, 'worn and loved before'.  I'm always a little shocked to think that outfits similar to those I wore in the 70s and 80s are now 'vintage'.  I still have a few vintage of my own in my wardrobe (including a silk and cotton shirt from our famous Marks & Spencer (M&S) store, that I was photographed wearing on holiday in Greece a couple of years before my daughter was born - and she's 29 now!)

Models, from left to right, are: Pam, wearing a 1970s red chiffon cocktail dress originally from Dallas (the city rather than the TV series, I imagine); Vikki, in an aqua stripe 1960's style shift dress and Tija, in 1950s/60s Wallis lounging pyjamas in pink/white spot satin.

It was a good chance to use my new camera in low light conditions.. even if I wasn't really sure what I was doing!  I had to hand-hold it, though I did use a flash as other people were and no-one seemed to object.  I bumped the ISO right up to 1600 to give a shutter speed of 1/80 at f 5.6.  Compared to my last year's efforts at the same event, these are technically quite a lot better, sharper - but the photo I took last year of 'The Lady in Red' remains one of my all-time favourite photos as it has a lot more atmosphere than these.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Curse of the White Van Man

Saltaire Festival is here again - and although I think many of Saltaire's residents, me included, genuinely enjoy the buzz around the village, there is another side to the coin.  Over the final weekend, several of the main streets are closed to traffic.  One street is given over entirely to a three-day Continental Market, where you can buy all manner of food and gifts, from Greek olives to French crêpes to genuine Spanish paella.  All rather pricey, but good quality and very vibrant and colourful.  The downside is that all those traders' vans have to be parked somewhere and they end up in the streets around my home.  This is a bus route too, though I wonder if the bus would be able to squeeze through!  I'm glad I had to deliver my mum's car back to her a couple of weekends ago - glad because she is fit to drive again and glad because I don't now have to worry about it getting damaged in the congestion.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Lilies and Mozart

Whether or not yesterday's photo said 'Saltaire', today's must definitely say 'Salts Mill'... I can't imagine there would be anywhere else in the world where you might see a vase of lilies against that backdrop.  I have mentioned before that it is the defining motif of the 1853 Gallery in Salts Mill.  There are always several large vases of these highly-scented lilies, so that the whole huge gallery is fragranced with their heady scent.  And always in the background they have classical music playing.  It might not be Mozart.  I'm afraid my deafness prevents me properly identifying the pieces - but it doesn't prevent me enjoying the general ambience as a result of the combined sensory pleasures.  I think my idea of heaven is browsing the wonderful 'coffee table' books on photography and art, so casually strewn around the gallery.  I couldn't justify buying them but it's nice to dream.  Add to that a treasure-trove of priceless Hockney art works on the walls (a new exhibition unveiled this week too) and... well, aren't I lucky that it's all on my doorstep?

(For anyone who is new to my blog and to Saltaire, please click the links and the 'About Saltaire' tag on the blog header for some explanation of what, where and why).

PS: The link to the article Jane mentions in the comments is here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Guess where?

It's interesting, isn't it, how we all 'see' different things?  Take any two photographers and put them in the same place at the same time and, the chances are, each will interpret the scene quite differently.  I think that's half the fun of blogging, to see what others see through different eyes from our own.  I've a close friend who is not 'a photographer' but she is one of my greatest encouragers as regards this blog.  We were looking round the Festival at the weekend and it was she who pointed out this view, as we were descending the stairs in the Victoria Hall.  I hadn't particularly noticed it but now I look and see, it strikes me as very typical of Saltaire, and sort of endearing because of that.  It says 'home' to me.  I suppose in some senses it could be any one of a number of northern towns - or does it say 'Saltaire' (slate roofs, honey-coloured stone) to other people?  I'd be interested to know.

I haven't done anything to the photo apart from crop it slightly so it's odd to see how one pane of the old glass changes the colour of the sky.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Makers' Fair

Last weekend was the start of the 2011 Saltaire Festival (the ninth, though a little bit different this year since The Arts Trail moved to a dedicated slot of its own in May.)  Staff in the Victoria Hall must have been working overtime.  Friday night saw the grand opening 'Silver Ball' and then it was quick change for the wonderful 'Makers' Fair' on Saturday.  This showcases the work of artists and craftspeople, many of them local.  It is a chance to buy some beautiful work... anything from handmade cards through to jewellery, paintings, ceramics, textiles and photographs.  There was some truly inspiring stuff.  The colourful paintings displayed on the stage are the work of Saltaire-based artist David Starley, who uses thick oil paints to create large bright canvases that are almost 3D in effect.  Having recently bought my new camera, I don't have much spare cash to invest but I did buy some lovely greetings cards; I like to have a stock for those moments when a handwritten card is just the right thing to send, and all the better when the card itself is unusual and lovingly made.  I must admit to being tempted by some pretty little baby smocks - red stripes with a cherry motif.... but since the baby in my thoughts has (God willing) another three months in utero, it seemed a touch premature, even for an excited gran, to be stocking up on clothes sized for a one-year old!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sunday strolling

Tumbling back down the hill from Heptonstall to Hebden Bridge is like entering a different world.  Whereas Heptonstall is all dark buildings, narrow streets and not many people about, Hebden Bridge is a busy, bustling little town, even on a dull Sunday afternoon.  Much of the centre is pedestrianised and ideal for laid-back strolling up and down, looking in the shops and maybe enjoying an ice-cream or a coffee at one of the many little cafés.  The centre is blessedly free of the chain stores that blight many a town centre and make everywhere seem the same.  Most of the shops are independent and are lots more interesting as a result.  If you look closely you can see a street entertainer who was crooning songs from the thirties.  I can't help thinking that Heptonstall might have a nicer 'vibe' if they had a few more flowers around to add a bit of colour.

Back to Saltaire tomorrow...  there's a Festival going on there....

Monday, 12 September 2011



Heptonstall is an interesting village with a fascinating history - but to me it always seems very dark and almost spooky, even though it is high up, which you'd think would make it feel light and airy.  The surrounding countryside has steep, wooded valleys cutting down into the Pennine rock.  To take this photo I was standing at the edge of the village, enjoying the wonderful views up and down the Calder valley.  The buildings you see in the valley are part of Hebden Bridge (which we visited briefly last year on this blog).  Heptonstall was by far the bigger and more important settlement at one time, thriving on the handloom weaving trade, but with the coming of industry in the latter part of the 18th century the valleys became the focus. Water-powered mills grew up along the rivers and the construction of the canal and railway led to even more industrial growth.  Thus Hebden Bridge became the main town and Heptonstall got left behind, a well-preserved example of a Pennine hilltop settlement.

PS: To answer Malyss's question, the tower in the distance is Stoodley Pike, a monument financed by public subscription in 1856 to replace an earlier one that was to 'remind the present Age of the transcendant bravery of the Duke of Wellington' - commemorating the defeat of Napoleon and the surrender of Paris, after the complicated Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815 and the Battle of Waterloo.  (I'm glad we all get on better these days!)

Sunday, 11 September 2011


"Death must be so beautiful.  To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence.  To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow.   To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace."         
Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar

The American poet, novelist and short-story writer Sylvia Plath, whose life and tragic death is well-documented and the cause of much speculation, is buried in Heptonstall churchyard, about 10 miles from Saltaire.  Her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, from whom she was separated at the time she took her own life, comes from this area of Yorkshire and the couple lived for a short time in Heptonstall.  I read Plath's semi-autobiographical novel 'The Bell Jar' at some time in my youth - beautiful but terribly depressing.

Her grave is a place of pilgrimage for some.  It has been damaged several times by people trying to obliterate her married name and the inscription chosen by Ted Hughes for the memorial.  I didn't touch it - just wondered at the dying flowers, the pens and the other tributes people have left; it all seemed very sad, though I imagine she might have liked the blue wildflowers tumbling over it.  (They are a Speedwell, appropriately.)

It seems fitting to pause at a graveside, on this day of remembrance and pain for so many....

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The village pump

We haven't had an 'old' and 'new' comparison lately - and I know how much you like those!  Here is a photo, dated about 1890, of the Top Pump in the village of Heptonstall, and one of the same scene today.  Before piped water was introduced, every town and village in Britain had wells and pumps. Heptonstall had four public pumps and this one remains, reasonably well-preserved.  I don't think it still works though.

In times of drought, the pumps were locked and only opened for short time in the morning and evening.  The villagers used to line up their empty cans, marked with their initials, until the pump was opened again.  Diane, a few days ago, commented that she thought maybe I'd like to have lived in Victorian times - but, though I find history interesting, I'm very glad I don't have to queue up for and carry water or suffer the other harsh privations of those times.  Sometimes it's hard to believe how relatively recently daily life was so different - or to remember that, for many people in the world, things are still like that.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Heptonstall street

This photo gives you a good idea of what Heptonstall village as a whole looks like - really not much changed (at least on the surface) from what it was 200 years ago.  It's now a conservation area so in many ways it is 'frozen in time'.  The streets' stone setts have been reinstated, and the old handloom weavers' cottages like those on the left (dating to around 1800) still stand, with their large upper windows, designed to give maximum light for the weavers, who sometimes worked 12 hour days to catch the light.  The last handloom weaver of Heptonstall (and one of the last remaining in the Pennines), John Sutcliffe, died in 1902.

Apart from the fact that it always seems to be dull weather when I visit, the village has a rather dark, forbidding look, largely due to the soot-blackened buildings that, unlike many in Yorkshire, have never been cleaned up.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The village lock-up

I don't suppose the 'king' of the Cragg Vale coiners was ever incarcerated here...but this is Heptonstall's village lock-up or dungeon: a small, damp, windowless cell in the basement of one of the inns.  In the olden days when travel and communication were more difficult the local constable would make use of these small local dungeons to lock up drunks and petty criminals.  Troublemakers were often then put in the village stocks - a wooden structure with holes to clamp their feet.  The ridicule of the community, and being pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables, seemed to be the punishment for many a small misdemeanour.  (I did think it might be a more fitting retribution for some of the rioters and looters we saw recently in this country, rather than the prison sentences they were given.)

Just to the left of my photo is a small well, one of the original sources of water for the village. Contamination of the water supply was a huge problem, because the bedrock is too close to the surface here and the water did not get adequately filtered.  In 1843 there was a major outbreak of disease in Heptonstall, caused by the polluted water.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


My photo today is of the ruined - and I think rather macabre and mysterious - church of St Thomas à Becket in Heptonstall.  It was left to fall into disrepair after being damaged in a storm in 1847.  The congregation decided it was better to build a new church, which stands over to the left of the old one, giving this little Yorkshire village the peculiarity of having two churches in one churchyard. Only a handful of other places share that distinction, one being Westminster Abbey in London.

I am showing you this today because it continues yesterday's history lesson about 'clipped money'.  There are reputedly over 100,000 bodies interred in the church's graveyard and one of them is that of David Hartley, "king" of the Cragg Vale coiners. He was hanged in 1770 for his part in a large-scale conspiracy to clip the edges of gold coins, melt the scraps and recast the metal to produce counterfeit money.  It was big business in this area, and the government was determined to catch the offenders, whose exploits were seriously harming Britain's currency. A Customs and Excise Inspector, William Deighton, who got on to their trail, was murdered by the gang in the hope that would stop the inquiries.  Suspected informers were brutally tortured by gang members. But David Hartley was convicted and hanged at Tyburn near York and many of the others were eventually caught too.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Flower power and a smile

Knaresborough's residents seem to take pride in making their homes look pretty. There are beautiful floral displays evident throughout the town, which all adds to the town's charm and character.  Here we have an adundance of pink petunias, flowing over the railings outside a town house beside the main railway station.  If you look back at Sunday's photo you can see the back of this house, one of the tall cream-coloured houses between the railway bridge and the church.

This house also hosted two colourful 'trompe l'oeil' paintings in its 'blind windows'.  You can see the house has been taken over by warring Cavaliers and Roundheads, left behind after the English Civil War.  These two were certainly raising smiles from the many passers-by.

The reason for 'blind windows', as I said yesterday, possibly stems from an unpopular tax on windows which was imposed in 1696 - by the wonderfully named 'Act of Making Good the Deficiency of the Clipped Money'.  It was prior to the introduction of income tax, and was an attempt to tax people according to their wealth (if you had a big house with more windows you paid more) without invading the privacy of people's actual income.  Some say that this is where we get the phrase 'daylight robbery' from.

I don't know what 'the clipped money' was, but on Sunday I heard about some local stories of a gang of 'coiners' who shaved gold off the edges of coins (in those days coins were made of real gold) to melt down and make counterfeit coins. Over time the practice effectively devalued the currency.  So maybe it has to do with that - 'clipping' the edges of coins.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Trompe l'oeil

Knaresborough, when I visited, had just had an Arts Festival.  Dotted all around the town were these rather marvellous trompe l'oeil features, a project that originated as part of the Festival a few years ago but which has been futher developed by Renaissance Knaresborough. (Click on each to really appreciate them).

 A secret tunnel at the railway station..
 Doors and windows..                     

                                            Even Mother Shipton herself!                                               

Apparently the town is well suited to this, as many of the Georgian buildings have 'blind windows' - bricked up windows.  There are various theories about these - maybe they were a way of avoiding window tax, or simply used to keep the symmetry of the buildings without the expense of glass.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Picture postcard

To really appreciate Knaresborough's picturesque charm, you need to get up high on to the castle rock, from where you can enjoy wonderful views along the river.  This is the 'classic' photo, seen on a million postcards, calendars and jigsaws.  Much of the town centre - its winding shopping streets and the market place - is up at castle level, so you don't really notice the climb. The ruined castle area is interesting too, with a small museum and lovely gardens to explore.  One of the gardens has a children's paddling pool, which was full of happily squealing children on the day I visited. (Gran-in-waiting is making a mental note of these facilities now!)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Messing about on the river

You used to be able to hire rowing boats on rivers and lakes all over the place (even in Saltaire in the good old days) but it seems to be a pastime that is rapidly dying out.  It's alive and well in Knaresborough though, as you'll have seen from my previous photos.  On the beautiful summer's day when I visited, there were lots of families out on the river, enjoying spectacular views of the Victorian viaduct towering above them.  There are at least three different operators offering boats for hire and for a modest sum you can spend a pleasant hour gently cruising up and down.  Everyone gets to be happy... mum gets a well-earned rest, the kids like the novelty and enjoy trailing their hands in the water - and dad gets to show off his muscles!  And for couples, it can be a really romantic interlude (once you've stopped laughing at your partner's inexpertise with the oars, that is!)

Friday, 2 September 2011

Medieval treasures

I love this view, which shows Knaresborough's ancient charm to perfection.  The wonderful chequerboard house in the middle is known as the Old Manor House.  It dates back to 1208 when it was built as a hunting lodge for King John, around an oak tree which still stands in the centre of the house.  It was recently restored and if you're interested in old houses, there is a really fascinating article here.  It's believed that after Cromwell's troops defeated the Royalists at Marston Moor, in the First English Civil War, the treaty of capitulation was signed by King Charles here in this house, in Cromwell's presence.  It has a 400 year old mulberry tree in the garden which still bears fruit.  It remains a private residence.

Behind the black and white house you can see a thatched house dating back to the 1500s, Thatched Manor Cottage.  Its thatch was destroyed by fire a few years ago and has had to be renewed. I found an interesting picture of it being rethatched here.  It sits at the bottom of the wonderfully named Water Bag Bank - so called because ponies used to haul bags of water up the steep hill from the river into the town.

The church at the top is St John's Parish Church.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Victorian progress

The railway finally did reach Knaresborough in 1851, when this impressive railway viaduct was completed across the steep valley of the river.  An earlier bridge had collapsed three years before, just as it was almost finished.  (That must have been annoying!)  Victorian times, in Knaresborough as elsewhere, saw rapid progress in improving the town and living conditions for its inhabitants. Chapels and schools were built, gas street lighting established and a sewerage system installed.  But much of its earlier history is still very evident in its buildings, lanes, street names and the now ruined castle that towers over the town.