Wednesday, March 7, 2018

not fade away

It's been a while since I've written about the train journeys I enjoyed when I lived in England in the mid-1960s. In those days the railway was still the most convenient and relaxing way of traveling around the countryside and one of my primary reasons for doing so at the time was that I had become interested in brass rubbing - similar to coin rubbing but on a larger scale. Commemorative plaques installed on stone floors of churches between the 1300s and the 1700s, the brasses are elegant and detailed portrayals of people in the medieval period - important people, that is. By the the time I got interested in making some reproductions of my own many of the churches that housed the monuments had stopped allowing people to make the rubbings at all because brass, being a fairly soft metal, is easily damaged or simply worn away.

So while many churches in the south of England had banned the practice ministers outside large urban areas were frequently more amenable. Since it wasn't a good idea to simply walk in carrying the rolls of paper, wax and weights (to hold the paper down) I wrote letters to request permission and to determine an acceptable date. Once that was done I'd plan my trip.

Probably the most interesting of my expeditions was the day I arrived at a tiny village that was home to a very old Gothic church. A young minister met me at the entrance and showed me into the nave where shafts of light from the arched windows created patterns of light and shade. The brass I'd come to reproduce, a knight in full armour with a greyhound at his feet,  was to the left of the altar. After dusting the piece carefully I positioned the paper and set to work transferring the image under the fascinated gaze of the minister. A little later while he related the history of the church he paused for a moment and asked if I'd like to see something special. Naturally, I said yes. He asked me to help him move a couple of wooden pews to one side and then he rolled back a carpet. There I gazed upon one of the most beautiful and intricate of the monumental brass memorials ever made.

Not this, but something like:

and no, I didn't even ask of I could make a rubbing. Seeing it was enough and having seen it was a very special moment for me. I think many people have accepted a very unfair description of the medieval period by calling it the Dark Ages. There was much in that time that was worthwhile - such artistry as the old churches attest both in their building and decoration required time and peace of mind in their creation.

“I don't suppose there has been a moment in the world's history where more people felt themselves to be artists, or when less art was produced."
~ Auberon Waugh


  1. Hey
    My take on the sketching is a mid to late 60's girl heading into a English village of the 17th cent. Where did I come up with that, fer gd'sake?
    I relate somewhat on the rubbings...Cary and I did some of the Tuckerman's sites in Bethesda and other places. It garnered some discussions about the Hope and Navajo ideas about photographs. We would, when we had these wonderful talks, lay back on the available areas, this time a graveyard, and talk for hours. I learned so much.
    I do hope you're well.

    1. Believe it or not, Mike, there were still villages that looked a lot like this in the 60s. There probably still are but now only the wealthy can afford to live in them.
      I'm glad the story about brass rubbings brought back happy memories for you. Lying in thick grass as clouds roll by is conducive to goor conversation.
      I'm well, thanks. Hope you are too.
      Best wishes

  2. Ok I confess I did use the term "Dark Ages" though in reference to the early period immediate to the fall of the Rome in the West.

    1. Several years ago I saved an excellent article about the Middle Ages from the NY Review of Books. You'd probably enjoy reading it too, Ray.

  3. Hi Susan
    A lovely picture and I also remember that equally captivating story about train visits.
    It brings back fond memories of our visits. The first was in the 80’s when I attended a conference at Droitwich, in the south. I stayed in a hotel that was previously a nobleman’s large house. Village life looked very appealing then and many attending from England, working in London, lived in villages. They were willing to put up with the long commute. Watch a few versions of the English drama a Midsummer Murders and you get the picture. We subsequently toured the south to visit places like Lyme Regis and explore the amazing Heritage coast. Returned on 2 more occasions to see the rest of the country and to appreciate its very rich history and charming village life where you easily rub shoulders at a pub or inn with the locals from the village. We stayed in a variety of places and many B B’s who all still have that old world charm.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      I began doing the railway posts with the idea of using the pictures for an Adventures Ink story, but then just wandered off. I'm glad you remember them fondly.
      England is a beautiful country and the south coast especially so. Before WWII my dad was captain of a cycling club (he built his own first bike) and he told me so many stories of the places he went to that it seems to me I spent much of my own time there looking for the past both my parents had described. By the 1960s that was getting tricky.
      Yes, we watched some episodes of Midsummer Murders a few years ago. They were well done the first few seasons, weren't they?
      All the best