A shed full of wheels

Rain, blue skies, rain, blue skies, grey skies, rain, grey skies, rain, rain, rain. And that was the morning. We spent a fruitless few hours discussing the possibility of having an extension built on our house and where I’d live while it was being done. Options range from my tent in the back yard, using a bucket for a toilet and an open fire for cooking, to renting a property in Kensington with room for the puppies. Neither of these seemed particularly good from my point of view. In my opinion we should just buy something that already has the work done. Mirinda suggested we move back to Haslemere but just off the high street. Nicktor would be pleased.

Mirinda claims she can see dismay on the face of a chicken. My wife is a remarkable woman.

Feeding the chickens of Rose Cottage

Having fed the chickens some stale brown bread, we headed off into Gloucester. The weather was glorious so we figured we’d try for the antiques centre at the historic Gloucester Docks, though, as we found out much later, they have relocated to the non-historic Gloucester Quay, which is just next door. We parked back at the Mall because, try as we might, it proved impossible to find any other parking areas, although the city boasts many. The signs just run out and you wind up heading for the Mall. Maybe it’s a plot to make more money for the Mall rather than all the council run car parks dotted mysteriously elsewhere about town. I don’t know. It just proved easier to stop looking and park the car at the Mall.

We wandered aimlessly (at least that’s what it felt like to me who didn’t have the map) for a bit and then found the Harbour Quay Antique Centre. Three floors of glorious old stuff. And there’s a lot of it! We spotted some netsukes on the ground floor, something Mirinda is quite keen on. The ones she was particularly keen on were the most expensive. This was no coincidence. We spotted a lovely poet’s wax seal, also Japanese, which we mulled over as we wandered the halls and eventually bought on the way out. By the way, it’s not made of wax, it’s porcelain with a stamp on the end for leaving an impression in wax.

Japanese poet's wax seal

On the top floor we sat and had coffee and cake, admiring the views over the buildings as well as the renovations to the warehouse that have turned it into an excellent antiques centre. I’m amazed, though, that it could be a going concern. They must pay very little rent.

Once more outside, avoiding the rain which fell as we sipped our drinks, we wandered around towards the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal but were unable to walk along the canal because the Waterways Museum had sadly deemed it unnecessary. I hate when that happens! One of the best things about beautifying old docks and canal areas in cities, is the fact that you can wander around the water’s edge. In most places this is the case but sometimes, like here, you are cut off and have to wander around the buildings trying to see the water. I should add that this was only the case around the Waterways Museum; the rest of the place goes right to the water. Looking back, I think it’s probably because the museum has access to a couple of boats sitting in the water and to make sure people don’t clamber over them without going through the museum first, they’ve put up the big fences to keep them out.

Scrunched up against one of the warehouses, looking like some disgruntled super hero (say, someone like Hancock) had just dropped it there, sits the Mariner’s Chapel. It’s very cute. It’s history is typical of it’s time. With the coming of the canal, came seamen and, as far as the missionary zealots were concerned, above all else, they needed somewhere to pray. One assumes the cathedral was too far away. Anyway, in 1831, a Mr Campbell first thought of the idea, drew up some plans and even put some dosh aside but then he died and his son didn’t share his vision so it didn’t happen.

Mariners chapel, Gloucester docks, Gloucester

It wasn’t until 1847, when a meeting was held and a vote taken regarding the building of a chapel just for the boatmen and other sailory types, that it started to be built. The chapel was designed by John Jaques and was completed in 1849. Anglican (and Catholic) churches are generally built east to west, with the altar being in the east – closest to god. However, this chapel was built really close to the warehouse which made it impossible for the doors to be in the west end so it was reversed. Now, it seems to me, they could have built it a few more yards to the east and kept it the way it’s supposed to be. I guess they figured the sailors wouldn’t really care but I reckon they’d be more aware of the compass points than the normal run of the mill church going public and might just realise! Still, that’s what they did and that’s why it’s backwards. Nothing to do with devil worship.

According to the small history of the chapel, I picked up, the “…local watermen and families were uneducated, given to swearing and drunkenness, living roughly, hardened by ostracism and neglect.” Interesting then that the city decided to build them a separate chapel so the rest of Gloucester didn’t have to mix with them. How Christian were they? Still, regardless of why, it is a lovely little place and strangely serene, surrounded as it is by huge warehouses and a car park. Though, typically, the Victorians, when decorating it inside, put a lovely series of stencilled drawings around the walls which was subsequently painted over so it’s now all nice and white. I don’t know why we do this. Churches were never dull and boring. They were places vibrant and full of colour and we keep them, museum-like, stiff and formal. Not like elsewhere in Europe. It’s a real shame. You walk into some of these parish churches and figure that god only likes things in black and white.

But enough of that. We wandered around a lot, deciding to try the other antiques centre, which is when we found out that it had moved and was, in fact, the other one. I mean there isn’t two. Just one. It makes sense.

Next stop was the folk museum. A jolly little place which threatened to be quite dull until we found the other half of the building. Interestingly, we were there the day they pumped the garden full of fake snow.

The first thing you see when you enter the Gloucester Folk Museum is a sort of 1950s kitchen. You are then confronted with lots of cheese making stuff (think double Gloucester and the lesser known single Gloucester). Outside is a shed full of wheels with nothing to indicate what you’re looking at (or, more importantly, why) and a little Victorian shop selling cutlery.

Cutlery shop in the folk museum, Gloucester

Uninspired, we were ready to leave when Mirinda found the entrance to the other half of the place.

The folk museum is situated in a Tudor building of great slant. The floorboards lean each and every way, giving a delightful feeling of perpetual motion as you wander from floor to floor. The wonderful thing about the folk museum (apart from the fake snow and cutlery shop) is the fact that the building once housed a pin factory. At one end of the top floor, under the eaves, is a display of pin-making equipment. Genius. Frankly, I was amazed. Not only by how a group of women and children toiled away up there making pins but how they were easily replaced by funky machines that churned out 170 per minute! And now it’s a museum.

Mirinda didn’t believe that when I was in primary school, the first pen I used was a nibbed ink pen. I distinctly remember the NSW government issue pens. They were green and tapered down to an end we used to chew. The nib would slip into a slit at the bulbous end. We would use the inkwells in the desks. Which is why we discussed it – the desks in the Victorian school room in the folk museum resembled the ones I had.

I bought a book on the martyrdom of John Hooper and we then retired to Dick Wittington’s house for lunch. I didn’t know he was real. But apparently he came from Gloucester and left there to walk to London to find the gold lined paths and, disappointed, became mayor. What I don’t get is the cat. Did he really take a cat with him? Did it really wear boots? It must be one of the first spin offs, as well. Amazingly amazing. Anyway, his house is now a very nice pub.

Dick Wittingtons pub, Gloucester

And a big warm thank you to Roger and Jackie, the owners, who took great pains to make sure we were happy before setting off to buy things in town. Jackie was clearly a woman with a mission – she had money and was determined to spend it! Roger was just there for the ride.

We had a large pub meal and an excellent beer while watching the weather beaten sky descend and darken the already grey Gloucester streets. The swish, swish of windscreen wipers and the sploosh of tyres through puddles was far from inviting but we had to make tracks. Fortunately, the rain stopped pretty much after we left the pub.

We returned to the cottage as the sun vanished and the rain started again.

It occurred to us that although we’ve lived in England for nearly 11 years, this is the first English holiday we’ve taken when it’s rained every day. Or even more than one or two days. Truly odd. We’ve obviously been very lucky and this week is a way for the gods to even things up a bit.

Tomorrow we are going to try Tewkesbury again. Well, that’s the rumour, anyway.

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