A couple of weeks ago I found myself driving on Hamm Strasse. It wouldn’t have been so surprising in 1991 when I visited North Rhine-Westphalia, staying with relatives of my ex-wife who were stationed near the city with the British Army, but this time I wasn’t in Germany, or even a Germanic country.
I was in Bradford.
There is a part of Bradford that came to be known as Little Germany (in the same way that New York has Little Italy and San Francisco Little China). It’s the part where the warehouses of wealthy merchants were sited, close by the rail network and the city’s Wool Market.
Those warehouses were at their most active in the 19th Century, but after a period of neglect are once again of interest for their architectural splendour and so consequently are finding new life as apartments and offices. The buildings aren’t particularly Germanic in design (one is distinctly Scottish Baronial in its appearance), it was their occupants that gave the locale its name.
They were mostly European Jews and of these predominantly German which adds another twist to their choice of location, for grand as their commercial temples may be the area is dominated by the tower of Bradford Cathedral, which was once the only church in the city. The other building of note here is more secular.
How times change. A place once dominated by German Jewry is now one of the most important centres of the British Muslim population. What surprises might the future hold?
For me there were a couple more. Having spent way to long trying to get a shot of the pigeons roosting in one of the remaining derelicts, I abandoned the task and walked to the end of the road…
…you can’t really beat Bury St Edmunds. They did what it said on the tin.
In all my travels around England’s green and pleasant land, I’ve never made it to the East Anglian coast, which given how much I love that environment is perhaps surprising. The problem is that Norfolk and Suffolk aren’t really on the way to anywhere bar each other so I needed a reason to travel. More about that in a future blog about a lighthouse that became a cinematic star.
Anyway with a few days to spare this week, it was time to rectify my omission. My friend Jane who used to live nearby suggested that I add Bury St Edmunds to my itinerary; not because it is coastal but simply because it is an interesting town. I was glad of her input, though as I said to her later, for an atheist I end up spending a lot of time in churches.
The Church however is what the town is all about. Yes it has other features such as a very colourful hotel (The Angel), the country’s first internally illuminated street sign (a design that doesn’t seem to have caught on elsewhere) and a very subtle-looking branch of the nation’s favourite purveyor of cheese pasties.
The clue however is in the name. From early in the 10th Century the relics of St Edmund were located here. Edmund was an East Anglian king who was martyred on the orders of a Dane with the magnificent name of Ivar the Boneless for refusing to renounce his religion. From such origins a highly profitable industry may grow, and the Benedictine Abbey was one of the largest and richest in the country, until Henry VIII intervened.
The Abbey is gone, though the site is now home to formal gardens, colourful artworks, and a little wildlife.
The prime evidence of this religious site is in the two gateways that remain and two churches that still stand, one of which has assumed the status of cathedral. I say the Abbey is gone, but one of the most interesting features of the churchyard is the way in which residential properties have been incorporated into what remains of its walls. Ingenious recycling.
But back to the cathedral. Originally the church of St James, it was transformed in the 20th Century into St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and whilst it is compact compared to the Abbey it’s interior is still worth a visit for the light that fills the internal space and the polychromatic font cover at the very least.
Just a technical note about the shot down the nave. Without my tripod I tried to use my camera bag as a stable support for a long exposure, and though it gave lateral stability, the lens drooped slowly while the shutter was open. I like the ethereal effect though, so will share that with you rather than the more prosaic version.
A couple of days of unpacking, furniture construction and cardboard recycling is enough and so I was sufficiently stir crazy to venture out of the apartment into the city of Durham itself. (A 9.00pm emergency dash to Sainsbury’s on Tuesday doesn’t really count).
It’s going to take a while before I get sufficiently used to my new home to know where to find the interesting images, so you might have to be forgiving in the meantime. That’s not to say that beauty is hard to find in Durham, it’s just that it’s mostly been photographed before. Arriving today though it was bright and noticeably warmer than my previous coastal abode so I strolled along the riverside for a little while, my route taking me to the point where the most cliched image of Durham is usually shot.
I have a vague childhood recollection (I’m doing well to remember anything from that long ago) of my Aunt Lil having a picture at the top of her stairs of Durham Cathedral with the old Fulling Mill on the riverside beneath. I think it was a small
tapestry, but it could have been an old photograph, or a print of a painting. The point is that for many people this is the defining image of the city, containing as it does the river that loops around the historic centre, the sense of height that the Cathedral’s vantage point on the peninsula defined by the river possesses, and of course the cathedral itself, visible for miles around. That cliché looks like this.
(Surely I’m allowed to resort to it on my first proper Durham blog?)
Cliches are of course meant to be subverted in some way. First option was to simply align my camera to shoot landscape rather than portrait. This gives a better sense of perspective and some nice leading lines. Look closely and you will see the beginning of a weir (on the Wear!) beside the Mill. This sweeps right across the river, and so by walking further upstream you can eliminate much of the turbulence, and on a day like to day take advantage of the stillness to get a reflection. That’s a less obvious shot again.
Walking on brings me to the Prebends Bridge, a Grade I listed monument and one of the three stone arched bridges that cross the Wear in the City and I cross to the opposite bank where I meet a lady enjoying the sunshine and tackling her crossword puzzle. She will be today’s portrait and, appropriately enough for such a peaceful day and my proximity to the great Norman edifice above, her name is Grace.
Of course there is more to Durham than the leafy pathways along the river that carry an unmistakeable smell of woodland vegetation. There are other nooks and crannies to be explored.
Emerging from one, I spotted this woman whose backlit cigarette smoke looked promising, but she turned at an awkward angle, until, just as she brought the cigarette back into line with the sun another pedestrian walked into shot and the moment was lost. Still as I said, there’s plenty of time to explore here.
Although I’ve crossed the Prebends Bridge before, it has usually been in the opposite direction when leaving the cathedral, so until today had not seen this inscription. The words are by Sir Walter Scott. Not very remarkable you might think, and you’d be right but for the fact that as I returned home I switched the radio on to the inimitable sound of Mariella Frostrup. She was presenting this… http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s39zb. Funny old world.