June 25 – A day trip to Dunstable Priory and Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

A Village Sign Challenge

Hello from Medieval Mosaic

Someone told us yesterday about the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral so that is where we decided to go today. We went to Dunstable first and parked close to Dunstable Priory. The Priory church of St Peters used to be much bigger and the grounds are marked out with the extra size. The current church is about a third of its original size.

The Augustinian priory was founded by King Henry I. Henry had founded the town by at least 1109, and to safeguard its interests had built himself a house there called Kingsburie. Dunstable Priory was, initially, a daughter house of Holy Trinity, an Augustinian priory in Aldgate, London. Our priory was founded in 1125. the west front of Dunstable Priory is one of Bedfordshire’s greatest artistic treasures. Its range of styles and varied details show its development and alteration throughout the centuries. In 1540 the Priory was dissolved along with the other monasteries as part of the English Reformation. The main buildings were pulled down except for the nave which still continues in use today.

The Priory has some wonderful modern stained glass windows all thanks to the generosity of Greta and Clifford Flory and their family. Each set of windows has the Flory emblem in a small rectangular piece of clear glass at the bottom with the date of installation. The south window which designed by Christopher Webb has St Fremund as a hermit on Lundy Island with his wild companions, St James has his pilgrim’s staff and scallop shell emblem and St Nicholas, dressed as a Bishop, shelters three children beneath his cloak. St Fremund was a Saxon prince and the eldest son of King Offa. He renounced rank and kingship to live as a hermit on Lundy Island. Subsequently, he answered the call of his people to help resist the Danish invasion and as a result, suffered a martyrs death in 866. The other window of the pair was St John, St Peter and St Martin.

The remaining four sets of stained glass windows were made by John David Hayward (1929–2007) who was a British stained glass artist who made nearly 200 windows in churches and cathedrals across Britain and abroad. Dunstable Priory church is unique in having the largest collection of his talent in any one church. They are very beautiful and give the church a wonderful symmetry. His windows depict The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, Peter’s Calling, His Frailty, His Commission, The Sacrament of Baptism, The Eucharist, and The Fayrey Pall.

The church consists of a wide nave with two aisles with some huge wall monuments including one to Mrs Jane Cart who died in 1736 and even today there is a trust which she set up which “supports clergy, clergy widows and the maiden daughters of clergy under the age of 45”. There were seven monumental brasses which had been taken up and mounted on the wall as well as at least one still on the ground. There were some lovely embroidered processional banners and an ornately carved organ screen. The altar frontal was embroidered in green and there were three statues behind and two stained glass windows above. The three statues were sculpted by Jethro Harris of Oxford. The tapestry kneelers were very beautiful, the ones around the altar were in black, gold and cream while the ones in the pews were brightly coloured in all the colours of the rainbow. The old church door is now unused but stands beside the new door and still show the bullet-holes made by Royalist soldiers when they attacked the Priory on a Sunday in June 1644. The Priors start with Bernard, Cuthbert and Thomas in the 1100’s and the first named priest was Richard de Morins in 1202.

We walked around the gardens which featured a Medieval Physic garden which had herbs for dyeing, culinary and herbal remedies. I found the dye herbs particularly interesting and would like to see if we can obtain seeds for dye colours in New Zealand.

  • Woad for true blues.
  • Madder for intense orange, scarlet and plum.
  • Saint John’s wort for gold, maroon and green.
  • Rhubarb for its fixative qualities.
  • Sunflowers for deep olive greens.
  • Hollyhocks for yellow, mahogany and reddish black.

As we walked around the corner on our way back to the car park we called into a tiny clock shop where a man changed the battery in our car remote as it has been only working sometimes, lately.

Then we headed to Whipsnade were our GPS took us down the wrong road to reach the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. There is also a zoo nearby but it was far too hot to visit a zoo today. The tree cathedral was conceived by Edmund Kell Blyth as a way of combining the beauty of nature and the majesty of a great cathedral and planting began in the 1930s. Only two men, Edmund Kell Blyth and Albert Bransom planted all the trees over a 9 year period. It follows the plan of a medieval cathedral with a porch of oak trees which leads into the Nave which is formed of Lime trees. The chancel is a semicircle of Silver Birches surrounded by Yew hedging. The length of the Nave and the Chancel are 128 metres which is the same as St Albans Abbey. The North and South Transepts are created with Tulip tree and Chestnuts. There are also chapels with Cherry blossom in the Easter Chapel, Norway Spruce in the Christmas Chapel, Whitebeam and Rowan in the Summer Chapel and Beech, Field Maple in the Autumn Chapel and Atlantic Cedar in the Lady Chapel. The wonderful site was given to the National Trust in 1960. Sadly there was geocache here nor at the St Mary Magdalene church over the road which had an apse and a pulpit raised up by steps and covered with a tester. There was no stained glass but it did have some lovely tapestry kneelers in blues, gold and cream.

Last night I had researched a Village Sign Challenge on ‘project-gc’ and found that we had completed the challenge. We needed 50 and have found 59 much to my surprise so we went to find the final. It took us a while to find but perseverance paid off and it was our only find of the day. We tried two other multis but never found them as we could not collect all the information needed.

We visited St Mary’s church in Edlesborough where we found the church closed. However, we met three other people who had the key and reopened the church for us. There were some wonderful Victorian wall paintings and a lovely painted screen. There were also some fabulously carved misericords which are a great find in a small church. There was also a couple of lovely stained glass windows and a triple-decker pulpit with a tester. We also found a monumental brass. This church is used for champing which is camping in a church which is something which we have discovered recently. Our last stop was at Totternhoe where we went to find a village sign. The sign was lovely with the church, a tractor and a butterfly with daisies. We collected the appropriate numbers for the geocache but after a short walk, the final eluded us. A glider flew right overhead which was quite exciting and it was certainly a good day to fly.

When we got home I played with Paddy, the sheepdog in the garden. He is a wonderfully trained dog and is so gentle. He loves to chase and jump for toys and it has become a nightly ritual for us to play together.