Monday, April 24, 2023

Big Tops

 Last week, my friend Vix and I got together not once, but twice!

First up, a long promised visit to the Black Country's Glass Quarter, specifically the Red House Glass Cone (built in 1788-1794 and standing tall at 100 feet high) and Stourbridge Glass Museum.  I've blogged about our local glass making heritage and visit to the Red House Glass Cone before here Winter Peach Photography: Pet Cemetery and the Great Glass Mood Elevator but it was nice to see it through someone else's eyes.  For more info, read Vix's extensively researched blog here: Vintage Vixen (

After lunch at Wetherspoons in Kingswinford (also the original location of Broadfield House Glass Museum, which sadly closed in 2015), we headed to Stourbridge Glass Museum, which only opened last year and as such, marked my first visit too.  There were some rare and beautiful pieces on display from 17th century Ravenscroft... this tribute to the former museum.

I was quite taken with this little 19th century glass swan's head perfume bottle by Thomas Webb..

...and a beautifully executed bowl (circa 1905) depicting a fish above water. 

They say every day is a school day.  I was surprised to discover that many glassmakers from overseas settled in the Black Country, bringing with them their skills and knowledge.  The rich coal seams and fire clay around Stourbridge made the area an ideal place for the glassmakers (including French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution) to settle.  I had no idea that records of my home town show the Tyzack family of glassmakers arrived here from Lorraine and settled in Kingswinford in 1612 before Paul Tyzack built the first recorded glasshouse in nearby Lye two years later.  Paul's first son was baptised at St Mary's Church in Kingswinford.

We chatted to the workshop artists, who have unsurprisingly been faced with a staggering energy bill running into thousands.  

Back in August, the decision was taken to switch to electricity provided by solar panels.  It's taken until now to jump through all of the administrative hoops in order to make that a reality.

In need of refreshments, we headed across the road to The Bird in Hand, a typical "Black Country Boozer" dating back to 1886 and frequented regularly by certain members of my family (although weirdly another first for me).  

Upon entering the winner of the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Dudley and South Staffordshire Pub of the Year Award 2022, the saying "Men are from Mars, women  from Venus" sprang to mind.  We were treated like curiosities and pursued into the beer garden by a Black Country philosopher, fisherman and another who just seemed happy to sit and stare at us.  A memorable visit for all concerned!

I drove Vix back to Dudley Bus Station and gifts were exchanged. 

Vix passed to me a couple of books she knows I'll like - a Luther story by Neil Cross (we're a bit late to the party with Luther and have been gradually working through the entire 5 series every night for the last few weeks), a Philippa Gregory novel, some gem stones which are now surrounding my Aloe Vera..

and the quilted cotton bag containing said gifts thrown in for good measure.

Forty eight hours later and the four of us (Jon and Gareth included) would be meeting up in a field in the Cotswolds.  It's becoming a bit of a habit.

Rewinding a little to Saturday, we spent some time absorbed in nature on a walk in local woodland.  The bluebells were out and I was so happy to see this little beauty - a female Orange Tip butterfly.

I don't think I've ever seen these Yellow Archangel wild flowers before, but they're growing in abundance.

Google lens failed to identify this plant carpeting the raised beds outside the Roe Deer pub....Lulu can you help?

On a recent visit to the National Trust property, Dudmaston, we were surprised to see that the Gunnera had succumbed to the late frosts.  Gareth has been monitoring ours closely and wrapping them up if the forecast hovered anywhere close to zero.  As a result, our potted ones are thriving.  Look at this beast of a flower spike!

On Sunday, we met up in the idyllic setting of Frampton Court's parkland in Frampton-on-Severn.  Another day, another big top.  This time, the purpose of our visit was to see the matinee performance of Les Enfants Du Paradis, the 2023 production of Giffords Circus.

This year we had torrential rain and the scheduled 3 pm UK Government emergency alert test to contend with.  The circus had planned to work around this and in the event, I only heard my phone and a handful of others actually sound the alarm.  A damp squib indeed.  As for the rain outside, it mattered not.  We were warm and dry, cocooned in the magical atmosphere of this vintage circus.  I'll let the photos do the talking.

Vix in her gorgeous Dolly Rockers vintage dress.

Jon and Gareth

Aberdeen born Tweedy Clown, MBE

A fond farewell!  Tweedy is taking time out next year, although he will remain a consultant on the show.

Outside, I took this final shot of the circus tent

and Vix and I posed for a photo, before the heavens opened again.

I'm wearing a Dilly Grey dress with the longest raincoat I could find, giving off Victorian explorer vibes.

And if you were in any doubt as to the inclement weather, here's the dreariest window photo I took of some punters sheltering beneath their estate car doors.  The rivulets of rain on the car window and 5 mph motion of the car provided some interesting image blurring.

Eventually getting off site, we caught up with Vix and Jon at The Bell Inn in Frampton and enjoyed a Sunday roast (turkey, beef and pork for Jon, Gareth and I) and a roasted veggie pie for Vix.  Cotswold cider was consumed by me, making the journey home fuzzy but somehow speedier.

Thanks for the generous Sunday gifts and vintage clothing alterations Vix!  I will endeavour to show them all off next time.  

Now I think that's enough excitement for one week!  See you soon. x


  1. How marvelous that you were all able to meet up! This is the problem with living where I do - on an island off Canada's west coast - all the fun people are on the other side of the world!

  2. that anncient glassware is stunning!!
    you had a lot of gorgeous events lately - especially the circus show sounds wonderful and very romantic.... love your look of a heavy mac over a dainty indian dress!
    the yellow archangel grows wild in BWHgarden - between her purple and white sisters..... but i can´t recognise the other plant - i blame the photographer ;-D
    that gunnera flower spike is impressive ideed!

    1. Thanks Beate. It's all or nothing quite often!
      I'm hoping the archangel springs up in our garden as I spotted some in the wood the other day.
      Google lens suggested that the mystery plant was lambs lettuce. It wasn't. It looked like miniature Euphorbia, but with tiny white flowers. I blame the camera! ;-D xxx

  3. How lovely that you were able to meet up with Vix and visit the glass museums with her. I've been swooning over the photos in her post, but both the swan's head perfume bottle and the fish above water made my heart beat faster as well. Like Vix, you made me giggle at your account of your memorable visit to The Bird in Hand :-)
    We inherited lots of Yellow Archangel with the garden, and I just dug up one and replanted it in our new passageway plot. It's impossible to get rid of, that's for sure.
    Your circus photos are absolutely magical but I'm sorry to see you've been sharing our miserable weather. Spring is really dragging her feet! xxx

    1. The swan's head was exquisite, but undoubtedly, it would lose its beak within 24 hours of my care! :-D I suspect that the pub sees the same familiar faces day in, day out. It was an unexpected reaction for sure!
      Interesting about the Yellow Archangel. I could do with a splash of colour in our garden. I spotted it in the wood behind our house so I'm hoping it might make an appearance soon.
      Thanks Ann. The sun is shining here today but it's still very cold. I think it's going to warm up towards the weekend, but guess what? Rain will also be returning. xxx

  4. Fantastic photos and words, Claire!
    The Black Country philosopher, the fisherman and the bloke who stared at us as if spellbound will have me giggling forever and the photo of the poshos sheltering from the rain is brilliant, god forbid Tarquin gets mud on his chinos!
    We need to dust off those unicorn heads ready for next year! xxx

    1. Thanks Vix. I did what Jon and Gareth suggested in the end and wrapped my hand over the offending flash warning. Awkward, but seemed to do the trick.
      Tarquin would probably donate his old muddy chinos to Rufus the Irish Wolfhound's bedding.
      We definitely do! I shall be on the lookout for a mask for Gareth!
      P.S. I think at some point, we should pay the Black Country boozers another visit don't you?

  5. The circus looks fabulous, and it looks like you and Vix have had two wonderful days out. I have one of those super long raincoats, which I've pretty much lived in for the first few months of this year. They are amazing creations. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures.

    1. Hello Louise, Thanks for reading! The circus is well worth a visit. They perform in a number of locations every spring/summer; all of them picturesque.
      Yes, the raincoat works with both dresses and jeans. I'm glad I bought it!

  6. Hello Claire, what a fab week you had! The swan's head perfume bottle is exquisite. Wonderful pictures of the circus. Sounds like you & Vix provided a mystical marvel in the old man pub ;)

    Hmmm, I'm not sure on the mystery carpeting plant. It certainly has a euphorbia-ish leaf shape & flower. It looks like it's been hard strimmed down in late winter & it would normally have many more leaves & longer stems xXx

    1. Hi Lulu, I think you might be spot on. I did think it looked like Euphorbia, but in miniature form with teeny tiny white flowers. xxx



It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic. I was ...