#306 theoldmortuary ponders

Sometimes I have a nugget of a blog in mind that doesn’t quite have enough substance. The story of Darwin and his Origin of Species came into this category. No disrespect to Darwin is meant but I wanted to express the flavour of his relationship with Plymouth. He was only 22 when he set sail from Plymouth for a two year exploration and survey of the coast of Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego. He was rich enough to pay the £30 a year cost of the voyage, was making a name for himself as a naturalist and had no responsibilities. The yellow boat in the picture above is moored roughly in the position of the Beagle at Barn Pool.

©Plymouth History Festival

Darwin arrived in Plymouth in late October and eventually sailed in late December. He described his months in Plymouth as the worst time he had ever experienced. He was able to spend time with many great scientists and engineers of the time and also listen to sermons given by university friends, in many first hand accounts he expresses great pleasure in doing such things. But Plymouth, as the city is now known, had a vibrant night culture which Darwin made no effort to study. The city was too bawdy and licentious for a man who delighted in sermons. Devonport where his lodgings were was a place well used to having young men slightly bored waiting for a boat to sail. Devonport had bars and Theatres and many many ways a man with money could have found stimulation and good times. I suspect he was a prissy young man who would not have know a good time if it had jumped up behind him and said Boo!

The Beagle was eventually ready to sail in late December when the weather had become more favourable. One more thing was set to cause Darwin misery. It was just another thing for him to disapprove of, furthering his judgement of Plymouth as a giant den of iniquity.

On Christmas Day 1831, Darwin went to church, most probably Stoke Damerel, where the guest preacher was a friend from Cambridge University, William Strong Hore of Stonehouse. Hore was at that time Assistant Stipendiary Curate to Saltash; after ordination he became Curate at Stoke Damerel.

Whilst Darwin was at church, the Beagle’s crew got drunk and disorderly. The weather on the 26 December was ideal for sailing, but the crew were either hung over or in irons as a result of their behaviour the day before. At 11am On Monday 27 December 1831, in perfect weather, the Beagle did weigh anchor and set sail. On a friend’s yacht, Darwin caught the ship at 2pm beyond the Breakwater, and so began his epic voyage.*

Nearly 200 years on I can sense the look on his face and the set of his body language as he eventually set sail for South America. Most of us know a Darwin!

* Shaun Standfield 2008 Plymouth History Festival 2022

#304 theoldmortuary ponders

Desire paths that lead to a realisation.

Desire Paths have always fascinated me. Reading a recent blog from Spitalfields Life, nudged me into writing this blog today.

When I was a student at Barts Hospital my chosen Desire Path took 5 minutes off my journey to Moorgate Station. It was an ancient right of way. For nearly a thousand years medics and butchers have shared adjacent plots in the City of London.

Barts©The Wellcome Trust
Smithfield© Spitalfields Life. The Gentle Author

My short cut, or desire path, took me from the hospital boundary through slaughter yards, with bloodied water running into open drains. My desire path was almost certainly created by butchers, through history, making their way to and from one of the City gates. Moor Gate, so named because it led out to marshy ground known as Moor Fields. The to and fro on my little cut way was not just medical folk and butchers trying to make a quick access or escape, but, by passing so close to active slaughter yards the route may only have been tolerable for those with minds and stomachs already hardened to the sight snd smells of blood and gore. Butchers sometimes used the path as walking wounded, a quick way in to seek medical attention when sharp knives and cleavers have cut through living human flesh. A cleaver cutting through a femoral artery is a mucky and life or limb threatening event. Butchers, before the days of Health and Safety, often had bits missing, and the butchers of Smithfield were very regular and grateful customers when Barts had a fully functioning A and E. Anyway, I digress this blog is about a coastal desire path with much less to talk about. When I returned to work at Barts in 2013 I was hugely sad, but not entirely surprised, that I could no longer follow my short cut to Moorgate.

A desire path (often referred to as a desire line in transportation planning), also known as a game trail, social trail, fishermen trail, herd path, cow path, elephant path, goat track, pig trail, use trail and bootleg trail, is an unplanned small trail created as a consequence of mechanical erosion caused by human or animal traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or the most easily navigated route between an origin and destination, and the width and severity of its surface erosion are often indicators of the traffic level it receives.Desire paths typically emerge as convenient shortcuts where more deliberately constructed paths take a longer or more circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent. Once someone has already treaded out a path through the natural vegetation, subsequent traffics tend to follow that visibly existing route (as it is more convenient than carving out a new path by oneself), and the repeated trampling will further erode away both the remaining groundcover and the soil quality that allows easy revegetation.*

The desire path I walk on most days has none of the history of the Barts desire path. It cuts off only seconds of an already brief walk to the beach . It is the area in sunlight in this picture, the actual, brick path runs close to the wall of Stonehouse Tennis Club. But such is pondering that I only realised today that the South West Coastal Path, that both this Desire, and official, brick path lead to, must be made up entirely of historic desire paths that have been linked together. Unexpected enlightenment on a Wednesday

Today I am a rubbish photographer and have managed to cut off the vital words on this plaque. South West Coastal Path are the words I needed but managed not to include in this image.

One of my recent paintings combined with typewriting sums this whole blog up really. Todays in particular but pretty much in general too.

* definition of Desire Path. Wikipedia

Pandemic Pondering #376

With a four day weekend in hand and still restricted by Pandemic protocols the only thing to do is start the day with a swim. A good number of ‘bobbers’ today and the added bonus of a government funded wave machine.

© Andy Cole

Which made bobbing bobbier.

©Andy Cole

Fast forward to the end of the day when we were walking on the Hoe and we learned a little bit of history. In 997 Viking long boats sailed past our swimming area , presumably making waves, and on up the Tamar for their habitual rape and pillage. Let me just say that if the bobbers had been bobbing in 997 history may have been very different. Ten women in fluorescent hats with luminous buoys might have been all it took to frighten the Vikings off. We would have looked like fearsome Sea Nereids protecting Britannia and may well have become the source of Viking Myths and legends.

But we weren’t there to frighten off the Vikings and history is as it is. Today we found a stone which marks 1000 years since the Vikings invaded.

And so the sun sets on another day in a peculiar year.

Happy Easter

Pandemic Pondering #217

Friday Night in Union Street 1948.

A couple of days ago a Local History group on Facebook published some photographs of a mural that was discovered under layers of wallpaper in a Union Street bar. If you have any interest in Plymouth history this is a great page to follow.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/879731115783323/?ref=share

Local History is one of the great strengths of Facebook. Local History Facebook pages are hubs of knowledge that become magnets for new information or insights into a local area. They are the modern version of the Local History shelf at Libraries.

I already had some photographs from the mural , taken during one of Plymouths Art Weekender Festivals. Gloria Dixon who is the administrator of the Facebook page Old Plymouth Society has a much better range of images.

She has written a very good account of the mural on the Old Plymouth Society FB Page, I urge you to visit the page.

The artist, who created the mural, Vincent Bennett took the well- worn path, familiar to many creative Plymothians and moved to London at the age of 20, where he not only painted commercially, but also boxed, to earn a living. It was the boxing that caused him to return to Plymouth just two years later. A head injury forced him to return to his home city in 1932 and he added teaching and drumming to his portfolio of money earning skills. Eighteen years later he painted the mural at what was then called the Sydenham Arms.

The story of Vincent Bennett seems so much more tangible and intriguing than the Plymouth to London story of Joshua Reynolds, another Plymouth man, nearly 200 years earlier. For me it is not only that much of the city he occupied still exists but that his subject matter is much closer to my own life experiences.

A drink in the Clipper, as the Sydenham Arms became, was always an experience, even if I was never as glamourous as the woman in the red dress. My grandfather, a sailor, far from his Essex home would almost certainly have known The Sydenham Arms and enjoyed all that Union Street had to offer.

The mural can be seen in its original location 63, Union Street, Plymouth. Currently the property is a Community Cafe.

Home

https://www.jmlondon.com/product-category/vincent-bennett/

The link above is to a gallery website.

Pandemic Pondering #164

Layers is the prompt word for the Art Group today. This photo was taken during a Drawing Day at Kelly House, Lifton. A house that has been lived in by the same family for over 900 years has the most exquisite textures. 60% of us live in the same house for 15 years but only 10% for 25 years. 900 years is an astonishing amount of time even though more than one person has had to make that decision to stay. Imagine how interesting the domestic clutter must be at Kelly House, the layers of familial bric-a-brac. Recycle, repurpose and Reuse has a whole new depth when there is 900 years of things that will come in useful, stored away in cupboards.

By comparison our layers @theoldmortuary are miniscule there is nothing here older than three generations. Four generations if you include old photographs.

I’ve recently been digging through a box that holds some of these layers, while looking for a lost spare car key. The digital age and its minimalism side effect will diminish the amount of clutter or stuff that we leave behind. The things I found gave me such pleasure, I’m not sure less layers is a good thing.

Leave some layers.

Braintree Shakespear Players 1947. Keith and Raymond

Pandemic Pondering #88 told a story.

This black and white image is part of it.

Pandemic Pondering #161

Print is the prompt word for the Art Group.Printing is Dirty work and I absolutely love to do it. There has not been enough printing in my life.My fish are a popular print.But on the whole I do not do anywhere near enough printing.I should do more , it was a printed piece of work that was exhibited at Tate Modern.Note to self, spend more time printing.Fine Art printing is one thing but written word printing is a whole other world. Bringing Pandemic Pondering to the written word brings me to The Mayflower and the postponed anniversary celebrationsLocally in Plymouth , England 2020 was set to be a hugely significant year. 400 years since the sailing of the Mayflower and the founding of America. Events were planned all over the place. The Pandemic has delayed celebrations.Printing is the key to this date,not the arrival of settlers.The Mayflower was not the first ship to deliver Europeans to America in search of a different life. What made the date of the arrival of the Mayflower significant was the signing of a printed document. The Mayflower Compact. 2020 is the 400th anniversary of the signing of that document. The actual date of arrival of the first European migrants to The New World is unknown. The 400th anniversary had, in reality, already been missed so postponing the party for a year is regrettable financially but not historically a problem of accuracy.https://www.mayflower400uk.org/education/the-mayflower-story/Printing can also make us laugh.