Abingdon’s Unicorn Theatre

While my last post was on the beautiful Long Gallery, Lower Hall and Checker that remain of St Mary’s Abbey in Abingdon, this blog is on the other domestic buildings that are currently cared for by the Friends of Abingdon: the Checker Hall, that has been converted into the Unicorn Theatre, and a former bakehouse by the Millstream.Abingdon-68The 15th-century timbered roof in the Checker Hall was only revealed when the building was taken over by the Friends of Abingdon. An Elizabethan-style stage was erected in 1953 and the building became the Unicorn Theatre. The hall has excellent acoustics and is actively used for plays, movies, concerts, operas and poetry readings. Please check this page to see what’s on.Abingdon-14

A passage or ‘slype’ connects Checker Walk with Thames Street.

The Friends of Abingdon civic society was formed in 1944 and purchased the row of derelict cottages and the former bakehouse, which are now the Unicorn Theatre and the society’s office. The Friends later acquired the Long Gallery and Checker, which they restored and maintain as well.


To get an impression of the other Abbey Buildings, check out my previous blog.


Abingdon Abbey’s Ancient Buildings

Abingdon Abbey is one of the sights to see while visiting Abingdon, a charming little town along the Thames some 8 miles downstream from Oxford. Historic sources make clear that at the time of the Dissolution in 1539, Abingdon’s Benedictine monastery known as St Mary’s Abbey was the sixth most wealthy monastery in England. Unfortunately, of the abbey church and the monastery itself nothing remains. Some of the domestic buildings have survived though and they are certainly worth a visit.


A striking feature is the tall gabled chimney, build in the 13th century. It’s currently in use as a dovecote. The shape of its top is apparently uncommon in England.

The chimney serves the Checker, a 13th-century room with an impressive fireplace that used to have a large stone hood. In the 14th century, the building was being used as the abbey’s ‘exchequer’ or financial administration centre.

The Checker fireplace

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Beneath the Checker is the Undercroft that reminds one of a crypt.  Abingdon-67

The magnificent Long Gallery was built about 1430. Today the interior is one large space, but a long passage used to run along on the north side giving access to a series of rooms that were supposedly used as guest accommodation.


Some roof trusses have plaster infill. It’s hard to make out the figures in the painted decoration dating from Elizabethan times.


Beneath the Long Gallery is the Lower Hall which has suffered so many changes that its original use is uncertain.


A map of the Abbey. Or at least an impression of what it might have looked like.

The Checker and Long Gallery were in use as a brewery from the end of the 16th century until 1895. In those days, the place was probably a lot less tranquil than it is today.

In my next blog, I’ll cover the Checker Hall – better known as the Unicorn Theatre – with its interesting interior.

For information on opening times of the Abbey Buildings, please check out the Friends of Abingdon website. Guided tours can be booked for groups. The Unicorn Theatre and other parts of the buildings are also available for hire.


First flowers of spring

The mild winter we had this year in England made the first spring flowers come out early.  Last year, it was about halfway through February when I first caught primroses, crocuses, ranunculi, and snowdrops on camera, as you can see in the blog post I made then: Spring is in the air.

While the primroses were already past their prime, it appeared to be a bit cold for the ranunculi.


The snowdrops were magnificent today.


The best of the crocuses are still to come, followed by the narcissus. It’s so nice to see nature coming back to life…

The bright yellow ranunculi certainly added a cheerful note.



Oxford by night

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for some time: photograph Oxford’s city centre by night. The first requirement, a tripod, was met a couple of months ago.

Last Friday, I finally had the opportunity to take pictures just after sunset. The famous ‘blue hour’ appeared to last less than an hour, but I managed to capture the beautiful dark blue sky just after sunset. And a small sliver of the moon.

The cover photo is of the Sheldonian theatre, with the Bodleian library to the left and the Clarendon building to the right (formerly home to Oxford University Press, today part of the Bodleian library).

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By the time I reached the church of St Mary the Virgin, the sky was completely dark.  It made the brightly lit tower stand out even more.



Rolling clouds or waves?

On my last flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam (Schiphol), we had the setting sun right behind us.

Beneath the clouds, the sky changed colour from orange, via dark red to pink.

Looking at the top half this almost abstract photo, I imagine it could be a seaside picture of rolling waves. In the bottom half, you can just make out the Norfolk coastline.

Luckily, not all the seats were occupied so I could move from the left to the righthand side of the cabin. There I captured this amazing view:


Orange-red colours below the cotton-bud-clouds, rainbow colours in the feathery clouds above.



Orange clouds and red sun

It was the strangest of sights yesterday. From daybreak onwards, the clouds had an orange hue to them. As if a thunderstorm was continuously looming. Around midday, the sun was briefly visible and it was as red as you would expect it to be around sunset.

Apparently, the orange sky had to do with hurricane Ophelia raging over Ireland. In England, we had certainly no hurricane-like storm, but it was quite windy.

RedSky-3According to the BBC, dust particles in the air cause blue light to scatter, leaving longer-wavelength red light to shine through. The dust travelled a long way before it reached the West Midlands: it was brought in from the Sahara and the forest fires sweeping over Portugal and Northwest Spain.

RedSky-2Around 3 pm the clouds broke and the orange tint disappeared. But it returned in the clouds around sunset.

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Purple bells with black & green pods

On one of my last visits to the Oxford Botanic Garden, the Nicandra physalodes caught my eye. Apparently, the plant goes by a number of English names: shoo-fly plant, apple of Peru, apple of Sodom, and Peruvian bluebell.

I just like the way the plant grows: a single, bell-shaped flower followed by a row of pods. The pods – or calyces – reminded me of their better known, bright orange counterparts: Chinese lanterns.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Windows – Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera

The Radcliffe Camera is probably one of the most photographed buildings in Oxford. The ancient window panes of the surrounding buildings not only frame the famous round building with its iconic cupola, I think they also distort the view in an interesting way.

The image above shows the Radcliffe Camera, with behind it the church of Saint Mary the Virgin, viewed from the Old Bodleian Library’s Divinity School.

Below the view from St Mary’s church.

via Photo Challenge: Windows