Visits

The Friends’ Day Out to Glastonbury and Wells – a personal perspective by Spen and Cathy Instone – 9th July 2018

On Monday July 9th a group of 33 Friends gathered in the Crescent to board the Cheltenham Town Football Club coach (very swish!) for the annual day out. The day started and continued sunny (too sunny for some) as we zoomed down the M5 towards Glastonbury, where we arrived in time for a welcome drink in the outdoor Summer Café, followed by a guided tour.

The ruins of the Abbey are splendid and date back to 1186, but the legends about Glastonbury, about which our guide spoke in detail are even more splendid. At its most exotic, the tales tell of Joseph of Arimathea visiting the site, together with Jesus himself, who helped to build the first monastery here. And of course the famous Glastonbury thorn (which flowers at both Easter and Christmas) was the result of Joseph sticking his staff into the ground when he arrived, when it took root and has blossomed ever since (despite being cut down by the Puritans!). To complement the Arithmathean legends, our guide also entertained us with tales of King Arthur and Guinevere who are said to be buried here – but in the words of the guide book “the monks staged a fake exhumation in a desperate attempt to attract funds.” How little has changed in the last 1000 years!

After our excellent and entertaining visit, we went off again in our coach to Wells, where we had several hours to have lunch and explore the town before our guided visit in the mid-afternoon. Even though the heat was now most un-English, Cathy and I enjoyed a picnic lunch and visited the amazing Vicars’ Close, where the cathedral’s lay clerks have lived since 1348. It claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in Europe and is quite magnificent. And no visit to Wells would be complete without seeing the Bishop’s Palace where the swans in the moat ring a bell when they want to be fed. Several members of the group spent time looking around this part of Wells and some also went to visit the church of St Cuthbert.

Our cathedral guide was unfortunately a little hurried, as we had to avoid a funeral before and choir practice after our tour. The cathedral was begun in 1175, and is of course famous not only for its scissor arches in the crossing, but also its west front with one of the greatest collections of medieval sculptures in the western world. For one of us, seeing the clock (installed 1390) striking was the high point of the visit; for the other it was the stained glass tree of Jesse in the east end, 50 years younger than the clock.

And as a final treat we attended Evensong – sung by a choir from Alabama, as the cathedral choir had gone on holiday the day before.

Then coach home with a diverting, if accidental, tour round a new (and amazed) housing estate on the way – arriving back just at the scheduled time, as estimated by our wonderful organiser, Patricia Purkiss – to whom we all owe very hearty thanks for her efficiency and attention to detail.

For a gallery of photographs from the day please click here.

The Bodleian Library and Christ Church, Oxford – 5th December 2017

A trip to Oxford to view the Tewkesbury Abbey Founders’ Book attracted a full complement for the scenic coach ride through the Cotswold countryside. On arrival, the group of 26 were given time to wander through the delights of the city before meeting up at the Bodleian Library for an introduction in the beautifully vaulted 15th century Divinity School. Some members knew this as the robing room for the graduation ceremony in the adjoining Sheldonian Theatre, but it had also been the examination hall in times gone by. A knowledgeable guide recounted the history of the buildings, and the development of the library. From a few hundred manuscripts when first set up by Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester (who died in 1327) and later developed by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, between 1435 and 1437, it soon became the University Library. It is now a reference library which contains millions of books and rare manuscripts, many stored away from Oxford in Swindon. We were shown the books in tiered shelves in the Duke Humfrey’s Library (1488), which had in former times been a chained library, now only with a demonstration of what chaining individual books involved to prevent theft.

The Library went into a period of decline until 1598 when Thomas Bodley, a former fellow of Merton College, offered to support the redevelopment. He donated many of his own books and after the Reformation many other donors came forward with books to start, in 1603, what has become Britain’s second largest library after the British Library. In 1610 Bodley struck an agreement with the Stationers’ Company in London to provide his library with a copy of every book registered with them, an arrangement that continues to this day.

We were then taken to the rare manuscript department in the Weston Library, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1940, where Dr Kauffman showed us the Tewkesbury Abbey Founders’ Book. This history, reporting events in the 13th and 14th centuries but compiled in the first half of the 16th century, tells of the families involved in the foundation of the Abbey. The illustrations still exhibit the vibrant colours that have survived so many years and so many owners. The history of ownership of the book has been unravelled up to the last few years before it was given to the Bodleian Library, a donation that remains a mystery. Despite having had a replacement outer leather cover at some stage, it is in remarkably good condition, and a full transcription of the text by Sir Robert Atkins is available. There was also a parchment ‘Roll’ illustrating the family trees from the foundation by Oddo and Doddo along with the heraldic shields of the families, getting ever more complex with the passing generations. It was a privilege to be able to see such an important book and beautifully illustrated manuscript relating to the early years of Tewkesbury Abbey.

A short stroll through the Christmas shoppers brought us to the splendour of Christ Church College. We took tea in the magnificent hall, lined by portraits of many famous alumni looking down on us. Well satisfied, we made our way to the Cathedral, which also acts as the chapel for the college, for Sung Evensong. After a thoroughly enjoyable visit we returned home, timed to perfection by Patricia Purkiss’s excellent organisation, for which we are most grateful.

Dr. Andrew Crowther

Southwell Minster – 3rd July 2017

‘Brass’ by Benjamin Till at the Old Rep Theatre and St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham – 20th February 2017

Hereford Cathedral and the Mappa Mundi – 4th July 2016

Dean Close School – 15th October 2015