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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Bromsgrove Highlights

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."  ~ C.S. Lewis, British novelist, scholar, broadcaster, 1989-1963

     In early February friends Jennie and Chris Gash (NB Tentatrice) came to pick me up for a short stay at their home in Bromsgrove. We had planned this visit some months back and it came at a time when I was feeling lower than worm's belly button with the first anniversary of Les' death just behind me and the first anniversary of his cremation looming in front of me on February 14th.
     Sunday, February 4th dawned crisp and clean. It was to be the last really mild winter day we in Britain would have for some weeks to come. Jennie and Chris picked me up early in the afternoon. The drive down to Bromsgrove was interesting as I was astonished to see canals weaving all around their home town. Well of course Bromsgrove is on the outskirts of Birmingham so there is that, but the Stratford-Upon-Avon canal is also nearby as is the northern Grand Union and the Droitwich canal is close as well, where NB Tentatrice is harbored over winter at Droitwich Spa Marina.
     Jennie was kind enough to offer the use of her washer and dryer so laundry commenced and a Chinese take away was ordered for dinner. After dinner more wine was poured, stories were told and pictures came out of boxes and cupboards, refreshing memories and adding another layer to the story of their lives. Chris was a navigator in the RAF and they were posted to more than ten sites in his career. Jennie was also in the RAF and that is how they met! I saw a brilliant photograph of the two of them in their late mid to late twenties, about to board a Vulcan bomber. Chris and Jennie were the only married couple to have ever flown in one together. I hope they have it framed and hang it on the wall. It is an absolutely amazing photo and they both look like models in an advert for joining the RAF.
     Monday Jennie and I had a Girl's Day Out while Chris opted to stay home with Monty the Border collie and chill out. First we went to National Trust's Baddesley Clinton Manor. The turn in the weather arrived as predicted with temperatures just below freezing; sharp, sunshine and frosty cold. The written history of Baddesley Clinton goes back to the 12th century. Prior to the Domesday Book's writing there was no distinctive place known as Clinton Baddesley. It was a part of the Forest of Arden, and owned by Baedde, a Saxon who cleared the forest to make room for his house. By 1066 it was owned by someone named Leuvinus and William the Conquerer stripped him of the land to pass it on as spoils of war. A bishop and knight named Geoffrey de Wirce from the village of Mobrai in Normandy fought with William the Conqueror, became his advisor and gained  280 English manors (land the size of a village) and titles, one of which was the land at Hampton-in-Arden as it was then known. After Geoff's death in 1088 his lands and titles were passed on to his nephew Robert de Mowbray Earl of Northumberland. Robert was imprisoned for treason in 1096 for making war against William Rufus, King William II. Pardoned for his behavior and allowed to keep his title and lands, but Robert did not learn his lesson though he did ride out in one of the crusades. A monk named Orderic Vitalis who knew Robert many years later described him thus:  
"Powerful, rich, bold, fierce in war, haughty, he despised his equals and, swollen with vanity, disdained to obey his superiors. He was of great stature, strong, swarthy and hairy. Daring and crafty, stern and grim, he was given more to meditation than speech, and in conversation scarce ever smiled". (Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. III, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), pp. 17-18)
     In 1095 Mowbray took part in another rebellion which objective was to stop the succession of the crown to the conqueror's sons and pass it to Stephen of Aumale. For his efforts Robert of Mowbray was taken from his stronghold at Bamburgh Castle, and imprisoned for many years at Windsor before finally being released to become a monk in his later years. He died without issue in 1125 and the house and grounds in Warwickshire were passed on to Robert's brother Nigel de Abigny who married his deceased brother's wife. The land remained in the de Mowbray family for four generations before being sold to Walter de Bisenge whose Great granddaughter Mazera married Thomas de Clinton in 1225 and the lands and house passed into the Clinton family. Three generations passed and it was sold to a Coventry merchant named Nicholas Dudley who sold the property in 1400 to Robert Burdet and his wife Joan. On her husband's death Joan enfeoffed three men all named John: John Dugdale, John Sperman and John Brome. An enfeoff is a feudal term for essentially renting a room in a manor house or castle or a bit of land to someone in return for their fealty and willingness to defend said house and land in time of war. Now, while these three men were living on the estate, it was sold several times until it ended up at last in the hands of John Brome who was listed in 1438 as the "lord of said manor." John was murdered in at White friars, London in 1468 by one John Herthill and the house passed to his son Nicholas. Nick had a temper; he avenged his fathers death by killing  Herthill as well as a local parish priest who had the audacity to flirt with his wife and was caught in the act by Nicholas. At his death in 1513 the property passed to his two daughters, one of which signed her half over to her sister and her husband Sir Edward Ferrers. The house remained the Ferrers family for twelve generations. The estate was sold in 1937 to Mr. Edmund Walker from Knowle who eventually gave it to the National Trust.
     Originally this home was a moated manor with a drawbridge--obviously built for defense. Most of the present day house is from the 15th century with a few timbers and walls still left from the 13th century. There is a cellar passage reached by a trap door in the brew house under th south side of the moat. This passage travels through the house within the walls to exit near the North Gateway. This is an important detail because all of the owners and inhabitants of Baddesley Clinton have been Catholics.
Baddesley Clinton, moated medieval manor house, Warwickshire
 A view from the Northeast of the moat and the bridge which was a drawbridge at one time.
Interior courtyard with entrance to the kitchen/scullery which is now the main entrance.
The left inside of the courtyard. The old wooden door was the original entrance to the house.
Kitchen/scullery. the left out of site is one of the priest holes that leads to the sewers.

Maine drawing room with fantastic fire place. Photograph by Mike Peel (

Priest s Hole access
The stairs lead to a priest hole hidden behind sliding paneling and the fireplace. This is known as the moat room for its location adjacent to the bridge on the north side of the house.

Priest s Hole inside
The actual space behind the fireplace and paneling.

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The library where Nicholas Brome murdered the parish priest for flirting with his wife.

One bookshelf in the library. My hands itched to pull books and peruse their pages!
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So many, no! Mustn't touch!!

Priest hole, Warwickshire, Baddesley Clinton, National Trust
Looking down inside one of the priest holes.
Baddesley Clinton, Sacristry
The 13th  century garderobe room. The trap door is located underneath the large chest at the end of the room with the candle in front of it. In the 17th century is was used as a sacristy. The door on the right leads to the Catholic chapel.
The chapel with its beautiful panels covering the walls right, painted on calfskin.
The large leather painted panels up close.
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Armorial windows were installed beginning in the 17th century with the Ferrers. The armorial designs provide detail of each Ferrer and his chosen wife.
    The cellar passage was originally a sewer, designed to be flooded periodically by raising the level of the water in the moat which would carry most of it away. As the water level was lowered again a servant would access steps at the far end of the passageway and brush it out. Catholicism was outlawed outright in 1580 after decades of seesawing back and forth with Henry VIII's break with Rome over his marriage to Anne Boleyn, Henry's death and the succession of his son who died at the age of thirteen to be followed to the throne by Mary--Henry's daughter with his first wife Catherine who was a staunch Catholic, and finally under the reign of Elizabeth I, a Protestant.
     By 1580 one could be executed for practicing Catholicism and anyone missing an Anglican service was fined £20 per month. To put this in perspective, twenty pounds in 1580 is equivalent to £ 3,300.00 today! After 1589 any priest ordained abroad since 1559 and discovered on English soil was branded a traitor and his lay host became a felon both punishable by death. In 1593 Catholics could travel no more than fie miles from home without forfeiting all property and had to apply for a license for travel from local authorities if they desired to leave their hamlet, village, town, or city. Catholic rites and services were banned and priests, if found, were executed. It was under these conditions that Catholics--especially priests--were welcomed and offered sanctuary at Clinton Baddesley. The sewer passage became a hiding place and a means of escape from authorities who visited known Catholic sympathizers frequently in the hopes of finding anything and anyone which might allow them to arrest the owners. 
     It was not uncommon for up to eleven priests to hide at a moment's notice, by climbing down a rope, hand over hand to the bottom of a bolt hole into the sewer where they might have to wait for days on end as the house was searched and watched. They had to be very careful not to leave anything behind--not a rosary, a robe, or a missal. Sixteenth century architect Nicholas Owen supported his faith by building priest holes in the manor houses and castles of staunch Catholics. Clinton Baddesley has four such holes built by Owen; two connect to the sewer which eventually led to the north gatehouse. One is located in the pantry area of the servant's kitchen, one is located in a downstairs "moat room" behind movable paneling next to a fireplace, and the third leads into the ceiling and is said to hold up to six people. The fourth was located on the second floor in the Garderobe which in medieval times was a room with a shaft that dropped from a hole in a bench to a shaft on an outer wall, allowing one to release one's waste which dropped down the shaft and out to the ground or the moat as the case may be. Since fresh air came in via the shaft, bringing the pong of poo with it, it was thought a good place to hang one's garments in order to fill lice infestations! In the 16th century at Baddesley Clinton a rope was hung from a cross bar over the top of this hole and a secret wooden hatch was fitted over the opening to mask it and a large wooden chest was placed over the top. The garderobe was located adjacent to the room used as an altar for prayer and worship, making it easy for contraband persons to move the chest, open the hole and climb down to the sewer passage at the bottom while a family member put every thing back together, smoothed their hair, straightened their clothes, took a deep breath and marched off to greet the priest hunters pounding on the gatehouse door.
     Warwickshire was a hot bed of Catholicism. William Shakespeare's family were Catholics and related to the gentry at Arden Castle by his mother Mary Arden. Catholic servants, peasants, gentility and nobility all looked out for one another across the country. In 1603 Henry Ferrers was serving as the Sheriff of Rutland and an MP for Cirencester though he had long since sold his land in the area. It is thought Henry may have been involved in the Gun Powder Plot. (For those who are not familiar with British history you can read about this "explosive" moment in history by clicking on the link in purple.) Henry owned the house next door to the Houses of Parliament acquired by plotter Thomas Percy in 1604. Guy Fawkes stored the gun powder which gave this plot its name in Percy's house yet once the traitors had been caught, the barrels of gunpowder sitting under the floor or parliament confiscated and moved to safety, and those held responsible sentenced to death, not a mote of suspicion attached itself to Henry Ferrers and proceedings were never taken against him. 
     After lunch at the cafe Jennie and I walked up the rutted dirt lane known as the Heart of England Way to the parish church of St. Micheal. There has been a church on this site since 1305, originally dedicated to St. James it was changed to St. Michael sometime in the 19th century.
    Nicholas Brome (c.1450-1517) was Lord of the Manor of Baddesley Clinton and lived in the
    house. One day in 1485, he came home and surprised a man in the parlour “chockinge” (stroking)
   Brome’s wife Elizabeth “under ye chinne”. Enraged, Brome drew his sword and killed him, only to
   discover he had murdered the Rector of St James. There is a bloodstain on the floor of the library
   which may, or may not, be where the murder occurred. In penance for this act Brome built the
   towers of this church and of the church at nearby Packwood. They are sometimes known as the
   “Towers of Atonement”. He also stipulated in his will that he should be buried in the porch of the
   church: "standing up right within the church door so that people may tread upon me as they enter."
   In 1870, during the restoration of the church, the tomb was opened and remains were found in an
   upright position. (The National Trust website:; accessed March 12th, 2018.)

The Heart of England Way or the rutted lane to St. Michael's parish church from Baddesley Clinton Manor house.
The front of St. Michael overlooking the graves of countless generations of parishioners.

The interior of this bijoux church is bright and inviting. The ceiling is 17th century woodwork.
The Lords of Baddesley are buried under the floor stone in the chancel which has its original 15th century coffered roof.

      There is a lot more history surrounding this manor up to the 1930's but I don't have room to share it all so you will have to make a trip to Baddesley Clinton yourself! You won't be disappointed. My deepest thanks to friends Chris and Jennie Gash for driving all the way up to Cheshire, scooping me up, sharing their lovely home with me and showing me a lovely time. Much love to you both as your summer cruising moves forward.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunshine Time

"When the sun  is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, not trouble too difficult to overcome." ~Wilma Rudolph, American track & Field Olympian

     It has been unseasonably hot and sunny here for the last few days. I took the opportunity to get some chores done. My wardrobe and drawers are now tidy with summer clothes out and winter clothes packed away. I changed the oil this morning for the first time all by myself. 
     For those who do not live on a boat, imagine: lifting the hood (bonnet for Brits) of the car, climbing inside next to the engine and squatting down, laying everything out on top of the engine, turning sideways, and then pumping the old oil out into a container, cleaning up the drips and removing the oil filter with a tool that looks like some modified gynecological surgeon's instrument. The filter is located on the side of the engine so it drips out and makes a mess; I clean up the mess, rub clean oil on the rubber gasket of the new oil filter, screw it in place, hoist a 5 liter bottle of clean oil up and pour it in without spilling it all over, remember to put the oil cap back on the engine, gather up all the gloopy detritus into a garbage bag, remove my rubber gloves, lay clean bed liners under the engine, wipe everything down with Huggies nappy wipes, wait for the spasms in my neck, arms and side to pass, untwist my pretzelated self and climb out from under the hood. Job done!!!
     I needed a shower so I stripped down and while I was showering several boats rocketed past at the speed of sound and suddenly I was bouncing off the shower walls like a fart in a skillet, my eyes squeezed shut, shampoo running down my face and the entire boat rocking like a mechanical bull in a Texas bar! A passing boat pulled my back mooring pin out and the rear of the boat went AWOL from the tow path, all unknown to me. I rinsed off, shut off the water, climbed out of the tub like a decrepit drunk on a three day bender, threw a towel around myself and opened the bathroom door to the sound of a mooring pin being hammered in very close by. I had left the rear hatch open for ventilation and sunshine. Just as I dropped my towel to slip on some undies a shadow appeared looking down my hatch and a deep male voice called, "Hello??? Hello???? Your mooring pin came loose and I pinned it back in oh god sorry!!!" 
     We both got more than we bargained for...and there you have it-- the perfect sunny spring day in England.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Beast From the East Has Arrived!!

"The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches." ~E.E. Cummings, American poet, painter, essayist, author and playwright; 1894-1962.

 (Many, many thanks to blog reader Steve Hicks  who found my blog at Feedly and there it was--the missing post which I accidentally deleted! Steve emailed it to me and here it is, restored!!) 
     Where shall I begin? With the weather I suppose. For those not living through it here in Britain, here is a synopsis of what has occurred: a disturbance in the upper atmosphere caused the Jet Stream, which flows west to east, to change direction and flow east to west, carrying bitter cold weather and high winds out of Siberia, across Finland, Denmark, Northern Germany and onward to the UK. It struck the East coast of Scotland and England on Tuesday, February 27th, bringing snow and plunging temperatures with amber and red warnings by the weather service. An amber warning over here is a weather caution: pay attention and be prepared. A red warning means loss of life can occur; stay home if at all possible. A warm, wet front named Emma, coming up from the coast of Africa and sweeping up over Western Europe was set to shake hands and dance with The Beast over Southwestern England and Southeastern Wales Thursday or Friday last, dumping loads of snow, drifted dangerously by high winds of up to 75 MPH. And so it has come to pass. People have been stuck in tailbacks as they are called over here, on the motorways for eighteen hours in blinding snow and ferocious winds.The entire train service in this country ground to a halt s it is electric and ice on the lines means the trains cannot run. Snow piles up on the tracks as well and impedes the journey. Folks were stranded in trains for days in some parts of the country.
    Up here in east Cheshire on the border with west Shropshire we had several inches of snow on Tuesday which was blown away by a bitter cold, scouring wind roaring on continually four four and a half days. Day four (Friday, March 2nd), and the high was 34F/1C degrees; the low according to my outdoor thermometer was 17F/-8C. The constant wind and the wet cold make this a far more bone chilling experience than similar temperatures in Alaska or Eastern Washington where I have lived previously. Dry cold does not penetrate all three layers of clothing and all five layers of skin to sink into one's bones like this wet cold does.
Two drakes fighting outside the boat.
A man in a Nantwich street with a Penny Farthing bicycle!
The snowy scene on my walk to the bus station the first morning of the storm, on my way to a job interview in Chester.

     I had to brave the first day of the storm to attend a job interview in Chester. The appointment time was 11:45 am but I left home at 8:30 am. I know how gnarly transportation becomes in poor weather over here so early is always best. It took me thirty minutes to walk to the center of town and the bus station. Two buses failed to show and were delayed by over forty minutes. I caught an alternative bus at 10:00 am. It stopped in Chester after wending its way through every small village and hamlet between Chester and Nantwich. Eventually we made it and I was fifteen minutes early for my interview. By the time the return bus dropped me at Welsh Row at 3:00 pm and I began the forward and left leaning walk along the embankment to the boat, I was tired and cold. The canal embankment sits high up above the town with no protection from the weather. The snow was blowing sideways in flurries and the wind was like an animal gnashing at my face and plucking at my outdoor clothing. I was never so grateful to get back to NB Valerie--warm as toast, dry, and home sweet home.
    Wednesday morning Tesco delivered groceries to me while they still could so that was sorted. Thursday in weather not fit for man 'nor beast, fuel boat Halsall came through after braving the twenty one locks on the Audlem flight and breaking ice in the less exposed sections of the cut, to load ten bags of coal on the roof and fill the diesel tank. I take my hat off to Roberta and Lee, along with Amy and James, Ann Marie and Brian on NB Alton, and all the other fuel boat women and men like Jules and Richard on their boat Towcester and Ryan Dimmock on his boat Southern Star down on the Grand Union and North Oxford. They along with the dozen or so other boats and owners plying their trade in all weathers across 2000 miles of canal system are my heroes, to quote Pip who said it on her blog first! Many thanks for your hard graft.
     I had a half tank of water and I was using it frugally to make it last as this winter storm wasn't set to blow itself out until sometime after last weekend. In the meantime there is nothing for it but to hunker down and wait it out, which I did but it does wear me down and make me feel blue and antsy. I took my first ever sponge bath using nappy wipes. Better than the alternative which was nothing. Before the storm hit I had been moored up for nearly a week at Henhull, north of Nantwich. I was sussing out whether or not it was a good place to access the bus down to Chester when the weather warnings started rolling in and I decided to turn and head back into Nantwich to moor up where I was surrounded by other boaters, could walk to the shops and town and moor up safely. It was a good move. While moored here I got to know some of my fellow boaters.    
Moored  up at Henhull Bridge.
There is Bob on NB Leopard. He is eighty-something years old and has had his permanent mooring near the playground in Nantwich for nineteen years! I called on him during the storm to check that he was okay. He has a car and offered to drive me anywhere I might need to go. Bob also has a generator which he offered to loan me should I need it. This is what boaters are like.  I went out for a walk on Sunday when the winds died down but the temperature was still pretty frosty.  I met John on NB Serenity. He was walking to the shop with his hand truck in tow for coal. A Brit born and raised, John is employed by Holland tractors and is based most of the year in Pennsylvania, USA. He has a home and a family there and has lived there for over twenty five years. John bought his narrow boat for a place to live when his company brought him back to Britain to work for three months each year. He is retired now but kept the boat and spends six months of the year here on the cut and the other six months in the States. I also met Julia on NB Shamwarna. She and her family live aboard on a permanent online mooring. We had a towpath chat about the permanent moorings in Nantwich. Harder to get then Hen's teeth, and fairly pricey. She pays £140.00 a month for the privilege of mooring on the embankment with no electric, water or rubbish. this means they have to go for services every two weeks which takes about three hours each time as they have to turn the boat around at the nearest winding hole to arrive back at their mooring again. I have been toying with the idea of taking a permanent online mooring if I could get one. It would make traveling for work a lot easier, but then, but then I would be place bound even more than I currently am so I am still mulling it over.
   On a separate theme of visitors I must catch up.  First a hello to the folks on NB Bessie Surtees whom I don't know by name but who have passed me twice. the lovely woman on board called out to me that she reads this blog and she wished me well. Thank you for following along and for your good wishes. I hope you and your man are moored up somewhere safe and staying warm.
    Ken and Sue Deveson of NB Cleddau stopped in two weeks ago on their way from Aqueduct Marina where they checked on the progress of their boat being painted. As always it was lovely to see you both. I was so looking forward to a nice lunch and a good natter to catch up with you two; I am so sorry our visit was cut short by my feeling ill.
   Several days later Angela And Steve of NB Tumbleweed came over for lunch and we had a lovely afternoon visit. It was great to see you both and share an afternoon together.
Pip and Mick from NB Oleanna.

Finally Pip and Mick on NB Oleanna were moored up back near the canal centre and they walked up to say hello. We met briefly at Westport Lake in October, but know we had several hours to have a good chinwag and get to know each other. Then I walked down to visit on their boat on Sunday and to meet the lovely boat cat Tilly.  Mick and Pip are typical boaters if there is such a person; down to earth, wonderful sense of humor, and great stories of another life before they moved aboard their first boat Lilianne.  Pip writes a wonderful blog. How I wish Les were alive. He would have so enjoyed meeting new friends, catching up with old ones, and waiting for the arrival of the fuel boat. He loved our life on the cut and was never bored or unhappy even in the worst of the weather. I would have enjoyed seeing his reaction to this storm. I have to say life is not much fun without him.
    Anyway NB Valerie is full of water again, I dumped four coal bags of rubbish, and cruised back to Henhull to catch up on five loads of laundry, and take on a Tesco order tomorrow. Then I plan to cruise to Hurleston Junction to moor up. I want to walk up the lock flight there which starts the Llangollen canal and see if it is easy to catch the Arriva 84 bus which travels between Crewe and Chester with a stop at Nantwich. Slowly, slowly I am girding my loins for the trip into Chester. The locks become bigger double locks at Bunbury with the staircase locks there. I plan to stop at the Calvely services for water, etc. and then moor up on the offside back behind the permanent moorings as Bunbury and wait for another boat heading down the locks. It would be helpful indeed to share the locks down to Chester with another boat.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs