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A tunnel, buzzard and bikers' cafe

Monday, 24 May 2021 at 22:03

Bikers' Cafe on Dr John Dunn. A tunnel, buzzard and bikers' cafe

I'll be adding another excursion by motorcycle to my YouTube video library in the next day or so. I have already provided the rudimentary commentary to part of this (see 'Thought blog'), the remainder I have added here - not too much, but just a lead-in to the main content. When I pulled in to a field gate to consume my picnic, I did not at first realise upon exactly what I was standing.

Rural Northamptonshire, not spectacular, just very pleasant here on a bright April day.

In fact I’m standing on top of one of one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century.

The Kilsby Railway Tunnel opened in 1838. On opening, it was the longest railway tunnel in the world.

Think of it, 1838 - Queen Victoria had only been crowned one year before.

Designed by Robert Stephenson, the tunnel opened only nine years after his father’s famous locomotive “The Rocket” had proved that locomotives would be more efficient than stationary steam engines for pulling trains.

There’s one of the ventilation shafts from the tunnel, which still serves one of the busiest railway lines in Britain.

That’s a buzzard you can hear, calling from a tree nearby

And there’s my bikers’ cafe. Complete with sandwiches in the carrier bag and coffee in the flask.

It’s time to pack away the picnic and move on to the main object of my rideout today, the village of gunpowder plotters and more…

Those raised kerb stones on the left and that metal fence are there to offer some protection to the southern entrance to the railway tunnel, which isnearby.

I love riding these quiet country lanes - the type of road on which this Royal Enfield excels, with its low revving, low compression, long stroke engine just chugging away, able to pull even the lowest speeds on this type of road in its highest gear. It all makes for a very satisfying way to travel around when seeking out the historic, the unusual and the quirky points of interest from the English landscape.

There’s the sign that tells me I’m entering the village of Ashby St Ledgers.

That’s the manor house on the left - I’ll take a look later.

I’ll park up here and take a look around.

There it is - the half-timbered chamber above the entry gateway to the manor courtyard in which the Gunpowder Plot, of 5th November 1605, was hatched, under the leadership of Robert Catesby, the lord of the manor. This chamber became known as the 'Plotters Room', and the conspirators stored gunpowder and ammunition nearby.

© John Dunn.

Plotters' village

Sunday, 23 May 2021 at 22:20

Plotters' Room on Dr John Dunn. Plotters' village

I will shortly be adding to my output of YouTube videos with one that covers a motorcycle excursion to Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire. What follows is the basis of my commentary to the video which will be added to YouTube shortly.

There it is - the half-timbered chamber above the entry gateway to the manor courtyard in which the Gunpowder Plot, of 5th November 1605, was hatched, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. This chamber became known as the 'Plotters Room', and the conspirators stored gunpowder and ammunition nearby.

Let’s take look over the wall from the ‘Plotters’Room’ to see the church that was, just a few years before the Gunpowder Plot, before the Reformation, a Roman Catholic church. This, of course was the situation that Catesby and others wanted to restore by blowing up King James I and parliament with him.

The church we see is largely a 14th to 15th century building, so it is as it would have looked to Robert Catesby and the other plotters just over the wall.

Let’s take a look inside.

And immediately I was struck by the wall painting opposite.

Before the Reformation, these walls would have glowed with brightly coloured paintings. What we see opposite was revealed from under the reformers’ whitewash in 1929. The uncovered wall paintings stand for the type of religious practice that Catesby wanted to restore.

In the customary position opposite the south door at Ashby St Ledgers is this early fifteenth-century painting of St Christopher. Many pre-Reformation churches had a St Christopher painting in always this exact same position - opposite the door, so that passing travellers could see. St Christopher of course is the patron saint of travellers.

Look at that three-decker pulpit on the left, from the 17th century.

But look straight ahead and see the magnificent rood screen. Often these were torn down after the Reformation. This one has survived intact.

Here we are in the chancel - ‘the holy end’ as Philip Larkin described this part of a church.

Just look at those finely sculptured memorials to local gentry on the wall.

Just backing out now through the rood screen, other revealed medieval wall paintings can be seen above the chancel arch. The detail cannot be seen, but they are depictions of Christ’s Passion and crucifixion.

The dark red lines serve to divide the individual scenes leading up to Christ’s death and resurrection.

I’m not sure what that is, perhaps a coat of arms?

You can see the red decorative line around the arch - giving an impression of the colour with which this church would have glistened before the Reformation.

Hereat the west end of the church is a representation of Death who holds a spade and pick. This is a C16 commemoration of the Black Death.

Outside, the churchyard is curiously devoid of gravestones. I must look into the reason for this.

And there, over the wall is the main section of the manor house.

Just walking to the west end of the church you get another view of the timber framed ‘Plotters Room’.

AshbySt Ledgers was the 'Command Centre' during the planning of the Gunpowder Plot the famous plot in which Guy Fawkes would ignite the gunpowder to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In this room above the Gatehouse, with its privacy from the main house and clear view of the surrounding area, Robert Catesby, his servant Thomas Bates and the other conspirators, planned the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby was killed with some other plotters at Holbeche House, whereas his servant was executed in the following January.

As you leave the church you see, and are intended to see, given its position opposite, a memorial by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to the 2nd Lord Wimbourne (d. 1939) and his wife, Lady Alice Grosvenor (d. 1948). It is a tall tapering abstracted cross, emphasised by the useof steps dropping down to it. Equally abstracted, is the sarcophagus standing adjacent to it. It’s a fine late work by Lutyens.

The2nd Lord Wimbourne was a patron of Lutyens, who was employed to make alterations to the nearby manor house. Let’s take a look.

There was an original medieval building here which the Catesbys remodelled inTudor style. In the 19th century it was expanded in Jacobean revival style.

Since the Catesbys, the manor house passed through a series of owners…

Until in 1903, it was sold to Ivor Guest, 1st Viscount Wimborne, who had previously rented it for hunting. It was during the ownership his son the 2nd viscount that Sir Edwin Lutyens extensively remodelled the manor house, working on it for 40 years, the longest commission of his career, while also carrying out other commissions in the village.

Opposite the main gate there is this long avenue of trees, leading from another gate which you might just be able to see in the distance.

Back to the bike now and a ride through the remainder of the village.

There’s a mixture of buildings, some ancient, some not so ancient…

There on the right is a row of thatched terraced cottages by Sir Edwin Lutyens in ultra Arts and Crafts style… amazing.

And now it’s time to leave the village for the countryside beyond… for now I’m done.

© John Dunn.

The Logos and the New Mysteries

Tuesday, 18 May 2021 at 22:13

Scaligero on Dr John Dunn. I have been reading Massimo Scaligero's The Logos and the New Mysteries over recent weeks. During this time I collected my thoughts about this book and posted them on the 'Thought blog'. My plan is now to pull all the separate blog entries about Scaligero's work into one sustained piece and post this as a single entity onto 'Thought pieces'.

I was disappointed with the ending to this book, or rather the ending that never arrived.

I thought that he was strong on the analysis of the problem, i.e. our bondage to sensory perception and the physical view of reality as a presupposed idol; but his proffered alternative was a small part of the work, rushed in at the very end of the book. Nevertheless he has added a piece to my own construction of an alternative, which has drawn upon some of the thinkers that we have both shared as influences, e.g. Julius Evola, Giovanni Gentile and Rudolf Steiner.

I will announce on the home page the completion of the single entity offering of the Scaligero reading.

John Dunn
.

Epoch-making machine

Friday, 7 May 2021 at 21:54

Scott motorcycle on Dr John Dunn. Pictured: a Scott motorcycle from 1914

Epoch-making machine

Further to my previous post (see in 'Thought blog'), I have added a few more words from Ixion's Motorcycle Cavalcade (published: 1950).

This is all about an event that took place in the village of Newnham, near Daventry. My interest was prompted by a blue plaque in the village which celebrated the prescence of one A. A. Scott at a motorcycle hill-climb back in 1908. I did some video recording in the village recently, which I will be posting on YouTube before too long.

The mere look of his epoch-making machine was sufficient. Gleaming with silver plate and purple enamel, its sheer beauty immediately vanquished the onlookers. It made three ascents of the hill. We all felt that a new era had dawned on our world. He started the machine by a gentle depression of a short pedal - none of that ungainly run-and-jump business. He had haughtily scorned to fit pedals. The smooth cat-like purr of the two-stroke engine put to undying shame the staccato chatter of the super-tuned four-strokes which had mustered to steal all the day’s glory. Amidships, the trim little projectile housed a two-speed gear, complete with clutch, daintily operated by a single rocking pedal. Finally, the entire drive was by very light chains. [And this at a time when most other machines were still driven by leather belts to the back wheel.]

John Dunn.

Scott's triumph

Thursday, 6 May 2021 at 21:34

A. Scott on Dr John Dunn. Scott's triumph

I recently motorcycled over to Newnham village, near Daventry, to ride the course of the famous Scott motocycle victory in the 1908 hill-climb. There is a blue plaque to celebrate Alfred Scott's presence in Newnham on what was once an old inn. I captured a little of my day out on video and will transfer the results to YouTube before too long.

Here is what Ixion had to say about the 1908 event in his Motorcycle Cavalcade of 1950.



Each spring the Coventry club was accustomed to hold a hill-climb at Newnham, outside Daventry. The hill was not especially formidable or interesting. But just as Ascott races are the great day of London dress designers, so the Newnham hill-climb used to tempt our motorcycle designers to unveil their novelties. Everybody in the trade crowded to watch. Alfred Scott of Saltaire chose the 1908 climb for the debut of his open-framed two-stroke twin-cylinder, and won three classes on the efficiency formula.

In envious company it is seldom that spite and criticism automatically surrender to worship. Scott in ten minutes conquered the motorcycle world…


Posted by John Dunn.

Sutton pack-horse bridge

Sunday, 2 May 2021 at 21:58

Sutton packhorse bridge on Dr John Dunn. Whilst motorcycling in north-east Bedfordshire to see Cockayne Hatley and its delights, I thought that I would add a small titbit to the adventure by dropping in to Sutton to see its famous packhorse bridge. I captured something of the experience on my vlog. Below is a slice of the appropriate commentary to the video for YouTube, which will go public on Sunday 2nd May.

A postcard from 1964.

Sutton pack-horse bridge

So, it’s one last look at Cockayne Hatley Hall and back to the bike.
…and out through the gateway.

Back down the rough track.

A moments pause to consult the map.

I’m looking for a route to the village of Sutton.

Whilst out this way, I thought I’d take a look at another local landmark of a very different kind, even though it might have been built when the foundations of Cockayne Hatley’s church were being laid.

It means riding across these open Bedfordshire claylands.


And here I am riding through Sutton village.

Here is the landmark that I came to see.

In the middle of Sutton between the church and the main village, the Sutton Packhorse Bridge is a small two arch construction crafted from local sandstone sometime in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

I’ll cross over the ford and park up.

Taking a walk in the footsteps of those medieval packhorse drivers… complete with thumb for company - only for a short while, I promise.

Ah, the friction rustle of motorcycle trousers and thump of heavy boots…

And there’s a view of the brook and ford next to this medieval packhorse bridge.

The bridge can be dated largely by the pointed shape of its arches. Stone bridges after this time were built with semi-circular arches.

The bridge is believed to be the only surviving bridge of its type in Bedfordshire. Originally only pedestrians and packhorses had the right of way but over time this was extended to include cyclists.

The bridge was part of one of the most frequented packhorse routes from the south to the north, and was also situated on an important trade route to wool towns such as Dunstable and Bedford.

You might wonder why such a shallow ford needed such a relatively elaborate bridge. Well you only need to look back to this same scene in the winter of late 2020, and the flooding of the brook will explain the need.

Back across the bridge… there can’t have been that much traffic over the bridge in the Middle Ages, nevertheless, there is the pedestrian refuge, just in case a serf found himself stranded half way as the pack horses passed over.

…to the close.

And one last look at a piece of transport history.

For now, I’m done…

© John Dunn.

Open, honest

Saturday, 1 May 2021 at 21:42

Campbell by John on Dr John Dunn. The poet Roy Campbell by Augustus John (Date: c. 1925)

Open, honest

Roy Campbell’s epic poem of the Spanish Civil War, Flowering Rifle.
 The reading continues.

Divine intervention in support of the just cause is conflated with the superior use of topography, notably the rivers, which to the Rightists were ‘allied’. This is possibly a reference to the opening of dams as a weapon of war at the decisive Battle of Ebro by Franco’s forces. Be that as it may, lost comrades swept away to the sea are lauded, by Campbell, as heroes. The galloping riders of the plains conjures up the Reconquista knights of old.

The plains and valleys fought upon our side
And rivers to our Victory were allied
That (loosed to whelm us and the land)
Were parted like Red Seas on either hand:
Our comrades’ blood, still conscious in their veins,
Headed the waves away with curling manes,
And swerving on both sides to let us free,
Galloped them foaming headlong to the sea -
In death still present, hand upon the reins,
Such friendship links us riders of the plains.
Nor can a clenched left fist create or fight
With the calm patience of the open Right
Nor help a needy comrade, as we see
Each time they leave their wounded, when they flee,
When to remove their numbers to the rear
Might sow the grey, demoralising fear.


The symbolic clenched fist reappears and is associated with the Leftist’s failings in creativity, patience and valour, in contrast to the side of the open palmed salute, which succeeds in all these attributes.

Salutes are used symbolically to compare the closed, constricted and sinister nature of the Left, with the open, honest endeavour of the Right.


© John Dunn.

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