Saturday, April 25, 2009

a little Diss and mostly Eye

UK 08, continued.
Already I've fallen somewhat out of chronological order, and into rough subject categories. But there you go.
After our Wingfield visit, Lucia, Mark and I visited Diss, specifically the Tourist Info Centre, which you should always visit first in any English town, because with few exceptions (Cambridge) they are marvellously helpful places, stuffed with maps and bus schedules and postcards and walking tour maps and lists of B&Bs and booklets of local history... Really you could just visit the tourist info ctr and be done.
We bought Ordnance Survey maps. Because OS Maps are vital in the countryside. Doing without them would be like doing without a London A to Z in London. Mark and I also bought oil for the bicycles and a lock. Diss has a bicycle shop and repair, and we took note of this for later.

This is the only picture I took in Diss (more later) and it is just crying out for a lolcats caption:

A few days later Mark and I had to bicycle to Diss to have a puncture fixed, and more pictures were taken of St. Mary Diss and so on. But I was still fumbling about with the camera at this point, and missed taking any pics of the ducks crossing the street. They did use the zebra crossing.

To file under things that make you realise you're not in North America: while shopping, finding a chub of rabbit-meat dogfood. I wanted to bring one home, but there were logistics issues. I did bring back a foil packet of beef 'n' rabbit flavoured cat treats, from London.

Here we are in Eye, picture taken looking at St. Peter & St. Paul, Eye. This being after Thornhams Parva et Magna, we were a bit tired and hungry, and asked an older fellow who was leaning on his garden wall, about places to eat. He turned out to be an amateur historian of Eye, and as well as giving us a potted history of the town's growth, suggested a fish & chip shop in a 14th century building, or Beard's teashop, in a 15th century building.

But first, a look around St. Peter & Paul. The building just beside it is the Guildhall, fifteenth century timber-frame, nicely restored. The timbers are filled in with wattle & daub (something like lath & plaster, only muckier) and plastered over. Sometimes there's decorative patterns of bricks between the timbers, and that's called brick-nogging (I'll try to post a pic sometime). Suffolk and Norfolk are short of building stone--flint and chalk don't make for strong walls--so you'll see a lot of half-timbering, brick, and thatch.
The plaster is decorated in a couple of ways (it's vernacular architecture, it will be decorated). One is by colour, the Suffolk pink or yellow, originally ochre (earth pigments) mixed with size distemper and painted over the whitewash. Supposedly ox-blood was mixed in the wash, but no one's proven this, so it may be one of those stories you tell the gullible cityfolk. Nowadays you can apparently buy Dulux 'Suffolk pink' in tins.
The other decoration is pargetting, building up designs in the plaster. Ancient House in Ipswich went mad with this technique. The Eye Guildhall has a more subdued variant, 'pinking', which in this case means impressing or scratching designs into the plaster. You can see it next to the cornerpost here, a slantways row of quatrefoils between two incised lines.
Also nicely visible here is the difference between the restored and unrestored sides of the cornerpost. The ornate pinnacles and tracery between the dogs are what you'll see above arches and niches from the 14th and 15th century, carved in wood, painted in glass, cast in bronze, embroidered in gold thread.
This restored side of the post gives you an idea how it would have looked new, though it might have been painted, too.
Down the street you can see a Dutch gable (that curly brick house-end) another characteristic of East Anglian architecture. I've seen some different explanations for its adoption, but all related to the ties between East Anglia and Flanders. Introduced by homesick Flemish weavers or builders, or by East Anglian merchants impressed by the style in Flanders, at any rate it stayed.

There's a brief history of the wool towns and the links between Flemish and East Anglian merchants and weavers here.

Diss and Eye aren't very large now, but they were important in the middle ages, and the size of Eye's church is a good indicator of status. The De la Poles seem to have had a hand in the building here as well as in their own little church in Wingfield.
My main interest was in the painted dado screen, done by a local craftsman about 1500, and somehow surviving the time in between without the saints' faces being scratched off or any other pious damage. It's pure folk-art, and I've stuck my sample picture of two of the saints (John and Catherine) next to two of the saints (Dominic and Catherine) from the Thornham Parva retable. You can see the difference between court art of 1330 and folk art of 1500 (as well as how the arcading over the saints has become more elaborate) even though the basic design is the same.

And yes, food! We'd been meaning to have something to eat. The fish and chip shop was pretty greasy-smelling (as the old gent had warned) so we went on to Beard's, rather more upscale. I had leek soup, tea, and chocolate-nut pie with clotted cream. Clotted creeeeaaaammm.

Sorry, back now.
Beard's is a bed & breakfast as well as tea-shop, but doesn't have a website. On the other hand, we had such a lovely berth at Gables that I didn't mind missing out on yet another choice. (And in the heart of Eye--the nightlife might have kept us awake half the night).
Still, the beams are awesome. I took several pictures of the interior, with its beams and plasterwork, but I'll only push one on you here.

Through that door is the back garden, with an outdoor privy that looks as if it might have been a WWII air-raid shelter, which would make the privy historic as well. History is thick on the ground in the UK.

This was our last day with Lucia, and I don't think one could ask for a better travelling companion. We discussed climbing up the Castle Mound, but it was late in the day and there wasn't much medieval on the top, only a 19th century folly and a few stones of the former tower.
Back to Gables to say our goodbyes.


prusik said...

You know, until I did a google, I thought an Ordnance Survey map was one that pointed out the location of ordnance. That gave "Because OS Maps are vital in the countryside." a whole new meaning.

batgirl said...

Well, you know that the English road system was developed to defeat invaders, right? By the time they'd found their target, they'd have married locals and raised families.

Kali said...

History is, as you say, thick on the ground in England. I heard an interesting story on the BBC not long ago that talked about when conservation groups have a project, one of the challenges befor them is which period to restore the building to, as they often span several centuries.

Not exactly an issue we have in Canada.

batgirl said...

*nodnods* Mark has become a huge fan of Time Team, downloading episodes every night. Last night we watched one where they were looking for a Norman castle and found a Civil War battlefield and an Anglo-Saxon something else. Which one to excavate? Which one to preserve?

Kali said...

That sort of quandary would make my skull explode.