21 August 2017

Cardiff art: ‘People Like Us’

This is one of my favourite public artworks in Cardiff

It stands in one of the busiest areas of Cardiff Bay, amidst the cafes, restaurants and bars of Mermaid Quay, so I had to wait for a cold winter morning to get the photo, at right, with no people around.

The sculpture, called ‘People Like Us’ (‘Pobl Fel Ni’ in Welsh), is aptly named, as it certainly attracts people: they insinuate themselves amongst the figures for photos, lean next to the man as if engaging him in conversation, and children pat the dog as if it’s a favourite household pet.

‘People Like Us’ is a life-size bronze artwork by English sculptor John Clinch (1934 - 2001), whose intention was ‘to make something that somehow ‘gave a voice”’ to the diverse cultural and ethnic mix of people who have always lived and worked in the dockland area of Cardiff.

If the body structure of the male in this sculpture looks familiar, it’s because John Clinch also designed ‘From Pit To Port’, a sculpture celebrating Cardiff’s mining heritage that featured in a previous blog post here.

‘People Like Us’ is a much more personable sculpture I think, one that people can easily relate to, one that conveys a sense of rest and relaxation – the woman with her shoe off is a delightful touch.

I think John Clinch would be very pleased with how well his work is appreciated by those who visit Cardiff Bay.

23 July 2017

An ancient holloway

I mentioned in a recent post on my nature blog, earthstar, that, when out square-bashing for biological records with my friend Hilary, we found an ancient green lane, and this is it.

A local man whom we asked for directions when our maps weren’t quite precise enough told us this was part of a Roman road but that didn’t seem likely so I did some digging. I found a document online that maps out the Roman roads in southeast Wales and this lane is not included. Also, Roman roads are known to have a certain physical structure, to have a humped profile for better drainage, and generally to have been well formed, and this green lane was nothing like that.

Though probably not Roman, I was still convinced this path was an old one. 

Tracing the line on a map, you can easily see that the people who lived in the settlement of Llanmartin might have used the path to access what was once the old Llandevaud corn mill. The mill was marked as disused on the 1882-83 OS map, which implies that both the structure and the lane leading to it would date to the early 19th century, if not earlier.

But I had a feeling that this path was even older. 

I knew about ancient pathways called holloways from Robert Macfarlane’s excellent book The Old Ways: A journey on foot (Penguin, London, 2012), in which Macfarlane explains that holloway ‘comes from the Anglo-Saxon hol weg, and refers to a sunken path that has been grooved into the earth over centuries by the passage of feet, wheels and weather.’

I dug deeper and found references to an article that had been published about the path we had found: ‘An ancient green lane between Court Farm, Llanmartin, and Main Road at Llanbeder, Gwent via Mill Lane’ by Dr Mark Lewis, Senior Curator: Roman Archaeology at National Museum Wales, in the journal The Monmouthshire Antiquary (vol. XXXIII, 2017, pp.43-50). 

Luckily, Cardiff city library had a copy of the journal.

Lewis’s research into the green lane was, as you might expect, very thorough. He notes that the depth of this particular holloway ‘evidences the combined action of traffic and water over a very significant period of time’ and that the holloway ‘predates historic adjacent field boundaries’. 

He also notes that the lane traces part of a line between the early medieval sites of Llanbeder and Bishton, both of which were ‘ecclesiastical, episcopal holdings, held by the bishops of Llandaff before the Norman Conquest’, and he further speculates that the lane could have formed part of a network of lanes allowing access between ports on the Severn estuary and the ‘major historic and ancient east-west communication routes (the modern-day A48 and the Wentwood ridgeway)’. Lewis concludes by saying: ‘A medieval or early-medieval origin is very likely. Roman or pre-historic origins are possible’.

Though its exact age can never be known, the holloway was certainly a magical place to walk. I had a very real sense that we had been transported back in time, that we were walking in the footsteps of the ancients.

04 June 2017

Lullington: the smallest church in Britain

When I visited my friend Jill back in October 2014, she took me to see one of the loveliest churches I had ever seen, St Michaels and All Angels in Berwick. During my visit a few weeks ago, Jill took me to see another, just as lovely, and this one has the distinction of being the littlest church in the nation.

To reach it we walked from the picturesque town of Alfriston, along a public footpath, across the River Cuckmere, alongside fields of crops, and up a hill, with glorious views back towards Alfriston and across the Cuckmere Valley.

Veering off the fields, we passed through a small wooded area and then up a short path to a clearing and there it stood, the Church of the Good Shepherd ... or, at least, what’s left of it. The reason it’s the smallest church in Britain is because the church is really just the chancel of a much larger building that was destroyed by fire many centuries ago. You can see some of the stonework that marks the extent of the original church in my photo.

Measuring just 16 feet (5 metres) square, the church now seats around 20 people. Though it has no electricity for light or heating, regular services are still held there during the summer months. And, when extra people turn up, as frequently happens for the Harvest Festival, the congregation sits in the churchyard.

According to the British Listed buildings website, the church was probably built in the late 12th or early 13th century, of flint with a tiled roof. 

Initially, its isolated location made the church the perfect retreat for the monks of Alciston, but control was later handed over to the monastery at Battle Abbey. 

Later still, in 1251, the church was transferred to the Bishop of Chichester.

Nowadays, there are only a couple of houses near the church; they are all that remains of the village of Lullington, whose population was apparently much affected by the Black Death in the early 1330s.

Legend has it that the church, apart from the chancel, was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in the 1650s but there are no historical records to confirm that tale.

The Church of the Good Shepherd sits in a wonderfully tranquil setting and it’s a lovely walk to and from Alfriston, so I’d definitely recommend the stroll if you’re in the area.