Posts Tagged With: Oxford

Portmeadow Kisses

 

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Portmeadow, Oxford, England

The smell of her skin in Oxford showers

Her hands combing my hair at night

The taste of whisky while I look in her eyes

Her sideways smile, so fresh and silly,

Tea in the morning, singing songs at night

Serious, studious, loving, and sweet

The idea of her forest by the sea

Portmeadow kisses, indescribable blisses

Lips of fire so fierce and free

 

Categories: Exploration, History, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Historic Preservation, Community Identity, & the Gospel of Progress in Britain and America

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Washington Square Park in New York City

This excellent article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation came to my attention today: https://savingplaces.org/stories/a-tale-of-two-planners-jane-jacobs-and-robert-moses#.VyMoSjArKCg.  It describes the 1960’s struggle to save Greenwich Village and other parts of lower Manhattan from the threat brought about by a developer’s plan to build a massive elevated highway that would have destroyed Washington Square Park, as well as parts of Little Italy and SoHo.  Having attending NYU as an undergraduate, and having spent a lot of time in and around that park playing chess, eating lunch, spending time with other students, chatting to little old ladies, and listening many times in silent admiration to a talented homeless blues singer named Jimmy play the guitar and sing, I cannot imagine my time there without it.

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Looking up 5th Avenue through the Washington Arch

 

We clearly need more people like the amazing Jane Jacobs, the preservationist detailed in the article above. Having consulted and worked with architectural historians, developers, and planners on a number of archaeological and historical projects over the last couple decades, I can say that these kind of struggles have only intensified since the Jacobs v. Moses era. Savannah, Georgia is another wonderful example of how 7 determined ladies fought and saved it from being turned into just “another soulless city” (http://www.myhsf.org/about-us/the-story-of-preservation-in-savannah/). Thanks to them and their successors, Savannah is now one of the most beautiful historic cities in the U.S.

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Savannah, Georgia street scene

But it’s an unending battle to retain community and identity and hold off those with the money and the power, who are usually championed by the local Chamber of Commerce zombies and their monosyllabic grunts of “Jobs, Roads, Development!”  Since the 1950’s thousands of unique structures have been demolished across America so that developers could “pave paradise and [sometimes literally] put up a parking lot.”  And usually the long-term heritage and unique needs of the community (think centuries) are scoffed at in favor of the short-term benefits (think years or at best a couple decades) of the latest schemers, who are usually benefiting financially in the process somehow.

Unfortunately our European cousins are not exempt from the myth of “progress” either, though they generally have more respect for their surviving architectural heritage than Americans do for theirs. One major exception is beautiful Oxford, England, which has so many incredible examples of truly historic buildings.  It even has its own wonderful story of victory over the demolishers of tradition and history in the fight to preserve the quaint area called Jericho.  Unfortunately, Oxford also has a tremendous amount of the ugliest architecture anywhere.  Just walk the grounds of St. Johns College, for example, to see numerous dorms with giant glass windows looking out over 500 year old buildings.  There is even one that looks a bit like a bee hive.  And the Oxford County Council continually overrules the concerns of citizens and local preservationists, since the university almost always gets whatever it wants, from ugly buildings being plopped down onto beautiful college quads to disastrous student housing ideas that were never properly reviewed for environmental or visual impacts to historic green spaces (for more on Oxford’s complete lack of concern in preserving its unique architectural identity, take a look at this blog: https://timmyatt.com/tag/oxford-architecture/).

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St. Cross College, Rear Quad, Oxford, 2013 – notice Pusey House, a 100 year old chapel and focus of the Anglican Church’s Oxford Movement, behind students

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St. Cross College, Plans for New Building, 2016 – notice dramatic visual impact to Pusey House

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St. Cross College, New Building under construction next to 100-year old Pusey House, 2016

Although I do not see the point of monarchy (bloody Americans and 1776 and all that), and I doubt I have anything remotely in common with him, I do think Prince Charles was very brave and spot on when he addressed post-World War II London architecture by asking: “When did we lose our sense of vision?  How could those in control become so out of step with so many Londoners who felt powerless to resist the destruction of their city…?”  (for a short video clip of his excellent critique of modern big box architecture, click this link – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9502425.stm).

But for the best quote on British architecture over the last 70 years we must return to Matthew Arnold’s “sweet city with her dreaming spires” – Oxford – and put ourselves into the minds of those with the power and determination to say yea or nay:

“You know, we’ve been putting up handsome buildings since 1264; let’s have an ugly one for a change.’  Then the planning authorities had to say, “Well, why not?  Plenty worse in Basildon”….Then…the whole of the city -students, dons, shopkeepers, office workers, members of the Oxford Preservation Trust – had to acquiesce and not kick up a fuss. Multiply this by, say, 200 or 300 and 400 and you have modern Oxford.  And you tell me that it is one of the most beautiful, well-preserved cities in the world?  I’m afraid not.  It is a beautiful city that has been treated with gross indifference and lamentable incompetence for far too long, and every living person in Oxford should feel a little bit ashamed.”

Bill BrysonNotes from a Small Island, 1995

Categories: Architecture, Churches, England, Historic Preservation, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hargreaves Haiku

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Feldhase (Field Hare), painted by Albrecht Durer in 1502

The hare jumps to hide
within the creekside thicket –
I sit on a stone

Waiting here alone
the icy wind blows my hair –
without her I’m lost

Zipping up my coat
I hike on through Burgess Field –
too damn cold for tears

Categories: Art, England, Exploration, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musical Influences & Traditions, and Writing Modern Folk Songs

I’ve long had a fascination with British folk song and balladry.  The English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish musical traditions are endlessly fascinating to me, being full of history, rebellion, warfare, love, hate, joy, and sadness.  Some of my favorites in this field include Silly Wizard, Alex Beaton, the Corries, the Chieftains, Tommy Makem & the Clancy Brothers, Ronnie Drew & the Dubliners, and the Jolly Beggarmen.

What’s more, many of these songs have had an enduring influence on the American South’s balladry and folk song traditions from Virginia all the way to Florida and Texas, as explained by American folklorist Francis James Child in the 19th century and by English ethnomusicologist Cecil J. Sharp in the early 20th century.

North Carolina Historical Marker on Cecil Sharp

North Carolina Historical Marker about Cecil Sharp

Nowhere has this influence been stronger than in Appalachia, which still has strong musical roots in the Scots-Irish emigrations from the borders of Scotland & England as filtered through the Ulster Scot musical ear. I learned a great deal about these connections, and how difficult they can be to document, from wonderful speakers like John Moulden and Peter Gilmore when I attended the Ulster-American Heritage Symposiums held in South Carolina in 2002 and in Tennessee in 2006.

With these connections and interests in mind, you might understand how ecstatic I once felt to attend a concert by the blind musician Doc Watson, who truly embodied so many of the deepest influences of American roots music. A few of my other favorite American traditional musicians, or musicians working in a traditional framework, include Emmylou Harris, Joe Penland, Allison Kraus, the Kruger Brothers, and Gillian Welch.

Doc Watson

Doc Watson

I was also fortunate enough to attend a conference called “Making Connections: The Celtic Roots of Southern Music at Emory University in Atlanta in 2012, which was organized by Yeats scholar Dr. James Flannery, who also appreciates these British and Irish musical connections to America (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h_om3JQsIg).

Most recently, having spent the last few years living in Great Britain, I’ve been very fortunate to have had a dear friend who has introduced me to so many contemporary English and British folk singers and groups I never in a million years would have heard of at home.  Just a few of these include Show of Hands, Fisherman’s Friends, The Unthanks, Seth Lakeman, Sunas, Chumbawamba, and Frank Turner.

So as a songwriter myself, and in an attempt to acknowledge this great musical debt, I proffer the following song, with words of my own composition set to the tune of “Down by the Sally Gardens” by William Butler Yeats.  Yeats himself set his own words to the music of “Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure,” so I guess we are both indebted to the unknown composer of that lovely air.  The version of  “Down by the Sally Gardens” that I had in mind whilst writing it was the gorgeous flute and harp setting by Cormac de Barra and Karen Leitner heard here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlo-YmaN7NE).

 

The New Forest Rose

She swings over Everton Grange

And lights up Lymington shore,

The English girl I sing of,

The lady I adore

And Britain’s crowns all bow down to

And Oxford’s geniuses know

The English girl I sing of

The beauteous New Forest Rose

She skips over Portmeadow pasture

And splashes Wolvercote Common ground,

The English girl I sing of,

The belle of Town and Gown

And Britain’s crowns all bow down to

And Oxford’s geniuses know

The English girl I sing of

The beauteous New Forest Rose

She cavorts round Kenilworth Castle

And frolicks on Stonehenge’s plain

The English girl I sing of

And hope to see again

And Britain’s crowns all bow down to

And Oxford’s geniuses know

The English girl I sing of

The beauteous New Forest Rose

“Ballads…contain a refrain; they utilize a detached and impersonal narrator; they frequently have no dramatic nor cathartic climax; and they often employ a device called incremental repetition, which is nothing more than a method of carrying the story along with slight variations in the text, but with a repeated pattern.

June Skinner SawyersThe Celtic Roots of Southern Music, 1994

Categories: England, Music, Folk Music, Balladry, Scots-Irish, Appalachia, American South, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Spear Points in an English Museum

Georgia Prehistoric Projectile Points in England

Georgia Prehistoric Projectile Points in England

I was simply delighted the first time I noticed these four projectile points from Georgia on display in the Weapons section of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford in England. They are incorrectly identified, of course, since not one of the four are “arrowheads.” This is a common mistake even in America, though, since only the smallest triangular points identified by Whatley (2002) as Late Woodland Triangulars and Mississippian Triangulars are thought to have actually been shot from bows and to have been actually used as arrow “heads.” Furthermore, the bow and arrow are thought to have come into use amongst North American Indians around 1500 years ago, though this date may get pushed back a little further at some point based on future archaeological discoveries.

The four points at the Pitt Rivers are actually all spear points from Southeastern North America’s Prehistoric Period, and would have been hafted to spears, or to shafts for re-loading into the ends of spears, or used as knives. All of them would have been projected simply with the arm or with the atlatl, the North American version of the spear-thrower, a tool once in use all over the world. I would identify them, from left to right on the top row, as 1) an Hernando, 2) a Lost Lake, and 3) another Hernando point. All three of these appear to be made of Coastal Plain chert, which is naturally occurring below Georgia’s Fall Line, running across the center of the state from Columbus to Macon to Augusta. Hernando points are from the Middle Woodland sub-period, and date from about 2500 to 2000 years ago (Whatley 2002:51). Lost Lake points are from the Early Archaic sub-period, and date from around 9250 to 9000 years ago (Whatley 2002:73). The quartz spear point on the bottom row appears to be a Yadkin. This type straddles the Early to Middle Woodland sub-periods, and dates from about 2500 to 1500 years ago (Whatley 2002:127).

There are actually other Georgia spear points held in the collections of the Pitt Rivers, as well as points from adjacent Southern states. Although the four discussed here are the only ones currently on display, perhaps I will have time to analyze and discuss the other Georgia specimen in the future.

Work Cited:

Whatley, John S.
2002 “An Overview of Georgia Projectile Points and Selected Cutting Tools.” Early Georgia 30 (1).

Categories: Archaeology, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford, UK

Wolvercote Cemetery, March 2013 114

Exploring cemeteries has long been a favorite pasttime.  Recently I chose a blustery wintry day in early Spring to walk to Wolvercote Cemetery, north of Oxford, to visit the grave of one of the greatest imaginative storytellers of the 20th century – J. R. R. Tolkien.  I savour these moments so much, however, that I only went to his grave after exploring the rest of the cemetery for over an hour, building up the suspense!  Seeing the graves of children along the way, decorated with their toys and cards from their parents, is always so touching.  I cannot fathom the sadness those families must have felt and will always feel.  Oxford scholars, priests, rabbis, mothers, and fathers – all are represented at Wolvercote.  Even a minister from Kentucky with a Cherokee motto on his tombstone!  The grave of Tolkien and his wife was worth the wait – especially because of the copies of his books and notes and tokens left by his readers.  Such an ordinary British grave in an ordinary British cemetery.  That speaks volumes.

Another thing has struck me about Oxford’s cemeteries, and it is not at all positive.  There are far too many vandalized graves here for such an affluent community.  Rose Hill Cemetery, just east of Oxford, is no different.  What possesses the living to destroy the houses of the dead?  I have long been a believer that the callousness of those who would destroy graves for no reason is not far removed from the hatred and reckless destruction that causes others to take the lives of of living human beings for no reason.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

“It’s a dangerous business…going out your door….You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

Categories: Cemeteries, Exploration, Literature | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pitt Rivers Museum

Museum Entrance

Museum Entrance

Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum is a unique place where artifacts are arranged by their usages and how they evolved over time, something more common in the 1800s, and not by geography, which became more common with the rise of Franz Boas’s cultural and geographical ideas in the early 1900s. Below are some photos showing how the artifacts are grouped. Although museums normally mirror the philosophical changes of their societies, the Pitt-Rivers is a kind of fossilized museum, preserving the vision of Lt. General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, one of the earliest scientific excavators in British archaeology.

Main Floor

Main Floor

War Trophies

War Trophies

Religious Figures

Religious Figures

North American Pottery

North American Pottery

Early Firearms

Early Firearms

War Helmets

War Helmets

“The Past! the dark, unfathom’d retrospect!
The teeming gulf! the sleepers and the shadows!
The past! the infinite greatness of the past!
For what is the present, after all, but a growth out of the past?”
Walt Whitman, Passage to India, 1900

Categories: Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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