Monday, December 01, 2003

And so to Dorchester and Judge Jeffrey

After the obligatory view of the Roman wall fragment and a wander down the main street and market, we stop for lunch at Judge Jeffrey's Restaurant. And what a history.
We get the story and a full guided tour from the new proprietor when we ask to see the Judge's bedchamber.
It (the whole building) has been around in some form since the 12th century - the front beams were a canopy for stalls, and shops behind. Then other buildings grew up over the next 300 years, and by Tudor times it was a priory for Glastonbury Abbey (a very rich abbey, which made it too dangerous for abbots to actually stay right there...)
There are allegedly secret tunnels through to the Antelope Walk (now a market lane) behind, the court chambers, and probably a lot of other places. Judge Jeffreys is infamous for the severity of his sentences: in dealing with the aftermath of the Monmouth Revolution (when the Duke of M attempted to take the Crown of England by force), the good Judge executed 72 of 292 prisoners and transported most of the rest to Virginia, which at the time was equivalent to life in a state of slavery.
And those executions weren't nice: they mostly took place in the cellar under the premises. There is a garroting post in the cellar (which we didn't see) and a local sport amongst the locals was to place wagers on how many garotte-revive-garotte-revive cycles a given prisoner would withstand. Par for the course for the times, evidently.
So it has the local reputation as an unquiet house - ghosts, things moving. The proprietor has only lived there 6 weeks, but has wanted the place since he was 5, and is just passionate about its restoration. He told us about his CD player switching on and off unaccountably when he was up a ladder painting, until he told the spirit to knock it off. Whereupon the CD starting playing and didn't stop again.
It has a monk's cloister, a bell tower, Tudor panelling carefully painted over (!) in the last twenty years, and enough restoration plans for the next twenty. A great meal and a spooky place. The personal tour was very unexpected (and he won't be able to keep that up) and very welcome. We hope he has an permanent understanding with the unseen residents.
The trip back to Wincanton has brilliant sunshine so some photos: a signpost series. Older Somerset signposts are cast iron, with a cast triangular weather cap and all picked out in black lettering on white. Very local: the weather cap has SCC (Somerset County Council). Within a few miles, there is Dorset, and Wiltshire in the other direction, each with their own signpost styles.
Sunday is Stourhead day: a National trust property with gardens by Capability Brown. And we have an NT card....
It rains quite heavily while we are there, but we are equipped. The gardens are of course winter season - leaves gone (which opens out the views). The walk around (we stay on the short walk) is designed to reveal successive views and with transition points through grottoes (with statues) and buildings. And a little house with a roaring fire halfway, with the usual retired volunteer as a staff member. Very restful and great photos.
We wander up to the main house (closed until March) - a park vista out front (the gardens are in a valley off to the side). There are many people here - and we meet a couple with Cairn terriers that are just like our own two, down to colours and temperaments. A photo, naturally.

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