Tuesday 31 January 2023

What's There Then?

Perhaps like me you see the names of places on the road signs time after time as you pass by and wonder what's there, but never stop. The small village of Mickleham in Surrey is one of those places. It's set back from the dual carriageway upon which the traffic rushes past from Dorking up towards Leatherhead and sits at the bottom of Box Hill which is always busy with people coming out of London, cyclists and a meeting place for bikers. Somehow it gets missed out and so it remains surprisingly quiet for this part of the world. One Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago we decided to remedy this situation and finally find out for ourselves what was there. 

St Michael and All Angels is yet another Norman church which the Victorians set about restoring in 1840. The result is a hotch-potch of styles, but a great deal better than some of the hatchet jobs I've seen. I mustn't be too sniffy though, because had there not been this 19th zeal for "improvement" many churches would simply not have survived such was their dire state of disrepair. The funny little conical tower added in this phase of its life is very charming.

In 1314 the nearby manor of North Bury was owned by William Hussey. He had this Norbury chapel added on to the outside of the church in 1326 and although we might now be very familiar with this chequerboard flint patterning it was new and the latest must-have at the time of its building.

Even the normally plain lychgate has received a bit of a decorative flourish with its carved wooden heads.

So when you've reached the end of a major project like this and are left staring at a pile of leftover building materials what are you going to do with it all eh? Simples shove it all into a wall round the churchyard and use it to great effect.

If graves are your thing there all sorts on offer from two ancient ones with Lombardic inscriptions in the porch from the 13th century, our friend Peter Delahay's the yeoman of the confectionary office to Charles II [see earlier post], one for Richard Bedford Bennett who was the Canadian PM in 1930 and these strange board ones the like of which I've never encountered on my travels before.

Inside the church there are many more delights, but I will restrict myself to sharing just the one which is refreshingly different from the more normal run of the mill stained glass windows.


Mickleham might be tiny, but it has many things to please the small scale explorer. You might well wonder why I would give this place a second glance, but then a closer look at the way the tiles have been added on will explain why. Maybe it serves no purpose, but it's that which elevates it and adds the interest.

Gates seemed to be the theme of the day. This one and possibly my top gate of all time the Burmester gate which was built in 1840 to look like a folly. Thankfully for us it received a complete restoration in 2010.

To finish off my ramblings about my ramble sorry [not sorry in the slightest] a close up of the mad letterbox I stumbled across before we headed to the pub for a well earned coffee. We were there a scant hour, but it was enough to give us the work break we both needed.

January has worked well for me with a series of these small trips to local places thrown in at regular intervals. It's a coping strategy I put in place a couple of years ago and it keeps me topped up until the Spring returns. Similar shenanigans are being planned for February too.


Sunday 29 January 2023


 Another Winter Sunday walk in another small Sussex village. I know that January has its critics and I understand why, but when the weather is dry[ish!] I do enjoy the quiet stillness to this part of the year after the frantic rush of the festivities. We met our friend H in Ebernoe this time to take a spin round the common which is now owned by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. It's really only used by locals and it's very familiar to H because she often walks her two dogs up there. However, I've only been the once and that was with her when our sons were of an age to have muddy knees and be permanently running ahead of us with huge sticks in their hands. Back in the day both were dirt magnets and virtually needed hosing down at the end of it all!

Whilst there might not have been a huge amount to see the birds are beginning to find their voices once again and the woods were humming with their song. Love is most definitely in the air. Today was still and cold with white cloudy skies, but H tells me that there will be carpets of bluebells in the Spring. I'm sure it will look beautiful, but for today it had an ethereal beauty to it with its muted shades and soft edges.

Passing the church it seemed a shame not to have a quick look in passing. It was built in 1868 and its brickwork detailing is most pleasing.

Seeing the organ reminded me of the West Gallery choirs that I heard about at a recent concert I went to. For a long time the church music and singing would have been provided by a combination of the choir and village band performing up in the gallery in the west end of the church above the congregation. It was a major part of people's lives and its replacement with the organ was not welcomed by many as the bands became redundant.

Ebernoe might be little more than a few houses these days, but if you google its name you'll see it's famous for its annual Horn Fair. I've never been along, but did write a post about it many years ago https://gnatbottomedtowers.blogspot.com/search?q=ebernoe There are some of the villagers wearing the sheep horns on the bottom right corner of the picture.

This rather large wooden apple and core [I like the detail of the pip in the middle of it] are just up the road in the nearby village of Kirdford. It once had a co-operative of apple growers and still has some fruit trees near the local shop. As with beers apple varieties have some of the best names and Sussex is no exception. Some of my favourites are Catshead Codlin, Lady's Fingers, Golden Knob and Old Maid's Apple. Those who pop in here regularly will know that there have already been a couple of wassail themed posts on here this month. At our final apple howling in Steyning last weekend one of the community orchard volunteers told me that a new one has been added to the list. An unidentified apple tree was found growing by the roadside and when its fruit was sent off to have its dna checked [yes that is a thing] it was discovered to be an unrecorded type. As of 2019 it's now officially named the 'Steyning Scarlet' and one of its progenies was planted in the orchard in 2021. I love hearing little heritage snippets of news like that!


Friday 27 January 2023

Oops I did it again!

 Not for the first time I managed to schedule today's intended post for the wrong date so it's already gone live before the event so to speak...it's here 😆 Eccentric Amblings and Ramblings From Gnat Bottomed Towers: Reasons to be cheerful part 4


Wednesday 25 January 2023

A sweet question.

I stumbled across this intriguing gravestone in the aisle of St Michael and All Angels [Mickleham, Surrey] last week. It was the reference to his "Majesties Confectionary Office" which made me stop and give it a second look. Once I had established that the monarch we're talking about was Charles II it sent  me down a bit of a rabbit hole. History can be frustrating sometimes because it simply doesn't offer up the answers to the questions you have. I don't really know where I could gain a better understanding of what role Peter Delahay played, but what I have established is that there was a street named after him in London [ceased to exist in 1915]  and the house he owned is still standing [incredibly it's only had 5 owners]. With what little information I have managed to turn up he was a Groom of the Confectionary in 1668 so one assumes that he must have done well and progressed upwards to the post of yeoman. There seem to have been many different yeomans for different offices within the court [there was one for pastry!] and I am guessing that his job entailed some sort of overseeing of the confectioner's work rather than making the confections [this term seems to have meant fruit, sweets and puddings] himself and perhaps the control of the purse strings.

Having been brought up in France Charles II was very keen on the cuisine of his adopted homeland and brought his Francophile influence to bear upon the dishes served at court. I was fascinated to read that he had a penchant for icecream, but whoever made it was not popular when he revealed the secrets of how it was made to those beyond the Royal Circle. Chocolate had also become immensely popular at this time, but it would have been drunk not eaten. It was considered to be an aphrodisiac so maybe that was the appeal for Charles running a wife, several mistresses and a number of casual liaisons all that same time. With all that bumping of uglies going on he would have needed the extra energy😈 One article said he's spent £229 10s & 8d out of the royal purse on the stuff alone in 1669!!

If anyone knows anymore about the "yeoman of the confectionary office" please do let me know in the comments.


Monday 23 January 2023

Sunny Sunday

 During this past week I've been watching the weather forecast on my phone like a hawk. It's paid dividends because we've been able to have two small outings. These are from yesterday's amble starting from the small Sussex village of Plaistow [or Plasto as we pronounce it round here]. I did look to see if there were any juicy tidbits to share. The only small crumb I could winkle out was that at one time there was a small hill with a tree on top which was known as Nell Ball's tree. Who Nell might have been remains obscured by folkloric tales, but the rumours have here as either it having been Nell Gwynne who planted the tree when she stayed at Plaistow Place [possibly] or a local lady called Ellen Ball who died by her own hand on the hill. Again highly unlikely, but it all makes for a good story doesn't it. Nowadays the memory is preserved in one of the road names.

The route I'd chosen promised farms, woodland, glimpses of Blackdown Hill [the highest point in the South Downs] and a series of 12 meadows. I would say it delivered on all fronts and what we got was a series of quintessentially and very familiar Sussex sights. In a bid to make his weekends back as different as possible from his working week in London TYM joined us once again [motivated by a step challenge he's doing at work] as now he's older he's really enjoying the landscapes he's grown up with. He often joins my Dad on hikes too so probably has a better working knowledge of the local countryside than either of us! 

Plaistow is a place where time has stood still. It's remained small and has retained both its pub and its rather quaint shop [the church is Victorian and didn't float my boat] shown below. There is something rather appealing about the mysterious black door next to it with the peeling paint.

As we were starting out I had a quick chat with a friendly gentleman who told me that the dwelling below is the oldest property....it's deceptive because it's got modern windows, but if you enlarge it you can just glimpse much older ones on the side which gives the game away. The grassy area in the front is what remains of Todhurst Meadow and is owned by the National Trust.

I never know what odd items I'm going to encounter in the woods. We pondered what this might have started out life as. Perhaps some sort of brazier or maybe leftover from WWII. Whatever it is it's looks like it's been there a long time!

Tea and [King Alfred] cakes anyone? Maybe not eh!

As elsewhere in other parts of the country the past few days have seen temperatures plummet, but we have been treated so wonderful clear skies and bright sunlight. All the ponds were frozen and the conditions made for interesting patterns in the iced puddles we crossed.

One of my favourite aspects of this time of year is how the bare forms of the trees are in full view. If the branches are draped in lichen such as this it is an indicator of good air quality. 

You know me...what would an Aril walk be without at least one photo of something out of the usual. We were almost back at the car before I glimpsed this over the school fence. 

I came back reinvigorated by the magical calm in the woods. Always my happy place and one of the reasons I love living here.


Friday 20 January 2023

Reasons to be cheerful part 4

It made me chuckle...I'm not entirely sure that I quite trust that smiling beastie of a letterbox though! Hope everyone has a great weekend.


Reasons to be cheerful part 3

Coming across that forgotten skirt in the wardrobe that you bought in the charity shop in late September which you had marked down for wearing in the warmer months. It got missed when I put my summer clothes away in the loft so I hung it in there to get it out of the way. Better still more digging unearthed the perfect necklace to finish the outfit off. 

Have a great weekend...more wassailing here! After this weekend I shall be able to get out and do some more non morris adventuring!


Wednesday 18 January 2023

"No longer abused"

"The fighting fairy woman" Joan Wytte was born in Bodmin c1775. During her lifetime she earnt a reputation as a clairvoyant and healer with many people seeking her help. In times of very limited medical services on offer [and for those you would have had to pay dearly] the local "wisewoman" would have been known to many locally and played an important role in the community. Joan suffered from extreme pain from a tooth abscess in later life which made her cantankerous and violent. She was known to brawl and at such times displayed such levels of strength that some whispered she must be possessed by the devil. It was her fighting which landed her in Bodmin jail where she died from bronchial pneumonia aged only 38 in 1813.

In death she was not allowed to rest in peace. Her skeleton ended up as a medical specimen until it was passed onto the founder of the Museum of Witchcraft, Cecil Williamson, in the 1960s. It continued to be displayed as a curio until 1996 when the new owner took her bones down and placed them in a coffin. In 1998 the decision was taken to show her remains the respect they deserved and late into the night at the dark moon on 20th October she was interred in a cradle made of hazel and fleece in unconsecrated ground just beyond the churchyard perimeter near Minster church. Having read about her story in the museum in Boscastle we decided to pay our respects at her grave as have many before us. The slate gravestone is very diminutive and reads " Joan Wytte. Born 1775. Died 1813 in Bodmin Jail. Buried 1998. No longer abused."

A very moving tribute.


Monday 16 January 2023

Dancing shenanigans

 Friday evening and with the jukebox and glitterball spinning it was the January Blues disco mark II. Such was the success of last year's trial run my friend S and I have decided to make it an annual event...some might think it's rather tragic two middle aged dames whirling around her front room to cheesy tracks from their teenage years with a break midway for some high calorie snacks. The intention was to laugh a lot and raise our serotonin levels at what can be a difficult time of year..both of which we managed in spades and as an added extra I have finally mastered the actions for YMCA. You are being spared photos😆 [this image is from Pixabay]

In other weekend news a fair proportion of Saturday was spent in Dorking at the invitation of Boxhill Bedlam to help them celebrate their wassail in the community orchard. Morris dancers at ease....spending a Saturday afternoon in the company of others attired like this is perfectly normal in my world. It was another great success and each one is different. On this occasion they had the crowning of the Wassail Queen at the pub before we moved onto the orchard when it got dark.

A quiet Sunday was definitely in need after all that jigging about I've been doing....rest and recuperation was the order of the day. Apparently not only for me...that daft feline decided that Mr GBT's empty mandolin case was just the perfect place for a lengthy snooze. Normally he wakes up if I try to take a photo of him, but he was so out of it that he didn't stir. Honestly nothing is sacred if you share your home with one of these furry beasts!


Friday 13 January 2023

Reasons to be cheerful part 2.

 With a bit of Christmas money from my lovely clients setting my pockets ablaze and burning a big hole in them I found out by chance that a Horsham born and bred author, Tony Wales [sadly no longer with us] had written these books which weren't on my radar. I have a couple of well thumbed titles by him already on my shelf, but that naughty preloved marketplace on that site which shares its name with a famous South American river drew me in with all its wickedly tempting offers. I have already finished the folklore one and learnt new things about my adopted home county.

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend.


Wednesday 11 January 2023

Rock the frock

 I'm in need of another injection of beauty today, so unashamedly I am returning to the beautiful costume gallery in Worthing Museum and plundering the photos I took. Unfortunately I can't provide you with the specifics as I spent my time looking at the beautiful details [and gabbing with my friend😁 quite possibly], but I hope you enjoy some of the exhibits I saw.

Stunning to look at, but I am extremely grateful that corsets are not part of my daily attire. I adore that royal purple one.



 Bowlderise- verb meaning to omit or change parts of text [usually in literature] considered vulgar. Yes it's a new-to-me word alert and...