Saturday, September 17, 2016

Still More Research at the Bodleian and Visiting Cogges Manor Farm

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Still More Research at the Bodleian and Visiting Cogges Manor Farm

     Still trying to catch up on this blog, I usually wake up in the morning and spend about an hour on it. It is as much as I can afford in my hurry to get breakfast and a shower and get out of the house to reach the Bodleian Library. I have found some wonderful source material there for my research topic of interest and can’t wait to devour it.

     Meanwhile, I was delighted to receive news from my publisher (Lexington Books) that my manuscript for my book on Britain’s Anglo-Indians that was reviewed by an anonymous expert in the field has passed approval with flying colors—and with no revision necessary! Needless to say, the news is a huge relief to me as I really did not want to spend my time in Oxford or London revising it while I could be spending it working on research material for a new project. So this is very uplifting indeed. Now onward towards publication.

Morning at the Bodleian:

     Not wanting to waste any time, I had a muesli and yogurt breakfast with coffee, made my sandwiches and jumped into a bus on the Abingdon Road and was at the Radcliffe Camera by 9.00 am ready to spend an entire morning on research. Once again, I was almost the first one there and got a coveted seat at the window overlooking Brasenose Lane and the ramparts of Exeter College. How can you beat such a view? It never fails to inspire me to hunker down and focus on my reading.

     More readers came and went as the morning flew, but I stayed at my post until 2.00 pm. And yes, once again it was hunger pangs that drove me out as, in the end, one has to eat to live! I am thrilled by the material I am getting a chance to peruse and the speed with which it is brought into my hands and with which I am reviewing it.   Through it all, I am learning wonderful new things about the area I have chosen to pursue and gleaning detailed information about which previously I had only a very hazy idea. It is proving to be a fabulous use of my time here and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.

Off on the Bus to Cogges:

Just by chance, based on the tourist literature I had picked up at the Tourist Information Center at Oxford, I discovered that Cogges Manor Farm, not too far from Oxford, in-between the village of Eynsham and the town of Witney was the location for the shooting of scenes in Downton Abbey that were based on Yew Tree Farm—the place where Lady Edith leaves her daughter Mariegold to be raised by the Drews. Now having visited Highclere Castle (which was the setting of the grand home of the Granthams) and the village of Bampton (which was the setting for Downton Village and the home of the Crawleys), I figured it would make sense to get to Cogges to see the Museum and Manor Farm where a large part of the shooting was carried out for the series.

     I also discovered that it is really easy to get on the bus from Oxford to Cogges. But for the fact that you need to know exactly where to get off (ask the driver), it is simplicity itself. I, therefore, hopped into the bus S1 at George Street heading towards Oxford Station and in about 40 minutes I was there. I had a really lovely chat with a lawyer seated next to me who also happened to be a big fan of Downton and who gave me better directions for where to get off—although he did not know that Cogges Manor Farm was the location for Yew Tree Farm in the series.

     En route to Cogges, we passed through the village of Eynsham that might have meant nothing to me expect for the fact that one of my oldest and dearest Oxford friends, Stan Fuller, once Hall Stewart of Exeter College when I had done grad work there, lived in the village until he passed away, two years ago. We had stayed in touch through almost thirty years and it was with a heavy heart that I saw him for the last time at the care home into which he had been moved by his family towards the end of his life. It is sad for me to come to Oxford and not be able to see him as I have done so through all my visits over the years. What thrilled me, as I looked out the window, was that we actually passed right by his lane (Spare Acre Lane) as we drove on to Cogges. Now what are the odds of that? In fact, as I sat there at the window looking at Eynsham pass by, the thought had occurred to me: I wonder if we will pass by Stan’s lane…And then, about five minutes later, there it was! It was simply too uncanny for words. I have since then thought of calling his home but I no longer have his number and other ways of trying to reach his wife Kay and son Austin have led nowhere.    

     Once I got off the bus, I had to walk for about ten minutes to get to the venue past hedges filled with blackberries, redcurrants and other berries that are in their prime at the moment. What’s more, they are really sweet right now—the wild ones are best, I realize. Not as large as the farmed ones, but they are delicious.

Visiting Cogges Manor Farm:

     The beauty of Cogges Manor Farm is that it has been in existence for at least 300 years! Yes, can you believe it? It has stayed a farm for all that time—much modified, of course, as the centuries have gone by, in terms of the amount of land that is still farmed (today about 20 acres) and the kind of buildings that comprise it. However, the bulk of the buildings date from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s—they are stone structures decorated with timber details.

     You pay a fee of 5 pounds to enter and wander around at will. It is full of farm animals today but most of them are for show. It is not really a working farm anymore. The receptionist, who turned out to be very knowledgeable about the history and the use of the place for filming, volunteered to take me on a private guided tour himself—I was really grateful for that. I told him that my interest was mainly in the use of the place for Downton and he said that about 20% of the visitors come for that reason. The majority are local residents who bring their kids in to pet the animals, use the play area and the like.

     The first part of the farm to which he led me was the Manor House—although it is the original manor house of the farm and would have housed the squire and his family who owned the surrounding lands on which their tenanted farmers would have earned a living, it was considered too grand for the Drew family in Downton and was, therefore, never shown in the series. However, the kitchen (dating from the late-Victorian Age) was used (with prop modifications) as the home of the Drews, the place where Lady Edith visits often to see her daughter, where Lady Mary and Branson come to see if they ought to keep their tenants instead of turning the farm into developments, etc. So, many minor plot lines revolve around this farm and the locations are all easily recognized if one knows the series well. I took a few pictures of the areas that I recognized from the show and then set about wandering on my own.

     Before he left, the receptionist put on a film for me that talked about why and how Cogges Manor Fam came to be chosen as the setting for Yew Tree Farm—it was because it was old, authentically antiquated and would require very little expense to modify for the exact needs of the show. The man also told me that the manor house was used as the setting of the kitchen for the TV show Arthur and George (which I had also watched on PBS in the US) and which starred Martin Clunes, Charles Edwards and Art Malik. It is a true story written by Arthur Conan Doyle on his involvement with the sad fate of a Parsi clergyman named Shapurji Edulji who lost a court case in the late Victorian Age because the jury was prejudiced. Edulji’s son George, a lawyer,  brings Doyle into the fray and upon his involvement, the entire case is re-examined. The man told me that all the cast members were really nice to work with, that they are always courteous and polite and that they loved spending all the time they did at Cogges.

     I spent most of the rest of the afternoon enjoying the gardens, the orchards, the stables, the dairy, etc. at Cogges. The vines were full of the sweetest grapes, the espaliered apple and pear trees are strung full of fruit (October 5 is Apple Picking Day and the neighborhood is invited to help), the perennial beds are filled with autumnal dahlias and cosmos. It was truly a pleasure to walk through the country farms and fields and take it all in. I saw goats, pigs, cows and other barnyard animals and lots of chickens and ducks. Little did I think that I would come to Oxford to do research and end up on a farm!  However, it was one of the most unexpectedly lovely afternoons I spent on my own.

Back on the Bus to Oxford to Meet a Friend:

     I was back in Oxford in about an hour by 6.00 pm, just in time to meet a friend, Carol, on the steps of the Ashmolean Museum. She had arrived in the morning from Oxford to do some research herself before meeting me for dinner.  Together we strolled about parts of Oxford I had not yet seen on this visit—Jericho, for instance, but then we made our way towards George Street as Carol sweetly offered to treat me to dinner. She was grateful that I had told her she could spend the night at my home in Grandpont (I had taken permission from my hosts, of course).

Dinner with Carol at ASK:

     Italian being my favorite cuisine and George Street being filled with restaurants from where we could take our pick, we decided to get to ASK, a Italian eatery where we ordered white wine and then pasta—hers was filled with chicken and mushrooms, mine was filled with prawns and lobster. For dessert, we had a pistachio and olive oil cake which sounded much better than it tasted. I found the texture too heavy and the pistachios too finely ground up. Not a good dessert choice, but my pasta was delicious and it went perfectly well with a rather dry Chardonnay. Over our meal, Carol and I bonded as we have only very recently gotten to know each other (through our mutual friend Rose who will arrive in Oxford tomorrow).

     By 9.30, we left the restaurant, hopped into a bus going down the Abingdon Road and by 10.00 pm, really tired after a rather long but very fulfilling day, we said goodnight as she retired upstairs in the master bedroom and I took my place in the spare room downstairs.

     Until tomorrow, cheerio…              

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