A few days at the seaside

Tuesday, August 19th 2014

Tomorrow we are off to the seaside for a few days, returning on Saturday. As usual I will not say where we are going until we are back but here are a few clues:

The town where we are staying is on the south coast and it stands at the mouth of a river from which it takes its name. Near it is an island which gives its name to a type of stone widely used in building. Sir Christopher Wren was once MP for the town.

Freya too is going on holiday though I don’t suppose she thinks of it in those terms. Her usual cattery was booked up and so she will be staying at another one. She has been here before and I think she will be comfortable. I am of course looking forward to bringing her home again.

If you feel like taking a guess at the name of our destination, leave a comment. There are no prizes for the correct answer, just the satisfaction of being right (if you are!).

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

Posted in Out and About | 4 Comments

A stroll around Soho and Leicester Square

Sunday, August 17th 2014

This evening we went for a little ramble around Soho and Leicester Square. We had no particular purpose in mind and wandered hither and thither as fancy took us. Below are some of the photos that I took en route of things that caught my attention.

Street scene
Street scene
Looking down Tower Court

There is no narrative to this post so I will just show you the photos, commenting where I have something to say about them.

St Martin's Theatre
St Martin’s Theatre
Currently showing The Mousetrap

St Martin’s Theatre is the present venue for the show The Mousetrap, the longest ever run (62 years, I think).

Notre Dame de France
Notre Dame de France
London’s French Catholic church

Charlie Chaplin's Tramp Charlie Chaplin's Tramp
Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp
John Doubleday (1981)

This statue, raised as a tribute to the great comic actor, Charlie Chaplin, was originally placed in Leicester Square. It was removed in 2010 for renovation and has now been placed in a less prominent location in a side street.

No 5 Lisle Street
No 5 Lisle Street
Thomas Verity (1897)

This extraordinary building today serves a relatively mundane purpose as the locale of a pub, perhaps with apartments on the upper floors. This hides a more illustrious past when it served as the premises for the St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, which lived here from 1936 until the 1960s.

Gerrard Street
Gerrard Street
The Gate to China Town

A large part of the Soho district consists of China Town, where the Chinese community lives, works and plays, and invites to world to partake of what it has to offer. Most of the people gathered in front of the gate seemed to photographing the gate and one another. I can’t complain, I suppose, as I was taking photos too!

Chinese Lion
Wardour Street Chinese Lion
Hsiao-Chi Tsai and Kimiya Yoshikawa

This colourful lion, a joint project by a Chinese artist, Hsiao-Chi Tsai, and a Japanese artist, Kimiya Yoshikawa, is said by its colours to represent the diversity of East Asians living and working in the UK.

House of St Barnabas
House of St Barnabas
Helping the homeless

The House of St Barnabas was founded in 1846 and moved to this building in 1862. The house itself was built as a residential property in the late 1600s but went through several non-residential uses before being occupied by the charity. It is now a Grade I listed building. More information on its history here.

Tower Lamp
Tower and lamp
St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Soho Square

Soho is an area of diverse communities, culturally and linguistically. St Patrick’s Church reflects this: when we took a look inside, we found a sermon being given in Spanish.

L'Église Protestante Française de Londres
L’Église Protestante Française de Londres
(The French Protestant Church of London)

The French Protestant Church was founded by the Huguenot immigrants who sought refuge from religious persecution in Catholic France and found it here, in the England of Edward VI. The King’s charter provided a home and religious freedom for the Huguenots while enormously benefitting, commercially and culturally, their adopted country.

L'Église Protestante Française de Londres
L’Église Protestante Française de Londres

As is usual with French institutions, the church is closed in August. We were lucky, however, to find it open because some sort of social event was being held there. The participants kindly allowed us to come in and photograph the church.

Font
Font

The present church, relatively plain, but elegantly styled, was built in 1891-3.

School Bell
School Bell
In memory of Edgar S. Burdett

The Church once had a companion school, L’École Protestante Française de Londres, but I think this no longer exists. (At least, I have not found any modern references to it.) The school bell has been placed in the church as a memorial to Edgar S. Burdett, who was director of the school from 1910 to 1944.

Tympanum
Tympanum
John Prangnell (1950)

Over the church door is a beautifully carved tympanum that narrates in graphic form, the flight from France of the Huguenots and their being received by Edward VI whose charter gave them the right to become resident in England. It was erected in 1950 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the church’s foundation.

Centre Point
Centre Point
Richard Seifert (1963-6)

Waiting for the bus home (getting out your camera is a sure way of making the bus come!), I took this picture of Centre Point, basking in evening sunlight. It has always been controversial, politically, architecturally and and socially. Richard Seifert, the designer, has not enjoyed the best of reputations as an architect, either. Many hate the building and would love to see it demolished. I understand their concerns and share them to some extent but cannot help feeling that, illumined thus in sunshine, it acquires a certain grandeur. (OK, throw your brickbats now :) )

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

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West India Quay plus 1

Saturday, August 16th 2014

The Museum of London Docklands is holding an exhibition and so we went with friends to take a look. The exhibition is entitled Bridge and presents a set of photographs, sketches and paintings of London’s bridges from early times to the present, taken from the museum’s art collection. Admission is free and photography is allowed but without flash. Although the works on display were not without interest, I did not take any photos.

The Museum is in West India Quay, Docklands, and all the photos were taken there except one – hence the title. So let’s start with the “plus 1”:

Rush Hour
Rush Hour
George Segal (1983)

On the way we passed through Broadgate Avenue Square and, although I have photographed it before, I took another photo of its resident sculpture. This is usually in the shade but this morning the sunlight was shining on it, making it stand out against the duller background. It shows a collection of commuters at rush hour and is by George Segal (1924-2000). The models were friends and neighbours of the artist who applied strips of gauze soaked in plaster to them to make the moulds. The sculpture was made in 1983 but cast only in 1995. I am not sure whether this is the only copy as I have seen references to it in other collections.

Man with Arms Open
Man with Arms Open
Giles Penny (1995)

Our second bus dropped us off in West India Avenue in the Docklands. Here stands the now famous sculpture of an over-lifesized man with his arms outstretched and his head thrown back. It is by Giles Penny and is entitled, reasonably enough, Man with Arms Open.

Man with Arms Open
Man with Arms Open
Detail

The sculpture is a little mysterious in that the emotions of the figure are not clear. The pose could indicate triumph, relief or despair, and perhaps other emotions as well. I would like to be able to photograph it from above but there is no accessible vantage point nearby. I took the above photo with my arms at full stretch above my head.

Willoughby Passage Gate
Willoughby Passage Gate
Katy Hackney (1999)

The way to West India Quay from the avenue is along Willoughby Passage, named after the navigator and explorer Sir Hugh Willoughby (died 1554). At first sight, the route seems to be barred by a large gate or, rather, three gates, the larger being flanked by two smaller pedestrian entrances. However, there is a button on the gatepost and if you press this, the two small gates slowly swing open, allowing you through. The gate was designed, not by a sculptor but by a jeweller, Katy Hackney. The brief for the design apparently stipulated that the gate should offer “an open invitation to enter”. I find this curious because, surely, the best way to encourage access is to have no gate at all. Gates are, by their very nature, obstacles to free passage, however inviting you strive to make them. In this case, the passer-by is positively dissuaded from entering by the firmly closed gates unless he notices the button and is bold enough to press it. (There is presumably an ownership issue here: the land is owned by the developers but Willoughby Passage is public access, so they are presumably using gates to assert ownership while allowing access, a classic case of trying to have your cake and eat it.)

West India Quay
West India Quay
First glimpse

When you emerge from Willoughby Passage, which is like a tunnel though the building that surrounds it, you have your first glimpse of West India Quay. Once part of London’s docks, it has now fallen into disuse in that role and is at risk of being submerged in tall buildings as the area is developed. In the background, you can see the row of Georgian sugar warehouses (built 1802) where the Museum of London Docklands is sited.

West India Quay
West India Quay
Looking towards “No 1 West India Quay”

This view shows one of the buildings that risk submerging the Quay. Looking like something that has fallen off an aeroplane and stuck in the ground, this block that has a hotel on the first 12 floors and residential accommodation above that, is called No 1 West India Quay, though why it is allowed that name when it is a johnny-come-lately, I do not know. Respect for what is already there never was a strong suit of planners whose main obsession is building to make money.

Model of the Dock Gate
Model of the Dock Gate
Opened in 2000

The gate in the picture above is a scaled-down model of the original gate to the dock. It was opened by the Mayor of London in the year 2000 in celebration of the founding of the dock by William Pitt the Younger. Atop the gate is a model of The Hibbert, which traded from this dock, mainly with Jamaica, from 1785 to 1813.

St Peter's Barge
St Peter’s Barge
A floating church

One of the permanently moored vessels is the above, called St Peter’s Barge. It is a floating church, the one interesting feature of which was what looked to be a floating garden attached to to it by a cable. It’s not much of a garden, consisting only of a few weeds and some tyres, but I suspect it has another purpose: we spotted a moorhen going onto it so perhaps it is there to provide nesting sites for water birds.

An old hulk
An old hulk

This is a place of contrasts where huge commercial properties overshadow vestiges of the past. This view of an old hulk with tall modern blocks behind it seems to symbolize that.

Robert Milligan
Robert Milligan
Richard Westmacott (1813)

In front of the old sugar warehouses, now home to the museum, stands a monument to Robert Milligan. It was originally placed here in 1813 then moved to the main gate and later put in storage. It returned here in 1997. Who was Robert Milligan? The inscription on the probably tells us all we need to know:

TO PERPETUATE ON THIS SPOT
THE MEMORY OF
ROBERT MILLIGAN
A MERCHANT OF LONDON,
TO WHOSE GENIUS, PERSEVERANCE AND GUARDIAN CARE
THE SURROUNDING GREAT WORK PRINCIPALLY OWES
IT’S [sic] DESIGN, ACCOMPLISHMENT AND REGULATION.
THE DIRECTORS AND PROPRIETORS,
DEPRIVED BY HIS DEATH
ON 21ST MAY, 1809
OF THE CONTINUANCE OF HIS VALUABLE SERVICES,
BY THEIR UNANIMOUS VOTE
HAVE CAUSED THIS STATUE TO BE ERECTED.

Marker buoy
Marker buoy
Once used to show the position of a wreck

The newness of the environment has been tempered by a few ancient items reminiscent of the dock’s maritime past, rather as a householder might decorate his living room with the few antiques. There are two buoys and this one, painted green, was once used to mark the location of a wreck. Today it sits on dry land, its days on the waves almost forgotten.

Dockside cranes
Dockside cranes

Apart from the warehouses, the biggest reminders of the past are the dockside cranes. These once ran on rails and were used to load and unload the merchant ships that docked here. Today, they stand tall but skeletal, silent and still, the control cabin empty and locked shut.

Walking between the feet of giants
Walking between the feet of giants

Today you can walk without danger underneath the cranes and to do so feels like walking between the feet of giants.

Empty and pointing to the sky
Empty and pointing to the sky

Today the cranes point to the sky, perhaps because that is the position of least strain for the supporting mechanism. The empty cabin looks out on a scene very different from the heyday of the docks when the quay would have been jammed with ships and heaps of cargo.

West India Quay Bridge
West India Quay Bridge
Also known as the Floating Bridge

We left the quay by the footbridge. Officially called the West India Quay Bridge, it is also known as the Floating Bridge because it is supported on floating pontoons.

West India Quay
West India Quay
From the footbridge

I took a last photo of the Quay area from the footbridge and you can see how the view is hemmed in with tall buildings that block out the sky.

From the bridge, the road slopes upwards through Wren Landing to Cabot Square, named after John Cabot (c.1450-1498), the navigator and explorer who discovered Newfoundland in 1497, though he believed it to be part of Asia.

Couple on Seat
Couple on Seat
Lynn Chadwick (2000)

In the square, with their backs to the fountain, sit a pair of figures. Together they form a sculpture called Couple on Seat by the sculptor Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003). Despite their blank faces, they seem quite at ease in this setting and many passers-by stop to photograph them or to be photographed with them. I have noted before that it is interesting to see which parts of a public sculpture develop a high polish because those are the parts that people touch most often. Here there isn’t much of a mystery: the polished laps show that people sit on the sculptures to be photographed. Personally, I like to see sculptures being “adopted” in this way and becoming part of the living environment.

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

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Brighton and its gulls

Saturday, August 9th 2014

On a warm sunny day the seaside is an appealing destination and one of the most appealing, for its variety and interest, is “London by the Sea”, Brighton. Brighton, though, is popular with day-trippers, especially at weekends during the summer, and there is a risk of overcrowded trains. We bought baguettes and coffee at Kings Cross and boarded the 9:40 Brighton train at St Pancras. There were plenty of seats available at this point but the train filled up at later stops until there was standing room only.

Divalls Café
Divalls Café
Beside the station

Mercifully, the journey takes only an hour and a quarter, though by the time we disembarked, we were ready for a coffee break. The station was very bust and the streets were crowded. Happily, things were calmer in Divalls Café. This cafe is next to the station, on the opposite side of Terminus Road and we often go there when arriving in Brighton or for a last coffee just before leaving. The customers in the window seats saw me taking the photo and are giving me the hard stare!

The Mad Hatters
The Mad Hatters
A proper hate shop

We followed Trafalgar Street, which slopes steeply down and passes under the station, and leads to the “happening” heart of Brighton, centred on Gardner Street. At the bottom end of Trafalgar Street, we found the Mad Hatters, as this shop is called, and of course went in for a look. Even though men’s hats have been making something of a comeback in recent years, it’s still rare to find a proper hat shop, by which I mean a shop that specializes in hats and stocks good quality items. I discovered that I could have bought my new fedora here and tried it on instead of ordering it online and hoping for the best. Next time I buy a hat, I will come here first.

Gloucester Road
Gloucester Road
Shame about the intrusive cctv mast

This is an area that is popular both with residents and with visitors, so it was crowded and busy today. Parts of it are closed to traffic, allowing cafes to have tables outside and shops to have street stalls. It’s a pity that this intrusive cctv mast has been erected here, spoiling the view. Not just a mast, either, but a stonking great big one that you can’t ignore.

Gardner Street
Gardner Street
Shops, eateries, entertainments and more…

Gardner Street was packed. It is a pedestrian area during the season and  the roadway serves as terraces for the cafes and restaurants and extra space to walk in when the pavements are full. Old Brightonians might remember a time when this was a street of small, ordinary shops (my mother once bought new curtains here) but today it is a place of modern fashion boutiques, shops and cafes selling every possible sort of food and specialist outlets selling everything imaginable.

Wall painting
Wall painting
Jew Street
(Click for a larger version)

We continued from Gardner Street into Bond Street but about halfway along it deviated off to the right along a passageway. This took us into Jew Street (so called because Brighton’s first synagogue was built here in the 18th century) where many of the old buildings have been demolished to built a car park. The wall of the building provides a canvas for street artists and I here took my first panorama shot of the day. Art work like this continually evolves as new paintings are applied over the existing ones and next time we come here, it will look quite different. (Click for a larger view.)

A busker in New Road
A busker in New Road

Bond Street leads into North Street, so called because when it was built in the 17th century, it marked the northern limit of Brighton. Turning left and then turning left again brings you into a street called New Road. The name is slightly deceptive because the street has been in existence for over two centuries. It was built in 1804 to divert traffic away from the Royal Pavilion that had been growing ever larger over previous decades. Along one side are buildings that include the Theatre Royal, built in 1807 and, on the other, the gardens of the Royal Pavilion, happily now open to the public. (Incidentally, Bond Street, which runs parallel to New Road and dates from the late 18th century, and was originally called New Street. It was renamed Bond Street in about 1805, presumably to avoid confusion with the new New Road.)

Royal Pavilion Gardens
Royal Pavilion Gardens
The Royal stables are now the museum

We turned into the Royal Pavilion Gardens. This well tended park is open for the enjoyment of the public, though certain areas are closed off for regeneration or as reserves for special plantings. Today it was being well used with people relaxing and sunbathing or playing games. Here and there buskers were performing. In the picture you can see the dome of what is now that Brighton Museum but was originally built as the stables for the Prince Regent’s horses. Given the grandeur of the Pavilion itself, the stables had to match it in splendour.

Questing squirrel
Questing squirrel
He disappeared when we had nothing to offer

The human population of the park is temporary but there is also a permanent population including birds, insects and small mammals. One of the latter, a grey squirrel, approached to see whether we had any food to share. I managed to get just this one photo before he hurried away in search of more generous sponsors.

The Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion
Fantasy, art and history combined

We did not tarry in the gardens but walked through them heading towards the sea. I could not leave without at least one photo of the Pavilion, though. I love this fantastic creation with its riotous profusion domes, minarets and portals. Whatever his faults, the Prince Regent left us a unique jewel of a building which the city council has been carefully restoring to its original sumptuous beauty.

The Victoria Fountain
The Victoria Fountain
Old Steine Gardens

Near the seafront are the Old Steine Gardens. They are all that remain of an area of open ground where in ancient times, Brighton (or Brighthelmstone) fishermen spread out their nets to dry. It was then known as the Steyn, though I have not be able to find out the derivation of that name. Through it once ran a river called the Wellesbourne. This is now confined to a culvert but ever and anon causes flooding of people’s homes. The Victoria Fountain was erected in 1846 in honour of the new Queen’s accession. It took Brighton nine years to get around to organizing this celebratory installation and even then it was largely inspired and funded by a private citizen, surgeon John Cordy Burrows. It was commissioned from the Eagle Foundry in Gloucester Road by architect Amon Henry Wilds whose name (as “A.H. Wilds Architect”) appears on the basin. Unfortunately, the fountain was not working today though I do not know why not.

Questing gull
Questing gull
Hoping for a hand-out

Here we met the first of our gulls. Gulls are seabirds but they are also opportunists and highly adaptable. In some parts of the country they have adapted to life inland and no longer venture out to sea. In Brighton and other places where people congregate in large numbers, gulls have learnt to beg – and steal – food from humans. This one was not at all aggressive but kept an eye on us in case we should have any food to spare.

Brighton Pier
Brighton Pier
One of Brighton’s main attractions
(Click for a larger view)

Reaching the seafront, we set about photographing that symbol of Brighton, the Pier. Today it is called Brighton Pier but older Brightonians remember it as the Palace Pier. It used to cost us 3d to go onto it but these days admission is free. Once, the end of the pier would be packed with people fishing with rod and line, but fishing has been replaced by fairground rides and the fish can now swim safely around the supporting pillars.

Perhaps someone was feeding the gulls, though I couldn’t spot anyone doing this, but, whatever the reason, gulls were collecting in great numbers. (You can see some of them in the above photo.) Gulls engage in what I call “social flying” where they sail round and round in a crowd, often at speed. I suspect this has something to do with affirming group membership and hierarchy within it though you seldom see any rough play in the air. We watched fascinated as they soared and dived, often sailing fast parallel to the handrail only inches from us. We decided to try to get some photos of these masterly flyers, though the rapidity of their motion made this difficult. I got a satisfactory “bag” of shots and present six of these below in my “Gull Gallery”. If you have no interest in gulls you can skim over them but if you are as intrigued by them as I am, then enjoy the pictures.

Gull Gallery

Flying gull

Flying gull

Flying gull

Flying gull

Flying gull (juvenile)

Flying gull (calling)

Gull number 5 is a juvenile, still dressed in brown plumage. Juveniles tend to stay together in groups (as do human teenagers) but sometimes, like this one, they engage in social flying with the adults. In social flying, the gulls are usually quiet but sometimes they call out, as the one above is doing. Their cries are remarkably loud, given their relatively small frame.

In flight, gulls usually flatten their legs flush against their body to improve the aerodynamic configuration. If they have their legs down (see the gull in the background at the top of the first photo), this is like a plane with its undercarriage down: it probably means they expect to land shortly. On longer flights, their legs disappear altogether and this puzzled us at first until we saw a gull tucking his legs under his feathers. These gulls have their legs flush but not hidden: they have no plans to land but are ready if they decide to do so.

End of Gull Gallery

Entering the Pier
Entering the Pier
Very crowded and very noisy

We went onto the Pier which was very crowded. At the entrance are “bouncers” or security officers, though with all the coming and going I don’t know how they expect to spot anyone posing a threat. These days, the pier is just a big money-making machine. There are shops, stalls, fortune-teller booths and a slot-machine gallery. At the end of the pier, where, in the old days, cross-Channel steamers used to dock, there is a fun fair with all the usual – noisy – rides, and the inevitable bars and fast food stalls. It’s a far cry from the days of my childhood when there was little apart from the slot-machine gallery and a few candyfloss stands. Not everyone shares my somewhat misanthropic view, however, and the crowds seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Looking east along the beach
Looking east along the beach
The Brighton Wheel is licensed to 2016

I took this photo  from the pier, looking east along Brighton’s famous shingle beach. Unless you are used to it, the pebbles are hard on your bare feet, especially when you have been in the water for a while. Some people wear sandals even while bathing, for this reason.

The Brighton Wheel was set up, amid protests, in 2011 and is licensed until 2016. Local residents have gone to court to stop its installation or have it removed but have not been successful so far. Will it be licensed for another term from 2016?

Gull on the look-out
Gull on the look-out
Do not assume innocent intent!

There are gulls on the pier too, of course. The lamps are a favourite look-out point, high enough for the gulls to feel safe but close enough to passers-by to see who has ice cream or chips or any other food. The gulls may look innocent but don’t be fooled: we saw a gull swoop on two young women and try to snatch the food one was carrying. The attempt failed and, fortunately, no one was hurt but it shows the dangers.

Marauding gull Marauder gull
Larus agentatus
At home on land, in the air and upon the waters

Gulls are such expert flyers that they can drop down to you, grab food out of your hand and fly off again before you realize what’s happening. The gulls are blamed but it is the fault of people who feed them in defiance of the notices telling you not to do so.

Not waving but swimming...
Not waving but swimming…

Gulls are not the only sea creatures observable from the pier. We spotted this swimmer powering past as though his life depended on it. Perhaps it did. Anyway, he was a furlong out from the shore and still going strong. Not the subject of Stevie Smith’s poem, obviously.

Panorama looking west
Panorama looking west
The ruin of the West Pier is visible
(Click for a larger view)

I took the above panoramic picture looking west from a vantage point near the end of the pier. Visible is the blackened section of skeleton that is all that remains of the ill-fated West Pier, destroyed by storm and arson. Standing on Brighton Pier taking the photo and feeling the solid planks beneath my feet, it would be easy to dismiss notions of similar harm coming to it but so many piers have been destroyed over the years – swept away by storms, consumed by fire, or left to crumble through neglect – that their fragility must always be borne in mind. As a case in point, Eastbourne Pier has recently been badly damaged by fire. Happily, there are plans to restore it.

Victorian-style carousel
Victorian-style carousel
Enduringly popular

Among the noisy and rather violent forms of entertainment, a quieter installation was finding customers. It is perhaps surprising in this age of machines and sophisticated technology that the Victorian-style carousel with its organ music and painted wooden horses remains popular. And not just here: I find them in nearly every fairground or pier head that we visit. Perhaps the secret of their success is their very simplicity and their gentleness of movement that sets them apart in a dreamy childhood world that children are too quickly hurried out of these days.

View from the bus stop
View from the bus stop
The pier, the beach and the Brighton Wheel

I was not sorry to leave the din and the crush of people as we made our way off the pier back to terra firma and the bus stop where we could catch a bus to the station. I always enjoy a visit to Brighton where two worlds, that I vaguely call Then and Now, overlay one another and the past, with its memories, flickers in and out among the sights and sounds of today.

By leaving early, we beat the inevitable later rush and the train was not too crowded. We were soon again absorbed back into the mighty whirlpool that is London.

Juvenile gull preening
Juvenile gull preening

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

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Blackfriars dozen

Thursday, August 7th 2014

Tigger is on the late shift today and so we left home together, had breakfast in a cafe and then went down to Blackfriars. Tigger had heard that HMS President, moored there, had been turned into a “dazzle ship” so we went along to take a look.

Looking upriver at Blackfriars Bridge
Looking upriver at Blackfriars Bridge
(Click for a larger version)

As part of the centenary commemoration of the 1914-18 War, two ship-based artworks have been commissioned, both called Dazzle Ships. There is one in Liverpool and one in London. You can just see the London one in the above photo, on the right.

Dazzle Ship
Dazzle Ship
Tobias Rehberger

“Dazzling” was a camouflage paint scheme used on ships, particularly during World War I, to make it harder for an enemy to identify ships and to estimate their distance and speed. There is more information about the project on this 1418Now page and a time-lapse video here. HMS President, now a bar, was itself a dazzle ship during World War I.

Downstream contre-jour
Downstream contre-jour

Tigger had to go to work so we bade our tearful adieus and I tarried a while, taking a few more photos. In the centre you can see two towers, the old chimney stack of the old power station that has become the Tate Modern art gallery and, to its left, Renzo Piano’s intrusive extravaganza, the Shard.

City of London School
City of London School

Opposite on the north side of the Victoria Embankment stands the City of London School. At least, that’s what it is according to the deep-cut lettering above the door. The school moved here in the 1880s but has moved again further east. The building was clearly meant to impress and clearly deserves its Grade II listing.

Inspirational sculptures
Inspirational sculptures

The school is well decorated with carvings and sculptures. Of the latter, those that catch the eye are the four who stand above the first-floor windows, each upon a pedestal on which his name is inscribed. From left to right, they are Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton and Newton, names that were no doubt intended to inspire pupils to do great works themselves. The names of the sculptor is not known and these figures were supplied by a firm called J. Daymond & Sons who seem to have been stone masons rather than artist-sculptors. To me, though, they seem good enough and provide a point of interest.

Controlled Energy
Controlled Energy
Sir William Reid Dick

The morning sun was just gently caressing this equestrian sculpture on a nearby building. The building is Unilever House at 100 Victoria Embankment (the old City of London School is at 54) and I have already written about it and shown a picture of this sculpture (see One to take home). If ever someone decided to build an Art Deco fortress, then Unilever House is probably what it would look like.

Main door
Main door
Unilever House

In view of its grand size (for example, see here), Unilever House has a surprisingly small entrance. Then again, that goes with the image of a fortress: small entrances are easier to defend. The massive metal gates also suggest a defensive preoccupation. Over the door is an octagonal Art Deco style clock. In centuries past, people put clocks on their buildings to impress – hence the enormous size of many of them. This clock is small, nice but not impressive. What is its purpose? Perhaps for employees to check as they enter whether they are late? Or to say that time stops for no man? Or that time is money?

Lamp standards
Lamp standards
Walter Gilbert

Framing the doorway is a pair a very fine bronze lamp standards. These are by Walter Gilbert (1871-1946), whose name (as “Gilbert W. D.”) appears as scratched by hand, on the plinth. Tigger said they reminded her of asparagus spears and I agree, but they also recall those decorated medieval cannon made in the Far East.

Base Panel
Base Panel

The barrel of the lamp stand is covered with figures and at the base are panels with larger figures. Above is a picture of just one of those. They are very finely modelled though I haven’t managed to interpret the picture.

End door
End door

At the eastern end on the building is a small door reached by a flight of steps. The Art Deco geometric styling of the door and the lamps is relieved by the curving metalwork of the fanlight and even more so by the curvaceous merman above it.

Merman
Merman
Curvy but stylized

Curvy, yes, but still stylized in the Art Deco manner. The merman has a net of fish and he forms a pair with a mermaid, the keystone of another door. They are by Gilbert Ledward (1888-1960).

The Victoria Embankment
The Victoria Embankment
A busy thoroughfare

In case you thought this was some peaceful oasis in the city, the above photo shows that this is not the case. The Victoria Embankment is a busy thoroughfare. Fortunately, a busy thoroughfare also implies plenty of buses when it is time to go home.

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

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A bit of Kensington

Saturday, August 2nd 2014

Unusually warm conditions (unusual for this wet and wind-swept island, at least) continue, discouraging over-vigorous activity. A leisurely breakfast at Pret in St John Street seemed a good way to set the day in motion. Then we took to the buses. I didn’t ask where we were heading but Tigger obviously had a goal in mind and that was good enough for me.

Piccadilly
Piccadilly
Hotels and posh houses

We changed buses at the Hyde Park end of Piccadilly which is both a major thoroughfare and a district of large buildings of which a few are still residential and others accommodate hotels or business premises.

Bee or hoverfly? Bee or hoverfly?
Bee or hoverfly?
Taking a rest at the bus stop

On the bus stop timetable, we spotted this small creature. I am not sure whether it is a hoverfly or a bee. Its furry jacket suggests to me that it is probably a bee but I could be wrong. While we are used to honey bees there are other different types of bee, many of which are solitary, and they are not always easy to recognize. There are also many different species of hoverfly and it is no doubt to their advantage if potential predators mistake them for bees or wasps which, unlike the peaceful hoverfly, are armed with stings.

L'Institut Français
L’Institut Français
Unfortunately, closed for the summer

When we got off the bus at South Kensington and struck out alone Harrington Road, our destination became obvious: The French Institute! I was looking forward to rummaging around in the library and perhaps having lunch in the cafe but, alas, it was not to be. The Institute was closed for its summer break. I wrote about a previous visit (see Italian Friday… French Saturday) and that will have to do until we can come back on a day when they are open.

Decorative figures
Decorative figures
French Institute

Fortunately, although the Institute itself was closed, there was plenty to see in the area. We found a quiet cafe in Bute Street and watched the toing and froing in the Farmers’ Market.

The Farmers' Market
The Farmers’ Market
Bute Street

The presence of the French Institute and the French Lycée acts as a magnet to the London French community. A visible result of this is a number of French shops, particularly food shops and bookshops. We had already looked in one French bookshop along the way and found a second one here in Bute Street, disarmingly called The French Bookshop.

The French Bookshop
The French Bookshop
The real thing

The name is about the only concession made to the surrounding culture. On entering I was met with a polite but firm “Bonjour” and I was to all intents and purposes in France. French bookshops look, sound and smell quite different from English bookshops. Maybe it’s the paper or the bindings or.., well, I really don’t know, but the difference is quite marked. As well as books, the French bookshops in the area also sell stationery, much of it what is needed by students at the Lycée but all of it uncompromisingly French.

Je vais mieux
Je vais mieux
David Foenkinos

I wanted to buy a book but which one? The bookshop seemed to have everything, from the classics to the latest titles. This was going to take all day, unless… The shopkeeper seemed unoccupied apart from keeping a quizzical eye on me so I asked her advice. She was only too happy to oblige and pulled out a book here, another there, a third over there, all the while explaining what they were about. I couldn’t help wondering whether she had read all the books in the shop. I wouldn’t be surprised. In the end I plumped for Je vais mieux, not least, I must confess, because of the author’s unusual name which is apparently pronounced ‘fwen kee noss’. If you are French, you put the emphasis on the last syallble, fwenkeeNOSS.

Unusual pillar box Unusual pillar box
Unusual pillar box
The cypher is that of Queen Victoria

Continuing our explorations, we spotted this unusual post box. I am used to seeing free-standing pillar boxes and smaller wall boxes, and even boxes strapped to telephone posts, but this one is different from all of those. It is flat fronted like a wall box but is as large as a pillar box. It has been set it what looks as though it once served as a gate post, though its companion is no longer present. It bears the royal cypher of Queen Victoria, meaning that it was installed well over a hundred years ago. I appears in lists under its identifier, “SW7 5”, but I have not been able to find out anything about its history or design. English Heritage has listed a number of other post boxes in the area but not this one though it seems to me interesting enough to protect.

St Augustine's Queen's Gate
St Augustine’s Queen’s Gate
Now bears the boring name HTB Queen’s Gate

Further up the road is a Victorian church built by William Butterfield in 1865. It was then called At Augustine’s Queen’s Gate. In 1949 it was considered worthy of a Grade II* listing by English Heritage. You can see some pictures of the interior on this Victorian Web page. I don’t know whether it is still listed as I have been unable to find an up-to-date listing reference. The church now bears the rather boring name “HTB Queen’s Gate” in which the initials, I believe, stand for “Holy Trinity Brompton”, which was also once a church in its own right with a proper name. In other words, St Augustine’s is one of a group of four churches that have been gathered together under the single HTB banner, no doubt because it is these days hard enough to fill one church, let alone four. It’s a pity they couldn’t come up with a less boring name. Here’s an idea: why not call it Saint Augustine’s?

"Anonymous" Pillar Box
“Anonymous” Pillar Box
Something’s missing

Across the road we found our second unusual post box. This one is a proper free-standing pillar box and at first sight it is in every way like the traditional boxes up to the present day. But wait a minute: where’s the royal cypher? It’s not there. You can’t tell in which reign the box was installed unless you know something about post boxes. This design appeared in 1879 when it replaced the then current Penfold boxes. Whether through an oversight or as a deliberate design policy, I do not know, but the royal cypher (which would have been “V R”) was not included. nor were the words “POST OFFICE” that normally appear somewhere on the box. As a result, these post boxes became known a “Anonymous Pillar Boxes”. With the accession of Edward VII, the royal cypher was once again included.

You may notice another peculiarity of this post box. Imagine trying to post a large envelope: see how small the aperture is. It is also right at the top, just below the roof of the box, creating a real risk that items will get jammed and will not drop into the collecting area. In later boxes the aperture was placed lower for this reason.

The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Legacy of the Prince Consort

We next walked along Cromwell Road which leads to an area once known as “Albertopolis” after Prince Albert. The Prince proposed that some of the profit made from the Great Exhibition, in whose successful creation he had played so important a part, should be used to buy land on which could be established some educational foundations. The first of these that we reached was the Natural History Museum which, though dear to Albert’s heart, was not the first to be built. Today there was a huge queue to enter, so we moved on and looked at the Science Museum next to it. There were queues there too. So we plumped for the Victoria & Albert Museum which, though it was busy, we were able to enter easily.

The Great Bed of Ware
The Great Bed of Ware
Famed for its huge size

This, the first of the museums to be built, was originally called by the snappy title of Museum of Manufactures. Happily, by the time it opened to the public in 1857, it had been renamed the South Kensington Museum, perhaps because its coverage had been considerably widened. In fact, some of its exhibits were later moved to the newly founded Science Museum.

I don’t know how many people could sleep in the Great Bed of Ware but it’s probably big enough for a small (and well behaved) family. It existed by no later than 1596, when it is mentioned by a traveller, and became famous for its size. It even rates a mention in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Leopard Flagon (1884)
Leopard Flagon (1884)
A silver gilt copy of an original of c 1600

The South Kensington Museum did not rest on its laurels but expanded several times, adding new parts. It was in 1899 when, at her last public appearance, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the Aston Webb building, that its name was changed to the one by which we know and love it today – the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Anything feline always catches my attention and therefore so did the above ceremonial flagon. Made of silver gilt and clearly not intended for just one person to drink from, the original was made in about 1600 for Queen Elizabeth I and sold in 1629 to the Tsar of Russia, the leopard being a symbol of royal power. This copy was made in 1884.

The Bather
The Bather
Albert Toft (1915)

I noticed this piece less for its intrinsic artistic appeal (I think it is a rather conventional piece, perhaps intended for someone’s garden) than because it is by Albert Toft (1862-1949) some of whose works I have come across before. For example, he created the rather fine sculptures that adorn the outside of the Hall of Memory in Birmingham (see Birmingham jewels) and The Spirit of Contemplation in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle (see Durham 2013 – Day 2).

The Parlour from 11 Henrietta Street, London The Parlour from 11 Henrietta Street, London
The Parlour from 11 Henrietta Street, London
Early 18th century

This parlour designed in 1727-28 is everything that the cluttered parlours of the High Victorian Age a hundred years later were not: simple, elegantly proportioned, classical in inspiration, cool in colour. The deeply moulded ceiling is enlivened with colourful paintings but the overall effect is restraint and balance. Which you prefer, the cool but restful 18th century restraint or the warmth and homely clutter of the Victorian room, is a matter of personal choice. I think I admire the 18th-century parlour but feel more at home in the Victorian. Even now, in our brave new world of the 21st century, I think we are almost palpably closer to the Victorians than we sometimes realize.

Disobedient Objects
Disobedient Objects
Disobedient Objects
Special exhibition at the V&A

There was a special exhibition on at the V&A. Admission was free and there was a grown-up attitude to photography: “Photography is allowed unless objects are marked otherwise”. The exhibition was Disobedient Objects, described, in part, as follows:

Disobedient Objects is an exhibition of art and design from below. The objects on show were not made by commercial designers, but by people collectively taking design into their own hands to make a change in the world. The makers often worked under duress with limited resources, driven to out-design authority using imagination and creativity.

For more information, these articles from the Guardian and the BBC may be of interest.

The exhibition was in a fairly small space with items closely packed. The place was crowded and it was therefore quite hard to take photos without heads, faces and bodies getting in the way! I contented myself with the above two views.

Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
General view

We made our way out through the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries and I was struck by how many people there were visiting the museum, including families with children. Admittedly it is a weekend during the school summer holiday and parents are probably hard pressed to find things to do as a family but, even with that, it’s good to see parents cultivating the “museum habit” in their children and also enjoying it.

Choir Screen from 'S-Hertogenbosch
Choir Screen from ‘S-Hertogenbosch
Workshop of Conrad von Norenberch (1600-13)

The museums of “Albertopolis” are certainly among the nobler legacies of Prince Albert, who did many good things for his adopted country and would no doubt have done more but for his untimely death from typhoid, aggravated by exhaustion. Neither the royal couple nor the various governments that served during Victoria’s long reign are to be exempted from just criticism but they also transformed the nation and laid the foundations of developments for which we can be grateful and of which we can be proud. While the Albert Memorial remains the most striking memorial to the Prince, the Victoria and Albert and its companions are a greater and more valuable one.

The V&A Lobby
The V&A Lobby
A moment’s respite before confronting
the heat of the streets again

We left the museum and went to the conveniently nearby bus stop to start our journey home. I will, though, leave you with a tailpiece :)

Yes, as the caption says, I have a new hat. My old one, much as I loved it, had become rather the worse for wear. Even the ever-tolerant Tigger had passed the occasional remark. So I have swapped my black Fedora for… another black Fedora – naturally! I have of course transferred the Silver Tiger brooch that my son gave me and you might just be able to see it above my hand in the photo.

Self-portrait with new hat
Self-portrait with new hat

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

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New Change to the Isle of Dogs

Saturday, July 26th 2014

Even though it was still hot and humid today, we thought we should make the effort to get out and about. A bus took us to New Change, an area of new shopping developments between Cheapside and Cannon Street. This is within the City and usually quite busy. Today, though, it was strangely quiet.

New Change
New Change…
…was strangely quiet

Not that this was in any way a disincentive – quite the opposite, as it meant that there were fewer people to get in the way of the camera!

Watling Street
Watling Street

Wandering on, we took a few photos here and there but there was nothing that was very interesting until we came to Pancras Lane.

St Pancras Church Garden
St Pancras Church Garden
Site of the church destroyed in the Great Fire

Here we find a small oasis called St Pancras Church Garden. At this relatively early hour, most of it was shaded from the sun by the tall buildings all around it but at the height of a heat wave, that in itself is welcome. St Pancras was an ancient church that was burnt down during the Great Fire in 1666 and was never replaced. Despite the disappearance of the church itself, the burial ground continued in use until 1853, when all urban cemeteries were closed. By 2010 the site had become derelict and a plan was made to bring it into public use as a park or garden. Most old urban church burial grounds have been turned into gardens but what is unusual in this case is the furniture.

Carved settle

A group called Studio Weave planned the garden and the beautifully carved chairs, benches and panels were made by students of the Historic Carving Department of the City & Guilds of London Art School. Historical, decorative and religious themes appear, all executed to a high standard. Here are some more examples:

Peacocks

Settle back Floor panel

The panel on the right above may look as though it is tipped to one side but that is an optical illusion caused by the fact that panel has been cut as a diamond shape and not a rectangle.

Settle

Adam and Eve

As this is a garden associated with a church, it is perhaps fitting that one of the carvings represents scenes from the Garden of Eden story of Adam and Eve. On the left, God is drawing out Eve from the recumbent body of a sleeping Adam and on the right, the pair self-consciously cover themselves with a fig leaf while Adam eats the apple given him by Eve and the latter seems to be feeding an apple to the Serpent.

Boy with Goose Boy with Goose
Boy with Goose
Sir William Reid Dick (1936-37)

We emerged onto Queen Victoria Street and, from here, looking up towards Bank, you can see the old Midland Bank Headquarters and there. on the corner of the block is the sculpture Boy with Goose. I should rather say one of the sculptures, because they are a pair at either end, mirror images the one of the other. They were made by sculptor Sir William Reid Dick in 1936-7 and their subject reflects the name of the street in which the building resides – Poultry.

Strata SE1
Strata SE1
Seen looking down Dowgate Hill

We looped back down towards Cannon Street Station, beside which is a narrow street called Dowgate Hill. I was startled to look down the hill and see the Strata SE1 apartment block. It is located at the Elephant and Castle, in Southwark, on the other side of the Thames but nonetheless visible from here. Being 43 floors tall, there isn’t much that can get in its way. This strange building opened in 2010 to immediate controversy. Its strange shape derives from the fact that on the roof there are three wind turbines which, it was claimed, would generate something like 8% of the building’s electricity requirement. It is unlikely that this boast has been fulfilled because you hardly ever see the turbines in operation. I am a frequent visitor to the area but don’t remember when I last saw any of the them spinning.

St Swithun's Church Garden
St Swithun’s Church Garden

Nearby is Oxford Court and looking up this we saw a gate and, through it, a strange shape, rather like a thin onion with its stalk in the air. Closer inspection revealed that these were the grounds of St Swithun’s, yet another church destroyed in the Great Fire.

Memorial to Catrin Glyndŵr
Memorial to Catrin Glyndŵr
Died in the Tower of London in 1413

Catrin ferch Owain Glyndŵr was the daughter of Owain Glyndŵr, who rebelled against English rule and was proclaimed Prince of Wales in 1400. During the struggle for independence, Catrin and her three children were taken prisoner in Harlech in 1409 and incarcerated in the Tower of London. Catrin died in 1413 and was buried at St Swithun’s. More can be read about their history here and here. The monument was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and was sculpted by Richard Renshaw. It was unveiled by Siân Phillips on September 16th, Glyndŵr Day, 2001. On the plinth are lines of verse in Welsh, with English translation, by Welsh poet Menna Elfyn.

Break the Wall of Distrust
Break the Wall of Distrust Break the Wall of Distrust
Break the Wall of Distrust
Zurab V. Tzereteli (unveiled 1990)

At 108 Cannon Street, on a corner with Laurence Pountney Hill (the eastern street of that name), we found this sculpture set in a niche. It was unveiled in 1990 and is by Georgian sculptor Zurab Tzereteli, described as “People’s Sculptor of the USSR”, though I don’t know who accorded him this grandiloquent title. It is said by some to celebrate the ending of the Cold War but it might equally hold a message for us today in view of current events in the Ukraine.

Altab Ali Park
Altab Ali Park
Whitechapel

We jumped on a bus and made a short stop in Whitechapel. My first attempt at using the panorama function on my new camera took place here, in Altab Ali Park. So I thought I would take another one while I was here. Click on the above image to see a bigger version, though to see it in all its glory you may need to click to enlarge and then scroll along it.

The City seen across the Thames
The City seen across the Thames
From the Isle of Dogs

We took another hop, this time to the Isle of Dogs. We were looking for somewhere green and cool to relax and enjoy the breeze off the Thames. In the above photo you can see a cluster of buildings, all of them famous (or infamous), that have come to characterize the City in our day.

We found the greenery we were looking for in Sir John McDougall Gardens, which is the viewpoint from which the above photo is taken. I would have photographed the park normally but today, everywhere we looked, there were bodies, semi-naked because of the heat, and instinct told me that the intrusive eye of the camera would be less than welcome! I made do with a few photos of the river, which is always impressive, whatever the season. These included the panorama below. This is even bigger than the one I took in Whitechapel so it looks very small here. Click on the image to see a larger version.

The Thames
The Thames
From Sir John McDougall Gardens, Isle of Dogs

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