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A House Not Made With Hands: (1) On Moody Bush Hill

This is the reimagined true story of one community's struggle to bring New Jerusalem out of the clouds during a quarter of a millennium of radical change. The spiritual dynamism inspired by John Wesley in these Leicestershire parishes was multiplied throughout the British Isles and steadily contributed to the welfare and stability of the nation when Europe was in ferment and the beast of anarchy was baying at the door. King George III himself fully recognised the part played by Methodism. He even donated ships' timbers for the building of Wesley's Chapel in the City of London and presented them in person.

Setting the scene...

 

On Moody Bush Hill, just off the bridle path which traces a lackadaisical course to South Croxton, stands a forgotten relic of feudal times. It is neither milestone nor monolith, neither cairn nor cornerstone, a granite tooth inscribed with the words Moody Bush. No one knows how it came to be there or who was the mason who tooled its weather-hewn face. Legend claims that it marks the meeting place of the old hundreds court which debated local affairs when William the Conqueror took it into his head that the Gallic touch was needed to civilise the mongrel peasants of this island. Where the mighty emperors of Rome had failed, he would not!

It is an idyllic landscape, thickly populated with oak and ash, with elder, blackthorn and sycamore, diligently tilled for almost a thousand years since the Vikings first tamed its forests and subdued its stubborn clay with their peerless ploughshares. It rests at the heart of a heart-shaped county, about as far from any alien horizon or the cut and thrust of everything associated with seafaring as you can get.

Ridgemere Lane towards South Croxton - P J Thomas (Creative Commons)

Queniborough nestles in the valley, distinguished by the dragon's tail spire of St. Mary's church, and a mile or two to the north-west, the tower of St. Peter's Church rises foursquare in the parish of Syston. In the archaic tongue of its Anglo-Saxon settlers, the tiny hamlet was named Sithestun after the broad, blunt stone where its patriarchs gathered.

Little affects the tempo of its days. The warring factions to the north and south which contest the right of the Catholic Stuart over the Protestant Hanoverian for the nation's throne are no more than a whispered rumour. Ever since the Roman occupation, shiresfolk have preferred to cherish their roots rather than tangle with offcomers. The fact that St. Augustine, despatched by Pope Gregory I to these pagan shores, had converted Offa, descendant of Eowa, King Penda of Mercia's brother, and the kingdom had grown fat and prosperous as a result, has long passed from memory. Those who work the land assume God's in his heaven and that they know how life should be lived.

 

     

 Penda of Mercia - Elijah McNeal                                Offa of Mercia

But deep below their pattens and hunting-boots, nature still seethes. The middle ground is riven by an ancient fault line. Some say that, until the titanic upheavals of the Ice Age, the undulating plain which forms the backbone of Charnwood Forest was the highest range of peaks in England. Every so often the earth's core rumbles and sends forth a shuddering ripple which undermines buildings, causes lightning cracks to appear in plasterwork and stirs up a gale. Thunderstorms occur more regularly than anywhere else in the British Isles.



        

 

Today, these rocky outcrops, Breedon Hill, Beacon Hill, Burrough Hill, fortresses from the cradle of man, are stations in a chain of beacons. They might warn of advancing armies, hail a new sovereign or proclaim the birth of his heir.

So much for earthquake, wind and fire. But what of the still, small voice...?

 Burrough Hill Iron Age Hillfort - Mat Fascione (Creative Commons)

Continued...

A House Not Made With Hands

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Living Poetry

"There is nothing inorganic... The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit -- not a fossil earth, but a living earth"

Henry David Thoreau

Walden

 

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In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 4: Historic Hotels

Continuing on our merry way...

Almost by definition, old hotels are historic hotels but some are more historic than others. We stayed in a old hotel in San Antonio once that had been refurbished and then became a "boutique" hotel. Also in San Antonio there is the Crockett Hotel, 100+ years old, that stands about a stone's throw from the Alamo (I dare you...). Then there is the Menger Hotel in San Antonio which is famous because Teddy Roosevelt rode his horse into the Menger Hotel bar in 1898 and recruited volunteers for the Rough Riders. That Teddy story trumps the boutique and the chance to make history by throwing rocks at the Alamo...so I'd vote for the Menger as the most historical.

 

BEEKMAN ARMS, RHINEBECK, NEW YORK

If you are in the Hudson River valley and can work it out, stay at the Beekman Arms...or at least, eat at the tavern. It is hard to beat the Beekman Arms at the historical hotel contest. The Beekman is the oldest continuously operating inn in the USA going back to well before the Revolutionary War. George Washington slept, ate, drank and did just about everything else here. Back then, the tavern looked out on the village green and he would sit in the tavern and watch the militia drill out on the green. Remember Chelsea Clinton's wedding? Yep...in Rhinebeck, and the Beekman played a big role in the wedding.   Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton traded insults at the Beekman which eventually led to their duel and the death of Hamilton. Benedict Arnold was a common sight at the Beekman. Rhinebeck is a short distance from Hyde Park...FDR's home...and the Roosevelts were here too. I'm sure some of my ancestors darkened the doorway at some point since they were from a nearby town.

-----Firehouse Suite-----
 

Back in the old days, guests shared beds...maybe several guys to a bed. Private rooms were hard to come by. Today the Beekman Arms has a few small rooms in the actual old Inn but they have expanded to take over a half dozen or more historic structures in Rhinebeck and there are some very nice accommodations. You don't have to sleep in a bed with a stranger.  The time we stayed here we actually had a three-room suite on the upper floor of the old Rhinebeck firehouse...where the fireman used to sleep, but much nicer. The rooms were furnished with a few antiques (maybe replicas...?) and canopy beds.

 Apart from registering at the front desk, you might not spend much time in the actual old inn unless you go into the tavern. The tavern is a classic old colonial-style tavern. The menu was varied and the food was good. Needless to say, if you are coming to the Beekman Arms, bring your money. There is a lot to see and do in this part of the Hudson Valley and it's well worth a visit.

 

 

 

BROOKSTOWN INN, WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA

 Winston-Salem is steeped in history all by itself. The Moravians settled the place and there are several blocks of old and restored buildings in the historic "Old Salem" district. Everything looks historical. Wake Forest University is here and its main campus looks like a relic from the 1700s.  Winston Salem was also an early industrial site. Entrepreneurs from the town traveled north to see how the textile mills in New England functioned and then came back and established a cotton textile industry.

One of those early 19th century mills has been converted to the Brookstown Inn. The inn is in the main mill building but there is ample evidence of a sprawling complex of mill structures. Back in the day, the unmarried mill girls lived in a dormitory in the attic of the mill. When the renovation work was underway, workers cleaning and stripping the walls in the attic found lots of old graffiti, poems and sketches that the girls placed on the walls of their dormitory. Some of those are preserved and on view up on the top floor. Nothing tremendous happened here but you can see and understand a little of what mill worker life was like back before the Civil War.

The rooms in the inn are sparse with old-style furnishings and bare brick walls. The rooms are mostly on the actual mill floors with as much left as possible to give the feel of the old building. Considering the structure and the industrial history, the place is bright and cheery. The restaurant is nice...I think we only had breakfast but it was good food.

The Brookstown Inn offers a good base for exploring the rest of Winston Salem.  "Adaptive re-use" is almost always a good thing in my opinion and this place is a great example.

There are a couple organizations that serve as resources if you want to stay at a good historic hotel. The National Trust for Historic Preservation established Historic Hotels of America in 1989 and they are active in maintaining standards and they keep their list current. The website is http://www.historichotels.org.  Another similar listing is Historic Hotels of the Rockies at  http://www.historic-hotels.com .

 

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Letting Them Rest in Peace

      

westport battle

Battle of Westport


The last mortal casualty of the Civil War was laid to rest over 150 years ago.  Somewhere around 750,000 people died in that war. Most of the soldiers died from disease — for every three killed in combat there was another five who died from disease.  Many more were maimed for life.


There is a great deal of agitation and consternation over the future of the Confederate flag and what it actually stands for. To claim that the flag stands to memorialize and honor Confederate soldiers who died in a misguided and vain attempt to preserve slavery (yes, that’s what it was about in the south) is to, conversely, dishonor and minimize the efforts and sacrifice of Union soldiers who also died in the conflict in the struggle to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. Many soldiers’ lives were cut short even if they survived the war. My great-grandfather died from complications from a Civil War injury long after the war ended. Another relative suffered thirty years of pain with a war injury until he finally had his leg amputated in the 1890s.


The Confederate flag doesn’t stand for or serve the purpose that it was originally intended. It is now mostly a tool to symbolize obstructionism and white privilege. No matter what you think of it or its history, today it is the bigot’s flag. It was once vilified as “the traitor’s rag” and has evolved into the “bigot’s rag”.


Slavery and the Civil War were horrendous things in our history. I was born and raised in Missouri, a one-time slave state. Our version of Civil War there was particularly brutal on all sides.  Slavery in Missouri was not as widely practiced as in the deep south but had a particular ugly aspect — one not much talked about.  Slave plantations in parts of Missouri were essentially stock farms where slaves were bred and then shipped south.  Slaves could not be imported into the United States after 1807 so there was a business side to the “peculiar institution” — making baby slaves that could eventually be sold south to large agricultural plantations. I’m sure this went on all over the south but it is seldom talked about. Where do you think all those slaves came from?


The killing of the nine church members in Charleston is not directly related to the Confederate flag.  The murders are related to the mindset and bigotry that the flag represents.  The flag bolsters and fosters the hate and aggression that permeates the minds of too many people…not just in the south. That’s how the murders are connected.  You can see Confederate flag “do-rags” on bikers in California or any state. The flag decorates pick-up trucks in Michigan or Idaho or anywhere in the country. Six-year-olds wrapped in Chinese-made Confederate flag beach towels in Texas or Cape Cod don’t (yet) know what that symbol is about but others with them or seeing them do and it won’t be long before they figure it out.


It is time to grow up and put all of that behind us. This is not “political correctness” as right-wingers like to complain about. They don’t fly Nazi flags in military cemeteries in Germany. Put the flag in a museum — there is no place for the Confederate flag in public or government institutions or business…as in state flags or license plates.  It’s time we laid it all to rest.

 

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