Tuesday – Surrey – I park at Newark lock. A narrow bridge crosses a leat. The bridge allows for one carriageway of traffic and a footpath. Nuthatches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker call in the surrounding trees. Below black-winged damselflies, Beautiful Damseflies, flit around the foliage of nettles and water plants. A short distance along the road a bridge crosses the Wey Navigation. A canal boat passes slowly under the bridge.
Across the road and onto the tow-path. Hemp Agrimony is coming to the end of its flowering and sadly there is a large amount of Himalayan Balsam in amongst it. On the other side of the bank stood a large early 19st century mill but unfortunately it burnt to the ground within an hour on the 3rd of December 1966. Building had 5 floors 3 waterwheels and 8 pairs of stones. The first Mill here was recorded in 1677 and probably milled corn which continued into the 20th century, although now mainly animal feed was produced. Milling stopped in 1942. The early 19st century mill house remains on the site and a long timber-framed barn is now converted into dwellings.
Between the tow-path and a field are Sallows and Brambles through which grow Great Willowherb and Bindweed. The occasional Mallard swims on the canal. Across the field are the ruins of Newark Priory, annoyingly on private land and closed to the public.
The priory stands in an island formed by the River Wey and the Abbey Stream, a former leat. It was founded in the late 12st century on land given by Rauld de Calva and his wife Beatrice de Sandes. It was an Augustinian house and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Thomas Becket. Originally the land where the church was built was called Aldbury. This gradually changed its name from Aldbury to Newark or the New Place (novo loco) of St Thomas near Guildford. At Dissolution, in 1538, the prior, Richard Lipscombe, was pensioned off, all valuables sent to the Tower of London and the land given to the Master of the King’s Horse. It has been said that a cannon was employed from the top of Church Hill to bombard or demolish what were then extensive buildings.
The canal boat is just leaving Newark lock as I approach. Wild Hops thread their way through the Brambles and up a Blackthorn. A flock of a couple of dozen feral geese – Greylag, Canada and Egyptian Geese – feed on the meadow beneath the priory walls. Beyond the lock the Abbey Stream flows into the navigation. A sedgy meadow is cut by The Bourne which joins the Abbey Stream just before the confluence. Water Mint and other water plants, particularly the invasive Floating Pennywort, Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, grow on the edge of the canal. Walsham Meadow is divided by a plantation. A large patch of Bistort grows on the meadow which is mainly sedges.
I head back to the car park as I am wary of overstressing my Achilles.
Pyrford – The church of St Nicholas stands next to the vast old vicarage, a Victorian building with a nod to the Queen Anne period. The church is closed because of the pandemic. The church was founded around 1150 and restored in 1869 by Sir T.G. Jackson. Edward the Black Prince was patron of the parish of Wisley with Pyrford which was joined in 1631. A war memorial stands outside the church. Unusually there are 26 names from the First World War and 44 names from the Second World War.
Wisley – Church Farm House is a large 16th century building, extended in both the 17th and 19st centuries. Nearby Wisley church has no dedication. Like Pyrford it was built around 1150. It has a 17th century porch and 19st century vestry and was restored in 1872. Windows are fine examples of round-headed Norman lights. It is undergoing re-rendering.
Chobham Common – A sizeable area of heathland straddling the deafeningly noisy M3 motorway. It looks good for heathland birds such as Dartford Warbler but I see and hear absolutely nothing.
Wednesday – Addlestone – Kay goes to see her mother who is 100 years old today! Because of the Covid-19 restrictions only she and her sister can visit. I head down to Coxes Lock. It has been several years since I have visited this delightful spot. The large mill is a good example of how an old building can be converted to a new use, in this case residential, whilst retaining its heritage look. An example of how Pinsley Mill could have looked! A few Mallard swim around the large pool, virtually a lake feed by the River Wey Navigation with the short mill stream rushing down a weir. A pair of Egyptian Geese are on the barrier between the river and lake. A Coot dabbles then stands in the barrier too. A pair of Mallard approach, the drake is just beginning to regain its bottle green head after eclipse. The air is filled with the sound of lawn mowers and strimmers, as the grass both around the lake and the lock is cut. One of the gardeners has a long rake with large tines with which he pulls a large tangle of waterweeds, again looking like Floating Pennywort, out of the canal.
Home – We return to Leominster – a long, wet journey driving through lorry spray on the M42. Into the garden to find a disaster – the Howgate Wonder has fallen, crushing my Georgia Collards. It is clear the base of the tree has rotted and it went down under the weight of apples, although it seems strange that it survived the recent gales only to fall on a fairly quiet day.
Wednesday – Leominster – The local swimming pool has reopened, so I accompany Kay along the alley beside the motor garage, Miles Court. A large stretch of Ivy is covered in flower heads, more than I have seen before. It is too early for insects to be about but it will provide an important source of nectar in the autumn.
Home – The weather turns into a perfect September day – sunshine, small fluffy, white clouds and a breeze. We go up to Dinmore and buy a couple of Warren point-of-lay chickens. They are put in a pen at the end of the run. I throw down some seed and at first all the hens concentrate on that but soon the noise starts as the older ones all try to prove their dominance. It will take a while for them to settle down.
At twilight I check the hens. One of the new ones is on the roof of the hen house, so I pick her up and place her on the perch inside. She gets a welcoming peck from the Russet. I then search for the other which takes a few moments as she has slipped up through a small gap in the roof netting and is standing on the top of the run. She too goes inside. Rocket is on the nest so she gets heaved off, much to her annoyance.
Thursday – Home – Dawn brings little improvement in the chicken relationships. I had reset the automatic door to open late so I manually operate it about 7:15am. One of the new hens looks out but is barged aside by the older ones as they charge out and down to the feeder. In the end I have to push the two new hens out of the house – possibly a mistake as a cacophony of complaints breaks loose from the Russet in particular. Rocket joins in and for once I am feel slightly sorry for our neighbours. The day proceeds with the two huddled together trying to avoid the attention of the old bullies.
I am surprised to harvest about 1½lb of quinces from the bush in the alleyway. It is technically an ornamental bush but the little fruits are perfectly usable. I mix in some apple, boil them and pour the resultant pulp into a jelly bag and leave it to drip overnight.
After dark I inspect the chickens and find that one of the new hens seems to have got herself stuck under the partially closed automatic door. She is removed and placed on a perch inside the house. The other is on the roof of the hen house and she too is transferred inside.
Sunday – Leominster – My Achilles tendon damage finally seems to be repaired so I set off for a gentle walk. There is some blue sky between mounds of grey cloud. Two piles of sleepers are beneath the railway bridge; three are made from a form of concrete, the other fourteen are old fashioned wooden ones. There is a short stretch of wooden sleepers on each track close to where the station platform begins. These appear to be the only wooden ones on this stretch of line. Long lengths of rail lay between the northbound tracks in the station. I have not gazed upon the River Lugg for some weeks now. Its water level is still low. A Robin sings sweetly in the riverside trees. Easters Meadow has been recently mown.
Through Pinsley Mill. A Chiffchaff calls from across the railway. Into the Millennium Park. All the areas of Stinging Nettles and meadow flowers have been strimmed to the ground. The Priory bells toll nine o’clock followed by the compline bells. Another Chiffchaff calls by the Peace Garden. A Spindle tree is covered in beautiful red fruits. The water level in the River Kenwater is also low. Into the churchyard. A Crab Apple tree has fruits almost exactly the same colour as the spindle.
Home – Kay has emptied one of the compost bins so I transfer the contents of the second into the newly emptied one. However, the bins are falling to bits, so I decide not to transfer the contents of the plastic bins into the wooden bin but order a new set of wooden bins and will sort it all out when they arrive. They are not cheap but they do last quite a few years. Some wooden stakes are also ordered so we can have a line of them carrying wires along the garden wall to tie in all the roses and shrubbery.
The hens are slowly calming down although the old ones are still trying dominate the young ones.
Monday – Leominster – It is still quite dark as I set off across the Grange. Above the silhouetted trees of Eaton Hill the sky orange mutating into grey. Above a slivered old moon is accompanied by Venus. Blackbirds scream up their alarms, Jackdaws chack irregularly. A thin mist hangs over the river valley. I collect a rucksackful of fallen cider apples and stagger home.
Home – An hour later the mist has thickened and coated the whole area – a hoppin’ morning. The mist soon burns off in the hot sun and the air heats up. The sky is clear, the Swifts, Swallows and House Martins have gone. As usual, I cannot put a departure date in them, I just notice the absence at some point. Good numbers of butterflies are flying around – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Small Whites and Peacocks. Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits visit the feeders. Blackbirds stalk along the garden walls. Wood Pigeons flap noisily between the trees.
Tuesday – Home – Grass has grown rapidly over the last couple of weeks so out comes the lawnmower. The clippings are spread out over the chicken run. The day is pleasant and warm until mid-afternoon when it becomes uncomfortably muggy. A lone Swallow passes over. Gulls head south at a considerable height. The new hens still refuse to go to bed in the house but fly up to the top of it and have to be plucked off and put inside.
Wednesday – Newtown – Newtown is the largest town in Powys, in the historic county of Montgomeryshire. It was designated a new town, for development, in 1967. On 16th January 1279 King Edward I granted Roger de Montgomerie a charter to create a new market town, a centre for the hamlet of Llanfair-yn-Nghedewain. New streets were laid out, which streets remain those of the town centre to this day. The foundation is connected to the fate of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, whose new administrative centre at Dolforwyn Castle near Abermule so alarmed Edward I that it was besieged. He seized Llywelyn’s lands and granted them to the Mortimers. They transferred the administration of the cantref of Cedewain and the commote of Ceri from Dolforwyn Castle to the new settlement at Newtown. The town grew in the 18th and 19st centuries around the textile and flannel industry, stimulated by completion of the Montgomeryshire Canal. In 1838, the town saw Wales’s first Chartist demonstration. The Cambrian Mills, opened in 1856, were the first steam-driven mills in the town. The mills stood beside the canal terminus on the east bank of the Severn. They expanded to become the largest of the Welsh woollen mills.
We park opposite the station. The station was the eastern terminus of the Newtown and Machynlleth Railway opened by the Countess of Londonderry at Machynlleth station in 1863. It was also originally served by the Llanidloes and Newtown Railway, opened in 1859 and the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, opened in 1861. All were subsequently subsumed into the Cambrian by 1865.
Nearby are the Pryce-Jones buildings. A local draper, Pryce Pryce-Jones (1834-1920), exploited the new postal service by creating the mail-order system of selling, dealing with his customers for woollen goods, not over the counter, but by post, establishing the first mail order firm in the world. He met with huge success, and the large Royal Welsh Warehouse opposite the railway station was opened in 1879. Queen Victoria wore Welsh flannel from Newtown. The Royal Welsh Warehouse was designed by David Walker of Liverpool. It has ornate frescos and the Royal Arms in glass. Opposite is Agriculture House, built by Pryce-Jones in 1895 as a factory.
The Railway Tavern is a small pub in an end of terrace house in the Old Kerry Road. Into Shortbridge Street. A tall Victorian terrace has shops at its base. The Post Office has an Art Deco look. A bronze statue of Newtown-born industrialist and social reformer Robert Owen (1771-1858) was erected in 1956. It was designed by Gilbert Bayes. In his late 20s, Owen became the co-owner of a cotton mill in New Lanark, south of Glasgow, and sought to create better conditions for the workers and their families. He improved the mills and village buildings. A shop sold goods at fair prices. An infants’ school and evening classes for adults were provided. His followers created the Co-operative Movement.
Into town centre of Victorian and older buildings. Up Broad Street. A monumental building in red brick of 1898 was designed by Wood and Kendrick of Birmingham for Sarah Brisco of Newtown Hall. It was built in the Dutch Renaissance style as an office block with the corner clock tower commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It now contains a number of businesses including a bank and the Farmers’ Union of Wales. Across the lane is another late 19st century bank building on the site of the birthplace of Robert Owen. The Lion Hotel is a mid 18th century inn. The Robert Owen Memorial Museum was built in 1902 by Frank Hearn Shayler of Shrewsbury, Arts and Crafts style. It was financed partly by public subscription and partly by the Co-operative Union as a memorial to Robert Owen. Disagreements led to differing elevations. The museum opened in 1983. Many other shops are in early 19st century buildings. Number 44 is a mid 19st century building, formerly a flannel merchants with fine, large round-topped windows. The Black Boy pub is a 17th timber-framed lobby entry plan house, re-fronted in brick later in the 18th century. Up to Flannel Exchange, built 1832 by Thomas Penson for a consortium of local manufacturers with the object of capturing the flannel market from Welshpool. In 1890 the Post Office utilized the Broad Street end, and by 1920 it became the Scala Cinema, later re-named the Regent. It closed in 1983 but was re-furbished and re-opened in 1987. Opposite is the Elephant and Castle Hotel, built in the early years of the 19st century. Outside is a large steel statue of an elephant. Longbridge crosses the River Severn. It was built in 1827 by Thomas Penson, replacing an ancient wooden bridge. Female Goosander drifts downstream.
A large house is the far side is the Catholic Church established in 1947. Nearby the Presbyterian church stands on the Crescent roundabout. It stands on a corner plot given by Lord Sudeley and was constructed in 1878-79. The back of the building is entirely slate. Crescent House is large with a tower at the rear. Along Milford Road past the masonic lodge in a 1930s building with fine iron railings. Opposite is a terrace of late 19st century houses in yellow brick all with new secondary double glazing. Next to them if the Welsh Congregational Memorial Chapel of 1865, now a day nursery.
Georgian buildings rise up Crescent Street. Into Commercial Street. A terrace is early 19st century, originally back-to-backs with weaving lofts on the top floor. The Commercial Carriage works are now apartments. All Saints church was built in 1888-90 by Aston Webb, architect of London for Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones at a cost of £4000. The foundation stone was laid by Lady Pryce-Jones on 1st November 1888. An old school in Canal Road is a theatre for amateur dramatics. A narrow lane, Golwgydre Lane, leads to King’s footbridge over the river. Below, Mallard gather at a convenient feeding spot where folk thrown bread. Along the riverside path. A Black Poplar has the most glorious trunk with deep fissures.
St Mary’s church dates from the 13th century and was Newtown’s parish church for 500 years. However it was frequently flooded by the river and a new parish church, St David’s was built on higher ground in 1847. Some parishioners were reluctant to relocate to the new church, so the nave and chancel remained in use until 1863 when the roof blew off in a storm. Even then services continued in the room at the base of the tower until about 1916. It had a double nave and substantial tower. The screen from the late 15th century, roof bosses, monuments and bells were all moved to St David’s. A mausoleum for the Pryce family was built in the ruined nave in 1900 by Miss Sarah Brisco. Outside is the tomb of Robert Owen, a slate chest tomb dating from 1858 but the original railings replaced in 1902 with Art Nouveau ironwork by Alfred Toft at a cost of £500. A relief depicts Owen giving justice to workers with the motto below “Each for All”. The tomb was restored in the 1990s and unveiled by Ann Clwyd MP. On the church wall nearby is a plaque commemorating Thomas Powell, a leading local member of the Chartist movement who was imprisoned in 1839.
Back to the High Street which is a mixture of old and new(ish) buildings. The Buck Inn is a 17th century timber-framed house. At the end of the High Street is Memorial Park with some fine gates erected in 1953. The large Powys Council offices lay in the park on the site of Newtown Hall, long the home of the Pryce family but demolished in the mid 20th century. In Park Street is the Primitive Methodist chapel, now in commercial use. On the corner of Back Street and New Church Street is the Congregational church of 1876, built in the decorated Gothic style and now seemingly disused. Next to it is the Sunday School of 1882.
St David’s church is on higher ground opposite the end of Back Street. It was designed by County Surveyor Thomas Penson, at a cost of £4,600. It was restored in 1874 by David Walker of Liverpool at a cost of £3,000. It is the Lancet style of Victorian Gothic. The site for the new church on what was to become the New Road, was given by Mr David Pugh of Llanerchyddol, Welshpool, M.P. for Montgomery Boroughs and a prominent landowner. The foundation stone was laid by the Countess of Powys on 27th October, 1843. Four years later, on 13th September, 1847, the Bishop, Dr T V Short, consecrated the new church – but somewhat unusually without a dedication. This strange omission was to be the cause of much confusion and discussion in later years. Many parishioners referred to the building as St Mary’s, no doubt taking the name from the old building and as recently as 1924 the new incumbent, the Revd J E Morgan was inducted to “St Mary’s”. It is also referred to as “St Mary’s” on the early 20th century OS maps. However, in 1940 the matter was formally raised. Eventually Mr Lloyd, a church warden, proved that at the laying of the foundation stone, the words used were: “I lay this stone as the foundation of a church to be consecrated to Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in the name of St David.” As a result, t