Sunday, 30 October 2016

2 Westbrook Green

In 1971 we moved into 2 Westbrook Green.  We had lived in the village since 1966, so it was a short move.

'We' means Janet, Derek (me) and our two sons Richard and Ben - not to mention our dog Cato.

The house was built by Martin Sylvester, an admired architect who lived in the village.  It has a quite uncompromising design.  There are 3 houses in the terrace - so far as I know there are no other similar terraces.  Here is ours- No 2, being visited by some ducks.

Our garage to the left is the eastern end of the house.  Strangely, the garage went, at that time, all the way from the front of the house to the rear garden.  So it was a double garage, but the cars were end-to-end. This picture was taken in 1976.

Here the view looking south west (towards No 3) taken in 1973.

Now inside

The main sitting room to the back with sloping ceiling, with my mother and again taken in 1973.

Subsequently more decoration in 1976:

and the garden taken in 1975:

Looking back to the house (1973):

Here are Janet and Cato in 1975:

and this shows Richard , Ben and Cato with their French friend Oliver in 1976.  It also shows the open design of the staircase in the hall behind

Looking a bit further to the right from the above are Richard and Cato:

with a friend sitting behind.  The door at the back is the original rear door to the garage - by then we had made that into a separate bedroom - but the door remained!

Here Cato is receiving attention from his French friends - which he does seem to be enjoying.  Behind, once again is the original rear door to the garage.

Turning right a bit further was our patio with lots of plants and shade.  A south facing wall protected garden like this can be very hot in summer.

and here are Richard and Ben showing they can do it!

with Janet and Cato watching from the sitting room side door.

Cato's seen it all before.

I have recently (October 2016) visited the house again and met the new owners.  It is now much changed, and improved, but they asked to know what it looked like some 40 years ago.

This blog is my reply.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

St Michael's House

St Michael's House is close to St Michael's Church.  It is a grade 2 listed building.

From the back garden:

and at the front:

Despite having the same name there is no evidence that the house was ever a rectory for the church. The original building dates from the mid 17th century. It was inherited in 1727 by Robert Corderoy, a mercer, His daughter Mary married George Wells - an apothecary.  So it became an apothecaries shop.  Later in 1818 James Norris created a general shop and his son William made it into a butcher's shop.

Etched, very elegantly, into the brickwork, four initials JN, MN, IN, and WN can just be seen - presumably members of the Norris family. 

The house has grown over the years.  The original timber framed building was end-on to the road and  was probably built around the time of the English civil war. Later in the 18th century the new frontage replaced some of the timber framing, and the part to the right was added in 1867 by John Lane.  This date is inscribed on a brick on the end wall.

The Village

Is in South Oxfordshire at the foot of the downs.  The ancient ridgeway track runs along the top of the downs.  Edward Thomas in his book 'The Icknield Way' talks about his overnight stay at the Red Lion pub before the first world war. The Red Lion is still there.

In those days it was part of Berkshire, and if you want to read Pevsner's description of the church you will still need to buy the Berkshire book I believe!

It is a very lively and energetic village with lots of activities and events.It lies at the point where the chalk of the downs meets the clay of the plains. So the rain drains through the chalk and emerges over the clay.  The village has numerous springs and streams - one of which passes quite harmlessly across the end of St Michael's garden.


One of the pleasures of living in St Michaels is the grandstand view you get of events in the Church in general, and specifically weddings.  We've seen many over the years.  One that remains in our memory is that of a couple who were evidently steam train enthusiasts.

After the ceremony the guard of honour consisted of a group of firemen raising their coal shovels to celebrate the marriage!

Now, the house itself:

First the 17th Century

Looking first at the original timber framed building at the rear of the house:

And now the downstairs sitting room:

which, in addition to central heating radiators, has a substantial and very efficient log burning stove in the old fireplace:

and upstairs the bedroom, which also has central heating radiator.

Then the 18th Century

The front sitting room faces on to the churchyard:

with the fireplace and wood burning stove (again very efficient):

And plenty of shelves for books

Upstairs is the middle bedroom, looking across to Charity School House:

and the north bedroom again overlooking the churchyard:

And the 19th Century

Originally the south end of the house was single storey.  You can still see the original roof alignment in the loft.

Downstairs we now have a kitchen/diner:



Above the kitchen an extra floor was added in 1867 - the date is etched on one of the bricks
This is the bedroom looking west:

and looking east:

In summary

The house has:
  • Four reception rooms (a kitchen/diner, an office and two sitting rooms)
  • A utility/shower room
  • A connecting double glazed porch to the rear
  • Two staircases to:
  • 5 bedrooms (3 with en-suite washing sinks, and floor to ceiling cupboards behind the walls)
  • A bathroom
Loft (accessed by retractable ladder)

Garage - currently a workshop/log store

Garden leading to downland stream

Gas central heating

A maintained alarm system

Freesat aerial and a conventional TV/Radio aerial

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bulgaria 1962

The communist party HQ and Government building in Sofia
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In 1962 a group of Young Friends (Quakers) from Cambridge visited Bulgaria – a communist country which in those days was difficult to access.  We wanted to visit this little known place, often presented in hostile terms in our press, and try to create friendly ties with Bulgarians.

The background
In 1959, at the Vienna Youth Festival some Young Friends met representatives of the Dimitrov Young Communists League (of Bulgaria).and discussed exchanges.  In 1961 Jana and Vladimir from Bulgaria met Quakers in Cambridge, and suggested a British tourist visit to Bulgaria. This invitation was taken up in 1962 and two groups of some 9 young Friends (mostly from Cambridge) were organised..

As visits to Bulgaria were unusual several of us visited the British Foreign Office to explain what we were up to - our plans and our intentions. We were asked to return after our trip and say how we had fared.

Our application for visas was granted and we prepared to go.

The money
For some reason, as I was the only mathematician on either trip, I was asked to look after the finances – Why?  Mathematicians are hopeless at adding up – at primary school I was always last remembering my tables – and any thought or possible understanding of double entry book-keeping was way in the future. But I looked after the money!

We were students, and as such not very wealthy.  We managed, with help from some parents, to buy a fairly old dormobile, and one of our members had a small Austin car. To seek funding I made contact with many Quaker groups - the Cadbury’s were particularly helpful.  I still have hand written letters of support from many organisations - some providing funds, some unable. My notes remind me:  The  Edward Cadbury Charitable trust £25, Friends E-W Relations committee (the Mertens Trust) £50, Young Friends Central Committee £30,  Barrow Cadbury Fund Ltd  £80, Charles Cadbury £80

It may not sound a lot now, but then it was real money!!

Then the fun started.
I travelled with the first group of 9. Also in this group was John who toured Greece with me in 1961.  He has provided many of the photos which follow, and as a classicist and then Russian studies scholar has provided a lot of the background information.

We drove across Europe, camping as we went.  We picked up Hui Ying in Munich and then set off across Yugoslavia.  I had viewed Yugoslavia from the train in 1961 (Greece1961), but this was the first time I had driven the roads.

The name Yugoslavia is derived from the ‘Land of the South Slavs’.  It wasn't used as the name of the country until 1918, but there had been Yugoslav movements as early as the 1840s. 

First we crossed the, apparently endless, flat plains of the Sava valley between Zagreb and Belgrade. Here the campsites were  rudimentary.  After several hours of heavy rain I remember one camp helper looking at a muddy bit of field saying (in German – we didn’t do Yugoslav) – “die schöne camp platz” – we were less than convinced.

Thereafter, we followed the much prettier Morava valley upstream from Belgrade to Niš - noting the growing plums soon to be made into slivovitz!

The final part of the road from Niš into Bulgaria was seriously difficult.  There had been bitter rivalry between Bulgaria and Serbia for many years. In Serbia the Yugoslav movement was politically expansionist, and the ruling elite thought it had a mission to unite the Slavic speakers of the Balkans.  They were not amused when another South Slav state, Bulgaria, was set up in 1878.  So communications between the two were not a priority - the result was a road with little tarmac and riddled with deep pot holes.

Eventually we crossed into Bulgaria and made our way to Sofia.  Where we set up camp, relaxed and recovered from the journey:

Lan Ying washing her hair with some Bulgarian friends looking on (and Hui Ying kneeling at her tent beyond).  The sisters Hui Ying and Lan Ying were brought up in China by English missionary parents. They also had more conventional names - Eleanore and Elizabeth - but we preferred the Chinese

Then we began to explore Sofia:
Another view of the communist party HQ
Then on to the Dimitrov mausoleum


Georgi Dimitrov was born in Bulgaria in 1882.  He was a radical and then a communist revolutionary who, having failed to depose Aleksandar Tsankov in 1923 escaped to the USSR.  Later he was one of the communist exiles who made their name when they were charged and then tried for setting fire to the Reichstag in early 1933.  Stalin liked what he saw of Dimitrov on trial, and organised a prisoner exchange with the Nazis;  Dimitrov, now in the USSR, was made Secretary-General of the Comintern, and after that was a ‘natural’ for head of the Bulgarian Communist Party in1945.

On we went: The Sofia Parliament

The Square of the National Assembly (with Alexander Nevski cathedral behind)

Alexander Stamboliiski, Agrarian Party, Prime Minister 1919-June 1923

He was murdered in a military coup in 1923.  He was a self-confessed ‘Yugoslav’.  There were no more left-wing regimes until 1945, and this statue was probably put up after the war as there were not many ‘progressive’ regimes in Bulgaria's past that the communists wanted to commemorate

Then Ruski Boulevad with the poster advertising the ‘Day of the Construction Worker’.

Notice how few cars.  No doubt different today, but then our dormobile was a rare and not terribly elegant sight

Dimitrov Young Communist League (DYCL)
We had brought with us letters of invitation from Young Friends Central Committee for a group of young Bulgarians to visit England in 1963. 

So we started to meet members of the DYCL.  These began by discussing mundane matters such as the cheapest places we could visit in Bulgaria – ranging from 2 to 3 leva per day (in those days there were 3.29 leva per £, now it is 2.35).  But we did get some nice plum brandy and chocolates!

At the second meeting they suggested that we should visit Primorsko on the Black Sea – a place where young communists let their hair down!  This we accepted.

The third meeting made little progress in setting up future exchanges.  They said we would have to wait until December.  They did sound impressed when we said that groups of Russians had visited Quakers in England.

So that left us sightseeing in Sofia - which was great   There were of course many buildings pre-dating the  communist takeover showing, amogst other things, the diversity of religions;

The Alexander Nevski Cathedral
The Sunday service in Alexander Nevski was mostly attended by older people or those (myself included) coming to listen to the superb singing.  It lasted all morning and at any time there must have been 200 people – continually moving in and out.

The Russian Orthodox church:

The mosque:

We met many young Bulgarians, mostly students reading English at the university..  Here is Hui Ying (on the left) with Malvina, Elena and Lena

and I went with Violetta to a concert in Sofia which included Schubert’s Unfinished symphony.
I still have the programme , and I believe the tickets were provided by the DYCL. I thought we also saw a performance of La Traviata, but I suspect that over the years I may be muddling up that opera’s heroine and my companion!
Days out
One day we drove to Rila monastery which is about 30km south of Sofia.  First we had a picnic in the hills behind:with some of our Bulgarian friends

Then we went on to the monastery itself. We were told that this was where Christianity was preserved under the Ottomans.

and inside

and here is Hui Ying in the hills above Rila

The rest of Bulgaria 
After a week in Sofia we started to tour the rest of Bulgaria.  We made our way east towards the Black Sea.  The first objective was Tŭrnovo.

First on the road due east of Sofia we passed near Zlatitsa:

From there we went along the famed Valley of the Roses, and  passed this Orthodox Church:

Sadly I have no notes to tell me where it is

Then we went on to Tŭrnovo where we spent a few days.  This on an amazing loop on the Yantra River and, because of its natural defences, was the medieval capital from the 12th to 14th centuries.

It has complicated steep streets of houses.

We camped outside Turnovo on this site with its splendid view

Whilst in Tŭrnovo we met a group of Czech opera singers. On a hot day here is one of them with Hui Ying and Peter (behind) buying ice cream,.

and here are four of them with David and some children in front of our minibus

They were anxious to talk about serial (twelve note) music which in those days was not approved in the Eastern bloc.  For my part although I knew of Janacek’s music, it was still relatively rarely performed in England.  So we exchanged addresses and promised to exchange records.  When I got back to Cambridge I sent them records of (as I recollect) the Berg Violin Concerto, Schoenberg and Webern.  They in turn sent me several Janacek records – which I still have along with their letters.

Before leaving Turnovo - a picture John took of Hui Ying and a friendly sunflower:

Then on to Nesebur (or Nesebar) on the Black Sea.  The old town is built on an island approached by a (man made) isthmus:

and it has a small port. 

Now a popular tourist attraction, but then a quiet and dreamy place.

Then me moved on to:

Primorsko Young Communists camp on the Black Sea
The central restaurant and reception building

and the sands, the beach, and the sea

Most visitors were East Germans and Poles, with a few Czechs and Hungarians

There was a Neptune Fest on first night, where we were positioned at the front as special guests.  All stood to sing the “Song of International Youth” Splendid evening watching the Poles letting their hair down.

John made friends with a group of East Germans who went on about the dangers of West German militarism, but were surprised to find that National Service had ceased in the UK.  Several had no illusions about their regime – particularly the disasters of collectivisation.  The exodus of East Germans to the West through Berlin to avoid collectivisation was one of the factors which had lead to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

At this point as we were near to Turkey, some of the group, including John, went on in the car to Istanbul.  Although not really part of this blog, here are some pictures he took of Istanbul.

First the Blue Mosque:

then the view across the Bosporus, close to its narrowest point, towards Asia

and one looking north from Rumeli Husar:

The rest of us returned in the dormobile to Sofia

There we had our fourth meeting with DYCL. They were more interested in hearing about our views of Bulgaria than talking about reciprocal arrangements. They made one or two evasive comments about it’s a long way to England etc.

So we left further progress as a task for the second trip.  They in turn didn’t get a commitment but were told, as we were, that decisions would be made later.

Those on the first trip made our way, in our beloved dormobile, back across Yugoslavia, to Germany.  Then we had a wonderful trip across Germany up the Romantische Strasse. To this day I remember the name Tilman Riemenschneider for his marvellous wood carvings in churches at Rothenburg, Würzburg, Creglinen, and no doubt many more.

But back to the blog:

So what were our views of Bulgaria?
I loved the place and the people. They were part of a communist regime on the other side of a curtain.  Most on our side of this Iron Curtain thought those states to be oppressive. I found them friendly, talkative, and colourful.  They were able to see the murky bits of their past (as we did of ours) but still they were loyal.  With all these years of hindsight, glasnost etc   – you might think ‘well of course’ - but then it was a revelation.  I also thought that their Marxism had quite a friendly face. Undoubtedly there were things I didn't see.

So what happened?
Eventually they did agree to further exchanges with Young Friends.  In 1963 a group of Bulgarians came to England and many of us who were in Bulgaria in 1962 escorted them around England, showing them tourist spots - I remember Stratford-on-Avon well, and we talked about our relations with Bulgaria. A third group of English students went to Bulgaria. 

It had been very worthwhile, and I hope that at least some barriers were broken down.  But now, our university lives were drawing to a close, we all had new lives to live and Young Friends are not a tourist agency!