14 August 2012

Walking through the monastery gardens to a labyrinth

Overton House ... built by the Bartholomew family and now part of Ealing Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

It is a short walk through the monastery gardens behind Ealing Abbey and Saint Benedict’s Church to Overton House, which houses the Benedictine Study and Arts Centre and the Institutum Liturgicum in Anglia et Cambria, or the Liturgy Institute in England and Wales, where I am taking courses in Liturgy and Liturgical Latin.

Overton House at 74 Castlebar Road is an elegant red-brick, neo-Gothic house. This is a typically Victorian suburban house, containing 19th century stained glass, floor tiles, and carved wood features.

The name Castlebar features in a number of street names in this part of Ealing north of Ealing Broadway, including Castlebar Road, Castlebar Park, Castlebar and Castlebar Hill. I wondered was there was an Irish connection with Castlebar in Co Mayo.

But I found out today that Castlebar is the name of a hill nearby that is 51 metres (167 feet) high. In the 18th century, the hill was the location of Castle Beare or Castle Bear, a grand mansion or country seat on the western fringes of London.

Over the generations, the residents of Castle Bear included the publisher Archibald Constable, General Wetherall, who conquered Java during the Napoleonic Wars, and Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent. That explains why other street names here include Albert Road, Kent Gardens, Queen’s Walk, and Prince’s Gardens.

Overton House was built by John George Bartholomew (1860-1920), a grandson of the founder of John Bartholomew and Son, the famous 19th century mapmakers. Bartholomew lived in Edinburgh before moving to London. JG Bartholomew’s longest lasting legacy is in naming Antarctica – until he first used the term in 1890, the continent had been largely ignored because its lack of resources and because of its harsh climate.

Overton House was bought by Downside Abbey in 1930 and was the sold to Ealing Abbey in 1955. The house is within Ealing Borough’s “Mount Park” conservation area so that the heritage of the house and its design are respected and the garden is cared for appropriately.

The Scriptorium, where I have attended my Liturgy seminars, was once the research workplace of Dom Bernard Orchard (1910-2006), the Biblical scholar and former headmaster. This later became the London base for the liturgical research project “Appreciating the Liturgy,” founded and directed by Dom James Leachman and Dom Daniel McCarthy of Saint Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas. Both are part of this summer school and they also write and teach work at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome.

The Gallery in Overton House is used for occasional art exhibitions organised by Dom Peter Burns.

The extensive gardens at the side and behind the house have a variety of trees, including a banana tree and an olive tree. The gardens are friendly to wildlife, and no insecticides are used on the plants and trees.

The name “JM Bartholomew” also features in some of the carved stones in the walls of the garden. Stones of a different sort have been used to shape labyrinth on the north lawn, surrounded by apple trees.

In a quiet moment between Latin seminars this afternoon, I walked around the labyrinth and found a little time for peace and for my own prayers and meditation.

In my thoughts and in the afternoon sunshine, I was a long way from Bartholomew’s Antarctica.

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