Category: London


I may very well be wrong, but I think these are Dune Buggies. I was on my mini Mobike adventure last week and was taking a picture of the bike by the dancing fountains in Greengate Square when there was a terrible racket behind me. I turned round and there was an entire line of these beautifully presented vehicles waiting at the lights on Chapel Street. They turned onto Victoria Bridge Street towards the Cathedral and then made a right into Deansgate. There must have been about 40 of them, possibly on a rally of some sort. They were quick so forgive the quality.

While posting this I’m listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4 about the impact of American English on English here. I noticed that I’d written ‘made a right into Deansgate’ when I should have said ‘turned into Deansgate.’ As I have said before there is no such thing as American English, there is only Queen’s English and mistakes. 

We’ve all been trying to get our heads around what happened in London yesterday. As you will know someone drove a car at speed across Westminster Bridge ploughing through pedestrians on the pavement causing death and damage to the people there. He then rammed the car into the railings, got out and then tried to gain access to the Palace of Westminster. One policeman was stabbed and then another one brought the attacker down with a gun. Both the policeman and the attacker died as did, so far, three people on the bridge. Several people are still seriously ill in hospital. We followed the events on radio and TV through the afternoon and by the time I was ready to leave for home there was a more than usual police presence on the streets of Manchester, 200 miles north of the capital. No doubt that was repeated across the country.

Sadly, this was expected. There have been attacks of this kind across the world and it’s never been ‘if’ but ‘when’ this would happen. As I write this I’m listening to the latest news on the radio. The attacker is from this country as we suspected. Some people are saying we should close our borders and keep people out. How this would help I am at a loss to understand. We are already great at keeping people out. If your papers aren’t in order as you arrive in the UK, if there is anything about you that border control doesn’t like about you, you will soon find yourself on the way back to whence you came.

This attack was perpetrated by a British person. Already here, living alongside of us. In spite of living in one of the most open, tolerant countries on the planet he has chosen to align himself with an idea alien to the values we hold dear in the UK and in other countries around the world. Ideas can not be kept out by stronger physical borders. You can’t send an army to defeat them. As I listen to the radio I hear that the police and security forces are raiding places across the country in an attempt to find out more about this person and his connections. This is all well and good. But to defeat the idea you have to be far cleverer than that.

Bad ideas can only be defeated by good ideas. In a country like the UK we have a lot going for us. We are rich, peaceful, tolerant. We are healthy, we live long, fulfilled lives. We have freedom, we can speak against ideas that we don’t like. We guard our rights and freedoms jealously. Other people, in much less tolerant, more violent parts of the world are threatened by this. They see people in their countries looking at how we live in countries like the UK and fear that they will want the same for themselves. They fear they will lose control over their people. They attack people in their own countries and seek to do the same in cities like London. 

The security forces have said they have thwarted several plots to do similar things in the UK over the last few years. But we are a country of 65,000,000, we can’t watch everyone. It wasn’t done with guns. He used a car and kitchen knives. You can’t ban them.

We will, over the next few days, unravel this plot, learn from it, mend the people who are  damaged and bury and mourn our dead. Then we will get back to normal. The Palace of Westminster is a public building. It’s the heart of our democracy. It’s called the ‘mother of Parliaments’, a template for other parliaments around the world. It will not be turned into an impenetrable fortress the PM has said. Which is right, if we did that these despicable people will have won. We have faced worse than this in out past and will face this.

I thought I’d share this written on a notice board in a London tube station yesterday.

 

 

A while ago I posted about a little Victorian office block on the corner of George Street and Dickinson Street just off St. Peter’s Square. It was a bit of a hidden gem, hidden from view behind Elisabeth House, known only to people who had business in the area. Once Elisabeth House was torn down, it was briefly revealed to busy St Peter’s Square where it could be easily appreciated from the tram station. It’d now disappeared into obscurity again as the massive bulk of No1 St. Peter’s Square has blocked the view even more than Elisabeth House did. It’s an attractive building made of the local sandstone and red brick. It’s done in the Italian Palazzo style that was beloved of the cotton barons for the smaller office blocks in Victorian Manchester. They liked something more bombastic for the huge cotton warehouse/office complexes lining Whitworth and Oxford Streets but the quieter streets of Manchester are lined with these small Italian palaces that wouldn’t look out of place in Renaissance Florence or along a canal in Venice.

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This one was owned by a company called A. Agelasto & Co who was confident that his business would last so long and would always operate out of this building that his name was carved into the stone door frame. The name was one that gave the impression that he wasn’t a local cotton baron with a no nonsense Lancashire name. It spoke of something entirely more exotic. And so it proved…

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The internet is a wonderful thing. What might have taken many trips and lots of time to uncover, I was able to find within a few clicks. This is great in one respect but I regret not being able to make some of the trips that an old fashioned investigation into this man would have sanctioned. Here is the gentleman himself…

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A. Agelasto was one, Augustus Agelasto who was born in 1823 on the Greek island of Tinos, then part of the Ottoman Empire that ruled, from Istanbul, vast lands in Europe, the Middle East, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Egypt and the North African coast as far as modern Algeria. His family were a merchant family, moving goods around the Mediterranean and in 1828 his father moved the family to Marseilles in the south of France from where business was conducted. He lived there until 1849.

I’m not sure if the entire family left Marseilles, but in 1951 Augustus was in the capital of the empire, Istanbul, where he married his wife, Despina Ralli. While living is Istanbul they had three children, Virginia, Ioulia and Angeliki. A fourth child was born in 1867 in Manchester. Manchester was, at that time the ninth largest city on the planet and unbelievably wealthy, contributing 50% of the GDP of the entire UK at that time. For comparison today the banking sector of the City of London, often held up as a vital part of our economy only contributes between 10% to 12% of our total GDP. The wealth, of course, came from cotton. The city attracted entrepreneurs from all over the world wanting their part of the action and Augustus seems to have been one.

Having set up a import export business based in the above building he then moved to London in 1869 living in Queen’s Gardens in Bayswater and then Hyde Park Square in Westminster. Both were grand houses  but very much ‘north of the park’, meaning they weren’t the best addresses in the city, those were south of the park where the aristocrats had their London homes close to Buckingham Palace. ‘The Park’ is Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens fyi. He didn’t abandon Manchester as his older children stayed here to run things here while he ran the London end of the business. It seems that cotton was exported to India and jute imported. The business had offices in Calcutta, India.

He died in 1883 in London and is buried in some style in the Eastern Orthodox Church cemetery in West Norwood leaving £81,156 13s 7d to his wife. In today’s money he died a multi millionaire. His children continued to run his business in London and Manchester. I think the last child was bought out of the business in Manchester in 1916. I cant find anything after that.

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Here are a couple of the advertisements that the company came up with to show off the Indian end of the business. Like I said I would have loved the have done the trips to discover all this. The Greek Islands, Marseilles, Istanbul, Calcutta…

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The last time I went down to London, after a year’s absence to avoid the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic celebrations in 2012, I noticed a new skyscraper taking shape on the city’s skyline. London land prices are among the most expensive in the world and the architects came up with an ingenious idea to get more building into a small space. What they did was build narrow on the ground and, as the floors rose, they made each one bigger so the top of the building is much wider than its base cleverly getting a much bigger building in a small space. It’s a very funky building. Its official name is 20 Fenchurch Street but it’s known as the Walkie Talkie as it looks like an old fashioned communication device that was a kind of early mobile phone.

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When I saw it, it was about half its eventual height. Now it’s as tall as it will be and it’s being glazed. And that’s where the problem has started. The glazing has done something peculiar which the architects didn’t anticipate. The walls have become huge convex lenses. London, along with the rest of us, has had a long hot summer and the sides of the building have been reflecting and concentrating the heat of the sun into the streets around the building. Something similar happens in Manchester where the curved, glazed façade of the RBS Building in Spinningfields concentrates the heat of the sun and directs it into Deansagte. Walking along I’ve suddenly been caught in a heat island. Nice if it’s January but a bit like being an ant caught under some vile child’s magnifying glass if it’s August.

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The Walkie Talkie is on a much grander scale and the BBC was there today and recorded temperatures of 50C in the streets. Paint has been scorched on shop fronts, the welcome mat of one store caught alight and some guy left his Jaguar parked in the street and came back to find the plastic parts warped by the heat, £1000 worth of damage to his car.

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The architects and engineers are looking for a way to stop this happening. Quite what they will do I don’t know. Anyone know the price of re-glazing an entire skyscraper in London?

My trip to London has occupied my blogging time out of all proportion to the amount of time I spent in the city. It was a good day, we packed a lot in and I came back brimming with metropolitan culture. I’d booked my return trip 1st class, it’s a bit of a bargain, costing only a few extra pounds if you book at the right time on the right trains. It’s worth it when you consider you get access to the 1st class lounge at Euston, lots of extra room on the train, free Wi-Fi, free drinks and food brought to you seat and so on. However, I was a bit annoyed when my travelling companions to Manchester were on a stag weekend on the way to Manchester to party with the groom and then go to Liverpool to watch the Grand National. I said that if I’d wanted to spend the trip with drunks I’d have booked myself into cattle class and I didn’t expect that kind of behaviour in 1st! In spite of this inauspicious beginning our relationship, the two guys turned out to be good fun and were more talk that action. They were 39 and 40 and more interested in knowing good places to eat in Manchester than heading up Canal Street in search of hen parties and trying to hook the hapless groom up with a drag queen. In fact we had a long discussion about one of the guy’s sperm counts which was low and he and his wife were trying for a family. This was going to be his last party before a summer of no drinking and loose underwear in an effort to boost the quality of his little soldiers. I salute his honesty in discussing this sensitive subject with a complete stranger and wish him luck. He seemed a nice guy and would make some one a nice dad.

I woke up next morning shattered with feet and legs aching dreadfully.

It’s back to Manchester now for my next posts but I really must do a few more trips to new places. For this post I thought I’d look at Manchester style again and I’m featuring some of the pictures from one of my favourite Manchester blogs, The Mancorialist. You can either visit this fascinating, clever blog that documents some of the fabulously dressed people in Manchester, in the blog roll to the right or by the link below. Do people dress like this in Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle? I think not….

http://themancorialist.tumblr.com/

This is a bit of a naughty picture taken with a bit of subterfuge. This lady on Bridge Street certainly has her own style, I certainly wouldn’t argue with her about it. I’m loving the cigarette glued to her lips, she’s Salford Shopping City through and through…

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An ebony, Victorian beauty on Oldham Street. I thought of Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Usually busy Oldham Street is closed to traffic at the moment due to a fire last week, you can see the building on the left behind the fence…

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An incredible outfit in neon outside the Civil Justice Centre. I have no idea what they garment that links her waist to her calves is called but I think there are shops full of them in Affleck’s Palace in the N4…

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This guy looks like a younger, more smiley Morrissey sitting on a bench on Corporation Street. I want this coat. I couldn’t decide what he did. In his shirt and tie, tailored trousers and his beautiful coat I thought he worked in one of the glass towers of Spinningfields, shifting vast amounts of money around the planet. Then I saw the shoes. Check them out. Now I’ll put my money on him working in one of the designer stores Like Selfridge’s or Harvey Nichols. He’s just outside enjoying a smoke before restarting work. I will have that coat for next winter….

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This guy rocks the aging, metal rock star look on Short Street. A cross between Ozzy and Mick….

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I wonder if the dog was dressed to match the girl or did the girl dress to match the dog’s coat?…

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show was on at the Opera House which may explain the guy on the right. I was worried about the guy on the ground until I worked out he was taking pictures…

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Proving you don’t have to be 23 to look great. I love his jacket and like that his purple trousers and mustard coloured scarf exactly match the checks in the jacket material…

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I had some time to spare before getting to Euston so I went through St. Pancras Station which is next door and connected to King’s Cross underground. If there is a more beautiful station on the planet I don’t know of it. Grand Central in New York is the only I have seen that comes close to matching how wonderful a building this is. But in the 60s there were plans to flatten it and its attendant railway hotel. They had already destroyed Euston Station along the street and this was next on the list. The then Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman , who was a great proponent of the railways and railway architecture campaigned for the saving of Euston Station and lost. When St. Pancras Station came under threat he campaigned to save this wonderful building and won. That wasn’t the end of the story though. It may have been saved but no one knew what to do with it and it gradually deteriorated to a point where it might have had to be pulled down for safety reasons.

Salvation came when they were looking for a suitable terminus for the Eurostar trains arriving in London from Europe through the Channel Tunnel. They decided St Pancras was the ideal spot as it was easy for people to transfer from here to trains heading north out if the city to the rest of the country. Billions have been spent restoring the old station as a suitable place for the trains to Paris to arrive and depart, a new station was built at the back and the St. Pancras Hotel, in all its Victorian gothic splendour, was restored as a hotel and apartments. It is a superb job.

Here is Sir John Betjeman looking up at the roof of the old station, a building he was instrumental in saving. Thanks Sir John, we appreciate it…

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This statue of two people meeting on a station platform is called ‘Brief Encounter.’ It represents all the meetings, welcomes and goodbyes that people have in railway stations. ,Brief Encounter, was a black and white film made during WWII I think. It tells the story of two people who meet on a station platform when their trains are delayed. It is just the two of them, they meet, begin to talk, fall in love and then have to separate to go back to their own lives, never to meet again. It’s a classic British film that is still popular today..

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These are the Eurostar trains ready to go to Paris and Brussels. I like the contrast between the sky blue paint on the wrought iron with the rich, warm red of the brickwork…

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The beautifully restored St. Pancras Hotel in all its high Victorian, Venetian Gothic glory…

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We certainly packed a lot into our day in London. It’s taken me 11 days to post the pictures I took from one day. Imagine how long it would take if I’d been there a week! But all things come to an end and we had to go home. My friends were leaving the city from King’s Cross Station and I was to leave for home from Euston Station an hour or so later. Both these stations, plus St. Pancras, are within walking distance of each other, ranged along the Euston Road and are the main stations of arrival for trains from the north of England, Scotland and Europe. So they get quite busy then.

I was interested to see King’s Cross as it’s just had a makeover and they have built a new roof over the public area similar to the one that’s about to go up over Manchester’s Victoria Station so I was interested to see how it looked.

They have completely restored the train shed, one of the oldest in the country, and very fine it looks too…

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This is the new roof over the public area where people wait to see how late their train is. The East Coast route is notorious for lateness, we seem to be far better served on the West Coast route out of Euston, especially on the prestigious Manchester to London route. I was impressed with the new roof, with the modern contrasting well with the old. I hope the job they do at Victoria comes out as well. I like the blue lighting but am pleased that the Victoria Station roof will have more glass…

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Kings Cross Station became famous across the world as the London departure point of the Hogwart’s Express carrying Harry Potter and his buds back to school. He left from platform 9 3/4 which is some where down here. There used to be a sign on one of the solid brick walls saying where it was but that seems to have gone. Too many children throwing them selves at it trying to get through into Harry’s world I suppose. But there is now a nice little Harry Potter gift shop so you can buy yourself a memento. J.K. Rowling really meant the station to be Euston as she came up with the idea for the books on a train from London to Manchester but she put the wrong name in the first book so it’s now Kings Cross which is a much more photogenic site for filming than Euston, which is a 60s atrocity, the building of which destroyed a beautiful Victorian station and one of London’s great iconic sites, the Euston Arch.

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On the way to the British Museum we passed this church on Little Russell Street, it is St George’s, Bloomsbury. It’s a striking building. As we left I decided to go in. The portico is based on the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek in the Lebanon while the unusual tower is a copy of the one on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. We had just seem the lions from the real Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in the British Museum so I liked the synchronicity of events. It is topped by a statue of George I dressed in a toga in the style of a Roman Emperor. Quite why they did this to him I’m not sure. He was a king we had to import form Germany after the House of Stuart had run its course. He hated it here and couldn’t speak a word of English. But it does fit in with the classical pretensions of the church I suppose.

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It was built on the edge of the then newly built and fashionable suburb of Bloomsbury and catered for the affluent people who lived there. But it wasn’t far from a notorious slum called ‘The Rookery’ that lay between High Holborn and Covent Garden. It’s hard to grasp that this part of London with its educational institutions like London University, fashionable shops, cool bars and well thought of restaurants was a notorious slum. The church appears in the distance in a famous engraving by William Hogarth called ‘Gin Lane.’ At the time the church was built gin was the crack cocaine of the poor in London and not the base for fashionable cocktails that it is today. People did all sorts to secure a supply and this is shown in the engraving. The church is in fashionable Bloomsbury cheek by jowl with Gin Lane in The Rookery. It is interesting how the area has changed. Bloomsbury continues to be fashionable with beautiful houses ranged around elegant squares but there is nothing of The Rookery left. It reminds me of the part of Manchester along the river from the Cathedral along Deansgate. Once, one of the most notorious slums in the city but now the home to Selfridge’s, Harvey Nichols and the corporate glass towers of Spinningfields.

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The church was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. He was a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral as we know it today and dozens of pretty churches to replace the ones destroyed by the Great Fire of 1665. Hawksmoor went on to design six, I think, churches across London. He’s an interesting figure. He was a freemason and was interested in sacred geometry. His buildings reflect this. St George’s interior is a perfect cube for example. Depending on which conspiracy theory you subscribe to, if you link all of Hawksmoor’s churches across London you get an occult sign, the pentangle. I tried it and couldn’t see it at all. But we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory should we?

The interior is an elegant delight. Georgian churches are usually beautifully simple with classical references and flooded with light and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s a gem. I loved the classical columns, the huge windows and the carved wood alter.

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The wonderful chandelier actually belongs to the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington. But they probably have attics and cellars full of stuff like this that never gets seen so it’s nice that we get to enjoy it on loan to this stunning gem of a church.

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More about the church here….

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George%27s,_Bloomsbury

And here….

http://www.stgeorgesbloomsbury.org.uk/

Another thing in the British Museum that I hadn’t seen until last week, is the Portland Vase, so named because it used to belong to the Duke of Portland. It is a black glass vase with carved cameo on the surface. What makes it unusual is that it is Roman. It is, possibly, the only perfect Roman vase to have survived from those days until now. And it is also unusual because the Romans didn’t work in glass much. It was a rare and expensive substance for them while we cover complete buildings with acres of the stuff.

It was perfect until Victorian times when someone took a bar to it and smashed it to pieces. They painstakingly put it back together but there were still pieces left over (like when you make an IKEA bookcase). They re did it again before WWII and places for some of the bits were found. And it was done again a few years ago with such care that you can barely see the cracks anymore.

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Read more about it here…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_Vase

Josiah Wedgewood of Wedgewood Pottery was much taken by this vase and designed a range of pottery called Jasperware that brought British pottery to international notice and developed the city of Stoke on Trent into a centre of the pottery trade.

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Just near the Portland Vase was one of the British Museum’s more surprising artefacts, the Warren Cup. It’s a silver chalice, also from the Roman Period and thought to be about the same age as the Portland Vase. It came from Palestine and was made about the time Jesus was about. It is a ‘conversation’ piece that would have been passed about full of wine at the dinner party of some rich Roman living in a beautiful villa somewhere near the Sea of Galilee. And, looking at the decoration, you can imagine the kind of conversation that went on. Or maybe not! At the time, the Roman province of Palestine was in a state of revolt and the cup was buried with other treasures to keep them safe. Who ever they belonged to must have come to a bad end because they were never recovered.

It’s in beautiful condition. But it’s the decoration that marks it out. On one side there are two guys having a fun time while another guy watches from a doorway.

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On the other side there are two more guys, similarly engaged as the ones on the first side.

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In spite of its artistry and ancient provenance it hasn’t always been possible to put this piece on show and it was once refused entry to America because of the decoration. But today it’s on show in one of the main galleries in the museum where people are intrigued by it and wonder why it was made and the kind of society that could sanction it.

Read more about it here…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Cup

 

As I said in earlier posts, the British Museum is huge. And even though every trip we’ve made to London has included a visit to this wonderful institution, there are still parts I’ve yet to discover. I’d already made mention of the floor with room after room of Egyptian artefacts that I’d never seen before. Well we decided to go and search for a few more of the treasures that the museum holds that I haven’t seen before.

Top of the list was the Sutton Hoo Treasure. Sutton Hoo is a little settlement deep in the Suffolk countryside to the north of London. After the Romans left Britain in 410, this part of the country was occupied by the Anglo Saxons who migrated here from what is now Germany and, ignoring the Roman towns and cities, settled in the countryside. They had a profound affect on us renaming the Roman province Angloland which became England and they brought us an ancient version of English.

They set up a series of Dark Age kingdoms in the old Roman province which survived until the Normans arrived in 1066. We have tended to imagine them as uncivilised compared to the Roman period but we are having to rethink this period. Part of the problem is that they didn’t leave great buildings, roads and cities like the Romans, and their artefacts are few and far between.

When one of their kings or great warriors died they sent him off with a great deal of ceremony and buried them with wonderful things. Over the centuries the burial sites have been looted or just lost. But at Sutton Hoo it was different. Whoever was buried here was buried in a great deal of style and with wonderful things. He was buried in a ship surrounded by all the things he would need in the next life. He lay undisturbed for 1500 years until just before WWII when he was discovered.

Archaeologists carefully excavated the site and found wonderful artefacts, golden and bejewelled, weapons and armour all intact. The level of artistry in a people we thought as uncivilised barbarians is a revelation.

I can’t believe I have only seen  these wonderful things for the first time last week.

Learn more about Sutton Hoo here……

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Hoo

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