Sunday, 25 August 2013


 I'm always on the look out for interesting old beaded and embroidered pin cushions. They come in all shapes, sizes and materials. The example above is a bit of a monster at ten inches high, made from velvet with beaded designs. It was made in about 1880 by Native Americans, probably from the Tuscarora tribe, who sold them to tourists visiting the Niagara Falls.

At the other end of the scale is this tiny Victorian patchwork example, measuring about one inch square and half an inch high.

This pin cushion is made from snippets of antique soldier's uniform fabric and would have been brought home from overseas, perhaps from the Crimea or Afghanistan, a gift for Mother or the girl he left behind. They say that the men made these themselves as they waited for the action to start, but I think it more likely that there were cottage industries set up near army camps, making and selling these souvenirs.

I think my favourites are these - pin cushions made to commemorate the birth of "a little helpless stranger". They date from around 1830, a time when babies and their mothers quite often did not survive the birth. I sometimes wonder if people then were more resigned to sadness and hardship than we are today - but perhaps not. The cushion below seems to express the feelings of an anxious, loving husband.

                                                     A Girl or Boy
                                                    care not either
                                                   that our Saviour        
                                                      spares the


Sunday, 18 August 2013


At first I didn't know what had made me buy this oil painting. He looks quite kindly, but he's not exactly Johnny Depp (or Benedict Cumberbatch, depending on your taste). He didn't cost me much - the lovely Georgian frame alone was worth the price.

The Reverend B. Richardson - when I got home his name rang a bell. I'd recently read Simon Winchester's excellent book, "The Map That Changed The World" which tells the story of William "Strata" Smith, 1769 to 1839, a surveyor with a bright and enquiring mind but only a rudimentary education, who became fascinated by the fossils he found in different layers of rock, deducing how these might date the strata. When he tried to present his ideas to learned society he was subjected to a snobbish and dismissive attitude. It was in these circumstances that the Reverend Benjamin Richardson (see above), also a keen fossil collector, befriended him and gave him support.


In 1815 Smith published the first geological map of Britain, from which modern maps hardly differ. Smith's life was not easy; at one point he was imprisoned for debt and his wife suffered from recurring mental breakdowns throughout her life. After his experience in the debtors' prison he and his wife lived in Scarborough in Yorkshire for two years, from 1826 to 1828, under the patronage of Sir John Johnstone, a member of the Scarborough Philosophical Society. The Society raised funds to build the Rotunda Museum in the town, to Smith's design. You can visit this wonderful building and its treasures today.

A few miles down the road from Scarborough is another location which excited Georgian geologically-inclined minds - it is a field behind The Wold Cottage in Wold Newton where a meteorite fell in December 1795.

More importantly, it was witnessed falling from the heavens - at the end of the 18th century there was great controversy over the origins of these "stones from the sky". Many did not believe this phenomenon was possible, a French scholar Guillaume Deluc describing it as "a peasant's fable". On this occasion, in Wold Newton, one of the peasants who actually saw and heard the meteorite was George Sawdon, a carpenter - and Mr N's many times great grandfather.

Here is his evidence...

"George Sawdon, carpenter, above mentioned, deposes he was walking with James Watson at the time, heard noises in the air like the reports of a pistol, and was about 50 yards from the place when the rock fell; was certain that there was no lightning at the time. Went up to the spot, and there saw the stone sticking in the chalk which the above John Shipley saw fall. Helped to dig it out, and assisted in weighing it in Merlin's balance - weight about 56 lb. It smelt very strongly of sulphur on being dug up.
(Signed) George Sawdon."
Besides the three who saw the meteorite fall, other locals heard the loud noise and felt the vibrations it created. The event proved to be instrumental in the acceptance of the fact that stones did indeed fall from the sky and this one is the earliest surviving example seen to land in the UK. You can see it yourself in the Natural History Museum - it looks like this...

A monument was built on the spot where the meteorite fell.
It is on private property, but we have sometimes glimpsed it across the fields as we search for rare objects of a different kind.


Sunday, 11 August 2013


Here is Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire - built in the 14th century to comfortably house a group of 23 Carthusian monks and their prior. We were both quite taken by the reconstruction of a monk's cell with bedroom and living room downstairs, upstairs workroom and picturesque vegetable patch to the rear.

It is far more appealing than your average sheltered accommodation.

But then along came Wycliffe and the Lollards, Erasmus and others, not forgetting Henry VIII. Eventually, after Dissolution, such establishments became picturesque ruins - this one now forms a sensational garden feature for a large Arts and Crafts manor house, just off the A19 between Thirsk and Stockton-on-Tees, well worth a visit if you are up this way.


It was designed and refurbished at the end of the 19th century and used as a weekend retreat by the Victorian ironmaster Sir Isaac Lothian Bell. I know nothing of his religious persuasion but he was described in an alphabet game, played by his family at Christmas in the 19th century, as "C - the Crushing Contemptuous Pater." 

Presumably the monks were gentler chaps, though Wycliffe thought they were at best expensive and useless, at worst corrupt deceivers. The conflict between Catholic and Protestant was very evident in Yorkshire. John Wycliffe was born just 25 miles away from the Priory and, over the years, the North Yorkshire Moors were home to Catholic Recusants, who were regularly put on trial and fined, Quakers and Non-Conformist followers of John Wesley. Tribal feelings (at least that's what I think they are) waxed and waned, and by the time Mr N's family were living in the village of Crathorne, a short distance up the A19, mixed marriages were commonplace. The villagers were still, in the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly Catholics, following the religion of the local Lord of the Manor (they worked for him and rented his properties.) Catholic William, a tailor, married Protestant Hannah, a cartwright's daughter and not a local, here in the unassuming Georgian St Mary's Catholic Chapel... 1812.

They lived in Old Hall cottages, overlooking All Saints Church...

...and will lie together, forever, here in the Anglican churchyard.


Sunday, 4 August 2013


...also known as body-language mimicry. We all do it sometimes!