Thursday, August 25, 2005

Signs of the Times (Sandwich)

The docents and other civic-minded citizens here in central Virginia take great pride in the antiquity (more than 200 years old!) and preservation of Thomas Jefferson's homestead, Monticello. Darling Child's new U.S. History teacher extolled it as a universally recognizable icon of America, on a par with the Great Wall of China and the Egyptian Pyramids. I'm wondering if I should tell her that most--if not all--of the Europeans I spoke to on my trip responded to my mention of Monticello with a puzzled look, and only when I added, "Home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd president of the United States" did they say (none too quickly), "Oh...yes..." One even said, "Who?"

All this is put in perspective by what I saw in Sandwich, a perfectly preserved medieval town in East Kent, whose heyday was some 500 years ago. It was a thriving seaport for centuries, but when the harbor silted up during Elizabethan times so did the local economy. There was hardly any new construction beyond that engendered by an influx of Protestant refugees from Holland and France in the mid-1600s. (They were made to live outside of town till they were found to be commercially beneficial. Some things never change.) Above is Fishergate, erected 1384, a remnant of the wall facing the River Stour.

Sign on Fishergate. (Note first restoration date!)

The wall is built of napped flints, which in their unpolished state are flaky and murderously sharp, and were used in making arrowheads.

One of my long-lost cousins and her husband live in the remaining half of the old Guild Hall, which was begun in the 14th century. The "new" Guild Hall (below) was built in the 16th century, and is still in good working order, with offices and a bus station.

Flemish-style wall; not every sign survives:

Facing signs in an archway:

Note how the above ties into the Yiddisher Britisher Tour; also that the word "Jewish" is conspicuously absent.

Extra credit for Darling Child's U.S. History class:


If I lived & worked in such a tiny cottage, I'd write incendiary pamphlets too. I sure hope Paine wasn't tall like his pal TJ; those low doorways are killers. One crack on the head & I'd be storming the barricades. But don't get me started! More on those *#%!!! doors in a separate post...

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