Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Home at Harlaxton

After leaving Natalie and Chester, I took a train to Grantham - a small town in Lincolnshire.  I was there to visit the school prior to a short trip back to London to pick up a group of students. Now that I have been living here for almost 2 weeks, I thought you all might to learn a bit about it.

Situated 2.5 miles from Grantham is Harlaxton Manor.

It was built in the 1830s for a man named Gregory Gregory (yes, really), primarily in the Elizabethan style. There isn't a whole lot known about Gregory Gregory - he was unmarried, had no children, and if he had any journals or writings of that sort, they have been lost to history.

In the 17th-19th centuries, it was common for young people of wealth and status to go on what is known as the "Grand Tour", where they would travel through Europe and buy art, commission paintings, practice languages, engage with the upper class of society, study local culture, visit historic places, etc. Imagine a backpacking trip of today undertaken by the richest of society.  Some of these grand tours are what caused major artifacts and art pieces from Italy, Germany, France, etc. to end up in Britain and British museums instead of their local areas. 

Gregory Gregory amassed a large collection which were later known as the "Gregory Heirlooms". 
Upon his death in 1854, the estate passed to his cousin George Gregory, who passed away 6 years later. It was inherited by John Sherwin, who did not get along with Gregory Gregory, and he had to take on the name Gregory in order to inherit it - becoming John Sherwin Gregory. Upon his death there was contention about who was to inherit the estate, which led to a famous court case that is still studied in estate law today - the "Gregory Heirlooms Act" in 1877, which ruled about the differences between fixtures and fittings - items that can be removed from a room/house and items that are part of the architecture and cannot. One family received the manor and fixtures, the other received all of the fittings. 

The Pearson Gregory family owned the manor beginning in 1892. During World War I, the area around the manor was used as a training ground for trench warfare and for training the newly created Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force and Machine Gun Corp.

By the 1920s and early 1930s, however, the estate was left fairly disused, neglected, and scheduled to be demolished. In 1837, it was featured in advertisements in The Times and Country Life magazine asking for someone to save the manor and it caught the attention of wealthy and eccentric Violet Van der Elst, who purchased the manor for £78,000.

Violet was an interesting woman, who was instrumental in the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Britain. She was an occultist, holding seances in one of the rooms here to try to communicate with her late husband, and she wrote/published a book of ghost stories.  She is responsible for bringing electricity and running water to the manor, as well as adding a number of decorative features including the grand chandelier in the Great Hall. 
The chandelier is 10 ft at it's widest and must be cleaned by hand every three years. It takes 3 people a week to gentle remove, clean, and replace each piece of crystal. 

During World War II the estate was again used by British military, housing units of the First Airborne Division. In March 1944, King George VI came to the manor to visit the troops and inspect some of their equipment. Apparently Violet Van der Elst did not like the airmen too much and trained her herd of Shetland ponies to bite them when they would pass by.
Although the First Airborne didn't see action on D-Day, they later fought and their numbers decimated at Arnhem - the subject of the film A Bridge Too Far. The only memorial to this division in the UK is Harlaxton's Pegasus Courtyard. 

In 1948, Violet Van der Elst sold the manor to The Society of Jesus and the Jesuits used it as a seminary of sorts. The Great Hall became their chapel. 

In 1965, the Jesuits began leasing the building to Stanford University to be their study abroad campus but they later moved to Oxford. The University of Evansville began leasing it in 1971, then in 1978 a trustee of the university bought it for £100,000 to leave to the university, then he gave it to them outright in 1987. 

Below are some photos from around the place. I had done an Instagram takeover for work so included are some Boomerangs uploaded to Youtube (hence why they are portrait and not landscape videos)
View of the manor from the Italian gardens. 

View of the front courtyard and wall, with the drive visible It is almost a mile to the front gates of the manor. 

 The conservatory
They change out the plants on the tables frequently with what is in season.

The manor faces west, so you get great views of sunsets. 
Taken from my bedroom window
 Part of the gardens -there are 110 acres of gardens and woodland, on 7 terraces, with 4 sections/influences: French, Italian, Dutch, and English.

 The Great Hall - the sides look like wood panels but the wood effect is actually hand painted and a specialist has to come in periodically to do repairs when it gets scratched/damaged.

This ceiling is interesting because you cannot actually get up to the upper levels, so it is a bit of an optical illusion. It is all plaster and apparently if you look in the windows from the outside, only the areas visible from the stairs are decorated because behind them it is all plain because they knew people wouldn't be able to get up there to walk around and see the backs of pillars, statues, etc. 

 The Gold Room

The 1999 film The Haunting was filmed at Harlaxton and ITV series Victoria did some filming here at the manor in May.

There are many more beautiful rooms and things to explore at the manor, but in the interest of brevity and my time, I leave with the above and Google can show you more.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reunions and Reminiscing

I had a few days of vacation that I took between student groups and knew that my last couple weeks would be very full with the high school program where I would be living on-site with the students and would not be able to do any independent sight-seeing or hanging with friends. So, I took some of these days to visit more loved ones.

First I took the train from London to Manchester, where I was greeted by Ian and his wife Becca. They took me around Manchester's Northern Quarter, which is the hip area of town with many good bars, restaurants, and shops. Ian nicely put up with us girls doing some shopping as Becca showed me one of her favorite clothing stores - Thunderegg. They carry dresses from Lindy Bop, a brand Jo had recommended to me while in Bristol, so I was happy to be able to try on some pieces and get a feel for their fit in case I want to order things when I'm back home in the States.  You all know I love a good novelty print!

 The above mural is a tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing, with 22 bees - one for each of the victims. Manchester was very important during the Industrial Revolution and for textiles and other trades, so bees are a symbol of the city - the worker bees.
For lunch we ate at a place called Home Sweet Home, which has two locations in the city. It's a good place for comfort food and some American style dishes.

Next we visited the Museum of Science and Industry, took a photo for their display, and viewed planes, trains, and automobiles.
Afterwards, we had a drink at The Botanist, which uses lots of herbs and flowery extracts in their drinks.

I liked the chandeliers
We had a very chill evening at their place, watching some films on Netflix including the very funny OH HELLO on Broadway.
I also got to enjoy some kitty time with their two cats, and I think Roger enjoyed having me there only because it offered him a new place to curl up, in my suitcase.
If I fits, I sits.
The next day Ian and Becca took me on a drive through the Peak District and we headed for the town of Bakewell, which is associated with a dessert called Bakewell pudding and Bakewell tarts.
We had lunch at the "Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop", although several other places in town also claim to be the place where it originated. This one seemed to have the most awards and legitimacy to its claim.

The town is on the River Wye and the only real town located within the Peak District, so you get a lot of tourist traffic coming through and people setting off from here on hikes and bike rides.

We had another lazy evening watching movies, which was fine by me since it had been a very busy couple of weeks for me. We had gotten our puddings to go, to eat after dinner, and I also picked up this local porter.

On Saturday I said goodbye to Ian and Becca and boarded a train for Chester, to meet up with the last of my girl squad, Natalie.
Natalie and I met in my first year through the student radio station and we would often go to her hometown of Chester since it was the biggest city near Bangor to do shopping.

She walked me around the city showing me what was new since my last visit in 2011, and we returned to old places I had been several times.
Chester is famous for being one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain, its Tudor and Victorian buildings, and its Roman history.
The Chester Rows, seen above, are two story walkways of shops that date back to medieval times and most are in the Tudor style (the black and white wood ones). There are several theories as to their origins, since this type of double levels of walkways and shops is unique to Chester. One theory is that after a fire ravaged the city 1278 that owners were ordered to make the lower level fireproof with stone.
Speaking of the Romans, here is a view of the city walls from the Roman Garden, which displays pieces of the Roman legionary fortress of Deva, discovered during 19th century excavations.
Nearby is the excavation of half a Roman amphitheater. Being a Roman legionary fortress, historians knew that there should be an amphitheater somewhere, but its whereabouts had long been lost to time. In 1929, work was being done on Dee House, a girls' convent school, when workmen chanced upon a piece of curved wall and finally the amphitheater had been located.

The other half is still buried and partially underneath an abandoned building - but because the building is a historically listed building it cannot be knocked down in order to excavate the other side even though it might bring more tourism to the city if they have a fully unearthed amphitheater. According to Natalie, there is talk of renovating the building into a bar/restaurant with sections of see through flooring with some excavation of the amphitheater underneath, which I think would be really cool if they manage to do it.

Saturday was one of the hottest days of the year and with no a/c, it made for a tiring walk around the city and an ice cream stop was sorely needed.

We sat in the shade along the River Dee and were even treated to the music of a visiting brass band playing in a nearby gazebo.
 Our walk continued to Grosvenor Park, where the city had moved 3 medieval arches to in order to keep them on display for the residents to enjoy.

Next, we checked out the ruins of St. John the Baptist church which was originally founded by King Aethelred in 689 and was used as Chester's first cathedral.
The block box to the top right of the archway is a medieval oak coffin with the Latin for "Dust to Dust" inscribed on it. It was unearthed during work in the 19th century and they decided to install it here so that it could be seen by visitors.

Next door is the newer St. John the Baptist church, built in the 13th century, with many restorations made in the 19th century.

Its organ, seen here, is famous for being the organ played in Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838.

Chester's Eastgate Clock - dating back to 1899 - is said to be the 2nd most photographed in Britain, after the clock tower that holds Big Ben. In my last year of university, we spent New Year's in Chester and rang in midnight at the Eastgate Clock.

After our city wander, we headed back to Natalie's. As I mentioned, it was a pretty hot day, so we popped into a nearby shop and bought an inflatable pool to cool off in.
Cause we're classy, mature adults
Sunday was Father's Day and Natalie and her fiance had family commitments, so I took the opportunity to take the train back to Bangor and see how things had changed since I left it 8 years ago. 

The train journey is one of my favorites in Britain, taking you along the north Wales coast with the mountains of Snowdonia National Park to the south. 
North Wales has one of the highest concentrations of castles (and some of the best preserved!) in Europe, and you pass several on the journey. One of my favorites is Conwy, whose walls back up almost to the train. 

Sorry for the portrait style video, but I took it from my Instagram stories, but you get the idea.

Creoso i Fangor - Welcome to Bangor!
 My old university building, with the new Arts and Innovation Center on the left (white building) where the students' union used to be. Founded in 1884, Bangor University regularly rates very highly for teaching standards and its range of clubs and societies. This past year, it was the only university in Wales to receive the Gold Standard for the UK government's new Teaching Excellence Framework. It is internationally renowned for its marine science and psychology departments.

Everything in the university must be bilingual in Welsh and English, with Welsh being first as the standard - hence Prifysgol Bangor. When I was part of the students' union council, we would wear headphones during meetings with translators for the Welsh students who chose to use Welsh, and it felt a bit like being in the U.N.! My graduation ceremony was conducted in both languages and my diploma is Welsh on one side, English on the other.
Weird new sculpture on the hill the university sits on
Inside Pontio, the Arts & Innovation Center constructed since I left. It was way behind schedule and over budget, as these things often are.

At the bottom of the hill, next to Pontio, is a WWI memorial. Pontio looks quite out of place between this and the university building.
View from the university balcony
More Welsh! This road is where the dorm site I lived on in my 1st year was. Imagine having to write your address all the time with this!

 Bangor has a Victorian Pier, Garth Pier - constructed in 1896 - which reaches almost all the way across the Menai Straights to the isle of Anglesey. Most people in the U.S. haven't heard of this area, but when Prince William worked for the Royal Air Force doing helicopter rescue, he and Kate Middleton lived nearby on Anglesey and he would often have to rescue people off Mount Snowdon, about 25 miles from Bangor. Unfortunately, that was a a year or two after I left but I did have some friends still in the area who would see Kate at their local supermarket.

At the end of the pier are some tea rooms, so I sat and had a cream tea.

Where the mountains meet the sea
Bangor Cathedral with the top of the uni in the background
Historically, to be granted the status of a city in the U.K., there had to be a cathedral. Although Bangor only has a population of about 19,000 (10,500 of which are the students!), it has had the status of city since 1886 and was the only "city" in Wales until Cardiff officially became one in 1905. 

It was nice to reminisce a bit, but going back to the city when all of my friends were not there was not really the same. The high street seemed a bit run down and didn't have the same charm that drew me to it originally. I think it is a good place to study because the university offerings and services are so strong, and it is nice to explore the nearby villages and national park, but I think I'm more of a big city gal myself. 

In the late afternoon I headed back to Chester and had a nice (vegetarian!) bbq with Natalie and her fiance, again with our legs in the pool for comfort.