Thursday 20 July, 2017. There was rain in the air, whipped about by the wind. It was blown under the umbrella so I wore a raincoat. I was heading for the Tunnels, so I also had a jumper and jacket on as well. The temperature is about 11 Celcius all year round in there.
The Tunnels are the old disused railway tunnel, completed in 1863, and a tunnel system dug in six months in 1939 that connects to the railway tunnel. There is one main tunnel that lies deep under the main roads, and several access tunnels with stairs that come up in parks or central areas round Ramsgate. The tunnels were used for air raid shelter during the Second World War.
The Tunnels were surveyed, cleaned up and fitted out for a tourist and educational attraction between 2011 and 2014, and opened in 2015. The mouth of the old railway tunnel is on the Marina Esplanade, very close to the Rainbow Steps. Near the mouth of the tunnel is a Cafe with tables sheltered inside the tunnel. There is also a small ticket office and administrative building. This is where I paid up for entry.
There were about ten other people on the ten am tour. We were first taken further into the tunnel, to where a seating area allowed us to watch a short propaganda film showing happy residents in the tunnels, and then the devastation outside. We were given hard hats and a torch and led a bit further in, to some illustrated boards where our guide gave us more information. In summary and my own words:
In 1938 people were getting concerned about the likelihood of war with Germany. In the First World War Ramsgate was bombed, and it was not hard to see that this was likely to happen again, but with bigger bombs and faster aircraft. The Town engineer (R.D. Brimmel) drew up plans to use the railway tunnel and expand into the chalk to provide shelter for the population. The Mayor, A.B.C. Kempe (known as the Mad Mayor, as he tended to greet visitors about Ramsgate in top hat and tails wearing his Mayoral chain) took up the cause, and representation was made to the government to get funding for the project. Initially it was turned down, but when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia further representation got the money, in March 1939. Within two weeks work had started on the tunnel system and it was completed within six months. There were several reasons: the Engineer had the plans drawn up and ready, the tunnels were sited under existing roads (so the Council did not have to ask anyone else for tunnelling permission), experienced miners were brought in to do the work, they worked in small groups from access shafts at half mile intervals along the route, and the chalk was relatively easy to cut through.
The opening to the main tunnel from the railway tunnel is under Victoria Road. The tunnel is an inverse U shape, six feet across and six feet high – as this allows it to be self supporting, any bigger and the chalk is likely to cave in. The tunnel is not smoothed out or dressed, it is just the raw chalk still showing the marks of being hewn out.
The tunnels were originally fitted out with bunk beds lining one side of the tunnel. Each set was assigned to a family (they were numbered) and generally people from neighbourhoods were grouped together. The exceptions were families in which members were essential to the recovery effort, these had bunks near the access tunnels. Generally the children were put into the top bunk and the adults used the bottom bunk. They appeared to be quite short and narrow bunks, it would be cramped. What this assignation of bunks meant, was that people had a destination when they came down into the tunnel, they did not mill about getting in the way of others trying to get in.
Sanitation was provided in the form of thunder boxes set in alcoves every so often along the tunnel and cleaned out each morning. There was a framework, partitions and doors – I hope.
cess stairs came down from the surface in slightly wider tunnels with a central hand rail. No wheel chairs or prams were allowed. I had visions of a pram parking bay next to the entrance, above ground. The access stairs could be sealed at the top against gas attack, and the stair tunnel had two ninety degree turns, so that the wall would absorb any shock from a bomb explosion at the entrance. An entrance near the hospital had a ramp so that patients could be wheeled down, and there was a fully equipped operating room set up down there, in case an operation was underway when the siren sounded and could be completed underground. Generally the tunnel was deep underground, so that bombs would not penetrate; in the shallower places, the tunnel had concrete reinforcement. The change in depth is due to the topography above ground, not in any significant change in the tunnel level, although it does have a slight slope.
We were able to follow the tunnel along under Victoria Rd, around a bend and part way along Boundary Rd. A water-main burst some time ago led to the tunnel being blocked by fill at that point. We did see two of the construction shafts and tunnels. These were set up later as ventilation shafts, but were not actually needed for ventilation. The slope given the tunnel allowed the air to flow through sufficiently.
The worth of the tunnels was demonstrated convincingly when on 24th August, 1940, a German squadron probably aiming for Manston airfield, dropped 500 bombs on Ramsgate. About 1200 houses were destroyed or damaged, however there were very few casualties: 29 civilians and two soldiers killed, 10 serious injuries and 49 slightly hurt. The civilian population had mostly descended into the tunnels in time. They continued to do so for the rest of the War, as Ramsgate seemed to get a lot of bombing. See http://www.ramsgatetunnels.org/history.html
Families whose houses had been destroyed were able to set up home in the railway tunnel. Initially they set up their own ‘camps’. However after a few fire scares, official ‘pods’ were assigned, walled with hessian treated with a fire retardant. Areas for social interaction were set aside, but this may have been too successful, as later in the war an order was made that no more than two dances could be held each week, and only between 7 and 9 pm. People were encouraged to get out of the tunnels during the day, children still attended school for example.
After the War ended, the tunnels were closed off, but not forgotten. Various proposals were suggested for the tunnels, but nothing came of these until in 2011 the Ramsgate Tunnels Heritage Group won £53,000 from a Lottery profit redistribution competition (the Jubilee People’s Millions) which allowed them to go ahead with their plans. The group is planning further development, our guide mentioned manikins set up to represent the construction of the tunnel, and a museum seems to be in the development stage, back in the railway tunnel.
It was a fascinating glimpse into the past and the lives of people so profoundly affected by constant bombing.
After a hot chocolate at the Cafe and a browse round the display near it, of Wartime related objects and photographs, I returned to the Glendevon to drop off my raincoat and warm jacket. The rain had gone and it was sunny again. I walked down to King Street to check out number 93, where my 3xgreat grandparents lived at the 1861 census. It is greatly improved. No longer a derelict fish shop, it appears to have been rehabilitated into a residence.
I then walked on along King Street and Queen Street, meeting some fellow guests outside a pub half way up Queen St. After a short chat I moved on to the Church of St Augustine. I had completely neglected to take any photos yesterday, and so this visited I probably took too many. I was intrigued by the Stations of the Cross, produced by a Dutch artist as sculptured scenes, in extreme bas relief and with figures clothed in medieval style and colourfully painted. It does always worry me that the resurrection is not depicted in Catholic Churches, only the suffering of Jesus and the laying of his body in the tomb.
I added other photos to the blog for yesterday. I wandered back into central Ramsgate, and sat about a bit, deciding what to do next. It was lunchtime but I was not at all hungry. Eventually I bought some fruit to eat in my room while blogging! As I walked up Harbour Street some street performers paused in their procession so I was able to photograph them, they were promoting ‘Cardboardia’. The boxes on their chests were wound by hand to produce music, to which they danced about. There was also a chap wearing a cardboard boat, but he was having trouble with it as it caught the wind.
Finally, I had a meal at the Russian restaurant ‘CCCP’, which was very good, and had my photo taken for their Facebook page.
Wednesday 19 July 2017 was another day with a fair bit of walking. I walked down to the station to pick up the ticket I had booked online for Friday. I then walked a little further to St Lawrence-in-Thanet to visit the Church of St Laurence where most of my Ramsgate ancestors were baptised, married and buried. I did not go inside, it was locked up.
From there I did a quick circuit of Ellington Park, then headed to the West Cliffs area. Luckily I found a public toilet and a cafe in a park when I got there. Next to the park is Augustus Welby Pugin’s house, The Grange, and the Shrine of St Augustine, which Pugin built as a Catholic Church.
I went into the open door just beyond the Shrine and found it was a shop and information centre about the Pugin and the Church. Pugin built it to honour St Augustine, his name saint, exercising his talent for Gothic Revival decor. The Church became the official Shrine of St Augustine fairly recently. I looked around and then was shown into the Church, which required walking along two sides of the Cloisters, which are enclosed with two side chapels off the north cloister, along which is also the Stations of the Cross. These are bas relief, done in medieval dress and brightly coloured.
Walking along the west Cloister, I could see into the Garth, the grass area with the Cloisters. Entry to the Church is through a doorway at the west end of the north wall. It is a nave and south aisle design, with huge pillars holding up the tower. The chancel is separated from the nave by a richly carved Rood Screen, with crucifix above it.
To the left of this is a statue representing St Augustine holding a church. The South Aisle ends with a Lady Chapel, and to the right of this, off the aisle is the Pugin family chapel, where there is an effigy of Augustus Pugin, on a plinth decorated with kneeling figures of his wife and children, plus his eldest daughter’s husband and daughter. This was designed by his eldest son, Edward. Pugin and most of his children are buried under the floor of the chapel.
By this time it was nearly time for the noon mass, so I waited and joined in. The Priest has English as a second language, and while he was very precise about reading things, the accent was a bit odd. It was nice to join in the ritual and meditate a bit.
I then retired to the Cafe and bought a ‘health bar’ and a coke for lunch and sat in the sun – and wind – to eat it and await the 2 pm tour of The Grange that I had booked myself onto.
This started with a background talk in the Cartoon Room – where Augustus’ apprentices drew up full scale copies of his designs (known as cartoons). It is a light and airy room, which the Landmark Trust uses for lectures and sales of Pugin related books. I knew most of the background already having watched a Time Team Special on the restoration of the Grange the night before. The Cartoon Room building is in the north-east corner of the property. In the north-west corner is a studio built by Edward Pugin as his work room. Augustus Pugin worked in the Library in the House, but Edward used that room for entertaining and so built the studio. It has an Asian feel, with elaborate red wooden east and south facing windows.
Edward also added the long enclosed entrance walkway. Edward made other changes to the house that the Landmark Trust has deconstructed to return the house to Augustus Pugin’s original design.
Inside, we were shown the living room first, actually a bit small but with deep comfortable couches and an interesting fireplace. The Library, Pugin’s workroom, has a ‘secret’ door, part of a bookcase swings open to allow direct access to the hall rather than go through archway into the living room. The dining room has a huge fireplace, taking up most of the east wall (which backs onto the Library). Also on this floor is the private Chapel. It has a fireplace, which is unusual, but apparently Pugin felt people pray better when they are warm. He conducted services here for the family – but for no more than ten minutes at a time, as he felt that children’s attention wanders after that time.
We did not visit the kitchen nor the upstairs rooms, as there were people staying in the house. The entry hall had a Virgin and Child statue on the wall, and the typical wallpaper designed for the house with the martlet (little bird) from the Pugin coat of arms alternating with Augustus Pugin’s initials as a monogram, with the Pugin motto, ‘en avant’, diagonally across the floral background, which was a different colour for each room.
It is an amazing house. Rather too colourful for my taste, but structurally a very usable design. I went back to the Guest House for a rest, before heading out to find something to eat.
Tuesday 18thJuly. I took the bus to Sandwich, departing just after 10 am. I did not hang about in Sandwich but headed for the river, intercepting The Strand , which runs parallel to the river, but separated from it by a row of houses. I went past St Mary’s Church, which I recognised from my previous explorations in 2013. The street became Ash Road and shortly thereafter I reached the corner with Richborough Road. Initially there was a footpath, but once there were no suburban houses there was no more footpath, and I had to walk on the rather narrow road, because of bushes, trees and stinging nettles right up to the edge of the road. I moved to the right hand verge, so that I could see cars coming at me, rather than have them sneak up behind. It was about two kilometres to the turn-off to Richborough Roman Fort. As I walked up the access road, towards the south wall of the fort, the scale of the ruins became apparent. The walls are still standing 8 metres high in places, nearly to their full original height of 9 to 10 metres. The facing stones have been heavily robbed out, and holes dug into the walls in an attempt to bring them down, mostly unsuccessfully. It is surprising that so much is still standing.
The site at Richborough is thought to be the Roman’s main initial harbour for the Claudian conquest of Britain (43 AD), and it remained important as the major access to the province. It is the starting point for the major arterial road, Watling Street, that took travellers to Canterbury and thence to London. The Richborough site, or Rutupiae as the Romans knew it, thus spans the whole period of Roman occupation of Britain, from the early first century to the early fifth century AD. During this time there were many changes made to the settlement. It started as a set of defensive ditches to defend an army supply depot, and it grew to a sprawling civilian town. At its peak it boasted a huge triumphal arch, possibly the largest outside Rome, and an amphitheatre. Finally the erection of the huge walls seen today, in the late third century, was required to defend a much smaller area against increasing attacks by marauding pirates. Construction of the walls required the destruction of the arch so that the marble facing could be burnt to provide lime for the concrete mixture used in the walls. All that now remains are the elevated walkways that passed under the arches – it was a four-way arch.
There is evidence for continued use of the fort after the Romans withdrew from Britain, perhaps not as a fort, but certainly as a celebration of the place that saw the landing of St Augustine on his mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in 597 AD. St Augustine is said to have first landed on Thanet (at Ebbsfleet) to gauge the feelings of the local King, who had a Christian wife and proved welcoming enough that St Augustine brought his delegation to the mainland. If he landed here at Richborough, it implies that a settlement remained after the Romans left. There was a small chapel dedicated to St Augustine here, it was rebuilt in the 12th century and continued in use until the 17th century, when it was demolished and not replaced. The entire interior of the fort was robbed for stone so that only the foundations of buildings inside the walls remain, or else they were built of wood and that was recycled, too. Excavations over the last century have revealed the original first century defensive ditches, inside the third century Fort walls. These remain exposed today, but were back-filled after the initial Roman period.
A set of outer ditches were also excavated and are thought to have been part of the defences that included the walls, the ‘Saxon Shore Fort’ of the third century.
At some point before the 15th century, erosion on the east side of the site led to the collapse of the east wall, and perhaps some of the eastern ends of the north and south walls. Little of the collapsed wall remains – possibly robbed for other building work. The slide area is now grown over with trees.
Also during these intervening centuries, the Wantsum Channel, that once divided the Isle of Thanet from Kent and washed up at the foot of the fort, gradually silted up. Today, Richborough is several kilometres from the sea, although the Stour River now runs near the east side of the site. A rail line runs below the site, between it and the river.
After thoroughly exploring the remains, I walked back to Sandwich. Once I got there I wanted to photograph St Peters from the north, as a market prevented a clear shot on my last visit.
I went in, and found that the Tower was open, so I climbed it despite my nervousness regarding heights and tight spaces. There was a good view of the rooftops from the top. I photographed towards Richborough, but it is too far to see, and hidden by trees.
Then I had to rush for the bus back to Ramsgate, once there I bought a sandwich for dinner – I had a huge breakfast, and some ‘health’ bars for lunch, and did not want much to eat. Later, I stood about where a costumed history walk was supposed to leave from, at the right time, but no costumes appeared, however it turned out I should have been on the West Cliff, not the East Cliff! I spent the rest of the evening researching my next moves and attempting to make bookings.
Monday 17th July. When I got to Orpington station, it turned out that there was a direct train to Ramsgate at 9:50 am, and I was just in time to catch it. In fact I had time to get the lift up to the over head bridge and down to the correct platform with time to spare.
The train ran via Ashford International and Canterbury West, arriving at Ramsgate about 11:20 am. I made my way unhurriedly to the lift, through the underpass and up again – I am not lugging my suitcase more than absolutely necessary. Unfortunately there were only two taxis waiting, and both drove away as I got to the stand. So I sat and waited to see if another taxi would show up. As it was, one did. It was one that had left as I arrived and came back for me after dropping his passenger, which must have been fairly nearby as it only took fifteen minutes. Meanwhile another passenger had arrived, known to the driver. I suggested we share the cab as far as the Glendevon and he take over from there, so that is what we did.
Thus it was just about noon when I got to the Glendevon, where I was greeted with a big hug by Rebekah. My room was not ready, as a big group had just checked out and she had only had time to strip the beds for the laundryman (who had arrived just after me). I left my bag downstairs for Charlie to carry up (he was out with Rosie the Dog). I grabbed a map of Ramsgate and a leaflet on Ramsgate in WW1 and headed out for a walk.
I headed first to the Rainbow Stairs, which are quite near the Glendevon and Rebekah helped paint them. They are looking great.
Having walked down the steps, I went along the Esplanade towards the Harbour. The building site under the cliff is still deserted. There are now paintings on the wall round it. Some are quite amateur, but I did like the more professional painting representing bathing huts and the memories of long term residents of Ramsgate, recalling days when it was a popular holiday destination for Britons.
I then walked round the inner harbour, in order to photograph the Sailor’s Home and Home for Smack Boys, next to Jacob’s Ladder, which were the first points on the WW1 trail as this was where survivors of the War (shipwrecked sailors and refugees) were brought for food and shelter on arrival in Ramsgate.
There was bombing during WW1, despite aircraft being so new, and it seems mostly from zeppelins. A shop on Albion Hill was damaged by a bomb from a zeppelin in May 1916, but that was not the first attack. The first attack by zeppelin was in May 1915, when a pub, the Bull and George Hotel, was badly damaged. Five children were killed on their way to Sunday School (at St Luke’s) when some seaplanes (according to the brochure) came through the mist on 16 March 1916. This attack caused outrage, and the funerals were huge.
Half-way up Madeira Walk is a sculpture called ‘Destiny’, presented to the town by Dane Janet Stancomb-Wills in 1920 as a peace memorial and dedicated to all those who served.
Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills (1854-1932) inherited a large house, East Cliff Lodge, from her uncle and adopted father, the first Baron Winterstoke. She was on many committees related to relief and fund-raising during WW1. She was also a generous benefactor. She donated the first motorised fire engine to the town following bombing in 1915. She also presented the Winterstoke Gardens (on the East Cliffs) to Ramsgate in 1923, probably the land was part of the Lodge grounds. She was the first woman Mayor of Ramsgate, from 1923-24. Quite unrelated to these efforts, she was also a principal donor to the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917), and thus the Stancomb-Wills Glacier was named after her. The WW1 brochure notes that she was conferred the Star of the Order of the British Empire by King George V.
At the top of Madeira Walk is Albion House, where Princess Victoria stayed from September 1835 to January 1836. It was very run down last time I visited but is now looking much better cared for, and is a Hotel (8 suites) and flash restaurant, Townleys. The menu looked good and I decided to eat there later.
Round the corner is Wellington Crescent, so called because Wellington drilled his troops here before Waterloo, and before the buildings were built. The road leading up to the Crescent from the town is ‘The Plains of Waterloo’, despite being quite steep. A resident of one of the terrace houses was a stretcher bearer, so had to attend any hospital trains coming into Ramsgate.
Further along (and in front of the Glendevon) is the Granville Hotel. Designed by Edward Pugin (Augustus’s son), it was built in 1869, but did not take off as a hotel although it was open until 1946. It was empty during WW1 and gained notoriety because in September 1915 rumours went round that German spies were using it, but a search by armed police found no evidence of this. The building now houses 48 self-contained apartments.
I sat down and read through the rest of the WW1 brochure at this point and decided not to follow it further; most of the entries were related to residents of certain houses, or businesses that were bombed or had a role in the war. I just walked further along the East Cliffs and sat in the park for a while and watched the walkers and their dogs. I noticed that the seagulls all land and take off into the wind. As I walked back along the cliffs, there was much motor noise from below. It was two air driven vehicles that looked a bit like hovercraft, or like the fan driven boats used in the Everglades. They buzzed up and down for a bit.
I returned to the Glendevon and had a cup of tea while researching the activities I have planned for the next few days. About 7 pm I headed out again and dined at Townleys. My meal was delicious.
Thursday 13 July and I headed for Battle, near Hastings, by train. The trip to Battle was just over an hour. Battle station has a mural of parts of the Bayeaux Tapestry on the retaining wall on Platform 2! My fifth cousin by marriage met me outside the station.
After beautiful lunch, we went into Hastings. We walked out along the Pier, rebuilt since it burned down some time ago. Then along the Promenade to the old town. The tall black fishing huts on the beach were reminiscent of the mountain huts in Zermatt. In the old town itself and there were many old houses, in beams and plaster of the 16th century, or little brick houses, all with moss or lichen covered tile roofs.
We stopped at a Turkish Cafe for a drink and some baklava, my cousin had never tried it before. I think I created a convert. We had a quiet evening at home.
We started the next day by taking the dog for a walk while my washing ran. This turned out to be a 45 minute marathon up hill and down into Alexandra Park, which was green and shady, round a large pond and up a hill and back home. That was over 5000 steps, to start the day.
Leaving the dog in the garden, we headed for Rye, going through Winchelsea on its hill, across a flat that used to be sea, and up to Rye, on the next hill, beside a small tidal river. Once mostly surrounded by water the sea has retreated a good mile or more away. However the river allows boats to operate still, and there were some old blackened buildings that were once fishermens’ homes, similar to those at Hastings. The walls and gates of Rye, of which one gate remains, were built in 1329 when Edward III made some grants for the further fortification of the town. Rye was one of the Cinque Ports, so an important trading town.
There is a castle, known as the Ypres Tower. Nearby is the Church of St Mary. The streets of the old town are cobbled and lined with old houses, some dating back to the 15th century. Some are in the beam and wattle and daub style of the late medieval period, some are brick and others are stuccoed Georgian looking buildings. We had a great time wandering through the town.
We had a Ploughman’s lunch at the Mermaid Inn, on Mermaid Street, the note at the front of the building says it was rebuilt in 1465. So an Inn has been there for a very long time.
We walked back down Mermaid Street to the river, once the quays of the sea port and sat in the sun for a bit before driving back to Hastings via Winchelsea Harbour and beach, although these were not actually visible behind a levee bank/sand dune. A cuppa in the garden and doze in the sun set us up for an evening out in Bexhill-on-Sea. We walked along the waterfront, not seeing much at first due to the bathing huts against the Promenade. Later on a bit we passed some buildings in one of which includes the rooms of the Albatross Club, RAF Association Club 1066 (of course). Then there were some lovely facades of seafront houses in Moorish style, which had onion dome tops above some of the front doors and the same bulbous shapes in the front windows.
We settled down to eat at an Italian Restaurant over the road. After having had a reasonable lunch, we shared a plate of calamari and I then had a salmon with prawn dressing. Lovely meal, which we ate outside. Like many places here there is no air conditioning, so very hot inside.
On Saturday morning we set off for Battle. Not far away, it is named for the location near the site of the Battle of Hastings, fought when William of Normandy invaded England to claim the throne, in 1066, and defeated the incumbent, Harold. The town is dominated by Battle Abbey.
The Abbey is run by English Heritage so I got in for free. We explored the Gatehouse first, climbing all the way up to the top of the tower, but examining the museum rooms on the way. The Abbey was founded by William (the Conqueror) after the Pope instructed that he should atone for the brutality inflicted upon Harold and the English at the Battle of Hastings by building a monastery on the site of the battle. There have been various re-builds since, and at the Dissolution, much of the place was torn down. The Bishop’s Palace became a private house, much expanded in the 18th century, probably using the stone left lying about after the destruction of the Abbey. That part is now a private school.
We had to walk around the outside of the school buildings to get to the ruins of the Abbey, and on the way were able to look out over the site of the battle, or the supposed site. Now it is a quiet field of sheep. There is a large arrow sticking into the ground, perhaps where (someone thinks) Harold’s body was found
We walked past the end of the remaining semi-intact building, the East Range and the ruins of the Latrine wing. The path led us past a neglected walled garden, neglected in that it had fruit trees growing and some beehives, but the grass was uncut. Further along were the dairy and the icehouse, they date from about 1818 when the remains of the Abbey were a country estate.
A bit further beyond these buildings we came across the foundations of the crypt, which was the lower level of the expansion of the east end of the Abbey church, carried out in the 13th century.
Given the distance from the west wall of the Cloisters, the Abbey was large! The expansion was significant, as the layout of the altar and chancel of the earlier Abbey were outlined on the ground further to the west and shown on an information board.
South of the Church we found the foundation of the Chapter House, and next to it the Parlour, where the Benedictine Monks could converse. The remaining partially complete building of the site was immediately adjacent. Down some steps (barred off, now, from the parlour but accessible round the corner) was an under-croft sort of area, with lovely pillars and vaulting.
There were further rooms to the south, descending some steps, we walked into a room with higher ceiling, said to have been the Novices day-room. Perhaps the lower roofed room further uphill was their dormitory.
Above these rooms, was the monk’s dormitory – now roofless, but apparently the roof had survived until the 18th century. Originally the monk’s slept communally, with beds in rows along the walls. Later, the space may have been divided into individual cubicles.
This building formed the east range of the Cloister. The west side of the Cloister was backed by the Bishop’s palace, that later became an 18th century estate and then the School. The wall of this building, facing the former Cloister, shows an impression of the cloister arches.
Returning towards the Gatehouse, we walked beside a wall that once formed part of the south wall of the 11th century Abbey Church. It was built to last.
Running round the entire Abbey grounds, was once the Precinct Wall, dating from 1338. Some of this is still standing and divides the abbey from the village of Battle. The ground level outside the wall is considerably lower than inside.
The village originated when William I ordered the building of the Abbey, as the workers needed somewhere to live. Alternatively, the village already existed and the location of the Abbey was somewhat influenced by the availability of workers and existing agricultural production. We had lunch in an old Inn, believed to have been built to house and feed the workers building the Abbey.
Shortly thereafter I was back on a train to Orpington. I spent the weekend catching up with yet more cousins, before heading for Ramsgate.
I arrived in the UK on Thursday, 6 July 2017, having flown in from Milan and found my way through London on the Underground and having help getting my suitcase up stairs from strong young men. I had to sprint for the Orpington train that was about to leave from Victoria Station! My cousin was at West Dulwich to meet me and drive me to her home. I settled in and we watched Wimbledon!
On Friday I helped walk the dog in Dulwich Park and in the afternoon ran some washing, also did some typing up of my report for Milan and posted prepared blogs. In the evening another cousin came to dinner.
On Saturday morning the dog was walked in Beckenham Place Park. This is wooded round the edge and along the railway line that runs through it, and has some open meadows for wild flowers and active dogs. In the afternoon we watched Wimbledon, dozing a bit and spent the evening at a BBQ with friends.
On Sunday thedog and I were taken for a walk in South Norwood Country Park. A bit further away from Dulwich, this is reclaimed industrial land, there are no buildings left so they must have been cleared away. There are trees, some duck ponds and some open areas. There was a rather nice oak tree just at the entrance to the park, that I photographed. I spent the afternoon on my laptop and watching Wimbledon.
On Monday, we took a bus into London and shopped, with me buying two silk skirts at Hampstead Bazaar. We had a lovely lunch at an Italian restaurant near the Bazaar before heading home. We spent the evening at home watching tennis.
Tuesday: Overcast if not rainy day. The dog and I were taken to Dulwich Park, going round the edge, and getting showered on. We met some more cousins for lunch in Bromley South at an Italian restaurant. Back in Dulwich, a further cousin came to supper and we caught up on family news.
On Wednesday we went to Chartwell, the country home of Sir Winston Churchill and family. It was a bit of a drive through south London suburbs including past the site of Crystal Palace, poised on the crest of the hill. It did not look like there was space enough for the huge structure. We left Greater London to head down a hill with glimpses of farmland and woodland through trees lining the road. Getting to Chartwell, we had a coffee break – hot chocolate for me – before we looked into getting tickets (entry is limited to timed tickets). We got 12 noon entry, it was then 11 am so we walked round the walled gardens. The first, beside the house had flowers and four wisteria which had been pruned severely to form small trees.
Further on, beyond the house, the kitchen garden had many beds of vegetables, herbs and espaliered fruit trees against the walls. The vegetables including artichokes, which I do not remember have seen in a garden before, with tufted purple flowers, a bit like enclosed thistles! There was asparagus too.
We went round to the front of the house and soon gained access as noon arrived. Entry from the Hall to the left and into a small sitting room, then round to the drawing room, huge and with a somewhat low ceiling. Then we went into the Library, to the right of the front hall. Up the stairs on the right of the building (facing in) we looked over Lady Churchill’s bedroom (lovely view of the valley, and a curved ceiling) and dressing room, then a display room and then Churchill’s study, above the front sitting room. This had an amazing hammer-beam ceiling that the guide in that room said was the oldest part of the house, Elizabethan, as were the walls and doorways. Beyond the study, not that we were able to get in, was Churchill’s small bedroom with little more than a bed. Perhaps the display rooms we had seen had held his wardrobe. Between the study and Lady Churchill’s room was a bathroom. We proceeded down the stairs (this being the set on the right of Lady Churchill’s room and behind the study), we went past the first floor and down to the ground floor where we saw the dining room – quite a low ceiling, with green drapes. Above it is the drawing room and above that Lady Churchill’s room. This section of the house was an addition made when the Churchills’ acquired the house (along with other renovations). We then moved through the kitchen (not very modern, with an AGA stove) into another display room – maybe it was a large pantry? We did not see the children’s areas of the house, or any servant areas (except the kitchen). Having ‘done’ the house in thirty-one minutes, we went back to the Cafe and had a sandwich for lunch, with fruit juice.
On Thursday morning I finished my packing and got a lift to the station, and I was off to Battle and Hastings. It was not a busy week, very restorative, and great to catch up with various cousins.
We drove from Lake Garda to Milan mostly on motorways, which seemed to take ages, but really only two hours. The difference from Switzerland and the alpine region of Italy was not only in the lack of mountains, but also in the more advanced crops in the fields and the domestic architecture. Here the houses were stucco and terracotta tile, rather than larch wood and slate. In Milan, we picked up a local guide who first directed the coach around the main ‘outer’ sights, instructing us to admire various buildings. First in the Garibaldi area, we were to admire the skyscrapers, especially the new ones with vertical gardens.
We wended our way further round, going past the huge Cimitero Monumentale, described to us as a civic burial ground and non-religious, but built to look like a monastery. A bit further on we admired the castle of the former rulers of Milan, the Castello Sforzesco. It is built in the red brick of the area and looks very imposing. We were unable to stop as the tour time was limited, but perhaps I will come back at some point!
Many of the balconies of apartments are quite mature gardens – they put the geranium window boxes of Switzerland to shame, but then Milan is hugely built up and has no other greenery, except the occasional park. We drove past the monastery, the Saint Marie della Grazie, in the refectory of which Leonardo da Vinci painted the Lord’s Supper mural. The Refectory is open to the public, but you have to book ahead or be there at 8 am to get a ticket (if any are left). The Museum of Archaeology was also recommended to us.
We got off the coach near Piazza Scala, where there was a statue of Dante. I was rather surprised at the unadorned facade of the Scala, designed in the neo-classical style. This contrasted with the slightly more elaborate decoration of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II on the other side of the Piazza. Inside this shopping arcade the decoration stepped up!
The mosaics on the floor included the red marble of the region and in the centre under the dome, a mosaic representing Milan, and towards each arm of the Galleria, one for each of the significant near cities – I caught Roma and Verona. The Galleria is four floors, and the shops are only at the bottom. Residences were originally above them, now there are businesses, and the Leonardo Museum. The facade facing the Galleria is elaborately decorated with carved stonework.
Moving through the Galleria, we emerged into the Piazza Del Duomo. Now, the Duomo (cathedral) facade is elaborate! I managed to get into the non-tourist and therefore free, section, saying that I wanted to light a candle for my mother – which I did. The ‘tourist’ entry had a huge queue and our time was limited. Inside, the Cathedral is a forest of columns. If anything, it reminded me of the Hall of the Kings in the Mines of Moria, huge towering columns in rows, holding up a distant and elaborate roof. I couldn’t take photos, unfortunately.
In the centre of the Piazza is a memorial to Garibaldi, the unifier of Italy in the nineteenth century. Before that, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had control of the north, and I think the rest of present day Italy was still city-states, as the north had been before the Habsburgs took over. There was mention of Napoleon declaring himself Emperor of Italy in the Duomo, and that would have been early 18th century. I’ll have to read up on Italian history sometime. The memorial is now the roosting place for many pigeons, and tired tourists. At least, on the shady side – the temperature had reached the mid-thirties.
The World of Leonardo da Vinci was in the first floor of the arm of the Galleria nearest the Piazza Scala, and it was eleven euros for a senior to get in. No photographs were allowed, but I photographed the brochure.
The Museum was fascinating, with models of many of Leonardo’s designs and computer stations that had descriptions, pictures of the relevant folios of his original notes and animations of the models in use, in Italian and English. I was particularly interested in the flight related models and explanations of Leonardo’s experimentation. I also lingered over the detective work needed to work out how he had created a robotic lion, described by several independent observers when it presented the King of France with some lilies. Some of the ink that Leonardo had used had faded and needed elaborate sensing to pick up. Finally, I admired the copy of The Lord’s Supper, in a side room. By then my brain was over-loaded and I headed out for some final photos before meeting with the rest of the travellers and heading for our hotel – the Michelangelo, near the Central train station, Stazione Centrale. Built in the fascist era, it is a monumental creation, elaborately art deco, and built so large that it has not had to be extended, despite the growth in rail transportation – as was intended by the designers.
That evening we had our farewell dinner at Osteria Mama Rosa, which I thought was excellent. Back at the Hotel we said our goodbyes, as many would be leaving early in the morning.