Flints are abundant in the earth around Highclere and have been used for buildings round here since Roman times. Interlaced with limestone courses they can be seen in the walls of houses, churches and orchards walls.
Highclere’s original church, which was built sometime around the year 1,000 AD, would most likely have been built using this durable and inexpensive construction. Nothing is really left of this building but the remains of a similarly ancient wall can still be seen in the ha-ha which, along with the still extant wall around the Monks Garden, are evidence to support this supposition.
Homes tend to grow and accumulate over time. To make a wall you need a reason for it and a place for it, the necessary materials and, above all, foundations. Like anything else it is built one brick at a time which is a positive metaphor in the journey of life for most of us.
There is something entirely magical about walled gardens. Both havens and secret places in which to meander and find sanctuary, they also offer protection for vulnerable trees, herbs and vegetable. They are both practical and imaginative.
In the Monk’s Garden the original wall was probably only about 5ft high, surrounding a south sloping aspect with a frost gate in the lowest side. Only later, in the 18th century, was brick used along with coping stones (here by the 2nd Earl of Carnarvon) to add height, every brick being much more expensive than the flint and limestone original.
Over the centuries, it has undoubtedly had to be patched and mended before but during the storms last month an ancient cedar came down beside the entrance to the garden. Sad enough in itself but it also hit part of the wall. In a few minutes much of it was knocked down and crushed, destroying the work of centuries.
Having got over the initial shock of the damage, we now need to sort it out– cutting up and clearing and away the once majestic tree and planning how to re-build. Many of us are familiar with Pink Floyd’s album “another brick in the wall” and the tune is starting to resonate rather strongly here even though the meaning in the song is the exact opposite of what we are doing. The song describes the stifling of ideas and creativity in your school years whereas James (from the estate office) is humming it in its literal sense as he drives round the estate assessing the damage.
The word “brick” is often used to suggest character traits of reliability and stalwartness and phrases like “being a brick” were once common parlance. These are certainly qualities you expect in a wall and there does seems to be never a day when we are not trying to put another brick in the wall, to make something more robust and better able to weather the storms, whether metaphorically or in reality.