Sunday, 20 March 2011

Finding Things Out

I realised today that one of the reasons I love walking so much is that I like Finding Things Out.  Walks almost always lead to Finding Things Out because whether you are in the city or the countryside there is so much to observe and absorb.

Today we went for a walk in North Essex, starting out at Saffron Walden and walking out to the Audley End estate and then on to the pretty little village of Wendens Ambo.  The walk is number 22 in this excellent book of Essex walks.

We saw these amazing plaster patterns on the walls of many of the houses in the villages we walked through.  I loved them. 

Pargeting pattern

Pargeting patterns

Wavy pargeting

Zigzag pargeting

I had never seen anything like this before, and neither had any of the rest of the family.  When we got home I rummaged on the internet and discovered that this type of decoration is called pargeting, and is relatively common on old houses in East Anglia.  It used to be found on buildings in London too before the Great Fire in 1666.

Pargeting panels

The other thing I saw, which intruiged me greatly, was this pill box - slap bang in the middle of a field of wheat just outside Wenden's Ambo.

Pill box at Wendens Ambo

I didn't have to wait until I got home to find out what this was all about.  We were walking with my sister and her husband, and until a couple of years ago my brother-in-law  served in the army

The first thing to note was that he had spotted many more than this one - which I am sure was indicative of his honed observational skills picked up in his army training, although he modestly said not.  The second thing to note was that they are called pill boxes, and not bunkers or hideouts as I'd been calling them.

N told us that they were part of a huge network of defensive forts built across the UK during the phoney war of 1939 to 1940 in preparation for a German invasion.  In our part of the country they were built roughly in circles, radiating out from London across the South East. 

Pill box entrance

I find it amazing that they are not marked with a sign or a plaque or something to tell us about their history and why they're there.  When I think of World War II, because I know that in the end there was no German invasion, I tend to forget that it was even a possibility.  But walk past one of these pill boxes, and peer in, and suddenly it all seems frighteningly likely.  It must have been very unnerving for the people who lived in sleepy little villages like Wendens Ambo to see these fortifications springing up in their valleys and woods so soon after war was declared. 

If you want to find out more about the history of the UK pillboxes, and the ones that remain, there is a fantastic website here devoted to them.

And if you want to Find Things Out about other topics which you never even knew existed, my recommendation is to put on your boots, grab a kitkat, and go for a walk.  You never know what you will find when you set out.

Oh, there was one other small thing that I found out today...the couple who live in this house have a great sense of humour!

House sign


  1. Really fascinating stuff. I've never seen those patterns on buildings before either but one of them did remind me of artexed celings! I am surprised that the pillboxes don't have a plaque on either to explain why they are there and what purpose they were for. I really enjoy going on the walks with you and finding out about things!

  2. Arghle, you were only about 7 or 8 miles from where we are! I am often to be found pottering around Saffron Walden, and we have very likely done parts of the walk you did. Shout next time you're up here and I'll make you some Rose Garden tea!

  3. how interesting!

    I've only been 'East' once, many years ago when I first moved to England... it's such a hard thing to cross the country horizontally. Why is that?

  4. There's a similar pill box just round the corner from my house. I find it very menacing for some reason.

  5. There are TONS of pill boxes round my way, all over the Fens, because March was a rail reserve, and they also worried terrible that it would be easy to attack, being so flat and full of waterways. A lot of Pargetting too, Ely is full of it.

  6. I was trying to find out something about pargeting I saw on a house in Cambridge and came across your blog. What a lovely set of photos! My favourite is the first photo, the concentric circles.


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