When the writing is on the wall…

Examples of plague graffiti – church monuments memorialise the elite while graffiti remembers the ‘common voice’.I always thought graffiti was a modern day curse – but no, it’s been around for years but we just hadn’t spotted it! Apart from the surprise of discovering so much of it in our ancient churches, it is also fascinating as it is the ‘voice of the people’ – it’s not the expensively carved monument of the landed gentry, it is often the only record of ‘ordinary’ people, many of them children, who lived and died and completely disappeared.

A project to record the graffiti, which began in Norfolk churches, is gradually spreading across England. Medieval graffiti of pentagrams, crosses, ships and ‘demon traps’ have given historians a fascinating glimpse into England’s past. Armed with just a torch and a camera, a team of volunteers has recorded more than 28,000 images from churches in Norfolk alone! Although the graffiti discovered so far offers an insight into the minds of some (possibly bored!) churchgoers in the Middle Ages, the meaning of the scratched images is not always clear.

The graffiti of the the three sisters’ names has been ‘re-worked’ to highlight the writing, otherwise it is near-invisible to the eyeHowever, other graffiti is easier to interpret. Heart-breaking graffiti uncovered in a Cambridgeshire church has revealed how three sisters from one family died in a plague outbreak in 1515. The names Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley and the date were carefully inscribed on stonework in Kingston parish church. 

The graffiti project had shown that church plague graffiti was far more common than previously realised. The Maddyngley family lived in Kingston, seven miles from Cambridge, and were tenant farmers who, in the way of things, would rarely turn up in parish records.

Archaeologists believe Cateryn, Jane and Amee must have been children because their names are not found as adults in any of the records. The Maddyngleys had lived in Kingston since at least 1279. In 1515, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in London which spread across south east England. 

Kingston Church.In times of plague, children were particularly hard-hit and usually hastily buried in unmarked graves, their little lives lost forever. The carving of the sisters’ names, who archaeologists believe died in the plague outbreak, has created a lasting memorial to them.

The project has confirmed more graffiti was created during times of pestilence such as the Black Death of 1349 and subsequent outbreaks of plague. Was it a way of remembering the dead, or commending them to God, or what? One can only imagine what it must have been like in those far off dark days to lose your children and have no memorial to them. I know lives were shorter and children often died through all sorts of ‘natural’ causes, but I found the image of a heartbroken father standing there and diligently scratching his dead daughters names and the date they died into the fabric of the church deeply touching.



For a very special friend…

I am completely in love with the images of small children that Donald Zolan drew, we talk to his daughter for licensing his artwork now. It is just so innocent and reminds one of times gone by – I realise we all still feel we are only 29(!) but at the risk of repeating myself, times were different when I was young. The freedom and joy that we had wandering around in nearby fields and woods is not something many parents feel they can allow today.

This birthday card is for a very special friend as you can see and I love the way our pads include some sentiments, borders, decoupage pieces etc. It’s like having a little card kit in a neat tidy pad. The backing papers on this card came from some of our CDs, the sea (a very useful paper that we use a lot) is on CD2 of the Thomas Kinkade CD set and the leafy design is on the Janet Kruskamp CD.

I know CDs are somewhat out of favour currently in comparison to their heyday, but I will always use them as they are a handy library facility for paper storage!

Even if it’s not your birthday today – have a happy day.

Smiles, Joanna


What’s in a name…?

Here’s a ‘Rose Cottage’ © Copyright John BrightleyAs you know, I am a bit of an old softy and tend to like old-fashioned, traditional things. It was great fun when we began creating the characters and places for our Swaddlecombe novels. Julia and I had many giggly hours coming up with characters’ names and inventing our own little world with the town of Westerly and the village of Swaddlecombe. We also managed to squeeze in an ‘April Cottage’, a ‘Primrose Cottage’ and a ‘Hill Farm’.

House names always interest me and I love quaint names like ‘Wisteria Cottage’ or ‘The Hollies’ or something grand like ‘The Rookery’. I think something with a peculiar name would actually put me off! A few years ago now, we used to exhibit at the NEC next to a company that made house signs and they always said ‘Rose Cottage’ was the most popular. Well, I had a bit of a search online and it seems that names change with the times and today ‘The Cottage’ is the most popular, with ‘Rose Cottage’ in second place.

A barn next to co-writer Julia’s house is called ‘The Shielings’, which was a bit of a puzzle. Apparently this means summer grazing place or hut in a wild and remote place, often in Scotland. So, one assumes it was chosen as a reminder of a previous home further north. 

An ‘Old School House. © TripAdvisorPeople quite often transfer place–names to houses, there’s a ‘Taplow Cottage’ not far from me and I am sure we have all seen examples of this. I have friends near Salisbury who live in a very old house called ‘Ilchester Cottage’… Ilchester being a village some 50 miles to the west, so someone was very ‘mobile’ a few centuries ago!

Names often reflect a nearby feature and trees are popular. ‘Orchard House’ is high up the list, as are ‘Yew Tree Cottage’, ‘The Beeches’ and ‘Pear Tree Cottage’. ‘The Elms’ used to be popular but, sadly, the decline of those lovely trees means the house name has died off in popularity too.

I like houses with wild animal names – imagine what fun it would be to live in ‘Fox Hollow’, ‘Deer’s Leap’ or ‘Badger’s Holt’! 

Changes in our society are reflected in house names and today many old schools, chapels and barns have been converted to residential use so you will probably have an ‘Old School House’ or ‘Old Chapel’ in the village. While on the one hand, it is nice to pay homage to a building’s origins, it is also sad that so many communities have lost important parts of their traditional make up. 

Do you live in a house with an interesting name? If it’s unusual, have you ever tried to look up its origins…?



A Calendar for 2015?

I know we concentrate on cardmaking most of the time but there are just some products that immediately make me think about calendars and Howard Robinson’s cottages are one of those things!

We have produced a new decoupage pack using 10 of Howard’s designs (you get 20 sheets in a pack) and they make wonderful decoupage with little frames and borders. Some of you may recognise Howard’s work from jigsaw puzzles you have seen or bought, he is madly popular and successful both in Europe and across America.

This country scene is what many of us consider a perfect country idyll. There are golden labrador retrievers by the doorway, roses, ducks, swans what more could we want!

The calendar is simple to make, you take half an 8” square card and cover with some backing paper. Add the image and all the layers of decoupage and then use one of the very handy little calendar pads which you can buy at craft shops or online. The hanging ribbon is made by punching a couple of holes along the top and tying the ribbon securely in a knot. Easy-peasy and a fun little gift that someone will enjoy for the whole year!


The myth of the magpie

I was watching a magpie in the garden yesterday, a big bold bird, its black and white feathers pristine, with iridescent blue among the black, and thinking how handsome it was. Its eyes were bright and fierce and it was watching me with what looked like real intelligence. But these belligerent birds stir strong emotions among people, and are widely hated, so I fell to wondering why,..

When anyone mentions magpies I think we tend to think or three things: The rhyme “One for sorrow, two for joy…” the hip and trendy kid’s TV programme of that name, popular when I was a teenager, and the fact that magpies are thieves. Seeing a magpie when I was a child was quite rare. Now it is one of the most common birds in the UK. They are described as challenging and arrogant and, love them or hate them, you can’t miss them. Their numbers have increased by 112% over the last 30 years. They are scavengers and collect objects and ‘cache’ food just in case there’s a shortage later on. They are also seen as predators, eating other birds’ eggs and their young, as well as plants

Where suspicion of the bird exists it often goes back to folklore and myth where magpies were thought to be bearers of bad omens and associated with the devil. You can even find negative comments as far back as Shakespeare’s time, when their “chattering” was complained about.

Of all birds it is probably the poor old magpie that is most associated with superstitions. However, most superstitions regarding magpies are based around just a single bird. Throughout Britain it is thought to be unlucky to see a lone magpie and there are a number of beliefs about what you should do to prevent bad luck.

In most parts of the UK people will salute a single magpie and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” By acknowledging the magpie in this way you are showing him proper respect in the hope that he will not pass bad fortune on to you. By referring to the magpie’s wife you are also implying that there are two magpies, which bring joy rather than sorrow according to the popular rhyme.

Other things you can do to prevent the bad luck a lone magpie may bring include doffing your hat, spitting three times over your shoulder or even flapping your arms like wings and cawing to imitate the magpie’s missing mate! Fortunately, as we are now pretty much overrun with the things, I don’t think I shall need to do much spitting and flapping! 

As the well known rhyme “One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told,” shows it is only seeing a lone magpie that brings bad luck and groups of magpies are said to predict the future. There are many different versions of this rhyme with some counting as high as 20 birds.  Like many other birds, magpies mate for life and this may be the inspiration for this rhyme.

Here are a few magpie facts, rather than myths and superstitions: 

  • It takes a pair of magpies around 40 days to build their large, domed nest.
  • A typical magpie clutch is six eggs.
  • Only the female magpie incubates the eggs – it takes 24 days for them to hatch.
  • Young magpies leave the nest around 27 days after hatching.
  • Magpies are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of food, ranging from grain and fruit to carrion.
  • Magpies have been recorded catching and killing frogs, lizards, snakes, bats, mice, voles and even rabbits, as well as small birds.
  • Magpies will cache surplus food during times of plenty.
  • They are extremely intelligent and have been shown to mourn their dead.
  • Magpies can recognise themselves in a mirror – the only non-mammal to do so.
  • They can talk (imitate) as well as mynah birds and jackdaws – in fact most birds can be taught to talk… but that’s another blog altogether!