History of Langstone Harbour and Warblington,Hampshire Coast

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Just as a change from painting, whilst I work on my Alhambra picture, before I have anything else to say about it, I am at the same time, researching the history of Havant in Hampshire based on my postcard collection, for a talk I am due to give to my local history group in Guildford in November

Havant is an unprepossessing town. I say that as someone who grew up there and therefore has an affection for the place. Nevertheless there is plenty of interesting history around and about. I keep within the confines of my collection, and on the eastern periphery lies Warblington, a Saxon foundation, a remote place by the side of a marshy creek, eerily quiet when I was a boy and still the same today. A week or so back I went to the old church to take some pictures to back up my postcards, and wandered around the churchyard. We were within half a mile of the Havant by-pass with its buzz of traffic and yet within the churchyard you could hear a pin drop. In my mind, I went back to my childhood when I first discovered this place as a schoolboy

The church is c13 and something of an enigma. Why build it there in the middle of nowhere? It still stands in the middle of nowhere. We are told there was a Saxon settlement, and the word Warblington stems from the name of the chieftain, a woman apparently, and there are Saxon elements in the foundations of the church . The church served nearby Emsworth, which still doesn’t explain why it was built at Warblington. On the site of a holy place perhaps? We don’t know

More interesting than the church despite its age, are the two huts, in diametrically opposed corners of the churchyard. If I say they are c19, I am sure you will guess that they had something to do with bodysnatching.  They are nightwatchman’s huts used to watch out for bodysnatchers who had posed  a huge problem until the Anatomy Act of 1832, which required anatomy teachers to be licensed, which effectively put an end to this lucrative trade. Also the medical fraternity were allowed the bodies of executed criminals or even donations from poor families.

In the churchyard of this creekside church are gravestones of sailors drowned at sea, and I quote the one I have always found fascinating.

Sailor's Gravestone

This the gravestone of William Palmer, and perhaps we should start with the inscription

This is in the memory of William Palmer that lost his life and his vessel going into Dublin the 24th February 1750 aged 38 years

The carved relief is intriguing and the work of a very skilled mason. Even the rigging stands out and would need very careful carving. Huge waves are rolling and the ship obviously capsized. The object behind the capsized vessel, I cannot make sense of

So we have a local mariner, a master mariner with his own boat, most likely involved in coastal trade as so many around here and Langstone were, and with a small crew, perhaps ambitiously attempting the crossing of the Irish Sea, not to mention the treacherous rocks around Lands End, and coming to a sad end. Or perhaps this was his regular run, and he was unlucky due to treacherous weather conditions. Dublin was very English in those days, and would be looking to regular supplies of day-to-day items, so one can easily imagine mariners plying a regular and profitable trade.

There are several Palmers buried in the churchyard. William’s wife is buried in the same grave but I can’t make out the dates. I imagine them being a prosperous family, judging from the quality of William’s gravestone

I remember seeing this stone when I was about twelve. It fired my imagination then and still does. It doesn’t look any different

I had thought to talk about Langstone close by, but another time. I have painted Langstone often but never Warblington which perhaps I should add to my list

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A Week in Sicily

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The Rooftops of Ragusa

We have just returned from a wonderful week in Sicily. I am exhausted as we packed a lot in, and did more walking than I am used to. The city of Ragusa is beautiful built on the sides of gorges, so dramatic in themselves. However everything is steep, and the climb we did to get this picture was no exception. I am not sure how many steps as I lost count at 150.

We were about ten minutes too early for the lovely baroque church in the background, so our guide took us to the top for the view, one picture and straight back down. Bit of a killer in the hot sun

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This is the way down, only more of it, as the steps wind on round the houses.

Sicily has been hit by several earthquakes in its history, but the big one in the c17 destroyed nearly everything. Consequently all the churches seem to be in the Baroque style following a massive rebuilding programme, in whichever town you visit.

Syracuse was fascinating with its wonderful archaeological park. Sicily was Greek from 750BC, and the park shows where slaves quarried massive stone blocks from the hillside for their building programme. Greek theatres followed by Roman amphitheatres abound. The Romans took Syracuse from Greek hands in the early third century, and also drove out the last of the Carthaginians

Sicily changed hands so many times throughout its long history. Goths and Vandals after the Romans, Arabs and then the Norman Conquest in the c11, creating the Kingdom of Sicily, curiously matching England which became Norman in 1066 just before Sicily

You often see images of St Thomas a Becket in churches in Sicily. Henry II of England’s daughter, Joan married King William II of Sicily. You may remember that Henry had Becket murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, an act that horrified the rest of Europe. William venerated Becket in Sicily in order to distance himself from Henry’s crime, which later Henry was to do penance for

Of more recent interest, were the location shots for the Montalbano  detective series shown on TV. These were in Raguso, Scipli and Punta Secca. Lost on me as I never watched the series however

Some superb shots for paintings, including the roof top view which I have shown, and also the beautiful Medieval windmills on the west side of the island. Still, for now, I shall be getting back to the drawing of the Camargue horses which I left before I went away

A nice message waiting for me when I got back. Someone is buying the painting of Langstone Harbour, which is shown in the archive of this blog somewhere

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The Medieval windmills and saltpans near Trapani