Archive for March, 2018

 

The Courtaulds moved into their new house in 1933 and stayed there until  May 1944 when they finally decided to move away from London because of the bombing. The house was leased to the Royal Army Educational Corps as a base from which it ran army schools overseas and administered examinations. The RAEC remained at Eltham until 1992.

RAEC at Eltham in the 1960s

The house passed to the Ministry of Works. A programme of repairs was carried out and it was opened to the public with the focus on the medieval remains on the site. English Heritage acquired responsibility for the Great Hall in 1984 and for the whole site in 1995 and set about a major refurbishment plan for the 20th century part of the property, the first stage of which took 5 years. A further set of rooms were opened to the public in 2013 following refurbishment.

Restoring the house to the 1930s look during the 1995-9 restoration

The Tradition of Maundy Money

Posted: March 29, 2018 in History, UK
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A very appropriate topic for today.

Stephen Liddell

Often in the shadow of Christmas due to the rampant over-commercisation, it is often forgotten that Easter Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy.  As we approach the annual 4-day Easter holiday weekend I thought it would be interesting to look at the tradition of Maundy Money.

The Royal Maundy is an ancient ceremony, inspired by The Bible.  As the Head of the Anglican Church, the Queen has various religious duties which she takes very seriously, this being one of them.

On the day before Good Friday, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and commanded them to ‘Love one another’. Since at least the thirteenth century, the Royal Family have been taking part in similar ceremonies known as Royal Maundy.  By washing the feet of the poor and…

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Peter Scott was born in September 1909. His father, the Antartic explorer, Robert Falcon Scott, died when he was only 2 years old. In his last letter to his wife, he encouraged her to get his son interested in natural history. Peter Scott read natural sciences at Cambridge but after graduation took up his interest in painting and had his first exhibition in London in 1933. He was also an excellent sailor and represented Great Britain at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he took a bronze medal. He served in the Royal Navy during world war II seeing service in the North Atlantic and the English Channel and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Using his artistic talent, he designed a new camouflage scheme for ships and by 1941 this had been adopted by the Navy. For this, he was awarded an MBE. Leaving the Navy in 1945 he stood for parliament but was not elected.

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In 1947 he founded the Severn Wildfowl Trust near Slimbridge (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) and in 1951 he was a co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund. At Slimbridge in the 1950’s, he made his name in conservation by masterminding the Nene project which ensured the survival of the Hawaiin Goose which was on the brink of extinction in its natural habitat. From 1955 until 1981 he appeared regularly on the BBC programme Look as well as doing other documentaries. He continued to be an acclaimed wildlife artist and was the founder of the society of wildlife artists.

Peter Scott died, aged 79, in August 1989. One of his biggest wishes was to have a Wetland Centre in an urban environment and this was achieved when the London Wetland centre opened in 2000. This statue of Peter Scott stands at the entrance to the centre as a memorial to the man, his life work and his legacy.

 

Now it had already been a very good morning already at the Wetland Centre when the news broke of a Bluethroat at Walthamstow Wetlands. Now I am not normally driven to chasing around after birds but there are some species for which I would make an exception – Gyrfalcon would be one and Bluethroat would be another. So it did not take much thought to abandon all previous plans and head off to the opposite side of London to see if I could see a Bluethroat for the first time. Would it still be there when I arrived?

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And so an hour or so later I found myself, along with a group of about a dozen others on the banks of the East Warwick Reservoir which makes up part of the Walthamstow complex. The bad news was immediately forthcoming – the bird had not been seen for an hour or so. Then one birder relocated it – it was partially hidden by the vegetation and the bank of the reservoir and it took me a while to get into a position where I could see the area where it had been seen and there it was, standing with its back to me! No sight of the amazing colouration on its throat and chest and then it was gone back into the vegetation. Over the next hour or so I got four brief views and the bird was revealed in all its glory. Sadly too far for any photos but I just enjoyed watching it.

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Bluethroat. Photo by Keith Cutting. Taken at Dungeness in Kent a few days before I saw the bird at Walthamstow

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Bluethroat. Photo by Karsten Wentink. https://www.flickr.com/photos/vankarsten/

On the way back to the reserve entrance I stooped off for 15 minutes to see if the Little Bunting would appear to crown the day – but no luck – well perhaps I was expecting too much!

Eurasian Magpie (top left), Canada Goose (top right), Greylag Goose (centre right) and Reed Bunting (bottom)

What a day – I think one of the best I have had- some very good birds.

Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Mew Gull (Common) [group] (Larus canus canus/heinei)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Rock Dove (Feral) (Columba livia ‘feral’)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Bluethroat (White-spotted) [group] (Luscinia svecica cyanecula/namnetum)
European Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola rubicola)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Chloris chloris)
Common Linnet [sp] (Linaria cannabina)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Common Reed Bunting [sp] (Emberiza schoeniclus)

A free day and a chance to get out and do some birdwatching. Keith had been to the wetland centre the previous week and had some good sightings so that was where I headed to.

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I arrived at the Tower hide and was greeted sights of a Marsh Harrier which had roosted in the reed-bed the previous evening. It was having a torrid time as every time it tried to fly it was hounded by the Carrion Crows who drove it back into the reed-bed, where it eventually perched.

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My attention was diverted elsewhere and so I didn’t see it leave but it hasn’t been reported since so I imagine that it had had enough and departed for some other place where it would get less hassle from the locals.

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Water Pipit. Photo by Radovan Vaclav (https://www.flickr.com/photos/rado_vaclav/)

On the wader scrape a Water Pipit wandered in and out of the vegetation and in the same area a Jack Snipe fed in a pool and showed its characteristic bobbing motion. I also got to see a Water Rail.

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Jack Snipe. Photo by Natural England (https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalengland/)

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Water Rail

All in all this was turning out to be a very good day and just as I was wondering what to do next – try to get some photos of the Pipit and Snipe; look for a Bittern or go and have some lunch – the news came through of a Bluethroat found at Walthamstow Wetlands – but that’s another story.

Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Western Marsh Harrier [sp] (Circus aeruginosus)
Water Rail [sp] (Rallus aquaticus)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)
Common Snipe [sp] (Gallinago gallinago)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Rock Dove (Feral) (Columba livia ‘feral’)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Water Pipit [sp] (Anthus spinoletta)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Chloris chloris)

In the early 1930’s, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld were looking for land on the edge of London to build a house and they settled on the site at Eltham, taking out a 99-year lease from the Crown.

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The builders in the 1930’s demolishing the farm buildings to make way for the new house. The Great Hall can be seen in the background

Their plan for Eltham was to build an ultra-modern home whilst retaining as much as possible of the historic palace. This was a challenging commitment and aroused some controversy at the time. The Great Hall was to be restored and incorporated into the house, whilst many of the other remains were to be incorporated into garden features, thus maintaining the historical remains intact.

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The completed house incorporating the Medieval Great hall (top left)

The exterior of the new house, in a ‘Wrenaissance’ style partly inspired by Hampton Court, is designed to complement the great hall. The interior styles (ranging from historical to moderne) resulted both from the Courtaulds’ own tastes and from the architects, designers and craftsmen they commissioned.

              The connection of 20th and 15th centuries (left) and the grand entrance to the house (right).

The snows of the weekend have vanished and it is something like spring weather again! So week 3 of the invertebrate surveys around the Tarn. I was fortunate to find 2 Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebees. They are usually very active at this time as they search for places to make their nests, but one was so busy exploring a potential site that it allowed me to get some photos.

 

I had not seen the Grey Wagtail in the garden recently but I found one by the Tarn

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As I approached the eastern end an adult Grey Heron took to flight but I was surprised to find a juvenile fishing near the reed-bed.

Tufted Duck (Top) Greylag Geese (bottom left) and Eurasian Coot (bottom right)

Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Rock Dove [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Grey Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla cinerea)
Pied Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla alba)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

In February 1810, the Peninsular war was not going well. France controlled most of Spain and the Spanish government had retreated to the port city of Cadiz. In an effort to complete their surrender, the French forces under Marshalls Soult and Victor besieged the city with 70,000 men. Inside the city at the time were 2,000 Spanish troops. Attempts were made, without success,  to lift the siege in October 1810 and again the following year. The siege lasted for over 2 years but did not succeed as the Fench were unable to block off the sea route and the allied forces of Spain, Britain and Portugal were able to supply and reinforce the city by sea. In July 1812 with Wellington’s victory at Salamanca and subsequent capture of Madrid, Marshall Sault realised he was in grave danger of being cut off from the rest of the French army in Spain. He ordered a retreat from Cadiz, leaven behind a number of siege guns.

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One of these guns was presented by the Spanish Government to the British Naval Commander with a request that it be presented to the Prince Regent and set up as a memorial to the Victory at Salamanca and the lifting of the siege. It arrived in London and went on public display in August 1816. It was an impressive and terrifying piece of sculpture, although reports at the time described it as an ineffective weapon, inaccurate in firing and causing very few casualties during the siege.

The inscription reads:

To commemorate the Raising of the Siege of Cadiz, in consequence of the Glorious Victory obtained by the Duke of Wellington over the French at Salamanca, on the 22d July 1812: This Mortar, cast for the destruction of that Great Port, with Powers surpassing all others, and abandoned by the Besiegers on their Retreat, was presented as a token of respect and gratitude by the Spanish Nation, To his Royal Highness the Prince Regent.

It can be seen today on Horse Guards Parade.

Naturelog: 18th March

Posted: March 20, 2018 in Birds, London, Natural History, UK
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The snows have returned to London. So much for spring!

The Garden today

I was surprised when I looked out of the window at the feeding station this morning. Amongst the Woodpigeons and Common Pigeons was a bird which looked smaller and sleeker. Grabbing the binoculars I was pleased to see what looked like a Stock Dove. Then my brain told me to be careful. Although Stock doves are being seen more frequently in London, there are some Common Pigeons that have similar markings. So I carefully went through all the differing identification points and they all fit and it did look like a much slimmer and elegant bird compared to the others. Convinced that this was a first record for the Garden and possibly the local patch I rushed off to get the camera, but the time I returned it had gone. Checking my records I had seen one locally before, although that was just flying over, interestingly that it was in late March last year.

Stock Dove. Photo by Natural England (https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalengland/)

The Stock Dove is probably the rarest of our common species of pigeons. It is estimated however that 50% of the total population live in the UK and so it has quite a high conservation status. It was traditionally a bird of woodland and farmland but as these habitats have been diminished, both in quality and quantity, it has moved into our towns and cities. Traditionally it builds its nest in holes in trees but has now been recorded using other cavities such as in buildings.

4 weeks ago when I saw the Little Bunting at Walthamstow Wetlands, Keith was in South Africa and so our trip today was with the specific purpose of him seeing this bird which has been around for a few months now. I have read that this is only the 11th time that this species has been recorded in London, so one which we may not get the opportunity to see again.

 

It had been seen about 15 minutes before we arrived and so it was that we spent most of the day checking out the feeder station and the bushes near East Warwick reservoir which has been its usual haunt. A group of Reed Buntings were present together with a flock of linnets.

 

Common Linnet (left) and Reed Bunting (right)

Mid-afternoon I wandered off for a look at a nearby lake and found some herons nesting in the trees already.

 

 

Canada Geese (top), Grey Heron (centre) and Egyptian Geese (bottom)

When I got back there had still been no sighting. Eventually, around 3 pm, we both decided to go for a coffee at the reserve centre and then come back for a final 30 minutes before the reserve closed at 4pm. Well at 3.55 the Little Bunting was spotted in a tree in the hedge, it then flew down towards the feeder area. It never did emerge from the graas although I did get a brief view of it through the vegetation. Talk about leaving it until the last minute! Not the longest of views but at least Keith got to see it.

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Little Bunting. Photo by Vince (https://www.flickr.com/photos/baggieman/)

My favourite picture of the day though was this fella who came to visit whilst we were having coffee

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Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Rock Dove (Feral) (Columba livia ‘feral’)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
Peregrine Falcon [sp] (Falco peregrinus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Cetti’s Warbler [sp] (Cettia cetti)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Chiffchaff [sp] (Phylloscopus collybita)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Song Thrush [sp] (Turdus philomelos)
Mistle Thrush [sp] (Turdus viscivorus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
White Wagtail (Pied) (Motacilla alba yarrellii)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Chloris chloris)
Common Linnet [sp] (Linaria cannabina)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla)
Common Reed Bunting [sp] (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapiadarius)                                                                          Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus Terrestris)