From the Glory of God to the Glory of the Garden
On 24 September, 37 of us set off by coach on a day trip to Essex, our first stop being Chelmsford Cathedral which on our entering the front door proved to be a total surprise and absolute delight. After a welcome 'cuppa' we were divided into three groups for a tour.
It was only in 1914 that this church became a cathedral for the newly created diocese of Chelmsford, covering the whole of Essex and five London boroughs; and although being the second smallest cathedral in England it is the mother church for the second largest diocese. In 1983 it was closed for major refurbishment, at which time the beautiful cream limestone floor was laid, while the pews were removed to be replaced by flexible rows of chairs.
Among the many beautiful objects we were shown were the font, the altar and the Bishop's chair, all made of grey-green slate with smooth lines in a modern yet classic style. We were also shown two extremely tall cupboards which housed the props and costumes for the Medieval Mystery Plays, a new version of which was due to be performed in the near future.
Another feature was the stone balcony on the south side, fronting the library of cathedral documents, reached by a spiral staircase from the 11th century porch originally used for wedding and funeral processions. The porch itself held a memorial to the American servicemen stationed in the area from 1942 to 1945, as well as a Washington window. Two final items worth mentioning were the Tree of Life , a 20 foot painted window in 35 panels above the transept, and a stitched panel by Beryl Dean under the east window consisting of 250 squares in stunning colours representing crosses.
After free time in Chelmsford, during which some of us found the covered market, we boarded the coach for Marks Hall Gardens and arboretum at Coggeshall. Our visit coincided with a local school's sponsored walk through the grounds, so we kept meeting pupils in various costumes along the driveway, behind hedges and over bridges, a thousand children taking part during the day.
We spent three hours in the gardens which cover 100 acres. Time was spent walking through wet grass or riding on the buggy to places of interest, including the two lakes, the Walled Garden and the Honywood Oak thought to be 800 years old. Some of us ventured to Gondwanaland which takes its name from the ancient continent which 200 million years ago encompassed Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, South Africa and South America. This area contains more than 200 eucalyptus trees which were shedding their bark in magnificent strips of orange and red. Monkey Puzzle trees (which apparently developed their distinctive branch structure to avoid being eaten by dinosaurs) were also accompanied by a recently planted grove of Wollemi Pines, an ancient tree thought to be long extinct until its discovery in Australia in 1994.
As heavy rain interrupted our perambulations, many of us made our way back to the converted 15th century barn which is now the visitor centre, complete with tea shop and gift shop with a well stocked plant centre nearby. At five o'clock we left for our journey back to Ipswich arriving in good time and having enjoyed yet another excellent Ipswich Society trip, with thanks to our organiser, Jan Meredith.