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House of Cheese
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No internet despatch 19th, 20th, 21st September - apologies
Our shop will be closed 18th-24th September - apologies
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RELATIVELY SPEAKING …

… we're quite a small business, but people just love our cheese!

(Thanks to the street artist whose striking mural I spotted near Gloucester!)

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A ROYAL TOWN

After Philip's tribute to the late Princess of Wales, let's stay with the “royal” theme and visit one of the “royal” towns of England.

Whereas several English places have royal connections – for example, Berkshire is a “royal” county because Windsor Palace is situated there, and the West Sussex seaside resort of Bognor was renamed Bognor Regis because George V spent several months recuperating there after a serious illness in 1929 – there are only three towns which include the prefix “Royal” in their names. Elizabeth II granted the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett the “Royal” prefix in 2011 after it had served as the repatriation base for overseas military personnel whose bodies had been flown back to the UK. Thanks to Edward VII, Tunbridge Wells became Royal Tunbridge Wells in 1909 because of its connections with the royal family since the Stuart dynasty. Royal Leamington Spa was granted its regal prefix in 1838 after a visit by Queen Victoria in 1830, while a young princess - many centuries after it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Lamintone”, a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon Leman-tun or “farm on the River Leam”.

Leamington's beautiful Georgian architecture, wide streets, and parks date from the early 1800s when the Royal Pump Rooms and Baths were opened. Here, visitors could bathe in pools of salty spa water and enjoy the novelty of the world's first gravity-fed piped hot water system. Later, Turkish baths and swimming pools were added. These days, although the spa water can still be sampled, the baths have been transformed into an art gallery and museum.

Leamington also has an association with lawn tennis, for it was here in 1872 that the first tennis club in the world was formed and where the modern rules of lawn tennis were drawn up.

Queen Victoria re-visited the town in 1858 and her statue can still be seen near the Town Hall. However, during World War II, a German bomb fell nearby and the force of the blast moved the statue an inch on its plinth; the event is commemorated by a small plaque. Queen Victoria would not have been amused!

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9/7/17
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IN THE NORTH COTSWOLDS …

… just over an hour's drive from Tetbury, across the Gloucestershire/Warwickshire border, lies Charlecote Park. The Lucy family bought the land in 1247 and Sir Thomas Lucy built a house there in 1558. Queen Elizabeth stayed in what is now the drawing room; hopefully she was impressed by the porch which was added to the house before her visit, but probably she preferred watching – or perhaps even hunting – the deer which roam the park. There is a story, though it may be apocryphal, that Shakespeare – before he became too busy writing plays – is alleged to have poached rabbits, and perhaps deer, in the park, and that he appeared before local magistrates for this misdemeanour.

Later visitors to Charlecote included Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The latter wrote of seeing: “a large herd of deer, mostly reclining, but some standing in picturesque groups, while the stags threw their large antlers aloft.” When Sir Walter Scott and his daughter visited Charlecote in 1828, the then lady of the house, Mary Elizabeth Lucy, wrote that it was: “so early that we were in bed and were awoke by the ringing of the front door bell, and don't I remember our hurry to get dressed when we heard who it was that had arrived!”

The house contains richly decorated ceilings, magnificent pieces of furniture and works of art, and what is more, although it now belongs to the National Trust, the Lucy family still live in one of the wings!

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8/24/17
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RAINY DAY FANTASIES ...

Once again, the British summer has proved a washout – while southern Europe swelters in baking heat, we are treated to day after day of leaden skies and relentless rain. Yes, our gardens need the rain – but we don't want them to end up as paddy fields!

Many people are now on holiday (not us!) and the alternatives are either to don waterproof gear and brave the elements, or to stay inside and hope that the weather improves. On these grey summer days, you could even visit the fantasy world of Cardiff Castle, with its Victorian neo-Gothic interiors designed for the man who owned most of the south Wales coalfields, the third Marquis of Bute.

Thanks to the architect and interior designer William Burges – who may have been in part inspired by his addiction to opium, and who was short, fat, and so near-sighted that he once mistook a peacock for a man – we can all now enjoy dazzling Moorish ceilings, carvings, tiled friezes, frescoes and stained glass, whilst forgetting the rain outside!

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8/11/17
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ENDING UP IN THE WORKHOUSE …

… is something we hope will never happen to us, but for those running small businesses in the 19th century it must have been a very real fear. Nowadays – in this country at least - we are cushioned in old age and infirmity by state pensions and the National Health Service, and so there is no longer a need for institutions such as workhouses, which were designed to provide a shelter not only for poor elderly people without family to care for them (being what was then termed “blameless and deserving” they did not actually have to work, so this was the equivalent of a rather basic care home!) but also for those without employment, with medical problems, and so on. This type of person – sometimes known as the “idle and profligate able-bodied” - did have to earn their keep, by picking oakum (recycling old tarred rope from ships), breaking rocks for use in road-mending, cultivating the land, or cooking for their impoverished fellow residents – few culinary skills were required, as the staple diet in the workhouse consisted of gruel, large quantities of boiled potatoes, and some meat on alternate days.

A former workhouse in the small town of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, was the prototype for the typical 19th century workhouse, and was designed by the Reverend John Becher, a pioneer of workhouse and prison reform, together with the architect William Adams Nicholson. It opened in 1824 and was in use until 1990, when it was taken over by the National Trust, which now maintains it as a museum. The intriguing outdoor privies have been reinstalled (not for use!) and the grounds, which once grew most of the potatoes for the inmates, have been replanted not only with potatoes, but with old varieties of onions, beans, and herbs.

Families housed in the workhouse were split up with men, women, and children quartered in separate accommodation and only allowed to meet up during Sunday service held in the building's Committee Room. The children received a rudimentary education, and many were trained as apprentices or sent to serve in the army or navy. Everyone wore uniforms and life was dull, monotonous, and strictly controlled. Unmarried women who came to the workhouse to have their babies were allowed to stay for a fortnight and then their child was put up for adoption. Over 140 babies were born to single mothers at Southwell.

Today most workhouses have been converted into hospitals or social housing and it is only at Southwell that one can imagine how harsh – almost prison-like – conditions were for the former inhabitants of such institutions.

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8/4/17
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THE FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN …

How do small independent businesses survive when faced with difficult economic times and changing social trends? As independent cheesemongers, we realised back in 2000 that we needed an online “presence” and, later, that we had to use E-bay and to embrace Facebook!

Sadly, for many retailers – even household names - the struggle against declining business on the high street and competition by the multiples proves too much, and the last straw is often a factor such as unseasonal poor weather or bad reviews on online sites – what one might call “the final nail in the coffin”.

The popularity of cremation was “the final nail in the coffin” for Newman Brothers of Birmingham when they ceased trading in 1999 after 120 years. This small company, employing about a hundred people, had made what is known as “coffin furniture” since the late 1800s – metal plates and handles for coffins, coffin linings, and so on, and sold them not only to local undertakers but to customers in Africa, Canada, Malta and India. They had even provided the accessories for the coffins of Diana, Princess of Wales, The Queen Mother and Sir Winston Churchill,

Joyce Green, the last owner of the factory, who had joined the company as a young girl, campaigned for the building to become a museum, which involved cataloguing all the contents of the building, packing them up, and moving them to temporary safe storage. The electroplating shop, where men and women who had worked twelve hours a day in noisy and dangerous conditions, was decontaminated at a cost of £300K. In 2014 the “shroud room” and offices were “dressed” with furniture, sewing machines, and other items from the 800 boxes which had been removed in 2007. Today, the Newman Brothers factory is known as The Coffin Works, and a visit there is just like being in a time capsule five minutes after all the staff have gone home!

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7/28/17
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“SUMMER TIME …

… and the livin' is easy” sang Ella Fitzgerald evocatively, but here in the UK it's hard to live with the July humidity unless you have air conditioning! Thank goodness our shop remains cool even when outside the air is horribly sticky, but when the humidity passes, then it's great to get out and appreciate all the joys of a typically British summer – sitting on a shingly beach, or finding a field for a picnic where you and your friends can park your classic cars, enjoying the roadside poppies and rosebay willowherb, admiring hanging baskets and decorated telephone kiosks, and walking on the hills (even though the next clouds are already gathering on the horizon!)
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7/20/17
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CHEESE – THE SECRET OF ETERNAL YOUTH?

Well, not quite … but the inhabitants of remote Cretan villages tend to live remarkably long lives, in spite of (or perhaps because of) eating large quantities of cheese. Few people move into or out of the mountainous villages of Zoniana and Anogia, and those who do live there suffer very few strokes, heart attacks or other cardiac problems. Their diet is rich in fats, and it is thought that they have a genetic variant which appears to protect the heart by lowering their levels of fats and cholesterol, even though they may have eaten cheese high in both fat and cholesterol.

And they hold a cheese festival every year in the villages!

A study by Reading University has actually found that there is no link between eating dairy products and a heightened risk of heart attacks and strokes. Twenty-nine different studies were carried out involving a million participants and it was discovered that full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese did not increase the risk of death or conditions such as coronary heart disease. As a nutrition professor at the university commented: “There's quite a widespread but mistaken belief among the public that dairy products in general can be bad for you, but that's a misconception.”

The other good news is that a study by University College Dublin has shown that people who eat a lot of cheese are thinner than those who don't. 1,500 people aged between 18 and 90 took part in the research, and those who consumed the most full-fat dairy products had lower BMIs, lower body fat percentages, smaller waists and lower blood pressure. Strangely, those who ate the most low-fat dairy products actually tended to have higher cholesterol levels! Food for thought …
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GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL ...

… is the nearest cathedral to Tetbury, but when it was first constructed it was never intended to be a cathedral – it was built in 1089 as the abbey church to serve a monastic order which had developed from a religious community established as far back as 681AD on the banks of the Severn.

The abbey became famous in 1327 when it accepted the body of the Plantagenet king Edward II who had been murdered in gruesome circumstances at nearby Berkeley Castle. The king's son, Edward III, created an alabaster tomb for his father, and soon miracles were reported by those who had visited the shrine. Pilgrims donated money which enabled the church to install a great window in the 1350s commemorating the victory at Crécy and, in the 1450s, the tower and the beautiful cloisters with their fan vaulting (which were used as a location in the Harry Potter films).

In 1540 Henry VIII dissolved the abbey and instructed that the monastic buildings be put to other uses. A year later he ordained that the church should become a cathedral.

Close to the main door is a memorial to another Edward, also connected with the village of Berkeley – it shows Dr Edward Jenner, the English physician and scientist whose research led to a vaccine for smallpox. In 1979, thanks in part to Jenner's work, the World Health Organisation was able to declare smallpox an eradicated disease.
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7/5/17
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