Saturday, September 12th, 2009: Shrewsbury Abbey and Welford
Our reason for coming to Shrewsbury was, of course, to see the historical locale for the Ellis Peters "Brother Cadfael" books. Although fiction, we suspected that much of the physical environment was based on fact and we knew we were in the right place when we saw that our B&B was on Abbey Foregate Road. After breakfast we took a quick walk along Abbey Foregate road to the old abbey mentioned in Peters' books. We found the old abbey intact although many sections had been destroyed and rebuilt since it was founded in 1083. A plaque on the wall listed all the abbots in historical order and we checked that Peters had even used the correct names of each of the abbots who had actually held office at that time. Peters had also accurately recounted the relocation of the remains of St. Winifred to the abbey to serve as a lure for religious pilgrimages, although the fictional Cadfael gave the story a unique twist.
The main traces of the old Romanesque abbey were the rounded arches along parts of either side of the nave. Those rather stolid looking round arches contrasted with the later Gothic style arches with their graceful pointed tops. Although reduced in size after the Reformation during which the end of the nave with the high altar had been completely destroyed, the remaining parts of the old abbey were still in active use as a church. The new high altar at the end of the shortened nave had a beautiful gilded screen.
The abbey also had very nice stained glass windows that were certainly of a much more recent date, probably the 1700s-1800s. Still, it was nice to see the abbey still in use. I sat there quietly for a while and tried to imagine the abbey as it would have been in the heyday of the fictional Brother Cadfael. The museum-quality displays, diagrams and exhibits in the abbey helped me set the scene, so to speak. Peters had brought that character to life so vividly in her books and Derek Jacoby had portrayed him so well in the TV versions that I could almost see him bustling around the cloister.
Returning to our B&B briefly to check out, we drove for a couple of hours to reach the home of Jeff and Helen in Welford, where we had previously arranged to stay for a couple of nights. They welcomed us with a much appreciated lunch, after which Helen gave us a guided tour of the village of Welford in general and her daughter Amy's house in particular. Since she had lived in Welford 38 years, Helen really knew the recent history of the town and also told us some hilarious stories about things that had happened there.
I had also wanted to see Amy and James's home because they are both professional artists (sculpture and painting, respectively), and I was terribly curious how two such artistic people would decorate a living space. It was, as I might have expected, aesthetically pleasing in every respect, and that reflected a great deal of time and effort on their part because they had obtained their house from the previous occupant, a 90+ year old man, in a rather neglected state.
After touring Welford, we all decided to visit a neighboring village that was hosting a scarecrow festival. The scarecrow festival consisted of two basic parts. First, a large plurality of the homeowners in the village had set up tableaux outside their homes featuring scarecrows doing a wide variety of different things. In fact, I estimated that every second or third house in the village had cooked up some variation on the theme of scarecrows and then constructed a corresponding tableaux.
Secondly, a field that probably was or had been a village common had been turned over to a small carnival with kiddie rides and booths selling food, handicrafts, and various other things. They also had hay rides for the kids. We spent so much time touring the town to look at all the scarecrow displays that we didn't get back to the carnival section until it was closing for the day, so I didn't really get to examine all the booths and pavilions.
As we were walking around the town, however, we chanced upon the village church, which again dated from the 12th Century as I recall. The door was open for visitors and we naturally stopped in to take a look. As that was a village church it was noticeably smaller than Shrewsbury abbey, of course, but I still enjoyed being in a church that old and nosing around its dusty old corners. I was very surprised to see a beautifully crafted and extremely pretty quilt on one wall, which seemed to feature parishioners in acts typical of daily life.
At the end of the day we continued our tour of the Midlands countryside by driving over to a complex of locks in the nearby Grand Union Canal. The canal was constructed in the 1820s and continues in use to the present day. Astonishingly, the locks put in by the Victorian engineers were still functioning perfectly. We saw an impressive sequence of 17 manually-operated locks that led down from the brow of a small hill to the valley below.
Although there was a kind of supervisor who superintends the operation of the locks, actually getting a canal boat through them was strictly a do-it-yourself operation! The captain and "crew" of each canal boat had to open and close the water gates that control the flow of water into and out of each lock, and then they had to manually open and close each of the big wooden doors at each end of each lock. The big old wooden doors are designed to come together in a big "V" shape in order to resist the water pressure in the lock, and that self same water pressure keeps the doors firmly shut until the water levels with the lock below have been equalized. It's a fairly fool-proof operation but not quite totally idiot-proof, however. We did see one couple get their canal boat temporarily stuck in a lock, unable to open the doors at either end, until someone finally helped them out.
Later on that evening we stopped off in a local pub, the Wharf Inn, on a spur of the canal that led to Welford for a pint of "Lancaster Bomber" draft beer, we read about the history of the lime kilns located there while we sipped our brews. The light was failing by that time, so Jeff drove us back home for dinner and a nice evening chat before we collapsed into bed for the night.
Copyright 2010 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
|Map of Scotland||Map of England||Map of Rest of Lands||Epilog|