A king’s town named after its river

Saturday, June 28th 2014

We had not visited this northern city before and so it seemed worth the longish journey there and back. You have probably decoded my title but, if not, bear with me while I explain. In the late 12th century, the monks of Meaux Abbey (‘Meaux’ is apparently pronounced ‘muce’) needed a port from which to export the wool on which they depended for a living. What better place to build such a port than a site at the junction of two rivers, the Humber and the Hull? In these early days, the town was called Wyke, which is the Anglo-Saxon work meaning ‘settlement’ or just ‘place’.

A century or so later, King Edward I was embroiled in wars with Scotland and needed a port from which to supply his army. He appropriated Wyke (some say he bought it) in 1293 and it became known as Kyngeston (‘King’s Town’). The King went on to form the borough of Kingston upon Hull and this also became the formal name of the town, remaining so up to the present. However, the town – now a city – is universally known simply as Hull, despite this being the name of its river.

The Station
The Station
Kingston upon Hull

Hull’s first station was built in 1848 but there was a major rebuilding in the early 20th century which included construction of the rather impressive arched roof. More recently, the adjacent 1930s bus station and the railway station has been brought together and renamed the Paragon Interchange. If you are interested in the details of this, you will find more information here.

Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin
Martin Jennings (2010)

An item of more immediate appeal, perhaps, is the station’s sculpture of the poet Philip Larkin (1922-85). Though born in Coventry and a graduate of St John’s College, Oxford, Larkin spent his working life in Hull as librarian of the University’s Brynmor Jones Library, and there wrote most of the poetry for which he is famous. The oddly posed sculpture (to my eyes, he looks as though he is about to leave the ground and float away) is supposed to represent Larkin hurrying for a train. It is by Martin Jennings who also made the much loved sculpture of John Betjeman on St Pancras Station. (For example, see here.)

Orchard Cafe
Orchard Cafe
Popular with the upper age range

Because of the time taken travelling, it was already a little late so we looked for somewhere to have lunch. There wasn’t a lot of choice in the area where we found ourselves so we tried the Orchard Cafe. This turned out to be quite a popular place, especially with people at the top end of the age spectrum. Apart from that, nothing about the experience was memorable.

Paragon Arcade Paragon Arcade
Paragon Arcade

We set out to do a little exploring before heading for our prime destination (more of that later). We soon discovered the first of our Victorian shopping arcades, Paragon Arcade. It was built in 1891 to the design of a local architect, A. Gelder, and though it has suffered transformations in the 20th century, is still a good enough example of its kind to be awarded a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

We found our way to Queen Victoria Square where there are a number of interesting buildings. Unfortunately, there was some sort of “event” in progress, one of those that requires giant screens showing the stage where a group of people are yelling to overloud music. What might have been a pleasant square at other times was crowded and obstructed with all sorts of temporary installations.

City Hall City Hall
City Hall
No longer the administrative centre

We spotted the City Hall and decided to take a look inside. The statue is one of a pair beside the entrance. This one, a female figure holding a pair of masks representing drama, is appropriate as the City Hall is no longer an administrative building but hosts events of various kinds. A banner proudly proclaims that Hull has been elected UK City of Culture for the year 2017.

Atrium and staircase
Atrium and staircase
Hull City Hall

The Baroque Revival style City Hall has been given a Grade II* listing and when we entered and looked around, we could see why. We were given permission to take photos. It was designed by the City Architect Joseph Hirst and built between 1903 and 1909. The statue, in case you are wondering, shows Anthony Bannister (1817-78), JP and at various times Alderman, Mayor and Sheriff, whose effigy was financed by subscription in recognition of his years of service to the City of Hull.

Punch Hotel Punch Hotel
Punch Hotel
A fine Victorian pub

Other sights around the square include the elaborately styled Victorian (1898) pub, Punch Hotel (Grade II listed) and

Maritime Museum
Maritime Museum
Once the Dock Offices

and the Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned clutter, I was unable to get an unobstructed view of this rather fine structure. The museum was founded in 1912, as the Museum of Fisheries and Shipping and moved here in 1974. This beautiful building dates from 1872 when it was opened as the Dock Offices, the headquarters of the Hull Dock Company. We did not go inside but perhaps we will on a subsequent visit to Hull.

Princes Dock
Princes Dock
Partially obscured by intrusive building

Hull started as a port and grew to prominence through its maritime trade. It still has a trading port and runs ferry services. The Princes Dock is a branch of the old docks that reaches into the centre of the town but is no longer used. Sadly, city planners have allowed it to be partially obscured by a shopping centre on stilts, spoiling it visually and as an amenity. I often wonder how people, who supposedly have the interests of their town at heart, can show such appalling bad taste. Money talks, I suppose.

Hepworth's Arcade
Hepworth’s Arcade
Silver Street

We found our way along Silver Street (one of my favourite street names!) where we found our second Victorian shopping destination, Hepworth’s Arcade. This pretty complex was built in 1894 and was designed by A. Gelder who was responsible also for the Paragon Arcade.

Scale Lane Oldest Domestic Building
Hull’s oldest house
Scale Lane

Silver Street leads into Scale Lane. Here we are approaching the river and the oldest part of town. These narrow streets are quiet today but were probably livelier in times past. Here, at number 5, we find a small but venerable building dating from the 15th century and reputed to be Hull’s “oldest domestic building” (from the adjacent blue plaque). It has suffered alteration several times, being “modernized” in the 18th and 19th centuries and then restored to its 19th century appearance in the 1980s. However, something of merit must still remain because those arbiters of historical worthiness, English Heritage, have awarded it a Grade II listing.

Nelson Mandela Gardens
Nelson Mandela Gardens

We turned northish along the High Street and thus came to Wilberforce House and Nelson Mandela Gardens. The gardens are enclosed by walls and this gives them a pleasant domestic feel.

Mohandas K. Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Jaiprakash Shirgaoankar

I did not see any sign of Nelson Mandela but did encounter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, otherwise known as Mahatma Gandhi, or rather, a bust of him made by Mumbai sculptor Jaiprakash Shirgaoankar, unveiled in 2004.

Reflective Colours
Reflective Colours
Sue Kershaw

Also present in the garden was this fine fellow, a mosaic toad. The information panel seems to indicate that this has something to do with the project Larkin with Toads, which was part of the Larkin 25 programme, commemorating the quarter century since the death of Hull’s most famous poet.

Three-wheeled Hansom cab
Three-wheeled Hansom cab
Streetlife Musem

Adjacent to the gardens are not one but two museums. The first is the Streetlife Museum which, as the name suggests, shows exhibits and tableaux of life in Hull in times past. Some of the more interesting items on show are vehicles and mock-ups of once typical scenes and of shops. The exhibit above taught me that in addition to the traditional Victorian two-wheeled Hansom cab, there also existed a three-wheeled version. These were introduced in the 1900s with a view to increasing the cab’s carrying capacity. They were designed to carry 4 people with luggage on the roof and, unlike the traditional Hansom, the driver sat in front. They proved not to be very stable and few were made.

Ryde Pier Tramcar
Ryde Pier Tramcar
Built 1867

Then there was Britain’s oldest surviving tramcar. This was built in 1867 for the Ryde Pier Company and is made of mahogany with beautiful carving work. It continued in service until 1935 – then being the oldest tramcar in service – but was damaged beyond repair in a collision with the buffers. No longer fit for service it found new life as a museum exhibit.

Victorian Chemist's Shop
Victorian Chemist’s Shop
Preserved after 133 years of existence

The chemist’s shop run my Mr Castelow at 159 Woodhouse Lane had existed for 133 years before it came under threat of demolition. Mr Castelow realized its historic interest and left provision in his will for it to be preserved by being transferred to a museum. In 1976, Mr Castelow died and the work of measuring, photographing and recreating the shop could begin. Standing in the recreated establishment and looking at the stock on the shelves and in glass-fronted cabinets, one can imagine people coming here for headache powders – or something a little stronger – while Charles Dickens was still a lad.

Street scene
Street scene
With bus, shops and level crossing

I must admit to enjoying exhibits such as these where you can almost imagine yourself wafted back to some earlier age.

Virtually next door to the Streetlife Museum is the Hull & East Riding Museum. Admission to both of these museums is free and, as you can see, photography is allowed. This museum outlines the history of the area from ancient times.

Woolly Mammoth
Woolly Mammoth (reconstruction)
Lived during the last Ice Age

“From ancient times”, indeed: I was captivated by this lively reconstruction of a woolly mammoth, a species which roamed our then desolate land during the last Ice Age, 250,000 years ago. If there is one extinct animal that I would choose to see brought back to life, I think it would be a mammoth.

The Hasholme Boat
The Hasholme Boat
Dating from the Iron Age

The genuine article this time but more difficult to photograph behind its protective screens, the Hasholme boat was found buried in silt and thus preserved. Dating from the Iron Age, the hull was hollowed out from a massive oak tree. Removed from its burial place, the boat would soon have dried out and disintegrated and so techniques similar to those used in the preservation of the Marie Rose have been employed to prevent it deteriorating. The boat would have been used for transporting people and perhaps cargoes, probably by crew members who plied their paddles from a standing position.

Roman mosaic
Roman mosaic
In a room setting

The Romans were active in this area as in the rest of Britain, and Roman remains abound, though it is still exceptional to find something like a room-sized mosaic in near perfect condition. The Hull & East Riding Museum has several examples and this one has been displayed in a schematic room setting the better to help us imagine how it might have looked in use.

The Guildhall The Guildhall
The Guildhall
Council headquarters

We began making our way back to Queen Victoria Square as there was an establishment there that we wished to visit. On the way we passed and photographed the Guildhall. It is this, not the City Hall, that serves as the administrative centre for the Council. In Baroque Revival style, it was built between 1906 and 1914, though restoration work was necessary in 1948 to repair war damage. By Sir Edwin Cooper, it has been described as a “tour de force” (Pevsner). English Heritage agrees and gives it a Grade II* listing.

Ferens Art Gallery
Ferens Art Gallery
The gift of philanthropist T.R. Ferens

We had come to visit the art gallery shown above, whose sober classical lines suit the character and life of the philanthropist who gifted it to the city. T.R. Ferens was a remarkable man who lived through some of the most momentous years of our history and literally worked his way up from the bottom, starting at 13 as a clerk and becoming an industrialist, MP and philanthropist, in the service of his adopted city. (See more on T.R. Ferens here.)

The foundation stone was laid in 1926 and the Ferens Art Gallery opened to the public in 1927. Admission is free and photography is allowed in the permanent collection but may be restricted in visiting exhibitions.

General view
General view
Medieval and Renaissance Gallery

The gallery holds a broad range of art works and also has practical sections where people are encouraged to try out techniques and make their own art. It is not possible to do full justice to it and so I will show you just three items that caught my attention.

Portrait of a Lady of Elizabeth's Court 1595
Portrait of a Lady of Elizabeth’s Court 1595
William Segar c. 1554-1633

I was caught and held by the narrow and authoritative gaze of this Elizabethan lady painted by William Segar. The sitter remains unidentified but was obviously a person of wealth, power and privilege. Her rich clothing is deliberately designed to be ostentatious, a challenge to other would-be high-ranking courtiers, a “Match this!” in fabric and jewels. Looking into those eyes, you known she would brook no interference with her designs and would be quite ruthless in seeking her ends.

Lion at Home (Le lion Chez Lui)
Lion at Home (Le lion Chez Lui)
Rosa Bonheur

This painting of a family of lions is by Rosa Bonheur (1822-99) and was painted in 1881. Bonheur was an extraordinary person. A declared lesbian, she wore men’s cloths, smoked cigars and was the first woman to be awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur. The daughter of a painter father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, she soon outshone him in reputation as an artist. Though Bonheur worked with a range of themes and subjects, she remains best known as an “animalière”, a (female) painter and sculptor of animals. Clearly fascinated by animals, especially the larger wild species, Bonheur kept her own menagerie which included a lion. She made several paintings of lions, including a portrait of a pair belonging to the lion tamer, François Bidel (Portrait de Sultan et Saïda, 1888). This painting Lion at Home (Le Lion Chex Lui) is perhaps a touch sentimental, portraying the male and female as a caring couple relaxing en famille with their cubs, but the details are accurate and the poses charmingly natural. Bonheur no doubt spent time observing her and other people’s big cats.

Working Model for a Seated Woman
Working Model for a Seated Woman
Henry Moore (1980)

Much as I love good paintings, I must admit to a particular interest in sculpture. A sculpture such as the above, by Henry Moore, has a presence that a painting cannot quite achieve. You can (in principle, at least) walk all around it and see it from different angles, each of which will be a new experience and will express something about the work as a whole. There is a challenge to photographing a sculpture and therefore the greater satisfaction when you manage to get it right. Lighting in galleries often works against you. This piece by Moore is entitled Working Model for a Seated Woman, so it is a sort of preliminary sketch for the finished work that is to come, though it looks pretty accomplished to me.

Queen Victoria Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria
Henry Charles Fehr (1903)

Our visit to the Ferens Gallery concluded, we stepped out into Queen Victoria Square again. You would expect that in a square thus named there would be a statue of that Queen and, in this case at least, you would be right. I was only partially successful in my attempts to photograph it because of the crush of people attending the event in the square. The sculpture, with the Queen at the top and two allegorical figures at the base, is by Henry Charles Fehr, known for his many war memorials, and was made in 1903. Statues of Queen Victoria are not rare in town centres but there is something slightly odd about this one: beneath the monument are public toilets which were added in 1929. Not that I disapprove of public toilets – quite the contrary, as I have often been grateful for their presence. It just seems odd to join them to a monument to Queen Victoria, something of which that lady would no doubt disapprove.

We rounded off our visit to Hull with a walk to the station – or Paragon Interchange – where we caught a train back to London. We covered a lot of ground on this, our first trip to Kingston upon Hull, and thus spread ourselves a little thinly. We discovered that there is a lot to see in Hull and will no doubt return one day to continue our explorations.

Goodbye to Hull
Goodbye to Hull
At least, for today…

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

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Saints, hops and a pavilion

Friday, June 27th 2014

We started with breakfast at Pret A Manger in St John Street and caught a bus just outside. I am not sure where we were going but wherever it was we didn’t get there, at least not on this first attempt. This is because when we reached Ludgate Circus, Tigger evinced a strong desire to disembark. Soon we found ourselves walking up Ludgate Hill.

Ludgate, as you might expect, is so called because there was indeed a gate here once, named the Lud Gate. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his History of the Kings of Britain, said this was because a certain King Lud founded London in ancient times and built a gate here, but this amenable legend has since been debunked. A more likely explanation derives from the fact that Ludgate Hill is a continuation of Fleet Street and was separated from it by a bridge over the River Fleet. According to the scholars, ‘Ludgate’ possibly derives from ‘Flood Gate’ or ‘Fleet Gate’. The gate was probably first built by the Romans and was considered sufficiently important to be rebuilt several times. It survived into the 18th century and was demolished in 1760.

St Martin-within-Ludgate
St Martin-within-Ludgate
General view

Finding ourselves outside the church of At Martin-within-Ludgate, we decided to go inside, never having visited this historic building. There has been a church here literally from time immemorial as no one knows when the first one was built. Our friend Geoffrey of Monmouth, with a touch of bias, ascribes its foundation to his hero King Cadwallader in the 7th century but the first reliable written mention occurs in 1138. That church, however, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The organ The font
The Organ and the font

The church was rebuilt between 1677 and 1684 by – yes, you guessed correctly – Sir Christopher Wren. Major rebuilding took place in the late 19th century but much of the original 17th century furniture and woodwork remains. The organ dates from 1848 and was made on Ludgate Hill by Theodore Bates (restored 1956). The font is later than the church, dating to 1693, and around it bears a palindrome in Greek which transcribes thus: NIYON ANOMHMA MH MONAN OYIN (‘cleanse my sin not only my face’).

The pulpit Bell donated by William Warne
Pulpit and bell

The finely carved pulpit is original to the church and has recently been restored, which is no doubt reassuring to someone giving a passionate sermon from it.

Handwritten label

Attached to the bell is a fine, though undated, example of penmanship which explains the origin of the bell. This is perfectly legible, though there is also a printed version supplied. It reads: “One of the Bells of St Martin’s. The Gift of William Warne Scrivener to the Parish of Saint Martin’s, Ludgate, 1683.” It is fitting that the gift of a scrivener should be commemorated by a hand written notice.

Stained glass window
Stained glass window

You expect stained glass windows in a church, so here is an example. Unfortunately, I have no information about it, who made it and when or who the figure represented is.

Three paintings
Three paintings
Belgian artist, 1900

To the right of the altar hang a trio of paintings. They date from 1900 but, sadly, the name of the artist appears lost and all that is known is that he was Belgian. Three saints are depicted, representing (from left to right) the three united parishes of Saint Mary Magdalene Old Fish Street, St Martin-within-Ludgate and St Gregory by St Paul’s (destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt). The central painting is a copy of a painting by Van Dyke in 1618 of  St Martin dividing his cloak with a beggar (see here).

The altar
The altar
St Martin-within-Ludgate

Continuing up Ludgate Hill and then along St Paul’s Churchyard, we came to that famous icon of both London and Sir Christopher Wren, St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral
Takes my breath away

However many times I see this building, it still takes my breath away, not least because of the sheer scale of it. Fortunately, I could regain my breath by…

Café Rouge
Café Rouge
Faux-French refreshments

…crossing the road to take refreshment at the local branch of Café Rouge. I know I tend to be a little sarky about this chain, saying things like “While sipping your coffee you can have fun picking out the grammatical errors in the notices” etc, but I am quite fond of them. Dismiss from your mind any notion that this is really a cafe bar in France and you can enjoy the retro styling and atmosphere reminiscent of an earlier more elegant age.

Now for the first of today’s panoramas. The advantage of panoramas is that they allow you to portray a broad sweep that would not be possible to capture by conventional photography. The disadvantages are, firstly, that as I have to accommodate them to the width of the blog, they appear greatly reduced in size; and secondly, that the panorama function does produce some distortion, especially if you are close to the scene you are portraying. Thus, the building below appears curved but in reality it is straight. Topography did not allow me to get far enough away from my subject to avoid this distortion. (Click to see a larger version.)

The Hop Exchange
The Hop Exchange
Southwark Street

From St Paul’s we took a bus that carried us across London Bridge into Southwark. Here we would take another bus to our next destination. Standing at the bus stop in Southwark Street, we contemplated the large building opposite. Today this classical style edifice is an office block but the brass plates on the pillars at the entrance declare its origins.

Main entrance
Main entrance
The Hop Exchange

It is, as you would expect, a listed building (Grade II). English Heritage’s listing text provides the following details: “Commercial premises built as hop and malt exchange with offices and showrooms. 1866, By RH Moore. Stuccoed with cast-iron columns.”

Inside the Hop Exchange
Inside the Hop Exchange
The galleried court

We often pass by this building but are usually on our way somewhere else or in a hurry. Admittedly, we were waiting for a bus that might come at any moment but…

“How about taking a look inside?” asked Tigger. “They can only say no.”

We crossed the road and went through the main entrance, finding ourselves in an extensive galleried court with cast iron rails on the balconies. It was very quiet. At a desk sat a man in uniform.

“Would it be all right if we took a few photos?” asked Tigger.

The man in uniform sat silently in thought. We waited. Would it be yes or no, or perhaps “I’ll have to phone and ask”?

At last he spoke: “I don’t see why not.”

Closer view of railings
Closer view of railings

This was a pleasant surprise because managers of business premises – even where there is free public access as in shopping malls – often prohibit photography for reasons that are neither practical nor rational.

Columns and ceiling
Columns and ceiling

We set to quietly and making sure not to get in anybody’s way. The structure of the building somehow muted the noise of the street so that there was a feeling a tranquility. If there was activity going on behind the doors, no sound of it reached us here. I admire such buildings that were made by architects who understood that pleasant surroundings are less stressful to work in, unlike today’s office blocks that often seem deliberately designed to be ugly and lacking in human warmth.

The glass roof
The glass roof

The court, or atrium, is enclosed above by an extensive glass and iron ceiling. Such a roof was installed originally but was destroyed in a fire in 1920. The present one is a replacement. Otherwise the building is very much as it was when it first opened for business.

Hop and a malt workers
Hop and a malt workers

Above the entrance porch is a tympanum showing workers collecting hops and harvesting grain for the making of malt. It’s a small detail perhaps but it shows that the dealers and traders respected the labours of those whose toil made them their living. How many modern companies display artworks depicting the labours of the workers on whom the business ultimately rests?

I have not so far come across any evidence that Southwark was an important centre in the hop and malt trade but it might have been because round the corner at 67 Borough High Street is another business house set up for trade in hops.

W.H. & H. LeMay
W.H. & H. LeMay
Hop Factors

This neat Grade II listed building dates from the latter part of the 19th century and is proudly embossed with the lettering “W. H. & H. LEMAY HOP FACTORS”. When its original purpose was discontinued, I do not know, but its present owners have a pretty building to work in.

The Albert Memorial
The Albert Memorial

Our bus came and took us to Kensington Gardens, site of one of the most elaborate memorials made by a reigning monarch to a deceased spouse. Unveiled in 1872, it shows Albert consulting the catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851 which he inspired and helped organize. Gothic architecture was the norm for the Victorian age but today may seem exaggerated or fantastical to us but I think that if we look with unbiased eyes we can see a moment in which grief has achieved a certain grandeur.

 

Rock on top of Another Rock
Rock on top of Another Rock
Peter Fischli and David Weiss

We made our way through the Gardens to the Serpentine Gallery. We had not come to visit its indoor exhibitions, however, though I did stop to photograph this sculpture or installation which is entitled, reasonably enough, Rock on top of Another Rock and is a cooperative effort by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. I have already photographed it and so you will find other pictures in Kensington Palace and Gardens.

Serpentine Pavilion 2014
Serpentine Pavilion 2014
Smiljan Radić

What we had come to see was this year’s Serpentine Pavilion. The Serpentine Gallery has commissioned a pavilion every year since 2000, though that chosen for 2004 never appeared, as is turned out to be technically too challenging. You can find out more about this project, and the architect’s rationale for choosing this design on the Gallery’s Pavilion page. (Scroll down the rather annoyingly structured page.)

It has been likened by various writers to a doughnut, an egg, a chrysalis and a cocoon. I think that the comparison with an egg comes closest because there is an obvious look of a shell about it and it exudes a feeling of fragility, though I don’t think it’s at all fragile. In any case, I think the foregoing comparisons only work while you stand at a distance looking at the exterior. Once you look inside, you have an entirely different perception. I made two panoramas, trying to capture something of the pavilion from within. Please click to see larger versions.

Pavilion interior 1
Pavilion interior 1

Pavilion interior 2
Pavilion interior 2

The pavilion includes a small coffee bar which is bound to bring people in and there are all sorts of activities taking place in and around it.

Albert Memorial from afar

We, however, now turned for home, with a last nod towards Albert, ever meditating on his most popular creation. What would that socially and politically aware Prince Consort think of today’s world in general and of the Serpentine Pavilion in particular? I think he would be enthusiastic about the pavilions but would but have much to criticize in what we have made of the world that he left us.

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

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts

Thursday, June 26th 2014

We visited Norwich for a longer tour four years ago (see Norwich 2010) but today we are going there for a specific reason, to visit the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts.

Norwich and the University of East Anglia
Norwich and the University of East Anglia
Click for the Google Map

The Sainsbury Centre resides on the campus of the University of East Anglia which is some distance outside the town – see above map, and click for a live Google Map.

The Number 25 bus
The Number 25 bus
Linking Norwich Station with the University campus

Happily, for those arriving in Norwich by train, as we did, there is a convenient way to travel on to the University campus: the 25 and 25A bus routes link the station and the campus.

The Sainsbury Centre
The Sainsbury Centre
Sir Norman Foster (1978)

Once on the campus, the art gallery is not hard to find. It somewhat resembles an aircraft hangar or some other large utilitarian building. It was designed (if that’s the right word) by Sir Norman Foster and was completed in 1978. It was given Grade II* state in 2012, which I find quite incomprehensible.

The Sainsbury Centre
The Sainsbury Centre
General view of the ground floor

We entered and approached the reception/information desk. The staff were friendly and helpful enough until we asked if we might take photos. This question seemed to cause confusion. Telephone calls were made and at last the disappointing decision was vouchsafed to us: no photos of the exhibits were permitted, just general views of the gallery.

I have visited some beautiful art galleries in my time where I would be happy to photograph the building as well as the art, for example the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (see Glasgow 2012 – Day 3), but this tin can of a place was not going to inspire me. I took the above photo just to have something to show for our visit.

The exhibition we had come to see was Sense and Sensuality: Art Nouveau 1890-1914. This made our trip worthwhile and we saw and enjoyed some very beautiful and historically interesting artworks. Of course, I cannot show you anything of what we saw for the reason explained above, frustrating as that is. While we were there, we looked at the rest of the exhibits, a mixture of art of different periods, some so old as to qualify as archaeological specimens as well. Nothing, however, could top the exquisite Art Nouveau collection.

Two piece reclining figure, No 3 (1961)
Two piece reclining figure, No 3 (1961)
Henry Moore

As a sort of consolation prize, I can show you some of the pieces of sculpture that dot the lawns around the campus. Above is the catchily entitled Two piece reclining figure, No 3 by Henry Moore. Of course, whether or not this is a consolation will depend on whether you like the sort of sculptures on show. All are by Henry Moore, not by my choice but because that was what there was.

Reclining figure (1956-62)
Reclining figure (1956-62)
Henry Moore

I don’t know what you think of Henry Moore’s sculpture. It puzzles a lot of people and all I can say is that I almost like a few of his pieces but in general he leaves me cold. On the other hand, he has become so well known that we no longer feel the “shock of the new” when we see sculptures by him. They’re beginning to blend into the environment, as it were. Above is Reclining figure, dated 1956-62, and below is another view of the same piece.

Reclining figure (take 2)
Reclining figure (take 2)
Henry Moore

One of the advantages of sculptures is that if they are of stone or bronze, they can quite happily reside outside in the open air. In this way they become part of the landscape and people can interact with them. An outside setting can enhance the sculpture or give it a new meaning.

Draped reclining woman (1957-8)
Draped reclining woman (1957-8)”
Henry Moore

To refresh ourselves we went to the gallery cafe which looks out onto a lawn. There I spied yet another sculpture by Moore and went out to photograph it. This one is called Draped reclining woman (there seems to be something of a theme here) and it is, of course, also by Henry Moore. Before I went out to take my photo, the lawn was empty of people. Then, I suddenly noticed the rabbits.

Grazing rabbit
Grazing rabbit
Keeping a wary eye on me

On the lawn was a crowd of rabbits, hopping about grazing, obviously used to doing so despite the proximity of humans. This is something I have seen on other university campuses. Nonetheless, something spooked the rabbits and with flashes of their white tails they disappeared into the hedge. When I went out to take my photo, there were just two left but one of these also sidled away leaving the last one. He kept a wary eye on me but didn’t run away. I got as close as I thought I could without scaring him off and then took the above photo.

Non-reclining figure
Non-reclining figure
Not by Henry Moore

We caught the bus back to town and, as we had a little time before our train, renewed our acquaintance with parts of Norwich.

Norwich Market
Norwich Market
Founded in Norman times

Norwich has been an important market town since Norman times when its market was founded. These days its virtually permanent stalls stand in the shadow of the Art Deco City Hall with its tall clock tower. This was completed in 1938 and was opened by George VI.

The Guildhall
The Guildhall
On Gaol Hill

Rotating our view brings into sight the 15th century Guildhall which was the seat of local government until that role was taken over by the City Hall. The fact that the Guildhall stands on Gaol Hill gives a broad hint as to the layout of the old town.

The Royal Arcade
The Royal Arcade
Elegant Victorian shopping

Norwich has a fine Victorian shopping arcade, called the Royal Arcade, where ladies and gentleman of the dying years of the Victorian era could shop without fear of inclement weather. It was the work, in 1899, of George Skipper, who was born in the full flush of Victoria’s reign (1856) but survived into a very different era, witnessing two World Wars before dying in 1948.

Stained glass skylight
Stained glass skylight
The Royal Arcade

A few years after completing the Arcade, Skipped was responsible for a rather different retail outlet, a department store.

Jarrold
Jarrold
A family-run store built 1903-4

The company called Jarrold & Sons was formed in Woodbridge, Surrey, in the latter part of the 18th century, and moved to Norwich in 1823. They must have prospered because they were able to open this impressive Baroque style store  in 1904. Today, neighbouring buildings also bear the name Jarrold and the firm’s future seems as secure as ever.

Norwich Station
Norwich Station
Opened 1886

We now had to return to the handsome Victorian railway station (opened 1886) to catch our train for London. It had been a mixed day. The gallery was a little disappointing (as was the fact we could not take photos) but we had enjoyed and marvelled at the Art Nouveau exhibition. It was also pleasant to renew our acquaintance with a city that we had stayed in on a previous occasion. Norwich is an historic city but it is also a lovely city and we shall certainly return.

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

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Southbank, Strand and City

Wednesday, June 25th 2014

Following yesterday’s out-of-town trip, today we chose a more relaxed outing in London. First, we went down to the Southbank Centre where we thought we might find breakfast. And we found it…

Canteen
Canteen
With Tanabata Fukinagashi decorations

…at Canteen. On the balcony above the restaurant was a line a unusual and colourful forms that reminded me a little of pictures of Elizabethan court ladies dancing a minuet. They are apparently Tanabata Fukinagashi decorations and if you don’t know what that is (and I didn’t until I looked it up) you will find details here.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Mural
Queen Elizabeth Hall Mural
By Street Artist Phlegm

After breakfast we went for a walk around the area. The Queen Elizabeth Hall was sporting a new mural depicting a group of strange, vaguely medieval figures. This is the work of a street artist who goes by the rather unprepossessing name of Phlegm. He is a member of an increasingly well known group of street artists who travel widely, both in the UK and abroad, and create large scale paintings in public spaces, often being commissioned to do so. The photo is a panorama shot so please click on it to see a larger version.

Bust of Nelson Mandela
Bust of Nelson Mandela
Ian Walters (1985)

We walked along the side of the building where stands the bust of Nelson Mandela. This was sculpted by Ian Walters and unveiled in 1985 by Oliver Tambo.

Temple of Agape
Temple of Agape
Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan

We had already gathered that some activity was afoot and this was confirmed when we reached the river side of the Southbank Centre and found this structure being built. By artists Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan, it is called the Temple of Agape. This, of course, is agape as a three-syllable word, the Greek for “love”, not the two-syllable word meaning jaw-droppingly surprised.

It is all to do with the Southbank’s forthcoming summer festival. Each year, the festival has a different theme and this year’s is love. So sweet. Let’s just hope it manages not to become as tacky as its hackneyed theme risks it becoming.

Sliding Gate
Sliding Gate
Sean Griffiths

Of course, the festival is as yet only at the preparation stage, so perhaps I should wait and see before being critical. It’s just that “love” is such an overworked topic that every time I see it used I suspect its choice is dictated more by a lack of imagination than anything else.

Love on a burger
Love on a burger
The snack stall under the bridge

Even the snack stall under the bridge has been festooned with “LOVELOVELOVELOVE”, more out of coercion than personal preference, I’m guessing.

Container barge
Container barge
Life on the Thames continues as usual

From under the bridge, I watch this tug go by, pulling a barge loaded with containers. Life on the Thames goes on, festival or no, and if there was any love aboard the tug, it was invisible from the shore.

Railway Bridge and footbridge
Railway Bridge and footbridge
Hungerford Bridge and Jubilee Bridge

The Hungerford Bridge carries the railway over the Thames from the Charing Cross to Waterloo, passing beside the Southbank Centre. The original bridge was created by Isambard Kindom Brunel (opened 1845) and included a footbridge either side of the railway. The upstream footbridge (on the side shown in the photo) was removed to widen the railway bridge and the downstream one was increasingly considered narrow and inconvenient.

Golden Jubilee Bridge
Golden Jubilee Bridge
Downstream side

The old footbridge was demolished, though two of its supporting piers, which form part of the railway bridge, remain in place, though garnished with spikes lest anyone think of trying to jump onto them from the new bridge. The new bridges, called the Golden Jubilee Bridges, were opened in 2002. Though they are suspension bridges and therefore hardly blend in with the style of their neighbour, they seem successful and are in continual use.

Downstream panorama
Downstream panorama
From the Golden Jubilee Bridge

There are good views from the bridge, of course and the above panorama was taken looking downstream. (Click to see a larger version.)

Tour boat
Tour boat
Part of the river’s traffic

The docks which were once an important part of the network of international trade have now closed and “Docklands” is today a district of office blocks but there is still plenty of traffic on the Thames, including water buses carrying commuters to stations along the river and tour boats, like the above, that ply the waters carrying tourists (and Londoners!) on sightseeing trips. Even for blasé city-dwellers such as we, the occasional trip on the Thames Clippers is a treat.

Victoria Embankment
Victoria Embankment
Busier even than the Thames

At the north end of the bridge you get a good view of the Victoria Embankment, built as part of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s mighty scheme to supply London with adequate sewers, but also a busy thoroughfare. The scene here can be impressive too, if less pretty than the views over the Thames.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...
Mirror, mirror, on the wall…
…Have you seen Tigger and SilverTiger at all?

We entered the tunnel that leads to escalators that rise to the Charing Cross Station complex. There are corridors and an open gallery and also a large multi-section mirror on the wall which captured me capturing an image of us photographing ourselves in the mirror… (Did I get that right? :) )

Portico with a Lantern
Portico with a Lantern (c 1741-4)
Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)

From here we walked on up to the Strand and Somerset House where the wonderful Courtauld Gallery is housed. We refreshed ourselves with lemonade made on the premises and then climbed up the spiral staircase to look at the art on show. Above is an etching by one of my favourite artists, Canaletto. More familiar to me are his wonderfully detailed city scenes but I found this etching quite exquisite. Artists today seen incapable of such work. Abstract nonsense and vague splashings of paint on boards or canvas are not art in my book but this is. It is the consummate art of a genius who sees as the rest of us fail to see and whose hand captures that vision to perfection.

Wall 1
Wall 1 (1993)
Nicky Hirst

At a quick glance, I thought the table just happened to be there, under the artwork but, no, it is part of it or, rather, it is the source from which the artwork springs. The object on the wall is made of layers of paint over electrical cables. You see immediately that, though the lines are in relief, the pattern imitates grain in wood. In fact, it imitates the grain in the wood of the table top. It’s amusing, perhaps intriguing, but, for me, at least, the novelty soon wears off and I look around for something else.

+ AND -
+ AND – (1994)
Mona Hatoum

This one retained my attention for a while longer. For one thing, it moves. (Click on the image to see an animated GIF.) The blades continually rotate (smoothly, not jerkily as in the animation) and one has a serrated edge, the other a straight edge. As they rotate, the serrated blade draws furrows in the sand and the straight-edged blade smoothes them out again. (Alternatively, one blade smoothes out the sand and the other disturbs it – take your pick.) The label talks about an allusion to Zen gardening (the furrows imitate the lines made by the rake) and the Buddhist belief in the unity of opposites. Hm, yes, well OK, but I have to admit that I was more intrigued by the fact that it actually works and didn’t just push the sand out of the way of the blades. Whatever one thinks it means, it is a cleverly designed piece of work.

Woman tying her shoes
Woman tying her shoes (c 1918)
Pierre-Aguste Renoir

The Courtauld prides itself on its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works and it does indeed have a good collection of these. I include just a couple of example. Above is a painting by arch-Impressionist Renoir who, I must admit, produced some haunting images, though I sometimes feel that the Impressionists stopped half-way through the job and didn’t finish what they were doing. (We can’t all be Canaletto, I suppose.) This is a nice enough picture and does what on a good day Impressionism does well, capture a moment and present it full of movement to the observer.

Man Painting a Boat
Man Painting a Boat (c 1883)
Georges Seurat

The Impressionists liked to paint and sketch in the open air and to capture lively scenes, working quickly so as to achieve a feeling of spontaneity. Georges Seurat is doing something similar here but he counts rather as a Post-Impressionist having moved on from their techniques. Would I have this one on my wall? Maybe, but I think I would tire of it after a while as I would always to looking for details that you can’t quite make out. Viewing it, I get a certain feeling as of looking through steamed up spectacles.

St Helen Bishopsgate
St Helen Bishopsgate
A hidden gem

From the Courtauld we moved to the City, where I took this photo of the Church of St Helen Bishopsgate. I subtitle the picture “A hidden gem” because I think that that is what it is. Lost among the tall buildings of the City, it reveals itself to you almost by chance should you pass that way. I suspect that many people who work in the City are unaware of its existence. I also discovered it by chance five years ago and had the luck to be invited to take a look inside. I wrote a post about that visit, which I entitled A discovered gem. We did not go in today but perhaps we will on another occasion.

High Wind IV (1995)
High Wind IV (1995)
Lynn Chadwick

This is the time of year when the City of London Corporation prepares the annual Sculpture in the City event. While out walking today, we found Sculpture in the City 2014 well under way and photographed some of the works already in place. One of these was the above bronze by Lynn Chadwick entitled High Wind IV.  I have sampled Chadwick’s work before – see From Albert Dock to the Horse Pond or this photo. We took a number of photos but as the set was not yet complete and the works were not yet labelled, I will leave the topic for another time when I hope to show all of them and their details.

Sculpture
Sculpture
Details unknown

I also photographed this object that stands at the entrance to an office block. I assume it is an artwork (with modern art it is sometimes difficult to tell) but there was nothing to indicate what it might be or who made it.

St Botolph's Church Hall
St Botolph’s Church Hall
St Botolph-Without-Bishopsgate

Before catching our bus home, we visited the churchyard of St Botolph-Without-Bishopsgate where there is another sculpture belonging to Sculpture in the City. I will show it to you another time. As with most churchyards in the City and indeed London as a whole, this one has been converted into a garden and is very popular with City folk who come here to relax during fine weather. The building shown is today called St Botolph’s Church Hall but it was once a school, hence the rather fetching pair of figures of a boy and girl in niches in the façade. In style they resemble the pairs of figures displayed outside Bluecoat Schools but, unlike them, they are painted white all over instead of having a blue coat and dress respectively. I therefore do not know whether this was a Bluecoat School. (More work needed!)

Pigeon couple
Pigeon couple
St Botolph’s Garden

My last photo was of this pair of pigeons relaxing (like the City employees below them) on a lamp bracket. I am an unabashed fan of pigeons and like to observe them as they go about their lives. When they pair up, they forage together and at quiet times perch together. The male is boldly watching me, ready to give the alarm if I seem a threat but also watching in case I have food. I disappointed him regarding the latter and left them to their siesta as we headed for the bus stop and home.

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

Posted in Out and About | 4 Comments

A steam museum and three lions

Tuersday, June 24th 2014

Our destination today lies in the county of Wiltshire. Many know of it by name, mainly through its connections with the railways and I have to admit that this is what brings us to it today.

Swindon Station
Swindon Station
A modern replacement

Swindon started as a hill. The Romans recognized its strategic usefulness as a fortress, as did the Anglo-Saxons who inherited it from them. According the Domesday Book, by the Norman period the town was known as Suindune. Opinions divide as to whether this derives from Anglo-Saxon words for ‘swine’ and ‘hill’, making this “Pig Hill”, or whether it was named after its Anglo-Saxon owner, possibly called Sweyne, and was thus “Sweyne’s Hill”.

The railway reached Swindon in 1841 but its first station was built only in the following year. (Tickets were sold at a nearby pub in the meantime.) This Victorian station survived until 1972 when it was demolished and replaced by the one shown above.

GWR Buildings
GWR Buildings

From the station, we walked SW along Station Road and into, first, Sheppard Street and then London Street, all of which streets lie in a more or less straight line. It was not long before we began to see numbers of sturdy stone buildings lining our path. There were utility buildings such as the above and…

Rows of houses
Rows of houses

…streets of houses. This was in fact what is known as Railway Village, a huge complex built by the Great Western Railway (GWR) in its heyday. On one side are the workshops where they built, maintained and repaired steam locomotives and all kinds of rolling stock and, on the other, a housing estate for the company’s employees.

Walkway

We were not able to visit any of the houses so I cannot say where they are like to live in and can only go by impression. The houses seemed comfortably large and well laid out in wide streets, some gathered around enclosed yards. The stonework has weathered well and still looks fresh and solid.

Bristol Street Tunnel
Bristol Street Tunnel

London Street leads into Bristol Street where we find the entrance to this slightly strange but rather useful pedestrian tunnel. It is called, reasonably enough, the Bristol Street Tunnel. It’s run by a company called Churchward plc and is open only at certain times of day. Its importance to us is that it provides a way to cross the railway lines (by going underneath them) and taking us to our destination.

The old GWR site
The old GWR site

Having negotiated the tunnel, we found ourselves walking among solid stone buildings in the same style as those of Railway Village but obviously built on an industrial scale. Many of these are now being converted from their original purposes to new uses.

Steam
Steam
Museum of the Great Western Railway

Thus we came to a long engine  shed whose surprisingly discreet labelling informed us that this was Steam – Museum of the Great Western Railway.

Dennis Fire Engine
Dennis Fire Engine (1912)

While Tigger was negotiating our admission, I photographed this rather splendid vehicle, a Dennis Fire Engine. The GWR Railway Village had its own fire station and the engine was bought for this in 1912. Its small size allowed it to access all parts of the works.

Inside the museum are two panels narrating the history of the Locomotive Repair Facility, as it was called, and as these present a succinct account, I will quote them verbatim under the following two pictures.

An Office
An Office

Swindon was chosen as the site for GWR’s Locomotive Repair Facility in 1841 by Locomotive Superintendent Daniel Gooch.

By 1846 not only was Swindon Works repairing locomotives, it had produced its first engine ‘The Great Western’. The Works rapidly grew to include a Carriage and Wagon Works, management and administration offices, a gas works, drawing office, general stores, laboratory, telephone exchange, laundry and even its own fire station.

By 1900 Swindon Works had become one of the largest and best-equipped railway workshops in the world.

On the carpet!
On the carpet!

At its height in the early decades of the 20th century, the Works covered an area of 326 acres and employed about 14,000 men and women. The Locomotive Department had the capacity to build around two engines a week and repair over 1,000 engines a year, while the Carriage and Wagon Works could build over 250 coaches, and repair 5,000 carriages and 8,000 wagons a year.

Sadly a decline in the fortune of the Works following Nationalisation in 1948, and the end of Diesel Locomotive production. meant that in 1986 British Rail Engineering Limited finally closed Swindon Works after 143 years of operation.

The General Stores The General Stores
The General Stores

There were plenty of machines, including locomotives and antique train carriages on show, but there were also a lot of “tableaux” or mock-ups of scenes that you might have observed at various times during the history of the Works. These always intrigue me and I spent most of my time looking at them. Directly above is the General Store and above that, a vacant office and a manager’s office in which the soundtrack makes it clear that the man with his back to us is an employee being ticked off for some misdemeanour.

Electric System Clock
Electric System Clock
The Magneta Time Co Ltd.

In a works of this size with multifarious tasks being done by many different departments, timekeeping was crucial. In the days before radio time signals, a system of master and slave clocks had to be used so that every clock throughout the works showed to exact same time.

Building a carriage
Building a carriage

Carriages and wagons were continually being built and repaired by skilled craftsmen.

The Pattern Shop
The Pattern Shop
Wooden models for casting in metal

Standing beside a locomotive whose driving wheels are taller than you are, you might wonder how these components are made. At Swindon, the answer was that they were cast locally. In the Pattern Shop, wooden models were made which could be reused. They would be pressed into a bed of sand and then removed, leaving an imprint of their shape into which molten metal was poured. Swindon had two foundries, for ferrous and non-ferrous metals, respectively.

First Aid
First Aid
Health and Safety was not as we know it today

In factories and work sites these days, health & safety is a major issue and firms can be fined for lax standards. In the past, things were somewhat different and precautions and care for the injured would seem primitive to us now. First Aid, as pioneered by the St John Ambulance Association was available in the Works and serious cases were then transferred to the GWR hospital in the Railway Village.

The Cheltenham Flyer
The Cheltenham Flyer
In its day, the fastest train in the world

What was called the Cheltenham Flyer was the Cheltenham Spa Express service from Paddington. The nickname was invented by the press and finally adopted by GWR. In July 1929, the locomotive completed the journey at an average speed of 66.2mph, becoming the fastest train in the world. Subsequently beaten by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Flyer regained its title in July 1931 with an average speed of 69.2mph. (More details here – scroll down to “The ‘Cheltenham Flyer’”.)

The Cheltenham Flyer
The Cheltenham Flyer
Seen from underneath

Whenever railways (or, for that matter, any engineering projects) are mentioned, the name of Isambard Kingdom Brunel is also likely to be heard. There is scarcely a branch of engineering in which he was not involved at one time or another. Along with tunnels, bridges and ships, he has also left his mark on the railways. His presence is felt in this museum – not least in the two effigies of him! Robert Stevenson is another almost legendary figure in British engineering and he collaborated with Brunel on a number of occasions.

Broad Gauge Locomotive 'North Star'
Broad Gauge Locomotive ‘North Star’
Replica built in 1925

Brunel was pioneering a broad-gauge railway system in England while the New Orleans and Caroltown railroad was being planned in the US. Stevenson built the ‘North Star’ for this venture which, however, failed. The loco was adapted to Brunel’s gauge and became one of the first trains with a run from Paddington to Maidenhead in 1837. Unfortunately, this historic machine was scrapped at Swindon in 1906 and this is a replica, built in 1925.

Cleaning out the engine
Cleaning out the engine
Save some steam for later

At the end of a run, a locomotive had to be cleaned to remove soot and cinders. This work had to be done quickly, before the engine cooled completely, so that steam would remain with which to move the locomotive afterwards.

Waiting for the train The Tea Trolley
The station platform and the tea trolley
A cup of stewed tea and a stale bun please!

A museum has an intricate job to do which is to show exhibits and their context as faithfully as possibly while at the same time explaining them to modern visitors, Thus it is that we find scenes of the past containing anachronistic details or festooned with information panels. I think we can be tolerant, though, and let imagination take up the slack. Slightly more disconcerting, perhaps, is the fact that as you become older, you see more and more items in museums that are quite familiar to you… :)

Streamlined Diesel Railcar
Streamlined Diesel Railcar

When I saw this streamlined vehicle, I assumed it was modern. I was completely wrong in that, of course. It is widely know to enthusiasts under the catchy name of “Streamlined Diesel Railcar No 4” and it entered service in September 1934. The sleek exterior styling is complemented by a weathered oak and chromium interior. Included in the amenities were a toilet and a buffet, and the train could be  driven is either direction, having a driver’s cab at either end.

British Railways Lion
British Railways Lion

Here we meet the first of the lions mentioned in the title. Though the Empire was but a fading memory. the imperial lion still found its way onto many logos and banners. Standing proudly above a wheel, the lion formed the trademark of the late lamented British Railways, the state-run rail network. Once so common that you barely noticed it, this symbol today is an antique and you would pay a lot to buy a genuine one.

Scammell Tractor and Trailer
Scammell Tractor and Trailer

Time was when the railways ran a parcels service. Anything too big or too heavy to go by Royal Mail could be sent by train. Even passenger trains would have a parcel van attached, from which the guard with dispense at each station any parcels to be collected or sent on from there. At the destination, parcels could be collected or could be sent to the recipient’s address by lorry. Vehicles like the one above, dating from the 1930s, would be used for this convenient service.

Cast Iron Lion's Head
Cast Iron Lion’s Head
Why were they displayed?

Our second lion presents something of a mystery. It is made of cast iron and is gilded. Such lions appeared on GWR stations from the 1850s, affixed to the station canopy. At least 8 stations are known to have had them, but why those stations and not others? Were they part of a plan of decor that started but then fizzled out? Or were they perhaps awarded to specific stations for their importance or as a kind of merit badge for good service? So far the enigma remains.

Back to the Railway Village
Back to the Railway Village

I enjoyed visiting the museum. There was a huge amount to see. It is cleverly organized so that you follow a path through it, hardly noticing that you are doing so. I only realized this – and the amount of ground covered – when, half-way through, I returned to the entrance for a toilet break. Retracing the way we had come (not to mention returning along it again on the way back!), showed me how far we had walked. You can simply walk round being entertained by the displays and the mock-ups, or you can patiently read all the information and learn about the history of the Swindon Works and its place in this history of the railways. To do the latter properly, I think you would need to make several visits.

The Glue Pot
The Glue Pot
The pub on the corner

Leaving the museum, we walked through the Railway Village to have a little look at the town before taking our train home. Needless to say, the Village has all the necessary amenities, including strategically placed pubs!

Stacked Fountain
Stacked Fountain
Or Crumpled Water Falls

In the town centre we found the water feature. Its official title is Stacked Fountain but it seems better known as Crumpled Water Falls or Crumpled Water Walls, the name given it in the local press. It was designed by Walter Jack and, I believe, installed in 2010. Opinions are mixed: some like it, others complain it’s a waste on money (£240,000, if my information is correct). It has suffered at least two attacks in which washing-up liquid was poured into the system with predictable results – a rising tide of foam. This amused some and outraged others. Today it seemed quiet and foam-free.

William Hunter's Furniture Showroom
William Hunter’s Furniture Showroom

From a completely different era, this building caught my eye. It represents one man’s success story and is – happily – appreciated for its historic and architectural quality. I don’t think it it listed by English Heritage (I haven’t found a listing, anyway), but the Council has it on its list of Buildings of Significant Local Interest. William Wallace Hunter came to Swindon from London towards the end of the 19th century and opened a furniture shop, living above it with his wife and family. By the early 1900s, he had upgraded to this furniture showroom in Regent Street. Other developments led to roads being named after him and his wife. William died in Weston-super-Mare in 1936 and this building remains as his monument.

Building with turrett
Building with turrett

I rather admired this building too, not least because of the turretted windows on the corner. Turrets always fascinate me and I would have a house with a turret if that were possible. I know nothing about this example and haven’t been able to find any reference to it.

Swindon Town Hall
Swindon Town Hall
No longer used as such

Its town hall usually says a lot about a town. It is, after all, the symbol of the town as a political and social entity. Some towns and cities spend immense sums of money creating a town hall fit for the grandeur of their civic pride. This is quite a nice example of a moderate-sized town hall, not flamboyant but not overly modest, either. Swindon has had about three town halls, I think, and this is its latest, built in the last decade of the 19th century. It no longer serves as a town hall, however, now being the premises of Swindon Dance.

The Golden Lion
The Golden Lion
Symbol of a vanished pub

So we come to our third lion, a golden lion no less. The Wilts & Berks Canal was built in the 19th century and caused a flurry of development where it met Swindon. Among the buildings that sprang up was – naturally enough – a pub. It was called the Golden Lion and in the courtyard was a sculpture of, well, a golden lion. The pub closed in 1956 and the poor old lion was destroyed. Gone but apparently not forgotten, for when the Queen’s Silver Jubilee came around and the town wanted to do something to mark the occasion, it commissioned Carleton Attwood, Gordon Allen and Edwin Horne to create a facsimile in cement and glass fibre. It was unveiled in February 1978.

For us, it was now time to leave. We returned to the station and caught our train back to London. My last photo of the day was at Paddington Station and shows the famous clock which both tells the time for anxious travellers and provides a place where people can meet “under the clock”.

Station Clock
Station Clock
Paddington

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

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A very fine cat indeed

Monday, June 23rd 2014

Tigger has some days off this week and so we are using the time to continue our explorations of London and other places. We started today beside an immediately recognizable landmark.

Christopher Wren's Masterpiece
Christopher Wren’s Masterpiece
The dome of St Paul’s

Though pierced by a single bomb that fell through the great dome and destroyed the high altar, St Paul’s escaped the Second World War virtually unscathed. No longer London’s tallest building, which it was at the time of its consecration in 1697, St Paul’s remains one of the capital’s most famous and best loved landmarks.

National Firefighters' Memorial National Firefighters' Memorial
“Blitz”, the National Firefighters’ Memorial
John Mills, unveiled 1991

London, as we know, suffered heavy bombing during the Second World War and the fire services were stretched well beyond their limits in dealing with fires and collapsing buildings. Their courage and dedication to the task should never be forgotten and this memorial, sited opposite St Paul’s in Sermon Lane stands as a reminder and a gesture of gratitude. The lively sculpture is by John Mills and was unveiled by the Queen in 1991.

City of London Information Centre
City of London Information Centre
Make, 2007

Close by is this spiky shed housing the City of London Information Centre, a posh name that really means “Tourist Information Office”. It was designed by a company of architects called Make and completed in 2007. If form follows function, we might wonder what the the purpose of the almost painfully stretched out corners is. Or perhaps not. Maybe there isn’t any purpose (although there is obviously a point). Anyway, read the architects’ account of the project and see whether it convinces you.

St Paul's
St Paul’s
Seen along Sermon Lane

If you continue down Sermon Lane, you come to the Millennium Bridge, a useful shortcut to the Tate Modern art gallery. We did not cross it today, though, but continued exploring on the north side of the Thames.

Now it is time for today’s panorama shot, taken in Carter Lane.

Once St Paul's Choir School
Once St Paul’s Choir School
Today a Youth Hotel

To get a better view of the picture and the building, you will need to click on the image. The building accommodates a hostel belonging to the organization that today calls itself simply the YHA, but its boldly displayed Latin inscription all the way along the façade may induce you to think it was once ecclesiastical. If you thought that, you would be right for this was once the St Paul’s Choir School, built in 1874. I will forgo the temptation to pretend that I know Latin by transcribing the lettering but, if you are interested, you will find a full rendering on this page of the very useful London Remembers site. That the two people passing by on the right of the photo have been cloned into four is an artifact of the panorama function.

Totem Pole
Totem Pole
The Seven Ages of Man

On Queen Victoria Street stands the massive Baynard House. A Brutalist eyesore, it does possess one interesting feature, seen in the photo above. This is a cast aluminium sculpture by Richard Kindersley, in the form of a totem pole and entitled The Seven Ages of Man. It was commissioned by Post Office Telecommunications and unveiled in 1980. The colour of the sculpture and of the building forming its background may fool you into thinking this is a black and white photo until you notice the few small items in colour. In case you are wondering, I never do black and white photography. I consider the idea that black and white is somehow more “artistic” to be pretentious nonsense on a par with lifting your little finger while holding your tea cup. Life is not monochrome and nor will my photography be… unless I become colour blind. If that happens, I’ll think again.

Two Posting boxes
Two Posting boxes
From two reigns

On St Andrew’s Hill, these two posting boxes caught my eye because of their unusual colour and design. They are embedded in the railings of a house and seem to be out of use, hence the black paint. At first sight the two boxes appear identical but they are not. The one of the right is slightly taller and there are other minor differences, for example in the locks. The reason for the differences becomes apparent when you look at the makers’ names near the bottom. The box on the left is by W T Allen & Co, who had the contract to make pillar boxes and wall boxes during the Victorian era. The box on the right is by McDowall, Steven & Co Ltd Falkirk. The latter company was founded in 1804 as the Phoenix Foundry and ceased trading after a respectable 160 years in 1964. As far as I know, W T Allen & Co is still in existence though apparently not making posting boxes.

The main difference between the two boxes, of course, is that one bears the royal cipher of Edward VII and the other of his successor, George V. Notice how the florid script of “ER VII” gives way to the far simpler “GR”. We know that “GR” is George V because he is the only king not to have his reign number on posting boxes. Victoria too had no number, presumably because she was always simply “Victoria” and never “Victoria I”. All other monarchs, with the exception of George V, included their reign number in their cipher.

The Cockpit
The Cockpit
A Victorian pub with a gruesome background

On a corner opposite the posting boxes is this building in the shape of a slice of cake. Such structures intrigue me and I wonder what it is like to live in a triangular setting. I suppose you get used to it. The word “cockpit”, nowadays used to designate the seat in which a pilot sits, is so familiar to us that we tend to forget its gruesome origin. The horrid activity (whatever else it is, it is not a “sport”) of cock fighting is still practised in many parts of the world, even in Britain, where it has been illegal since 1835. The present building dates from about 1860, well after that time, but I understand that signs that cock fighting once took place here can still be found inside, including the pit and a viewing gallery.

Burgon Street
Burgon Street
One of the many narrow lanes and alleys of the City

This whole are is a maze of streets, many narrow and more like lanes or alleys than streets. Some will be actual medieval streets while others will have emerged as the result of odd corners of land between buildings being paved. Burgon Street is one such though I do not know its history or how it acquired its name.

St Anne's Burial Ground
St Anne’s Burial Ground
And site of a medieval priory

This is a paved garden that was once the burial ground of the Church of St Anne Blackfriars. In medieval times, a Dominican priory was here (because of the colour of their gowns, Dominicans were known as the “black friars”) but it was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538 and replaced with a church. However, this was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and, although its burial ground continued in use until 1849, it was then closed and has now been landscaped to form a public amenity, albeit with a few tombstones left in place to add ambience.

Decorative head
Decorative head
Carter Court

We crossed Carter Lane once more and found a narrow alley or yard called Carter Court, so, of course, we went in to take a look. There wasn’t much there except this head with braided hair and a cap. The details are carefully modelled but I do not know what it represents or who made it.

Hodge
Hodge
A very fine cat indeed

We had been heading towards Gough Square and we now arrived there. The first thing you notice in this exclusive enclave is a monument supporting a sculpture of a cat, seated upon a large book and with an open oyster in front of him. The book represents one of the volumes of Dr Samuel Johnson’s groundbreaking English dictionary and the feline personage is of course the lexicologist’s cat, Hodge, for whom he daily bought a ration of oysters. The sculpture is by Jon Bickley and it was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1997.

The oft quoted description of Hodge comes from James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson in which we read as follows.

I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

Dr Johnson's House
Dr Johnson’s House
17 Gough Square

The famous scholar lived and worked on his dictionary here in the mid-18th century in a house built towards the end of the preceding century. Since Johnson’s time, the house has led a chequered existence until it has latterly been restored and opened to the public as a museum.

The top room
The top room
Where the manuscript was prepared

The top floor is a single room running the length of the house and it was here where amanuenses employed by Johnson stood to copy out the material prepared by Johnson to form the manuscript of his dictionary. On a table we find a two-volume replica of that dictionary.

The staircase
The staircase

Stairwells both attract and repel me but I am always drawn to photograph them. Johnson’s is quite a substantial house with five floors, including the basement, so even though this is not the deepest stairwell I have photographed, it is deep enough to induce a shudder!

Drawing Room
Drawing Room

The rooms are furnished – though whether the furniture really belonged to Johnson I am not sure – and there is information on hand to explain what you are seeing and relate this to Johnson’s life and the production of his great work. For me, though, it remained a pale experience. I received no feeling of a house once lived in, much less one lived in by the formidable doctor. If Johnson’s ghost haunts the place, he was absent today.

Plant covered building
Plant covered building

Continuing on, we passed this building coated in plants. I have seen a number of these appearing around London and other cities. I am not sure whether the greenery is merely a novel decoration or whether there is some serious ecological purpose behind it. I bet it takes a lot of work to maintain it green and healthy, though.

33 Eastcheap
33 Eastcheap
The Boar’s Head Tavern stood here

We passed along Eastcheap where this over-the-top building is at number 33. It was built in 1868 – as a vinegar warehouse, would you believe – by an architect of Huguenot descent, R.L.Roumieu. I think it’s now offices with shops on the ground floor. Apparently, the Boar’s Head Tavern once stood here and, as a reminder of this, the architect added a boar’s head to the decor. You can just about make it out in the arch of the centre window on the second floor.

Steeple of St Dunstan in the East
Steeple of St Dunstan in the East

Our next and final destination was St Dunstan’s Hill, site of the Church of St Dunstan in the East (there is a matching St Dunstan in the West in Fleet Street). This church is said to have been founded around the year 1100 but much has happened to it since then, not least in 1666 when it was severely damaged in the Great Fire of London – severely damaged but not completely destroyed.

Windows empty of glass
Windows empty of glass

The church was not rebuilt but was instead patched up by Christopher Wren who did, nonetheless, built a new steeple. This, however, was done in Medieval Gothic style rather than in the usual manner of Wren, in order to match the style of the refurbished building.

The final blow came in World War Two when the church was so badly damaged by bombing that a decision was made not to rebuild it. Instead, its secured ruins were left standing and the grounds converted into a public green space. The windows that were once glazed with stained glass now look frame views of the gardens.

Wren's crown spire
Wren’s crown spire

Remarkably, the church tower survived the destruction of the rest of the church and remains both a London landmark and an elegant example of a crown spire.

All Hallows
All Hallows
Seen from Great Tower Street

We walked up to the top of St Dunstan’s Hill into Great Tower Street. Looking down this major thoroughfare, I took my last photo of the day. It shows another architectural gem, the steeple of All Hallows. Founded in 675 and preceding by 300 years the Tower of London, two of whose towers you can glimpse on its right, this church actually survived the Great Fire of 1666, only to fall victim to the bombing in World War Two. Again, almost miraculously we might think, the steeple survived and formed the basis of the rebuilt church.

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

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Bingeing on Epstein in Walsall

Saturday, June 21st 2014

Our intention today was to make a trip to Walsall, not just to see the town itself but, more importantly, to take a look at the new art gallery. We visited Walsall once before and I described that trip in A dull day in Walsall, where I was somewhat unflattering about the place. Would I feel any better about it today?

Walsall Station
Walsall Station
Familiar from our previous trip

When we arrived at Walsall Station, I had a sense of déja vu, remembering how Tigger and I had rendezvoused hereon our two-town courier run in October 2009. Today we were not making any deliveries or beating any deadlines and could take things easy.

Walsall street scene
Walsall street scene
Looking NW along Park Street

To get to Walsall from London, you almost inevitably have to pass through Birmingham, as indeed we did today. The town is often jokingly dismissed as a satellite of its larger neighbour but, as I discovered on this trip, Walsall is actually an ancient town in its own right. It had become famous for its leather goods even before during the Industrial Revolution when its deposits of coal, iron and limestone brought it to prominence.

The usual explanation of the name Walsall is that it derives from two Anglo-Saxon words, wealh and halh, meaning, respectively, ‘native Briton’ and ‘valley’, suggesting that the invaders saw this as a place inhabited by indigenes. An alternative explanation has it that the land was taken over by an Anglo-Saxon farmer called Walla and thus become known as ‘Walla’s Valley’. Knowing the Anglo-Saxon proclivity for naming places after themselves, I see this as quite plausible. Unfortunately we shall never know for certain. The first known mention of the place in a document occurs in a will dated to 1002 or 1004, where it appears as ‘Walesho’.

There is a claimed mystique about the way the name is pronounced. It is said that those in the know pronounce it in some special way. Maybe they do but as far as I know, it is pronounced “wall Saul”, with the emphasis on the first syllable.

Walsall is a market town
Walsall is a market town

Walsall is also an ancient market town. It is known that a charter was issued by the Crown to one William le Rous in 1220 for a market to be held on Mondays. Later this changed to Tuesdays and, later still, a Saturday market was added. The picture shows part of the market in a square known as The Bridge because there was once a bridge here over the Walsall Brook. We spotted a statue among the stalls and approached for a closer look.

Sister Dora
Sister Dora

The statue, by Francis John Williamson, stands atop a monument to Sister Dora, first unveiled in 1883. Sister Dora (Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison, 1832-78) in 1864 joined the Sisters of the Good Samaritan where she took the name by which she became generally known. She thus entered a career of nursing and supporting her community which led to her being well known and admired right up to the present day. The present statue was cast in 1956 from the original model, the existing one having suffered deterioration. Around the plinth are plaques showing four scenes from Sister Dora’s career, of which I show just two below. A more detailed account of the life and work of this remarkable woman can be found here.

The Pelsall Hall pithead disaster 1872 The Smallpox Epidemic 1875
Incidents from the life of Sister Dora
The Pelsall Hall Pithead Disaster of 1872 (left) and
The Smallpox Epidemic of 1875

Also in the square is another piece piece of sculpture, purely art this one, and not a monument. It was originally intended as a fountain but the water no longer flows and is unlikely to do so again in the foreseeable future.

Source of Ingenuity Source of Ingenuity
Source of Ingenuity
Tom Lomax, 2001

By Tom Lomax and unveiled in 2001, this sculpture is entitled Source of Inspiration and is based on the figure of the Roman god Janus who looks in two directions at once. For the purposes of the sculpture, these two directions are the Past and the Future as indicated by the different ages of the heads, one smooth-featured and young and the other lined with age. At the top of each disc are objects which add detail to the symbolism: on the “young side”, they are the tools of traditional industry while on the “old side”, solar panels, fragments of binary code, an electrical circuit board, etc. speak of future development. The water was turned off in 2005 amid fears of Legionnaires’ Disease.

St Paul's Church
St Paul’s Church
aka The Crossing

Like any medium-sized town, Walsall has several churches, some more interesting than others. This one is the local parish church of St Paul, built in 1893. At first sight a pretty ordinary Victorian church, St Paul’s does have an unusual feature.

The Crossing
The Crossing
A shopping mall in a church

Faced with shrinking support and the economic vulnerability this causes, the church authorities were inspired – whether by God or by Mammon isn’t known – to reorganize the building into two parts, one for worship and the other as a place of “Christian Social Enterprise”, including retail outlets, a coffee shop and four conference rooms for hire. This is quite a clever idea, I suppose, but I think the Muslims got there first – for example, see the Aziziye Camii, mosque and butcher’s shop, in A stroll along Ermine Street.

The Imperial Cinema
The Imperial Cinema
Now a Wetherspoons pub

A little further on we came to the rather grand Imperial Cinema. This building was not always a cinema and, sadly, it no longer is. Its first incarnation was in 1868 when it was built as the Agricultural Hall. Despite the name, it seems to have become more and more a place of theatrical performances and in 1887, with the acquisition if a new façade, renamed itself St George’s Hall. It became successively St George’s Hall and Theatre and then plain St George’s Theatre until 1899, when the Imperial Theatre was born. A decade later, in 1910, with another new frontage, the building became the Imperial Picture House, and continued as a cinema, albeit with a change of ownership in the 1930s, until 1968 when it fell victim, as did many cinemas in those years, to the bingo disease. The Alpha Bingo Club itself closed in 1996 and the premises became a pub in the ownership of J.D. Wetherspoon, who seem to have a passion for collecting worthy antique buildings such as this one.

Where once was the silver screen...
Where once was the silver screen…

We had a look inside and even though the place was crowded, managed to get a few photos of the decor which seems to have changed little from its cinema (and perhaps theatre) days. Where once was the silver screen there is now a massive screen of glass that looks out onto a terrace accessible through a glass door. Natural daylight thus illumines the interior of the pub much as the flickering images on the screen would once have lit the cinema.

The gallery survives
The gallery survives
But is not in general use

To the left of the screen (looking from the body of the pub), is a small gallery from where you have the fine view of the Imperial’s interior shown above. The balcony belonging to the cinema, and no doubt to the theatre before it, is still in place though it is not open to customers.

St Matthew's Hall
St Matthew’s Hall
Yet another Wetherspoons pub

Around the corner in Lichfield Street, we found another venerable building that has been preserved by pubification. What first strike you are the Doric pillars forming a sort of atrium or narthex. The umbrellas in front straightaway give the game away: whatever this was once, it too is now a Wetherspoons pub.

No one had challenged us as we took photos in the Imperial and that is the norm for pubs. Things turned out a little differently here, however. I spotted a plate on one of the pillars (you can see it on the third pillar from the left, partly hidden by a lamp) and approached to photograph it. A member of staff came out and addressed us. Now, as you will know from previous posts, my hearing is not good, so I didn’t understand what he said though his expression  was not welcoming. Tigger afterwards said she thought he had said “No photos”. Fortunately, I did not hear this and went ahead and took my photo. In view of this unusual unwelcoming attitude, however,we did not go inside.

The Greek Doric style building has served a number of purposes since it was built in 1830/31. St Matthews Hall, as it was called, was established as Walsall’s first permanent library, open to membership by subscription. By 1851, it had become a savings bank and soon after was converted into the County Court. This role ended in 1998 when it became a pub, though under whose management I do not know. It was added to the Wetherspoons collection in 2011.

Town Hall
Town Hall

Also in Lichfield Street is the Town Hall that opened for business in 1905. I’m not sure how much Council business is still transacted here as there is now a Civic Centre in Darwall Street and I see bills advertising events and entertainments here.

Carnegie Library and Museum
Carnegie Library and Museum

A year after the Town Hall was inaugurated, a new library and museum was opened next to it. Walsall’s first public library and museum had started up in 1859 in Goodall Street but in 1902, the Free Library Committee began correspondence with philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, provider of funds for so many of the UK’s public libraries, and were successful in their negotiations although Carnegie himself was unable to attend the grand opening of the new library and museum in 1906.

New library and museum entrance
New library and museum entrance (2002)

We entered the museum through the new entrance. The museum is fairly small though it intends to cover the history of Walsall. Photography is allowed but the displays here did not detain us for long.

Hatherton House
Hatherton House
Colourful at least

We were now making for the new art gallery. In Hatherton Road we spotted (pardon the pun) this building called Hatherton House. Someone had already spotted it first (never waste a good pun). The result is at least colourful though it has attracted some unfavourable comments. For example, see here.

Cafe Boat
Cafe Boat

The art gallery is beside a large basin at the end of a spur leading off the Walsall Canal. A number of narrowboats are moored there, some of them businesses. As we were in need of refreshment by now, we thought to try our luck aboard the Tea Junction which describes itself as a Cafe Boat.

Inside the Cafe Boat
Inside the Cafe Boat

Inside the narrowboat everything was, as you might expect, tiny. We could barely fit into the tiny seats at one of the tiny tables. We managed somehow, though, and had tea and a snack.

Walsall New Art Gallery
Walsall New Art Gallery
Home of the Garman-Ryan Collection

Thus refreshed, we could turn our attention to the Walsall New Art Gallery. The good news is that admission to the gallery is free (my favourite price) and that photography is allowed in the permanent collections. It may be prohibited in visiting exhibitions for copyright reasons, something I find quite reasonable.

From the outside, the building is, if not beautiful, at least not as bad as some of the horrors foisted on our communal environment by too many modern architects. Inside, the environment is perfect for an art gallery. For one thing, there are acres of space and the ceilings are high enough to admit very large pieces. I found the lighting a bit too dim in places, though I accept that some works are fragile and need protecting from over vigorous bombardment by photons.

Panorama of Walsall
Panorama of Walsall
From the viewing platform of the Walsall New Gallery

We long ago learnt that the wisest way to visit a gallery is to take the lift to the top floor and then work your way down. The more floors there are, the more valuable this advice becomes. As a bonus, the New Gallery has a balcony or viewing platform at the top which offers impressive views of the surroundings. Just the place to practise using my camera’s panorama function! Click on the above image to see a larger version. The zig-zag handrail is an artifact of the panorama function. In reality the rail is quite smooth.

Walsall as an architect's model
Walsall as an architect’s model
Looking down from the New Gallery

The gallery contains a wide range of art works but what interested me today was the Garman Ryan Collection. Kathleen Garman was a model, sometime mistress and subsequently second wife of sculptor Jacob Epstein. An account of her life will be found here. Kathleen, who also traded in art put together a collection of works with her friend Sally Ryan and this collection was donated to the people of Walsall in 1973. It has now found very comfortable accommodation in the New Gallery.

Most galleries that I have visited have held just a few works by Epstein, if any at all. Finding a large number all together in one place was quite an experience. I show a selection of nine below. If you think this is too many, well, the title of the post did contain a warning!

Roland Joffé c. 1949-50
Roland Joffé c. 1949-50

Epstein’s relationship to Roland Joffé is described as that of “adopted grandfather”. I am not sure what that means, but Joffé went on to become famous as a director of TV and films.

St Francis, 1942
St Francis, 1942

Epstein produced a number of sculptures of the angel St Michael, mainly for churches, but this slightly haunting head is of an altogether gentler – and human – saint, St Francis.

Romilly John, c. 1907/8
Romilly John, c. 1907/8

Romilly was the son of Augustus John, the painter and etcher. Epstein’s portraits are usually naturalistic but this one veers into the abstract with the smooth, helmet-like hair that has caused the piece to be described  as “almost like a cannon-ball in the process of becoming human”.

Study of a cat c.1920
Study of a cat c.1920

Epstein  made sculptures of animals as well as of people. The pose and self-contained demeanour of this feline will be familiar to any cat lover. The gallery lighting made this a difficult subject for photography and there is loss of detail in the shadowed areas.

Study for Rock Drill c. 1913
Study for Rock Drill c. 1913

I was quite excited to see this sketch by Epstein. It is a study for his Rock Drill and it was the interest and puzzlement caused by this sculpture that brought me to Epstein in the first place – see A day of sculpture and Photorealism in Birmingham. Often characterised as the culminating work of the short-lived Vorticist movement, Rock Drill came to be for Epstein a symbol of humanity’s race to dehumanize itself and he destroyed it, leaving only the torso. In his autobiography he wrote these oft quoted words about it: “Here is the armed and menacing man of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the machine like and terrible Frankenstein we have made ourselves into”. See also this page on the Web site of the Tate.

First Portrait of Kathleen, 1921
First Portrait of Kathleen, 1921

Kathleen Garman modelled for Epstein and became his long-term mistress. When Kathleen first came into the sculptor’s life, he was married to Margaret. Though Margaret tolerated Epstein’s other affairs, she was jealous of Kathleen and shot her in the shoulder with a pistol. Epstein finally married Kathleen in 1955, Margaret having died in 1947.

Second Portrait of Kitty, 1947
Second Portrait of Kitty, 1947

Epstein had five children, three of them with Kathleen Garman, Theo (1924-54), Kitty (1926-2011) and Esther (1929-54). Above is a portrait of Kitty.

First portrait of Esther (with long hair), 1944
First portrait of Esther (with long hair), 1944

Two of Epstein’s children died young, Theo (aged 30) and Esther (aged 25), both in 1954. Esther was the youngest of Kathleen’s children and Epstein referred to her as “Esther the Beautiful”.

Frisky, the Artist's Dog, 1953
Frisky, the Artist’s Dog, 1953

My final selection is a sculpture of Frisky, Epstein’s Border Collie. The dog accompanied Epstein to his studio every day and even climbed onto the scaffolding with him during the making of a large piece. Frisky went missing on a number of occasions, on the last being absent for three months before being found.

The Red Lion
The Red Lion
A Victorian pub (1896)

The visit to the Walsall New Art Gallery was a great success and I enjoyed seeing so many works by Jacob Epstein and other artists such as Modigliani and Picasso. From that point of view, the trip had been a success but what of my view of Walsall? Had this changed at all?

Waiting for the train back
Waiting for the train back
The Art Gallery still in view

I think the answer to that question is yes. I saw aspects of Walsall that I missed on our first visit and certain annoying factors of that occasion were not present today. Also, I am aware that we have not exhausted Walsall – to do so in one short visit is impossible – and that more remains to be discovered. Will we return? It is not impossible and we shall keep an eye on the programme of exhibitions at the Art Gallery as a good one would be an inducement to pay another visit.

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