Paternoster nostalgia

I was sad to read on the BBC website yesterday that the paternoster in the Attenborough Building at Leicester University has been closed and is going to be removed and replaced with a lift.

The Attenborough Building, University of Leicester. Photo by NotFromUtrecht, Wikimedia Commons.

I have vivid childhood memories of the paternoster, and slightly terrifying rides on it. A paternoster is a type of constantly moving open lift, with compartments stacked on top of another and moving in a constant loop up and down the building. One each floor of the tower there were two openings, one for compartments going up and the other for those going down. The paternoster moved at a slow speed, but it was still unnerving to time your step into and out of the compartment, putting off thoughts of falling and being squashed, half in and half out of the compartment, or getting caught in the exposed mechanisms at the top and bottom of the ride. (Over-riding and under-riding were great thrills).

The paternoster is one of the last few surviving ones in the UK. The paternoster was invented in England in the 1860s, and the installation of new paternosters in buildings was banned in the UK in 1974, making the Leicester University one of the last to be built.

The 18-storey Attenborough Building opened in 1970, and is named after Sir Frederick Attenborough, the Principal of University College (as the institution was known before it became a fully-fledged university) and father of Sir David Attenborough and Lord Richard Attenborough. My father taught in the Philosophy Department, and his office was on the 15th floor, with fabulous views over Victoria Park and beyond. Peregrines nested on the tower, and I remember occasionally seeing them from my Pa’s office in the 70s. His department was closed in 1989 when it merged with and moved to Nottingham University, and he took early retirement.

The Attenborough Building. Photo by NotFromUtrecht, Wikimedia Commons.

The tower had conventional lifts, the paternoster, and (for me) an even more terrifying staircase around a central void which went up the entire height of the building. Being modern architecture, the stairs had no risers, just treads, and a gap between the wall and the steps, with what seemed like a flimsy railing between you and the terrifying abyss to the other side. I still have occasional anxiety dreams about climbing such seemingly rickety staircases …. Every now and then I would force myself to take the paternoster to visit my Pa rather than the lift. Different times: I can’t imagine an unaccompanied child would be allowed in the building on their own these days.

BBC report with film of the paternoster and diagrams of how it works.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 16

Part 16 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.


1977 tiger’s eye ring with a shield shaped head, Birmingham hallmark. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.


Miniature Iron Age copper alloy shield (65 mm by 35 mm), part of the Salisbury Hoard found at Netherhampton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, and now in the British Museum.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street ladya herb knife and a sea anemone.

Liisa Vitali

Liisa Vitali (born in Helsinki, Finland on 9 November 1918, died on her 69th birthday, 9 November 1987) was a Finnish jewellery designer and maker known for her modernist designs that were often drawn from nature. Her jewellery series include the ‘Ladybird’, ‘Lace’, ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Cat’s paw’ designs.

Liisa Vitali.

1971 Liisa Vitali ‘Ladybird’ sterling silver ring with trapped carnelian orb. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Liisa’s family moved to a farm at Viluksela, a small village in the municipality of Somero in southern Finland, in 1920. After the death of her parents, Liisa and her brother Väinö continued to look after the farm. Liisa had long been interested in jewellery design, winning a school competition with a jewellery set that she had made.

Liisa Vitali. Love how her blouse matches her jewellery!

Some of Liisa Vitali’s designs, including Pitsi (‘Lace’) in the main panel, Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird and big stone’) top right, Nuppu (‘Bud’) middle right, and Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant’s path’ or ‘Ant trail’) bottom right.

Liisa Vitali Pitsi (‘Lace’) bracelet, 1973, in sterling silver. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

As I don’t read Finnish I have found it hard to piece together much more about Liisa’s life: there appear to be conflicting reports of her training, or lack thereof, and which jewellers she may or may not have worked with.

I have read that she started making jewellery to sell in the 1950s, self-taught and working from a home workshop on a small scale in between her farming duties; that she started her career in jewellery-making working for jeweller Kaija Aarikka; that she trained for a short time alongside the great designer Tapio Wirkkala at the Nestor Westerback workshop; that at first her designs were only available from her workshop on the farm, and from Kaija Aarikka’s shop.

Vitali’s designs were manufactured by various companies, including Aatos Hauli, Mauri Sarparanta, Nestor Westerback Ky, and Kultakeskus.

1960s advert for Liisa Vitali’s jewellery.

Some of Liisa Vitali’s designs, including examples of  Pitsi (‘Lace’), Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird and big stone’), Nuppu (‘Bud’), and Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant trail’).

Perhaps her most famous designs are the Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird and big stone’, ‘Ladybird’ or ‘Ladybug’) and Pitsi (‘Lace’) series. These are visually very similar, with circular cut-outs in sheet silver or less commonly gold, forming a lacy, holey effect. She also used the lacy cut-outs in her Nuppu (‘Bud’) and Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant trail’) series. Her love of the natural world is clear in her jewellery, and the inspiration it provided her with can be seen in the names she chose for her various series.

Liisa Vitali.

During her life, Vitali’s work was highly thought-of, and was exported around the world. Apparently Princess Margaret was a fan. Following her death and changing fashions, it fell out of vogue for a while. In 2009 Kultakeskus Oy began to remanufacture Vitali’s designs, bringing them to a whole new audience.

Some named designs by Liisa Vitali:

Ampiaisenpesä (‘Beehive’)

Gardenia (‘Gardenia’)

Kesäheinä (‘Summer hay’)

Kevät (‘Spring’)

Kissantassujen (‘Cat’s paws’)

Leinikki (‘Buttercup’)


Leppäkerttu, Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird’, ‘Ladybird and big stone’, ‘Ladybug’)

Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant trail’)

Nuppu (‘Bud’ or ‘flowerbud’)

Nyöri (‘Cordon’)

Pitsi (‘Lace’)

Ruusu (‘Rose’)

Tuulenpesä (‘The wind’s nest’)

Villiviini (‘Wild wine’)

Further reading:

Leeni Tiirakari 2012, Design Liisa Vitali, Amanita. Available from a Finnish online bookseller.

Don’t miss All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride: Magical festive viewing

I’m a huge fan of all things Nordic, and I’ve just found out that the BBC is repeating a wonderful slow tv programme: All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride.

This is two hours of fabulously festive viewing, as we follow two female Sami reindeer herders and some of their reindeer on a sledge ride across the snowy Lapland landscape as dusk falls. There is no narration or music, just the crunch of the snow, the gentle grunts of the reindeer and the occasional conversation between the women and people they encounter: ski-shod travellers, dog sleds and their drivers, ice fishermen on a frozen lake, and Sami living in their lavvu (wigwam-like tents).

Every now and then some graphics give us information about the Sami and their history and beliefs and social structure, about the animals and plants in the snowy lands: this is done in such a clever way, seemingly embedded within the landscape and sometimes incorporating old photographs.

The programme was first broadcast on Christmas Eve two years ago, and was repeated on Christmas Eve last year. This year it is being shown again, on BBC4 on Saturday 16 December, starting at 7 pm.

The reindeer ride follows an old postal route in Karasjok, in northern Norway, within the Arctic Circle. During their journey, the sledges cross frozen lakes and birch woodland. Sometimes the women ride, and sometimes they walk alongside the reindeer. As the hours of daylight are so short at this latitude in the winter, the journey both starts and finishes with the way lit being by flaming torches. It ends with the Northern Lights putting on a beautiful display above a lavvu. The two Sami reindeer herders are Charlotte Iselin Mathisen and Anne-Louise Gaup.

Ann-Louise Gaup and reindeer.

It may sound boring but it is absolutely magical, and I am so glad to have another chance to watch it again. If you can, do give it a look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s calming, hypnotic, meditative, beautiful, informative, and utterly wonderful.

Slow tv is a type of television programming that started in Norway in 2009. It eschews music or narration, and follows real-time action, rather than that edited for speed and brevity.

If you want to learn more about how the programme was made, this Radio Times article has lots of interesting information. Four separate rides were filmed, one a day for four days, and the best ride was used. There were only four hours of daylight per day, and the temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees C.

Programme website

Daily Mail review

The Unthanks: Magpie

Every now and then I hear a song for the first time and it becomes an instant earworm. ‘Magpie’, by the English folk band The Unthanks, is just such a song. I don’t often listen to folk music, so this song would probably have passed me by, had it not featured at the end of the first episode of the third series of the BBC comedy, Detectorists.

The series centres around two metal detectorists and is filmed in the bucolic Suffolk countryside. It is a lovely, gentle series, in which not a lot happens. As an archaeologist I’m no fan of metal dectectorists and the damage they can (and so often do) wreak on archaeological sites, but the ending of this particular episode summed up in a beautiful montage what I often wonder about the finds I dig up: who they belonged to, the lives lived, and how the pieces ended up where they ended up. So many stories.

Dectectorists is written, directed by and stars the talented Mackenzie Crook, and co-stars Toby Jones. It is currently midway through its third series, broadcast on BBC4, and can be viewed on catch-up on the BBC iPlayer.

‘Magpie’ is a track on The Unthanks’ 2015 album Mount the Air, and uses the traditional English nursery rhyme about the magpie to wonderful effect, with additional lyrics emphasising a pagan theme and music by Dave Dodds. Here’s the full version of the song, with a fan-made video:

Here are The Unthanks performing the song live on Later with Jools Holland:

The magpie (Pica pica) is a beautiful black and white corvid, a familiar bird in the English countryside and one with a rich tradition of symbolism and folk history attached to it.

Magpie (Pica pica). Photo by Andreas Eichler.

I invariably automatically count out the number according to the rhyme when I see a group of magpies (or rarely a singleton: they are gregarious birds). Apparently Crook was inspired by The Unthanks’ song, and certainly the magpie theme has carried on into the second episode, with magpies being featured at the start and finish. I wonder if they will prove to be more significant or symbolic as the series progresses.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 15

Part 15 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.


1972 sterling silver modernist ring, London hallmark. For sale.


Sea anemone.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street lady, and a herb knife.

UPDATE: the ring has now sold.

Sunday stroll: Bulbarrow

Bulbarrow Hill is a beautiful hill in north-central Dorset, south of Sturminster Newton and west of Blandford Forum. Here the chalk hills rise to 274 metres, making it the third-highest point in the county (after Eggardon Hill at 279 m and Pilsdon Pen at 277 m). It has spectacular views all around, especially to the north and north-west, over the Blackmore Vale, and south-eastwards towards the Dorsetshire Gap. This is in the heart of Thomas Hardy country, and is as lovely as it was in his day, seemingly little-changed. Click on all photos to enlarge: if you then click on the photo again, you get an even bigger version.

View looking south-west from Bulbarrow Hill. The Dorsetshire Gap is on the right in the distance.

By the stile to the footpath leading to Rawlsbury Camp was this sign:

Dating, Dorset style. I wonder what was in the message and if they ever met up again?

Rawlsbury Camp is a small multivallate hillfort, dating from the Iron Age. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and according to its listing, does not appear to have been excavated. A large, fairly new wooden cross has been placed within the hillfort. I can see no mention of this in the listing and wonder if it is a modern construction or replacing an older, historic one.  I would hope the latter, as I cannot see how such despoilation of a scheduled ancient monument would be allowed otherwise.

Rawlsbury Camp with its intrusive cross.

The Dorsetshire Gap is a prominent landscape feature, a very obvious gap (and thus passageway) between Nordon Hill to the east and Nettlecombe Tout to the west. Five ancient trackways meet at the Gap.

The earthworks (ramparts and ditches) of Rawlsbury Camp. It must have been a bleak life living up here. The Dorsetshire Gap is on the horizon.

A beautiful windswept oak on the ramparts.

One of the things that struck us here is that even though there is a road running right across the top of the hill, there is no road noise, allowing you to enjoy the proper sounds of the countryside. This is in marked contrast to another favourite Dorset spot of ours, Fontmell Down Nature Reserve, where the A350 runs noisily close by and the neighbouring Compton Abbas airfield sees plenty of small aircraft coming and going.

Looking north across the Blackmore Vale towards the Shaftesbury escarpment and the lone tump of Duncliffe Hill. You can just make out the clump of trees on Win Green on the very right of the photo, on the skyline. (Click to embiggen/bigify).

On the way home we stopped at the River Stour, just north of the wonderfully named village of Hammoon. Here there is a small brick-built river water monitoring station, run by the Environment Agency, and there is a very touching plaque mounted on the wall.

The lovely plaque at the water monitoring station by the bridge over the River Stour, near Hammoon. Tom Poole was clearly much loved by his colleagues.

The River Stour, taken from Tom Poole’s Bridge (as I shall call it from now on).

The River Stour, and in the background Hambledon Hill. I have a very soft spot for Hambledon: it was here I went on my first proper archaeological dig, in 1979.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 14

Part 14 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.


1974 modernist sterling silver wedge ring, hallmarked in Birmingham. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.



Herb knife.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, and the Quality Street lady.

Magnus Maximus Designs

Magnus Maximus Designs was a short-lived English jewellery company founded by three designers and jewellery makers, Michael Gray Bell, Pauline Diane Bell and Ian Murray Pennell, who worked in Frizington, a village in Cumbria. During its short period of operation, the company produced a range of stylish jewellery, which can be broadly split in to two main types: pieces using flat or rounded cabochons of semi-precious and other hardstones, and those using nuggets of raw crystals and minerals (‘druzy’). The mounts and frames for these pieces were usually plain and unadorned, creating a minimalist, sculptural effect and showcasing the stones perfectly.

Magnus Maximus Designs rings, in sodalite, amethyst, carnelian, jadeite and agate, all for sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery. Click on photo for details.

So far, all the pieces I have seen of theirs are hallmarked between 1971 and 1979. I have seen 1971 and 1972 Birmingham hallmarks, and 1972 to 1979 inclusive Edinburgh hallmarks, so it looks like at some point in 1972 they decided to change from using the Birmingham Assay Office to the Edinburgh one. The Edinburgh maker’s mark was registered at the Assay Office there in May 1973, but as it was used on at least one 1972 Edinburgh piece, obviously they were using it before it was registered.

Jadeite ring by Magnus Maximus Designs, hallmarked in Edinburgh in 1972. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Snowflake obsidian heart-shaped pendant by Magnus Maximus Designs, hallmarked in Edinburgh in 1977. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Tiger’s eye luckenbooth pendant by Magnus Maximus Designs, hallmarked in Edinburgh in 1977. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Magnus Maximus Designs iron pyrites ring, 1973-1974 Edinburgh hallmark. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

I have an interesting pewter pendant which is marked on the back by hand with MMD. I am certain this is by Magnus Maximus Designs, but have seen no other pewter pieces by them. Stylistically it would fit well win their oeuvre, with a flat cabochon of an agate-like stone, perhaps serpentine, and a bold sculptural frame.

Pewter and hardstone pendant by MMD: Magnus Maximus Designs. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

As there seem to be no pieces post-dating 1979, I assume that the company ceased trading in 1979 or the very early 1980s.

I would love to know more about this company, and what the three designers went on to do. If you have any information, I’m all ears!

Birds in our village

We’ve had a few special bird sightings from our cottage this year, but sadly I can’t illustrate any of them with photos as my camera was not to hand …

The first was a strange occurrence indeed. In the 25 years we have lived here we have only once ever before seen a heron (Ardea cinerea) flying over the village. There is not a lot of water round us: we are on the chalk and a lot of the streams are winterbornes ie they only flow in winter, and the nearest lake is 2.25 km (1.4 miles) away and the nearest river about the same distance. So we were very surprised one morning not only to see a heron flying very low over the gardens near us, but to then see it pitch up on a telephone wire over our neighbour’s garden.

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Imagine this, but on a telephone wire … Photo by ErRu.

It perched there, swaying slightly, and it was the most amazing sight: such a massive bird, hanging around the cottages completely unconcerned. For such a huge, ungainly bird we were very impressed at its balancing act. It stayed for a few minutes, and then flew off, leaving us delighted.

The second lovely sighting was earlier this week: a lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor) on one of the telephone poles (I’m not going to call it a telegraph pole because we’re not living in Downton Abbey times any more), going up and down poking insects out of the drilled holes in the pole, and also banging away at the wood.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor). Imagine this, but on a telephone pole … Photo by Zaltys.

He flew off and then was back again, scurrying up and down the pole. We’ve seen both lesser spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers (Picus viridis) doing this, so there must be rich buggy harvests in all the holes.

The third sighting was last night, and a very exciting one: my first ever starling murmuration over the village. When we moved here we rarely saw starlings (Sturnus vulgaris): maybe one or two every now and then. Chap has been feeding our wild birds regularly for a few years now, and in this time we have noticed various bird species increase (and sadly, decrease – or at least, populations seem to fluctuate). One of the success stories is that of the starlings. In the last year the numbers have increased hugely – we now have a biggish flock that seems to stay around the village all day. This might well be to do in part with Chap putting out vast quantities of dried mealworms as well as sunflower seeds several times a day. The starlings (or stormtroopers, as we affectionately call them, due to their strutting walk and bolshy behaviour) come down in droves and hoover up the worms in no time, and I like to think that this regular supply of protein-rich food throughout the year has helped them thrive and breed and raise broods successfully. We regularly see twelve or fifteen juveniles perched on a television aerial or hanging round on the chimney stacks.

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Adults left and centre front; juveniles right back. Photo by Daniel Plazanet (Daplaza).

The murmuration was so exciting to see. It was at about six thirty – so not near dusk, really, but the sky was very overcast (so overcast that we didn’t get to see the partial eclipse later on last evening, bugger it). I reckon there might have been several hundred birds, and they flew in a long, snaking, undulating group over the houses and perched in one of the large beech trees. Having seen with envy footage of huge murmurations over the Somerset Levels and elsewhere in the UK on the telly, it was magical to see one myself, and from our cottage. I hope this will be the first of many.

A starling murmuration. Photo by David Kjaer.

And here is the most wonderful video of a murmuration. Stick with it: it starts with some photos, and then …

Lucky ladies!

We have found the cheapest place to bulk-buy mealworms is Croston Corn Mill: we buy a 12.55 kg (!) bag at a time and pound-per-kilo it seems to work out much cheaper than other places, both physical shops and online. We get through a bag every two weeks or so ….