Art in Wulfrun’s town

Saturday, April 11th 2014

We are heading for the thriving and lively city of Birmingham which has  plenty to offer the visitor, as we have discovered on previous trips (for example, see here, here and here) but today we are not staying in Birmingham but, we hope, going on from there by a special route.

Birmingham's Moor Street Station
Birmingham’s Moor Street Station
Delightfully “retro”

We took a number 205 bus to Marylebone Station where we caught the 10:45 Chiltern Railways  train terminating at Birmingham Snow Hill. Just before noon, we disembarked one stop before the end of the line at the delightfully “retro” Moor Street Station. (See here for background information on this Edwardian survivor.)

The Balloon Man A sulky Superman
Along New Street
The Balloon Man and a sulky-looking Superman

As we usually do, we went from Moor Street Station, through the Bull Ring into New Street. Known to travellers mainly as the name of Birmingham’s main railway station, New Street is in fact a long pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants. We had had a picnic breakfast aboard the train but we soon stopped at a Costa for coffee and cake!

Fine building Fine building
Splendid in red
A couple of Birmingham’s fine buildings

Birmingham has a lot of fine buildings, many of these dating from Victorian times and now protected by an English Heritage listing. We admired and photographed a number of these as we continued our walk. Above are just two examples.

Midlands Metro Tram
Midlands Metro Tram
Linking Snow Hill to Wolverhampton

We reached our destination at Snow Hill Station where, in addition to the railway, there is also the Birmingham terminus of the Midlands Metro tram service. Were you to board the tram and pay £5, you would in exchange receive a return ticket to Wolverhampton and this is what we had planned to do. The route passes through Wednesbury and West Bromwich to arrive at a station called Wolverhampton St George’s. There are 23 stations along the route, including the two termini.

Wolverhampton terminus
Wolverhampton terminus
An efficient service

The distance from end to end is just over 12½ miles and the journey takes about  30 minutes. There is plenty to see along the route, especially if this is your first trip. Thus we arrived at Wolverhampton and, of course, set out to explore!

Dudley Street
Dudley Street
Wolverhampton’s pedestrian street

We found our way to a long thoroughfare called Dudley Street. This is a pedestrian-only street and some of the older shops are to be found here, as well as some spanking new ones. It seemed just as busy as Birmingham’s shopping centre but the pace was a little less frenetic perhaps. You felt you could stop and look around without people running into you.

Prince Albert Prince Albert
Prince Albert
Inaugurated by Queen Victoria 1866

Not the least of Wolverhampton’s impeccable Victorian credentials is this equestrian statue of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. By Thomas Thorneycroft (1815-85), the sculpture bears a simple inscription, “Albert, Prince Consort, born 1819, died 1861”, and was inaugurated by the Prince’s widow on what is said to have been her first public engagement after his death. That fact, together with the noble solidity of the Prince’s bearing, somehow makes this a very touching memorial.

St Peter's Church
St Peter’s Church
Where Wolverhampton began

From there, we made out way to the great church of St Peter. Church managers like to boast that their church has existed from ancient times but in the case of St Peter’s the boast has substance for there was a church here by no later than the 10th century, though the current building has been altered and extended since then.

The Lady Wulfrun
The Lady Wulfrun
Founder of the minster church and hence the town

In front of the church is a sculpture by Charles Wheeler (1892-1974), the eminent sculptor who grew up in Wolverhampton. No one can now know what Wulfrun actually looked like but this sculpture presents a plausible suggestion. Wulfrun is thought to have been the grand-daughter of King Aethelred I and was therefore a high-ranking citizen of Anglo-Saxon England. There is a curious story that in 943 she was abducted by Vikings when they captured the fort of Tamworth. This was presumably in order to extract a ransom as she appears again (assuming it is the same Wulfrun) in 985 when King Aethelred II grants her ten hides1 of land at a place called Heantune, which in Anglo-Saxon means ‘high farm/enclosure’. In 994, Wulfrun donated various pieces of this land as an endowment to the minster church that she helped found. The settlement that grew up around it thus became known as Wulfrun Heantune, which mutated in due course into modern Wolverhampton.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

We next went to visit the Wolverhampton Art Gallery and here we spent some time. Photography was allowed everywhere except in one gallery where I think there were copyright issues of some kind. What follows is a selection of items seen. The gallery has a strong hands-on orientation which, I suppose, is the current fashion, though I am uncertain as to how much good this does. It also takes away valuable space that could otherwise be used for exhibiting works of art.

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
(Cecil) Atri Brown

We were met in the entrance by this slightly startling sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi who looks as though he is running to catch a beach ball. The sculptor is given as Atri Brown, an artist about whom there seems to be little information available. Cecil ‘Atri’ Brown was born in 1906 and was active in the earlier half of last century. I have seen a hint that he is/was a local lad but don’t know this for certain.

Likeness Guaranteed
Likeness Guaranteed
David Mach (1995)

It took me a moment to realize that this spiky portrait bust is in fact made out of wire coathangers welded together. The subject is Richard Jobson, Scottish TV presenter and film producer, among other things. If you do not know him, you may (or may not) find illumination on his Web site. The sculptor, David Mach (born 1956) is also Scottish and apparently chose Jobson as his subject because of his “typically Scottish features”. Mach also has a Web site and seems to have a bit of a thing about coathangers but also does other forms of sculpture and installations.

Moses
Moses
Philip John Evett (1953)

This piece represents Moses clutching to his bosom the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments which he has presumably just acquired from God. I like its modern feel and the way the figure is pared down to essentials without losing expressiveness. It has a mythic quality, which is fair enough, I think, given the subject. Evett (born 1923) has a Web site here.

Diana and Actaeon
Diana and Actaeon
John Paddison

I also liked this sculpture, entitled Diana and Actaeon. It is by local lad John Paddison (1929-2000). Similar to Moses, it has modern styling and a mythic feel to it but also a feeling of realism. In his portrayal of Diana, the artist has broken away from the conventional Greek beauty and made a rather ordinary-looking female figure whose movements nonetheless show the determination of her desire for revenge. In this representation, of furious goddess participates in the destruction of Actaeon, apparently shooting at him with a bow  while his own hounds tear him to pieces. (If you need reminding of the story of Diana and Actaeon, there is a succinct account here.)

The Young Aviator (Mother and Child)
The Young Aviator (Mother and Child)
Robert Jackson Emerson (1940)

This beautiful work by Robert Jackson Emerson (1878-1944) was created in 1940. At first sight a work on the theme of “mother and child”, the baby has been given wings on his ankles, hence the title. Though born in Leicestershire, Emerson taught for some thirty-odd years in the Wolverhampton Municipal School of Art which makes him a Wolverhampton artist if only by adoption. A short article on this sculpture will be found here.

Mother & Child
Mother & Child
Charles Wheeler (1960s)
Click to see the slideshow

My last sculpture is by Charles Wheeler and it is entitled, reasonably enough, Mother & Child, and was probably sculpted in the 1960s. You might like to compare this with his sculpture of the Lady Wulfrun, shown earlier. This figure is notable for its elongation of the lower body, while the torso, arms, head and child have more natural proportions. Unlike paintings, which are flat, sculptures are meant to be viewed in the round. Positioning in galleries, however, does not always make this possible. Here we can access the sculpture on three sides and so I have taken several photos and combined them in a slide show. You can view it by clicking on the above image.

Eighteenth Century Gallery
Eighteenth Century Gallery
General view

The art gallery’s collection includes several rooms of paintings. Above you see a general view of the Eighteenth Century Gallery, with the clothes rack in the foreground. These are garments for children to dress up in. I am not convinced that this either improves their understanding of art or helps encourage them to visit art galleries. I would prefer the space to be used to exhibit art as it should be seen and to allow more items to be accommodated.

The Family of Eldred Lancelot Lee
The Family of Eldred Lancelot Lee
Joseph Highmore 1736

This gallery is dominated by a large portrait of an obviously affluent family. It is attributed to Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) and is carefully planned and posed though the result is conventional. There is something curious about it: although it is “the family of Eldred Lancelot Lee” and shows his wife and ten children, the pater familias himself is not present. That is odd because the wealthy enjoyed having their portraits painted to show their wealth and status. Why, then, is the principal person missing? The eye is drawn to the eldest son in the foreground, proudly posed with his hand on the hilt of his sword. His bright blue coat make him stand out against the paler colours of the women’s dresses. The artist has chosen to focus on him in place of the missing father.

'Tea-Totalism', 'Temperance' and 'Intemperance'
‘Tea-Totalism’, ‘Temperance’ and ‘Intemperance’
Edward Bird (1795)

This trio of small paintings by Edward Bird (1772-1819) reflects the artist’s interest in unusual-looking people, grotesques and low-life. The pictures are perhaps meant to be humorous, mocking both tea drinkers themselves and (by exaggerating the supposed evils of tea) those who condemn it. They are caricatures or cartoons and compare tea drinkers, whether they indulge in order to follow fashion (1) or because they are addicted to tea (3), with the calm and contentment of the abstainer (2).

A Tiger
A Tiger
Charles Towne (1818)

I was, of course, not going to miss the portrait of the magnificent beast shown above! Charles Towne (1763-1840) painted landscapes, animals and hunting scenes. Painted at a time when wild animals such as tigers were seen as exotic and frightful, fit only for zoos and as targets for big game hunters, the painting nevertheless captures something of the animal’s beauty, even if the head is more like that of a domestic moggy than of a tiger!

The Highland Laddie's Return
The Highland Laddie’s Return
Philip Richard Morris (c1881)

In the Victorian section there was the usual range from the sentimental, exemplified by the above scene of the soldier’s return to his home village by Philip Richard Morris (1838-1902), to the taste for the extoic (see below). As far as paintings were concerned, there was nothing that particularly took my attention in this section.

Breton Brother and Sister
Breton Brother and Sister
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (c1861)

The above painting was done either by William-Adolphe Bouguerau or by someone working “in the manner of” the artist. It corresponds to a period when there was great interest among artists and writers in the customs, costumes and habits of localised groups of people such as beggars, gypsies, peasants and even certain classes of people in towns. The approach was “picturesque” rather than realistic.

Majolica fountain
Majolica fountain Majolica fountain
Majolica fountain

My interest was, however, caught by this extraordinary majolica fountain in the middle of the gallery. Unfortunately, I know nothing about it though I was told that it had originally been kept outside. The decorative elements include a strange mixture of Classical mythology (the horned head of the god Pan), Western motifs (the winged cherubs) and lifelike representations of fish. It appeared to be in remarkably good condition with hardly any damage – all the more surprising as the material of which it is made is known for its fragility.

The Old Post Office
The Old Post Office
No longer in use

Leaving the gallery, we had a little look around town before starting back. We were far from seeing all the town has to offer and may even have missed the best bits. Perhaps we will return another time and try again. We found this old Victorian (1895) post office. No longer used for its original purpose, it is huge. This is just the façade: round the corner in the next street we found more of it, including what I supposed to be the sorting office and the parcels office.

Carvings above the main door
Carvings above the main door
The Old Post Office

In several places over the façade there appeared the “VR” monogram of Queen Victoria and, over the door, this elaborate piece of carving which includes the date 1895. This must have been an impressive institution in its day. It is no longer in use, however, and sports a property dealer’s board advertising it as a “restaurant opportunity”. The post office, as a business, is still in the same street (Lichfield Street), having moved twice already.

As for us, it was time to start the return journey, first taking the tram to back Birmingham, where we had a late lunch or early dinner in an Italian restaurant before regaining Moor Street Station and boarding our train to Marylebone.

Hotel canopy
Hotel canopy
Marylebone Station

Waiting for the 205 bus outside Marylebone Station, I could not resist photographing, as I always do, the iron and glass canopy stretching between the station and what was once the station hotel. It fascinates as much with its elegant design as with imaginings of the Victorian ladies and gentlemen it once sheltered from the elements as they moved between the hotel and the station, accompanied by flunkies carrying their voluminous luggage. Their day is long past and even more distant from us is the day of the Lady Wulfrun, benefactress of the minster church and perhaps unwitting founder of the town that took her name. And yet, both eras are still in some sense present, written as they are into the fabric of this strange little island nation.

________

1A hide was a unit of land measurement, though it is difficult to say exactly how large it was as its value seems to vary from place to place. The word is cognate with hiwan, meaning ‘family’, and the hide was considered enough land to sustain a family. It was also used as a land measure for tax purposes.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Readymoney in Regent’s Park

Saturday, April 5th 2014

Today’s outing was going to be leisurely, a gentle stroll with the odd bus ride in between. First was the question of breakfast and where to go for it. Tigger reminded me that we had not for a long time been to what used to be one of our favourite breakfast haunts and so we decided to renew our acquaintance with it. For this we took to 214  to Camden Town.

Camden High Street
Camden High Street
Markets and trendy shops

The bus stops in Kentish Town Road, near the Camden Town tube station. We cut along Buck Street to arrive at Camden High Street.

Spot the human
Spot the humans

On Saturdays, this is a happening place with markets, shops selling trendy clothes and accessories, tattoo and body-piercing salons and all sorts of strange and odd boutiques. Just up the road is Camden Lock, a complete story in its own right.

Inverness Street
Inverness Street
Street market and cafes

We were only passing through Camden High Street to reach Inverness Street. This street is cut into two parts by Arlington Road and, while the upper part is residential, the lower part, near Camden High Street, has been known for its street market since the early years of the 20th century. Originally, this was a fruit and vegetable market but over the last 30 years of so, the produce stalls have melted away and been replaced by those selling cheap clothes, shoes and gifts. Along one side is a row of cafes, bars and restaurants.

Cafe Solo
Cafe Solo
Quiet at breakfast time

One of these is the establishment we were heading for, known variously as Bar Solo and Cafe Solo. I think this indicates that earlier in the day it is fairly quiet, serving coffee and meals, but becomes more lively in the evenings. There is also something called Under Solo, which I guess is a night club. We have watched this place go through several metamorphoses and today it was again different from our last visit. We shall no doubt return at some point and see whether it has changed yet again.

Painted van
Painted van
Mobile art

After breakfast we continued our stroll. In the upper part of Inverness Street we spotted this painted van. The first hand-painted van I ever noticed was in Paris (see Paris 2007 and this picture) but since then the habit of painting vans seems to have spread like wildfire and these days we see painted vans everywhere we go, both in the UK and abroad. Perhaps this indicates increasing use of vans as personal, non-commercial, vehicles.

Gloucester Crescent
Gloucester Crescent
Part of Camden’s leafy suburb

Though Camden Town is known for its popular and youth-dominated markets and culture, the Borough of Camden of which it is part is more varied than this. As well as the trendy shops and clubs of Camden Town there are the affluent residential areas of Regent’s Park and Hampstead.

Regent's Park Terrace
Regent’s Park Terrace
Complete with private road

For example, here is Regent’s Park Terrace, consisting of a row of up-market town houses with its own private road.

Regent's Canal
Regent’s Canal
Near the Cumberland Basin

We walked along Prince Albert Road which leads to the Regent’s Canal. Here the canal makes a right-angled turn and in the “elbow” is the Cumberland Basin.

The Cumberland Basin today
The Cumberland Basin today
Home to the Feng Shang floating restaurant

Today, the Cumberland Basin is a quiet backwater providing moorings for a few canal barges a home for the Feng Shang floating Chinese restaurant. The basin is also known as the Cumberland Market Basin and this gives a clue to the reason for its existence. Between here and the Euston Road, there existed from the early 1800s until the 1920s an important market, Cumberland Market, and the Basin was built to serve it. The market is long gone and the basin now serves other purposes.

Cormorant Cormorant
Cormorant
Drying his wings in typical pose

I was surprised to catch sight of a cormorant standing drying his wings on a convenient perch next to the Feng Shang. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised because cormorants are quite numerous on the Thames these days and I suppose this one may have come here to this quieter place to avoid the competition. The fact that he was drying his wings showed that he had been fishing though whether or not he had been successful, we cannot know.

St Mark's Church
St Mark’s Church
The “Zoo Church”?

Across the road stands this Victorian Gothic church. St Mark’s Regents Park was consecrated in 1853 and its Web site claims that it has become known as the “Zoo Church” because in the 1930s tea parties were organized on Summer Bank Holidays and these attracted the attention of the press which then applied the epithet because of the church’s proximity to Regent’s Park Zoo.

Looking along the canal...
Looking along the canal…
…towards Regent’s Park Zoo

The closeness of the zoo can be gauged from the above photo looking along the canal. Just above the bridge you can see the pyramid shapes of the Snowdon Aviary. This was built in 1964 and was designed by Anthony Armstrong-Jones, aka the 1st Earl of Snowdon, sometime husband of Princess Margaret.

Readymoney Fountain
Readymoney Fountain
A gift of Sir Cowasgee Jehangir

The bridge mentioned above leads into Regent’s Park. This large and rather fine park is open to the public and provides facilities for sports and games. It is not owned by either of the boroughs on which it impinges (Westminster and Camden) but is Crown property. The borough councils therefore have little or no say in what is done to and within the park. Originally part of the Manor of Tyburn, owned by the Abbess of Barking, the land was appropriated (or should that be “misappropriated”?) by Henry VIII upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The land began to take on its present form as a park under architect John Nash and hence became closely associated with the Prince Regent whose name it took.

A feature of the park is this rather splendid drinking fountain. It was erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association but was paid for by Sir Cowasgee Jehangir and inaugurated by HRH Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck, in 18691.

Sir Cowasgee Jehangir Clock
Donor bust and clock

The dedicatory plaque tells us that Sir Cowasgee Jehangir (Companion of the Star of India) made a gift of this fountain

AS A TOKEN OF GRATITUDE TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND
FOR THE PROTECTION ENJOYED BY HIM AND HIS PARSEE
FELLOW COUNTRYMEN UNDER THE BRITISH RULE IN INDIA

The dedication describes Sir Cowasgee as “A WEALTHY PARSEE GENTLEMAN OF BOMBAY”. The family was indeed rich, having made a fortune in the opium trade. Two uncles had become known by the nickname “Readymoney” and had eventually taken this as their surname. Sir Cowasgee was therefore also known as Sir Cowasgee Jenhangir Readymoney, hence the fact that this fountain is more commonly known as the Readymoney Fountain, even though the donor chose not to include his soubriquet in the inscription on the monument.

A carved portrait head of Sir Cowasgee appears on the fountain but is by now badly eroded. Unusually, the fountain includes a clock (I have so far not seen another public fountain with a clock on it). The present clock looks to me to be fairly modern, so perhaps it is a later model replacing an original that had been broken.

Regent's Park is big
Regent’s Park is big
And provides distant views

Regent’s Park is quite big and provides some interesting views of the surrounding city. Much of it is dedicated to sport and team games. Today, everywhere you looked, you could see people in football kit, kicking balls about. In a few cases, actual matches seemed to be taking place but most of the pitches were being used for practice sessions. (I suppose playing football is as good a way of wasting time as any other.)

The Hub
The Hub
Regent’s Park’s sports facility

In the middle stands what looks like a drum-shaped cafe on a hillock. The visible part may indeed be a cafe (we didn’t investigate) but I think the hillock is in fact artificial and hides more extensive facilities for sporting activities.

One of the avenues
One of the avenues
Pleasant for strolling or sitting

There are also walkways or avenues through cultivated areas and it is pleasant to stroll here or sit on a bench and let the world go by for a while. There are birds and squirrels to watch while you do so.

Abundant blossom
Abundant blossom
Asserts that spring has arrived

Many of the trees and bushes were laden with blossom as though to convince us that spring has come at last. Indeed, there are moments when you might almost think this was so but then comes the relapse and the weather turns cold a wet once more.

Gothick Villa
Gothick Villa
A modern development

Under Nash’s plan, 56 villas were to be built in the park. In the event, only eight were actually built, though some more have been added in modern times. I am not sure how many currently exist or what purposes they serve. Some are certainly still used as private residences, for example Winfield House which is the residence of the American Ambassador. The villa shown is called Gothick Villa. Its barley-twist chimneys notwithstanding, it is not old but is one of a batch built between 1988 and 2004, each with the name of the architectural tradition it reflects.

Central London Mosque
Central London Mosque
Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1978)

On the edge of the park stands a large building with a landmark golden dome. This is the Central London Mosque, also known, for obvious reasons, as the Regent’s Park Mosque. It is very big and forms part of the Islamic Cultural Centre. It was designed by English architect Sir Frederick Gibberd and built in 1978.

Hanover Gate Lodge Sculpture
Hanover Gate Lodge
Hanover Gate, Regent’s Park

We also took a look at this sweet little property at one of the entrances to the park. It is the gatehouse or lodge at the park’s Hanover Gate. It is a two-storey round structure with two statues in niches, one of which is pictured above. The lodge was built in 1822-3 to the design of John Nash and is now listed Grade II. I don’t know whether anyone lives there or whether it is used for storage or office space. I think it would make a dwelling of character though the vehicles continually passing by on both sides might be a nuisance.

The cafe
The cafe
Camden Arts Centre

We fancied taking a look at some art and so caught a bus up Finchley Road to the Camden Arts Centre. We spent some time looking around the bookshop before discovering that the galleries were currently closed in preparation for the next round of exhibitions. Boo! We consoled ourselves as best we could with tea and cake in the gallery cafe.

Hampstead Telephone Exchange
Hampstead Telephone Exchange

We went to the nearby bus stop to catch a bus home and while waiting I took this picture of the telephone exchange nearly opposite. It is called the Hampstead Telephone Exchange and I have tried but failed to find out its age. I have seen photos of the interior supposedly dated to 1904 but I am sure this building is much later. On the façade appears the cipher of George V, which dates it to between 1910 and 1936 and I would guess a date towards the upper end of that time span.

We saw a number of interesting things on this ramble but if I had to choose a favourite it would be the cormorant drying his wings in the Cumberland Basin.

________

1Princess Mary (1833-97), also known as Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, was a granddaughter of George III and the mother of Queen Mary, the consort of George V, and therefore the great-grandmother of the present Queen. Born in Hanover, Princess Mary spent most of her life in England and married Prince Francis of Teck (Württemberg). More information here.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Water and music at Kew Bridge

Saturday, March 29th 2014

Today’s jaunt took in a couple of museums, one we had previously visited and one that had been closed when we had tried. Today we saw both of them. To get to them, we travelled by bus from Islington, first crossing the Thames by Waterloo Bridge and then trundling more or less westwards along the south side of the river to our first stop at Richmond.

Today, Richmond gives the impression of being an affluent and even genteel sort of place but its origins are relatively humble. It started out as a cluster of fishermen’s cottages around the manor of Sheen or Shene. It acquired its present name only in the late 15th or early 16th century when Henry VII, having rebuilt the manor after its destruction by fire in 1497, called the place Rychemond after his earldom in Yorkshire.

Old Fire Station (1870)
Old Fire Station (1870)

Like any modern urban centre, Richmond has its share of modern buildings but a few pleasant reminders of past ages remain to be admired, such as the Victorian  “Fire Brigade Station”, bearing a date of 1870, though today its ground floor is home to a couple of retailers. Ladies’ shoes, boots and handbags are displayed where once the horses would have galloped out in answer to a fire alarm.

Old Post Office The Old Post Office
The Old Post Office
Uniting Victoria and Edward

In George Street stands the old Post Office, also now diverted from its original purpose into retail. The noble, if slightly pompous, bearing of this structure suggests it is Victorian but I do not know its date. We did notice something curious about it: the two doors make reference to two monarchs. The left door bears the initials ‘V’ and ‘R’ (for Victoria Regina), while the right door bears ‘E’ and ‘R’ (for Edward Rex), suggesting that building work commenced while the Queen was alive but was completed only after her death, in the reign of her son. (This remains to be verified.)

A view from Richmond Bridge
A view from Richmond Bridge
Looking downriver

One of the elements – perhaps the the most important one – making Richmond so attractive is its position beside the Thames. The river here is not the Thames of the City and the docks, the Thames of Tower Bridge and tall ships, a Thames that is almost the sea. Here it is an inland waterway, a river of pleasure boats, green banks and herons fishing from the shallows. For all that, it is a muscular river, dreaming of the mighty thing it becomes a few twists and bends downstream.

Ducks preen and herons fish
Ducks preen and herons fish
The Thames of Richmond

Here the water is shallow near the edge and provides good dabbling for ducks, moorhens and coots. In the picture you can see a heron who has just arrived. Herons are surprisingly abundant along the upper Thames, perhaps because the terrain is suitable for their fishing techniques and because they have lost their fear of people who are generally welcoming of these strange creatures.

Corporation Island
Corporation Island
Trees and herons but no people

Islands are always fascinating and whenever I see one I find myself wondering what it would be like to live on it. This island, a little beyond Richmond Bridge, is called Corporation Island. It is small and thick with trees. No people live on it, which is no doubt a blessing for the local waterfowl as it offers them a sanctuary. The trees provide a suitable environment for herons to build nests. Perhaps the heron in the previous photo is one that has a des res on Corporation Island.

The standpipe tower
The standpipe tower
London Museum of Water and Steam

We took a bus to Kew Bridge at Brentford where this rather fine tower is a noticeable landmark. It is variously known as the Standpipe Tower and the Pump-House Tower. It was built in 1867 as part of the Metropolitan Water Board’s pump-house building. As water was distributed over a large area surrounding the pumping station, water was raised up the tower to produce the necessary pressure in the system.

Machines with spinning wheels...
Machines with spinning wheels…

When the facility was no longer needed as part of London’s water supply, it was reopened as a museum first with the name of Kew Bridge Steam Museum and latterly as the London Museum of Water and Steam. The building, with the several generations of machines in place – many of them in running order – has been adapted to tell the story of London’s need for water and the supply of this precious commodity.

Water wheel - from inside Water wheel - from outside
Water wheel
From inside and outside

I won’t pretend that I understand what all these machines actually did when they were on active service or that I was sufficiently interested to find out. I was content to walk among the huge machines with their spinning fly-wheels and pumping noises, taking photos, though this was not always easy in the low-light conditions.

Inside the pump-house tower
Inside the pump-house tower

We could enter the pump-house tower but only in the ground-level section. Even so, it was lofty with an iron staircase hinting at mysterious upper regions.

Hello...? Hello...?
Hello…? Hello…?
Once all telephones were like this

To me, more interesting than the big machines, impressive and historically important as they are, were the smaller items that recalled a past that has gone for ever, such as this old telephone with a separate microphone and earpiece. On the dial are instructions for use: “LIFT HAND-MICRO & LISTEN FOR DIAL TONE” and “PULL DIAL ROUND TO STOP & LET GO”. This telephone’s own number is written by hand on the dial, as was always the case, and is 254. Compare that with today’s eleven-digit numbers!

Clock Clock
Clock
Strangely ornate and top quality

Nor could I, with my horological interests, fail to notice this clock, almost hidden away on a shelf behind a huge piece of machinery spinning its great fly-wheel. It struck me that the clock was strangely ornate for the surroundings, unlike a larger, more functional-looking timepiece nearby. Closer scrutiny revealed that the dial bears the name of the maker and the date when the clock was made – 1874. The presence of this information shows that this is no ordinary clock and I hope the museum keeps it safe.

The maker was Charles Frodsham (1810-71) of 84 Strand, whose company, which started in 1843 by taking over a previous company at that address, received the Royal Warrant as suppliers of clocks to Queen Victoria. Charles Frodsham was twice Master of the Clockmakers’ Company and the firm he created still exists, though at a different address. This clock is therefore something of an heirloom of theirs and of historical interest. It is the one item here that I would have taken home with me, had it been on offer!

General view
General view
Kew Bridge Pumping Station

There are several buildings, each containing machinery of interest, though we spent most time in the main hall, pictured above. One can see why industrial establishments such as this are often compared with cathedrals. There is the huge size, the soaring perspectives and the sense of serious purpose. Thankfully, though, there was no awed hush and people roamed freely, exploring whatever took their interest.

Thomas Wicksteed
Thomas Wicksteed
The museum’s steam locomotive

In the pumping-station grounds we also found things to explore. Attracting many visitors, especially the younger ones, is a short railway. This was offering rides in carriages drawn by a steam locomotive called Thomas Wicksteed. Now, establishments such as pumping stations often did have their own railways but this one is, I think, rather an “add-on”, responding more to people’s love of fairground rides than to any historical relevance. The locomotive is in fact modern, built in 2009. (To be fair, the museum does state this.)

"Sculpture"
“Sculpture”
Unidentified piece of iron work

On an upper level is a garden. This is being actively maintained, I suspect, by volunteers. If so, they are doing a good job. I photographed this piece of ironwork posed on blocks like a work of sculpture. If there was an information plate, I didn’t spot it.

Garden pond Tadpoles
Garden pond
With tadpoles

In the garden was a small pond. Looking closely, I was surprised to see tadpoles! That took me right back to my childhood when we used to collect tadpoles every spring and try to have them turn into frogs – usually unsuccessfully. I don’t know how many of these will survive but there were enough to cause a local population explosion of frogs!

"Crazy Maisie"
“Crazy Maisie”
Bird scarer

We also here met Crazy Maisie, or, at least, that’s what I called her, because she made me think of the heroine of some lurid Victorian novel, driven insane by a disastrous love affair. I don’t doubt that her job is to deter birds from attacking the seed beds but how successful she is in that enterprise, I have no idea. I for one found her scary but, then, I’m not a bird…

Pianola, players pianos, etc
Pianola, players pianos, etc
The Musical Museum

Leaving the pumping station, aka the London Museum of Water and Steam, we walked along the road to our next destination. This was the Musical Museum. We had already visited this fascinating and, I would say unique, establishment (see The Musical Museum). Large as the building is, it is positively crammed with exhibits. Most of these are described with information boards but it is useful to go on one of the guided tours. The guides are volunteers and amateurs but none the worse for that. They know their stuff and evince a genuine interest in, and love for, the items they describe. From them, visitor’s learn details that may otherwise escape them.

Piano Violinola
Piano Violinola
A trio in a box

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, machines were produced that made music by playing actual musical instruments. Usually programmed by rolls of punched paper, the machines were at first operated manually, by turning a handle or pedals, or mechanically, by water pressure or falling weights. The coming of electricity revolutionized this branch of engineering as it did every other. Shown above is a Piano Violonola manufactured by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago in 1915. This is an arcade machine, operated by inserting a penny in the slot. (The mug on top of the case contains spare pennies for use by the demonstrator!) It features three musical instruments, a cut-down piano and two violins. The sophisticated mechanism even applies rosin to the violin strings before starting to play.

The Orchestrion
The Orchestrion
Imhof & Mukie, 1899

The above machine, called an Orchestrion, was designed for the larger and more affluent domestic interior, though this one was kept on display in the manufacturer’s London showroom. Imhof and Mukie presented a similar machine in the Great Exhibition in 1851. Driven by electricity, the Orchestrion comprises several instruments (organ, flute, trumpet, oboe, diapason, drums, cymbals, tambourine and triangle) and is programmed by perforated cardboard rolls whose holes are sensed by metal “fingers”.

Piano Orchestrion
Piano Orchestrion
Ludwig Hupfeld AG, 1920

The Piano Orchestrion shown above consists of a “player piano” (a piano that plays automatically, usually from a perforated paper roll) with a bandbox attached that emulates a small jazz band. It can be left to play on its own or a pianist can play the piano and be accompanied by the other instruments. It can also be coin operated. Although manufactured by Ludwig Hupfeld, the piano bears the name of Keith Prowse, then the retailer. This is because at the time these instruments were on the market, German products were still unpopular as a result of the Great War and a little discreet “rebadging” made them easier to sell.

The above are just a few of the items on display which include all sorts of musical boxes and other mechanical devices for producing music, some simple, others extremely complex. The advent of sound recording and ever better sound reproduction systems finally killed off the music machine business though music boxes of various sizes and formats continue to be made and sold in large numbers.

The Wurlitzer Organ
The Wurlitzer Organ
An entire orchestra played by one person

The climax of the guided tour is a demonstration of the the Musical Museum’s Wurlitzer organ. Manufactured in 1929, it was made for a private customer who never collected it because, so it is believed, he lost his money in the Wall Street Crash. Wurlitzers came into their own in the era of the silent film when the organist improvised music to fit the actions on the screen. What is visible here is just the console which can be made to rise into view, as here, for organ recitals, or to sink below floor level during films so as not to obstruct the audience’s view of the screen.

The console
The console
The organ’s “control centre”

The console, though flashily impressive, is merely the control centre. The “works” are hidden around the stage and take up far more space, especially the huge pipes required for the lowest notes. In addition to the traditional organ sound, the instrument can imitate all other instruments in the orchestra and also possesses a battery of sound effects. Accompanying this particular organ is the last surviving control box that allows the organ to be “played” automatically in the manner of the player pianos and orchestrions already described. An organist would play a piece and all of his actions would be recorded, to be reproduced later electromechanically in an exact imitation of his performance.

The Pump-House Tower
The Pump-House Tower
Seen from near the Musical Museum

After partaking of refreshments in the museum cafe, we made for home. Walking along Kew Bridge Road gave us a good view of the Pump House Tower, its remarkable Italianate design delineated in bright evening sunlight. For the return journey, we decided to take a train back to town.

A view from the footbridge
A view from the footbridge
Kew Bridge Station

Here comes the train!

One of the good things about London is the possibility of travelling to the same destination by a variety of means, by bus, tube, railway and tram. In this case, the railway would carry us back to town much faster than the combination of buses that was the alternative. I stopped to take a photo from the station footbridge but as I was doing so, realized I had to hurry as our train was approaching! We caught the train and made our way back, firstly to Waterloo then to the Angel.

We had successfully visited two museums and enjoyed what I hope turns out to be the onset of spring. We have waited long enough for the sun!

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Speaking on the right side of the road

Thursday, March 26th 2014

Time was when I went back and forth between France and the UK at least once and often several times a year. I used to have a car then and so I would drive there and back and, of course, drive around in France while there. I think I have probably driven as many – or more – miles in France as everywhere else put together. I even learned to drive in France.

The UK is one of the few remaining countries in the world where we drive on the left. Anyone commuting between Europe and the UK has to cope with driving on the right or the left according to where they are at the time. There is always the possibility of making a mistake and driving on the wrong side. As far as I recall, I made this mistake only once. During a trip to France, I had driven the car off the road for some reason I now forget, and afterwards set off once more, chatting merrily with my passengers until their cries of alarm alerted me to the fact that I was driving on the left! I quickly swerved back onto the right side of the road (“right” in both senses of the word) and we suffered no consequences from my mistake. The incident shook me, however, and I never made the same mistake again.

In any case, to the experienced driver, the road in France looks completely different from the road in the UK. The difference is enough, I believe, to trigger the necessary reflex that causes said experienced driver to choose the correct side of the road without having to make a conscious decision to do so. The main danger is from people making their first trip outside the UK.

Similarly with language. When I was going to France frequently, I never thought about language. I spoke English in the UK and French in France and that was that. I didn’t have to think about it. I just did it. Funnily enough, the only times I have got it wrong have been in the UK when I have occasionally broken into French without realising I am doing so. It can be embarrassing, like that day in Sainsbury’s when I couldn’t understand why the assistant, instead of answering my questions,  just stared at me…

In those days, I could speak to my family in French or English (and sometimes both!). As with driving, there was no conscious decision needed to speak the language of whichever country we were in. We just spoke whichever was needed. In France, they called my son “le petit Anglais” but you wouldn’t have understood why when you heard him playing and arguing with his cousins…

The years pass and time’s travelator carries us ever onward. The world changes and our lives change too, sometimes completely. These days, my life is led almost exclusively in English, though I always have a book in French on the go. Tigger and I have made a number of trips to France and francophone Belgium but I don’t go as often as I used to. While in Lille recently, when about to cross the road, I found myself standing on the kerb consciously working out which way the traffic was coming, something I never used to do before.

So what about the language? Well, it’s a strange thing. I have developed a sort of linguistic neurosis. The longer it is between trips to France or Wallonia, the more convinced I become that I am losing my French. I begin to think I can no longer understand people speaking it and that, in my turn, I will speak a sort of cartoon franco-gobbledygook. A visit to France is therefore both exciting and worrying. Will I cope? Can I still hack it linguistically? Then having arrived, I spend the first couple of days in a state of euphoria. I am chatting; I am understanding; I am being understood. I am even joking and making people laugh. Fear has vanished and neurosis is dead. At least, until next time…

The French have a reputation for being curt and unhelpful to strangers. Personally, I have never found this, and instead have received much help and great kindness in France. One reason why this reputation has clung to the French might be language. It seems that the British and the French are among the world’s lowest achievers when it comes to learning and using foreign languages (see, for example, this article). While the British temperament is suited to muddling along trying to understand someone with poor linguistic competence, doing so seems to irritate and embarrass the French whose chauvinistic outlook is always lying in wait just under an amiable exterior. They would rather walk away with a gesture of dismissal than endure the embarrassment. On the other hand, the situation is not helped by those British and American visitors who think that the French ought to understand English, especially when it is spoken slowly, loudly and repetitively. These folk may be in a minority but they cause a disproportionate amount of resentment and scorn.

Let’s face it, when I am in France, my fedora and other accoutrements clearly mark me out as a foreigner, probably one of those awful shouty Anglais. However, when I speak to people in French, it amuses me to see how they immediately relax, smile and become helpful. It is as though the bogeyman has turned out to be their favourite uncle in a party mask. The Lillois, in particular, are the most helpful I have encountered so far. Ask them for directions or information and you virtually have to tear yourself away because they seem reluctant to let go of you before they have told you everything they know. I sometimes think that much of the history of fraught relations between Britain and France has been caused by mutual linguistic incompetence and that we would be happier partners politically, commercially and socially, if we had known one another’s languages better.

Over lunch in a cafe in St Omer, I had a long chat with an elderly inhabitant of the town. He told me about the delights of St Omer, laced with anecdotes about his personal medical history. A question that intrigued him to the point of a pressing need for an answer was how was it that I spoke French so well? If that seems a reasonable enough question to you, think about it a bit more. Why would it be odd that inhabitants of two neighbouring countries should be able to communicate in one another’s languages? In some other parts of the world, this would be quite unremarkable.1 Our respective governments have been ducking this question for far too long and still show no signs of taking it seriously.

Anyway, the gentle palliative applied by our latest trip to France has allayed my neurosis for now, thanks in no small part to the kindly and talkative Lillois and Audomarois (inhabitants of St Omer). All being well, we shall plan another restorative expedition to francophone regions, whether to the Hexagon itself or to Wallonia, before the beast has a chance to settle its claws in me once more.

________

1We xenoglossophobic Brits may not realize it but Europe is a seething mass of languages. We myopically see only the politically important ones such as French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and the Scandinavian family. Besides these, however, there is an interweaving of minority languages whose only fault is that they were not the dialect chosen to be made the official state language by the ruling elite. In the Pas-de-Calais region alone we can count on Flemish and Ch’ti or Picard, existing alongside French. Interestingly, across the border in Belgium, these minority languages are recognized and given official status, while in France, they are ignored by the state and all efforts by their partisans to have them recognized have been unsuccessful. Compare this with the treatment of Cornish, Manx, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh in the history of the UK and you cannot fail to see the parallel. Xenophobia and linguistic incompetence go hand in hand and reinforce one another.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in SilverTiger | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Back in London

Wednesday, March 26th 2014

The title is a pun, though admittedly a weak one. We returned home from France yesterday and today’s first task, as usual, was to fetch Freya back from Chingford. Throughout our stay in France, my back was playing up, making life difficult. It is still hurting and I was worried that I might not be able to carry a heavy cat in a basket. I took the carrying strap off my travel bag and rolled it up in my handbag. I thought that if the cage proved too heavy to hold in my hands, I could attach the strap and loop it over my shoulder. Perhaps that would distribute the weight.

In the event, I needn’t have worried: I found I was able to carry the cage after all. Before setting out, I had taken some painkillers and these took the edge off the pain. Even so, once we were on foot at Liverpool Street, making our way to the bus stop in the City Road, progress was slow as I had to walk circumspectly to avoid jolting my back. Once on the bus, I could relax.

Both on the train and during the bus ride, Freya was calm. She miaowed at me occasionally and that was all. I think she now knows the drill and understands that when I fetch her from the cattery we are on our way home. She becomes more and more excited as we approach the house. I suppose the sounds and smells of the street are familiar  to her.

The cattery people told me that Freya had had her breakfast and had in fact emptied her plate. I knew that wouldn’t make any difference and that she would expect to be fed as soon as we reached home. I was right!

The sun was shining into the bedroom, so I opened the curtains and said to Freya “Sunshine!” I have been trying to teach her this word and think she now understands it. If I say “Sunshine!” she trots off into the bedroom and stretches out luxuriantly in a patch of sunlight.

Later I lay on the bed for a while with her. She snuggled up to me making loud purring noises. I think we can take it that she’s pleased to be home!

Tigger had to go back to work today, unfortunately. This evening I will go down to the Borough and meet her at her workplace, as I usually do. With every minute it is becoming harder to remember that we were having breakfast in France only yesterday…

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Lille 2014 – Day 2

Sunday, March 23rd 2014

Today is our first full day in France and we are looking forward to making the most of it. Unfortunately, I have a cold in the head and didn’t sleep very well but it is a promisingly sunny day so let’s be optimistic!

Coffee bar
Coffee bar
Starting the day with breakfast

Near the hotel are a number of bars, cafes and restaurants. Among these is a cafe called Coffeeshop Company and we came here for breakfast. This coffee bar is very similar to those you find in the UK – Costa, for example – with an extensive menu of coffees and teas and a selection of food to be eaten cold or heated up. They also offer “Viennoiseries”, something that is very popular in Lille. Another popular fast food item here is “le welch” (plural “welchs” or “welches”, depending on the establishment!). We didn’t sample any welch(e)s, but I gather they are a sort of toasted cheese sandwich, an imitation of Welsh Rarebit and an alternative to the native Croque-Monsieur.

Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall
And War Memorial

Our next call was to the tourist information office which had been closed when we visited it yesterday evening. This time we were too early as they do not open until 10am. We settled down to wait and took a few photos to help fill in the time!

Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall
Now the home of the tourist information office

While we were doing this, a coach arrived and disgorged its cargo of tourists right in front of the Tourist information office door. We thought we had better quickly assert our position as first arrivals lest we find ourselves at the back of a long queue. In the event we needn’t have worried because the tourists suddenly all moved off on a walking tour just before the door opened!

Lille's City Pass
Lille’s City Pass
Good value

We asked about travel deals and ended up with something called “Lille’s City Pass” (see details in French or English). This comes in a plastic folder and contains information about museums, art galleries and all the places a visitor might want to see. The booklet contains tickets for 32 such “attractions” but its best features are the included tickets for trains and city public transport. For the duration of the Pass (we bought the 3-day version at €45 each), you have unlimited rail travel throughout the whole of the Pas-de-Calais and 24 hours unlimited travel on public transport within the city of Lille. Yesterday we enquired about train tickets to Dunkerque and found that the cost of a return trip would have exceeded the cost of the City Pass. It is worth having just for the rail travel alone.

Platform Zero
Platform Zero
Lille Flandres Station

Tigger fancied a trip to Dunkerque and we set off happily to the station, excitedly clutching  our City Passes. It turned out that on Sundays, getting from Lille to Dunkerque is a little complicated as there are no direct trains. (I don’t know whether this is usual or just a temporary glitch owing to rail works.) We would have to change trains at Hazebrouck.

Boulogne Station
Boulogne Station
We settled for a day here instead

In the event, we didn’t make it to Dunkerque. We caught the first train from Platform 0 (the only other station I know with a Platform 0 is King’s Cross) and were soon on our way. However, once we had changed at Hazebrouck, we realized that the train we thought was going to Dunkerque was not going there and we would have to change again. We decided to give up on it at that point and allow ourselves to be transported to Boulogne instead. Should we berate ourselves for lack of determination or praise ourselves for adaptability? The latter, of course… :)

Arriving in Boulogne, we set out on a ramble without any fixed purpose. What follows is not an attempt to describe the town but just an account of a few things that caught my attention as we walked around. Though classed as a small town, Boulogne is large enough to need more than the few hours we had at our disposal to see and account for it all.

Henri Planchon Marilyn Monroe
Henri Planchon and Marilyn Monroe
Advertising Boulogne’s role in founding the cinema

We quickly noticed that Boulogne is not backward at coming forward. In other words, it does not hesitate to claim for itself important roles in world history. How justified this is in each case must be judged by the individual observer, but two examples will appear in this account. The first came to light with our discovery of these sculptures on a corner of Rue Nationale and Rue des Pipots in front of an apartment block called L’Espace Lumière. They were sculpted by Silvie Koechlin and one is obviously Marilyn Monroe in the famous blown-up-skirt scene from the Seven Year Itch, but who is the man? If you are not a Boulonnais, you might be forgiven for not recognizing Victor Planchon. Who? Well you might ask, because it is difficult to find out much about this man and even his dates have proved elusive. My Petit Larousse Illustré doesn’t even mention him, an eloquent testimony to his obscurity.

To the good citizens of Boulogne, however, he is no less than the crucial agent in the foundation of the cinema! According to the information panel near the figures, Planchon set up a factory in the now vanished Quartier Capécure and there invented and patented the first flexible film stock and went on to create the film used by the Lumière Brothers. Planchon, it says, has been unjustly marginalized and overshadowed by the Lumières, as indeed has Boulogne-sur-Mer, which describes itself as “Ville pionnière du Cinéma” (the pioneer town of the cinema). Now, I must admit to having little interest in, and less knowledge of, the cinema and its history, and therefore to being unable to judge these claims for myself. Boulogne, though, has no doubts as to Planchon’s and Boulogne’s importance in that history and to commemorate this, the sculptures were installed with due ceremony just before Christmas 2012.

Église Saint-Nicolas de Boulogne-sur-Mer
Église Saint-Nicolas de Boulogne-sur-Mer
Founded 13th century but much altered

This church in Place Dalton was an impressive sight in the sunshine. It is the Church of St Nicolas and its adherents, as usual, claim great age for it. It is said to have been established in the early 1200s in this quarter that was once that inhabited by seafarers and fishermen and their families. There is little doubt that it has been altered and enlarged since those early times with major works recorded in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Théâtre Monsigny
Théâtre Monsigny
Symbol of the town’s growing prosperity

Another important  establishment in Boulogne is its theatre, the Théâtre Monsigny, which started up in 1860. The town, quite small until then, began to grow rapidly in the 19th century and with increased population came increased prosperity, and the acquisition on cultural facilities such as a theatre and art galleries.

Résidence Cour Napoléon
Résidence Cour Napoléon
A more elaborate style of architecture (1853)

It also brought about a more elaborate and decorative style of architecture in contrast to the plainness hitherto typical of Boulogne’s buildings. The one in the picture is known as the Résidence Cour Napoléon, built 1853, and is seen as a prime exemplar of that new style of decor.

Attirer-Repousser
Attirer-Repousser
A sculpture by Patrick Bécuwe

It’s good to see that Boulogne is comfortable enough with art to have sculptures sited in the streets and squares. This one is by Patrick Bécuwe and is entitled Attirer-Repousser (“Attract-Repel”) and represents a couple who may be either confronting one another or embracing, an ambiguity that the observer may seek to resolve or to leave unresolved.

Aux Frères Coquelin
Aux Frères Coquelin
Fountain memorial to actor brothers

Nor does Boulogne lack monuments of a more traditional nature such as this fountain with bronze sculptures of the Coquelin Brothers. Need I mention that the pair were born in Boulogne? Benoît Constant (1841-1909) and Ernest Alexandre Honoré (1848-1909) Coquelin, referred to as the Elder and the Younger, respectively, were famous actors, both in serious roles, such as the plays of Molière, and in more popular performances. The monument accords both the accolade of having performed at Comédie Française. Curiously, despite the difference in their ages, both men died in the same year and only a few days apart.

Fisherman and Family Fisherman and Family
Fisherman and Family
Modern relief, historic theme

This handsome relief above the entrance of a branch of the HSBC bank is modern but it reflects the history of Boulogne, a town whose life depended on the sea. The relief shows a couple, the man with a fisherman’s sou’wester and the woman wearing the traditional headdress of Boulogne. In the picture are other items denoting the fishing industry, including boats and fish. To me, there is something doubly symbolic in the picture: while it does represent Boulogne’s past and to a certain extent its present, it obviously also symbolizes the way in which its maritime history is gradually turning into memories of the past and picturesque attractions for tourists.

Traditional Boulonnais
Traditional Boulonnais
Greeting tourists at the harbour

Another example of that is found near the harbour where these two figures stand. They are meant to represent a man and woman of Boulogne in traditional garb but I am not sure that they strike quite the right note.

The Harbour
The Harbour
Built along the River Liane

Boulogne was familiar to generations making their cross-channel holiday trips, or even day-trips, to France. The big car ferries used to lumber into port here, followed later by the hovercraft. The Channel Tunnel deflated the fortunes of Boulogne as it did those of Folkstone. The ferries no longer call here and the roar of the hovercraft has also fallen silent. The river passing through Boulogne is the Liane, and where it runs into the sea could be conveniently turned into a harbour. I don’t know what trade passes through here now but it seems but a shadow of what it once was.

Brasserie Hamiot
Brasserie Hamiot
A pause for lunch

We spent some time looking for food – the usual problem faced by vegetarians in France. After reading a series of menus containing nothing but meat and fish, we reached Brasserie Hamiot where we managed to find something suitable. It only afterwards occurred to me that this restaurant was one that I knew from previous visits but the whole area had so changed from the days of the ferries that I had difficulty recognizing it.

Frédéric Sauvage
Frédéric Sauvage
What did he invent…?

Near the brasserie, we found this monument and stopped to take photos. This is where we met a second example of Boulogne’s trompe l’œil approach to history. According to the plate on the monument, Frédéric Sauvage (1785-1857) from Boulogne is “universellement connu pour avoir appliqué le principe de l’hélice à la navigation maritime” (“universally known for applying the principle of the propellor to maritime navigation, i.e. to ship propulsion”) and another monument nearby seeks to support this contention.

Not this...
Not this…
…the marine screw propeller

The second monument displays what is clearly a modern four-bladed ship’s propeller and, underneath it, a plate telling us that in January 1832, Frédéric Sauvage of Boulogne “expérimente sur la Liane les premiers essais d’application de l’hélice à la navigation, révolutionnant le Transport Maritime” (“carried out on the River Liane the first attempts to apply the propeller to ships, revolutionizing Maritime Transport”).

This puzzled me because, as far as I knew, the inventors Francis Smith and John Ericsson are credited with independently patenting the screw propeller within weeks of one another in 1835. It’s true, of course, that the screw propeller was an idea whose time had come and that around that time several people were working on their own versions. For example, consider the strange tale of Robert Wilson of Dunbar. Few of these people managed to make their mark, however, whereas Ericsson went off to America and proved his design by building propeller-driven ships for the US Navy.

So could we have we overlooked the true original inventor of the screw propeller, Frédéric Sauvage? In a word, no. Contrary to the implications of the two monuments, Sauvage did not invent the screw propeller. What he invented was the spiral screw, a piece of machinery similar to the Archimedes screw used for raising water. There is a picture of it in this article. Sauvage patented this design and licensed it to engineer Augustin Normand and, despite the latter going on to adopt a more efficient design, refused to accept that it was more efficient than his own design. The truth, then, is that Sauvage’s invention, far from “revolutionizing Maritime Transport”, was a dead end that history has wisely left behind. The authorities of Boulogne need to revise their exaggerated claims for Frédéric Sauvage.

Pretty house Pretty house
Pretty house
One of many in Boulogne

Even though it was not very late, we started to think about returning to Lille. The reason for this was that the journey to get here had been extremely long as the train had stopped at every small station and halt. The thought of enduring another such on our return was somewhat off-putting. However, we had been told that with our City Pass, we could pay a small supplement and travel on the high-speed TGV (“Train à Grande Vitesse”). We paid the difference and boarded the sleek speedster.

It was now getting dark and the train was packed. Normally, there is an indicator on trains in France, as in the UK, telling you what is the next station. On our TGV this was not working and I was concerned that we might miss our stop and end up in Paris. I needn’t have worried. With a whoosh, the TGV carried us straight to Lille, its first stop before hurrying on to Paris.

Boulogne-sur-Mer
Boulogne-sur-Mer
As she appears on the Post Office wall

Despite the slowness of the morning train, our City Passes had proved their worth and we had spent an enjoyable day out. It was interesting to renew my acquaintance with Boulogne-sur-Mer, a town I have often passed through but never paused at. If the once bustling port is now quiet, Boulogne nonetheless has the qualities of a pleasant seaside town where you can agreeably spend time on a sunny day like today.

Waiting for the TGV
Waiting for the TGV
Our last view of Boulogne

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lille 2014 – Day 1

Saturday, March 22nd 2014

For this trip to France, we decided to go to Lille in French Flanders. Why? I am not too sure. We had not been there before – a good starting point – and I think we may have had vague ideas of popping over the border into Belgium, though in view of the distance involved and the time at our disposal, this turned out to be impractical.
Lille is in the département called the Pas-de-Calais (“Pas” referring to the strait or passage between France and the south of England), in a region known as French Flanders. Historically, this region once belonged to Flanders until absorbed into an expanding France. A local Romance (Latin-based) language called Ch’ti or Picard survives, but receives no recognition from the French authorities. A dialect of Dutch, called West Flemish, also still occurs in pockets in the region. The only language that is officially recognized is, of course, metropolitan French, which is spoken by everyone.
Lille and its region has its own character, different from the character of, say, Paris. In some ways, the atmosphere reminded me of Belgium. The people, we found, were very friendly and helpful, ready to give you directions to places or explain things to you, often in more detail than you felt you needed!
Did we enjoy our stay? Yes, definitely. Would we go to Lille again? Probably not. That is not because there is anything wrong with the place (much less with the people) but because, frankly, there’s not a lot there. It didn’t help that museums and art galleries are closed on Sundays and Mondays – our two full days in France! – but even allowing for this, we felt we had soon exhausted what Lille had to offer and were casting our gaze beyond it.

 

We left home just after 7 am and found it to be a sunny but cold day. We had breakfast in a branch of Pret A Manger near King’s Cross station and then went across to St Pancras station from which our Eurostar train would depart. We had reserved our train tickets and our hotel room online and had received in return, as is usual these days, just a booking number. We redeemed our tickets from one of the machines by entering the booking number and the credit card that had been used to pay for them.

The next little formality was to go through the baggage check. All outer clothing, bags, accessories and any metal items, have to be put into trays to be processed through the X-ray machine. You then walk through the detector gate and reclaim your belongings. After this comes passport control. Two French border police officers sat in glass booths with bored expressions and checked our passports. No British controllers were visible. (It seems the British have no worries about who is leaving the country. Who comes into the country, though, is another matter, as we shall see.)

All we had to do then was to sit and wait for the platform of our train to be indicated. Ours would be the 08:58 Brussels train, stopping at Ebbsfleet, Calais-Fréthun and Lille. The boarding time allowed is about 20 minutes but fortunately all tickets have reserved seats so, despite the rush and crush, things sort themselves out in the end.

The train left on time (in fact, a few seconds early) and sped through the countryside to its first halt at Ebbsfleet. Along the way, the train passes through a number of tunnels and you find yourself, at each one, wondering “Is this the Channel Tunnel?” Eventually, it is the Channel Tunnel, a fact that you recognize by the length of time it takes to travel through it – about 20 minutes. The train emerges and stops at Calais-Fréthun.

After Calais, the first stop is Lille, our destination. The Eurostar calls at a station called Lille Europe which we reached just after 11 am local time (an hour ahead of UK time), so our journey had taken somewhat less than an hour and a half – quite amazing, and much more comfortable and relaxed than going by air, something I greatly dislike.

Arriving at Lille Europe
Arriving at Lille Europe
Which way to the exit?

When we got off the train at Lille, the first thing I noticed was the exit signs or, rather, the lack of them. It was not at all obvious where we should go to leave the station! In the end we tagged along behind everyone else and eventually spotted some very small signs saying “Sortie”. To leave the platform, you need to go up the stairs.

Main concourse
Main concourse
Lille Europe Station

We found ourselves in the main concourse of a very large station. There were multiple exits but no helpful signage to orient us. We knew that our hotel was very near the station so we went out of the building and started to walk around it, expecting to find the rue de la Gare where the hotel should be. We thrashed about for quite some time, unable to find our goal. There were hotels there but none was the Hôtel Balladins where we had reserved a room.

I found a man standing outside taking an cigarette break and sought his aid. He was helpful enough but didn’t know the hotel and wasn’t really sure of the location of rue de la Gare, which, by its name should surely be close by.

As we were fast getting nowhere, we decided to go back into the station and try a different exit. While in the station, I saw a group of men in some sort of uniform and, thinking they would have local knowledge, approached one to enquire. He was our first helpful Lillois. He did not hesitate to lead me to a vantage point where he could point out the way to go. It was here that we realized our mistake: the hotel was indeed near the station but, unfortunately, not this station! Lille boasts two stations – Lille Europe and Lille Flandres – and it was near the latter that we would find our hotel.

I apologized to the man in green uniform for taking him away from the conversation with his colleagues but he dismissed this with a gesture. Helping me was apparently much more important than chatting with his mates!

We found the rue de la Gare but our troubles were not quite over as we could not see the Hôtel Balladins among the hotels, bars and resturants jostling for attention. Then I spotted its sign, high up on the façade of the buildings. The entrance was narrow and not easily noticeable between a couple of restaurants.

The reception clerk was polite, friendly and helpful (well, he was a Lillois, after all!) but informed us that we could not actually check in until 2pm. We could of course leave our bags in safe keeping. This we did and set out to explore.

The Opera and clock tower of the Town Hall
The Opera and clock tower of the Chambre de Commerce

We set out without any fixed plan and just wandered where fancy took us. The sun was shining brightly and by now the ambient temperature had risen to a comfortable level. It was pleasant just to stroll, look, compare impressions and take photos. In a French city like Lille, the buildings and the arrangement of buildings and streets are quite different from those in a British city. If you fell asleep in London and woke up here, you know immediately that you were in France, even before you heard the people speaking or read the signs and notices.

In the picture, the building with the almost improbably tall clock tower is the Chambre de Commerce, dating from the 1920s. The splendid box-shaped structure in the centre is the Opéra. You could perhaps be forgiven for thinking it was built in the early 19th century or even earlier. In fact, it was built between 1907 and 1913 and opened officially in 1923.

La Régalade
La Régalade
A crêpe restaurant

As we had time to spare before going back to the hotel to check in, we decided to have lunch. If you are vegetarian, finding lunch – or any other meal – is not at all easy in France. Apart from breakfast, every meal in France is virtually certain to contain animal body parts in one form or another. If not meat, then cheese… made, of course, with animal rennet.

Tired of poring over menu after menu full of nothing but beef, pork, lamb, and every type of fish known to Noah, we gave in and plumped for a crêperie. The one we chose is quite well known, I believe, and is called La Régalade. The verb se régaler means ‘to treat or spoil oneself’, and so la régalade means something like a ‘treat’ or ‘feast’. There was actually a vegetarian crêpe listed on the menu, so we ordered it. Was it a régalade? Not exactly, but we did take note of the establishment in case we needed it again later.

Back at the hotel, we found a different (but equally, polite, friendly and helpful Lillois) clerk on duty, checked in, recovered our bags and took the lift to the third floor where we would find our room, number 311. The room is small and the bed rather short, but adequately comfortable withal. We had a rest and made tea. French hotels are not in the habit of providing kettles and the makings of tea and coffee as their counterparts in the UK and some other European countries, but, knowing this, we had brought our own.

La Cloch D'Or La Cloche D'Or
La Cloche D’Or
Léon Boutry

After this pleasant interval, we set out once more to continue our explorations of Lille, also looking out for a suitable place for our evening meal. I have to say there was no method to our wandering; we just went hither and thither. The photos are therefore a collection of scenes picked here and there as we went, without any intention of providing an itinerary or structured account of the city. I was much taken by the Art Nouveau shop front shown above though I have not been able to find out anything about its date or history. It is a very fine example of the genre.

Grand'Place
Grand’Place
Also known as Place du Général de Gaulle

We visited the large square that everyone seems to know by its old name of Grand’Place even though it has been renamed Place du Général de Gaulle. A notable feature of the square is a tall monument on top of which stands a female figure brandishing a botefeux. (If this word is unknown to you, as it was to me, then see further below.)

Colonne de la Déesse
Colonne de la Déesse
Monument to the Siege of 1792

The monument commemorates the Siege of 1792, when Lille bravely and gallantly resisted its attempted capture by an army of 20,000 Austrians during the French Revolutionary Wars. The memorial was completed in 1845 and was the work of two men, the architect of the column, Charles Benvignat, and the sculptor of the statue, Théophile Bra. Soon after its inauguration, the monument became known as La Colonne de la Déesse (The Column of the Goddess), a name that it holds to this day. The reason seems to stem from the Romantic imagination of the sculptor and from a possibly misunderstood poem by one Émile Durieux.

Théophile Bra had originally intended the statue for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but decided instead to donate it to the city for the monument. According to his own description, the sculpture was supposed to be an allegorical representation of the city of Lille in the form of a female figure embodying the virtues of Flemish womanhood. Symbolic of the heroic resistance of Lille against the besieging Austrians, she holds in her right hand the botefeux (in French, the boutefeu), a rod with a burning tip that was placed in the touch-hole to fire a cannon. In honour of the monument, Émile Durieux wrote a poem in which occurred the following lines:

Quelle est cette fière déesse
Au sommet de ce monument ?
C’est la ville de Lille, en un jour de détresse…

(Who is the proud goddess
Atop this monument?
It is the city of Lille, on a distressful day…)

Thereafter, the female figure became the Goddess atop her column. Whether it is also understood that the “goddess” is a symbol of the city of Lille is a matter for each individual, I suppose.

La Vieille Bourse
La Vieille Bourse
The 17th century Stock Exchange

This rather splendid building in the Grand’Place is the Vieille Bourse or Old Stock Exchange. Testifying to Lille’s vigorous economic history, it was built between 1652 and 1653, though refurbished in the 19th century and again in 1989. It was classed as a Monument Historique, a status similar to our English Heritage listing, in 1921, the year in which its career came to an end, its functions being taken over by the new Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie (Chamber of Commerce and Industry). Over the centuries, it has suffered some alterations but I am sure the original founders would still recognize it.

Market stalls
Market stalls
In the Vieille Bourse

The public are admitted and there are helpful information panels, including some in English. We found a very fine courtyard where stalls had been set up and books and other items were being sold.

Courtyard Ampère Memorial
The Courtyard
With memorials to the great of France

Around the courtyard are memorials to the great of French culture and science, each with a bust of the person and a panel elucidating the subject’s achievements. The one above celebrates scientist André Marie Ampère (1775-1836), famous for his discoveries relating to electricity and magnetism.

Lille War Memorial Lille War Memorial
Lille War Memorial
Attached to the old Town Hall

Like good little tourists, we looked for the Tourist Information Office. We found it but by that time it was closed. It occupies the old Town Hall building that ceased to be used in 1916 after it was badly damaged by fire. In any case, by then it was no longer adequate for the purpose and was replaced in 1924 by a new one. (Unfortunately, I neglected to take a photo of the new Town Hall – slapped wrist!) The site proved suitable, however, for the erection of Lille’s memorial to the dead of both World Wars. It contains relief panels and a dignified inscription.

AUX LILLOIS
SOLDATS ET CIVILS
LA CITE A ELEVE CE MONUMENT AFIN
DE RAPPELER AV COVRS DES SIECLES
L’HEROISME ET LES SOVFFRANCES DE
SES ENFANTS MORTS POVR LA PAIX
1914 – 1918      1939 – 1945

(To the Inhabitants of Lille
both military and civilian
the City has raised this monument in order
to remember throughout centuries (to come)
the heroism and suffering
of her children who died for peace)

 

The Opéra
The Opéra
(Yes – again!)

We continued our ramble, photographing whatever took our fancy. I took a second photo of the Opéra with the sun full on it because it is, after all, a very fine building. Here are a couple of street scenes.

Street scene
Street scene
With the Église Saint-Maurice

The notable object here is the Église Saint-Maurice, the Church of St Maurice. The building was begun in the 14th century and work on it continued in stages until the end of the 19th though, to judge for the scaffolding that currently envelopes it, they still have some way to go before finishing it.

Street scene
Street scene
Unidentified building beside the Cloche d’Or

I don’t know what this corner building is or how old it is but it is rather pretty. Beside it is the Art Nouveau Cloche d’Or already mentioned.

Lille Flandres Station
Lille Flandres Station
Our launch pad for explorations

Lille Flandres is the city’s second railway station and a very busy one at that. The name reflects Lille’s pride in its history as part of Flanders. The station is important to us in the sense that the hotel is just across the road from it and it will be the station we use for the next couple of days to travel to our various destinations.

A L'Huitrière
A L’Huitrière
A famous fish restaurant

We were beginning to feel hungry again as the lunchtime crêpe had not been very substantial. One place we did not even think of trying was the establishment shown above. It is a famous fish restaurant, A L’Huitrière (a huitrière is an oyster bed), and the decor is very pretty. In the end we found a pizza  restaurant and ordered their vegetarian pizza. As far as food was concerned, it looks as though this will be a make-do trip.

Lille Flandres after dark
Lille Flandres after dark

Night was falling and we began weaving our way back to the hotel. On the way we visited Lille Flandres to check where the trains went, likely frequency, etc. and the price of tickets.

Inside Lille Flandres
Inside Lille Flandres

Opened in 1848, this station is quite impressive, added to which is the excitement of thinking of all the places we can travel to from here!

Illuminated fountains
Illuminated fountains
Pointing at our hotel

In front of the station is a row of fountains which look particularly pretty at night when they are illuminated. Our hotel is in the background of the photo, roughly where you see the restaurant sign “Les 3 Brasseurs” (The 3 Brewers).

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment