Magdalen Road at night

Magdalen Road at night
December 2010

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Magdalen Road Christmas Fair, 2013

Pictures from the Christmas Fair on December 7th 2013
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The east end of the road, just as dusk was falling.

Hot mussels for sale

Stalls on the green

If you look closely, there are lights in the trees.

Buy the materials to make a wreath

Exeter Brewery

More stalls

Rides in a teacup

The west end of the fair, by Denmark Road


Cafe 55 run be the charity Sense

Yet more stalls

An A Capella group from the University of Exeter

Sample Norcotts cider from (on top of) the barrel

Outside Bon Gout delicatessen

Christmas decorations

Pipers Farm during a gap in their sales

Devon and Cornwall police pipe and drums band.  Unfortunately, their high visibility stripes showed up in the flash of the camera

Good Game stall

Roundabout and roundabout, and roundabout we go

Crowds in the road, admiring the lights and stalls

Devon and Cornwall police pipe and drums band

Devon and Cornwall police pipe and drums band

Lights in the trees

A gap in the crowds; you had to be a patient photographer for this moment

A gap in the crowds; you had to be a patient photographer for this moment

Looking down the street

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Holly and the Ivy

Have you ever looked at …

… the holly and the ivy in St Leonard’s?

“The Holly and the Ivy” must be one of the odder Christmas carols.  After the first line, ivy is only mentioned once, in the final verse.  All the rest of the carol is about the symbolism of different parts of the holly, its flower, berry, leaf and bark.  Each one is linked to part of the Christian message.  So it is sung at Christmas, to remind the singers that Jesus was born to be Saviour and Redeemer.

Around St Leonard’s, both holly and ivy grow in profusion.  It is easy to take them both for granted, but this is the time of year to notice their greenery, when many of our other trees and shrubs are bare.  It is partly because these two plants are evergreen that they are so widely used as decorations at Christmas.  Pagans may claim that such decoration is a reminder of the prospect of new life, and this is a message that has been renewed and developed by Christians over the centuries.  So ivy has become a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.

For many people, however, ivy is a weed, a plant that grows where it shouldn’t.  It clings to our trees and walls, or spreads over the soil in places we find hard to reach.  There are plenty of examples of common ivy, the wild plant, throughout the neighbourhood, spilling over walls towards the pavement or road..  On the other hand, for many local gardeners, ivy is a plant to cultivate and encourage.  There are hundreds of varieties to choose from; you can select those which are more effective than common ivy at ground cover, because they form a dense mat which smothers less desirable plants.  Alternatively, it is a useful evergreen to use as a climbing plant, on a trellis, with another plant, or to add colour as it climbs a tree trunk.  Some varieties have been developed as houseplants, and a pyramid of a small-leaf form of ivy is a very attractive room decoration – I have even seen it used as a miniature Christmas tree.  (In Exeter Crematorium, part of the permanent decoration is in the form of silk ivy leaves.)  Or you can choose one with attractive leaves, such as those with variegated colour, yellow edges or yellow centres.  Some have prominent veins on their leaves.  Others are chosen for the colour of their stems – purple being one of the widest available.  And the shape of the leaves differs from variety to variety, with some heart-shaped, and others with pronounced “fingers” to their leaves. 

If you keep your eyes open as you walk around the neighbourhood, you will discover some of these “garden” varieties of ivy.  I’m not going to embarrass the gardeners by pointing you to specific houses to find this wonderful range of our evergreen; instead, I suggest that you find a frond of ivy, pick off one leaf, and then compare it with other leaves as you walk on.  Even in the length of St Leonard’s Road, you will find several different ivies.

In the language of flowers, ivy stands for friendship, fidelity, and marriage; the pre-Raphaelite painters (among others) included ivy as these symbols in their art.  But a wider use of ivy in art dates back to Greek and Roman times when Pan or Bacchus were decorated with garlands of ivy, as were their maiden attendants. 

However, garlands of holly would be somewhat less comfortable to wear.  Like ivy, there are numerous varieties of holly, and the temperate climate of Britain means that we can grow members of the holly family from other parts of the world.  Many ornamental hollies are the result of crosses with a holly from the Canaries.  Despite the prickles on their leaves, holly is used in many hedges around the neighbourhood.  It grows quite slowly, so can be kept under control before those spines do damage to passers-by.  There is a stretch of holly hedge outside the Mardon Centre in Wonford Road, and several houses in St Leonard’s Road have short lengths of holly hedge alongside the pavement.  One curious feature of holly: the plants are dioecious; they require separate male and female plants in order for pollination to occur.  So it is to the advantage of gardeners to have other bushes and hedges nearby.  It is (generally) the female plant that carries the berries.

Like ivy, selective breeding has produced plants with a variety of leaf shapes, sizes and colours.  Some varieties come with both male and female forms, such as “China Boy” and “China Girl”, but growers joke that Golden King is female and Golden Queen is male. 

Besides the hedges of holly, the neighbourhood has several mature holly trees.  There are four very fine ornamental holly trees outside the door of the Coaver Club at County Hall, and another is close to the ceremonial gateway near Parkers Well.  Others can be found if you look up as you walk through our local streets.  Look out for the coloured leaves, and don’t forget that many holly trees have spineless leaves from six or seven feet above the ground, where grazing animals could not reach them.
Silver edges to the leaves of this holly at the Coaver Club

Gold edges to the leaves of this holly at the Coaver Club

And I wonder how many Christmas cards you will receive showing holly, ivy, or both this year.
(Neighbourhood News, November-December 2013)

Friday, 14 June 2013

Walls again

The first post in this series was about walls.  Here are two pictures of stone walls in the neighbourhood, one well repaired, the other not so well repaired.

This wall has some sandstone (Heavitree stone) and therefore has been repaired with lime mortar, which is porous.  The mortar supports some vegetation

The wall has blocks of sandstone and has been repaired with a hard mortar (almost concrete) which is not porous.  With weathering (especially water) the stone has been worn away and the hard material left proud of the surface.  In turn this traps the water and further erodes the stone.  This mortar is devoid of vegetation.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A strange window

If you have been reading this blog, you will know that I have encouraged all the readers to look at their surroundings.  And I do that myself.  So when I spotted this window, not in Exeter, but in our neighbouring town of Dawlish, I thought that I would share it in the blog.

It's a straight-sided bay window, but look at the decoration!  Fancy brickwork in the frieze, which has been picked out in paint; then the ornate top and bottom of the columns that define the corners of the bay.  But the most amazing pieces of the window are the circlets around each pilaster.  From what era of architecture did the inspiration for these come?

And how wonderful that successive owners of the property have maintained such a whimsical design!

Friday, 19 April 2013

The estate agent's descriptions

Those of us who live in St Leonard's know that we are very fortunate; it is a very pleasant place to live.  So it is not surprising that estate agents promote the area when they are selling houses.  In several parts of the neighbourhood, of course, many houses sell quickly, and don't need much promotional language from the agent.  (And perhaps the houses which do not sell are priced too high?)

However, it is amusing to see what language appears in advertisements about houses described as "St Leonard's" (with or without the apostrophe).

  • "this highly sought after residential location", 
  • "highly desirable St Leonards location", 
  • "walking distance of the city centre and the quay", 
  • "highly desirable location",
  • "close to excellent local amenities, hospitals and the city centre", 
  • "occopying [sic] a highly prestigious residential location within the ever-popular residential area of St Leonards", 
  • "in the sought after St Leonards area", 
  • "an elegant crescent in St Leonards", 
  • "superbly located in prestige location", 
  • "the exclusive St Leonards area of central Exeter", 
  • "the most desirable area of Exeter", 
  • "the most prestigious area of St Leonards, Exeter", 
  • "the highly desirable area of St Leonards", 
  • "in one of the most sought after roads in St Leonards"

But my favourite this week is:
  • "Set amidst the grand avenues of Exeter's premier residential district".
Don't the words "grand avenues" conjure up visions of French boulevards?

In July 2014, we were encouraged to know that there were "tree-lined terraces" in St Leonard's

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The (almost) last word

Have you ever noticed?

The title for this, my final article, is a little different.  Instead of asking if you have ever looked at things, I want to bring together a few oddments that didn’t fit into the categories of the set of articles.

Trees:  Although there are many fine trees in St Leonard’s, we should praise the city council for the beautiful line of maples in Denmark Road by the swimming pool.  At the other end of the neighbourhood in Wonford Road there is a monkey puzzle which is hemmed in by other tall trees, and another can be seen across the river near the allotments.  The Veitch nurseries were in Gras Lawn, and they popularised monkey puzzle trees for rich Victorian land-owners (including the avenue at Bicton College). 

Stones:  In the article that I wrote for the last issue (Nov-Dec 2012) I asked about the stones which face the terrace in Barnfield Road and the front walls of the houses.  Thanks to an interested reader, I discovered that they are part of our city’s history, as these stones came from the second Exe Bridge.  This was built in 1778 and was demolished in 1903.  The building firm of Woodmans built the terrace, and bought the stonework when the bridge was taken down to make way for one which was flat enough for trams to use. 

In an earlier article, I wrote about the granite kerbstones and setts at the edge of some roads, as well as the carved markings in some of them.  You can deduce when some of our local roads were developed by looking at the kerbstones.  The newest roads have concrete kerbstones; older ones have narrow stones, and some of the oldest ones have quite wide stone kerbs.  Even when the kerbs have been lifted and relaid, the stonework remains.  In the developments that date from between the wars, there are stone setts in the road opposite the shared drives.  The craftsmen who laid the kerbs took pride in shaping stones into curves at junctions and bends - concrete kerbs are less imaginative.  I have also noticed unusual dropped kerbstones in Spicer Road and Rivermead Road at house entrances which have been cut with grooves to give better traction.  And in the parts of the gutters of Lyndhurst Road and Fairpark Road, there are slates instead of the local granite.

A different kind of stone is to be found on a few street corners.  These are the conical stones built into the corner of a wall to protest that corner from cartwheels.  If a wheel came too close, the hard, shaped stone would force it away from the wall.  Look for one in Radnor Place.

House and other walls:  the terrace of houses at the southern end of Marlborough Road was originally called Queen’s Terrace.  There is a space on the wall where the name-plate used to be.  In Barnfield Road there is a house with a Jack in the Green; there are roses on the east side of the Lord Mamhead flats – just visible from the gateway.  And, don’t forget the demon which broods over the bottom of Holloway Street, the imposing number 3 on the wall over the toilets on the Quay and the date 1878 on the wall of the Antiques Centre on the Quay

There’s a lion in Manston Terrace (in a garden not on a wall) and a fan-tailed pigeon on a gatepost in West Grove Road, and a gate with spider and web in Baring Crescent.  Someone asked about the rabbit between the eagles on two houses in Wonford Road.  It turns out to be a recent addition, as it does not appear in the photograph in the Civic Society’s book about St Leonard’s.  There are two similar eagles on a pair of houses in Salutary Mount, Heavitree

Inscriptions Have you noticed that there are the names of the maker on some lamp-posts.  There are several which have the inscription “ …. Engineers, Exeter”

And in this month of the RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch: have you looked at …our fellow inhabitants?

I was glad when “Home Information Packs” ceased to be required by sellers of houses.  Not, I hasten to say, for political reasons, and only partially for financial reasons, but because the packs didn’t describe a home.  They were about the dwelling, the house, the flat, and not about the home. 

Now, suppose you were creating a real information pack about your home.  It could make an interesting story, as you interwove the story of your life and your family’s adventures with the way that it was affected by the place where you live.  What stories would you tell? 

A Home Information Pack really should mention the creatures that share our neighbourhood.  What would you include for your home? 

During last summer, I read the remarkable book, “Wildlife of a Garden” by Jennifer Owen.  For thirty years, she monitored the birds, animals, insects etc that shared her garden in Leicester.  The list went on and on.  She was a biologist, and had access to specialists who could identify what she found and collected.  The book reveals the range of creatures who share a suburban garden, many of which are easily overlooked. 

So instead of telling you what you might see, why not investigate for yourself, looking at birds, butterflies, moths, animals and insects.  The results will surprise you!

A second book from my recent reading list would make a good present for anyone interested in wildlife.  Stephen Moss’ “Wild Hares and Hummingbirds” is a diary of a year looking at the wildlife of a village in Somerset, seen through the eyes of one  of the BBC’s Springwatch producers

Thank you

Thank you to the many people who have commented on these articles.  I have included some of your comments in my pieces.  However, I refused to write one article.  Someone asked me to write “Have you ever looked at … eyesores in the neighbourhood?”

Meanwhile, I hope that some of the readers of the Neighbourhood News are going to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes.  (And perhaps, when you are visiting other parts of the city, or going further afield.)  Please let me know of anything in the future that you see which catches your interest.

In the St Leonard's Neighbourhood News for January-February 2013

postscript: As many readers will know, I returned from exile to write further columns for the Neighbourhood News.  These can be found in the blog.