Thursday, 31 December 2015

A day out in the past

We went to Canterbury for Christmas. On Boxing Day – 26th December – we had our traditional outing to explore a local historic town. This year it was Faversham, on the north Kent coast, lying up a creek and surrounded by marshes. Faversham was once an important port, ferrying goods to and fro up the Thames in sailing barges, and lying on the coach road between London and Dover. And it’s a place of great visual fascination. Once a sailor’s town, a wharf, a shipbuilding centre and an early industrial place of gunpowder manufacture, it has a medieval hub of some grandeur, and many pubs. Somewhat down at heel now it retains immense charm and interest - streets of half-timbered houses and overhanging roofs, stucco facades, narrow passage ways and curious shop signs.

The medieval market hall

An array of pubs, operational and defunct - witness to a town of seamen:

Yellow brick:

And black and white timber. This house was the scene of one of the most notorious murders of the sixteenth century:
Recent textual analysis reveals that Shakespeare had a hand in writing 'Arden of Feversham'. We know that during the summer of 1596 the theatres of London were closed because of plague, and Shakespeare and his fellow actors of the company of The Chamberlain's Men took their plays on tour. They acted in Faversham. Did they treat the locals to a version of events on their doorstep?

We also saw...

Glimpses down alleyways:

Festive front doors:

A Thames sailing barge:

A rare medieval painted pillar in the church:

And a pack of beagles:

Happy Christmas...!

Monday, 21 December 2015


I made a special trip to the British Museum recently to look at the Lykian monuments from ancient Xanthos. Lykia (or Lycia) was a civilization on the coasts and upland heights of south western Turkey, influenced by both the Persians and the Greeks that reached its height in the sixth and fifth centuries BC.  Lykian tombs still dot the landscape, large blocks like immense loaves, and Xanthos itself is hugely impressive.

Lykian tombs collapse into the sea at Aperlae - a very old slide!

Conquered by Alexander the Great, the civilization and cities  of Lykia were unknown in the West – and were only rediscovered in the 1830s by the British archaeologist and traveller Charles Fellows. Fellows made several expeditions to this remote area, mapped the sites quite carefully and with the permission of the Ottoman authorities and the help of the sailors of a Royal Navy ship, he excavated and removed some of the friezes and remarkable temple-like tombs, which now remain some of the BM’s most impressive exhibits. They include expressive friezes of horses, men, bulls and winged harpies, a complete colonnaded temple – the Nereid monument – immensely popular with visitors for photo opportunities, and some of the  tombs with their massive curved stone lids.

The Nereid monument

It was not only the exhibits that fascinated me. It was also Fellows’ written accounts, which I had been reading, of his journeys across western Turkey, accompanied by a dragoman – an interpreter – and an artist called George Scharf, who not only drew pictures of the tombs in situ, but produced vivid vignettes of rural Turkish life, its people, costumes and buildings. I made some of the same journeys on foot in the 1970s and spent time on the Lykian Coast. What struck me about Scharf’s pictures was that, apart from the dress and the disappearance of the fez, much that they saw in the 1840s was still in place in the 1970s, though by then it was on the point of vanishing
I was just getting stuck into a good look at Fellows’ collection at the BM when the fire alarm went off and we all had to shuffle out.

Scharf's drawing of the tower tombs at Xanthos.

And one in the the BM - the protruding stone 'joists' suggest that these tombs imitated timber structures

Tombs catching the last light of day near Kekova

Monday, 7 December 2015