By Steve Hansen

Much to be learned about England


April 18, 2018

Jolly old England was mostly old to my wife and I on our second visit last week to the nation that spawned ours.

It’s hard to be jolly when the temperature seldom rises above 50 under black-and-gray skies that regularly deposit rain on the ancient land.

But then, this is April and even London in southern England is about even with Calgary, Alberta, Canada in latitude.

T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” starts with “April is the cruelest month/breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” What Eliot meant was that in April it is spring, and plants start sprouting while it’s cold, wet and miserable.

Trees were budding and rows of crops were just showing green, and just about every yard with a garden sported daffodils.

Even if England is cool to cold three seasons of the year, it seldom snows and the land grows things and stays green year-round. Actually that’s a great reason for people to want to live there for the past several thousand years.

And England keeps up its long history.

Even Hockwold, the little village where my son lives with his family, keeps relics that were old when the U.S. was born.

It moved to its current location a mile north of its old site in the 14th century, after the old site was burned down to ward off the black plague.

Hockwold’s mossy walls, irregularly alternating brick and stonemasonry, show signs of centuries of weathering. The predominant architecture is two-story red or yellow brick houses with steeply angled stone-tile roofs capped by brick chimneys, each crowned by two or three separate stacks, a style that defined England’s houses even in Dickens’ time.

Just outside Hockwald, there is a small cathedral and tower built in the 14th century, 100 years before Columbus accidentally bumped into the Western Hemisphere on his way to India.

In its churchyard the engraved letters on most of the gravestones have been worn away by centuries of rain, moss, ivy and lichens.

About 40 miles south of my son’s village is the city of Bury St. Edmunds. There are remains in this city of a Benedictine abbey that was active from the 12th to 16th centuries. Stone nubs that rise to maybe 10 feet above ground are all that remain of what was once a large, powerful religious complex.

To see these remnants, we passed through an imposing block gatehouse about five stories tall that was rebuilt in 1347 after local townspeople rioted and destroyed the first gate 20 years earlier to protest church rule.

The locals say the villagers were jealous of the wealth of the monks next door.

And the nubs that remain of the old walls? They got that way because the old buildings were torn down and their building materials recycled for other structures in about the 15th Century, the time of Henry VIII. There is one building standing that suggests the size of the old abbey. This building was converted to residences in the 15th century.

Nearby is St. Mary’s Church, which contains, among other staggeringly old relics, the grave of Mary Tudor, King Henry VIII’s sister, the queen of France, who died in 1533.

So what can a visiting American learn from the English and their long history of thriving in cold, damp conditions?

Mostly, I think, it’s that we in America should know more about the long, long history of the culture that gave birth to the principles of our founding, and of its resilience under conditions that would normally challenge optimism.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:



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