That time of year…


I wonder, is there a time in your annual calendar you refer to as ‘that time of year’? For us it is always June and July. During these two months we squeeze the best part of our entire annual social life into about six weekends of frantic travelling about the country, bell-ringing with very old friends and generally meeting up with people we only see at this time of year.

It’s always a pleasure, but it does tend to throw you off your routine and I’m now right in the middle of our busiest period. Which would make this a terrible time to choose to embark on something new, something that requires a lot of learning from scratch or something that’s extremely time-consuming…you can guess where this is going can’t you.


So yes, on top of all the other things that are happening at the moment, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to grips with building a new website. If you saw my post a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that I found the initial stage quite a challenge. For someone who spends such a lot of time quietly stitching, I’m really not naturally a patient person, and trying to teach myself new things doesn’t always bring out the best in me.

But I’m pleased to say I bit my lip and got on with it. Inevitably once you really get down to something eventually it comes together. I’m now at the ‘playing with it stage‘ so I won’t ask you to race over and have a look just yet, but don’t worry, once it feels ok I’ll give you all the details.

I’ve been blogging now for nearly ten years in one guise or another and over that time I’ve changed so much and so indeed has the whole blogging community. For many people their blog has been superseded by other social media, especially Instagram, which it has to be said does make micro-blogging much easier to do and also it makes connecting with people who’re interested in what you have to say much easier too. Then there are so many people who simply seem to have run out of blogging steam. I miss hearing from them, but life changes and things move on.

The major change for me in recent years has been finding a balance between the three things that go to my core; observing the rhythms of the seasons, evangelising for Britain’s old places and creating slow-stitched pieces of art. Now I finally feel properly at home with what I’m doing and it’s come as such a relief. Thank you to everyone who has born with me chopping and changing, and the frequent dithering over past months and years.

I will never cease to be amazed that I can now speak directly to friends, artists, nature-lovers and history geeks across the globe with just a few clicks, and it is being a part of this truly incredible online community that makes me certain that although the format evolves, I’m definitely happy and grateful to carry on being a part of it.

So when the new website goes live, it will be evolution rather than revolution. Still the same haphazard mix of content, hopefully better presented, more flexible for what I might want to do in future and importantly under my own control.

And so after all that, you may well be going never mind all that waffle Anny, where’s this week’s dollop of heritage?

Well, I hope you’ll forgive me this week for not coming up with an entirely new piece. What with website building, weekends with friends, children ferrying and general spinning of plates, I’ve simply not sat down to do it properly. So instead here is a flavour of what we get up to on our annual ringing get-togethers from a couple of years ago and which first appeared on my old history blog.



The wonderful thing about being a history junkie living in England, is the prevalence of parish churches. Every one of them is a little time capsule, telling stories about our national, regional and very personal histories. I love looking at them for what their architecture tells us about their building history and then going inside, or walking around the graveyards and seeing the human histories remembered in tombs, memorials, windows and simple graves.

At the weekend, we visited four churches, all fairly close together in the Warwickshire/Worcestershire borders. Each very different in character, and each a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of our past. None is particularly exceptional, but that’s the wonderful thing about them, wherever you go, a fascinating journey into history is waiting for you.

St Mary, Ullenhall, Warwickshire




This was our first stop. A strange little church, with a mix of architectural styles that can mean only one thing – Victorian! It was designed by John Pollard Seddon and built in 1875.

You need to walk around the outside to get a full impression – the rear is much prettier than the front, but you can’t tell from first glances. For me the clock face up on the odd little spire was the best bit.


St Mary Magdalene, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire



Tanworth-in-Arden is one of those perfect villages where you imagine Miss Marple would feel at home, wisteria and hollyhocks around the doors. And the church lives up to that ideal too, standing right in the centre of the village.

There were people rehearsing in the church so we didn’t have a proper look around inside, but the cool interior felt serene.

Outside an unusual monument butts right up to the side door, but I couldn’t read the inscriptions, so I don’t know who it commemorated. One face appears to have had a new piece of stone inserted – it’s obviously still important to someone.

I didn’t know at the time, but Nick Drake’s ashes were interred in the churchyard and somehow that seems to fit well with the character of the music he left behind.

St Leonard’s, Beoley, Worcestershire.




This is another church close to a big town but hidden away on the side of a hill. A huge mixture of styles reflecting the age of the church, but I couldn’t help feeling that the hand of the Victorian renovator had been a bit overpowering.

There is a chapel to the left of the chancel – the Sheldon Chapel – built in 1580 for a recusant family, which was a peculiarly oversize attachment. I always want to see the faces of these effigies, but it was very difficult to get into a suitable position. I held the camera where I thought it should be and hoped.

This whole area, Worcestershire and Warwickshire was deeply embroiled in the turbulent religious times and politics of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with many characters involved in the Gunpowder Plot living in the region, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find the chapel there.

When we came home and I looked up Beoley, I found this lovely story which connects Shakespeare with Beoley – if you have a few minutes have a read and see what you think.

St Mary the Virgin, Hanbury, Worcestershire





Now I must admit that I am not an impartial visitor to Hanbury. I spent the first twenty years of my life very close to Hanbury and it has a special place in my heart. That said, I’m sure anyone would find it a fascinating if not classically beautiful church.

The Vernon family who built and lived in Hanbury Hall (now managed by the National Trust) are closely connected to the church, with many of them buried in the Vernon Chapel. I rather like the marble figures in all their finery. I especially liked the juxtaposition of medieval door with the marble statue.

However, the very best thing about Hanbury is the position of the church itself, perched on top of a hill, with wide-open views across to the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills. Long before the church was built, there was an Iron Age hilltop fort there. Later the Saxons built a monastery on the site.

It’s exactly the sort of churchyard where you could sit and contemplate life the universe and everything.


A truly enjoyable afternoon of exploring.

Back next week, when we’ll still be in that time of year, but hopefully I’ll be better prepared. Having said that, I’m giving a talk to the Embroiderers’ Guild over in Northamptonshire next weekend, so that might be a bit optimistic!

Best wishes and happy stitching…

Gloucester Cathedral – 5 things you shouldn’t miss.

For me, Gloucester Cathedral has to be one of the most overwhelmingly lovely places in England, but I have to say it was difficult to decide how to begin talking about it here, because quite frankly there’s too much delicious history stuff there to choose from. I was definitely in danger of going into fact and date overload. So instead, I decided to pick just five things I wouldn’t want to miss –  of course your choice might very well be entirely different, and if you’re a Gloucester Cathedral fan I hope you’ll take a moment to share what you’d have included too.

If after all this you’re left wanting to know more, I’ve added a selection of links at the end of this post to help you explore further. 

So kicking off, in no particular order…

  1. The tomb of King Edward II (it’s up on the left-hand side of the High Altar)

Buried beneath a rather splendid canopied shrine, with a lion at his feet and angels at his head, is the unfortunate King Edward II (died 1327), who history says was gruesomely murdered at Berkeley Castle with the wincingly unpleasant application of a red hot poker to his nether regions. (If you visit Berkeley Castle you can still see the room where his murder was said to have been committed and where it’s said you can hear his cries each year on the 21st of September, the anniversary of his death).

Over the course of his reign, Edward had managed to seriously annoy powerful factions at court through his friendships with first Piers Gaveston and later Hugh Despenser. Eventually this provoked Edward’s wife Queen Isabella and baron’s leader Roger Mortimer to revolt and in April 1327 Edward was forced to abdicate in favour of his teenage son who then became King Edward III, with Isabella and Mortimer effectively ruling in his name.

How exactly he really did meet his end isn’t known and a number of theories exist, including one which several historians believe, that he wasn’t murdered there at all, but instead was able, or enabled, to escape to the continent where he later met his son Edward III in Antwerp in 1338.

As it happened, things didn’t turn out too well for Isabella or Roger Mortimer either. Having rid themselves of Edward they went on to make many of the same mistakes and were themselves brutally removed from power just three years later when Edward III seized control from his mother and Mortimer. Isabella was allowed to retire to her castles (Castle Rising in Norfolk where she lived is a wonderful place to visit), but Mortimer was quickly executed, having been blamed for murdering Edward II.

Whatever the truth about Edward II’s death, Edward III went to some trouble to have his father remembered with this elaborate tomb, and the monks at Gloucester (which in those days was an abbey) did very well indeed from the numerous pilgrims who came to pray here. So well in fact that later in the 14th century it was possible for them to carry out the building of what must be some of the most beautiful English Perpendicular architecture in the country.

So in a way, whatever Edward’s fate, you could argue that he has left us a magnificent and poignant legacy in stone, albeit not of his design. I’m not sure that the face of the effigy is a likeness of the king, but to me it seems extremely melancholy and indeed I suppose he had much to regret.

But then I wonder if in some ways he didn’t have the last laugh, because whilst he has this magnificent shrine and still draws visitors nearly 700 years later, there is no trace remaining of the burial places of either his queen Isabella or Roger Mortimer. (Isabella had been buried in Christ Church Greyfriars, London, but that was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and the Wren church which replaced it was destroyed in the Blitz during WW2. Roger poor chap was probably buried in Wigmore Abbey amongst his Mortimer family, only ruins now remain there).

2. The effigy of Robert Curthose – Duke of Normandy.

As if one awkward royal wasn’t enough, Gloucester Cathedral can boast another. Across the aisle from Edward II, you’ll find the effigy of another wayward chap, Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. Why you might wonder wasn’t he a king of England if he was the eldest son, but according to history, Robert and his father had some major fallings-out (this seems to be a recurring theme with medieval monarchs), and so William divided his lands in England and Normandy between Robert and his younger brother William, Robert getting Normandy and William inheriting England (and becoming William Rufus).

Things didn’t exactly run smoothly between them (Robert sounds like a bit of a lad one way or another) and when William died without an heir, it was their youngest brother Henry who seized the throne, despite Robert’s attempts to take it for himself. Not long after, Robert was imprisoned by Henry and spent the rest of his long life a prisoner in Cardiff Castle. He died in 1134 aged 83 and is buried in the cathedral.

But the reason for telling you this is just to set the scene, because what I love is Robert’s effigy itself and the curious position he’s lying in.

It’s made from bogwood and dates to about 100 years after his death. And here’s the mystery – what exactly is he doing with his leg and his arm? He looks as if he’s doing some kind or yoga pose. It’s probable that originally he was holding something, but nobody seems to know what that was. As a result he remains stuck in this peculiar stance for all time.

3. The Cloisters.

Now the cloisters at Gloucester are without doubt simply magnificent, the sheer beauty of the vaulting, the windows and the disappearing vanishing points are breathtaking. Thinking about it, this is the one thing I really wouldn’t miss, and where I’d go if I could only see one thing there. But there’s another reason why they’re so popular and why I bet they get many visitors and it’s because they were used as a set for parts of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.

I found a charming home video on YouTube of a visit to the film locations with a Cathedral guide pointing out the precise spots – it’s cute if you’re into that sort of thing have a look.

Harry and Ron were not the only stars to film in the cathedral. A ‘Dr Who Christmas special’ episode (while David Tennant was playing the Doctor) was filmed here, as was an episode of ‘Sherlock’ (filmed in the crypt) and scenes from The Hollow Crown and Wolf Hall were both filmed here (and incidentally they’re two of my absolute favourite programmes – what did you think?)

4. The Stained Glass Windows.

A visit to Gloucester isn’t all kings and wizards though. One thing you can’t miss is the simply mind-blowing stained glass, including the extraordinary East Window which is bigger than a tennis court and certainly makes your neck ache if you stand looking up at it.

All the windows are stunning, but I’ll be honest and say that for me the most beautiful of all aren’t the massive ones, but instead I’m a fan girl for Tom Denny’s stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel commemorating the Gloucestershire poet and composers Ivor Gurney and Gerald Finzi.

Sadly there’s no access to them at the moment as restoration work is being carried out in the Lady Chapel (2017), but they are jewels in the cathedral’s crown and I can’t wait to go back and see them again. If you aren’t familiar with Tom Denny’s work, he has other work in the area, including at Hereford Cathedral and Malvern Priory (and I’m still hoping to make a pilgrimage around them myself before too long).

5. The secret Whispering Gallery…

If it’s open, pay £2 and walk up to the Whispering Gallery (you’ll see signs). It’s one of those lovely acoustic quirks that means someone standing at one side will be able to ‘whisper’ to someone on the other side and be heard over there. Don’t be shy, try it! Oh and the added bonus is getting probably the best view of the East Window.

So there you have this history-junkie’s ‘five not to be missed’. Of course it’s impossible to condense such a splendid place into a handful of highlights, your’s will almost certainly be different (please do share your own highlights too).

Oh and one more thing – if you wander around to the side of the cathedral, there’s a superb cafe with excellent food, free WiFi and (ahem) the necessary facilities. I love it when there’s somewhere comfortable to get a good coffee while I read a guidebook and make my notes.

Want to know more?

What have I missed that you’d have liked to know about? Do tell, I’d love to hear.