A Walk along a byway of history


In Search of Bifrons House
After Andrew Abbott and NAIB2 roused my interest in Bifrons House, and the c1700 painting in Yale’s Centre for British Art, I took advantage of Mrs Turnstone’s choir date in Patrixbourne Church to see what there might be to be seen. I knew by then that the house shown in Yale’s painting had long gone.


This bridge over the Nailbourne leads to the site of the old house, so I decided to follow the right of way across it.
Before opening the field gate I looked back towards Patrixbourne and realised that the artist’s viewpoint was somewhere on the hill opposite.


The slope is much less dramatic than the artist makes it appear when he sat -

About here. The woodland to the right is double-fenced, suggesting that nowadays shooting pheasants is more popular and more profitable than chasing foxes. The woodland in each picture has been grown since the painting was made; the site of the house, roughly straight ahead from here, is obscured by trees. From here today there is no chance of spotting the church spire, which still looks the same as in the painting, seen on the right hand side of the picture.

The hunting party are following the bridle path that still hugs the field edge, but the area to their left is now tree-clad. The bridge is behind the tree on the left of the painting. The houses shown below are on the street running to the far (Easterly) face of the Church. Go to http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1668544 for a bigger, clearer image of the painting, and for a mini lecture by Dr Jennifer Kowitt, try: http://video.yale.edu/video/treasures-yale-bifrons-park-kent .


Once across the bridge you get a glimpse of the site of the house from about the same bearing but at just above river level, before you climb up to walk alongside the busy London – Dover A2 road. At a field edge you come to this well-made track, doubtless a souvenir of the house’s occupation by the Royal Artillery in WW II. They needed good roads for all their heavy equipment. As with many a stately home of England, the later Bifrons House suffered at the hands of the military, and was burnt to the ground in mysterious circumstances after the end of the war. Something similar happened to Canterbury Cathedral soon after the Normans arrived, but they could get the poor and the nobles to pay up for a splendid replacement. Bifrons was replaced with utilitarian barns.


And here is the site of the house,  unfortunately due S of the camera early on an October’s afternoon, low sun playing havoc with the lighting.


The wellingtonia tree at the back is one of several across the parkland, though much of that is now down to beans and winter wheat instead of the grass lands seen in the painting.

These are the converted C19th stables of the house that was destroyed after WW II. Lovely polychrome brickwork.
This lodge is from the original house’s entrance to the village of Patrixbourne. The Jacobethan builders loved chimneys!

Maybe a century after the lodge was built, the Cromwellian soldiers vandalised this C12th church porch, destroying ‘graven images’.





While here are a few old houses in Patrixbourne.

My walk ended with a concert by Kerry Boyle and her choirs, collectively known as Canterbury Voices, in aid of the Church heating fund. They need it!

The year turning round


Yesterday’s storm sent me darting outside to check that the roof was draining properly with no blocked gutters. At the back of the house I found a cascade where the downpipe and gutters were full to capacity and more; thankfully it did not last long, and the weather turned around; today as Dylan wrote

 the blue altered sky
        Stream(s) again a wonder of summer.

Yes, the year is turning round: these are the last strawberries, said the greengrocer at the Goods Shed, and so, remembering next week’s Harvest Festival, I came home to harvest the more presentable grapes that have not gone to feed the starlings and blackbirds.

I was reminded, in this month of the centenary of his birth, of Dylan’s Poem in Autumn, sharing with us his walk through the little town, the weather turning, his mind and heart turning to celebration and prayer, out on the hill.

Let us be grateful for the last strawberries, for the grapes and all the harvest and for the birds who bring us pleasure even as we pretend to be cross with their depredations. We’ll be feeding them through the winter!

And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

Shared Space in the Garden and Street

One of Mrs Turnstone’s necessities in a garden is a pond; ours is small but limpid, though since the fish were evicted by Mrs T it is choked in weed. Perhaps we can remove a few pailfuls over the winter and let it start afresh in February and March.

Last week, as we sat in the pondside sunshine, a green dragonfly hovered between us for a few seconds: a memorable close encounter to be grateful for. But will her babies eat the tadpoles?

Today, 1st October, it was warm enough for a smart, grownup frog to be sitting on top of the mass of weed, golden eyes shining. He could not force his way under the weed to avoid my attention. We certainly will have to remove those pailfuls of weed!

The last couple,of weeks have given us other local sightings: the foxes were very vocal for a few nights, but then their minds and hearts were occupied with thoughts of love. I remembered the first time I saw wild foxes, when newly arrived from Birmingham at school in the Borders. A walk up the Eildons with three or four other young lads was brought to a halt by bloodcurdling screams and yelps  from a thicket. Suddenly the racket ceased and two magnificent foxes emerged to delight us townies and explain the unknown cries.

Last week Mrs T was pleased, even overjoyed, at the news that a woodmouse had been sighted at the front of the house; the first one seen since the Spring, but the camera on my phone would not have captured her, even if I had been alert to the  chance of such a meeting. Indeed, a few nights earlier I had failed miserably to produce anything recognisable as a hedgehog when one posed for me by the pillar box on the corner. Another one for the memory bank, not the pc picture folder.

It’s hard to be sure, but I think the leafcutter bees may have left their nursery. The flap of rose leaf at the entrance looks as though it may have been pushed aside slightly.

And finally, we saw what was probably our last bat of 2014, flittering about the back gardens and street light. A pipistrelle, Carolyn Billingsley tells us. She’s our consultant on such matters.

Enjoy a blessed Autumn!

Autumn at the Gate

Mrs Turnstone has decreed that Autumn is near. Very few leaves have come off the trees, though many are looking ready to drop, once the weather gets that little bit colder. Nonetheless, she has declared that Sunday will see us sitting around the fire. It will be the feast of St Wenceslas, he who carried pine logs to the poor man by St Agnes’ Fountain. I don’t see any pine logs, but she has laid a good bed of pine cones, our favourite fire-lighters. Oh to be in England, now that Autumn’s here!

Car Free Sunday

It will never catch on, not when the traders rule the town, or will it?

We were blessed to spend Car Free Sunday in Bruges, after meeting family and friends for a

Jazz on two wheels.

Jazz on two wheels: Chassepatate

birthday celebration. Bruges is as commercial as anywhere in Europe, but most of the shops seemed to stay shut, there was dancing in the streets, a singer covering Elvis’s greatest hits, flea market stalls appeared wherever there was room to erect them, and people quite obviously enjoyed the streets on foot or else on an assortment of weird, wonderful or wildly impractical bicycles. No buses even in the Markt, just people. And free entry to St Johns’ Hospital gallery.

And in the background, as always – the bells. The carillon was playing two songs from the Great War, ‘Tipperary’ preceded by ‘Roses are flowering in Picardy'; sentimental perhaps, but we know all too well that, ‘the roses will die with the summertime, and our roads may be far apart’. How many who went out to fight in Picardy died far apart from loved ones?

It was good to hear the bells, and worth reflecting that even on Westminster Bridge, one cannot always hear Big Ben and his quarter chimes. Worth reflecting, too, that battles are raging across the world, drowning the joyful bells even deeper than traffic does.

Here is a link to the belfry’s web page in Flemish, which tells about the carillon movement and also a little about the tunes played at each quarter. http://www.carillon-brugge.be/WWW/de%20beiaard.htm

Sounds of Summer


I think George could hear it over Skype – the click as the vacuum pulled down the security button on each jar of Mrs Turnstone’s bramble and elder jam. Before long we will be looking for more clean empty jars as we clear the cupboard under the stairs of all we’ve accumulated over the year.

My 5lb of wild plums must wait to be cooked till I’ve raided the sugar aisle in the supermarket. They came from Ash Lane Crossing. All along our stretch of  the old South Eastern Railway the company seems to have planted plum trees in the crossing keepers’ gardens. They survive even when the cottage is long gone, as it is here or at Hamford, where the plums are big and sweet and purple, asking to be pickled. An expedition for another day.

The summer and autumn jams and preserves are already being passed around, extending the common table to family, such as Mrs Turnstone Senior, and friends, like the group we met up with in Wensleydale. One family, one feast, one table, at the root of it all.