Monday, 26 September 2011

Maidens' Garlands

On Saturday we happened upon a box full of hand-made lace, of all types and dates - evidently collected by a lady over her lifetime - just in case she needed a piece, one day.

These flimsy remnants of a life reminded us of a something we'd seen earlier in the week when we were exploring the East Coast and came across the wonderfully faded Old Church of St Stephen, perched above Robin Hoods Bay.

A ghostly collection of Maidens' Garlands in a glass cupboard.

These funerary decorations were the last, fragile mementos of a deceased, unmarried girl's life and their use dates back at least to the 16th century. Also known as Virgin's Crowns or Crants (from the German), Maidens' Garlands were made from paper, ribbons, fragments of best frocks, silk and shells and usually had a centrepiece made from paper cut into the shape of a glove, kerchief or collar, sometimes with a written epitaph. They symbolised the young girl's purity and lamented a life unfulfilled by marriage and motherhood. They can be found in churches dotted around England - in Shropshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire & elsewhere.

We found the example below in Alne church, near York.

The eighteenth century poet Anna Seward, friend of the Ladies of Llangollen, wrote the following touching lines in 1792:

Now the low beams with paper garlands hung,
In memory of some village youth or maid,
Draw soft tear, from thrill'd remembrance sprung;
How oft my childhood marked that tribute paid!
The gloves suspended by the garland's side,
White as its snowy flowers with ribands tied,
Dear village! long may these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of thy early dead!

Outside, in the churchyard, we watched these happy young girls, all unaware of how short their lives might be.
We hoped their future lay in providing ganseys for fishermen, and not in becoming a tender accompaniment to a Yorkshire Puddiing.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Last weekend was a little quiet with few opportunities for antiques-hunting and when we drew the drapes on Sunday morning we saw a scene of treasure-seeking of a different kind, in the field below.

We wondered if these metal-detectorists had been inspired by that fabulous find, the Vale of York Viking Hoard, found, rumour has it, in these parts. Our finds whilst tending our garden amount to not much more than a patchwork of blue and white china fragments.

and one small, puzzling object

We know it looks rather like a pile rabbit droppings, but these are five tiny balls of clay, hand rolled, pressed together and then fired.

Possibly a Roman gaming piece? Whatever it is, it doesn't compare with the Viking silver once buried in this beautiful pot.

Inspired by their efforts we forgot about prosaic pots and other such ordinary, old ornaments, packed a picnic and set off in search of the medieval and mysterious, for a change...

...wending our way through picturesque Studley Royal Park until we came to the ruins of Fountains Abbey.

Enter if you dare!

We found the ghosts of Gothic lettering...

...and heard echoes of saintly footsteps.


Monday, 12 September 2011

The Surrey Hills


A very dear friend of ours has complained at the lack, on our blog, of scenes from our top-speed whizz up and down the A25 last week. She wants art, antiques and vistas new - so who are we to disappoint her?
Surrey is quite unfamiliar to us and impressed us with its quaint ingenuity!

A Tudorbethan thatched bus stop at Westcott.

Is it the village pump or is it a signpost, at Dorking?

A truly ingenious trompe-l'oeil radiator at Ightham Mote

Here, dear friend, is Ightham Mote - strictly speaking this is Kent not Surrey, but still only a hop and a jump from the A25, once a turnpike road, still the link in a chain of some of England's choicest gems.

Magical antique mirrors...

...or is this a Vermeer?


Polesden Lacey is a glittering treasure house, largely created by Lady Margaret Greville, the illigitimate daughter of beer tycoon, William McEwan. She was well-liked by her servants and also a close friend of the notoriously compulsive collector, Queen Mary. However she was described by Harold Nicolson as "a fat slug filled with venom" and by Cecil Beaton as "a galumphing, greedy, snobbish old toad". (The bitches!)

The house contains Margaret's large collection of Chinese porcelain and her father's fine Dutch Old Master paintings.

Lady Greville's grave in the garden.



The most precious jewel in this string of Surrey gems is, possibly, Mary Watt's Cemetery Chapel in the village of Compton, near Guildford. It is a magical red terracotta building filled, inside and out, with beauty and symbolism. Mary Watts, wife of the artist G.F. Watts, was the artistic force behind the project and the creator of its rich imagery. Mary began evening classes in pottery for the villagers in the late 19th century and from this the Compton Pottery was created. The villagers worked on the chapel, the outside of which was completed in 1898 and the inside in 1904. The Compton Pottery also produced carved terracotta garden pots and decorative hand-coloured smaller pieces, one of which, a heart-shaped pendant, we own and treasure.

Please may I have one of these? But not yet.

Compton pottery pendant.


We also managed a brief visit to the V&A.

Though our minds and our imaginations were pleasantly stimulated by all the lovely stuff we had seen on this trip, we were a little tired - so we played a game of finding the V&A object which most expressed our (mild) exhaustion.