Friday, 29 June 2012

At leisure in Lewes

White Hart Hotel, Lewes
© Teresa Newham 2012
We recently spent a weekend at Lewes, in Sussex, for a wedding.  We could have stayed closer to the reception in a nearby village; but when we realised what a historical town Lewes is, we decided to base ourselves there and take a look around.  We stayed at the White Hart Hotel, originally a 16th-century coaching inn.  The location was perfect, right in the town centre;  so as soon as we'd unpacked we headed down the High Street for a look round.

The Fifteenth Century Bookshop, Lewes
© Teresa Newham 2012
The High Street is simply overflowing with history.  There are some magnificent Tudor buildings, such as the Fifteenth Century bookshop, cheek-by-jowl with Georgian terraces and Victorian attempts to recreate the town's Tudor origins. 

Bull House, Lewes - home of Thomas Paine
© Teresa Newham 2012
Lewes is very proud of the fact that the 18th century radical Thomas Paine lived in the town for a while.  Paine lodged at Bull House for several years, working both as an Excise Officer and a tobacconist, and marrying his landlord's daughter.  Eventually he headed off to America to become one of the founding fathers of the United States. 

Tom Paine Printing Press, Lewes
© Teresa Newham 2012
I was thrilled to discover that one enterprising printmaker had set up shop in the High Street, trading as the Tom Paine Printing Press.  We spent a little while in here admiring his letterpress prints and the work of some other local printmakers.  I just loved the fact that he was drying his prints pegged to a washing line, just as we had at the printmaking course at the Eagle Gallery

interior of the Tom Paine Printing Press, Lewes
© Teresa Newham 2012
The shop was jam-packed with interesting artefacts - and a steady stream of eager customers - including us.  I didn't feel comfortable photographing the work too close up, but to my delight I've discovered that there is a Tom Paine Printing Press blog which talks about this project and shows the prints in more detail.

Polish Pottery at Baltica, Lewes
© Teresa Newham 2012
By now we were fairly desperate for a cuppa, and chanced upon our next find; a cafe called Baltica which is also an outlet for Polish pottery.  As you can see, we ate off it, drank out of it and poured our tea and milk from it (and then, of course, we bought some).  The choice of patterns and pieces was incredible. 

We hadn't expected our trip to Lewes to involve art and shopping, but it didn't end there.  The morning after the wedding we went to mass at St Pancras Church, and happened upon exactly the statuette of the Virgin Mary we'd been waiting for (Father Jonathan was kind enough to bless it for us).  This was serendipity indeed . . . I suspect we'll be going back to Lewes.  The wedding was fun, too!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Jubilee souvenirs at the Garden Centre
© Teresa Newham 2012
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee crept up on me, rather.  It's not that I didn't know about it - we were getting an extra day off work, after all - our neighbours were organising a street party and we were going to a bit of a "do" with friends where a beacon was going to be lit.   And on a visit to the local garden centre we'd discovered an amazing display of Jubilee souvenirs for sale (I had to persuade my husband that we didn't need a "dress up Princess Kate" book or any other bit of tat). But it wasn't until I was walking along the banks of the Thames from Blackfriars  to my office at Southwark Bridge last week that I realised it was really upon us.  This part of Bankside has been under renovation for months, and  suddenly the workmen had picked up the pace - but surely it wouldn't be ready for the Jubilee Weekend?

finishing touches, Bankside
© Teresa Newham 2012
Day by day I watched as things progressed.  New bench seats arrived and were installed.  Trees appeared.  Tarmac was laid and railings painted.  The steps to the Millennium Bridge sprouted new balustrades.  A massive flower bed was filled with compost and planted up.  It was like a soap opera:  will they won't they finish in time?  One morning I found myself thinking what a shame it was that the Blackfriars railway bridge (not due for completion until July) was still covered in scaffolding - by the evening much of that scaffolding had disappeared.  Clearly this Jubilee was going to be a Big Deal.  Some photo reportage was called for!

red, white and blue at the Founders Arms, Bankside
(Blackfriars rail bridge in the background)
© Teresa Newham 2012
By now bunting and flags were in evidence everywhere. Red, white and blue was the order of the day - and not just in shop windows and floral displays, either. My colleagues had already suggested that we wear red, white and blue to work on the Friday prior to the Jubilee Weekend; the local primary school had the same idea.  I felt a bit self-conscious on the train until I saw a chap in navy blue trousers and navy blue and white checked shirt casually carrying a red sweater.  And a man in a navy blue suit, white shirt and navy tie wearing red socks .  .  . decorations went up in the office and a whole raft of portaloos appeared outside as crowd barriers were assembled on Southwark Bridge.  Something about a River Pageant, apparently . . . which was going to be HUGE!

flags pretty much everywhere!
© Teresa Newham 2012
We found out almost by accident that there was going to be a fair on Harpenden Common on the Saturday.  Sure enough, despite the cold wind loads of people had turned up and many of these were wearing red, white and blue . . . 

red, white and blue on Harpenden Common
© Teresa Newham 2012
The Local History Society exhibition in a nearby hall was also pulling in a crowd.  It showed how Harpenden had celebrated various Jubilees during the 20th century; and the Queen's Coronation.  Fancy dress parades with a fairy theme figured extensively - including some extracts from Gilbert and Sullivan (Iolanthe, presumably!).  The white ensign from HMS Harpenden was on show - she was mainly active during the First World War and decommissioned in the 1920s.  

White Ensign (folded), HMS Harpenden
© Teresa Newham 2012
There was a  massive amount of local memorabilia, including one of the original street decorations from the Jubilee in 1937 - glass jars painted red, white and blue on a wire frame.  The local Scouts had to light them all one by one!

street decoration, 1937
© Teresa Newham 2012
The Society chairman had dug out the breeches and shoes he wore as a choirboy at the Coronation, along with a photo of his fifteen-year-old self running (late) to a rehearsal.  And then it struck me.  This wasn't just any old royal event.  We were witnessing history.  That was why so many people were here at the exhibition with their kids.  Few amongst us (apart from the very young, maybe) would see a Diamond Jubilee again.  Suddenly the idea of a souvenir didn't seem so tacky.  So it was straight round to the shops for a decorated tin of shortbread (me) and a book of photos of the Queen's life (my husband can't resist a book!).  We're not ardent royalists or anything.   We weren't going to spend our weekend in front of the TV, oh no!!  But we could recognise history in the making.

choirboy's Coronation breeches and buckled shoes
© Teresa Newham 2012
Of course, in the end we watched pretty much all of it.  The stunning Thames pageant had us glued to our seats most of Sunday afternoon - incredible, despite the rain  (now I understood why they'd spent two years painting Southwark Bridge).  Monday  however was for socialising; that street party (under gazebos, in the rain) gave us the chance to finally meet most of our neighbours; and was such a success that we might do it again next year.  It was intended to finish around 3.30pm, but in fact only a final downpour at 5pm drove us indoors, and then just to get changed and go out again for the evening.

flags, fancies and favours
© Teresa Newham 2012
Red, white and blue was the theme again as we danced to our friends' vocal harmony group at their local village "do" - the village had been partying all day.  We were grateful for the hot meal on a chilly night, which warmed us enough to go outside to see the beacon lit at 10.26pm precisely -  more dancing, then back at our friends' house we started to watch a recording of the Jubilee concert.  Which is why the two of us were creeping into our house at 3am the next morning, still clutching our Union Jacks from the party!

lighting the beacon
© Teresa Newham 2012
So we spent Jubilee Day itself very quietly, watching the service from St Paul's Cathedral on TV; the procession; the balcony appearance and the fly-past by the Red Arrows.  Frankly, we were exhausted.  And unexpectedly rather proud of our Queen, who's life really sums up the meaning of the word vocation.  And now we have those Union Jacks hanging in the window, they might as well stay there for the duration of the European football.  And the Olympics.  It's going to be quite a summer!

the partygoers sing "Land of Hope and Glory" as the beacon is lit
© Teresa Newham 2012