St Aldelm’s Chapel at St Aldhem’s Head. Worth Matravers. Purbecks. Dorset


One of my special places in Dorset (although to be fair there are a few), is Worth Matravers with the famous Square and Compass pub, wonderful local stone houses, stunning coastal scenery and wildlife. It also has fascinating hidden history important to this country that I will reveal.

My blog focuses on the small, isolated and uplifting St Aldhelm’s chapel. It is one of Britains oldest surviving churches and has defiantly withstood the elements for over 800 years on this prominent headland, atop 100m high cliffs.

From here you can look east along the coastline to Durlston Castle and on towards Hengistbury Head. To the west are spectacular views across Chapman’s Pool towards Kimmeridge and beyond to Weymouth and Portland .

Peering over the cliffs it can be seen from the crumbling face just how precarious the chapel’s future may be although a coast guard station, within spitting distance from the chapel and even nearer the edge gives some comfort that the situation is being monitored and there are no notices displayed suggesting there is any immediate concerns so fingers crossed.

Anyway, the church can be reached via an easy 1.5 mile walk from the nearest car park, passing a stone quarry nestling into the valley with an interesting viewpoint as you pass where you can spy the activity. There is a beautiful terrace of white painted cottages as you near the chapel that enjoy views out to sea and also back towards Chapman’s Pool and the dramatic coastline stretching for miles.

It is apparantly uncertain whether the chapel was built for that purpose and the cross sitting on a crude stone pediment at it’s crest is certainly not original. It’s square shape with 7.70m sides, each facing the main compass points is unique given that other  ecclesiastical structures are generally built with their outer angles targeting the traditional cardinal points of the compass. I had assumed that the Square and Compas pub – a couple of miles away, had some masonic association and perhaps it does but would now seem to me more likely named after this building.

The beautiful vaulting of the 12th century roof, the existence of medieval graves outside it’s walls and its position within a circular earthworks good does seem to suggest it was built as a place of worship and perhaps an important one.

The chapel is said originally to have been a chantry with a priest giving mass for the safety of passing sailors and that it also served as a resting place by kings who frequently hunted across the Purbecks. King John was in records a regular visitor. A local legend says that in 1140 a young bride and groom were drowned when a boat they were in capsized during a storm. The event being watched by her father from the cliffs. The desolate father is said to have built a chapel at this spot in their memory and with a beacon light to warn sailors of this perilous spot. It could be that the beacon was above the chapel where the cross now sits and repairs to the roof revealed that to be possible.

The building and the whole area surrounding it and the hround below was listed as an Ancient Monument in millennium year and described as an early Christian enclosure. This is rare class of monument and interestingly a similar Christian enclosure has been identified beneath Old Sherborne Castle strengthening links with the 7th century first Bishop of Sherborne, At Aldhelm.

Rev. Robert Watton Rector from 1991 to 2003, researched the origins of the chapel and believes that it also served as a first line of defense for Corfe Castle, on this vulnerable section of coastline with unusual construction within its walls replicated at the castle.

The chapel has over the centuries been neglected from time to time but the impressive grafitti on the stone pillars show it was regularly visited. It was used as a wishing chapel with a hole in a central pier used by young girls to insert pins and wish. No doubt for a husband. This the remains of a tradition of making an offering to the priest for prayer for the safety of friends at sea.

In the 19th century the villagers of Worth would celebrate Whit Thursday at the chapel with music and dance, presumably outside as there isn’t much room inside. It was decorated with flowers.

During the 2nd world war the chapel was used for worship but a more important piece of history is that during that war over 2000 people worked at St Aldhelm’s Head on radar and electronics in  laboratories and workshops as part of a secret and vital operations.

Their remarkable achievements contributing significantly to ensurein Britain’s freedom and paying the foundations of the electronic age in which we live. Scientists including Professor Sir Bernard Lovell developed the first map like radar display used in most of today’s radars based on work done here. In the Worth fields the first ever high powered microwave radar tests were carried out using the chapel as the radar target.

Lovell- later of Jodrell Bank fame, developed radar equipment that was fitted into warships deployed to escort merchant ships and into RAF aircraft hunting German submarines attacking those convoys and also into anti-aircraft radars to help defeat the fearsome and hugely destructive flying bomb cruise missiles and into night fighters.

Scientists at Worth developedand Langton  devised radio navigation systems for ships and aircraft such as GEE which helped secure the success of the D Day landings in France on 6 June 1944. They also developed H2S which traced out a picture of the ground over which the aircraft was flying and created acuratea target marking systems such as Oboe together with radio and radar beacons which helped air supply of the Resistance in Occupied France.

Nothing remains of the huge aerials, or the site buildings as they were all removed at the end of the Second World War. You can still see the foundations of a ‘Chain Home Low’ radar station set up in 1940 to search for bombers flying at very low level across the Channel. A memorial to the WWII work of the scientific research and testing facility is just a few yards from the coast guard station and is a prominent landmark on this headland.

After the war everything went very quite here until in 1957  a local farmer dug up some old stones whilst ploughing his fields near the chapel bringing further attention. The stone he exposed was part of a monumental slab with a Celtic cross engraved on it and prompting further excavations. A grave was then discovered of a 13th century woman in her 30s below the slab with folded arms and rows of upright stones around her body suggesting a cell. It is suggested she may have been an anchoress leading a holy life near to the chapel. Apocalypse legend tells of a leper colony nearby so she could have cared for them.

Another attraction is the wildlife. Puffins, razor bills and guillemots, kittiwakes, cormorants and fulmars all visit the steep cliffs with angular caves and tunnels that have often been used in films  as distant planet backdrop in sci-fi films; rare butterfly called the Lulworth skipper and the Greater Horseshoe bat who reside in the caves.

The local geology is much quarried limestone, exploited since the Romans times and has been a key supplier of stone to many of this countries cathedrals and monumental buildings that has left the cliffs pitted with tunnels and dramatic caves where limestone has been removed and also dinosaur fossils that have been abundant in the area – hence the Jurassic coast. Fossils found have included  diplodocus footprints.

When you have finished exploring the chapel, memorial and coast guard’s station – the guys there are very friendly welcoming and informative, return to the car park, if you are up to it, by the shorter but more challenging route, westward along the coast path to the steps down the valley. Guessing about 100 steps and no handrail. Not so bad going down but you then need to ascend an equal number of steps up the other side. The views here are wonderful. It is then an easy stroll back to the car park via the beautiful Chapman’s Pool. Last thing to do is get yourselves back to the Square and Compass pub for a home made Cornish pasties and a pint of Charlie’s cider and a warm in front of the fire. At the back of the pub is a free museum with an amazing collection of local fossils and all sorts. In the gardens a collection of rare chickens running about, pumpkins everywhere and sometimes Charlie’s dog up on the ridge of the roof. My sort of pub, my sort of day and I recommend it.

The quarry





Approaching our targets               from L to R       

WW2 memorial –  Coastguard Station – St Aldhems Chapel


Chapel entrance

The Font



Vaulted stone arched roof


Grafitti through the centuries




Sculpture to mark WW2 research station


Coastguard station and old foundation stonework

views towards Kimmeridge and Portland


Chapmans Pool


Yay, back at the Square and Compass and a pint of Hattie Browns               (Swanage Brewery)


Queuing at the serving hatch



The hub

one of the two sitting rooms

My S & C seat, cheers Charlie

Isle of Wight

Just returned from a very enjoyable week on the Isle of Wight and thought I would just share a few of the many photos to capture something of the islands appeal before getting back to my Glastonbury write up. I will then return to share some of the many fascinating places and history we discovered here. I can only imagine the buzz here during Cowes week and the annual music festival and  may just return to experience them. Perhaps on my own boat when it finally comes in. We certainly left much still to be explored including the famous garlic farm, the Shipwrecks museum and the statue to my idol Jimi Hendrix’ to remember the last festival he ever played, at Afton Down where up to 700,000 fans attended – the largest ever audience recorded at the time and bigger than Woodstock.

Firstly though a plug for our host on the island – Elizabeth who has a lovely house overlooking the Island Harbour Marina between East and West Cowes. We found it through AirBnB and we were wowed from the off. The views from every room were stunning and the on site marina restaurant – Breeze became a favourite with a good menu at very reasonable prices, good quality food and very friendly and attentive staff – Luke became a good mate and looked after us well. Contact details available for Elizabeth if anyone interested. Not really suitable for children though.

The weather forecast for the week was awful every day but in fact we had a heatwave throughout and very little rain. At the marina you could walk out to the point for lovely views of the river and if you glance back towards the boatyard (we didn’t notice it first time) is the sad sight of the once famous paddle steamer called the Ryde Queen now rotting away on the marshes and sinking by the day. You can catch a river taxi from here for very reasonable cost up and down the river and catch site of other abandoned vessels which all add to the beauty of the landscape of rolling countryside.

The IOW is a haven for cyclists and coach tours visiting famous landmarks on established routes but if you can explore deeper there are some wonderful finds that explain why so many of the rich and famous over centuries have fallen in love and resided at the place and the many who still do.

Most famous inhabitants were Vicky and Bert as I like to call them and when you spend a day at Osbourne House, which we found very easy to do, you will understand why our Queen Victoria, Albert and their family loved it there withdrawing from London and the  other royal residences to live – out of the limelight and away  most of the daily duties normally associated with a head of state. There 9 children must have had a wonderful time there with Albert seemingly a model father nudging them all along in an educational but enjoyable way of life. More about Osborne in a future blog.

Red squirrels thrive on the island and are very much respected and well protected – no grey or black squirrels have yet managed to catch a ferry  across the solent to see them off as in other parts of the country.

Basic history of the Island – approaching 2000BC the Beaker people arrived  – famous for their pottery, and called the island Wiht (pronounced Weight).  translated to ‘raised or rising above the sea’.  The Romans arrived about 43AD and changed Whit to Vectis from a latin word Veho meaning ‘lifting’.

It was a peaceful rule for 450 years but then… Saxons arrived and slaughtered the natives, then the Mercians and then in 686 AD a West Saxon King  conquered it and brought Christianity to the island and peace again for 200 years. Until the Danes arrived and another 100 years of killing. The few Islanders left lived in costant fear.

William the Conqueror was the next master in charge and granted overlordship to his relative William FitzOsbern who built Carisbrook Castle. Lordship then passed on to the DeRedvers family in 1100 and it was then sold to King Edward 1st in 1293 for 6000 marks. This was a good move for the islanders as it brought protection from overseas invasion. This continued through the Tudor and Stuart periods and sea defences were continually upgraded and several French and Spanish attacks were thwarted.

The coming of the railways transformed the Island and it became a very fashionable place when Vicky and Bert moved in and who received various heads of state at Osborne. When the island was granted full county status in 1972, Earl Louis Mountbatten was appointed its first Lord Lieutenant after his previous appointment as its Governor in 1965. Earl Mountbatten had been a great nephew of Princess Beatrice – youngest daughter of Victoria.

Other famous people associated with the island include ……………………..

King Charles Ist who was imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle after escaping their from the mainland at the time of the English Civil War. He tried to escape but was kept at Carisbrook until removed to Newport and then back to London and executed in 1649.                                                                                             John Nash – famous Architect built himself East Cowes Castle now demolished and painter Joseph Turner was a regular visitor.                           Alfred Lord Tennyson – poet who loved the island and lived there renting the impressive Farringford House until he purchased it.  He was harassed by sightseers though and moved to Haslemere only using Farringford during the winter months.                                                                                                                  Guglielmo Marconi – who established a wireless testing station at the Needles having left Italy whose post office refused to let him test his new wireless equipment there.                                                                                                  Barnes Wallace – Inventor of the Bouncing Bomb amongst other things, born and educated in Derbyshire but moved to IOW with an apprenticeship at Cowes with J Samuel White.                                                                                                      Sir Chris Cockerell inventor of the Hovercraft developed his prototype at East Cowes                                                                                                                                   David Niven – Actor lived at Rose Cottage in Bembridge;                               Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield here in 1849                                          Karl Marx often visited, for health reasons – the sub tropical climate has made life a little easier for many                                                                                                 Winston Churchill frequently stayed at Ventnor at Flint Cottage and witnessed the capsizing of HM Training ship Eurydice in 1878 with the loss of 300 cadets                                                                                                                                    Lewis Carroll stayed on the island for some character inspiration                 Dekyi Tsering, mother of the current Dale Llama. In the 1950s following the Chinese invasion of Tibet the Dali Llama and his family relocated to India where he remains today. His mother however had bad health and was sent to India for surgery on her throat – I know all about that. She then moved to the island to convalesce in Freshwater and loved it. she stayed for 6 weeks. She is known to Tibetans as Amala (Great Mother). Other celebs who boght homes on the island include Celia Imrey, Alan Titchmarsh, Shaw Taylor, Jack Douglas, Kenneth Kendall, and finally Charles Darwin began his famour book Origin of the Species whilst staying at the Kings Head Hotel

One highlight for me was to spot an old Thames Sailing Barge called Alice whilst in Cowes and was reminded of sailing on The Thalatta for a week back in the early 1970s, an amazing experience.  I was lucky to be invited aboard for a quick tour of Alice and apart from no hammocks she didn’t disappoint. These vessels are now over 100 years old, about 90 feet long and 26 feet at their widest. They are just so graceful with their red sails carrying them along.

The Thalatta – thankfully restored and hopefully good for another 100 years

A selection of our Isle of Wight week

Major General Jack Seely on his horse Warrior depicted in a bronze at Carisbrooke Castle. Warrior was the inspiration for ‘Warhorse’

Carisbrooke Castle

Quarr Monastry

Old Cottage at Quarr

Whitecliff Bay

Whitecliff Bay


Shanklin with its thatched picturesque buildings and coachloads of tourists all it seemed looking for chips

Steephill Cove near Ventnor


Steephill Cove – down Love Lane – no parking at all



View to Steephill beach from Ventnor Botanical Gardens

Classic Wisteria at the Botanical Gardens

View across Freshwater Bay  towards the Needles from Brighstone Bay

View back towards St Catherines Point

The Needles

Cable Car down to Alum Bay Beach



Views from our B&B at Island Harbour Marina


Houseboats at Bembridge – a mixture of quirky, classy, and in various stages of being done up with lovely views across the bay


Canon atop Yarmouth Castle

Newtown Creek and marshes, great for bird watching


The Folly Inn heading for East Cowes

Private beach at Osbourne House

Red Squirrell enjoying an Osbourne lunch

                                  Osbourne House with one of numerous nudes,                                   very popular in Victoria’s times

Cowes High Street


Thames Sailing Barge – moored up at Cowes

Below decks – all shipshape


Red Funnel leaving Cowes ignoring the canons

Looking over Gurnard, family friendly town near Cowes

The Queen of Ryde, seen better days



Celebrating 60 in Wells – The Pub and the Palace

Having kicked off Retirement Diaries with pieces on our village of Roydon and then my St. Bartholomew beginnings ,  I now move on to a series of blogs highlighting our exploration of castles, abbey’s, villages and historical pubs as Julie and I  start our journeys and discoveries around Britain.

To add a little more background, our retirement adventures have been on hold since my retirement in 2016 due to an out of the blue diagnosis of tonsillar cancer. This news came on day one of my retirement – not the best start and required emergency surgery and then intensive radiotherapy and some painful and difficult months of recovery. Associated dental issues compounded the whole business but never one for negativity I got on with it and thank my wife, family and amazing friends for their support.

I will return to this matter in a future blog when I will provide a summary of my experiences that if helpful to just one other person unlucky enough to have to face the ordeal, I will feel  it will be worth it.

Having made a slow but thankfully pretty good recovery and with Julie reaching her 60th milestone, we decided it would be good to treat ourselves to a joint celebratory year of trips around this Britsin that we both love.  We started off at a place we have visited briefly just after my diagnosis and on the way back from a friend’s wedding in Cornwall. We  vowed to go back as soon as we were able. Julie was also keen to ascend Glastonbury Tor on her actual birthday and to visit her beloved Chalice Well Gardens – her special place.

You can discover whether we made it up the Tor in my next blog about Glastonbury but for now let’s focus on the medieval city of Wells, Englands smallest city.

Wells – Britain’s smallest Cathedral City

Bishop’s Eye (centre) & Paupers Arch (left) viewed from market square

Bishops Palace moat

Wells Cathedral

Vicars Close


Background        Like Cloth Fair covered in an earlier blog,  Wells was once known for its cloth production and trade and was also an important place given its proximity to Glastonbury. It is situated to the south of the Mendip Hills with the mystical Somerset Levels stretching away to the south and west. Wells was a Roman settlement chosen no doubt because of the three springwater wells there. One in the Bishops Palace, one in the market square and one in the grounds of the Cathedral.

It originally became an important Anglo Saxon city when King Ine of Wessex founded a monastic church in 704 and 200 years later it became seat of the new bishopric of Wells but this was moved to Bath 80 years later. This caused conflict between the Canons and in 1245 the Bishopric was renamed to incorporate Bath and Wells. When the new magnificent Cathedral was built in Wells this became the principal seat of the diocese.

The city is associated with two major events in the 17th centurty – Firstly The Seige of Wells, during the English civil war (1642-1651), which saw the city surrounded by Parliamentarian troops. The Royalists fled the city and the Cathedral was used to stable the troops horses. Much of the ornate stonework was callously damaged by the rifleman using it for firing practice during their stay.

Secondly, the Cathedral was further abused during the Monmouth Rebellion when lead was stripped from the roof to make bullets, windows were broken and the organ smashed.

The Cathedral was to become the location of the final Bloody Assizes when over 500 were tried and the majority sentenced to death.

Wells has an exceptional number of surviving secular buildings associated with its chapter of secular canons, including the Bishop’s Palace and Vicars’ Close, a residential street that has remained intact since the 15th century and offers amazing opportunities to photographers, artists and anyone who simply loves wonderful buildings

Our chosen hotel for our 3 night stay was The Crown which stands in a most prominent position in the thriving Wednesday market Square. It is immediately adjacent to the gated entrance to the wonderful Bishops Palace, moat and walled gardens and also to the Alms Gateway that leads to the stunning Cathedral.

Paupers Passage leads to the Abbey from the market square

The Crown Inn

The Crown and street scene

Rear elevation of The Crown

The Crown was built in 1450 originally as three houses commissioned by the then Bishop Beckynton and later converted into an inn.

In 1692, William Penn a Quaker preached to a crowd of 3000 from his upper floor room at The Crown. He was arrested and locked up for inciting the people with his democratic and religious freedom preaching. He was not unused to this having spent several periods locked up in the Tower of London.  Some weeks later Penn was released and returned to the pub only to continuing addressing the crowds below before setting sale for America.

Penn was to go on to establish the State of Pennsylvania and, as a foundling father of this new country, was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Penn was one of the good guys famed for his good relations and successful treaties with North American native Indians, specifically the Lenape tribes.

The Inn was then split and called The Penn bar and separately a coaching Inn called the Royal Oak.

In the 1930s, the Crown was refurbished as a 9 bedroom hotel and the rear yard provided stabling for market traders to use for about 60 horses. During WW2, The Crown was used to recouperate wounded troops returning from D-Day Landings and other conflicts.

More recently the exterior of the pub was used for the production of Hot Fuzz directed by local boy Edgar Wright and featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Wells has been regularly used for filming backdrops including productions of Poldark 2016 and 2017, Dr Who 2007, Another Mother’s Son 2017, The Huntsman 2015, The Hollow Crow 2014, Jack the Giant Killer 2012, The Golden Age 2007 and Wolf Hall 2014 and many of the stars stayed in The Crown with their photos displayed in the reception.


View over market and the Well from bedroom window

The Bishops Palace

Illuminated entrance to the Bishops Palace

The enchanting scene as you enter the Palace Grounds

The Palace is found by walking through the ‘Bishops Eye’ from the Market Square (or follow the signs). This wonderful medieval palace has been the home of the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years incorporating a deer park and immediately to the south of the cathedral. Within the fortified walls, surrounded by a romantic and fish stocked moat, lies the ruins of the Great Hall, the Bishop’s private chapel and 14 acres of gardens, including an arboretum, Community Garden and Garden of Reflection. The palace has an imposing gatehouse with portcullis and flagstoned drawbridge resembling a castle entrance. 

Why the drawbridge, moat and ramparts on a Bishop’s Palace I wondered. Lovely, but not exactly welcoming. It seems that the threat of plague, famine and political war were serious issues back in the 13th century and so it was perhaps wise to be cautious – if you could afford it. Bishop Ralph was cautious and rich and the security and grandeur of the Palace also elevated his importance and standing. The pious are just great at taking care of others once they have looked after themselves.

Inside however is very different presenting a beautifully landscaped and tranquil residence with one of the Wells famous Wells and a superbly engineered water system. Water bubbles up within the walled gardens at a rate of 100 litres per second into the pool and then feeds the moat. The view across the pool and landscaped gardens towards the cathedral is simply wonderful. Between the pool and the cathedral is an ancient well dedicated to St Andrew and the well house built in 1451 for Bishop Beckynton. Water is cleverly channelled around to gain maximum benefit from this wonderful natural resource. 

An interesting and fun occurance in the moat involves a bell to the left of the moated entrance and it’s rope hanging invitingly just above the water. When the resident swans are hungry they tug at the rope with their beaks which rings the bell.  This alerts the on duty swan feeder who is happy to oblige. The swans are fed, passers by gather, their cameras click and they often applaud the enterprise of these graceful creatures. We regretably have not been lucky enough to witnesses this ourselves as yet so retain an excuse to return in June when the gardens are also at their best.

The first mute swan who learned this clever behaviour is no longer with us but has been stuffed and on view in the excellent Wells Museum which overlooks the Cathedral. Another entertainment is the annual moat boat race when the Bishop pits his skills against local competition.

There is a Chapel in the Early English Decorated style if that floats your boat and this is used by the Bishops of Bath and Wells for their private prayer. Nice stone tracery and art. Next to the chapel is the great hall. Apparently it is the 3rd largest secular hall after Canterbury and Westminster.

The Undercroft at the time of our visit was in full swing as a venue for an outside broadcast by Radio Somerset celebrating some kind of broadcasting birthday but a bit of boldness and accomplished mingling ability got me in to peruse sufficient of the space to decide I quiet liked it. I was not allowed near enough to their cake to see if I liked that.

A Jacobean staircase leads to an upper floor suite of rooms and chambers used by the Bishops. Julie loves a dragon and some fine ones adorn this stairwell as do some wonderfully carved wood depicting Wells street scenes.

Look out for the Garderobe, known as the finest Medieval loo in England. Again, the Reformation enforcement officers got stuck in and took the lead from the roof leaving the building to suffer considerable decay and parts of the original building were taken down. The remains provide beautiful attributes to the picturesque gardens and contrast with the various sculptures there. The buildings are wonderful and the gardens delightful – should I win the lottery this would be a piece of real estate I would be interested in. There are other candidates though in this City and I will come to them in my next blog.

The undercroft

Staircase guarded by green dragons

Fine wood carvings


Romantic settings everywhere in the Palace gardens

Monk (not a real one) on skate board, how cool

Overlooking moat and gardens

Bridge leading to St Andrews Wellhouse

Remaining section of wall sympathetically supported to preserve its charm.

We have both fallen under Wells spell, just like Glastonbury and will keep returning, next time with a better camera. So many things to see, research and share with you.

Finally, Wells little micropub, the first in Somerset – JustAles,           the first in Somerset- a little gem run by Donna and her dog offering great local ales and ciders and it’s own style. Cheers


Next blog will be on Glastonbury and then will return to Wells to feature the Cathedral and Vicars Close but for now, the Govnor’s calling.




St Bartholomew’s Hospital – ‘Barts’

Following on from my 2nd blog about St Bartholomew, some interesting facts about my birthplace – the amazing St Bartholomew’s Hospital, better known as Barts. Read on to discover what it’s full name was for 400 years.


The grant of Rahere, founder of St Bartholomew’s Hospital                  to Hagno the clerk, 1137


The Hospital . St Bartholomew’s is just 5 years short of providing 900 years of continual health care provision, easily the oldest in England . As highlighted in my previous blog, it was built by a highly motivated Courtier called Rahere who received a Charter from King Henry Ist that he, the Prior, the Hospital and the sick poor people they served all fell under the King’s protection. Rahere was the first Prior and the hospitals first Master and he was likely cared for and died in the hospital.

In those medieval times it provided care in association with the Priory for the poor, the elderly and to the many  homeless children and babies born to mothers jailed in the nearby Newgate prison. Basically providing hospice and orphanage provision until Henry VIII stopped all that as part of his dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

The Priory was brutally closed and the hospital would  have closed too but for the City fathers worried that the poor – whom the hospital had kept off the streets over the preceding centuries, would again provide an unwanted presence on the streets of this aspiring and affluent area, spoil the look of the place and spread their germs.

They petitioned Henry, asking that he grant the hospital back to the City on account of the fact it was urgently needed to help “the myserable people lyeng in the streete, offendyng every clene person passyng by the way with theyre fylthye and nastye savors.

The hospital had no income to continue its work until Henry agreed to grant the hospital to the City of London in 1546, and surprisingly before his death he even bestowed it with property to provide an income. 

It was his condition though that it be renamed “House of the Poore in West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London, of King Henry VIII’s foundation.”  Surprisingly this name did not catch the mood and although it remained it’s official name until 1948 it was always and most affectionately known simply as Barts.

The hospital could again focus on serving the sick poor.  The first Physician was appointed in 1562 when there was a team comprising of one Matron, twelve Sisters and three Surgeons employed to attend the poor daily.  The constitution of the Hospital then remained basically the same until the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, although the team increased in size and structure steadily and significantly.

The Great Fire of London was halted at Giltspur Street at the entrance to where the current outpatients now stands. The hospital buildings were saved but the other wooden buildings, given by Henry a hundred years earlier to provide an income stream, had been lost plunging the hospital into financial ruin. Many of its wards were closed but they struggled on until a major redevelopment and rebuild could be undertaken 1730-1769.

All the medieval hospital buildings were demolished as part of that eighteenth century rebuilding programme undertaken by James Gibbs.The Great Hall is at the heart of this complex  consisting of the Gatehouse (1702) abutted by some fine Grade II listed Victorian Hardwick buildings, the Parish Church of St. Bartholomew’s the Less with its 12th century tower – the only surviving original structure on the site and the remaining three Gibbs blocks forming the North , East  and West  Wings (1738 – 1769) that surround a grand Square with its elegant Fountain.

Apprentices to the surgeons  ‘walked the wards’ since at least the 17th century, and in 1734 approval was given for the hospital’s surgeons ‘to read lectures in anatomy in the dissecting-room of the Hospital’.  In 1791 the Governors agreed a purpose-built lecture theatre to be constructed within the Hospital. Then to the provision of medical education within the Hospital, generally regarded as marking the foundation of the hospital’s Medical College. A School of Nursing was founded at the hospital in 1877.

In 1850 a potentially ground breaking event had happened when a lady called Elizabeth Blackwell was admitted to St Barts medical school. A second female – Ellen Colborne was admitted some 15 years later but no good outcome this time as she was quickly jettisoned when the male students had a bit of a strop and were not subscribing to equalities in medicine.  It was then not until 1947 that women were  allowed into the medical school.  Conversely male nurses were not allowed until 1974. All seems very bizarre these days.

A new entrance and wing has been erected in the modern style and demolitions and ongoing redevelopment of the site continues.

The reputation and expertise of the  ‘Teaching Hospital’ has continued to improve and it is truly world renowned. I can personally testify to the excellent work and output of the maternity ward in particular during the mid 1950s.

I remember my dad being outraged at the planned closure of the hosoital back in the 1970s and he wore his Save Barts badge with pride. This ‘idiotic’ plan incensed him more than anything I had ever known, other than Arsenal losing to Swindon in an FA Cup final around the same time. His outrage surprisingly won the day and Barts was saved. Well done Charlie. To be fair you did cross my dad at your peril.

The great hall in the North wing is sadly not open to the public despite not being used for anything these days other than the odd special event. Unless of course you have the gift of the blag when you might just sneakily discover it’s richly decorated plasterwork, stained glass and wall panels listing the numerous hospital beneficiaries. For a very reasonable £50, back in the day, your generosity and public spiritedness would be applauded and you would be appointed to the hospitals Board of Governors.

                                          The Great Hall

In the 1730s a young up and coming artist who lived in nearby  Bartholomew’s Close was horrified to learn that the Hospital Guvernors were intending to appoint an Italian artist to paint some murals for the main staircase. William Hogarth offered to undertake the commission for free despite being scared of heights. Hogarth was inspired to prove that an english artsist was every bit as capable as any Venetian.

Despite his generous offer there was a lot of opposition but he proved persuasive and they took a chance with him. He proved himself and delivered two amazing murals, The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan. However, he completed the first off site and then had it moved it into place. This allowed him to achieve a good level of detail. The second was painted in-situ but, presumably due to the working at height issue, has far less detail. Still, it was better than I could do – even though I am OK with heights.

The stairs as can be viewed from a doorway within the museum.

The paintings are still used as an educational tool as the characters portrayed are thought to be patients from The Hospital, many of whose conditions can be recognised within the paintings to the trained eye. How clever is that.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital today is a specialist cardiac and cancer care centre, a recognition of its continuing innovation in these fields.

A laboratory in the hospital was the setting for the first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘A Study in Scarlet’ 1887.

This was once the maternity wing and the first building I left 60 odd years ago. 

The nurse who escorted me off the premises all those years ago is still there but seemed to freeze when she saw me, strange.

The Fountain in the Square – 1859 as part of the rebuilding package of works.

The simple and not unattractive new hospital entrance. 

Henry VIII Gate

                                 Henry VIII above his Gateway

Well, a fact that massively surprised me, there is only one outdoor statue in London to celebrate Henry VIII. It stands proudly above the gateway that leads to Barts. This pinnacle centre of care and kindness that somehow owes its longevity to an individual who did not go down in history for being particularly benevolent in thought or actions.

Some 200 years after Henry VIII had effectively saved the hospital, in 1701, the hospital’s governors commissioned John Strong of the Strong family of Masons who, were at the time beavering away at St Paul’s Cathedral with Sir Christopher Wren – to erect a new gatehouse to commemorate this otherwise bad boy.  The cost was £550. It would cost more today.

The statue of Henry VIII was given pride of place above the gateway between four round columns and like the hospital has survived and is now an iconic part of the hospital and stool considered a main entrance despite the new proper entrance on the opposite side of the site. It is perhaps odd that such a magnificent structure was commissioned as a street entrance to a hospital for the poor and is still going strong over 300 years later.

Just like me Henry likes to look at Smithfield market, opposite. Must be the butcher in him

St Bartholomew-the-less Church

There was once five chapels to serve the priory and hospital but only one survived the reformation. The nearest church to the hospital dedicated to the Holy Cross in 1123 was moved to its current site in 1184 and only it’s tower survives. The chapel became crown property under Henry and known as St Bartholomew-the-less to distinguish it from the other grander church up the road. It is also known as Little Barts.

The old tower has three bells, the eldest cast 1380 and supported on an original timber structure – the oldest in London. The original interior designer by William Dance the Younger in 1793, was of timber. Dry rot meant it had to be ripped out and replaced with stonework.

St Bart’s Hospital is actually it’s own parish and its parishioners are made up of hospital staff and patients. It was that attendance for all patients and staff was compulsory. The church also has traditional links to the Haberdasher’s livery Company. Haberdasher’s Hall stands directly opposite the Hospital entrance.

Buried in the church lies Thomas Bodley who founded the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Architect Inigo Jones was baptised here.

                           Entrance adjacent to Henry VIII gatehouse


Stained glass dedication to Nurses who gave their lives in WW 2


                                            Ornate marble pulpit

The Museums

                             The Pathology Museum

Opened in 1879 the Pathology Museum is a vast space made up of 3 mezzanine levels each around 8 metres high, all linked by a beautiful spiral staircase.

It contains some 5000 anatomical specimens, including forensic and historical examples, as well as some corresponding archive information. Housed within the grounds of the Hospital,
recent events have featured Sherlock Holmes, the unsolved murder of The Black Dahlia, Tattoos as a memento-mori and The Death of Marilyn Monroe. There is a regular taxidermy class and organ potting workshop if interested.

In addition to the pathology museum another little gem can be found just as you come through Our Henry’s gateway, on the left. It houses a small but fascinating history of the hospital from its humble and noble origins in a beautifully presented way with a great range of documents, instruments, art and attire of the day


A copy of the refounding document signed by Henry VIII 

I have thoroughly enjoyed putting this together and having got it out of my system can now focus at last on our joint travels, castles, abbey’s, villages, beaches and people of Britain here we come. First things first though, a nice cup of ‘ The Govnor’ and an Early Grey for Julie.

Somerset next

Where it all began, The Parish of St. Bartholomew

Having decided to kick off my blogging campaign by celebrating the little Essex village where Julie and I live, I thought it might be good for my 2nd blog to go back to the place where I started life, have often returned to and is one of my special places in London – St Bartholomews Parish, Smithfield.

I was born in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, my Bartlett surname is said to be a diminutive of Bartholomew and it seems only appropriate to have taken my first breath in a building with this name. Also, my father worked as a salesman in the world famous Smithfield meat market just across the road.  As a youngster during school holidays I was lucky enough to go to work with my dad – Wag to his family but known as Charlie at the theatre of characters that was Smithfield market and he was a worthy cast player with his instant wit and tough character. I loved the smell of the place, the sounds, hustle bustle and colourful language although I seldom use it myself and neither did dad – well outside of the market that is.

I was fascinated by the rows of hanging carcasses and how they were swung round on their hooks and lifted on and off so easily despite the weight.  By  the obvious respect and sense of pride that the salesman, porters, bumereers and regular customers had for each other despite the wicked banter between them. Everyone it seemed had a ready comeback for every wisecrack hurled at them and it was all so funny to listen to. I was also lucky to be introduced to many of the young boxers who worked there – the early hours fitting in well with training schedules and there was presumably access to good meat to supplement their training diets. The work was hard but the number of old boys running around with their sack barrows, still moving heavy loads about and well past retirement age, was further evidence of the magnetism, fun and strength of character of the place. What I call proper London and  I will always be so proud to have been part of, through Charlie anyway.

               Main entrance into Smithfield Market     

It was here that the Wife Sale was popular in the early 19th century. This was a time when getting a divorce was nigh on impossible so some disgruntled hubbies brought along their wives to sell along with livestock and other items.  No eBay in those days.

                          The famous market clock.

This four faced clock was commissoned at a cost of £150 and fitted central to Grand Avenue in 1870 by clockmakers  Thwaites and Reed of Clerkenwell. It was illuminated eight years later but remained hand wound until being converted to electrical operation in 1968. That was the year I first went to Smithfield with my dad. I also got to see our Queen’s lovely old mum there, on walk about exchanging banter with ‘the boys’ who jostled for position to cheer and express their fondness for her in their own cheeky but fun ways. Great memories.

A little older and l would also have a wander around the parish and first discovered St. Bartholomew’s Church and it’s grounds in nearby Cloth Fair. This is where lovely Sir John Betjeman once lived. The building is suitably adorned with a blue plaque. It leads towards  St Bartholomew’s south gatehouse. The gorgeous timbered Tudor house above the gateway  remarkably escaped the great fire of London being protected by the adjoining high masonry walls of the Priory that existed at the time.

Poet Laureate – Sir John Betjeman once lived at this historical address in Cloth Fair

Digressing, Cloth Fair includes the oldest residential dwelling in London – No.s 41 & 42, now administered by Landmark Trust (look them up, they do great work in conservation), and one of them a former home of Sir John Betjeman. Cloth Fair was once the largest cloth market in Europe. Now home to Cloth Fair Chambers, where the main beam of that building had to be restored by resin injection after almost snapping from two centuries of bales of cloth being draped over it.


                         St Bartholomew’s Gateway

Bartholomew Gatehouse with surviving Tudor House above and a serious looking blogger cunningly employed to obscure roadwork cones through the arch. Such a perfectionist.


FFirst sight of the church of St. Bartholomew the Great when approaching Cloth Fair. 

In the seventies I would enjoy some of the old Farringdon area pubs and after a heavy night out would end up in the market pub – The Cock for a good breakfast and a few cups of tea before going on to work to complete the occasional all nighter. Mick’s Cafe in Fleet Street would have been the alternative destination to sober up and waste some time before heading back to work. Happy days.

Then I was blissfully unaware of the rich history of this vibrant area but now, as I discover just a little, it has just added to my love of the place so thought I would share some of the many interesting facts about this favourite spot. So here goes…


Rahere (110-1139)        

                                                                                        Continue reading “Where it all began, The Parish of St. Bartholomew”

Roydon – Essex, a great place to start

St Peters Ad-Vicula Church from Roydon village green

Cambridge House with is beautiful Wisteria is at the heart of the village

                              Approaching the Marina


What should be the topic of my first ever blog!!   Well the general idea is to write about places my wife already love and about places we will discover and learn a bit about so I thought, as a first attempt,  what about the pretty little village Julie and I have been lucky enough to live in for the past 9 years.

Roydon lies on the road linking Harlow and Epping in Essex. To the west of East End (farm) and just above Worlds End – where there is a wood and in this wood lives a fine Black Poplar Tree – one of a select 50 great trees listed in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. But this is not the villages only treasure.

The rivers Stort and the Lea form the parish boundaries to the north and west and a major feature of the village and surrounding areas is the river walks and beautiful countryside. Also the impressive 350 birth marina within Roydon Marina Village, a 32 acre complex comprising camp site, holiday lodges, residential homes, hotel and restaurants (Marco’s is a very welcoming and recommended Italian restaurant that has always hit the mark for us and serves our family and friend get togethers ).

As you approach the complex via a riverside roadway adjacent to the railway station, an impressive 3 storey mill comes into view with barges and longboats moored up. Park in the large car-park and walk through the lodges to find the usually well used marina, an impressive site of floating homes, very peaceful and beautiful. There are lovely river walks from this area leading to a number of lakes.

This is an old village with a number of fine 15th, 16th and 17th century  houses scattered about. It was mentioned in the Doomsday Book – commissioned in 1085 by Frenchman Guillame the Bastard (AKA William the Conqueror) to record exactly what he then owned for the purpose of taxation and redistribution of land won to his fellow Norman nobleman. Thus was the start of the Norman rule of Britain which remains so evident today and will feature in many of my future blogs.

My own ancestry in England comes from the 1066 invasion at Hastings when my surname first arrived on these shores and I am steadily piecing together the links back to my Norman origins.  But I digress -as may routinely happen.

Roydon was then known as Ruindune – gifted by William to his buddy Inguar, brother of Ranulf who was gifted Herlaua – thought to be the beginnings of what has become Harlow. The village was recorded as Reindona by about 1130, Reindon in 1204 and then Roindon in 1208. Not sure when the ‘n’ disappeared from its pronounciation and spelling but is thought to be around the mid to late 1400s. The name has been thought to mean originally ‘sweet hill’ and then ‘rye covered hill’.  Roydon came into the possession of the Baynard family who forfeited it to Henry 1st – treason allegedly. Then bestowed to Fitzwalters family until Edward 1st’s reign.

The four manors were Roydon Hall, Temple Hall, Downe Hall, and Nether Hall. Roydon Hall and Temple Hall were given by the Fitzwilliams to the Knights Templars and with it the Church of St Peter-Ad-Vincula. The Templars were suddenly dissolved in 1311 many suffering gruesome deaths. Their property was passed on to another order who remained in favour – The Knights of St John of Jerusalem (AKA The Knights Hospitallers), who remained until the dissolution of the monasteries was ordered by our favourite King Henry VIII in 1535.

Nether Hall was situated off what is now called Low Hill Road, leading out of Roydon and location of salad growers. The number of local rivers and lakes make this area quiet a centre for garden nurseries and the number of articulated lorries navigating these country lanes indicate the success of these mainly Italian businesses. Greenhouses extend for miles it seems.

Nether Hall was purchased by The Abbey of Waltham  in 1280 but it changed hands several times subsequently until Thomas Colt acquired it around 1470. He became Privy Councillor to King Edward IV. Thomas’s grand-daughter Jane was later to marry Sir Thomas More, author and Chancellor to King Henry VIII. The story goes that Sir Thomas was a frequent visitor to Nether Hall – possibly something to do with the three lovely daughters of John Colt.

Thomas particularly fancied the second eldest but, according to his biographer and son in law – William Roper, Thomas thought it would be insulting to the eldest daughter to prefer a younger sibling and instead, gallantly switched his attention to the eldest – Jane. She was still a bit of a looker though I am sure. or perhaps an excellent cook or  homemaker or sufficiently skilled and desirable in other ways. Most likely though she would have been the family heir if there were no surviving sons – a thought that may also have crossed Thomas’s mind.

Sir Thomas as I am sure you will know was executed for treason for refusing to sign the document that would put aside Katherine of Aragon and acknowledge Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn – He was later declared a Saint by the Catholic Church (see film ‘A Man for All Seasons’)

The hall was demolished around 1770 and a wonderful farmhouse built leaving only a part of the decorative gate tower still standing that can still be seen from outside the farm entrance.

Roydon Hall occupied a site now known as Vinegar Hills near the village green. Little history remains of the place but it was acquired by Henry VIII from its owners Christ’s College Cambridge for his wife Anne Boleyn in 1531. Seven years later Henry was at Roydon Hall again with his infant son  by Jane Seymour and who was later to become King Edward VI, to enjoy some falconry but alas the local birdlife were keeping their heads down and a jolly good time was not had that day as recorded in an account by Richard Cromwell to his better known father Sir Thomas.

The manors of Temple Roydon and Roydon Hall were disposed of by Queen Elizabeth I into private hands and Temple farm – preferred by many top London chefs for its black turkeys at Christmas and the Crusader Public House – formerly The Temple Inn, are reminders of the villages past associations. It is always a little sad to see the thousands of turkeys running around the fields on the lead up to Christmas often gathering under the large signs advising customers to order early to avoid disappointment. They are as good as you can get if you like to cook a traditional christmas dinner.

The present St Peters-Ad-Vincula Church replaced a Norman church and it is said a Saxon church before that. Ad-Vincula translates to ‘in chains’ and is associated with The Church of the same name that is the parish church of The Tower Of London.

This is a Royal Peculiar Church meaning it is exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocese in which it lies and is subject to the direct jurisdiction of the monarch. The name refers to the imprisonment of St Peter by Herod Agrippa in Jersulam. The night before his due execution an angel is said to have appeared and led him out of prison. This has been celebrated on August 1st since and a fair takes place in the village each year on August Bank Holiday on the village green opposite the church. A charter approved the holding of a market every Thursday on the green but this ceased regrettably some time ago – shame I like a good market.

Fossils found in Roydon fields include sea urchins, ammonites and mollusc indicating it was at one time below sea level but it has also been occupied since pre-historic times. Tools dating back 50,000 years, Roman pottery and a small collection of coins have been unearthed providing evidence of the importance this village has been in history no doubt due to its proximity to London and plentiful water supply and fishing. And of course its sweet smelling, once rye covered Hill – where we live and now rapidly being recovered with some quite stunning and very impressive luxury houses.

Talking of houses, there are many lovely old houses, many listed and it seems all very well maintained by their owners. The oldest are probably two cottages at Halls Green, thought to be circa 1350. Originally recorded as a single dwelling open to the roof, converted into two separate homes in 1595 and then 1st floors introduced around 300 years later. It was called Baldwins presumably the owners name and has again adopted that name. The farmhouse at Nether Hall is probably 15th Century, the middle hall anyway, wings were added in 16th and 17th centuries.

Other noteworthy properties include The Old House which is immediately striking as you approach Roydon from Harlow is on the left hand side at East End.  Old House Lane presumably takes its name from This lovely old building. Lightfoots on Epping Road and what I see each morning as I look out of my bedroom window, I believe to once been the home of Sir John Lightfote of Essex – is recorded in 1470

Also, The Black Swan at Broadley Common probably early 16th century are both listed in a report of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. An excellent Sunday roast can be found here.

The Church House overlooking the Village Green is curious as well as beautiful. It is 15th century with what looks like false windows to a non existent upper floor although window tax often saw windows being closed off. Sakins also overlooking the Green is said to have been a Tudor farmhouse and early 16th century. The Vicarage is a more recent building – early 18th C but attaches to a pre-Reformation Priests House to the rear.

These dwellings would have been well served by taverns – at least 5 are recorded in the village and surrounding areas in 1848 – The Black Swan, The Green Man (now the Green Spice Indian Restaurant and highly recommended), The White Hart, The New Inn and The Fox and Hounds (closed). Since then The Templer (now renamed The Crusader) provides for the locals being opposite the White Hart. There was also the Hop Pole at Broadley Common – renamed the Eagle and then Eagle House when it stopped trading. The Plough Inn which would have been my immediate local if it too had not closed and become a very charming Plough Cottage.

The White Hart – 15th century interestingly has a common room with a large bed built onto the floor. Apparantly the Innkeeper was obliged to provide food and lodging for anyone seeking it but was not obliged to provide bedding – so he didn’t. I think a recent manager must have been a descendent having a similarly obnoxious attitude.

Not suggesting that the number and quality of the public houses in and around the village have any bearing but notable people associated with the village and surrounding areas include the following.

Ray Winstone  award winning actor and cracking bloke and his daughter thespian Jamie have long resided in the village as have David Grant 1980s pop group Linx fame and his wife Carrie, now both vocal coaches. To be fair I am not sure if they are still in the village, perhaps they could let me know as I could do with singing lessons.

Michael Barrymore – one time TV host at the level of fame enjoyed by Ant & Dec – Oh how the great fall. Mr B was drawn into some notoriety when a partyloving Michael  Lubbock was discovered drowned in Michaels pool after a bit of a party at his Roydon home. It ended Michaels career and has tainted the perception of the village and the Lubbock family remain aggrieved at the outcome. Wasn’t too good all round.

David Gilmore (hero) of Pink Floyd fame is understood to have once lived in a local black and white beamed house and still keeps his old world war plane at North Weald and has allowed Gary Numan to keep his plane in the same hanger – that also featured in a Billie Piper  pop video in  her singing heyday.

Mr G has a vintage bi-plane which he flies from time to time and I am sure I have seen it flying low over my house. A bit concerned it was trying to land on my Celtic Cross shaped herb garden.

From the station there is a gated entrance to Briggens Hall at the top of another hill. This was built as a Mansion resplendent with many acres of parkland and gardens. A golf course has been created there and the building operated as a hotel for many years but sadly no longer. Planning battles are ongoing concerning its future use. An interesting fact however is that during WW2 the building and grounds were taken over by Winston Churchills Special Operations Executive (SOE) and utilised as a base for spy training and document counterfeiting for use by allied spies throughout Europe. The group included handwriting experts from Scotland Yard, resistance fighters and printers producing everything that might be needed including of course currency. They were so brilliant at their work the forgeries could not be easily identified as such.

Legendary Violette Szabo was just one recipient of the group’s documents and her life and actions were movingly portrayed in the wonderful film         “Carve Her Name With Pride.”

Fun was still to be had despite the seriousness of their work and the team even created a fake passport for Adolf Hitler giving his occupation as ‘painter’, and his ‘little mustache’ as a distinguishing feature. They included a red ‘J’ stamp which was used by the Nazis in Germany to mark the passports of Jews and another stamp from the Government of Palestine declaring he was an immigrant. Members were sworn to secrecyabout their work and nearly all took there secrets to the grave without even mentioning their part in the war to their families. Many of the spies were Polish and some returned after the war having enjoyed the area.

I think that must be enough about Roydon and its history for now but I will no doubt return to update as I learn more.

I hope the following pictures provide a taste of the village and encourage more visitors but please be wary of the cyclists that swarm in their thousands throughout the summer – quiet a spectacle if you are not in a hurry to get somewhere yourself.

I have thoroughly enjoyed putting this piece together and learning more about this village myself and cannot wait to get started on my next piece. Please look out for it if you enjoyed this blog and thank you for reading.

Lastly, I would like to dedicate this blog to Phil an art lover, neighbour and quite a character in the village who sadly died recently.

              Floating homes in Roydon Marina


           Roydon Station – ‘Just at the station’                                    Mediterranean style restaurant

Dees Chemist next to the recently re-thatched Dutch Barn

            The New Inn – heart of the village

           The remains of Nether Hall Keep (right)                          overlooking the farmhouse

            Plough Cottage, formerly The Plough Inn

Former The White Horse pub, then restaurant and currently being refurbished.

High Street cottages before the wonderful wisteria burst.

Temple Turkey Farm – residents


Time to wrap up now and think about my next topic. I have an idea but need to run it past the Guvnor first. See you soon and thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed my first ever blog and it doesn’t turn out to be a turkey.