Monday Photo

Shakespeare Slept Here

The Bard slept here

The Monday Photo

But it should say, Shakespeare had a few lunchtime pints and dozed off in the wooden porch that once sheltered this door, in Grendon Underwood church.

It’s said that he was found asleep there by the two village constables. The constables shook him awake and roughly turfed him out of the porch. One of them was the Rector’s son, a Mr. Josias Howe.

As Shakespeare stood there, both half sober and half awake, they accused him of stealing from the church, but our William took them inside and pointed to the wooden chest there. “Go and see”, he told them. They looked in the chest, but they could find nothing missing. “There!”, said Shakespeare, “Much ado about nothing!”

It all seems a bit of an unlikely tale, but it’s quite possible that Shakespeare was thinking of these village constables when he wrote the unflattering parts of those two fine men of the watch, Dogberry and Verges. Of course in his play Much Ado About Nothing.

Shakespeare stopped overnight at Grendon Underwood several times on his way to and from Stratford-Upon-Avon and London, and stayed in the half timbered inn The Ship, not far from the church. It’s now a private house.

In Shakespeare’s time this area was more heavily wooded, and the village lay on the forest tracks used by gypsies and strolling players. ‘Grendon Underwood’ means ‘Green Hill under the wood’.

A Quick Photo

Photo recon Spitfire

The Monday Photo

There are 58 airworthy Spitfires left in the World, and this is one of them. Built in 1944 without guns, it’s a Mark XI, made for the dangerous art of photo reconnaissance.

It served in Europe in the last months of the war against Germany, and it’s more than just a Spitfire with cameras instead of guns.

Speed was its only defence, so it had a more powerful engine. Armour and armament were left out to save weight.

The three piece flat sided armoured glass front screen was replaced by a single aerodynamically shaped perspex one. The tail wheel was retractable, not fixed; this alone added 5 mph to the top speed. 

For long range operations the Mark XI had greater fuel capacity, and if needed a drop tank could fitted underneath. The engine oil tank was also more than doubled to 14.5 gallons, and this is why the ‘chin’ of the aircraft is more pronounced. 

Without the drop tank, this aircraft, PL983, had a range of 1,360 miles. It could cruise at 395 mph, with a top speed of 417 mph. The all over blue paint job is for high altitude camouflage; the Mark XI could fly at 40,000 feet.

I pictured this Spitfire when it overflew Milton Keynes hospital recently. I happened to find out about the flight just six minutes before it was due at Milton Keynes, so I rushed out into my front garden with a long lens; I live about a mile from the hospital.

I was in luck; a couple of minutes later I heard the Merlin engine, and looked up to see the plane approaching from the South.

I had two chances to get my shot. The Spitfire flew over the hospital twice, and banked around for the second run where I could see it, so I got quite a few good photos. But I like this one best, with the plane standing on its wing tip.

John Romain is the pilot and owner. Here's a YouTube video of him flying PL983 at Old Warden Aerodrome on the same day as I saw it.

Up Light Hill

Ivinghoe Beacon

The Monday Photo

This is Ivinghoe Beacon, a steep sided hill that peaks at 756 feet above sea level. It’s not even the highest hill in the area, but it does have the best and widest views.

There’s a car park three quarters of a mile up the narrow lane that twists up the West flank of the beacon. The lane leads towards Ivinghoe Common and some woods belonging to the National Trust, with another car park.

I stopped at the first car park and took this photo from the picnic spot next to it. This is a popular spot but there’s plenty of room. The ice cream van was doing well and quite a few walkers went through the gate that leads to the beacon, half a mile away.

I haven’t been to Ivinghoe Beacon in 25 years. Last time, I parked at the bottom of the beacon and walked over and round the East side to the woods. Scenes from the film First Knight were being filmed behind the beacon.

The set was in a large clearing at the edge of the woods, three quarters surrounded by trees. I looked at the Saxon village the film company had built, and at the back of one of the cottages where the cameras couldn’t see, I noticed gas pipes ready to produce flames above the roof top when the cameras were rolling.

I sat and watched as the crew set up for the next shot, then I noticed something in the grass nearby. I reached over to find a bit of a film prop; a rubber arrow head, lost from its shaft. I still have it.

Filming began. The gas jets fired up, and I saw another gas jet at the window of the Saxon church. Horses and riders milled about, but I was a bit too far away to recognise the actors. They stopped filming. There was a bit of a problem; somebody had set light to a cottage they shouldn’t have.

That seemed to be it for the day, so I walked back over the hill to my car. The location is quite close to the car park I stopped at yesterday, but I don’t think it was there when the film was being made. There’s nowhere else to stop on this narrow lane.

After a quarter of a century, the clearing is difficult to pick out. I’m not even sure I found it, but it was nice to go back to the Beacon after all these years.

Ivinghoe Beacon is the site of one of a network of warning posts set up in Elizabethan England, to summon men if the Spanish invaded.

Local men kept a 24 hour watch, observing the next beacons in the chain in either direction, to see if they were lit. If they were, their own beacon would be started and the message passed on. They did not use bonfires, but instead set alight pans filled with pitch.

Centuries before the warning beacon in the late Bronze age and early Iron age, there was a hillfort on the top of Ivinghoe Beacon. There’s not much left of the ditch and bank, but there are numerous barrows (burial mounds) on and around the Beacon. There’s a visual reconstruction of the hillfort here.

Ivinghoe Beacon is a National Trust site. The lane that goes to the car park is a turning off the South side of the B489, which runs along the foot of the Beacon. The nearest postcode is HP4 1NF.

Over the Water

Shipton Brook bridge

The Monday Photo

This is where we used to go as kids, to fish for sticklebacks. It’s the bridge that carried the new 1722 turnpike over Shipton Brook, just outside Winslow. On summer days we would paddle around with our jam jars and nets, just here in front of the bridge.

The old turnpike didn’t go through Winslow. The closest it got was East Claydon.

This is the downstream side. On the upstream side, you can still make out the route of the ford, gently sloping towards the brook.

The bridge hasn’t been part of the main road since 1937, when a new bridge was built and the road was straightened.

It wasn’t the first time the road had been altered at Shipton. At the top of the rise, where the road now sweeps round to the left, was a ’T’ junction. Part of the ’T’ junction remains as the first right angle bend in the side road through Shipton.

The two timber framed cottages set back on your right as you drive up the main road were once right against it. Other houses on the other side of the road, and there wasn’t a huge gap between them, were demolished in 1822 when the main road was altered.

Upstream from the bridge, the brook is fed by streams from Mursley, Stewkley Dean, and Hoggeston. Just downstream from here, another stream from the top of Oving hill joins the brook.

From there, the brook heads West, then joins another brook near Padbury. Then the bigger brook flow North and under the ancient bridge at Thornborough.

I still visit the bridge at Shipton brook when I’m passing.


Clear the Line

Railway cutting  WinslowTaken from the railway bridge at Buckingham Road, Winslow.

The Monday Photo

Workmen clear trees from the old railway cutting at Winslow, where the old railway branch line is to be reinstalled as part of the East West Rail project. In the distance, two more workmen walk along the flooded track bed towards the old iron foot bridge.

When the project is finished, you will be able to travel by rail to places such as Worcester, Glasgow, or the Norfolk coast, without having to spend three or four hours going all the way into London, then coming back out again on a different line.

Don’t forget, you would have to struggle across the underground with your luggage too. This is not the best way to go on holiday. Instead, you will be able to take the new line East or West across to the main line you need. From the new station at Winslow, you will also be able to get to Aylesbury, then from there to London Marylebone.

Services will start to run at the end of 2024, say East West Rail. Between Oxford and Milton Keynes there will be two services every hour. From Oxford to Bedford: one service an hour, and between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury they say there will be a service every hour.

All these trains will pass through Winslow, so I expect they’ll all be stopping at the new station. Meanwhile, there will be more room on trains in and out of the North side of London.

These workmen travel from near Brighton every day; a matter of a couple of hours by road at the moment, they say. That know that will change when the lockdown is over.

This is an Amazon link.

Cruising Speed


The Monday Photo

Ten years almost to the day that I borrowed a bike for a photo in this same lane in Clifton Reynes, I came back to photograph my own classic British bike.

It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at that other shot and checked the date on it. I hadn’t realised that yesterday was the closest Sunday I could have chosen to that other Sunday, a whole decade before.

The 1932 Levis I borrowed that day was built as an off road sport machine, for trials and scrambling. My 1953 BSA was built for the road, and to have a sidecar attached. It’s known as an M33.

Bike ownership for both solo machines and bikes with sidecars hit its peak in the 1950s, so there was also a B33 for solo use, very similar but lighter. Both had a 500cc single cylinder engine.

There are a few differences between my bike and the B33.  On my M33, there are attachment points for the sidecar chassis, built into the bike. The gear ratios are different; more widely spread to cope with the weight of  ‘the chair’ (the sidecar), yet still give a reasonable cruising speed. The frame is braced underneath, but there’s no bracing on the B33.

My M33 is the version with the plunger frame. An advance on the older rigid frames that gave no rear suspension, the rear axle plunges up and down on two strong rods, more or less controlled by big springs.

It gives a gentler ride than no rear suspension at all, but gets a bit confused at modern road speeds on bumpy back roads. If you ever follow an old bike like this and the rider slows down where you wouldn’t, it’s probably because the road is a bit too bumpy; they are doing their best!

The top speed on this BSA, without a sidecar, is about 83 mph. That probably doesn’t seem very fast compared to a modern 500, but back in 1953, a typical family car would only be good for 70 mph. Much of the traffic in those austere days was pre war, and slower.

I cruise around at 50 or 55 mph, but when the bike was new 50 was more likely to be the maximum cruising speed for private vehicles, on good roads. I’ll never take it up to 83 mph.