Tuesday, October 31, 2006


According to a study conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research, reported in The Guardian (October 23), “Britons are more likely than other Europeans to blame young people for antisocial behavior.” Whereas 65% of Germans, for example, say they would be “willing to intervene if they saw a group of 14-year old boys vandalising a bus shelter,” only 34% of Britons would intervene. 39% of Britons would cross to the other side of the road to avoid a confrontation. According to the study, 1.7 million Britons last year “avoided going out after dark” for fear of teenagers. Even here in Kenilworth, I’ve been told that it isn’t advisable to walk through Abbey Fields after dark because of the gauntlet of teenagers—smoking, swearing, and drinking—that I would inevitably find there. Fear of young people is particularly noticeable on this particular evening, Halloween, when—according to an insurance company survey—58% of British homeowners will turn off their lights and hide in the back room to avoid trick-or-treaters.

Many older Britons look with anger and dismay at the Americanization of British culture, including the American gang culture increasingly embraced by British youth. It’s true that Britain has come to share many of America’s bad habits. For example, Britain has the third worst record of recycling in Europe, after Greece and Portugal, and the British are Europe’s worst wasters of energy. A study of energy usage habits across Europe shows that Britons indulge in an average of thirty-two “bad habits” each week. According to the study, 71% of Britons waste energy by leaving electrical devices on standby. Most Britons also overfill the electric kettle when making tea—another distinctively English energy-wasting habit.

Meanwhile, as I said, today is Halloween—a holiday which to many Britons is yet another unwelcome cultural import from the United States, redolent of the violence and the crass commercialism that America has come to represent. According to an article this morning in the New York Times, the growth of Halloween in Britain has been a boon to Sainsbury’s, which now sells hundreds of thousands of pumpkins and tons of candy at the end of each October. But as Halloween has grown into a huge commercial enterprise in Britain—£120 million a year spent on Halloween-related items, according to one report—the homegrown English holiday of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) has faded. When asked if there was a holiday in England that featured fireworks, Peter’s classmates told him, “Halloween.”

There is one good thing about Halloween in England. By turning off their lights and hiding in their dark houses on Halloween, Britons are at least temporarily reducing their consumption of electricity.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


In Salzburg, the local beer is Stiegl Goldbrau, which has been brewed in the city since 1492. The old brewery is at the foot of the Monchsberg, the hill on which the fortress stands; Stiegl is German for “stairs,” so named because the brewery stood next to the stairs leading up to the fortress. Unfortunately, the brewery has, since 1492, moved its operations to modern facilities near the airport, where the tourist can vist Brauwelt, billed as “Europe’s largest exhibition of beers.” Stiegl Goldbrau is an excellent, smooth golden lager, traditionally served with a good head. Beer glasses in Austria are marked for a half liter (,5l) and a third of a liter (,3l), with at least an inch to spare for the obligatory foam. Stiegl is a lager, and a good example of its style—the kind of beer that Budweiser would be if it bothered to taste good.

In British pubs, you will find many people drinking lagers, usually Carling or Stella Artois. But the real reason to go into a pub is to drink real ale, or “cask-conditioned ale.” Real ale gains its special quality from living yeast which continues the fermentation process while the ale lies in casks in the publican’s cellar. It’s a far cry from the cold filtered, pasteurized beer popularly swilled in America.

In England, ale is served in pints or halfs, and the glasses are appropriately marked so that you’re assured of getting the statutory amount of your favorite beverage. Most pubs are affliated with a particular large brewery, such as Marston’s or Greene King, although some are unaffiliated “free houses.” A pub will always have on tap ales from its parent brewery (Marston’s Pedigree, for example), but it will also offer “guest ales” from other breweries. Ale comes in different strengths (alcohol percentage), which can usually be determined by the ale’s designation as a “bitter” (3.5-3.8%), “best (or special) bitter” (4.0-4.5%), “extra special bitter” (5.0%+) or “old ale” (6.0%+). My favorites among the ales I’ve tasted in England are Wells Bombardier, The Rev. James (a Welsh ale), Arkwright's Special Bitter (from Warwick), and the good old standby, Tetley’s.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Peak District Holiday Updated Saturday, October 28

Bradwell, Derbyshire, with Mam Tor lost in fog in the distance.

Bradwell is an old mining village clinging to a hillside in the Peak District, a short walk from both Hope and Castleton, both of which are better known to tourists. In the nineteenth century Bradwell was the home of Samuel Fox, who in 1852 received a patent for the first steel-ribbed umbrella. As one local historian remarked: "I should say that Mr. Fox had the Peak to thank for some of his commercial success. He was born in the Peak. There the rain-clouds are always gathering. What more natural than that Mr. Fox should turn his attention to umbrellas?" We could have used a few of Fox's umbrellas on our long walk around the western end of the Hope Valley along the ridges of Lose Hill, Back Tor, and Mam Tor—a classic walk known as the Peakland Ridge. A heavy fog persisted through most of the morning, and when that cleared off, the rain started. Despite the poor weather, there were many other people out walking. Whenever we became pleased with ourselves for braving the elements and tackling such a demanding walk, we would pass a mother manoeuvering a stroller down the steep path. Here are some highlights of the nine-mile walk:

The path from Lose Hill
Back Tor
The summit of Mam Tor (1696 ft.) in the fog
Mam Tor
(from the Blue John Cavern)
The Descent into Castleton
(footpath from Blue John Cavern to Treak Cliff Cavern)
On the ridge in the background, left to right: Hollins Cross, Back Tor, Lose Hill

After the walk, we were completely drenched, so we dried off and had lunch in The Castle in Castleton, then had an enjoyable tour of Peak Cavern, the largest cave in Britain. In the photograph at left, you can see the enormous size of the cave entrance. You can also see rope-making equipment. From 1600 until about 1860, the cave was used as a factory where rope was produced for local lead miners. The rope makers lived in stone huts inside the cave entrance. They also served as tour guides for visiting luminaries, like Queen Victoria and Lord Byron (whose signature we saw scratched into the cave wall). In the middle ages, the cavern was a hideout for gypsies and bandits, and was reputed in local legend to be the entrance to Hell itself. Ben Jonson, in his 1616 play The Devil is an Ass, mentions the cave's colorful original name:

Fit. What's your Name?
Pug. My Name is Devil, Sir.
Fit. Say'st thou true. Pug. Indeed, Sir.
Fit. 'Slid! there's some Omen i' this! what Countryman?
Pug. Of Derby-shire, Sir, about the Peak.
Fit. That Hole
Belong'd to your Ancestors?
Pug. Yes, Devil's Arse, Sir.

Each winter, the cave floods. As the floodwaters subside and are sucked back into the recesses of the cave, there is a great roaring, flatulent sound: the sound of the Devil's Arse.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bonus: Salzburg

When I took this photograph, I was standing on the Salzburger Hochthron (1853m/6079ft), the highest point of the Untersberg, an impressive massif about six miles outside of Salzburg, Austria. We arrived at this point by way of a steep path up from the Untersbergbahn cable car station (1805m). In the cable car, we made the total ascent of 1320m in just under fifteen minutes (further fascinating technical data on the cable car available here). The picture shows our lunch on the summit, with Australian tourists and Alps in the background.

This second picture shows the Salzburg fortress, the Festung Hohensalzburg, as seen from the Kapuzinerberg. Our hotel was at the foot of the Kapuzinerberg, across the River Salzach from the heart of the old city of Salzburg. The fortress in the photograph was both an elegant archepiscopal palace and an impressive fortification that made Salzburg virtually impregnable during the Thirty Years War. At the foot of the Mönchsberg (in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph) is the Nonnberg convent, where the real Maria von Trapp taught in the convent school (and which appears as Maria's convent in the movie The Sound of Music).

Both photographs are best quality (1 MB) and can be clicked for enlargements that show more detail.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


This blog will be undergoing a brief hiatus while we travel to Salzburg, Austria (Wednesday, October 18-Sunday, October 22) and to the Peak District (Tuesday, October 24-Thursday, October 26). This should give you plenty of time to catch up with reading the long-winded posts of the past week. Look for new posts after Friday, October 27.

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Meanwhile, I've added a new bird to the list of British birds I've successfully identified: the Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius). I caught a glimpse of one perched on a Victorian tombstone in the St. Nicholas churchyard. The scientific species name, glandarius, comes from the Latin glans, glandis, meaning "acorn" (and also, interestingly, "penis"). Nut-eating Eurasian jays gather acorns and hide them for future consumption; of course, some of the hidden acorns are never found, and end up becoming oak trees.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Two Weekend Walks, Part II: Holy Trinity Church and Hatton Locks
Sunday, October 15 (approximately ten miles)

Monument to Dr. Samuel Parr, LL.D., and his first wife, Jane Parr, in the south chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Hatton.

Walking out from his consular home at 10 Landsdowne Crescent, Nathaniel Hawthorne left behind the white Victorian terraces of Leamington Spa and struck out into the surrounding countryside to visit some of the old churches. The old churches always impressed him with their aspect of “hoar antiquity,” and he liked to meditate on the picturesque changelessness of “the mother country.” In rural Whitnash, outside Leamington, he saw life going on as he imagined it had gone on, changelessly, for hundreds of generations: “The man who died yesterday or ever so long ago walks the village street today, and chooses the same wife that he married a hundred years since, and must be buried again tomorrow under the same kindred dust that has already covered him half a score of times. The stone threshold of his cottage is worn away with his hobnailed footsteps, shuffling over it from the reign of the first Plantagenet to that of Victoria.” England is delightfully quaint and picturesque, but better, Hawthorne believes, is the innovative spirit of America, the restless commitment to progress and change.

From Whitnash, Hawthorne continued on to Hatton, to visit the church which Dr. Parr had served for so many years.

Hatton, so far as I could discover, has no public-house, no shop, no contiguity of roofs (as in most English villages, however small), but is merely an ancient neighborhood of farm-houses, spacious, and standing wide apart, each within its own precincts, and offering a most comfortable aspect of orchards, harvest-fields, barns, stacks, and all manner of rural plenty. It seemed to be a community of old settlers, among whom everything had been going on prosperously since an epoch beyond the memory of man; and they kept a certain privacy among themselves, and dwelt on a crossroad, at the entrance of which was a barred gate, hospitably open, but still impressing me with a sense of scarcely warrantable intrusion...

Emerging from the by-road, and entering upon one that crossed it at right angles and led to Warwick, I espied the church of Dr. Parr. Like the others which I have described, it had a low stone tower, square, and battlemented at its summit: for all these little churches seem to have been built on the same model, and nearly at the same measurement, and have even a greater family-likeness than the cathedrals. As I approached, the bell of the tower (a remarkably deep-toned bell, considering how small it was) flung its voice abroad, and told me that it was noon. The church stands among its graves, a little removed from the wayside, quite apart from any collection of houses, and with no signs of a vicarage; it is a good deal shadowed by trees, and not wholly destitute of ivy...

Hawthorne peeked in one of the windows and imagined Dr. Parr’s congregation asleep in their pews as the learned doctor preached:

Those who slept under Dr. Parr's preaching now prolong their nap, I suppose, in the churchyard round about, and can scarcely have drawn much spiritual benefit from any truths that he contrived to tell them in their lifetime. It struck me as a rare example (even where examples are numerous) of a man utterly misplaced, that this enormous scholar, great in the classic tongues, and inevitably converting his own simplest vernacular into a learned language, should have been set up in this homely pulpit, and ordained to preach salvation to a rustic audience, to whom it is difficult to imagine how he could ever have spoken one available word.

The church I found in Hatton was not, in every respect, the church that Hawthorne found in the 1850’s. The church was extensively rebuilt in 1888, and only the tower (with Dr. Parr’s bells inside) remains from earlier times. Unlike Hawthorne, I found the church unlocked, and the vicar and curate (Dr. Parr’s successors) engaged in a deep theological discussion in the nave. They kindly invited me to look around, and I was able to find Dr. Parr’s own monument in the south chancel. The inside of the tower (the “ringing chamber”) was full of other monuments, many with inscriptions composed by Dr. Parr himself.

Down the Birmingham Road from the church, in the direction of Warwick, I found the public house that Hawthorne missed, The Waterman Pub, which stands at the top of a long slope leading down to the Grand Union Canal. At The Waterman, I had an excellent pint of local ale—Arkwright’s Special Bitter from the Slaughterhouse Brewery in Warwick.

Hawthorne would perhaps be surprised to find that both Whitnash and Hatton have been developed and suburbanized in recent years. In Hatton, an entire new suburban development has grown up around the old county asylum, which closed in the 1990s and was converted to condominiums (top photograph at left). He would have been astounded by the traffic speeding past on the A4177 to Birmingham. He might have been more at home watching the longboats navigate the twenty-one locks on the Grand Union Canal at Hatton. The canal was opened in 1800, and the longboats still move through the locks at a nineteenth-century pace. For a boat going downstream (as this one is, heading toward Warwick), the level of the water in each lock must be raised and then lowered. Although the boats are motorized now, the locks are still opened and closed by hand (in this photograph, you might be able to see a woman in a green sweatshirt holding the lock open).
Two Weekend Walks, Part I: Bannerhill Camp (Bannerhill and Goodrest Farms)
Saturday, October 14 (approximately 7 miles)

About a mile and a half south of Kenilworth Castle, off Rouncil Lane, stands Goodrest Farm, a nineteenth-century farmhouse constructed near the site of a medieval moated manor house built in 1374 by Thomas Beauchamp (pronounced "Beechum"), the thirteenth earl of Warwick. The house stood near the edge of the large deer park belonging to Warwick Castle, and the earl used it as a hunting lodge. Rouncil Lane marks the boundary, or "pale," of the medieval deer park, which was divided and enclosed by the middle of the eighteenth century.

In 1940, an anti-aircraft battery was located near Kenilworth as part of the anti-aircraft defenses of Coventry and Birmingham. The officers were billetted at Bannerhill Farm, but since that location (on an exposed hill) was unsuitable for the gun placements, the battery itself was located near Goodrest Farm. There were five gun placements for the 3.7 anti-aircraft guns—one of the four surviving gun placements is pictured here. Young women, members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, served as spotters, while regular soldiers manned the guns. There was also a POW camp at Goodrest Farm, with eighty prisoners employed locally on odd jobs.

Link: Oral history of Bannerhill Camp

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Ruins of the Abbey of St. Mary the Virgin

On a drizzly afternoon earlier this week, a crew from the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society was out in Abbey Fields, using a resistivity meter to map the buried ruins of the Abbey of St. Mary the Virgin—founded by Geoffrey de Clinton in 1119 and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. Little of the abbey, once the richest in all of England, remains above ground. Among the Victorian stones in the churchyard of St. Nicholas lie the exposed foundation walls of the nave and north transept of the abbey church, as well as the ruins of a gatehouse (known as the Tantara Gate) and a complete medieval barn. Portions of the abbey excavated in 1840, 1890 and 1922 (including the graves of the former abbots) were reburied in 1966. The pictures here show the gatehouse and the remains of the north transept of the abbey church. At the smaller archway to the right of the large main gate, the poor may have come to receive alms from the monks of the abbey. The red sandstone is covered now with carved initials from centuries of visitors to the ruins. The north transept, watched over by this faceless medieval saint, is now a “garden of remembrance.”

In 1953, Rose Macaulay published Pleasure of Ruins, a thick book about the age-old fascination that people have had with ruins. Her own interest in ruins was perhaps intensified by the “new ruins” she saw around her after World War II—the blitzed ruins of London, the charred skeleton of Coventry Cathredral. The book is a compendium of responses to architectural ruins, from Julius Caesar wandering over the dusty plain of Troy to the nineteenth-century British travelers who came home from the Grand Tour to erect classical ruins in their own English gardens. Often ruins elicit meditations on mortality or inspire imaginative reconstructions of the past. Or they inspire the urge to plunder or deface, to chip off a piece of statue as a souvenir or carve one’s name in the soft red sandstone of the castle. But for Macaulay, the ruins of “the lost abbeys and priories that once so richly bejeweled Britain” also inspired rage. She was enraged by the “cold greed and rapacity” that persuaded Henry VIII to dissolve the abbeys in 1538—to sieze their lands and assets, and to consign the monastic buildings themselves to ruin. To Macaulay, the medieval abbeys represented “the enshrining of an idea,” and with the loss of the medieval monastic idea, England had lost “the splendour and incomparable grace of the buildings, libraries, the manuscripts, the fishponds, the vineyards, the grange barns, the ordered beauty of the religious services, the hospitality, the charity at the gates, the great bells that pealed over the countryside.” Macaulay saw in the Dissolution the destruction of the well-ordered communal ideal of medieval monasticism at the hands of the secular, military and commercial early modern state.

Within a few years, most of the splendor of the medieval abbeys was gone. The fabric of some of the abbeys was incorporated in new stately homes, like Stoneleigh Abbey and Coombe Abbey, but most of the abbeys and priories were demolished, their stones and the melted-down lead of their roofs used as building material for castles and great houses. Robert Dudley used many of the building stones from Kenilworth’s abbey to build up his castle. In the church of St. Nicholas there is to this day a “pig” of lead from the roof of the abbey, stamped with the mark of Henry VIII’s commissioners. A few ruined abbeys—Fountains and Rievaulx in the north of England, Tintern Abbey in southeast Wales—have had an illustrious afterlife as majestic ruins, but many—like Kenilworth’s Abbey of St. Mary—have disappeared into the earth.

After the Dissolution in 1538, the former church lands were distributed as bonuses to Henry VIII’s favorites. The land once belonging to Kenilworth’s abbey was given to the king’s standard bearer, Sir Andrew Flamock, known as “a merry conceyted man and apt to skoffe.” Flamock (or Flammock) is otherwise known for two anecdotes in George Puttenham’s The Art of English Poesie (1589). In the first anecdote, Flamock is at Henry’s side as the king blows his trumpet on entering Greenwich park. The gaseous Sir Andrew,

hauing his belly full, and his tayle at commaundement, gaue out a rappe nothing faintly, that the king turned him about a said how now sirra? Flamock not well knowing how to excuse his vnmannerly act, if it please you Sir quoth he, your Maiesty blew one blast for the keeper and I another for his man.

At this, the king laughed heartily. Henry did not, however, find Sir Andrew’s flatulence so humorous on another occasion, when the two men were travelling on a barge from Westminster to Greenwich Park, this time to visit a fair lady who lived in a tower there. The king, in goood spirits, began to compose a poem for the lady, and asked Sir Andrew to complete the verses. King Henry began:

Within this tower
There lieth a flower
That hath my heart...

Sir Andrew, true to form, continued:

Within this hour
She pissed full sour
And let a fart.

Sir Andrew was ahead of his time. In another four and a half centuries, he would have had his own Thursday night comedy programme on BBC2. But in sixteenth-century England, there was still enough of chivalry left that the king was not amused. But an apology must have been accepted, because in 1539 we find Sir Andrew Flamock acquiring from the king the lands seized from both the Abbey of St. Mary the Virgin in Kenilworth and the chantry at Guy’s Cliffe (see September 9).

There was allegedly a curse on all those who came into possession of former abbey lands, and within twenty years of acquiring the abbey, Sir Andrew was dead and his male line extinguished. Within another decade, the husband of his fifteen-year old granddaughter had lost the estate through failure to pay the required tithe. The abbey then passed to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who plundered it for building stone.

In 1575, Queen Elizabeth I was lavishly entertained at Kenilworth Castle. She would have passed the abbey ruins as she entered St. Nicholas church to hear a most edifying sermon. She would have entered the church by the western door (pictured here), once thought to be Norman (“the most sumptuous Norman doorway in Warwickshire,” wrote Nicholas Pevsner), but now believed to have been constructed by Dudley for the Queen’s visit out of Norman materials from the ruined abbey. The Queen also would have dined and slept among the stones of the abbey incorporated into the new buildings that Dudley built at the castle to receive her. Within seventy-five years of that visit—immortalized by Sir Walter Scott in Kenilworth—the castle itself was in ruins in the wake of the English Civil War. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Mop and Much Ado About Nothing

Yesterday morning, Clara drove down to Stratford-on-Avon to queue for last-minute tickets for the final matinee performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the RSC's Swan Theatre. Meanwhile, Stratford was preparing for its annual "mop fair," which has been held in Stratford's town centre since time immemorial. Carnival rides and booths were set up all along Bridge Street and Sheep Street, and a pig was being roasted near the canal. The term "mop fair" is first attested in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1677, at which point the practice was already ancient. The mop fair, or "statute fair," was originally a jobs fair held at a market town, to which unemployed servants would come seeking work, usually carrying some emblem of their desired employment: a rake or a shovel or a mop, for example. Those who were were successful in finding employment were given a retainer, a sum of money which they usually spent at the fair. The fair was traditionally held on October 12, at the end of the harvest, when seasonal workers would be looking for new employment.

In chapter VI of Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy describes Gabriel Oak's search for employment as a sheep tender at the annual statute fair in Casterbridge. Here's how he sets the scene:

At one end of the street stood from two to three hundred blithe and hearty labourers waiting upon Chance— all men of the stamp to whom labour suggests nothing worse than a wrestle with gravitation, and pleasure nothing better than a renunciation of the same among these, carters and waggoners were distinguished by having a piece of whip-cord twisted round their hats; thatchers wore a fragment of woven straw; shepherds held their sheep-crooks in their hands; and thus the situation required was known to the hirers at a glance.

Today, the annual mop is a fun fair rather than a jobs fair, an opportunity to gorge oneself on fish and chips and then get sick on the whirligig.

At the Swan Theatre, Much Ado About Nothing was completely enthralling. It was set in the sultry, carnivalesque atmosphere of pre-Castro Cuba. Beatrice (Tasmin Greig) and Benedick (Joseph Millson) were sensational. In the first half, I was rocked with laughter, and in the second half I was nearly moved to tears when Hero was falsely accused—even though I knew a happy ending was around the corner. Perched up in the second gallery, I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire time. It was a thoroughly satisfying afternoon at the theater.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two Monuments in St. Nicholas Church

Inside the church of St. Nicholas, Kenilworth, there are two funerary monuments which may be of at least passing interest to a student of the classics. The first of these is this monument to Mrs. Parr, “late of this parish, widow of the Rev. Samuel Parr, LL.D., of Hatton in this county and prebendary of St. Paul’s.” Samuel Parr (1747-1825) was educated at Harrow and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and returned to Harrow in 1767 as assistant head. When the headmaster died in 1771, Parr was passed over for the position, and in protest left Harrow to start his own school at Stanmore. In 1775, Dr. Parr and his students at Stanmore staged a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus. The student who took the role of Oedipus, Joseph Gerrald, later became a noted political reformer whose dissident activities earned him transportation to Australia and an early death. A production of Sophocles’ Trachiniae followed in 1776. Unfortunately, the Stanmore school failed to remain solvent, and Dr. Parr moved on to positions in Colchester and Norwich, before settling down as “perpetual curate” in the small village of Hatton, two miles west of Warwick.

“Men love to distinguish themselves,” Miss Crawford observes to Edmund Bertram in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. But a man can never distinguish himself as a clergyman. “A clergyman,” Miss Crawford asserts, “is nothing.” Rev. Dr. Samuel Parr, LL.D., of Hatton, would not have agreed. He had distinguished himself as a pipe smoker and a drinker of port, and as the schoolmaster who had first discovered the talents of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He had distinguished himself also as a writer of Latin epitaphs—an arcane skill he exercised in providing inscriptions for the tombs of Burke, Fox, Gibbon, and Dr. Johnson. (His wife's plain English inscription doesn't even record her first name.) To those who knew him personally, he had distinguished himself as a conversationalist; to those who knew him only from his writings, he had distinguished himself as a pedantic and sesquipedalian stylist, excessively fond of footnotes that sank to the bottom of the page under the weight of classical quotations.

In 1800, Dr. Parr distinguished himself as a controversialist, delivering a sermon which attacked William Godwin for his doctrine of “universal benevolence.” Godwin, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, had argued that attachment to the public good should outweigh all personal attachments, such as the attachment between parent and child. Universal benevolence was the true basis of all moral action. To Dr. Parr, this was idealistic nonsense. Parr believed that all moral action arose out of particular attachments, not out of a theoretical benevolence toward all of humanity.

The review of Dr. Parr’s sermon in the Edinburgh Review begins parodically:

Whoever has had the good fortune to see Dr. Parr’s wig, must have observed, that while it trespasses a little on the orthodox magnitude of perukes in the anterior parts, it scorns even Episcopal limits behind, and swells out into boundless convexity of frizz, the mega fauna of barbers, and the terror of the literary world. After the manner of his wig, the Doctor has constructed his sermon, giving us a discourse of no common length, and subjoining an immeasurable mass of notes, which appear to concern every learned thing, every learned man, and almost every unlearned man since the beginning of the world.

The distinguished Dr. Parr was accustomed to such humor at his expense, and appeared to take it in stride, as perhaps all eccentrics must. On another occasion, he wrote: “By that countless and harmless swarm of scribblers who amuse themselves, and readers equally idle with themselves, by paragraphs upon my opinons in politics, my peculiarities in dress, or my love of ancient literature, I have too much firmness, and indeed, too much understanding, to be offended for one moment. My character, I am told, presents a wide front for attack to these puny assaults...”

At Hatton, Dr. Parr surrounded himself with books and students, composed Latin epitaphs, and cultivated his reputation for eccentricity. The classical scholar Richard Porson was a frequent guest at the vicarage. As curate, Dr. Parr tended to the “ignorant, dissolute, insolent, and ungrateful” poor of his parish, and privately complained that Warwickshire was “the Boeotia of England, two centuries behind in civilization.” On his arrival at Hatton, his first innovation was to require the bells to be rung for three times as long—and Dr. Parr himself took the lead in the ringing. In 1816, he told a correspondent:

You are right in supposing I am extremely fond of Bells, and you will not be wrong in assuming that neither in practice nor in theory I am quite a novice. To this hour I, with unusual dexterity, can set either a large or a small bell, so balanced, as not to require a stay, and I can ring in a round peal of six or eight, the treble, the fifth, and the tenor, and these three, you know, are the trying situations for the ringer, but my experience with eight bells goes only to round ringing, though my theoretical knowledge extends much farther in changes. When a schoolboy I was the first person known in the parish to raise, without aid, and to ring a tenor which weighed 23 cwt 3 qrs and 2 lbs, but I understood the compass, the hunt, dodging, snapping, and place-making, and I disliked what the College Youths call firing. We had only six bells, and I performed pretty well upon the grandsire six in the College single, the Oxford double Bob, the Court Bob, and the Treble Bob. This was the boundary of my practice in changes, but my speculations extend to Triples and ringing the observation or second Bell, on a peal of seven to the double Bob major, the Bob major reverse, the London Court Bob,the Norwich Court Bob, the Oxford Double Bob upon eight, and to the Bob of 5,120 with a produce of fifteen courses on tenor twelve, to the London Court Bob upon ten, and even to the Oxford treble Bob maximus upon twelve.

On the effect of a peal of bells on Dr. Parr, one acquaintance wrote: “His hard pedantry softened under its melody.”

This second monument, in the south transept, is dedicated to William Butler and his wife Lucy, and was erected by their son, Samuel Butler, D.D. Samuel Butler (1774-1839) was born in Kenilworth and had a distinguished academic career at Rugby and at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he received numerous prizes for Latin and Greek composition. (His chief competition for prizes in the composition of Greek poetry was Samuel Taylor Coleridge.) He took his B.A. in 1796, was made a fellow of St. John’s, and went on to have a long and distinguished career as the headmaster of the Shrewsbury school. He also had a distinguished career in the church, beginning as the vicar of St. Nicholas, Kenilworth (1802), and ending as the Archbishop of Lichfield (1836). He also published a four-volume edition of the works of Aeschylus (1809-1816) and a popular school geography textbook. And it was Dr. Samuel Butler delivered the funeral sermon for Dr. Samuel Parr. A Life of Samuel Butler was written by his grandson, also named Samuel Butler, who is known to classicists as the author of The Authoress of the Odyssey, and to a somewhat wider public as the author of The Way of All Flesh and Erehwon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Brief Drive to Leamington Spa

This afternoon, Clara (behind the wheel, as always) and I drove over to Royal Leamington Spa to do what nearly everyone does in Royal Leamington Spa—shop. We picked up some oboe music for Will at the excellent little music shop on Park Street, then walked down The Parade to a camping outfitter (directly across from the statue of Queen Victoria) for waterproof trousers and a plastic map holder. Leamington is full of gleaming white Regency and Victorian buildings, the legacy of its heyday as a spa resort in the nineteenth century. For a brief period during his exile, Napoleon Buonaparte lived in Leamington, and during the administration of Franklin Pierce in the 1850s, Nathaniel Hawthorne served as the American consul in Leamington. Today, as I said, Royal Leamington Spa is a mecca for shoppers (there is a large shopping mall, Royal Prior's in the town center) and for the callow youth of Kenilworth, who take the bus to Leamington to indulge in their various risky behaviors. When we first met with the headmaster of Kenilworth School in late August, he warned Will about falling in with the Leamington crowd. I hope to include my own pictures of Leamington in a future post.

Monday, October 09, 2006


English food has an undeservedly bad reputation. It is true that some English people subsist on a diet of fish and chips (one of the the world's greasiest foods), and that childhood obesity is becoming as big a problem in Britain as it is in the United States. Recently, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign to provide healthy food in school lunch rooms. The idea was ridiculed by pudgy Boris Johnson. At schools where healthy lunches were instituted, parents were discovered at lunch time passing greasy paper packages of fish and chips to their children through the school gates.

I have to admit that I find some of England's grosser creations quite delightful. Cumberland tatie pot (a mixture of lamb, potatoes and black pudding—i.e., congealed pig blood) is a good example. I love English sausages, especially Warwickshire sausages, redolent of sage, from the friendly butcher on Albion Street. We've fallen into a routine of having sausages and mashed potatoes on Tuesday evenings and fresh seafood from the market on Thursdays. Last Thursday, the fettucine with fresh Scottish sea scallops and roasted red pepper cream sauce was remarkable.

England, like the rest of Europe, has taken a firm stand against genetically-modified foods. There was a brief uproar a few weeks ago when GM rice from the United States slipped into the British food supply. Europeans, in general, like to know where their food comes from. Nonetheless, if you were to peek into our cupboards, you would conclude that most of our food comes from Sainsbury's (the national supermarket chain). More than 50% of the products Sainsbury's sells are store brands—Sainsbury's fruit and fibre cereal, Sainsbury's milk, Sainsbury's organic basmati rice, Sainsbury's fluoride toothpaste, Sainsbury's Kentucky bourbon, etc. That, I have to say, is a bit boring.

For lunch today, I'll have a Cox apple and a thick slice of bread, Somerset cheddar, and Branston pickle. I may wash it down with 440ml of Tetley's bitter, or at least have a cup of Yorkshire tea.

England is known for its fresh cream, especially the thick Devonshire cream that gives its name to the "cream tea" (scone, jam, cream). There is one area, however, in which England is deficient. There are no cartons of half-and-half for coffee. There is something called "pouring cream," but it comes in an absurd plastic yogurt container, and curdles in the refrigerator after about 36 hours. It's strange what you end up missing about your home country. One of the things I miss is this:

Sunday, October 08, 2006


left: Conservative MP Boris Johnson

As the important midterm elections approach in the United States, and the GOP is getting a well-deserved kick in the crotch, the major British political parties have just finished up having their annual conventions. There has been much speculation and debate about who will succeed Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party. The favorite appears to be the current Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Blair himself has been sadly tarnished over his vigorous and misguided support of the Bush Administration and its war in Iraq, and several weeks ago there was a mass defection from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives, out of power for a dozen years (since the forgettable John Major), are licking their chops and "preparing for power." Part of the preparations seems to be an overhaul of their image: they paid a London firm £40,000 to design a new oak tree logo that would make the Tories look younger and greener; they're talking about tackling global warming; and they've refused to make a firm pledge to reduce taxes. The Tories also have in their corner the flamboyant and media-savvy MP Boris Johnson, who is often spoken of as the future of the Conservative Party. The current head of the Conservative Party is, in fact, the young David Cameron, who in some photographs looks uncannily like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The 39-year old Cameron has been leading the efforts to "modernise" the Conservatives, while driving home the old-fashioned message of "social responsibility."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Coughton Court to Alcester (five mile round trip)

Our plan was to park at Coughton Court, tour the house, walk to Alcester along the River Arrow, visit the Alcester Roman Heritage Centre, then return to Coughton Court to watch the morris dancers. The first disappointment came on our arrival at Coughton Court, when we discovered that the house had closed for the day fifteen minutes earlier because of a wedding.

The Throckmorton family still lives in Coughton Court, as they have since the fifteenth century, although the property is now open to the public as part of the National Trust. The house has a fascinating history—like Baddesley Clinton (see this blog's inaugural post), it was associated with the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, since the Throckmortons, like the Ferrers, remained a Catholic family after the Reformation. Unusually, there are two churches on the grounds of Coughton Court—a medieval Anglican church, and a Catholic church built in the middle of the nineteenth century, after Catholic Emancipation.

Since we were unable to tour the house (which we had visited in August 2000 and found especially impressive), we started our walk to Alcester, keeping close to the east bank of the River Arrow. Alcester is a lovely old market town, full of black and white half-timbered houses (one of which featured a special window which revealed the original wattle and daub construction). It would be possible to spend an entire afternoon exploring the town, but we made a bee-line to the Roman museum—we had less than two hours to tour the museum and return to Coughton Court for the morris dancing.

The highlights of the museum, for me, were the Roman milestone with an inscription to the emperor Constantine, a collection of coins from the 1st to 14th centuries CE, and a set of Roman roof tiles (Kenilworth also seems to have been a center of roof tile production; evidence of Roman tile kilns has been found in the area). Alencestre was a Roman settlement, protected by a small fort, near the confluence of the Rivers Arrow and Alne and at the junction of two Roman roads (the modern A46 roughly follows the course of one of these roads). The museum was well worth a visit, but we rushed through it so that we would have time for a cup of tea before walking back to Coughton Court. (For a searchable catalogue of the Alcester museum, with photographs of the objects in the collection, click here.)

We arrived back at Coughton Court just as the morris dancers—with their ribbons and bells and black face—were boarding their coach bus to go home.

Will's blog has a new post which gives an interesting and entertaining picture of a day at Kenilworth School. Clara's blog offers fascinating insight into milestones, such as the one we saw in the Alcester musesum.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Last night, Clara and the boys and I—along with Clara's mother, visiting from Ohio—packed into the Rover and headed down to Stratford-on-Avon to see Patrick Stewart as Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The large theater, on the west bank of the Avon River, is only a short walk from Shakespeare's birthplace on Henley Street and from his undisturbed tomb in Holy Trinity Church. The production itself was odd—especially the cadaverous Ariel with his bloodless face and long black frock-coat, more vampire than sprite. Miranda was also odd—abrupt and marionette-like in her movements, which I put down to her being improperly socialized. She was a little like a wind-up toy. The action was set on an island somewhere in the Arctic—a frozen landscape illuminated by the midnight sun and the Northern Lights. Patrick Stewart, of course, brought a powerful, expressive, and distinctive voice to the role of Prospero—but his silences were the most eloquent moments in the play. Ariel tells him that his enemies are suffering under the powerful spell he has laid upon them:

Ariel: ...Your charm so strongly works 'em
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.

Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.

Prospero appears to freeze, like the landscape around him, looking into the bloodless face of the undead spirit who serves him.

Prospero: And mine shall...

That long silence is echoed at the end of the play, when Prospero turns to the audience and asks them to release him. There is another long silence, followed by tempestuous applause.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Yesterday, heavy rain fell for most of the day, leaving large puddles and slicks of mud along the footpath around Kenilworth Castle. But this morning is clear and cool, and feels distinctly autumnal. In the hedges around Kenilworth, the holly berries are turning red. In the borage fields beyond the castle, the bees were swarming. Our "castle walk" this morning took us down Chase Lane and up Beehive Hill, at the end of which stands St. Austin's Roman Catholic Church, the older of the two Catholic churches in town. St. Austin's, built in 1841 (a dozen years after Catholic Emancipation), was designed by the great English Gothic Revival architect Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852), who was also responsible for Southwark Cathedral and the interiors of the Houses of Parliament.

From St. Austin's, we headed down Upper Spring Lane to a local nature preserve known as Parliament Piece, where according to legend Henry III summoned the first meeting of the English commons in 1266.

From the top of Broadway Tower (see September 30), it is possible, if you know where to look, to see the sites of four great English battles, including the Battle of Edgehill (1642), which opened the English Civil War, and the Battle of Evesham (August 1265), which was a major turning point in the Baron's Wars against Henry III. Earlier in 1265, Simon de Montfort had defeated the king's forces and effectively placed England under the rule of a baronial council. The tide turned again in August, when de Montfort was defeated and killed at the Battle of Evesham. After this defeat, Simon's son, also named Simon, holed up inside Kenilworth Castle and prepared for a siege.

The Siege of Kenilworth—the largest siege in English history—lasted from May through December 1266. The castle was well-provisioned and even better defended, but eventually supplies ran out and Simon and his followers were forced to surrender. The terms of their surrender were contained in a document called the Dictum of Kenilworth, which was signed in Henry III's camp outside the castle, perhaps in the field now known as Parliament Piece. The Dictum included provisions for dealing with the lands confiscated from the rebellious barons.

As for Kenilworth Castle, it was given by Henry III to his son Edmund, the Earl of Lancaster, through whom it eventually passed to John of Gaunt.

Jane Eyre. Last night, the second of four installments of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre aired on BBC1. The new production, starring newcomer Ruth Wilson as Jane, is brilliantly and beautifully done. Toby Stephens is especially good as Mr. Rochester, and Ruth Wilson makes a very appealing heroine. In America, look for the new Jane Eyre on Masterpiece Theater sometime this season. It should be appearing in two two-hour installments. It is definitely worth seeing. Die-hard Brontë fans should check out the Brontëana blog, which has more information, including video clips.