Over and Under the Hill - Potterspury History Group

For some years I have been helping lead some of the Over and Under the Hill events at Stoke Bruerne where participants explore Blisworth Tunnel by boat and walk back over the top with guides. Last Saturday we held a special version for our village history group. With the warm and dry spell of weather we managed to fill trip boat Charlie. The tunnel element of the event never fails to impress. Despite travelling through the tunnel on Albert you get a new perspective sitting in Charlie near the water line when you can concentrate on looking at the side passages and the wonderful colours of the mineral deposits on the walls.

Familiar view

Checking the route

Boat Horses in the quarry field

We carried out a reconnaissance on the Thursday before the trip and some our pictures are from that walk.
A group of happy walkers ready for the tunnel

In the tunnel and looking at interpretation material

Leaving Charlie at Blisworth

Finishing with a meal for over twenty at the Navigation Inn it was a memorable event.  The next event like this is at the end of August which is being organised by Trip Boat Charlie.

Kelmscott Manor

Almost 12 years ago we had a trip up the Upper Thames and moored up at Kelmscott overnight. This was following the summer 2007 floods that devastated the Cotswolds and caused havoc across central England. We had planned to visit the former summer home of William Morris, Kelmscote Manor but, although the floods had subsided, the damage to the house was so bad it was closed to the public. We particularly remembered that even the Plough Inn was out of beer because of the flooding and an unfortunate couple who had travelled from Norfolk in their camper van to visit the manor and had slept overnight outside only to discover it was closed for the rest of the year.

Since then we have not been back along this stretch by boat, so when we found ourselves travelling through the Cotswolds a week ago we decided it was about time that as William Morris enthusiasts we visited Kelmscott. We were not disappointed.   

Kelmscott village does lie a little off the beaten track but it is delightful. A visit to the manor can effectively become a visit to the whole village since there are connections throughout to Morris family (William, Jane and May) and their fellow Pre-RaphaeliteDante Gabriel Rossetti who had a complex relationship with the Morris family . Just look at the map supplied by the manor.

We arrived late morning on a glorious summer's day and parked in the village car park (a field) designated for manor visitors. After "the pub with no beer" episode twelve years ago we visited The Plough and had a great lunch. The inn has several rooms so would make a good centre for walkers since it's not far from the Thames Path. It was busy and one of their outside rooms was set up for a party. I discussed the floods with the staff - it appears that the wooden floor of the pub was destroyed by the floods so they now have one in stone.

A pub with beer - this time

On the gentle walk to the manor we passed the cottage that has a wonderful stone carving of William Morris and I was also taken with some unusual nearby stone fencing.

William Morris contemplating life
Memorial Cottages 1902 - carved by George Jack
 Quite a different field boundary
The manor is not a large property if you are familiar with visiting stately homes, and you will soon become aware that it had a long history before Morris lived there. Visiting this building is all about William Morris and his work, but there are other little gems, notably by his daughter May who lived there for many years following his death.

William Morris's Bed  

Jane Morris's Bed decorated in Willow Boughs 

It is a widely held view that Willow Boughs (which we have decorating Albert) was inspired by the backwater of the Thames that passes through Kelmscott.


Split-stepped staircase installed by the Society of Antiquaries in 1962

Attic bedspread

Jane and William Morris

Cartoon of Morris fishing on the Thames

The gardens and outbuildings shouldn't be forgotten. Maggie and I were particularly taken by the massive mulberry tree in the back garden. It was too early in the season for ripe fruit but maybe in late August?

Kelmscott Manor's magnificent mulberry

A Three-seat Privy

The Manor owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer. Also this year it will close for an extended works, mostly associated with the outbuildings and infrastructure so next year they may have quite a short season. I did ask the guides about the damage done in 2007. It appears that none of the artifacts were damaged but they had to have a new floor at the rear of the building.

Morris's Topcoat

The mooring at Kelmscott is a very short walk to the manor and is a delightful setting. Although we moored up there in 2007 and have now visited the manor, we still aspire to do both things at the same time. I suppose that is icing on the cake? - talking of which the manor does cream teas!

Kelmscott moorings

Down the River by H E Bates (1937-1979)

Having posted about the 1987 (50th) edition of this book, I began to look for earlier versions which I soon realised had wood-engravings for illustrations - I just love wood-cuts. It soon became clear that the first edition of 1937 had been reprinted in 1968 and 1979 and these editions used the same illustrations. Although I prevaricated (I like using that word), when eBay advertised a copy of the 1979 edition for less than £4:00 I couldn't resist buying another copy.

The hardbacked copy came with its original dust jacket complete with a charming illustration. The book boasts 83 wood-engravings; some full page, some included in the text and some decorating the chapter headings.

Lace Making

The book has a much more old-fashioned feel to it than my later edition and this version has paper quality which is surprisingly heavy gauge. It is altogether a better version printed and produced version as long you appreciate, as I do, the black and white engravings.

Title Page

Agnes Miller Parker's illustrations are extraordinary and invoke some of the same atmosphere as the Denys Watkins-Pichford work later had in Tom Rolt's Narrow Boat.

One example of just how "alive" the engravings are is the group of illustrations that accompany the story of Quintus that Bates relates when discussing the characters that lived near his home close to the Nene. It is a story of  the close (and somewhat ambivalent) connection working-people had with their pigs in the early 20th century. Bates' grandfather and his friend Quintus used to spend long periods admiring their pig and discuss her litters. Many in our Northamptonshire village also kept pigs; I bet they had similar discussions. The writing describing the characters and their views of life is first rate, but just add a few wood-cuts and it moves to another plane.

Quintus, pigs and piglets

According to the dust jacket, which contains a reprinted a review from The Observer published in 1937, "Very few modern books  have been so brilliantly illustrated". Over eighty years later I would certainly agree.

 Look out for copies of this edition from the usual on-line sources - you won't be disappointed and they probably won't be expensive.