Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Weald and Downland Museum, Sussex

I've been gadding about again, this time to the Weald and Downland Museum just north of Chichester. Amazingly the charity and its museum this year celebrates its 40th birthday. It was created to help preserve historic buildings in Sussex, Kent, Surrey and Hampshire, which were being threatened with destruction because of major construction projects. The buildings were dismantled brick by brick, each piece labelled, and then reconstructed at the Museum. The Longport Farmhouse, from Newington, Kent, which represents periods of construction from 1500 to 1900, was moved from the site of the Eurotunnel entrance and in now the museum's ticket office and shop!

On the left of the picture below is the Market Hall from Titchfield, Hampshire, which dates from 1620. To the right, the black and white timber-framed building is a 15th Century Medieval shop from Horsham in Sussex. The brown and white timber-framed building, which dates from 1500, is an Upper Hall from Crawley.

The most impressive building, which has been placed in its own little mini estate is the 'Bayleaf Farmstead'. A Wealden House from Chiddingstone in Kent, it is early Tudor.

This is an example of an open-halled farmhouse. Below is a photo of the interior, which has been period 'dressed'.

The pair of white farm labourers cottages in the photo below are mid-Victorian and come from Ashtead in Surrey, which is barely two miles from where I live. They were removed from the village when the railway line was extended.
There are still many examples of these timber-framed and timber-clad houses in situ in mid-Surrey.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fallout from Icelandic volcano

It really is quite extraordinary. I live midway between Heathrow and Gatwick Airports therefore aeroplanes in the skies above are not exactly a rare sight. But they have been for the past three days. Not so much rare as non-existent. And with sunny days and cloudless skies, there has been no escaping the fact. No planes means no vapour trails. It's eerie I tell you, really eerie, and surprisingly peaceful. Why has this happened? All aeroplanes in UK airports have been grounded because of the danger from the cloud of ash drifting over Britain and other parts of Europe from the volcano which is still erupting in Iceland.

Of course, with all those particles in the air, it makes for some colourful sunsets so, yesterday evening, I popped up to Epsom Downs, the highest spot for miles around, and took this photo on the little road which runs across the course. The grandstand is on the right and the sun is setting over Surrey, looking towards Stoke d'Abernon and Cobham.

For two mornings, the fallout of ash has been evident as a thin film of dust, noticeable on cars left out overnight. The air yesterday was not at all pleasant. After taking a walk into town, I developed a tickle at the back of my throat. The air seem cleaner today so perhaps the prevailing wind has changed. But there are still no planes in the sky, and there are unlikely to be for the rest of today.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Heritage Britain 2009, Part 4

Apart from a jaunt to Penrith for the RNA Conference, my trips out in July and August were short ones and usually a lot closer to home. I went mudlarking in the Thames at the Tower of London. Normally to do this, you have to get a permit, but this particular event was part of the annual Festival of British Archaeology Week. Necessary equipment on this occasion was a pair of plastic gloves and a plastic bag to put your finds in which, at the end of your stint on the shoreline, you could have examined and explained by an expert. The stems and bowls of clay pipes were common, as were pieces of bellamine jugs and other pottery, some of it several centuries old. Fascinating. I wonder if mudlarking will be on the menu this July?

Coombe Conduit is open to the public just once a month and in August I managed to get there on the right day! These structures, of which only two survive, used to collect water from the springs on Coombe Hill, near Kingston upon Thames (where I was born) and carry it under the Thames near Kingston Bridge to Hampton Court. This was during the reign of Henry VIII. Interestingly, some of the stone used in their construction probably came from Merton Priory, which had only recently been dissolved by Henry VIII.

August also saw me making a trip into Dorset where we used to live. In the 18th and early 19th Centuries, Dorset was smuggling country and Osmington Mills, near Weymouth, was and still is home to an old inn called, not surprisingly, the Smugglers' Inn. This view is looking towards Weymouth at sunset.

Next stop - Cornwall!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference, July 2009

In July, I was back in the north of England, at Penrith in Cumbria. Not for sightseeing this time, but something just as enjoyable and even more exciting - the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference. My third, after Leicester in 2007 and Chichester in 2008. Three splendid days of talks, workshops, and chatting with other writers, published and unpublished.

My companion for the journey was Monica Fairview, a fine author of Regency romance (An Improper Suitor, The Other Mr Darcy, The Darcy Cousins). Our accommodation was at the University, and our lively housemates included Elizabeth Hawksley (multi-published in historical romance), Janet Gover (contemporary romance with Little Black Dress) and Jean Fullerton, a finalist in this year's Romantic Novel of the Year Award with her London-based historical romance, A Glimpse of Happiness. Both Jean and Janet are 'graduates' of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme, of which I am a member.

'Love in the Library' was a pre-conference event in Penrith Library, with a panel of RNA members, led by Katie Fforde. The library is beside St Andrew's Church, designed in 1720 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. My tourist gene got the getter of me and I sneaked away to get a good look at it. I took this photo of the beautiful interior. Jean, Janet and Elizabeth were on the afternoon panel at the Library and as we had arrived in town before the morning session had finished, it gave us a good excuse to have a cup of tea in the cafe beside the church. On the left is Angela who, like me, is on the NWS.

One of the many good things about the conference is the opportunity for new writers to have one-to-one meetings with editors and agents. A refinement this year was that those with editor appointments were advised to send samples of their work prior to the conference. Mills and Boon editors Jenny Hutton and Meg Lewis also talked to the delegates about 'Digging Deeper - finding new twists to knowing your characters'. Anita Burgh discussed 'Publishers, Presentation and Synopses', Victoria Connelly about 'Surviving Rejection', Rachel Natanson on Pocket Novels, and Melinda Hammond gave advice on how to juggle a job with penning prose.

American writer Jodi Thomas, who had been at the Leicester conference, made a welcome return visit and advised us how to 'Romance the American Markets' There were many other talks and workshops, my biggest disappointment being that, as some ran parallel, I couldn't attend them all! A most enjoyable conference it was, made all the more memorable by the fact that my appointment with Claire Siemaszkiewicz of Total-e-Bound, led to a contract for my novella 'Pure Silk'.

The next conference is just three months away and is to be held at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, now a World Heritage site. You know what that means, don't you? I'm going to have the devil's own job keeping my tourist gene in check!