Magdalen Road at night

Magdalen Road at night
December 2010

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.