A Spitfire Roared (1936)

An evocative and emblematic sound of victory in the Second World War, the first British Spitfire roared into life on this day (5 March) in 1936. This iconic aeroplane first took to the skies at Eastleigh Aerodrome and soared above the airfield for eight minutes, powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

The Spitfire is a superbly balanced, high-performance aircraft that could be flown by fairly inexperienced pilots, and it gave the RAF a decisive advantage in the Battle of Britain in 1940. When Hermann Göring asked his pilots in a speech if there was anything they needed, they shouted back, ‘Ja, Spitfires!

Dan Snow writes: The chairman of the Vickers-Armstrong aircraft company named the plane after his young daughter, Anna, who he said was a ‘right little spitfire’. The genius responsible for the plane, Reginald Mitchell grumbled, ‘It’s the sort of bloody silly name they would give it.’ Source

Today, we couldn’t imagine it being called anything else!

St David’s Day

Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, and his feast day is celebrated on 1 March, the date of his death in 589 CE. I have fond memories of eight years lived in South Wales during my working life as a Salvation Army Officer and celebrating this special day with my family.

The Welsh will be especially celebrating this year (2021) after their victory over England in the Six Nations Championship, only two days prior to this traditional festival. I’ve always supported Wales (and still do) as long as they’re not playing England, but it never worked the other way round – England being seen as the ‘enemy’. It was often the subject of gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) teasing during the welcome and announcements on Sunday in worship at the Salvation Army, I gave as good as I got and often fully deserved the reaction I provoked.

Traditional symbols of daffodils (Wales) and leeks (Saint David) are worn, traditional Welsh food eaten, and traditional Welsh dress worn by the women and girls. I well remember my (now grown-up) English daughter proudly going to school in her Welsh costume. Teasing aside, we’re all enriched by appreciating and (when and where appropriate) respectfully sharing in the traditions of others.

Norton High Street

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

Sometimes we walk up and down the High Street, enjoying its wonderful feel and character. I took the above photograph on a fine day at the beginning of February 2021. I’m hoping to take a collection of photos in the near future which reflect its history and variety, I’ll post them here in due course.

Norton High Street (not to be confused with the High Street in Stockton) is the main thoroughfare through Norton and is a leafy street of some considerable length that is full of charming 18th century houses and it is worth a stroll for those with a passion for old houses to pick out some of the best ones. Some are occupied by pleasing outlets and places to eat. You can read more here.

Norton High Street is very special to Naomi and I because we met twice for coffee and cake in Cafe Lilli and Cafe Maison before our first proper date in 2013. Both are worth a visit after the coronavirus lockdown.

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton Parish Church

Halifax Piece Hall

Our half-term day trip to Halifax this time last year (February 2020) was a wonderful family day out, although little did we know how coronavirus would soon become a world-wide pandemic (March 2020) and change all of our lives. It was a wet day (as you can see from the above panorama), but we look back with an increasing fondness engendered through an enforced lockdown.

Halifax is a historic market, mill and minster town in West Yorkshire, England. In the fifteenth century the town became an economic hub of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, primarily in woollen manufacture. From New Year’s Day 1779 manufacturers and mercers dealt internationally through its grandiose square, the Piece Hall. Today it houses many small shops and independent businesses, along cafés, restaurants and venues.

Both Naomi and I have lived near Halifax (before we knew each other) and have friends there. It was lovely to visit with our family, and hopefully we can visit again soon when the lockdown restrictions ease.

Richard II (William Shakespeare)

On this day (7 February) in 1601, the day before the Earl of Essex‘s planned rebellion against Elizabeth I, his agents bribed the Chamberlain’s Men to stage a performance of Richard II. He believed that the deposition scene, where the unpopular king willingly abdicates his reign, would steel the rebels in their resolve. Essex was executed on 25 February 1601.

See: This Sceptred Isle

‘This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle’: so begins probably the most famous speech from Richard II, William Shakespeare’s 1590s history play about the fall of the Plantagenet king. These words are spoken by the dying John of Gaunt, and the phrases he uses – from ‘this royal throne of kings’ and ‘this sceptre isle’ to ‘this other Eden’ and many others – have become known in the popular consciousness. Source

I have a very fond memory of a performance of Richard II by the RSC in the Roundhouse, London, it was memorable for a dramatic deposition scene where sand poured onto the lone king from a great height for a prolonged period.

Queen Victoria’s Funeral (1901)

One of the largest gatherings of European royalty ever to take place occurred on this day (2 February) in 1901. Victoria’s children had married into the great royal families of Europe and a number of foreign monarchs were in attendance, including Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany as well as the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand. They all came together for the funeral of Queen Victoria. This event marked the end of an era, it had been 64 years since the last burial of a monarch.

She was dressed in a white dress and her wedding veil. An array of mementos commemorating her extended family, friends and servants were laid in the coffin with her, at her request, by her doctor and dressers. A dressing gown that had belonged to her husband Albert who had died 40 years earlier, was placed by her side, along with a plaster cast of his hand, while a lock of John Brown’s hair, along with a picture of him, was placed in her left hand concealed from the view of the family by a carefully positioned bunch of flowers. Wikipedia

Norton Duck Pond

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

The Duck Pond is part of the Village Green and is surrounded by mostly Georgian houses and cottages. It’s beautiful at anytime of day or night, season or weather.

I found this interesting story while researching the history of the village: The village was once the site of a market at a spot called Cross Dike, near the pond. The market was established in Norman times but this ceased operating around the time of the Civil War in the 1640s. One story is that the market established by Henry II and Bishop Flambard of Durham was to operate on the sabbath and this offended God who caused the markets to collapse by swallowing them up with the sudden opening up of the ground by some kind of earthquake that then allegedly formed the village pond. You can read more here.

Thankfully, we can visit the Duck Pond in the current coronavirus lockdown, reminding us of the need to appreciate what we have around us.

See also: Norton High Street and Norton Parish Church

Submerged (Cousin Silas)

Having finished writing about my favourite albums of 2020, it’s time to turn to 2021. Submerged by Cousin Silas is my first favourite album of 2021. These are some wonderful ambient soundscapes in which to immerse yourself and release your imagination. You can stream and/or download the album here.

Cousin Silas writes: Abandoned villages, for me, are fascinating places. The lost history, the forgotten lives and the long gone murmur of rural life. What I find more intriguing, however, are those select few villages that have been lost with coastal erosion, or abandoned due to the valley where they were situated being ‘converted’ into reservoirs. In some cases parts of the buildings occasionally, during droughts or low tides, emerge. Urban legends of bells tolling from the old church, be that submerged or managing to breath again as the water slowly recedes.

All seven tracks are named, and partially inspired, by submerged villages. Obviously there are many more across the UK, but most featured are relatively ‘local’, or at least in Yorkshire and there’s varying degrees of information about them on the Internet. Who’d have thought you could learn history whilst submerging yourself in music? Bandcamp

You can see all my favourite albums of 2021 by clicking here.

See also: Lost (Cousin Silas)

Norton Parish Church

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

I took the above photo of the church on a recent walk. Like most churches, it’s very photogenic, and a beautiful building inside and out. You can find out more on the church website where there are some excellent Christian resources.

The church was built as a place of worship and protection in about 1020 CE and so is just over 1,000 years old.

St Mary the Virgin, the ancient parish church that stands on the village green, is the only cruciform Anglo-Saxon church in northern England. Its crossing tower with eight triangular head windows has a battlemented top of later date, and there is a 14th-century effigy of a knight in chainmail.

Residing under the church floor there is claimed to be an escape tunnel used by the Saxons and priests when in danger, though it may be a drainage culvert. The tunnel leads under the church floor and Norton Green, eventually surfacing in the Albany housing estate. The church floor was recently renovated and Saxon remains and artefacts were discovered in the tunnel entrance. Wikipedia

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton High Street