Tag Archives: limestone

Valletta’s Spaces of Stone

Valletta’s architecture is unified in its building material — as is all of Malta it seems, but here it is most striking how this unifies the old and the new. Renzo Piano’s fabulous new city gate rises up as you enter, it’s massive square forms work beautifully in this space, as modern as they are. I wish I had taken more pictures.

Valleta

Just as I wish I had more pictures of the opera house beyond (the columns visible just beyond), where they chose not to rebuild the massive building left in ruins by WWII bombs, but to leave its foundations and columns to embrace an outdoor performance space, which I also quite loved. Similar pictures of the ruins were shown several time through the Cities as Community Spaces conference, a symbol of the city’s resilience.

Valletta opera-house-8-april-1942Valletta is in fact surrounded by monumental space, this stairway rises up to the left as you enter, leading to Hastings gardens along the battlements that protect the city.

Valletta

I’ll come back to those because they are fascinating, but still what most captivated me were the narrow streets in this Renaissance city, originally named the most humble city of Valletta, after the Master of the Knights of Malta, Jean de Vallette, who had successfully led the defense of the island against the Ottoman Turks in 1565. This city on the isthmus was to solidify defenses — and you can tell. Built in 40 years by Italian architect Francesco Laparelli, student of Michelangelo, and finished by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, I am curious to explore how it connects to other city planning from this time. Their auberges — grand renaissance building with a municipal feel that housed the langues and now house museums and government offices — are familiar, the churches also:

IMG_5070

These wonderful grand colonnaded spaces

Valletta

But the streets laid out in a perfect (then almost revolutionary) grid with these wonderful balconies — these are like nothing I had ever seen.

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

It is a city where the whole is beautiful to look upon, but the details are as well…

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

And just look at these balconies, the individuality they bring to each building front, and the craftsmanship of them, they all seem to have their individual touches amplified by the passing of time and the histories of their owners:

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Interesting, though, that so many of them are enclosed and hardly large enough to be used as extended living spaces. They seem used for laundry and plants. You could not squeeze a table and chairs outside as we saw so often in Paris, you cannot easily connect and talk to your neighbour next door or across the way, even with the windows wide open as they are above. It seems an opportunity missed, a reflection of a more enclosed society or perhaps an aspect of the city that helps create one. Nor are there stoops or enough space to extend living into the doorways and streets the way families do in say New York. Much of this seems concentrated in the squares, but still, I wonder at the impact on the everyday life and conviviality.

These streets contain atmosphere, and the surprise lost through the absence of twists and turns is found instead in the variegated building surfaces and the faded palimpsests painted onto stone, the flaking remnants of the past .

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

I don’t have a picture of the old grafittied pictures of ships that was pointed out to me by someone from Valletta as we walked back from a panel through the streets — her friend had uncovered it as he was cleaning the stone. There is no telling how old it is, a deep ochre red and it looked like pictures of the galleys so prevalent in the Mediterranean I have seen in books. She told me too the use of statues of saints at the street corners instead of street signs — St Christopher easily recognisable embodied in stone for those unable to read the letters of his name. We laughed that no longer are we literate in that way. I had a thought to catalogue them, but it fell away, saints are not my favourite things, and these are many of them grand, not the humble saints dressed in hand-sewn clothing I am more used to. But I do love shrines.

Valletta

This on the other hand…on the grand masters palace on the edge of George’s Square. Perhaps this was explained on one of the tours or if I could hit upon the right search terms, I usually love grotesques but this man in European dress riding what seems to be a naked African woman? Telling, if rather horrible.

Valletta

I only really noticed it my last day, because always your eyes are drawn to the life in the square — though early on a Sunday as I headed to the airport is was more quiet than I ever saw it:

Valletta

There are fountains here which must be wonderful in summer, it was  always full of children, including two little girls swanning through delightedly on scooters. Tourists and townfolk and migrants alike make use of the many places to sit that ring the square, as did I the night I wandered here alone. It is a lovely space, especially at night when the cafes overflow and there is lively talk and the clink of glasses and the smell of food…

Funny that it almost never smells of the sea here. Yet the sea surrounds it, on the other side of these enormous fortifications. This is looking towards Sliema:

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Finding these fields tucked away made me so happy though, I can’t image football in this kind of setting! I was glad too, as many of the conference speakers mentioned the way they had played football in the streets as children — streets now very full of cars, and it’s true no children play there now.

Valletta

More views, this of Fort Manoel with the massive luxury build in Sliema behind it:

Valletta

Back over Valletta itself — in the foreground graffiti. Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, I was happy to find Mohammed Ali quoted here.

Valletta

Valletta at night — it is magical, I confess I wrote reams, though nothing coalesced quite into a story. My thoughts circled around Caravaggio for some reason, swaggering through the streets. It struck me that sober he wanted to be like the knights who were lords of all this, and that drunk he wanted to destroy them. It is easy to imagine him wandering through streets such as these, unlike England the modern almost never intrudes to break the atmosphere. Maybe the story will come, tinged with the recent car bombings, the old man wandering down the street with a bird in a tiny cage held reverently between his hands, chirping as he went. The undercurrents you can feel here, though I am ignorant of their precise nature.

Valletta

Valleta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Looking across from the other side of Valletta, towards the Forti Sant’ Anġl

Valletta

There are spaces underneath as well — I was lucky enough to visit the air raid shelter beneath the Crypt of St Augustine where the conference dinners were hosted. The crypt itself is a beautiful vaulted space where many lived during WWII, escaping down rickety stairs at the sirens. Boards covered the puddles of water at the bottom, we half-drunkenly explored the long passages and rooms and it was wonderful.

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

I had to leave too soon. But luck brought me a window seat, and it is from the air that you can best appreciate how small Valletta is, and the position it holds within this much larger urban conglomeration. I loved the fields as well, these are small plots that can never become too mechanised or monocultured.

Valletta from the air

Valletta from the air

I think this was Gozo in fact, but you can see the stark lines of the towns and the terracing of the hillsides, even if you can’t quite see the wonderful blues of the sea itself.

Malta from the air

A wonderful place, I am so thankful for the luck and generosity of those I love that allowed me come here.

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Farm archaeology: barrows, mines and medieval fields

The farm archaeology is fascinating here, and best of all there is a folder full of articles and reports on what can be seen, and what experts know about it. The information here comes from a report done by Frank Robinson in 2001 (FR), an English Heritage designation report (EH), and a lovely packet put together by a Geography teacher for the local secondary school (G). These maps are from Robinson:

IMG_2732IMG_2734IMG_2730

The farm sits at the top in the middle. For the farmhouse – the house and stone buildings built in the late 18th and early 19th century, and they originally made cheese in what is now the kitchen (G). The oldest building stands along the lane and supposedly ‘from the lane can be seen a sandstone cheese press block used to fill part of an old doorway’ (FR). I read that too late to go look for it, coming to Glasgow meant I didn’t quite get to process everything. Whitewash (made of quicklime from the lime quarry on the farm itself) mixed with cow’s blood, dung, sand and horse hair worked as building mortar, and this was used in construction of the farm itself, along with more quarried limestone, and rubble infill.

The old shed along the lane:

Farm 3.6

Farm 3.6

The farm itself from the lane:

Farm 3.1

As interesting are the hedgerows – The presence of 8 different woody species age a hedge at roughly 500 years, the hedgerow here is probably about 800 years old due to the presence of 13 different woody shrubs: Hawthorn, Buckthorn, Guelder Rose, Holly, Elderberry, Willow, Hazel, Honesuckle, Field Maple, Field Rose, Dog Rose, Blackthorn and Ash (G).

Farm 3.13

Almost as cool is that the age of the hedgerow may show date of enclosure — Robinson notes that the land was enclosed by agreement so there is no act as such, probably the field boundaries were established by early 19th century. These now serve as windbreaks and habitats for small mammals and birds – wrens, bank voles, badgers, foxes, rabbits. Other plants found here are wood anemone, townhall lock, goldilox buttercup, ground ivy, red campion, dog’s mercury, and lords and ladies (G). For years these would also have been the main source of firewood, and food as well — the tender shoots of hogweed boiled or steamed! Delicious.

Before enclosure these were open fields, plowed in a ridge and furrow pattern which shows the old medieval fields. These ridges were to be found all over the farm, but I found them difficult to see in many places. Apple Sitch Pingle (a name I never heard, this field was always top block) shows them clearly in the late afternoon light however, especially after mowing:

Farm 3.14

Robinson notes the meaning of this old field name – sitch is an old English word for a muddy stream, Apple probably a spelling of Aplow – low old English hlaw – hill or mound. Ap could refer to a hill or lost barrow. Pingle term often used to describe a meadow by the side of a stream.

You climb up to the top of the this and get the most lovely view of the farm and surrounding hills:

Farm 3.5

The next field up is Stanlow Close, between this and Stanlow Nobbs is:

The dew pond

Farm

These were needed before the existence of water mains and hoses. Built to provide water for upper fields, Robinson describes their building as almost a lost art. They were made with a special clay lining to retain water, sometimes ‘puddled with pig manure and dock leaves’. The Department of Agriculture ordered these filled in during the 1950s — there are evidence of several on the farm.

Continuing on to Stanlow Nobbs (limekiln field or the quarry to us) are

The barrows

Climbing up from the other side:

Farm 3.1

And another view of them (and me! Hello!):

Farm 3.1

The view from the top

Farm 3.1

Farm 3.1

From the very dry English Heritage Monument documents: There are two bowl barrows, joined by an earthwork ‘not yet fully understood’. Lucas and Carrington partially excavated one of the barrows in 1869, dated it to Bronze age and found a pottery urn, amber ring, perforated stone axe and bronze 3-rivetted dagger with ivory pommel (the axe and dagger are buried somewhere in the British Museum — they were once thought lost but refound, probably in a pile of things all gathering dust in London. I can’t help but feel they should have remained with their dead, or be found in the local museum). Cropmarks (3 rectangular marks of lush growth in dry weather) show probable location of Anglian secondary burials dating to c AD 700.

This would also be shared in common with Wigber Low — which is visible from here but this view of it makes it seem most unremarkable.

The cropmarks weren’t visible sadly. Robinson gives a bit more information — most such bowl barrows are from the Late Bronze Age, dating between 2400-1500 BC. Of these, there is actually some debate as to whether the smaller of the two is simply a natural mound, as well as the connecting ridge between them. This hasn’t yet been resolved as there has been no excavation since the 1800s.

Just to the other side of them, a rise followed by a dangerous drop off shows the presence of:

The Quarry

Climbing down and around it is beautiful here in the afternoon light:

Farm 3.1

Farm 3.1

Farm 3.1

This area is left uncut and ungrazed through July so rare limestone flora can grow as part of a conservation scheme – Stone Crop, Cowslip, Primroses, Wild Carrots, Sheep’s Bit Scabious and Field Scabious, Yarrow, Meadow saxifrage, Kidney Vetch and others:

Farm 3.1

Two quarries appear on 1850 tithe maps, by 1880 they had been combined and extended. In 1941, the farm owner (Jack Oakes) and a butcher in Ashbourne (Herbert Plumbley) were recorded as operators, and providing crushed Limestone for construction of Darley Moor – Ashbourne’s airfield during WWII.

This quarry is also the site of the

Lead Mine

The two were worked together. I wasn’t sure quite where the seam was to be found, assuming it to be somewhere amongst the rubble in the middle:

Farm 3.1

Lead mining was another way to supplement farm income, and lead was used widely before plastics became available, especially for plumbing. There are a number of records relating to the mining, and showed a number of people in the surrounding area had worked the quarry, not just the farmer. The more recent 20th Century mine shaft has been explored by a local group, and they found evidence of folded iron rails and a wooden sleeper from narrow gauge track, as well as a winching beam standing over a shaft .

Other records are to be found in the Wirksworth Wapantake General Barmasters Book vols 24 and 77, though there were much older workings here as well. The English Heritage records note that this is described as a King’s Field, where the crown has the right to assign mining rights. The below is all from Robinson:

1806 land staked out as Bonyhole (bony hole) by William Bearisford of Weston. I know some of you will find that name hilarious, there is no speculation on its origin.

1938 H.G. Plumbley and John Oakes (the butcher/farmer combo) claimed a vein in the quarry with the Barmaster. In October and December 1948, two others (W.J. Brooks of Wirksworth and John Matkin of Carsington) applied to be given rights to work Bonyhole mine – notice was served on Plumbley on 23rd December ‘that unless his mine, Bonyhole is put in proper workmanship within 3 weeks it will be given away. Notice is also posted at the mine’. The new owner of New House Farm, Major F.C. Linnel-Gosling, then sent his own notice of registration as owner, saying that he had been working since Jan 1948 and that others had unlawfully taken lead from it.

Brooks returned the lead.

As of 1950 when Bob’s father bought the farm, I don’t think there was any longer activity in the quarry or mine.

Close to the quarry is also to be found a gravel pit:

Farm 3.1

Along with ruins of the:

Limekiln

Farm 3.1

Limestone used to be quarried both as a source of income and for the farm itself – quarried limestone was used as a building material of course, but could also be heated in a kiln to produce Calcium Oxide – Quicklime. This was sprinkled in plague graves to reduce infection. It was a also mixed with water to make slaked lime – ie whitewash — which was also known as ‘bug-binding’ as it disinfected walls in houses and barns and got rid of insects. Whitewash, as mentioned at the beginning, could also be mixed with blood, straw and sand to create mortar for building. All in all, limestone is a very useful material.

From the edge of the field you can look into Rye Close

Farm 3.1

Clearly used as a field for planting rye — once the main grain for consumption in this area. This was known to his parents as the football field as there used to be a football pitch on it! Old ridge and furrow is supposed to be visible from medieval plowing, but I couldn’t really see it. I’d have hated to play football on it.

Coming back down the central field you can some more of it though, not so much from the top

Farm 3.1

but further down, where the electric fence now keeps everything safe from the goats.

Farm 3.14

This place was rich in history, and visible markings of the different ways people not just grew food and raised livestock for survival here, but also dug out metals and processed rock. I so loved being part of this.

Strange after thinking of land and history in this way, to wake up to the news that we have left the EU. The area where I was voted overwhelmingly for leave…signs were posted everywhere, and I know a meeting of farmers was held to discuss the issue, and they were all for leave which disappointed the conveners immensely. An American friend asked what I thought about it all and I am still not sure, but this is sort of what is in my head — and I wished for us to remain.

Most of us are pretty depressed, because it feels like a vote for the right wing and xenophobia and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric and insularity and fear… and at the same time there was a strong left argument for leaving because the EU is a neoliberal shit that has been working to build a (metaphorical-ish) wall around the EU to stop all non-white immigrants from getting in (while allowing free movement within it) and pushing austerity and layers of bureaucracy without much accountability, and I’ve heard some argue it’s a working class vote against politics in general, which may be true — but seems as usual cities full of working class and immigrants tended to vote one way and rich and rural people who live in areas without immigrants voted another, with some exceptions for areas in the north that have been truly fucked economically for a very long time. Brixton/South London was 78% remain, and of course scotland also voted remain so another vote for their independence will probably take place again in light of this. It will be years two years at least, of course, before it ‘starts’ and at least one booming job market in legal wrangling and regulation writing. I wish I could celebrate Cameron’s resignation properly but I just can’t.

Many on my facebook feed see it is a failure of the (Blairite) left to respond to concerns of the working class facing stagnant wages and a shrinking economy and fewer and fewer services and opportunities.

But the news has been heartbreakingly unbearable lately, even more than usual. It hasn’t helped too much to spend every day working so hard physically to produce food rather than politically or with community as before, nor helped much to think of how many bloody and horrific periods of history these barrows or the ridge and furrows have existed alongside and survived, but it resets the perspective a little perhaps.

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