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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Chalice Well

Chalice Well, about Britain, Glastonbury
The Vesica Pool
The water flows red from a natural spring at the foot of Chalice Hill in Glastonbury.  It is said to be infused with, or at the very least represent, the blood of Christ.  Or maybe it was rusty nails from the Cross - I can’t decide.  Anyway, it was here, stories tell, that Joseph of Arimithea buried the Holy Grail, the cup Christ used at the Last Supper and in which drops of His blood were caught at the Crucifixion.  Thus Joseph contributed to a neatly marketable legend that kept King Arthur’s knights, and a whole lot of other people, rather busy down the centuries.  Of course, everyone knows this is utter tosh; the Holy Grail is in lots of different locations – under the Louvre, Rosslyn Chapel, the Dome of the Rock and, naturally, Fort Knox – to mention but a few popular resting places.  Or, it isn’t a cup at all, but the blood of Christ Himself.  Or, the cup, or chalice, was a symbol pinched from earlier Celtic tales of a magical cauldron that has morphed into an essential part of Christian mythology.

Chalice Well, about Britain, Glastonbury
The Chalice Well

It’s easy to mock; the fact is that the Holy Grail is one of the most enduring legends we have.  And if you happen to be passing Glastonbury, the Chalice Well is as good a place as any to include in your own personal (and dare I say probably fruitless) quest.

What is not in doubt is that the Chalice Well is considered by many to be a holy well and has, so they say, been regarded as such for at least 2,000 years.  Some see it as a representation of the divine female, with nearby Glastonbury Tor representing the divine male (discover a bit aboutGlastonbury Tor).  The waters of the well, rich in iron oxide (hence the colour) have long been reputed to have miraculous healing properties, even being the essence of life, a gift from Mother Earth.  I feel much same way about beer.  Apparently, the well produces 25,000 gallons a day, never dries up and the water is naturally radioactive.

So here’s a place that should leave you with a nice, warm, glow.

Chalice Well, about Britain, Glastonbury
The water flows red
The Chalice Well is located within charming gardens that exude a quiet tranquillity, and which are visited by both casual tourists and people of faith from all over the world.  Even the most hardened cynic could find spiritual peace in them.  They are beautifully tended, rich in symbolism and you can whiz round in less than an hour, or take your time and enjoy the experience.  They are in the care of the Chalice Well Trust, established in 1959 by Wellesley Tudor Pole to safeguard the Chalice Well for visitors and pilgrims.  There is a silent minute each day at 12pm and 3pm, marked by the ringing of an old school bell.  The loos are clean and you'll find a dead useful shop where you can stock up on crystals, magic jewellery, spiritual reading matter and other essentials.

The Chalice Well and Gardens are on Chilkwell Street (A361), Glastonbury, Somerset.  Park in town or at the Rural Life Museum in Bere Lane.  Visit the Tor at the same time.

Visit the Chalice Well Trust website.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Saltaire & Salt's Mill

Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Salt's factory on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Call a child Titus Salt and he’ll have to learn to cope.  A bit like the Boy Named Sue, there’s a good chance he’ll either dramatically fail or dramatically succeed.  Titus Salt did the latter; he was an extraordinary man. A 19th century mill owner in Bradford, Titus wanted to expand his cloth business.  However, he also believed he had a moral responsibility for the welfare of his workers.  Between 1851 and 1876, Salt progressively built a new mill and model factory community in Airedale near Shipley known as the Palace of Industry.  Away from the brothels, drinking dens and open sewers of Bradford, the complex included decent housing for his workers, a school, library, church, park, hospital – and so on.  Mind you, Salt was one of those God-fearing-the-devil-will get-you teetotal types; things had to be done his way or not at all and there was certainly no pub.  But the fact remains that his employees enjoyed a better standard of living and health because of this astonishing philanthropist.

Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
It's a photogenic place...
With the decline of the textile trade, and the mixed (and sometime lurid) fortunes of Salt’s successors, deterioration set in.  The houses were sold in 1933 and the mill progressively fell into disrepair, closing in 1986.  The mill was rescued from oblivion in 1987 by another extraordinary entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver.  Now it includes thriving businesses, up-market retail outlets and the world’s largest permanent exhibition of the works of local artist, David Hockney.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t really understand all the fuss about Hockney’s work: sure, some of it is wonderfully perceptive and beautifully executed; then some of it looks almost as good as the stuff produced by our local primary school.  I picked up a book whilst wandering around; it was called “How to appreciate art” or something equally pretentious.  Strikes me if you need to learn how to appreciate a piece of art, then it’s failed.  Just a personal view…
Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Quality and classic Victorian houses,
each with its own outside loo

But - without its saviour and Hockney's generosity, the place wouldn’t be there and in the state it is.  And it is just wonderful.  As well as art, the mill offers a range of shops, somewhere for a coffee and a bun and a Saltaire history exhibition.  Outside, thanks to the efforts of the Saltaire Village Society and others, it’s like stepping back in time, albeit to a very clean one, of neat Victorian houses with real corner shops, cafes and so on.  Just wandering around the grid of streets (each named after Salt’s children), dipping into places as you go and looking at the listed buildings, is a real pleasure.  Nostalgia’s not what it used to be - but that's why some of the photos are black and white.  The housing, built between 1854 and 1868, was hierarchical; if you were a foreman, you got a better pad than a mere pleb.  It’s not a museum, though; this is a living community – so don’t be too nosey.

Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Saltaire United Reform Church
Since 2001, Saltaire has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When it was built, it stood in open countryside; now it perches on the fringes of the sprawling Bradford conurbation, a monument to northern Britain’s past economic glories and the vision of one man, Titus Salt.

Saltaire is about 4 miles north of Bradford, just off the A650.  Rail services from Leeds, Bradford and Skipton run to Saltaire Railway Station, situated just opposite the mill.

Visit Saltaire's village website.

Titus Salt, Saltaire, about Britain, Yorkshire
Sir Titus Salt