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Sunday, August 5th:
It is 9:40 in the morning and we’ve just arrived at Stonehenge after enjoying a nice continental breakfast at our hotel and finding our way out of Bath and onto the road leading here.
According to the guidebook, the foundation and the monument itself have decayed to such an extent that tourists can no longer walk directly up to the stones and touch them. The plan is to restore the area to its “isolated dignity.” Yes, for part of the time, you are not all that close to the monument itself, but at the start, you can get fairly close. No matter how far away or how many people there are nearby, the power of this place cannot be denied. While we may know a lot of how it was built, we still don’t know precisely why.
Stonehenge is, of course, over 5,000 years old and is the most important prehistoric site in the British isles. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Druids, who worshipped in Britain 2,500 years later. Not long ago I read Bernard Cornwall’s Stonehenge, and much of what he wrote in this novel about how they got the stones to this site, how they would carve them to be the same height (and that it took years to do so), how the lintel pieces were created and fit like tongue and groove furniture, how the pieces were erected – it’s the same as the tour imparts here at the site. We know it was an incredibly arduous process. The “why,” however, remains unknown.
It is, by the way, another absolutely glorious day. It seems to be sunny in the mornings and get cloudy and rain in the afternoons, but right now it brisk and sunny and the perfect weather to see this glorious site.
Something I did learn today that I hadn’t known is the reason why some of the stones are missing. When Christianity came to England, religious fanatics raided “pagan” monuments such as Stonehenge. And, other pieces were simply removed for building purposes. They didn’t know or didn’t care that this was of fabulous, historical importance.
Although not on my original itinerary, I decided last night we should go next to Salisbury Cathedral, which is home not only to the oldest working clock in Europe (if not the world), but one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta.
We drove on some pretty narrow roads to get to Salisbury, but it was worth the effort. What’s hard to imagine is why there aren’t more tourists here. I know I never made it on my first two trips to England.
Both before and after touring the Cathedral, we walked throughout the town. We saw a huge old monument that looks like the Market Cross we saw yesterday in Castle Combe. So I’m going to assume that it is the Salisbury Market Cross (pictured at left).
There are all sorts of picturesque little river scenes and architectural doo-dahs in Salisbury and we are enjoying it. There is a little tower sitting on top of a little small building and apparently, the wall formed part of the county goal (jail), erected in 1569 (pictured at right). It was taken down in 1823.
As we neared the cathedral we passed under an arch near two doors and the sign said that they closed the doors at 11:00. These are “city” doors of some sort, mind you – it’s not only the cathedral on the otherside, but many other buildings as well. You need to be either in or out, depending upon which side of the doors you are on. (Click here to view photos from both sides of one of these doors.)
The cathedral was conceived and built in a 38-year period between 1220 and 1258. The spire was added in 1320. The spire is 400 above the ground and about 1 1/2 feet off vertical. For all the sophistication of the engineers who created the church and its spire, the height and immense weight of the spire have posed structural problems. In the late 17th century, Christopher Wren was summoned to strengthen the spire. In the mid-19th century, Gilbert Scott, the leading Victorian Gothicist, undertook a major restoration program. It’s supposedly not as spectacular on the inside as some of the other abbeys and cathedrals we’ve seen on this trip.
See these magnificent carvings on the building?
When we entered the cathedral, we heard singing and organ music. It was breath-taking in its beauty. They are conducting their final morning service and for a place described as drab, I have found this to be an incredible and awe-inspiring place, particularly with the music playing. It’s very large and very gothic, and while it doesn’t have a lot of bright colors, the architecture itself is amazing.
After sitting in on some of the service, we quietly made our way around parts of the church. We’ve just seen the clock, which is possibly the earliest remaining mechanical clock in the world in complete and working condition.
It was built in 1386 and if I hadn’t been told it was a clock, I would never have known it was, because it has no face. It was used for almost 500 years until 1884 when a newer clock tower was installed. In 1956 it was repaired and restored to its original condition and set up in the church itself.
After seeing the clock, we realized church services had finished and decided to wander around for a bit, when we saw a tomb for William Longspee, who lead the English knights in the 7th Crusade and died heroically. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a tomb for a crusading knight – amazing!
Since I manned the tape recorder, I didn’t take many pictures, but am proud of this one
The courtyard where we found the cloisters is lovely, and led us to the octagonal Chapter House, where we saw the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta, of course, is the charter in which the English barons forced King John to accept in 1215. It was sent here for safekeeping in the 13th century.
The Magna Carta was designed to rebalance the power between the king and the barons. It has become a symbol of the rule of law in England, protecting the rights of the individual (if that individual were a nobleman, that is!). Its basic principles have been used in the Constitution of the US and many other countries. The Charter was copied out by hand about 40 times and the king’s beeswax and resin seal was attached to each. The documents, called exemplars, were then sent all over the country, probably one to each county, and one to the royal archive and one to the sink ports. Had the barons not forced the king to sign the Magna Carta there likely would have been civil war in England because of their tax and fine-related grievances against King John. The document was originally known as the Articles of the Barons. The Magna Carta itself is 3,500 words long and many of the words are abbreviated. It is written in Latin on calve’s skin.
The Chapter House is an octagonal room with stained glass along all sides. In addition to the Magna Carta, it houses some very old books dating back from at least the 1400’s. There is a nice collection of old pewter, silver, and gold chalices as well.
The version of the Magna Carta houses here at Salisbury is the best preserved and most legible of all the copies originally written. It was misfiled in the library here in the 19th century for 60 years and so escaped a lot of damage from the light.
We saw another very old document in the Chapter House – one that was written in 1155. We also one document that was written in 1155 and an illuminated manuscript that was written in 970 AD – the illumination has lots of different colors. The book is called The Salisbury Psalter and it’s a book of Jewish songs. We saw at the exit of the Chapter House a very old table said to be the one on which the workmen who built the cathedral in the 13th century were paid their daily wages.
Just as we were leaving the church at 1:15, we heard a clock chime. Is it the old clock that we saw? I like to think so.
After touring the cathedral, we found a fish and chips take away and had some lunch sitting on the steps of a building that was closed for the weekend. We’ve now had the “pastie” experience, two teas, a pub meal, and fish and chips. The “you haven’t been in England until you’ve eaten these” food items on my list for my husband to try in England have all been crossed off!
We returned to our car and drove on to Wilton House, again without getting lost! After buying tickets and heading to the entrance, we saw nine Rolls Royce’s and Bentley’s of varying ages in an open car park, presumably belonging to Wilton House. There is some dispute as to whether or not the Earl owns them all or whether this is like a place where collectors are meeting, but either way, it’s pretty impressive to see them all together.
The house has belonged to the Earls of Pembroke for hundreds of years. This is for my father-in-law, Sammy – the present Earl of Pembroke is photography buff and he has a collection of old cameras dating back to the 1800’s. Some of them are unbelievably interesting to look at with huge lenses and all kinds of things that I don’t recognize.
Wilton House is the seat of the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery and has been so since 1542 when following the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII tore down a 600-year-old monastery and gave to William Herbert some 46,000 acres around Wilton together with other land further afield. The estate today comprises 14,000 acres (which is 21 square miles) to the west of Salisbury. Much of this is made up of farmland and woodland. Henry was so fond of William Herbert that he not only created the first Earl of Pembroke in 1551, but I believe that he married the Earl’s sister-in-law and made William the guardian of his son, Edward VI.
Wilton House was a military hospital during the First World War. The house was also part of the southern command for the British in WWII; Eisenhower planned part of the D-Day invasion here with Churchill. We saw a flag originally presented to Salisbury Cathedral by the American Forces in commemoration of the observance of the American National Day of Prayer, January 1, 1944. The flag was said to have hung over the desk that Eisenhower used here at Wilton.
Some of the Earls were very artistic. I believe this estate is known not for its historic inhabitants or historic importance, but for the collection of art amassed here, including the largest collection (at one time if not now) of Van Dyck’s in the world. One of the earls was an architect; he built this lovely Palladian bridge on the estate.
Another of the earls was quite the drunk and was almost executed for killing too many men in duels and fights. One of the first earls was such a patron of the arts that Shakespeare gave him a first edition folio upon its release.
Here are a couple of interesting tidbits:
- Apparently they ate peacocks and swans in the medieval period
- Until the 1960’s Wilton House had a private laundry. When the family was on holiday, the laundry was often sent by rail from Scotland to be cleaned at Wilton.
Although I’m always impressed by things old, my husband obviously requires greater antiquity than I. He was quite taken by a sculpture in the front foyer called Hercules and the Triton, created in the first century AD. It is but one sculpture we are to see from that period in history, and my husband’s now even more impressed by seeing a sculpture from Greece from the first century BC. Some are in better shape than others, but all are of museum quality and seem to be sort of hanging around the house without the level of security and protection from the elements we would have expected.
In the upper (and enclosed) cloister, we saw a model of a 70-gun ship called the Old Hampton Court that was built in the reign of William and Mary in 1692. There are some 2nd to 4th century AD very long frontace pieces that are in remarkably good shape displayed in the upper cloisters as well. One of the earls was a patron to Florence Nightingale when she was off during the Crimean War and one of her badges is also on display.
Something called Napoleon’s dispatch case is also housed here in a cabinet in the upper cloisters. (To the right is a photo of the enclosed upper cloisters.) The dispatch case was found in his private carriage during the retreat of the grand army in 1812. There is a Roman senator’s chair, made in bronze, at the end of the cloister. One source has described this, despite its considerable weight, as a traveling chair as it unbolts and could be set up in the market where the senator would sit to dispense the law.
A pair of Fred Astaire’s dancing shoes was bought by the Earl of Pembroke at a charity auction in 1970. There is a letter from Fred Astaire in 1974 to the Earl of Pembroke saying, “It was indeed kind of you to write those few lines in the brochure in beautiful Wilton House. How lucky of these good old shoes of mine to find such a super resting place. Kindest regards, Sincerely, Fred Astaire.” Wow – now we’re both impressed!
We are in a large sitting room right now and the bookcases on either side of the door were made by Thomas Chippendale in 1750. There’s also a beautiful Chippendale violin bookcase, so called because it has violins carved towards the top.
violin carving enlarged
We can also see some trees from the original Cedars of Lebanon from a window in one of the anterooms. The fourth earl’s gardeners were sent to Lebanon to bring back seeds and the young trees were then planted in the formal gardens in the 1630’s.
We are in the corner room now looking at a landscape by Ruebens. Apparently the artist always put something in red in his paintings, and though he’s not known for his landscapes, here one is. We are in the great anteroom now looking at all sorts of fabulous things including two paintings by Van Dyck. Next is the Double Cube room, which is 60 feet long by 30 feet wide and 30 feet high.
The double cube as seen to the left was designed by Inigo Jones as the central feature of his suite of State Rooms. It has been visited by virtually every British monarch since Charles 1. In the room is a huge family portrait of the fourth earl and his family by Van Dyck. This is considered one of the finest surviving rooms in England from the mid-17th century and displays the fabulous collection of Van Dyck paintings, originally hanging in the 4th Earl’s London house and moved here by 1653.
Not only is it a perfect double cube, the ceiling is also fantastic, but there are Van Dyck’s all over the place. The portrait I mentioned is 17 feet wide by 11 feet tall and is the largest painting the artist ever did. According to one of the docents it is not dangerous at all for these pictures to be exposed to the outdoors with the open windows because there is so many layers of dirt and stuff on top of them that protects them from the elements.
We are now in the single cube room, which is a complete square in terms of width, heighth, and depth. It is another of the best cubes in 17th century architecture. As we were leaving the Wilton House, we saw a magnificent garden of profusely different colored flowers. It was quite lovely.
Well, it’s 5:15 and we’ve made it back to the hotel. The only time we got lost today was trying to get back into Bath from the outskirts. I still don’t know how we found it, but after 20 minutes we found our way back to the hotel. I really blew it this time. We are going to rest and have an early dinner and get ready for a big driving day tomorrow.
We found an Indian restaurant that was open a few streets away and had some dinner. Ordered some box lunches for tomorrow. Now we are going to get cleaned up and pack so that in the morning we can leave bright and early for the north of Wales. It should be our biggest driving day of the entire trip, but most of it on those nice, wide, “M” highways.
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