24 January 2011

Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire

Last week was hugely enjoyable. I had the opportunity to wander around part of the country which I had never visited before, looking at old buildings and interesting landscapes. It's always nice to go somewhere new and do something a bit different. Archaeology really can be the best job in the world!

I was impressed with just how many timber-framed vernacular buildings had survived the ravages of time; including quite a few substantial fifteenth and sixteenth century examples. There are too many to show even a representative sample, so the two pictures above show the sort of thing I mean. At the top is a small timber-framed seventeenth century cottage at Caxton End in Cambridgeshire; at the bottom is a somewhat larger house, with sixteenth century origins, in the north Hertfordshire village of Ashwell.

Ashwell was also home to a particularly spectacular church. Not only does it have the 'tallest tower in Hertfordshire' (a widely visible landmark), but also a selection of interesting graffiti. The church's own website gives a good guide to the written inscriptions, which include an ccount of the plague in the fourteenth century and various comments scattered around the nave. Most unusual, however, is a series of architectural drawings, including one showing London's St. Paul's Cathedral as it was before the Great Fire.

Other ecclesiastical highlights included the astonishing survival of a fourteenth century rood screen at St. Mary's church in Guilden Morden (below, top photo) and, at the other extreme, a nineteenth century 'tin chapel' at Shinghay (below, bottom photo).

There was also an interesting variety of agricultural buildings - many still in use for their original function after four or five centuries. Alas, again there is only room here to show the extremes of that range. First, an impressive sixteenth century timber-framed barn near Abington Piggots; below that the adaptive re-use of part of a second world war US airbase near Steeple Morden (in this case rather the worse for wear).

Finally, there is just enough time and space to mention the earthworks. Not always the most impressive, as the largely agrarian use of the landscape in this part of the world has tended to smooth out many of the lumps and bumps. Hertfordshire offered a nice collection of bronze age barrows at Therfield Heath, overlooking Royston and the ancient Icknield Way - as well as the noisy A505 and busy railway line to Kings Cross. Unfortunately the barrows have been rather compromised by the creation of a golf course, which has brought its own humps and bumps (and scowling golfers).

My favourite earthworks on this particular adventure, however,formed the deserted medieval settlement at Clopton in Cambridgeshire, which I reached on a misty morning as the sun was struggling to break through. A very impressive moated church site, surrounded by quite extensive house platforms, roads and boundaries.

Finally, on the way home, I paid a brief visit to the timber-framed post mill at Bourne.

The present stucture is largely seventeenth century, although there may have been an earlier mill. The post-mill is lovingly maintained by 'Cambridge Past Present and Future', and I am also extremely grateful to the owner of the neighbouring cottage for permission to take a photo from his driveway.

So a wonderful week, a splendid break from the office and a good excuse to play with the camera... and a much-needed and timely reminder of why I do what I do!

1 comment:

Edward James said...

I'm glad you liked Ashwell Paul, as it's my home village. The graffiti in the church is very interesting, but the translation of the medieval latin shows that whoever wrote it was pretty desperate. It is a shame that the damp interior of the tower is damaging the graffiti. The spire of the church is also bent; the result of the 1987 'hurricane', and one clock face is missing - a local farmer decided he didn't want his workers clock watching. I hope you managed to sample at least one of the three village pubs on your visit too. Best wishes, Edward James.


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