Portsmouth and the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist

Saturday, June 9th 2018

Portsmouth is ancient city and of first importance in Britain’s naval history but there is more to it than that. Any visit we make to Portsmouth usually combines enjoyment of the familiar with the discovery of something new. Today’s trip was no exception. This map by Geosetter shows where we wandered. For a live OpenStreetMap of the area, click here.

Our ramble through Portsmouth
Our ramble through Portsmouth

The train carries you right into the heart of the city at Portsmouth Harbour Station. This is right beside the historic naval dockyards and the port for the Gosport Ferry. Today, though, we directed our steps inland. Below are some of the photos I took as we went.

Portsmouth & Southsea Station
Portsmouth & Southsea Station

This handsome station is today called Portsmouth & Southsea. It was opened in 1847 as Portsmouth Station but changed its name twice to become Portsmouth & Southsea in 1925. This time, the name stuck (well, so far at any rate!). In 1999, it became a Grade II listed building.

Portsmouth Guildhall
Portsmouth Guildhall

Built in 1890, the Grade II listed Guildhall was obviously designed to impress and to stand as a symbol of the city’s pride. It served as the city’s town hall until 1926. Badly damaged by bombing in World War II, it was largely rebuilt in the 1950s and now serves as a venue for concerts, conferences and private functions such as weddings.

The pediment
The pediment

Above the columned entrance is a finely modelled pediment, possibly by Bristol sculptor H.T. Margetson. Although the style is Classical, the figures have a contemporary look to them. The central personage would appear to be Britannia and the theme is perhaps Britain’s importance in world trade.

Guildhall lion
Guildhall lion

The broad staircase is flanked at the top by two lions of powerful appearance and with bushy manes. Adopting the couchant position, the lions seem to be there to add prestige rather than to defend the building.

Queen Victoria Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria
Alfred Drury, unveiled 1903

Opposite the Guildhall and facing it is a another royal figure. This one is a sculpture of Queen Victoria by Alfred Drury (1856-1944). Unveiled in 1903 it is today a Grade II listed building. (Yes, sculptures can be listed ‘buildings’.) The plaque tells us that it was financed by public subscription, testifying to the enduring popularity of Queen Victoria.

World War I memorial
World War I memorial

Nearby and forming part of Guildhall Square is the Cenotaph, consisting of Portsmouth’s memorials to World War I and World War II. Above is shown the memorial to the Great War, in which a semi-circular wall bears the names of the fallen. At its centre stands a column with appropriate inscriptions.

The gunners
The gunners

At the ends of the wall are two gunners, each firing a machine gun. They are by Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934), himself a veteran of the conflict. This death-dealing activity is somewhat at odds with the quieter figures normally shown on war memorials.

The South Gunner
The South Gunner

The sculpted fighters are known as the North Gunner and the South Gunner, respectively. A close-up of the South Gunner is shown above.

The memorial to the Second World War (not shown here) is similar in concept but less elaborate. It too has a semi-circular wall with the names of the fallen and an inscribed column at the centre.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Martin Jennings, 2014

Also near the Guildhall is a statue of Charles Dickens, sporting a preposterously long cape or robe. The work is by Martin Jennings and was unveiled in 2014. An inscription reads ‘BORN IN PORTSMOUTH 7th February 1812. I often wonder whether there is any major town in Britain that does not claim some connection with the author of Oliver Twist. I have yet to find one.

The Park Building
The Park Building

This noble-looking building, Grade II listed, is called the Park Building and is today part of the University of Portsmouth. Designed by G.E. Smith, it was built 1903-8 as a municipal college, later the Polytechnic of Portsmouth. The polytechnic was upgraded to a university in 1992 and the Park Building is one of its several campuses.

As with Dickens, towns like to boast some connection with Britain’s most famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is therefore no surprise to find a pub bearing his name.

The Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Portsmouth can at least boast of Dickens and Brunel as sons of the city, Brunel being born the earlier in 1806. The building in which the pub resides with once the headquarters of the Portsea Island Gas Light Company that began supplying gas to more affluent householders in the early 1800s. I do not know when this building was erected but a plaque informs us that it was rebuilt in 1915.

The Commercial Road Fountain
The Commercial Road Fountain

At the junction of Commercial Road and Arundel Street we came upon a fountain. The figures on it are heraldic beasts, each clutching a shield bearing a coat of arms. As far as I can tell, it does not have a name and is referred to in the local press as ‘the Commercial Road fountain’. Perhaps they should call it the Jubilee Fountain as it was created in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977) and was refurbished in time for her Diamond Jubilee (2012). Either way, it seems to be a popular place to meet, the wall providing places to sit.

The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist
The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist

This is one of the new discoveries that I mentioned at the beginning. We spotted this church which has in front of it a sculpture of a man with a cross and a fisherman’s net.

St John the Evangelist
St John the Evangelist
Philip Jackson, unveiled 2010

This gives a clue as to the name of the church which in fact, more than a simple church, is the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. We photographed the exterior of the church and the sculpture and then went round the side. There we found an open door and the people within invited us to come in. We, of course, availed ourselves of the opportunity. Below are some of the photos I took during our visit.

Cathedral of St John the Evangelist

Cathedral of St John the Evangelist

Cathedral of St John the Evangelist Cathedral of St John the Evangelist

Cathedral of St John the Evangelist

The Altar of St George the Martyr
The Altar of St George the Martyr

The Altar of St Agatha
The Altar of St Agatha

So far we got when we were asked to leave as the church had to be locked up. It seemed rather unfriendly to invite us in and then send us away but, looking on the bright side, we had just about finished taking photos anyway.

The Cathedral was built in 1877-81 and was designed by John Crawley. It sustained bomb damage during the Second World War but seems to have recovered well from its injuries.

Feed
Feed

We went for a late lunch to a cafe with have visited several times before. Called Feed, it occupies a niche in the arches under the railway viaduct next to Portsmouth Harbour Station. Though small, it is roomier than it looks.

The sea seen from Southsea Common
The sea seen from Southsea Common

After lunch we went for a stroll down to the area called Southsea Common. Here you have a view of the sea unobstructed by the port buildings. (Click to see a larger view.)

Queen's Hotel, Southsea
Queen’s Hotel, Southsea

A local landmark is the Queen’s Hotel, a handsome building in Edwardian Baroque style with terracotta embellishments, built in 1903.

When it was time to return to London, we retraced our steps to Portsmouth Harbour Station. From the station forecourt, you have a good view of one of Portsmouth’s historic floating monuments.

HMS Warrior
HMS Warrior

Alarmed by the French navy’s acquisition in 1859 of the first iron-clad warship, La Gloire, the British Navy created its response, HMS Warrior. When commissioned in 1861, Warrior was the biggest and most formidable warship in the world. Her primacy, however, was short-lived and by 1871 she was outclassed by faster and better armed and armoured ships. Briefly used as a naval school, she was converted into a floating oil pontoon. Interest in what was after all a ship of great historical importance began to revive in the 1960s and Warrior eventually passed into the ownership of the Warrior Preservation Trust in 1985. The ship can be visited and hired as a venue for weddings etc. Visiting her gives one a good impression of the conditions in which the fighting crew lived and fought.

With this last glimpse of HMS Warrior in our minds, we took the train back to London but we shall no doubt return for more explorations of Portsmouth and its history.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Ramsgate Bucket and Spade Run

Sunday, June 3rd 2018

Every year, the Ramsgate Old Motor & Motorcycle Club organizes a Great Bucket and Spade Run which terminates in Ramsgate. As its name suggests, the ROMMCC is a club for owners of veteran or antique vehicles and when many of these are gathered together, they make a fine and intriguing show. We decided to take a look.

Our route within Ramsgate
Our route within Ramsgate

The above map (courtesy of GeoSetter) shows the path we took from Ramsgate Station, marked by the topmost pin. You can compare this with this OpenStreetMaps map of the area.

Ramsgate Station
Ramsgate Station

As usual, we travelled by train, emerging at Ramsgate’s railway station. Compared with many other small stations in the area, Ramgate’s is a comparative youngster, having been built only in 1924-6. Nonetheless, it is fine enough to have attracted a Grade II listing. (It has a sibling in Margate Station which was built at the same time and also enjoys Grade II listed status.)

The name of Ramsgate, incidentally, derives from an animal but not from a ram. The consensus view among historians is that it derives from the Anglo-Saxon words hræfn (‘raven’) and geat (‘a gap in the cliffs’) though there is just an outside chance that Rams derives from a personal name, that of the owner of the land.

Beano Cafe
Beano Cafe

We walked into town from the station and on the way spotted the Beano Cafe. As we had not stopped for breakfast before taking the train, we went into the cafe for a late breakfast or brunch and, once fortified, continued on our way.

Parked on Government Acre
Parked on Government Acre

Cars participating in the Bucket and Spade Run had parked in the cliff-top recreation ground called Government Acre. (I was intrigued by the name ‘Government Acre’ but have not so far managed to find out how it came to be so called.)

Some of the cars had buckets and spades attached to the front . As this was a rally rather than an exhibition, there were no labels detailing the make and model of the vehicles. Being an ignoramus in this field (as in many others!), I am unable to provide this information myself and so I will present a selection of vehicles without captions.

ROMMCC Bucket and Spade Run 2018

ROMMCC Bucket and Spade Run 2018

ROMMCC Bucket and Spade Run 2018

Away from the main gathering, we spotted this other rather smart model:

ROMMCC Bucket and Spade Run 2018

We had so far seen only cars but it turned out that the motor cycle contingent was also present but in a different area.

ROMMCC Bucket and Spade Run 2018

As motor cycles do not particularly interest either of us we did not investigate further.

A view from the cliff top
A view from the cliff top

We walked to the cliff top from where you can have splendid views over the beach and the sea.

Nelson Crescent
Nelson Crescent

Nearer town, there are streets and crescents of elegant houses, built, I imagine, in the 19th century or perhaps earlier, some with elaborately styled balconies, enjoying fine sea views.

Ramsgate Royal Harbour and Marina
Ramsgate Royal Harbour and Marina

Margate boasts a large and busy harbour which also does duty as a marina for pleasure craft. The harbour was given the unique honour of calling itself a Royal harbour by King George IV, the only port in Britain to be so distinguished.

Sea fog approaching
Sea fog approaching

Having taken the previous photo, I looked again and saw that the usually clear view was slightly veiled by a sea fog. This made a strange contrast with the otherwise sunny vista.

Gardens along Madeira Walk
Gardens along Madeira Walk

We walked up Madeira Walk which is a sloping and curving road. It is decorated on either side by well-kept rock gardens, quite an unusual sight along a main thoroughfare.

Many kinds of rock plants
Many kinds of rock plants

There are very many species of rocks plants and flowers growing here, making a beautiful display. A lot of work must go into maintenance of these gardens.

A water feature
A water feature

Amazingly, they have even managed to fit into this exiguous space a water features, complete with a waterfall and a pond, replete with waterside and aquatic plants.

Steps to Albion Gardens
Steps to Albion Gardens

A flight of steps leads up to Albion Gardens to which I suppose the road-side gardens belong. This is an area of elegant and no doubt expensive housing.

Memorial to the First World War
Memorial to the First World War

At the top of the steps one finds this shining white memorial to the fallen of the First World War. On a pedestal is a seated figure called Destiny, sculpted by Gilbert Bayes (1872-1953). The memorial is a Grade II listed building.

The fog comes inland
The fog comes inland

Turning back towards the cliff top, we saw that the sea fog had now rolled inland. It was a curious sight because though it veiled the view we could hear the sounds of people enjoying themselves on the sunlit beach as though the air were completely clear.

We descended the hill to the harbour where we caught a bus to the station and boarded the train for London.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Birchington, Westgate and Margate

Saturday, February 11th 2018

Today’s trip is to the Kent coast and we are staying overnight in a small seaside town called Birchington-on-Sea. We did not spend all our time in Birchington but travelled along the coast to Margate and back again at the end of the day.

From Birchington to Margate and back
From Birchington to Margate and back

This map shows where we went and a live OpenStreetMap view of the area, centred on Westgate-on-Sea will be found here.

For our stay, we rented an apartment. Apartments are fast becoming rivals to the traditional hotel room as places to stay. Many apartments can be booked for periods as short as a single night, as in our case. What are the advantages and disadvantages of staying in an apartment rather than an hotel? In an hotel there will usually be staff on hand to register you, answer questions, serve meals and drinks, etc. whereas staying in an apartment is like being at home: you are on your own and there is no one to help or bother you. Access to the apartment is often by numeric keypad or similar arrangement, so there is no checking in. When you leave, you simply close the door and post the keys through the letterbox. You may never see or speak to a human being during the whole process. An apartment is what it sounds like: it is a complete ‘home’ with bedrooms, lounge, bathroom and kitchen. You can prepare you own meals, should you want to, and there is heating for the cold weather. Sounds expensive? In fact, the prices are competitive with those of hotel rooms and I think apartments will prove popular with people who like to do things for themselves while hotels will remain the refuge of those who like to be served and waited on.

Le Café Crème
Le Café Crème

From the station, we made our way on foot to our apartment. We stopped off along the way at Le Café Crème in Station Road. Birchington is quite small, though it has all the usual shops and amenities, and Station Road is the main shopping area, corresponding to the High Street in other towns. The cafe where we stopped for tea may have a French name but that is the only thing about it that is French. It is otherwise a typical, and quite charming, English tearoom. (It seems not to have a Website.)

The name of this locality derives from two Anglo-Saxon words, bircen (‘birch trees’) and tun (‘farm’). So Birchington started off as someone’s farm where birch trees grew.

St Augustine's
St Augustine’s

Moving on to Westgate-on-Sea, there was not a lot that tempted me to take photos until we found ourselves at a bus stop waiting for a bus to take us into Margate. On the opposite side of the road, I saw this long complex of buildings and wondered what it was. The name plate announced it to be St Augustine’s which suggested some sort of religious centre, a monastery or convent perhaps.

It turns out that this Grade II listed building was once St Agustine’s College and Abbey School. This institution had started some time in the 19th century with a Benedictine priory in Ramsgate that had expanded to include a school. The history of the joint institution is recounted in some detail on this site and is much too long to repeat here. After a somewhat chequered history, the school moved to Westgate in 1971 where it occupied what had previously been a convent school connected with the nearby Ursuline Convent School which, I believe, still exists.

If it was hoped that the move would ensure the school’s longevity, then that hope was dashed because the school closed in 1995 and today the building appears to be for hire as a venue for weddings and other events.

Westgate is one of the many ‘gates’ that exist in this corner of Kent. Margate and Ramsgate are two more examples. The meaning of the word gate depends on which language it originally came from. In the north of England, in the old Viking lands, gate tends to mean a street. In the old Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent, it usually means a gap in the cliffs giving access to the sea shore.

The Wig and Pen
The Wig and Pen

We arrived in Margate and made our way to the district known as the Old Town. Here resides the Wig & Pen pub. The present building dates from the 1930s, I think, and replaced an earlier pub.  Originally, the pub was called the Queen’s Head. I don’t know when the change of name occurred or what prompted it, though there might be a clue in another nearby building.

The Old Town Hall and Museum
The Old Town Hall and Museum

This is the Old Town Hall, built in 1897. As was common in those days, part of the building was given over to a police station, complete with cells, and a magistrates’ court. The pub was perhaps renamed Wig and Pen in remembrance of the lawyers going in and out in their court garb. Today, the Old Town Hall provides a home for the Margate Museum.

Margate Beach
Margate Beach

From the Old Town, we went to the seafront and I made the above panorama from a point near the Turner Contemporary art gallery. The tide was quite low and so a large area of the famous sandy beach is exposed with, on the right, the Harbour Arm and the Customs House. If you click to see a larger version of the photo, you can just make out a corner of the art gallery on the extreme right.

Waiting for the tide
Waiting for the tide

This catamaran stands on the sand, presumably waiting for the tide to come and set it free from the shackles of gravity. You can also see it in the previous photo.

The Turner Contemporary
The Turner Contemporary

Margate’s Turner Contemporary art gallery, designed by David Chipperfield, opened un 2011 on a premium site on the promenade. It was named after the artists J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) who had close connections with the town. It has an active calendar of exhibitions and each time we visit Margate, the Turner has something new to show us. Below is a selection of works that we saw during today’s visit.

Bay Hunter by a Lake
Bay Hunter by a Lake
George Stubbs, 1787

George Stubbs (1724-1806) was known for his paintings of horses and, to a lesser extent, dogs. When Stubbs was active, owners of fine horses and even cattle, commissioned artists to record the individual animals of which they were most proud.

Young Nobleman on Horseback
Young Nobleman on Horseback
Unknown artist, early 14th century

This work also features a horse but includes the rider as well. The sculptor’s name has been forgotten during 700 years or so since the carving was made but his artistry shines clearly across the centuries.

Mobile Wilderness Unit - Wolf
Mobile Wilderness Unit – Wolf
Mark Dion, 2006

Looking rather like a museum exhibit, this work includes an impression of the wolf’s habitat along with the animal himself. There is a didactic intention to it as well as an aesthetic one. I am highly critical of the killing of animals to use as exhibits but as I do not know where this particular specimen came from (for all I know, the wolf may have have been in a zoo and have died of natural causes) I will reserve my judgement.

In contrast to my feelings about the above exhibit I greatly enjoyed Stephanie Quayle’s sculptures of chimpanzees in the exhibition Animals & Us.

The Narrow Abyss (part)

The Narrow Abyss (part)

The Narrow Abyss (part)
From The Narrow Abyss
Stephanie Qayle, 2018

These chimpanzees are modelled in clay and the artist has deliberately allowed the modelling to show but, despite this, the immediacy and realism of the figures is striking, in contrast to the rather wooden pose of Dion’s wolf. You could almost imagine the chimpanzees jumping down from their plinths and romping through the gallery.

We returned to our temporary home in Birchington but before finally retiring for the night, we went for a stroll along the seashore where I took the photos comprising this panorama (please click to see a larger version):

The seashore at Birchington-on-Sea
The seashore at Birchington-on-Sea

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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