Bernadette! : A Lourdes Grotto In Rothwell

I was in Rothwell yesterday, to watch the Bones getting beaten 6-3 by Potton United (they now have two points and a goal difference of minus 48).

One thing I like about Rothwell is the feeling that, at some point (perhaps the ‘sixties), it has somehow become cut off from the rest of the world – a feeling accentuated by the fact that everywhere I went yesterday they were playing ‘sixties hits – Sugar Sugar, Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, Band of Gold.  Perhaps the ironstone buildings and the dozy, fuggy atmosphere  remind me of staying with my grandparents in Kettering during the Summer holidays.

It does, of course, also have remnants of earlier and stranger selves much older than that.  I have written before about the Jesus Hospital.  The Parish Church has its bone crypt, or ossuary, and then there is the Market Hall.  Like the nearby Triangular Lodge, this was built by Thomas ‘the Builder’ Tresham, father of the Gunpowder Plot conspirator, and was intended to embody his recusant Roman Catholic beliefs in a way that is so cryptic that it verges on the Kabbalistic.  There is a building called the Nunnery, which is believed to be connected with a Priory shut down at the Reformation.

And then there is this, which for some reason, I’d never come across before.  It is a Lourdes Grotto, outside St Bernadette’s Roman Catholic Church.

It is meant to be a replica of the grotto where the Virgin Mary (this figure)

appeared in a vision to Bernadette of Lourdes (the smaller kneeling figure)

Like most post-Counter Reformation Catholic iconography, it exhibits – if not quite a defiant ugliness – then a deliberate indifference to secular standards of aesthetics.  It is intended to exemplify a doctrine, and all else would be a distraction.

Coming across it unexpectedly, it also seemed almost shocking in its wilful un-Englishness (not to mention – to Protestant eyes – more than vaguely pagan).  It doesn’t seem to belong here at all, but in Italy, or Ireland, or France. Or perhaps the shock is in the realisation that there is nothing un-English about it.  If the ghost of Thomas Tresham, or a revenant Nun or some of the older bones in the Ossuary were to chance across it one moonlit night, it would surely make them feel more, not less, at home.

Another Green Man : Alfonso XII of Spain

To maintain a little continuity in what I fear is going to be a heavily Spanish-themed couple of weeks, here is another green man*, to follow Sir John B. and Alfred East from back in the Spring.

This is Alfonso XII of Spain (or, to give him his full name Alfonso Francisco de Asís Fernando Pío Juan María de la Concepción Gregorio Pelayo), a nonchalant-looking sort of cove.  He stands on the Balcon de Europa, and indeed is said to have given this natural belvedere its name during a visit.  People queue up to have their photographs taken with their arms around his shoulder, as though he were Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.  In fact, he looks rather as though he is himself posing for a holiday snapshot (Hola! Having a lovely time in Nerja!).

Alfonso reigned for only ten years (from 1875-1885) before dying of tuberculosis. He seems to have been a popular monarch, though he did have to survive two assassination attempts and one failed coup.

H.V. Morton, in A Stranger in Spain (1955) – a book I’ve just taken out of the library – comments

“I have sometimes wondered whether other nations are as ignorant of our history as we are of theirs.  The story of Spain, so unlike that of any other nation in Europe, is little known in England except to the student, and even those who have absorbed a lot of Spain … would be hard put to to it to tell you anything of the history of Spain except at one or two points where it touched ours …”  

But then I find that part of the liberation of travel lies in discovering that there are alternatives to our settled habits of mind, other histories. 

Alfonso XII

 *A lot greener in the flesh (as it were) than he appears in this photograph.

A photograph for Easter


“And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness all over the earth until the ninth hour.  And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.  And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit; and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” – Luke 23.44-46.

Actually St. Hugh, Market Harborough (Little Bowden?) on Friday.

– Do you know what, Old Top?  If the bottom ever drops out of the blogging racket, you’ve got a great future designing record sleeves for third-rate goth bands. – (Reader’s voice).

Why thank you.

Another green man : Sir Alfred East

Yet another statue – the great advantage of taking photographs of statues for novice photographers being – do you see?- that they don’t move about.

Following on from what I was saying about the statute of John Betjeman at St Pancras, and its hue, here is another very green man – the bust of Sir Alfred East outside the eponymous Art Gallery in Kettering. 

Alfred East RA, painter

East was a painter of very pleasant landscapes.  When he died he lay in state in the gallery surrounded by examples of his work, and attracted  many thousands of visitors.  I don’t want to put ideas into his head, but I wonder whether Damien Hirst might be able to think of some imaginative variations on this idea when his time comes.  Perhaps involving bluebottles?  But let’s not go there.

The ghosts of Fleet Street past : Three Printers by Wilfred Dudeney

Another statue.  From a distance, given its location, it looks a little like the Tomb of the Unknown Yuppie, but it’s really something quite different.

"Three printers" by Wilfred Dudeney

This is situated in a garden where I sometimes eat my lunch – the Goldsmiths’ Company garden.  It was originally commissioned by the Westminster Press and stood just off Fleet Street.  When the area was redeveloped it was removed and ended up in a scrapyard in Watford.  It was rescued by the writer Christopher Wilson, who persuaded the Goldsmiths’ Company – who owned the land on which it had stood – to relocate it to their garden.
The name is misleading, as only the figure on the left, as you look it, is a printer.  He is a compositor, and his “stick” spells out the name of the sculptor (“stick”  being the technical printer’s term for the, er stick that held the type that he was about to set up).  (My grandfather and his father before him – on the more literate side of the family – worked as comps incidentally, and both, no doubt as a result,  were dab hands at Scrabble).  The slightly simian figure on the right is a newsboy and the one in the middle is variously described as an editor or a proprietor.
The compositor has, of course, been rendered obsolete by the march of progress, and so too – since the Evening Standard became a free-sheet – has the newsboy.  I wonder how long it will be before the editor joins them?       
I haven’t been able to discover a great deal about Wilfred Dudeney, apart from the fact that he was born in Leicester and was the son of a journalist.  His other famous work is Boy Riding a Ram, which is to be seen in Derby. 
(Every time I insert spaces between the paragraphs in this post, some unseen hand removes them again.  Perhaps some ghostly comp taking his revenge?)

Too green? John Betjeman at St Pancras

I would just like to announce that this blog has now entered a new era, and has taken a further step along the road to becoming a true Multi-Media Experience.  I have managed to acquire a digital camera (by inheritance from my daughter) so readers had better brace themselves for a brief, Toad-like outbust of enthusiasm for photography.  It’s the only thing, you know, and, of course, so much less effort than actually writing something.  At present, I am roughly to the world of photography what Cyril Smith is to the modelling of skinny jeans, but perhaps I shall improve with practice.

Anyway, here is my first photograph –

John Betjeman at St Pancras

 This, as you will observe, is the much-lauded statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras Station.  My normal route out of the station doesn’t take me past this, but occasionally – when the elevators are broken – it does and my point is that every time I pass him he seems to get greener and greener.  I’m sure he didn’t look quite like this when the statue was new.

I believe this is because the statue is made of bronze, which is largely made of copper, which – as we know from looking at lightning conductors on the spires of churches – turns green when it oxidises – but quite how green is he going to get?  He did write –

“Little, alas, to you I mean

For I am old and bald and green.”

But surely not this green?

(Incidentally, this will have to count as my contribution to the celebration of St Patrick’s Day).


Have they not heard of Dura-glit?