Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lough Hyne: A venerated, ancient place

The Holy Well of Skour
For a long, long time lands here, around Lough Hyne in Ireland, have been occupied by humankind.  For four-thousand years people have left behind them material evidence of their having lived, died, worked and worshipped their deities here.

Sitting in the bay window of this cottage close to the edge of the Lough, the notion of the Lough and its purlieu having been a sacred place since the beginning of time sits quite comfortably with me.  It is an elemental place; earth and water are apparent to all senses, air manifests itself in the strong westerly winds which shape the crowns of trees, winds which, during winter gales, blow some of the trees to the ground to provide fuel for the fires that have burnt in hearths of homes hereabouts for millennia.  The majority of the tangible evidence of human occupation bequeathed to us is connected with religion and religious ritual; standing stones, stone circles and wedge tombs, giving further credence to the idea of this area having a long sacred / spiritual history.

The Christians were here early in their western history, as early as the sixth century Christianity had become the dominant religion of Ireland but there must, I believe, have been an established ritual paradigm onto which the early christian proselytisers were able to impose their social designs.  Indeed, as recently as the lately passed eve of the first of May, the Celtic festival of Bealtaine, a Christian mass was held at the ‘Holy Well of Skour’.  The mass has been celebrated at the well for no more than the past fifty years; earlier it had been the termination of an annual pilgrimage.  I can but believe that this ‘Holy Well’, where life-giving water rose from the depths of the earth, would have been held sacred long before Christianity was imposed on the people here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hayward Brothers

Here in this West Cork cottage, The Gate Lodge, Lough Ine House, there is a victorian, cast-iron, spiral staircase. The lodge, I understand was built around 1830. It is quite possible therefore that the staircase is original. It was, I believe, assembled on site from a number of standard components bolted together to make an exceptionally strong and secure staircase; a victorian version of an IKEA flat-pack. There are twelve stair sections, each cast as a one-piece step and riser, on one side the risers slot into each other to make a strong central column. On their outsides the stair sections are bolted together by extensions of bannister supports eleven of which are identical, the twelfth, first step, support is more substantial and has slightly different decoration from the others. The top stair section has had an extra piece fitted to it; another standard section minus its riser, to make a top-of-stairs platform into which have been cast the words, “HAYWARD BROTHERS . UNION STREET . BOROUGH . LONDON”. 

From my late teenage years this South Bank area has been very well known to me. In those days, the 1960s, it was a maze narrow lanes and alleys between tall brick warehouses around cobbled yards, pockets of Dickensian London yet thriving along the Thames. To stroll the area was a delight to the olfactory senses; scented spice importers traded cheek by jowl with leather tanners, wine merchants with importers of exotic foods. My own interests in Bermondsey and the Borough in those days were the paper merchants (Business) and a particularly excellent old wine bar (Pleasure!) but Haywood Brothers must have, unknown to me, been trading, if not manufacturing, in Union Street.

I know they were there because, finding the name cast into the top step of the staircase here, I searched the internet for further information about the firm. I found, 'Faded London' a blog put together by an individual with an interest in the historical minutiae of London; cast iron coal-hole covers being one of his special fancies. According to 'Faded London' the Hayward Brothers established their iron founding business in 1783 as a diversification from their existing glass manufacturing concern. For the better part of the next two hundred years they flourished, becoming, among other things major manufacturers of coal-hole covers. Apparently the business ceased to trade during the 1970s; a victim perhaps of the Clean-Air Acts and a growing preference for central-heating.