Monday, 26 May 2014

Hastings Battleaxe update - best shops and garden centres

I was all ready to post 'Best Coffee places' but there was a very bad fire in Hastings Old Town the other night and my favourite, Hanushka in George Street, may have been damaged. We don't know as yet, so I thought for now I'd update some of the most popular Battleaxe posts.
     By far my most frequently-visited post is Best Shops in Hastings and St Leonard's, from December 2012. Looking back at the post, many shops have come and gone in the meantime, but I must have chosen the most stable and long-lasting enterprises because surprisingly little has changed.
     In the Old Town, both Hendy's Homestore and Judges now do sit-down food. So far, we have not tried either. Hendy's is fiercely expensive and the eating looks uber-poncy - see this Guardian review, and Judges just has a few tables for coffee and cakes - there are better places.
      I'd also like to add the House of Habibi in the High Street - it stocks mainly Moroccan goods, but nice quality and unbelievably good value - I have had some lovely necklaces from there, and they do a great range of bags.
House of Habibi
      Most of our other favourites in the Old Town are antique/vintage shops - these have not had their own post as yet.
      In the New Town, the Oxfam bookshop in Queen's Road closed, and was replaced by Bookbusters, a few doors along. However,  this deals mainly with remaindered books and is not nearly so interesting. Can't think of anything else to include, except for the ever-wonderful discount emporium ESK, in Cambridge Road. It doesn't really belong in a guide like this, but believe me, Battleaxe knows her stuff when it comes to discount stores - we had some truly massive places in Brum. Latif's Warehouse? Forget it, ESK is better.
     Moving along to St. Leonard's, there are many new shops, but I am not sure if they are established enough to list. Here are a couple I left out last time. As well as nice dog stuff, Valerie May of The Dawg's Biscuits in Norman Road also makes and sells the most wonderful felted bags, brooches and accessories. Here is my bag!
Lovely dog bag by Valerie May
      Also in Norman Road, I failed to give enough space to Wayward, the vintage haberdashery store. Opening hours are erratic, but it is a lovely shop.
Buttons in Wayward
      Shop, at the bottom of Norman Road, has changed its direction. No vintage stuff, all new retro-style homewares, and, I fear, now less interesting. It has also lost the very popular Michala's Cute Cakes, which has moved across the road to the Baker Mamunova Gallery.
       That takes us on to another popular post, Antiques, Vintage Shops and Galleries in St Leonard's, from January 2014. As this is quite recent, one would hope that not much has changed, but in fact there are now even more shops than before. London Road, Kings Road and Norman Road are full of them. 
       When we were mooching about today I noticed these signs above the shops in Kings Road. Apparently they might have been painted by Robert Tressell (Ragged Trousered Philanthropist), when he worked as a sign writer.
Signs above shops in Kings Road, St Leonard's
        Next, Best Garden Centres and Plant Nurseries near Hastings, June 2013. All the places mentioned are still well-visited by us, and I'd like to add three more. I've started a gardening group for the WI, and have been introduced to these by green-fingered friends.
        Firstly, the Friary Gardens, off the Ridge.  You would never know about this unless given the wink by the locals, as it is not signposted. Turn down by Coopers vets, carry on down the drive, and you come to the old Ore Place Farm. The nursery is run as a training enterprise by the Parchment Trust, working with people with learning disabilities. The nursery has an excellent range of plants at very low prices, and is a worthy cause to support. It is open on weekdays, but rarely at weekends.
Friary Gardens
        Next, Great Park Farm, Catsfield.  A good selection of plants, a farm shop, small display gardens and a lovely little cafe serving delicious lunches, cakes and scones.
        Finally, Lime Cross Nursery and Gardens, Herstmonceux. This is absolutely enormous, and is particularly good for larger shrubs and trees.  It also has display gardens, and a cafe serving good home-made food.
        Has anyone any favourites I have not mentioned, either here or in previous posts?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Romney Marsh churches - a fascinating day out

Romney Marsh has some fine ancient churches, and Battleaxe has been meaning to visit them for some time.
    At our WI reading group, we had asked for something with local interest, and the library supplied us with 'Death on the Romney Marsh' by Deryn Lake.  I'd never heard of this author before, but she has published many novels, mostly historical who-done-its. Oddly, today I discovered that she now lives in Battle, when we showed our friend Shaun a lovely shop, British Design British Made,  and there was a copy of another Deryn Lake novel on display. Apparently she was in there for a book signing not long ago.
     This particular novel is set in 1756, about murder, smuggling, spying and other Dark Deeds, mostly set in Winchelsea, but describes several of the Marsh churches. It was enough to send Battleaxe and Philosopher out to investigate.  There is a very good reference website which enabled me to plan a route round the relevant villages.
     After a fortifying coffee in Rye we left the main road and set out for the first, and most isolated church, St. Thomas a Becket at Fairfield. The little building stands all on its own in the middle of an empty landscape, and you have to collect the key from a nearby farm, and then walk to the church across a field. Apparently there was never a village at Fairfield, the church was built to serve an outlying and scattered community.  Outside, there is still a mounting block, used by those who arrived from distant farms on horseback.
     We picked our way through a herd of curious but wary sheep and their half-grown lambs, avoiding the sheep droppings and the marshy patches, and let ourselves in to the church.
St Thomas a Becket at Fairfield

Romney Marsh lambs

     Although it is medieval in origin, the church is principally interesting for its untouched Georgian interior, with high enclosed box pews, painted their original white, a triple-decker pulpit, pious text boards above the altar and on the walls, and a simple altar table, all of which which were popular in the eighteenth century. Throughout the day, we were to find that most of the churches retained at least some of these features - a plain, more puritan style of worship was clearly prevalent.
St Thomas a Beckett, interior, showing tiered pulpit on left.

St Thoas a Beckett, altar

     The parish clerk would have sat on the lowest level of the pulpit, the minister would have used the second level for most of the service, and then climbed up to the top level to deliver the sermon. I read that eighteenth-century sermons frequently lasted several hours, and the congregation would bring chamber pots into their high-walled pews. It must have been private enough, but we did speculate that the sound-effects must have been a little off-putting.....
    We emerged into the sunlight and retraced our steps across the field. The shift from dark, enclosed interior to bright sunlight and the empty expanse of the moor was striking, and was to be repeated several times during the day. Many of the churches were built on patches of slightly higher ground to protect them from floods, and have splendid open views. For the first time, we began to realise why the Romney Marsh landscape has always had such a romantic hold on people - the flatness, the remoteness, the sheep, the quiet (except for some very noisy rookeries), the reedy 'drains'. and the vast, empty sky. We've not spent enough time there - see previous post about Appledore.
     As we walked back across the field we became aware of a strange, chattering, cackling sound, which we couldn't place. Eventually deciding that it was some unusual sound made by the sheep, we drove off, and only later realised that of course it was the famous Romney Marsh frogs.
     We set off down some tiny and totally remote little lanes, to our next stop, St Augustine at Brookland. This is a very old church, dating from around 1260, and has a detached octagonal belfry standing beside it. The church doors have strange, vaguely Dutch-looking shutters. Although the belfry is very old, it looks quite new, but I read that the Great Storm of 1987 stripped it of all its wooden shingles.  Inside the church is a very old lead font, showing the signs of the zodiac, dating from about 1200.  There is a large painted board of the Royal Arms, in this case George II, and again, many of the original box pews.
St Augustine, Brookland, the bell tower

Strange shutters on the porch

Ancient lead font

St Augustine, the interior

     We plunged back into the little lanes. I wanted to avoid the main roads, but we kept on encountering every variety of huge mechanised farming machinery known to rural life.
     Our next church was St Eanswith at Brenzett. Eanswith was a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon princess and saint from Folkestone. Unfortunately, the pretty little church was locked, and by the time we had found out who kept the key, we had lost the will to persist, and drove on to our next destination, St Dunstan's at Snargate. This has a fifteenth century painting of a ship on the wall, which is believed to have indicated that the church was a safe haven for smugglers.
St Eanswith at Brenzett

Wide expanse of Romney Marsh

St Dunstan's, Snargate

Ship painting in St Dunstan's
      Next, Ivychurch. By this time, we were getting hungry, so stopped at the nice-looking Bell Inn next door to the church for lunch. The pub has been the regional CAMRA pub of the year for about the last 6 years, but I wonder if the beer lovers ever order any food?  The menu was not complex, but we waited an interminable age for our meals. Philosopher ordered salmon, which seemed to cause the kitchen much difficulty. We were told several times that the salmon 'took a long time to come up'. What were they doing - sitting on the banks of a Scottish stream waiting for the fish to take the bait?
The Bell at Ivychurch
     St George's at Ivychurch is the largest church on the Marsh, an impressive stone building that looks a bit like a castle from the outside. Inside it was a bit bare - the nave is empty of pews.  There are supposed to be tunnels connecting the church with the pub. Perhaps they sneaked out of church, ordered their food in the pub, and then had time to listen to the two-hour sermon before the food was ready.
St George's, Ivychurch

Lovely hawthorns
Six small children from one family - Ivychurch

     E Nesbit is buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin at St Mary in the Marsh. There is another pub across the road from this church, which looked OK. Apparently, Noel Coward lived for a while in the cottage next to the pub, but we couldn't see a plaque.
St Mary the Virgin, St Mary in the Marsh, with familiar Yeti outside

Royal arms in St Mary's,  as seen in most of the churches.

     Finally, we visited St Clement's at Old Romney. This is one of the oldest and prettiest churches, and has been little altered since Norman times. It has box pews, this time painted pink (?!) and an eighteenth century wooden gallery. Apparently Derek Jarman is buried in the churchyard, but we didn't see his grave.
St Clement, Old Romney

Interior of St Clements, showing typical text boards and royal arms

St Clement - box pews and gallery
     Deciding we had had enough ecclesiastical culture, we made another attempt to listen to the frogs, but obviously they had all gone to sleep in the sun, so we drove home.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Exploring Hythe, Kent. Battleaxe visits the Ossuary

More exploration of the Kentish coast, see previous post about Deal and Sandwich. We've been to Hythe already several times, largely, yawn scratch, to visit Waitrose.  (Oh crikey, say exasperated readers, why don't these silly people order on-line and get the stuff delivered).
     Anyway, the first time we went to Hythe, we thought it was so cut off from modern life that it was probably inhabited by people with one too many heads. The second time, we found some good junk shops, and the third time, just recently, we had a proper look round. 
     The approach road to Hythe from Hastings is discouraging, passing horrible caravan sites, a huge military firing range and rows of downtrodden-looking little houses.  However, you pass the station of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and drive into the town along the Royal Military Canal. We've been on the railway a couple of times, both times from Dungeness - it is quite interesting, but most of the journey is spent rattling slowly past the backs of people's houses, and not, as you might expect, chuffing romantically across the wilds of Romney Marsh.
      Hythe High Street is indeed full of junk shops and lots of other interesting little places, and there is a good antiques centre in the Malthouse. There are independent clothes shops, galleries and endless craft shops - I guess people don't have much else to do down there apart from knitting.

Lots of knitting here....

Nice nick-nacks in the High Street
Excellent patisserie
     We found an excellent French patisserie for coffee and cake, and then set off to walk down to the sea. Once across the canal, which is actually very attractive and leafy, the place reminded us very much of towns in Normandy - the long promenade backed with large houses and green spaces where in France, they would be playing boules.
Royal Military canal - you can rent boats

More canal
Hythe plage

Hythe fishing beach
      Following lunch in a cafe that promised much but unfortunately delivered little, we climbed up to the church through very attractive old streets.
Walk up to the church

      I had heard that below St Leonard's parish church is one of only two ossuaries, or charnel houses, in England, and luckily, a party was just going in to view it when we arrived. See more about it here.
      I find such places interesting - a few years ago we went to a truly amazing one in Rome, the Capuchin Crypt, where the skeletons are bizarrely arranged as macabre decoration, and even made into chandeliers.
      The ossuary in Hythe is more modestly arranged, with stacks of thighbones, and neat shelves of skulls.  The remains date from before 1500, and despite interesting legends about pirates and French invaders, are currently believed to be the bones of townspeople, moved when the church was extended or when the churchyard became full.

Neatly stacked skulls

Thigh bones

Lower jaws
     We listened in to the guide talking to the party who went into the crypt before us, and were told that the reason for keeping these particular bones was rooted in beliefs around bodily resurrection. Apparently, on the day of Judgment, a minimum of a thigh bone and a skull were necessary to ensure that resurrection would take place.  In Hythe, about 2000 different individuals have been identified. We looked at a display of lower jaws, containing teeth with no cavities, indicating a sugar-free diet, considerable wear to the back molars, caused by constant chewing of fibre and roughage, and many untreated abscesses, which must have been horribly painful. Many people also had anaemia, and possibly even malaria. Life was tough back then.
      Despite the horror movie connotations of skeletons and charnel houses, the place felt quite peaceful and unthreatening.
      Anyway, overall, we rated Hythe very positively - it is an attractive place, full of interest, and well worth a visit.
Ceiling of the Capuchin crypt in Rome

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Ansel Krut at the Jerwood Gallery: too slight, too much empty space

After several months of good behaviour, and even producing a 'Members' Blog for the Jerwood website, I'm afraid Battleaxe is, again, not happy.
    We went down to view the new Ansel Krut 'Verbatim' exhibition.  On the empty white spaces of the Foreshore gallery, so recently, and interestingly, filled with paintings from the Jerwood permanent collection, sit precisely thirteen brightly coloured canvasses. Well, at least you can say that. They are bright.
     Boldly painted in primary colours, the paintings are cartoon-like, and in my view, very slight. Almost every one has something rude in it, either overt or hidden. Not interestingly rude though, more like schoolgirl snigger-bum-willy-fart stuff. One is called 'Arse flowers in bloom'. Oh, surprise, it shows a load of bum-holes shaped like flowers. Another has lady bits shaped like a prickly holly leaf. Laugh? I nearly wet meself. Battleaxe has brought up kids, and could forgive all that, but there is so little to look at, and far too much empty white space.
Ansel Krut - Arse Flowers in bloom

Too much empty space

More space
And more space.....
      As usual, the blurb on the wall about the paintings, and in the leaflet, is pretentious.
Oh purleese.....
     Another room downstairs is devoted to pictures for sale from someone called Philip Hughes. Inoffensive, pleasant stuff but with no prices! Nothing I'd want, but if I did, I couldn't be bothered.
     Feeling a little down-hearted but resigned, we went upstairs. Oh crikey - nearly all the stuff is just the same as in the last exhibition. No re-hang, no new paintings brought out of the reserve collection.
     A good thing though, one small room now has a group of Alfred Wolmark paintings, with one new one added out of the store, and the two portraits of the Kohnstamm brothers. The second painting has been borrowed from its private owner, and the two now hang together. A very sad story - both boys killed in the First World War.
     However, if I was not a member, had already seen the last 'Jerwood Revealed' exhibition and was now paying full price for another visit, I would not feel I was getting value for money for this.  Most of the work upstairs I would already have seen, the Ansel Krut show is over in about five minutes, and the sale stuff is dull.
    We came out of the gallery, sat in the sun eating a a tasty fresh fish-roll from Pat and Tush along Rockanore, and then walked back past the London Trader. Felt thirsty from the fish, so got a couple of beers. Have never ventured in there before - its customers have a reputation for throwing the furniture through the windows etc. My eyes nearly fell out of my head to see those customers tucking into their lunches - soft shell crabs, smoked haddock and coriander fishcakes, and stir-fried baby octopus served on dainty wooden boards. It looked delicious. What is the world coming to?

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Wild Garlic in Alexandra Park, King Lear and Great Dixter

Just had a busy few days.
     Our friend Bill from Birmingham came to stay. Among other things we did the long walk from here, across the West Hill, down through Alexandra Park, up to Bohemia and down to town through Summerfields Woods, as described in an earlier post. (That post also made it into Hastings Online Times). However, this time, we combined the walk with our annual pilgrimage to see the wild garlic at the top of Alexandra Park, just above Shornden Reservoir. Philosopher has said he wants to photograph this every year until he dies - might be tricky in years to come, getting him up there in his wheelchair. We went much later in the month last year, and nearly missed it, but this time it was in full flower. The little wooded area is getting far more frequented and some of the garlic is trampled, which is a shame.
     We took Bill to the North Star for a pint en route, and then down to the General Havelock for lunch - he likes his beer.
Garlic in Alexandra Park

Garlic and greenery

     On Thursday evening we went across to Bexhill. Had an early supper in the Trattoria Italiano followed by the De La Warr, and the National Theatre live transmission of King Lear, with Simon Russell Beale in the title role. We all three enjoyed it, but I found it a bit loud - maybe the sound level in the auditorium was set too high,but I think all the cast, including Lear, did far too much shouting. The Sam Mendes production was effective, and for the first time, I saw Goneril and Regan's individual personalities emerge, which was good.  There were too many bodies writhing around on stage at the end, which looked messy. When he wasn't shouting, I thought Russell Beale's portrayal of Lear's descent into dementia rather than usual raving theatrical madness was well done. When I was a young girl, my parents took me to see Paul Scofield's King Lear at Stratford. I was probably too young to appreciate it, and was bored some of the time, but Scofield was wonderful - it is hard for anyone to live up to that.
    Earlier in the week, Philosopher and I went to Great Dixter for the morning - we had never been at this time of year. The tulips were still out, and the garden was not as well-grown as it is later in the year. It felt much more open. You could also appreciate the different greens, and the shapes and structures of the plants and the garden. Here are some pictures to finish up with.
    I now have more busyness coming up - helping with a WI do for the Hastings Jack-in-the-Green day on Monday. As blog readers will know, drumming and Morris dancing are emphatically not Battleaxe's thing........
Tulips and Welsh poppies, Great Dixter

Bones of a trained fig tree

One perfect camellia

Pot arrangement

Garden looking more open than we have seen it before

I shall plant tulips with forget-me-nots next year

Greens and shapes