This blog is continued with older entries on my website's 'Latest News' page, where you can see projects and images going back to February 2009.

There's loads of images of my carvings and projects on the website, going right back to when I first started out carving. There are also, of course, a few stories. To see them or to return to the website, please click on this link

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Recording the dawn chorus at Boiling Wells, Bristol

We were up before dawn on the 28th of May, to get to Boiling Wells in St Werburghs in time to record the dawn chorus. I've attached some of the recording at the bottom of this post, taken at 5.15am.


I'm not a professional sound recorder and you can hear a bit of microphone movement, especially towards the beginning of the clip. Hopefully. though, you'll enjoy hearing what the nature reserve sounds like at that peaceful time of the morning.




The images that go with it were taken the day before at the same place.
Also listen out for the cross-sounding geese on a smallholding nearby as well as the very distant noise of the M32 motorway rumbling in the background.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Knowle Parish Church, with its 15th century oak rood screen


The parish church in Knowle, a village near Birmingham in the West Midlands, was consecrated in 1403.
It is built from the local red sandstone and has some pretty impressive gargoyles on the outside:



The real high point for me, however, is inside. There is an oak rood screen from the late 15th century, beautifully carved, in front of the altar. This one is missing the crucifix and Holy Family figures that would normally be found on such a screen (the name 'rood' comes from the Old English word for a crucifix), but the decorative carving on it is still well worth seeing.


 I must apologise for the quality of some of the shots as my little automatic camera struggled with the low light levels but I hope they give some idea of the quality of the decorative carving:





There are also choir stalls in the church with carved misericords, but unfortunately I didn't get a photo of them. Here's an image of one of the carved stall ends though:


There are a few other carved oak pieces in the church. I don't know if they are contemporary with the rood screen (I certainly suspect that the carved angels on the organ screen are later) but the work is also of a very high standard:



Next to the church stands the Guild house, which dates to 1412 and makes a suitably picturesque neighbour:



You can read more about Knowle Parish Church and the Guild house by following this link:



Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter- the last remaining industrial quarter in Birmingham, with 200 protected buildings that survived wartime bombs

This area lies about a mile outside Birmingham city centre, in an area called Hockley. The city has always had a bit of a reputation for being a grim, industrial centre and it has to be said that Hockley isn't renowned for it's beauty, even in Birmingham.

Wandering around the Jewellery Quarter yesterday though, I remembered how beautiful some of the  architecture that can be found in Britain's industrial cities is. I've always had a particular soft spot for Victorian Gothic: it's spires and turrets, carvings and decorative ceramics. They give little touches of beauty and extravagance in some of Britain's most run-down urban areas.


In it's heyday, Birmingham had 'quarters', areas where particular trades would congregate and customers would travel to them knowing that a good choice was available in a small area. Some other examples were the saddlery quarter and the gun makers quarter. Only one of these old quarters is left now: the jewellery quarter.

It has been a centre for jewellery making for over 250 years. The Birmingham Assay Office opened there in 1773, one of four in Britain (the others being London, Edinburgh and Sheffield). An assay office is where precious metals are tested for purity and then hallmarked to show their legitimacy - Birmingham's hallmark stamp is an anchor:

Image from:http://www.edinburghsilver.co/blog/the-sterling-standard/

In 1890, the school of jewellery making opened in the quarter. It is still there and still a centre of training in the craft:



Pretty much every building within the roughly square mile of the quarter seems associated with the trade in some way; workshops, retailers, tool sellers, traders in precious metals and stones, medallion and medal casters. Sometimes one walks past a window in a small street and gets a glimpse back in time, into a tiny workshop with a jeweller using the same tools and techniques as when the quarter began.

The area also escaped the worst of the damage caused by the Blitz bombs during the Second World War. Birmingham, as an industrial centre, was badly hit generally but there are still over 200 listed, protected buildings in the Jewellery Quarter that survived. I took some photos of things noticed whilst walking around and thought it would be nice to share them with you here:









This public toilet, 'The Temple of Relief', is situated next to the train station in the quarter.



The Jewellery Quarter has it's own website, which you can find by following this link:

You can find out more about the Birmingham Assay Office and hallmarks here:
http://www.theassayoffice.co.uk/index.html

Friday, 17 May 2013

Making a goat play ramp structure at Boiling Wells for St Werburghs City farm

A group of volunteers from Lloyds bank came to the farm today as part of 'Give and Gain Day', when businesses send their staff out of the office for the day to help in community projects.

The young goats needed a new play structure to jump all over. We had a lot of timber left over from a volunteer day earlier in the week (kindly provided by Skanska engineering), so the Lloyds folks put together a couple of platforms and ramps for the kids to climb about on.


I oversaw it, but the group really did most of the hard work themselves and the results are shown below. Don't they look great! Very happy goats.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Some oak signs that I've carved recently


I've been carving a few oak signs for commissions recently and thought it might be nice to share a couple of them here.

More pictures of other signs that I'm currently working on will follow after they have been delivered to the people who asked me to make them - it would be a shame to spoil it by showing the signs here in advance.



 I particularly like this next one, the spaniel's face has the look of a dog that knows you have a tasty  snack in one of your pockets!





Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Wood and stone carvings in the Palácio de Pena near Sintra, Portugal

This has to be one of the world's most bonkers palaces. The Palácio de Pena was built between 1842 and 1854 by the king-consort, Don Fernando II, together with his wife Dona Maria II and their friend Baron Von Eschwege.

Image from http://casadovalle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/pena-palace.html
It is based around a monastery on the site that had origins in the twelfth century and was dedicated to Our Lady of Pena. The monastery went into decline after a great earthquake in the eighteenth century and was bought by the king in 1838, after religious orders in Portugal died out in 1834.


The palace was one of the first buildings in Europe to be constructed in the Romantic tradition, and is a mash-up of architectural styles: Arabic, Manueline Portuguese and Gothic all have their part.


It is filled with incredible pieces of artwork in ceramic, wood, stone and metal. The centre of the palace is built around the original sixteenth-century monastery cloisters, decorated with Hispano-Arabic tiles from around 1520:


Perhaps the most famous carving in the Palace is this one over the front courtyard, which represents Triton and illustrates the birth of the world:


The outside courtyards have some other impressive stone carvings overlooking them:



Little carved decorative details are everywhere as you walk through the buildings:



I am curious about who the caricature faces below are supposed to represent. King Don Manuel I gave the convent of Our Lady of Pena (around which the palace is built) to the Order of the Hieronymites in 1503, after becoming king in 1495.
 In the 15th century, the nearby Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish castle) was inhabited by Jewish settlers who were segregated from the rest of the community by the king's orders.
Do these carved faces recall unpleasant anti-semitic feelings in the area at that time? Do they represent something or someone else? Or are they a more innocent jest?


The decorative carving is not confined to stone however, there are also some amazing carved wooden pieces to be seen. Flash photography and tripods are not permitted inside the palace, so unfortunately the images are a little blurry, but I hope that they give an idea of the quality of the work on display:










It's surprising how small many of the rooms are, particularly in a royal residence, but they still manage to cram in a lot of decorated furniture. Some of the rooms, including the great hall, were being renovated when we visited which meant that they had been cleared. It was a shame, but the friends that I visited with still felt a bit overwhelmed by the palace, with all of its tiny rooms crammed with decoration. With the possible exception of anti-semitism discussed before, I love the Palacio de Pena for its shameless, mad romanticism.