A View of the Church

Observer's Book of Old English ChurchesThe cover photo is of All Saints church, at Feering, in Essex.

Another post on The Observer's Book series.

This is a book I've owned and found very useful for quite a while; The Observer's Book of Old English Churches.

While I was researching for this post, I found that there’s a rare version of this book, with the cover in a glossy finish; I’ve seen it for sale for £118! But my 1965 copy with the same cover design is worth just what I paid for it; £3.50.

That’s okay; it means that I don’t mind taking it with me when I‘m working on my blog, The North Bucks Wanderer.

This is what the book is intended for. The general arrangement of this book is designed with this in mind; the contents list is not in page order. Instead the list is in alphabetical order, so that you can easily find the right section.

Continue reading "A View of the Church" »

‘The Summit Gained. Behold The Proud Alcove Crowns It!’

Cowper's AlcoveHow do I get a nice snowy photo when it hasn’t snowed here this December? I take the photo in 2010 and I don’t tell you. Er, whoops…

Mr Cowper’s Task

William Cowper published his long poem The Task in 1785 and it’s seen as his greatest achievement. He was 54. But what has the poem to do with this odd looking building in these photos, over half a mile up a narrow lane from the little village of Weston Underwood?

This Grade 2 listedbuilding is known as Cowper’s Alcove and was constructed in 1753 as a folly in the grounds of Weston Park. The park is mostly farm land now. An avenue of Limes once led back towards the village and the old, now long demolished Weston House.

Cowper's Alcove in Weston ParkThis was taken from the lane to Cowper's Alcove. The lane runs along the Western edge of the old Weston Park.

Cowper (pronounced ‘Cooper’) would rest here on his walks when he lived in Olney a couple of miles away. When he moved to Weston Underwood in 1786 he continued his walks. Many of his most famous poems were written at the alcove, including The Task. See the photo below.

Cowper's The TaskAn appropriate piece of the poem is engraved on this stone (click to enlarge)

Here’s a couple of excerpts from The Task:

From Book 1, The Sofa.

“At length a generation more refined
Improved the simple plan, made three legs four,
Gave them a twisted form vermicular,
And o’er the seat, with plenteous wadding stuffed,
Induced a splendid cover green and blue,
Yellow and red, of tapestry richly wrought
And woven close, or needlework sublime.
There might ye see the peony spread wide,
The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass,
Lapdog and lambkin with black staring eyes,
And parrots with twin cherries in their beak.”

From Book 4, The Winter Evening.

“Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.”

Cowper's Alcove with fisheyePortrait of the photographer as a light stand. This photo was taken in 2013 with a fisheye lens which I hadn’t had very long, and I did not appreciate just how wide an angle it could take in. I hadn’t meant to be in the photo, but there I am, holding my flashgun...

I've also written about Cowper's Alcove, and Orchard Side, the house where Cowper lived in Olney, here. That's already up on my other blog, The North Bucks Wanderer.

Well that’s it. I found a nice snowy photo for you, so this is your Christmas post. Read the excerpt from book 4 again, it’s just right for this time of year. Stay warm, stay well and best wishes for the New Year.

Geoffrey Wellum, Spitfire pilot


Within ten months of leaving school, Geoffrey Wellum was flying a Spitfire as the youngest pilot in 92 Squadron. Nicknamed ‘Boy’, he was posted to the squadron in May 1940 before his training was completed, aged just eighteen years and nine months. When he joined the squadron he had never even seen a Spitfire, but he soon saw action in the Battle of Britain.

Geoffrey Wellum had to grow up rather quickly. Fighting for your country, killing the enemy, risking death yourself, and seeing your friends and fellow officers die isn’t for boys; it’s for men. You can see in the photo at this link, flight Lieutenant Brian Kingcome (left) and Flying Office Geoffrey Wellum (right). They are 24 and 20 years old in the picture, but their eyes look older than their years.

Geoffrey Wellum First LightFirst Light, at first light.

Wellum wrote his memoirs, never intending them to see publication, but years later passed them on to author James Holland, who wanted to do research for a new novel. Some memoirs are dry reading, but Holland was impressed enough to pass the memoir over to Penguin Books, who published it as First Light in 2002.

I bought this book a couple of months ago, and it’s a really good read. It doesn’t always go smoothly for Geoffrey Wellum especially during his training, but he describes his failings as honestly as his successes, and with feeling and detail. While looking through First Light today to find quotations, I found myself reading it again, and had to force myself back to work to finish this post.

When Wellum first arrives at 92 Squadron his Commanding Officer isn’t too pleased that he has been sent there before his training was finished:

        “‘Well, I haven’t got time to train you and that’s flat. this squadron was re-formed a few months ago and what’s more it’s going to be a damn good squadron. None is going to be better. We were declared operational yesterday and we are waiting for our first action, which, if I’m not very much mistaken, will be any hour now at Dunkirk. We have the best aeroplane in the service, or in the world for that matter, and if you break one there will be merry hell to pay."

Spitfire at RAF Little RissingtonGeoffrey Wellum trained here at Little Rissington in Gloucestershire. The late model Spitfire on this postcard is now on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. 

Of course Wellum soon learns to fly a Spit., and at last becomes a fighter pilot, which is what he wanted. Later in the book, he describes going into combat:

        “Voices over the R/T. Urgency.
        ’109s above the first lot coming round to six o’clock, 3,000 feet above.’ ‘Six more at four o’clock high.’ ‘I see them, they’re starting to come down, here they come, watch ‘em, Blue Section. Break into them, Blue, break starboard, break for Christ’s sake.’
        Things are starting to get rough. Automatically I have followed my self-emposed drill that I always do at times like this. Reflector sight on; gun button to fire; airscrew pitch to 2,650 revs; better response. Press the emergency boost over-ride, lower my seat a notch and straps tight. OK, men, I’m all set. Let battle commence. Please, dear God, like me more than you do the Germans”

It’s like being in the cockpit with him. I recommend this book whole heartedly. It’s one of the best I’ve seen of this genre.

You’ve probably already heard that Geoffrey Wellum passed away on July 18th, aged 96, having been born on August 4, 1921. There’s just a handful of these men left, now. Let’s not forget them.

First Light (2002) By Geoffrey Wellum

Easy Photography

“FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND READERS can’t be wrong. A book that needs reprinting twice every twelve months is sure to be right”  It says on the inside of the dust cover.

Ilford Sportsman and All in One Camera Book

This is a lovely book, full of enthusiasm and encouragement. It takes the reader through the technicalities of photography in an easy to understand manner.

It’s full of diagrams and illustrations, and has photos with captions explaining how to achieve similar results. I first read this as a library book many years ago, and I still enjoy reading it now.

I think this book had quite a wide reputation as a good one for beginners, as the phrase “W.D. Emanuel’s All in One Camera Book” can be found on the front cover. This 1959 edition was the 43rd, but the first edition was 1939. the latest edition I've found was 1975.

All in One Camera book 1

Photographic technology has moved on a long way since ’59. Most film was much less sensitive to light then, and very few cameras had built in light meters.

Cameras were very expensive for their price compared to cameras today, with our modern mass production techniques.

For example, the Ilford Sportsman camera in the photo at the top of the post was sold new in 1962, on a hire purchase agreement.  It’s a well made camera and has a nice lens (not a zoom), simple 3 speed shutter, scale focusing, and no light meter.

It cost £15 4s 9d (£15.21) when the average weekly wage was £12 3s 6d (£12.18) It’s quite a useable camera, but oh, the price!

All in One Camera Book 2

This book makes good, easy bedtime reading for this experienced photographer, and I like the way it explains things that beginners often found difficult. As it says on the front, "43 editions, 430,000 better photographers"

All in One Camera Book by W.D. Emanuel.