Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Glory of Westminster Abbey


It is over one thousand years old; the royal church of coronations, dedicated on December 28th, 1065; the first recorded coronation being one year later, in 1066.

This glorious kingly place of worship, the very embodiment of English and British history, final resting place of so many Sovereigns, where the shrine of St Edward the Confessor lies, is Westminster Abbey.

I do feel "carried away" here; I feel the history coming from the stones and walls of this place.

I feel at home here. This Abbey and Collegiate Church is a National monument; a precious treasure; even a ancient museum of tombs and monuments.

It is, to me, probably the most sacred, significant building in Christendom.

I arrived at ten twenty-seven; and left over three hours later, at one fifty-five, when I walked over to St Margaret's, parish church of Westminster and somewhat dwarfed by the great Abbey beside it.

St Margaret's itself is medieval; a "youngster" compared to the Abbey. 

In the Abbey, I marvelled at the innumerable monuments and tombs of our Kings and Queens; statesmen; poets; admirals and generals.

The Royal Air Force has a tiny chapel at the east end, within the Lady Chapel (above).

Also in the Lady Chapel are the stalls and banners of the Knights Grand Cross - military and civil - of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

Here we have the Arms of our most senior admirals, generals and air chief marshals; and the most senior civil servants in the Kingdom.

While I passed close to the shrine of St Edward, I was approached by a truly lovely lady who, it transpired, was a member of clergy on duty in the Abbey that day. 

We chatted at length about the Abbey and also about her own church, St Bartholomew-the-Less in the City.

She said she'd noticed me spending time in wandering round the Abbey; and would have invited me to join her for prayers at the shrine of St Edward, which I'd have been honoured to do.

To my mind, Westminster Abbey is one of the the most important buildings in England.

A visit - or pilgrimage - to this glorious abbey church is essential.

Friday, 17 June 2016

HMS Caroline Tour

 I spent a marvellous morning on HMS Caroline today.

It was dry, so I unearthed the trusty two-wheeler from the garden shed, inflated the tyres till they were rock-hard, donned the high-visibily, sleeveless jacket, the cycle helmet, and ventured forth.

HMS Caroline, a historic 1st World War light cruiser, has been moored in the port of Belfast for over ninety years.

In excess of £12 million has been spent on her restoration.

I dismounted at Alexandra Dock, purchased a ticket, and ascended the gangway.

A pair of headphones and a very helpful audio device is included.

Caroline's self-guided tour comprises the two principal decks, viz. the Upper and Lower decks.

She must have five decks altogether, I suppose, though the two below sea-level were used mainly for storage, fuel and so on.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy has installed several elevators or lifts throughout the ship.

I began my tour with a pot of tea in the Mess Deck Café on the Lower Deck.

This cafeteria also exhibits a historic recreation of a light cruiser's mess-table, ready for the ratings to get tucked in to a meal.

The Stewards' Mess

The Lower Deck also contains the cable lockers, coal store, torpedo school, engineers' workshop, signal-room; and, at the stern, the marines' mess, ward-room, officers' cabins, and officers' bathroom.

Directly below the torpedo school are the mighty engine rooms.

Ascending the steps to the Upper Deck, we observe the restored Sick Bay, galleys, the drill-room and the Captain's quarters.

Incidentally, Caroline was commanded by Captain Henry Crooke RN during the Battle of Jutland.

Captain Crooke went on to become Admiral Sir Henry Ralph Crooke, KBE, CB.

The Ward Room

Close to the forecastle (fo'c's'le) is the Navigating Bridge, with its four-inch guns, Captain's day-cabin, and "crow's nest" mounted on a massive steel tripod.

I took my time and spent over two and a half hours on the tour.

I'm in no doubt that HMS Caroline will become one of Belfast's main tourist attractions. It deserves to be.

This is a floating, historic museum which we are proud to have in the port of Belfast.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

TRH in County Down

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus, are in County Down this afternoon.

Their Royal Highnesses were greeted by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant for County Down, Mr David Lindsay.

They are attending the annual Hillsborough Castle garden party, hosted by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Royal PCs

THE QUEEN has made the following appointments to Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council:-

  • His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, KG, KT 
  • Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall, GCVO

Friday, 10 June 2016

Birthday Honours

Warmest congratulations to all of the Northern Ireland recipients of awards in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, now Sir Malcolm McKibbin KCB, has been appointed Knight Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

Rotha Geraldine Diane Johnston CBE has been advanced to Dame Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The Right Hon (Sir) Jeffrey Donaldson MP has been appointed a Knight Bachelor.

Peter Lunn becomes a Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

The Mikado

It's not often that I use the train, though it suited me yesterday because I was going to see The Mikado at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

There was no sign of a conductor on the train I took from Sydenham to Great Victoria Street; nor was there a conductor on my train home at about ten thirty or so.

As a consequence I was unable to buy a ticket.

Some might think I'm "having a go" at Northern Ireland Railways, though generally I find their service most satisfactory.

Mind you, the diesel fumes were unpleasant on the platform in the city centre.

Would any future Diesel Tax affect the running costs of this public service, I wonder?

Alighting at Great Victoria Street station, I made a beeline for the celebrated Europa Hotel, a mere few minutes' walk away.

I'm fond of the Europa.

It has withstood many years of civil turmoil and unrest in this city; multiple bombings; major damage.

And yet, despite that, this hotel has survived and, I am glad to say, flourishes as Belfast's most renowned and esteemed hotel.

I was at prep school with Howard Hastings and his family has invested a very considerable amount of money in upgrading and extending the hotel.

I ambled up the spiral stairs to the Piano Bar, where I ordered the customary (!) restorative, accompanied by smoked salmon sandwiches.

The Europa is ideally placed for pre-theatre refreshments because it is virtually beside the opera house (only Glengall Street divides them).

Having spent a good hour or more, happily installed with my iPad, overlooking the famous Crown Bar across the street, I made my way towards the Grand Opera House, one of Belfast's finest buildings.

The Grand Opera House boasts one of the most opulent auditoriums (or should that be auditoria?) in the United Kingdom.

It was designed by Frank Matcham in 1895.

Every time I visit the Grand Opera House in Belfast I always admire the ceiling.

It originally had six painted ceiling panels, the blue sky with stars above the oriental balcony with its small potted palms.

When the opera house was being restored in the 1980s, an artist was sought who could recreate the scene in a sympathetic manner.

Cherith McKinstry was selected.

It was felt that her re-interpretation complemented the four surviving painted roundels, which were re-mounted on fibreglass saucer domes, and the cartouche of female musicians inside the segmental arch over the proscenium opening.

The roundels and cartouche were exquisitely restored and cleaned by Alexander Dunluce, now the Earl of Antrim.


At length the red curtain raised and the show began.

The co-production was by Scottish Opera and D'Oyly Carte Opera.

I'm sure many readers will recall such Gilbert & Sullivan songs as "Three Little Maids", "Tit-Willow", and "I've Got A Little List".

The entire cast was excellent, not least the baritone Richard Suart as Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner.

I managed to get home in time to be entertained by a particularly animated (!) edition of the BBC's Question Time.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Killynether Visit

I spent another fine and sunny day at Killynether Woods, near Newtownards, County Down, yesterday.

The grounds - comprising 42 acres -  and Killynether House, a substantial mansion (since demolished) were donated to the Trust by Miss J H Weir in 1937.

I was with thirteen other National Trust volunteers.

We were in a field beside the road, gathering and burning tree cuttings.

Several wooden fence posts were also hammered into the ground.

There are three horses in an adjacent field and it is expected that they will be grazing in the field we worked in today.

This field has a large pond, where we sat and had our packed lunches.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Hampshire II

I cycled into town on this beautiful, sunny day in Belfast.

I customarily cycle over the stylish, broad, sweeping new Lagan pedestrian and cycle bridge, which takes us from Donegall Quay in County Antrim to Queen's Quay in County Down.

Whilst admiring the view I saw an exceptionally large motor yacht - I gather these kinds of vessels are known today as superyachts.

I accosted two of the crew aboard HAMPSHIRE II, as it's called, though they were obviously sworn to secrecy.

HAMPSHIRE II is registered in Bloody Bay, Cayman Islands, and flies the red ensign of the Cayman Islands.

I have since discovered (on the web) that the owner is Jim Ratcliffe, seemingly a big player in the Shale Gas industry.

HAMPSHIRE II was built in 2012 and is 258 feet in length; a beam of 43 feet; and a gross tonnage of 1,887 tons.

She has a crew of 23 in 11 cabins; 7 cabins for 14 guests; and a helicopter deck.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Coronation Reminiscences

Sixty-three years ago, the Lady Moyra Hamilton (now the Lady Moyra Campbell CVO, sister of the present Duke of Abercorn) walked up the aisle of Westminster Abbey behind the soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth II - one of just six Maids of Honour.

Lady Moyra has kept her Norman Hartnell gown, her beautiful long white gloves and the glittering tiara - souvenirs of a day that stands out in a life-time.

Lady Moyra, who now lives in Randalstown, County Antrim, said it was one of the "most thrilling days of a lifetime."

"Television made it a world-wide happening. You felt that everybody was there and with this very young lady who was making these incredibly solemn promises which she has fulfilled with the utmost grace and integrity for 60 years. 

"There were so many highlights. The amazing feeling in the abbey; the incredible prayerfulness throughout and the sight of all those crowds who had been waiting in appalling weather all night; some of them had been there overnight, others had been there from early the day before. 

"The rain was teeming down and yet there was this joyful feeling and the abbey was full of people from all over the globe."

All this happened in the days when not everyone had a television set at home, she said, and people invited others to cluster around their sets, gathering in living rooms across the country to watch the glamour and the ceremony, to toast the new young Queen.

The Queen's maids of honour had a rehearsal where they practised holding the long train which had six secret silk handles.

"We met the coach on arrival, from then on, we were holding the train because it was very very long," said Lady Moyra.

"The mistress of the robes, the Queen's senior female servant, was in charge of us. She had to officiate when the train came off and the Queen had this very simple white linen dress put over her highly embroidered dress for the sacred anointing of the oil that has gone on from time immemorial.

"We heard the Queen Mother whispering to Prince Charles, telling him what was happening. He behaved impeccably. It was a lovely moment," she said.

Later back at the palace, he and Princess Anne were running about.

"He was wearing his father's hair lotion to smooth his hair and we had to sniff it and admire it," she laughed.

Other proud moments stand out in that day, 2 June, 1953.

"In the morning, before I was collected, we all had to have make-up put on. Just as the lady was putting on the make-up, someone burst into the room and said: 'Thrilling news, Mount Everest has been conquered. Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing have conquered Mount Everest. 

"I was so excited that the tears poured down my cheeks and the poor lady had to have a quick mopping up of the mascara, replacing it. I heard rumours later that the news had been kept back for the day, but it was a wonderful feeling."

The maids of honour had very long gloves and were given capsules which contained a substance like smelling salts in case any of them became faint.

"Anne Coke did begin to droop and I was able to crush the thing and it let out an enormously strong smell but she gallantly revived," she explained.

For Lady Moyra, the day will always stand out as a wonderful occasion. She kept her gown in a darkened room and it is still very beautiful.

"Hopefully, I will be able to make the dress available for people to see ... Any schools who wish to bring their pupils can do so, as long as it is somewhere where it can be well protected against eager fingers," she said.

And she hopes to raise money too, for charities that help young people.

First published in April, 2012.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

McCutcheon's Revisited

We were back at McCutcheon's Field today.

This is a nine-acre property belonging to the National Trust, which is close to Groomsport, County Down.

There were thirteen of us today and we got the gorse cuttings burned in no time.

Everything was bone dry and there was a breeze: great conditions for a bonfire.

The yellow isises are abundant in this field.

Do any readers recognize the other plant?

We lunched at the seaside and I had my banana sandwiches.