June 11th, 2019

Reading Glasses

I have a pair of reading glasses. I never needed them before and I'm still getting used to them. I'm wearing them now. The screen in front of me is beautifully clear. But their focal length is limited and if I get up from the table the world will turn all peculiar and I'll have to swap them for my long distance ones. Yesterday I was walking round with one pair on my nose the other pushed halfway up my forehead like a nutty professor. It's not such a bad look, actually...

Archdeacon Sponne- Before And After

Cadaver tombs- otherwise known as transi tombs- were a fashion of the 15th century- a celebrity "must-have" in an age before yachts. Monarchs had them, great nobles had them, archbishops had them and Archdeacon Sponne thought he'd like one too. It's unusual to find one in a church as relatively modest as St Lawrence, Towcester.

(Is it pronounced "spon" or "spoon"? I do hope it's the latter.)

The deceased shares a bunk bed with his or her own decomposing corpse. The corpse has the bottom tier. If you tried to put one in a church today the ecclesiastical authorities would say it was in outrageously bad taste and forbid it.

I think they're fabulous (the tombs not the ecclesiastical authorities).

Sponne was a local good egg. He must have been alarmingly rich. He also gave his home town its grammar school. He died in 1448.

The effigies are made of a chalky stone called clunch- which is easy to carve. Sponne's head and hands are made of wood; they went missing in the 1880s but turned up again a hundred years later in a box in the vicarage attic.

The effigy has been repainted several times. A drawing of 1801 shows Sponne's vestments as black, whereas in 2006 they were reported to be red. In the 1980s someone who didn't know what they were doing went over him with Humbrol enamels- more commonly used for painting model aeroplanes. This will have been his red phase, I think. His present stripped back state is presumably the result of the restoration work that this necessitated.


Towcester is an exemplary small market town in Northants. The Romans built a fort there- on Watling Street, the Normans built a castle there, the stage coaches stopped there and- so far as I can see nothing very much ever took place there. Mr Pickwick stopped overnight and partook of "a couple of fowls and a weal cutlet" at The Saracen's Head- then known as the Pelham Arms. We ate at the Saracen's Head too- and very good it was- but weal cutlets are no longer on the menu. If Pickwick stayed the night we can probably assume that Dickens did too- and was giving the place the 19th century equivalent of a TripAdvisor write up. Unlike some places I could name, Towcester makes very little of its Dickensian connection, though I believe there's a Pickwick Café.

This is the main entrance to the Saracen's Head. I love the two little statues in their niches. Pubs don't normally have classical statues out front. These are supposed to have come from Eaton Neston House- where they may have become surplus to requirements following the rebuilding of 1702. If so they're 17th century- which strikes me as about right. They represent Venus and Apollo. The stone is ironstone- similar in appearance to Cotswold stone only darker and less buttery. Almost everything of a certain age in Northants is built of it. 

The town had a racecourse tacked onto it in the 1920s. It occupies part of the Eaton Neston estate. The historical society's excellent website (from which I've derived most of the hard info in this and the previous post) does its best not to mention the racecourse so I'm guessing the townspeople would rather it wasn't there.