The Millennium Dome and Woolwich

Saturday, May 20th 2017

The Millennium Dome, aka The White Elephant, was built at the end of last century on Greenwich Peninsula (see map below) to house an exhibition called The Millennium Experience held during the year 2000. The project to build the Dome was controversial from the outset continued to be so in view of the fact that ticket sales and other income failed to cover the cost, leaving the taxpayer to pay the debt. Once the exhibition closed, there was uncertainty as to the future of the Dome and demolition seemed a likely outcome as nobody could be found to take it on. Its appearance is hardly prepossessing as it looks more like a deflated balloon supported on crutches than what I imagine when I see the word ‘dome’.

The current ownership of the Dome and surrounding area is a complex issue that I will not go into but that you can read about here. Suffice it to say that that Dome now forms part of an entertainment, dining and shopping complex bearing the name The O2.

The Dome and Woolwich on the map
The Dome and Woolwich on the map
(Click for Google Map)

We travelled to the Dome/O2 on the Jubilee Line tube. North Greenwich Station is close by the site. The Dome of course, does not stand in splendid isolation but is surrounded by other buildings. We did not explore these. Their presence does make it a little difficult to get agood photo of the Dome as a whole. The best way to do so seems to be from the air, a tactic currently beyond our means.

The Dome aka The O2
The Dome aka The O2

My name for this lame piece of architecture is the Cowpat, because I think its looks like a cow’s dropping with straws stuck in it. A more unsuitable structure for an exhibition or for use as an entertainment centre is hard to imagine.

Approaching the entrance
Approaching the entrance

From a distance you wonder whether there is even any space underneath the curved roof which seems to hug the ground with the intention of keeping people out. There is a strange ‘Tardis effect’, however, for when you arrive, it gives the impression of being bigger on the inside than on the outside! This was fortunate as confined spaces make me feel uneasy, especially when crowded.

On entering you are greeted by courteous and friendly uniformed security staff who politely request to see the contents of any bags you may be carrying. Some people regard this as an intrusion into their privacy – which it undoubtedly is – but given the dangers of the times in which we live I consider this a quite reasonable precaution and am happy to go along with it. (If you really do not want to undergo a bag search then you can refuse but in that case you will probably be denied admission.)

We walked around the interior intending to make a complete circuit but this proved not to be possible. There are considerable building works in progress inside the Dome and you eventually reach a dead end and have to go back. There follow below eight of the photos that I took as we went (photography is allowed) without comment as none seems needed. Some are multiple frames stitched together and may show a small amount of distortion. (Click to see larger versions.)

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

The O2 interior

As mentioned, we did not explore the other buildings on the site though this colourful structure, which looked as though it had been made out of Lego, caught our attention:

'Lego building'
‘Lego building’

We continued along the south bank of the Thames in the direction of Woolwich and thus arrived at what must be the oddest of the Thames crossings.

Emirates Air Line
Emirates Air Line

The Emirates Air Line is a cable car service crossing the Thames from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks on the north bank. As well as providing a transport link, it is advertised as giving superb views of London and providing an exciting experience in itself. I cannot testify personally to these advertised benefits as I have not yet used the service though I hope to give it a try one day. The service has operated since 2012 and was planned and built by TfL (Transport for London) who operate it. Costs, as happens too often with public projects, quickly escalated from the initial estimate of £25m to £60m and public finance was sought. Emirates, the airline company, offered £36m in a deal that included branding the service and cars with the Emirates name for a ten-year period. The name ‘Emirates Air Line’, though perhaps appropriate for a cable car service, is obviously a transparent pun on the company’s business name.

Looking down the Thames
Looking down the Thames

The Thames engages in a huge meander in this area, first making a loop to the south, creating the Isle of Dogs, and then a loop to the north, making the Greenwich Peninsula. As we look downstream from here, the river makes two swings to the left carrying it out of our line of sight. I marvel at how different the Thames looks at different points along its length.

Cormorants drying their wings
Cormorants drying their wings

I was happy to see two cormorants perched together drying their wings. Cormorants are fascinating birds who use their wings to ‘fly’ under water in pursuit of fish. If they catch one, they bob to the surface and swallow it there. (The Chinese have a tradition of using trained cormorants for fishing, putting a ring around the bird’s neck to prevent it swallowing the fish.) Unlike other diving birds, cormorants need to dry their wings after fishing and they do this by holding them open to the wind and sunlight. Cormorants are often seen flying low over the surface of the water or floating and paddling along. They dive from a floating position, giving a little jump to help them on their way. They often reappear at the surface quite some distance from their entry point and it’s easy to miss them altogether on a crowded Thames. I once watched a cormorant fishing and tried to hold my breath each time it dived until it reappeared. I didn’t always manage to do so! The presence of colonies of cormorants is a sign of how much the once poisonously polluted Thames has recovered and now supports aquatic life again.

Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park
Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park

A little further on, we came the the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, which is run by the Conservation Volunteers, and walked some way into it. It provides a habitat for wild life species that like a marshy environment.

Human habitat on the edge of the park
Human habitat on the edge of the park

There are human dwellings on the edge of the park in what looks to be a very pleasant setting.

Royal Arsenal Gatehouse
Royal Arsenal Gatehouse

The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich was established in 1671, initially as a facility to store gunpowder and other materials and to carry out the proofing of fire arms. Over the following two centuries it grew, acquiring new roles. The Royal Arsenal Gatehouse was built as its main entrance in 1829 (with later modifications) It is also known as the Beresford Gate in honour of General William Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford (1768-1854), who was Master-General of the Ordnance and Governor of the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. It is Grade II listed.

Former County Court
Former County Court

When I first saw this building with the royal coat of arms at the top and the cipher of George V incorporating the date 1935, I thought it must be an old post office, though it did seem unusually small for that. It turned out to be the Woolwich former County Court. It has been closed and is now up for sale. This is not an isolated example of a courthouse being declared redundant: there are many such all over the country being put on the property market as witness this site.

Public Library
Public Library

This lovely library with its unusual bay window was obviously going to attract my attention. It was built in 1901 by Church, Quick and Whincop in a tasteful combination of stone and red brick. Its days as a library are over, however, its duties having been taken over by a newer Central Library, and it has been repurposed. Happily it is Grade II listed so, all being well, it is protected for the future.

Former Town Hall
Former Town Hall

Woolwich’s old town hall was built in 1842, as an inscription declares. It is relatively unpretentious in its classical style but, I think, elegant in its way. Woolwich was to grow and develop quickly in the latter part of the 19th century and its administration soon outgrew its accommodation. A new town hall was built in 1903 and continues in use. This one, given over to other uses, is Grade II listed.

Woolwich Polytechnic Young Men's Christian Institute
Woolwich Polytechnic Young Men’s Christian Institute

I was intrigued by this building with its terra cotta decorations. Over the door we can read the legend

WOOLWICH POLYTECHNIC
YOUNG MEN’S
CHRISTIAN INSTITUTE

I think this must have been founded by Quintin Hogg (1845-1903) who is better known for the YMCI in London that became known as the Polytechnic of Central London (now part of the University of Westminster). This Grade II listed building was erected in 1890-1 and includes a gymnasium. I do not know anything more of its history other than that it is now part of the University of Woolwich.

The main focus of today’s outing was the Millennium Dome, aka the O2, and we spent relatively little time in Woolwich. Perhaps we will return on another occasion and pay it more careful attention.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Chelmsford and its Cathedral

Saturday, May 13th 2017

We have already visited Chelmsford once before (see A look at Chelmsford) but we did not see all of it then nor we will do so today. In his book Essex, Nikolaus Pevsner writes ‘A walk through the town does not afford much excitement. But it is pleasant, because the centre has remained singularly unaffected by the coarser and louder forms of commercialization. The main streets are architecturally quiet…’1 That was forty-odd years ago but Chelmsford does not seem to have changed hugely in the interim.

In case you want to locate it with reference to London, here is a map (click for the corresponding Google Map):

Chelmsford on the map
Chelmsford on the map
(Click for Google Map)

Chelmsford seems to have originated in about 60 AD when the Romans created a settlement here called Caesaromagus which comprised a market town and a fort. It gained prominence as the half-way point between London and Camulodunum (Colchester). Two rivers run close by, the Can and the Chelmer, and the Romans built bridges over them. During Anglo-Saxon times, the bridges presumably collapsed and the settlement became known as Ceolmaes’ Ford (the initial ‘c’ pronounced as ‘ch’), though whether that is a person’s name, I do not know.

(The similarity between Ceolmaes and the name of the River Chelmer should not be allowed to confuse the issue. It seems that the name Chelmer was applied to the river only from about the late 1500s. In Anglo-Saxon times it was known as Beadewan Ea, i.e River Beadewan.)

Chelmsford Station
Chelmsford Station

We arrived by train and disembarked at Chelmsford Station. The railway reached here in 1843 but the present station was built in 1985, modified in 2016. From the station, we set out, as we usually do, to wander as fancy took us and to see what we might discover.

Former Friends' Meeting House
Former Friends’ Meeting House

Near the station stands a building that I would characterize as having a quality of quiet dignity and elegance. That  is unsurprising since it was built by Quakers in 1826 as a Friends’ Meeting House. They sold it in 1957 when they moved to a new meeting house. I photographed it on my last visit (see here) when it was looking somewhere sad and neglected. It has now been refurbished as an American-style bar and diner called Grand Central. We went inside and sampled their milkshakes.

There has been quite a vogue for retro 1950s-style ‘American’ diners in the last few years. It reminds me somewhat of a similar vogue a couple of decades ago for dressing up pubs as ‘Western’ bars. The latter seem largely to have disappeared and it remains to be seen how long the American diners will survive before people  tire of them and something new pops up to take their place.

The Railway Tavern
The Railway Tavern

Marking a contrast with the American bar is the nearby traditional Victorian pub. Called the Railway Tavern, it stands in rather curious isolation between two roads, causing me to wonder whether there were once buildings either side of it that have been demolished. Built probably in the mid-1800s, it has survived so far is still going strong as far as I can see.

Chelmsford's War Memorial
Chelmsford’s War Memorial

Chelmsford’s War Memorial stands in front of the City Council Offices in Duke Street. It is relatively plain, compared with some of the more flamboyant examples to be seen in other cities, but possesses a quiet dignity. The Portland stone monument, designed by E.J. Miles, who was the Borough Engineer at the time, was erected in 1923 to commemorate the fallen in the Great War, as indicated by the original inscription:

TO THE
MEN OF CHELMSFORD
WHO FELL IN THE
GREAT WAR
1914-1918

Sadly, as with so many First World War monuments, it had to be adapted three decades later by adding another inscription:

AND TO
ALL CITIZENS
WHO FELL IN THE
WORLD WAR
1939-1945

It is now Grade II listed.

The Civic Centre
The Civic Centre

A decade or so after the installation of the memorial, the Civic Centre was built behind it. It contains the Council Chamber which is these days available for hire. I liked the sweeping staircase and the clamshell decoration, incorporating the city’s coat of arms, above the door. Chelmsford became a city, as did a number of other towns, in 2012, in celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee.

Antique posting box
Antique posting box

Should you wish to leave a message when the Civic Centre is closed, you can post a note or letter in the antique posting box that stands near the door. I am intrigued by this as it is of no model that I have been able to find, yet it was obviously designed as a post box. Perhaps it was made abroad but, if so, how did it come to be here?

Marconi Memorial Statue Marconi Memorial Statue
Marconi Memorial Statue
Stephen Hicklin, 2002

This memorial statue commemorates the the achievements of Giulielmo Marconi who opened the world’s first radio factory in Chelmsford, giving this city a place in the history of modern communications. Marconi later sent the first transatlantic radio message to America from Cornwall in 1901.  The statue shows Marconi, in a somewhat balletic pose, albeit uncomfortably encumbered by the wire wound around his legs, holding a telephone handset or a microphone. From his left hand, dramatically flung outwards, emanates a lightning flash. He stands upon a small model of the terrestrial globe, criss-crossed with cables.

Chelmsford Cathedral
Chelmsford Cathedral

Although Chelmsford did not become a city until 2012, as noted, it had acquired a cathedral in 1914. In this year, the Diocese of Chelmsford was created and the Church of St Mary the Virgin was promoted to cathedral status. Later its saintly patronage was extended to include St Peter and St Cedd, giving it the rather lengthy name of Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, St Peter and St Cedd. The present church dates from rebuilding in the 15th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is Grade I listed.

View through the nave towards the altar
View through the nave towards the altar

The sculpture above the chancel arch is ‘Christ in Glory’ and is by Peter Eugene Ball.

Nave ceiling
Nave ceiling

The ceiling above the nave is very colourful and rather impressive.

Chancel ceiling
Chancel ceiling

The ceiling above the chancel, though less brightly coloured and differently styled, is no less impressive.

Stained glass window Stained glass window
Stained glass windows

The cathedral possesses a good selection of stained glass windows.

The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life
Mark Cazalet, 2003

Removal of the old organ had revealed a chancel window that had been blocked off. It was decided to fill the space with a painting on a suitable topic and Mark Cazalet was commissioned to create a work entitled The Tree of Life.

Pipes of the chancel organ
Pipes of the chancel organ

The Cathedral is the proud owner of not one but two organs. They are called respectively the Nave Organ and the Chancel Organ, after their positions, and roles within the church. The more colourful of the two is the Chancel Organ whose brightly painted pipes are shown above.

View from the chancel through the nave
View from the chancel through the nave

The Bombed Child
The Bombed Child
Georg Erhlich, 1984

It is unsurprising in a church to find a sculpture representing a mother holding a child. Usually, it is the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child as a baby or a toddler. This sculpture in St Peter’s Chapel might, at a quick glance, seem to be a modern take on the same topic. However, the title, The Bombed Child, tells us that this is something different. It represents a mother holding the corpse of her dead child, killed by a bomb blast. The alternative title, Pietà, links it with that other traditional representation of mother and son, the Virgin cradling the body of her crucified son. It is by Georg Erhlich who was himself displaced by the chaos and horror of war.

The pulpit
The pulpit

Of all the fittings on the Cathedral, I think that this, the pulpit, is the least felicitous. To be honest, it looks like someone’s old tin bath twisted out of shape and scarcely disguised with a few splashes of gold paint.

St Peter
St Peter
Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones

Churches are often decorated on the outside with gargoyles and figures of saints. At a quick glance you might mistake this figure of St Peter (easily identifiable because of his key) for a medieval rendition but a closer look confirms that it is modern. Apart from the crispness of the figuring, the saint is wearing modern era fishing boots and the key to unlock the gate of Heaven takes the form of a giant Yale key! It is by Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones.

Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal
Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal

On our way back to the station, we stopped to take a look at this memorial to Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal (1776-1846). A son of Chelmsford and a lawyer of repute, he was deemed meritorious enough for his fellow citizens to erect a monument to him in 1850. The inscription praises him as ‘THE IMAGE OF A JUDGE, WHOSE ADMINISTRATION OF ENGLISH LAW DIRECTED BY SERENE WISDOM ANIMATED BY PUREST LOVE OF JUSTICE ENDEARED BY UNWEARIED KINDNESS AND GRACED BY THE MOST LUCID STYLE WILL BE HELD BY HIS COUNTRY IN UNDYING REMEMBRANCE’. What it does not mention, perhaps with good reason, is that Sir Nick was a member of the legal team charged with defending Caroline of Brunswick, then wife of George IV, against a charge of adultery brought before the House of Lords in 1820. Though the scandalous Caroline was undoubtedly guilty, her defence succeeded in getting the case dropped, no doubt to the chagrin of George IV who hoped to use a guilty verdict to secure his divorce. You can read about the more than eccentric Caroline here, should you wish to do so.

1Pevsner, N. & Radcliffe, E, Essex (The Buildings of England), Penguin 1974.

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Nine from Saatchi

Saturday, May 6th 2017

We spent today relatively quietly and the main event was a visit to the Saatchi Gallery in Duke of York Square. I think this must now be one of the most popular art galleries in London to judge by the number of people and the mix of ages. The rolling programme of exhibitions and the dazzling variety of art on display enhance its attraction, not to mention the free admission and the fact that photography is allowed throughout. As it was Saturday, the place was crowded and it was difficult to see the works, never mind trying to get a clear shot of them with the camera.

There were several exhibitions in progress, the main one being From Selfie to Self-Expression, linked to the name of mobile phone manufacturer Huawei. I have always regarded ‘selfies’ – self-portraits that people make by taking photos of themselves with their mobile phones – as a rather silly self-indulgence and a waste of time. On the other hand, some of the world’s most successful and famous artists have executed ‘selfies’, though we usually call these works by the (slightly) nobler name of self-portrait. This exhibition seeks to turn the common or garden selfie into art or, at least, into material from which art may be made. Does it succeed? I’m not sure. Opinions on this will be divided,of course.

Given the crush, rather than study the exhibitions as exhibitions, I did my usual thing and wandered around the gallery (we usually take the lift to the top floor and work our way down) looking at whatever caught my attention. Below, as the title of this post suggests, I show just nine works, neither commenting nor situating them within their respective exhibitions (if any), but stating the title, the name of the artist and the date of composition.

Shattered Man
Shattered Man
Ansel Krut, 2010

Arse Flowers in Bloom
Arse Flowers in Bloom
Ansel Krut, 2010

Mussels
Mussels
Ansel Krut, 2012

Highlanders
Highlanders
Raffi Kalenderian, 2008

Spirit Guides and Sunflowers
Spirit Guides and Sunflowers
Raffi Kalenderian, 2008

Public Sculpture
Public Sculpture
Martin Maloney, 2004

The Honeymoon Suite
The Honeymoon Suite
Juno Caplyso, 2015

The Simple Ones
The Simple Ones
Tim Noble & Sue Webster, 2017

Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait
Chuck Close, 2000

If you want to know more about the artists or the works, you can try chasing them down on the Saatchi Gallery site or on the Web in general. Most are easy to find there. The Saatchi Gallery doesn’t have a search function, unfortunately, but typing ‘Saatchi Gallery’ and the name of the artist and/or work into Google often finds the appropriate Saatchi page.

Copyright 2017 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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