Monday, August 24, 2009

Lovely, lovely Essex

Current work: back en vacances (and trying not to bite my nails awaiting revisions - and, yes, I know I should be working on my outlines or it'll cause me a crazy deadline)
Listening to: John Martyn
Reading: next on TBR

It's been a busy weekend. On Friday, I took the kids bowling, which was great fun. Also booked tickets for Grease in the October half term. Madam is hugely excited because we’re going with her godmother, we’re staying overnight in London (her first time) AND it’s her first ever West End evening performance. (Actually, I think it might be mine, too – the Theatre Royal in Norwich is excellent and we used to get shows before they went to London, so it made sense to see them locally. I did see The Cherry Orchard during my A levels – with wonderful Frank Finlay – but I’m pretty sure that was a matinee performance.) So I am currently the best mummy in the whole wide world. (Kate polishes halo.)

Saturday was spent on my nonfic, and Sunday was a research day on the same book. We had a fabulous time. First we went to Castle Hedingham.

It belonged to the de Vere family (Earl of Oxford) for many, many years. It’s seen lots of sieges and murders (which I’m busy researching for the spooks book).

It also has the largest Norman arch in England (28 feet across, seen here from the minstrels’ gallery. And no, I didn’t misbehave. There were other people there – otherwise, I admit, I might’ve started singing something medieval. It gave me that kind of feeling).

And look at this beautiful carving on one of the Norman fireplaces.

We really enjoyed looking round. And someone enjoyed the chance of trying on some knightly apparel.

(The mail was heavy. The mail at Cressing, later in the afternoon, was even heavier.) His sister has been reading the Narnia books and was desperate for a bow and arrow…

This book also involves a bit of churchcrawling. So that was the next stop: St Nicholas’s church in Castle Hedingham. It’s quite unusual as it has three original Norman doors, with original ironwork. The south door is the ‘skin door’ (so called because it was an Essex tradition to nail the skin of a robber to the church door, as a warning - and when this one was restored in the 19th century, they did indeed find traces of human skin...).

It also has a rare Norman wheel window.

We went to a couple more churches (involving priories that have been razed to the ground, and sadly the churches were locked – apparently there have been a spare of burglaries in the Colne area. Maybe someone should take them to Castle Hedingham and show them what used to happen to robbers…).

And then we went to Cressing Preceptory. The wheat and barley barns there are among the oldest Templar buildings in England and are also the oldest timber-framed barns in Europe. (This is the wheat barn.)

And finally we went to Little Horkesley. There’s nothing left of the priory now, and the church was bombed in the Blitz. But guess what survived?

Yup. Rare 13th-century wooden effigies. I loved these. I think they might be the oldest ones I’ve seen, and the carving was just beautiful. You can’t see it here, but the detail on the legs was stunning. (I rather liked the lion, too.)

Overall – more pics added to book, more atmosphere soaked up, and we had a lovely family day out. Nice to be in the pretty part of my birth county. I have more trips planned; one involves Maldon (I took my first steps there) and from there to where my family is on my mum’s side, so my research team is going to grow a little bit for that one (aka bestest aunty and uncle joining us for a wander round and a cafe visit). Am also planning to visit Little Dunmow, where my grandmother was christened – actually, the trips around that area will involve visiting other churches with family connections. Kind of like ‘Who do you think you are?’ – except I know who I am, on Dad's side. The eleventh generation of farming stock. (Am married to a farmer and spent my holidays at uni working for a local grain merchant, so I think that counts…) My mum's side is trickier, so am going to have to sit down with my aunts and uncles and see what I can piece together. (If I can get it back to 1911, I'm fine - I can use the census and parish records. It's the latest bit that's trickier.)


Jan Jones said...

Love that arch!

The barn is rather cool too.

Glad you're all still enjoying the 'holidays'

Olivia Ryan said...

Nice to see my county described in glowing terms for a change - it gets so much stick since the whole sneering 'Essex girls' thing a few years back!
I loved reading your descriptions (although I didn't like the bit about the skin door and the door on the skin!). We go to Maldon quite regularly - it's not far from us - we used to take our kids swimming in the big lake on the Promenade that was sadly filled in after there was a fatality there. Great Dunmow's not far from us, either - and is the nearest town to my eldest daughter's venue for her wedding in October (it's right out 'in the sticks' - nearest village High Easter).
I was born in Romford, and have lived in half a dozen different places since - all in Essex.

Lacey Devlin said...

I love the wheel window I've only read about them but that picture is gorgeous!

Kate Hardy said...

Jan, the arch is fabulous. And the inside of the barn - the roof is incredible. Really delicate joinery.

We're enjoying the hols so much, this year. I just wanted a quiet, happy summer after last year's nightmare, and it's been everything I could've wished for. Even the usual squabbles are - well, not blowing up that often.

Kate Hardy said...

Olivia - absolutely. Such a shame that people insist on those stereotypes (which can be found elsewhere in much greater quantities!).

I have a lot of memories of Great Dunmow (my dad's side live there, though I have to admit I spend more time with my mum's side. If I mention an onion tower, you might know where...)

Sorry about putting a shiver down your spine with the skin door. I do have some more gruesome tales, but I'll save them for the book :o)

So how many sleeps until the wedding then?

Kate Hardy said...

Lacey - I loved that window, too. (When my church book finally comes out - it's currently on hold due to recession, sigh - it will be stuffed full of similar pics.)

Kate Hardy said...

Lacey - I loved that window, too. (When my church book finally comes out - it's currently on hold due to recession, sigh - it will be stuffed full of similar pics.)