Colchester for the day

Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society coach trip to Colchester on 7th August.  Teams of people and vehicles clearing what seemed to be a continuous layer of bottles and cans and food wrappers covering every open green and paved space down the central valley of Brighton – the morning after Pride.

Colchester has heritage all over, its the oldest town in the UK.  The Romans built it first, using their red bricks and tiles and a curious stone called septaria.  Essex is a land of clay and glacial deposits – not a lot of building stone, so hard concretions washed out of the London Clay along the Thames were collected and used.  Hardly good stone, but the best available locally.  They built a huge temple to the emperor Claudius, and the Normans used the large and solid foundations to site their castle – making it the biggest Norman castle anywhere – bigger than the Tower of London, but the same architect – a Bishop of Rochester.  The Romans also built a defensive wall – but not until after the Boadicea rebellion made it necessary.

colchester castle (600 x 450)

The Normans did reuse lots of Roman brick, tile and collected septaria, but they also imported a white limestone from Caen in France.  Caen stone can be seen in hundreds of Norman churches in the SE, and there is a big patch on the left of the main gate into Colchester castle, above, as well as in the quoins up the corners of the structure.

septarian nodules at sheppey

I borrowed this photo from Bob Williams, in an article he wrote in Deposits Magazine – the magazine of fossils, geology and minerals (17th may 2016 issue).  It shows a beach on the north side of the Isle of Sheppey, and many septarian nodules washed out of the London Clay cliff.  They are called septarian nodules because, during formation they develop internal cracks which fill with calcium carbonate solution from the surrounding mud, and this crystallises out to give veins of calcite.  When a nodule is broken it tends to break along one of these veins, so they divide the nodule.  Septum is Latin for a dividing line or boundary between parts – thus septarian.

city wall colchester (570 x 600)

Above is a piece of Colchester’s Roman wall showing the typical bands of horizontal red brick between areas of less regular building materials (septaria mainly).

Before the Normans came over, and after the Romans left the Saxons (amongst many others) appeared.  They built defensive towers and churches – sometimes a defensive tower could be incorporated into a church – and they used a distinctive doorway and window element – a simple pointed arch.  And a church I passed whilst seeking a beer (found Elephant School Brewing’s Black and Weiss – a black wheat IPA!) showed one nicely.  Note that the structure is all reused Roman brick and collected septaria.

saxon tower with roman brick (450 x 600)

Recently archaeologists have discovered the biggest Roman Circus in northern Europe just south of the castle.  It happened during the demolition and redevelopment work of the old barracks.  The interpretation centre is beside the circus in an old NAAFI building.  Just outside there is a stainless steel cross-section of what the seating might have looked like, located on the very footing of the seating and wall of the circus.  The stone foundations and buttresses of this stone seating and retaining structure are preserved below the glass panels set in the ground.

section of circus seating (600 x 517)

Inside the NAAFI there is a model showing the likely appearance of the 450 metre  long circus. I took the picture below by peering through the west end of the perspex cover over the model.

circus model from west end (600 x 374)

By the time the Romans built this vast entertainment complex society must have been flourishing.  They went all the way to Kent for building stone, importing Kentish Ragstone from the Weald, via the rivers Medway, Thames and Colne to Colchester.

But enough geology and Romans.  In the museum of Colchester in the castle, there is a fine jug dating to the 13th century.  It is in the shape of a ram, and I liked it.  I cannot be alone, because the museum now sells a jug based on the design, but made without the feeling for sheep, and detail of the original, so I resisted buying one.

medieval sheep jug (600 x 365)

Dashing up to date, on the way to visit some of the walls we passed a Victorian water tower, a wonderful listed building nobody knows what to do with.  The tank is made of iron and sits on top of the 4 brick piers.  The whole is at the highest point in town, allowing water to flow by gravity to all parts of the town, once it had been pumped up the the huge tank.

19th century watertower (410 x 600)

But a family of peregrine falcons have found a use for it, raising young in the middle of the town.  Apologies for the lousy picture.

peregrine falcon on tower (600 x 454)






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Toads and flying ants

Yesterday early eve I was reading in the back garden when I heard something crunching across layers of brittle brown bay leaves.  A pair of toads were walking in line along the foot of a low wall, approaching three steps up to the next bit of garden.  They tried climbing the steps when they reached them, but the rise defeated them.  They moved to the other side of the steps and one struggled up the first step.  I decided to help.  The toad did not seem to appreciate being picked up, but I placed him on the top step where he saw the ants coming up from nests at both sides of the step.  Perhaps this was his plan all along.

toad and flying ant on grass aug2016 (600 x 551)

I tried to capture a picture with him at the moment of tongue extended, but its too quick. Above, the toad sneaks up on a winged ant climbing a grass stem.

toad reaches for ant on step aug2016 (585 x 600)

Above, toad stretches forward prior to snapping up another flying ant.  I thought I’d help him down after the swarm had departed, mainly because the cats next door seemed a bit close.  But again I was too late, he just threw himself off the top step, righted himself and repeated the process down to the long grass and hiding places on what I like to call the lower lawn (but others call a nine foot square of rough grass).

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Jon and Denise come to stay

My brother and his wife have just arrived in Hawaii for their son’s wedding, but stopped with us for a couple of days between Belfast and Maui.  Jon put me onto a website called which allows you to follow the progress of planes if you know the flight number.  Their arrival was less than direct as I guess they’d missed their landing slot following a late departure from Belfast.

Jon and Denise arrive - the pretty way (600 x 450)

Took Jon to the Brighton Beer Dispensary – currently my favourite Brighton watering hole – and remembered to get a picture of their wallpaper.  It looks traditional at first glance, but is a montage of modern urban streetlife.

BBD wallpaper 2 (600 x 475)

On Friday we all attended the unveiling of a new Blue Plaque on what is now the Regency Restaurant but was once the home of the 9th Duchess of St Albans.  The Duchess had been an actress – very good looking – who ‘caught the eye’ of a Mr Coutt of banking fame.  He was 27 years her alder and died leaving her one of the richest women in England.  She also involved herself in the running of Coutt’s bank (bankers to royalty), but its her parties that are celebrated on the plaque, as she is simply described as socialite.

P1090774 (600 x 427)

Here you can see the deputy mayor outlining Harriot Mellon’s history, before she became the 9th Duchess.  Mo Marsh (for it is she) did a great job of adding drama to her presentation.  You can also see Roger Amerena (left) and the 14th Duke (right) vying for superiority in the top hat stakes.  After the Duke had pulled the string and revealed the plaque we trooped into the adjacent hotel (also owned by the Regency Restaurant) for bubbly and two-course lunch generously provided by the restaurant owners – Emilio and Rovertos Savvides.

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Brighton’s offshore wind turbine project

In due course we will have 116 big turbines standing in deep water nearly 2 miles offshore, in a long grouping roughly parallel to the coast, spreading west towards Shoreham.  Work had to stop on fixing the support piles into the seabed at the beginning of May because of two things – first it was the beginning of the black seabream breeding season, and secondly, they discovered deposits of unexploded bombs and stuff (ordnance was the term used in the Shoreham Herald).  Apparently whilst black seabream don’t like drilling, excavating and churning up of seabed material whilst they breed, they don’t mind “boulder re-location”, which has been permitted during this lull in other works.

placing turbine bases (600 x 324)

But its back to work now.  Over the next few months two specialised barges will place the remaining 96 foundations to join the 20 already in place.  One is seen in this much enlarged snap taken from the top deck of a 700 bus.  Will they become a blight ruining our view of the open sea (like the West Pier was predicted to be before it was built), or will they be a reassuring reminder of the actions we are taking to ween ourselves off fossil fuels in order to moderate the ill-effects of self-imposed climate change?

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Fish shop brochure

At first I could not see anything wrong with this leaflet – its all in English after all, and one of the words has got all the letters, but not necessarily in the right order.  Istanbul Fish and Chips is new on London Road, opposite Al Campo Lounge.

P1090757 (600 x 450)

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Meridian, Cock and woodstoves.

On the 4th August Marian picked us up and we drove to Peacehaven to the Toyota MOT place.  Whilst it was being done we walked along the clifftop to the Meridian monument and this picture is the result.

meridian marker

More clifftop and then we cut inland for the Meridian shopping centre – we retired folk know how to live.  There we found an independent hardware shop and I bought two shelf brackets for 80p and a roll of small kitchen bin liners – it doesn’t get much better than this.  After collecting the car we drove towards Ringmer, to the Cock Inn for lunch.  Lovely spot and great day, though the autumnal wasps have arrived.


Then to the nearby woodstove centre where Marian was shown the range (pun most certainly intended).

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A Country Walk – 28th July 2016

Met Graham in Henfield at 11am with a route in mind to get us to Partridge Green for lunchtime.  Only one potential problem, the route as planned used a footbridge to cross the river Adur, and it had been closed for repairs two years ago.  But I checked the West Sussex County Council Rights of Way webspace and it was not listed on the routes temporarily closed, so no problem expected.

First problem was a sign saying route ahead closed for water main works.  This was beside a hole in the road nearly full of water, with a sign – probably unofficial.

water main pond

But the route was passable, the authorities had simply not bothered to remove the signs, we found several more as we walked.  When we reached the river the bridge was closed off!

closed footbridge

A new route was quickly and easily established.  There was only one practical choice – walk the river bank until the next bridge.  This would shorten the planned walk, but what does it matter so long as the weather is kind and the company congenial.  We thought we had another bridge in view – and it was a bridge, but not for public use, and without a link to any rights of way on the other side.

Adur wier

It was just for the river authority people to access the records of weir flow heights kept in flow data recording cabinets beside two weirs.  Saw a buzzard drift past while we were here.  Earlier Graham pointed out a curious chimney stack design.  What is the zig-zag for?

close up chimney zigzag

I particularly like the re-enforcing brick web.  Soon reached the Partridge  where four pints were consumed with ham, eggs and chips.  (A cleverly planned very low carb. breakfast allowed me to do this and stay within my daily carb count).

We parted at 4pm and I got home to find myself locked out – forgot to take a key.  Forced to have fifth pint in Martha Gunn (pub over the road) where I waited and watched for Jackie’s return – with this view of the house:


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