Newcastle 2016 – Day 1

Tuesday, August 23rd 2016

We have travelled NE to visit the attractive and interesting city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We first came here in 2010 (see Newcastle 2010) and again during a visit to Durham (see Durham 2013). These visits charmed us and persuaded us that it would be worth returning to spend more time in this fine city. (To see its location on the map, click here.)

We took the train Edinburgh from King’s Cross and arrived in Newcastle about 3 hours later. We had booked a hotel in the area known as Quayside which, as the name suggests, lies beside the River Tyne, once famous for the mighty ships that were built here. The Tyne results from the union of two rivers, called North Tyne and south Tyne, respectively. The origins and meaning of the name Tyne are, alas, lost in the mists of time and cannot now be recalled beyond vague speculation.

A settlement has existed here since at least Roman times when these invaders built a bridge called Pons Aelius and a fortress beside it. The present name, though, dates from Norman times. In 1080, King William sent his son Robert north to deal with Scottish raiders in the region and Robert built a motte-and-bailey castle upon the ruins of the Roman fort, calling it Novum Castrum Super Tynam, literally ‘New Castle Upon Tyne’.

In the shadow of the Tyne Bridge
In the shadow of the Tyne Bridge

We made our way to our hotel which is in Lombard Street, beside and almost underneath, the great Tyne Bridge. This impressive structure dominates views in this section of the city and, despite what you might think, we became quite fond of it!

Passing over tall buildings...
Passing over tall buildings…

Surely an engineering triumph and now as much a symbol of this city as Tower Bridge is of London, the Tyne Bridge was opened by King George V in 1928. It passes over tall buildings and…

It frames all views in the area
It frames all views in the area

…frames all views in the area. We had a good view from our hotel room of the bridge crossing over buildings. This circumstances has proved useful to certain members of the wildlife community: a colony of black-legged kittiwakes has established a nesting site on roofs under the shelter of the bridge. The kittiwakes have become famous and our hotel room proved to be a good vantage point for bird-watching! The bridge is Grade II listed.

Dog Leap Stairs
Dog Leap Stairs

Having checked into the hotel, we set out on a ramble. We had no fixed route or destination but went where fancy took us. The photos are therefore are of things and sights seen en route without any particular order or narrative. Newcastle is hilly in places and we saw several flights of steps connecting different levels.

The picture above is of the picturesquely named Dog Leap Stairs. This passage is famous, not least because ‘In 1772 Baron Eldon, later Lord Chancellor of England, eloped with Bessie Surtees making their escape, according to folklore, on horseback up Dog Leap Stairs. Must have been quite some horse! It is difficult to imagine any horse being able to navigate such steep stairs today!’ (See Newcastle, Dog Leap Stairs).

Queen Victoria's Statue
Queen Victoria’s Statue

Every city in England has at least one statue of Queen Victoria and Newcastle is no exception. By Alfred Gilbert, the bronze sculpture was not unveiled until 1903, two years after the death of the Queen. Whether or not it was intended to honour the monarch and the achievements of her long reign, its true purpose was to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Shrievalty (the institution of administration by a Sheriff) of Newcastle which was set up by a charter of Henry IV in 1400 and had therefore fallen due in 1900. The monument was the gift of Sir William Haswell Stephenson (1836-1919), seven times mayor of Newcastle and a generous benefactor of the city. The design is somewhat cluttered with the Queen appearing almost lost in the furnishings, including the overshadowing canopy, but for its artistic and historic interest it has been given a Grade II* listing.

Memorial Fountain to J.H. Rutherford
Memorial Fountain to J.H. Rutherford

This Renaissance-style red sandstone drinking fountain was erected by the Band of Hope temperance society but financed by public subscription. It honours J.H. Rutherford, a Presbyterian minister and campaigner for temperance and sanitation reform but also a popular figure. Originally unveiled in 1894 outside St Nicholas’s Cathedral, it was moved to Bigg Market in 1903. It gradually fell into disrepair and was removed in 1996 for conservation work to be carried out on it. It was re-erected in its present position in 1998 (100 yards further up the hill) and I believe that the lion-head taps still produce water. It is altogether a rather handsome work.

The Central Arcade
The Central Arcade

We stepped into the Central Arcade, the Edwardian equivalent of one of today’s shopping centres. With its glass roof, it has a light and airy feel to complement the elegant design and the handsome decor of faience tiling. Designed by Oswald and Son of Newcastle, it was built in 1906. It has been given a Grade II* listing.

Earl Grey Monument
Earl Grey Monument

What is arguably the centre of Newcastle, at the top of Grey Street, is marked by the  Earl Grey Monument. Not as tall as Nelson’s Column (roughly 10 metres shorter), it is nonetheless one of the more impressive columnar monuments visible today. Moreover, the statue of the great man was completed by Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867) who also created the statue of Nelson atop the latter’s column. The monument was erected in 1838 to honour Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, in recognition of his role in the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832. Curiously, the statue’s head was dislodged by a bolt of lightning in 1941 and smashed. In 1947, a new head, based on the broken fragments, was fashioned by sculptor Roger Hedley (1879-1972). It is Grade I listed.

Articulated Opposites
Articulated Opposites
Raymond Arnatt, (unveiled) 1969

This large abstract sculpture stands in Pilgrim Street in front of Swan House, and this gives a hint as to its purpose and meaning. It is entitled Articulated Opposites and was made Raymond Arnatt. Newcastle City Council commissioned the work as a memorial to Sir Joseph Swan, known particularly for his invention of the incandescent filament light bulb. Swan gave the first public demonstration of the light bulb at a lecture for the Tyne Chemical Society in Newcastle on December 18th 1878. Though you might not guess by looking at it, the sculpture is supposed to be a ‘visual analogy of Sir Joseph’s invention, the electric filament light’.

Holy Jesus Hospital
Holy Jesus Hospital

This is a view of part of the façade of Holy Jesus Hospital. It is impossible to photograph satisfactorily because it lies below street level and is accessed by a fairly narrow forecourt. It was built in 1681, financed by public subscription, to house retired freemen of the town and their family members. Conditions were fairly draconian: as was common in the regimes of almshouses, inmates were required to attend church and take the sacraments once a week and, were locked in their apartments between 9pm and 6am. I believe that the building is now used as offices by the Council but it is of architectural interest and includes parts of older buildings (an Augustan Priory occupied the site between 1291 and 1539).

Mural in Coloured Bricks
Mural in Coloured Bricks

Off Pilgrim Street in Sallyport Crescent is to be found this gable end incorporating a jolly mural made with bricks of different colours. Entitled simply Mural in Coloured Bricks, it is by Robert Olley and was created in 1981. I think it alludes to the seafaring and shipbuilding history of Newcastle.

Siren Siren
Siren
Andrew Wallace, 1995

Down in Quayside itself we found a two-part sculpture by Andrew Wallace. The first part, called Siren, is the easiest to photograph as it is not very tall and it situated in a garden.

River God
River God
Andrew Wallace, 1996

The companion piece is harder to photograph because it is on a taller pole and tends to be visible only with the sky as background. I think I was lucky to get any detail at all. It is entitled River God and consists of the head and torso of a male figure holding chains and a staff and apparently blowing at something.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Thus we arrived at the river where the Gateshead Millennium Bridge stands. In the background you can see what was once the 1930s-vintage Baltic Flour Mill and is now the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts. The bridge is for pedestrians and cyclists only, with separate tracks for each. If you walk or cycle across it, you find yourself in Gateshead. This is an entirely separate town with its own Council and not part of Newcastle.

The bridge was opened in 2001 and was designed by Wilkinson Eyre. It is known popularly as the ‘Winking Bridge’ because of its shape and the way that it moves when it is raised to permit the passage of taller ships. It does then rather resemble an eye winking in slow motion.

The Sage
The Sage

Opposite is what looks like a misshapen and abandoned tin can. Opened in 2004, it is called the Sage Gateshead and is a concert venue and centre for musical education. You’ve probably guessed that is another architectural extravaganza by Norman Foster, flashy and and quite out of harmony with its surroundings. Actually, its better inside than outside so I suppose we should count our blessings…

View along the Tyne from the Millennium Bridge
View along the Tyne from the Millennium Bridge

From the Millennium Bridge you of course have good views both up and down the Tyne. Here, we are looking up the river, roughly south-west, with the great Tyne Bridge in the distance. In that direction, too, lies our hotel where we shall spend our first night of this trip in Newcastle.

Copyright © 2016 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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From Camden Town to the V&A

Monday, August 22nd 2016

We are leaving tomorrow to spend a few days in another city (more of that soon) and so today we thought we had better take things easy. We started with a little street art ramble around Camden Town and then paid a visit to one of our favourite museums, the Victoria and Albert, known fondly to its fans as ‘the V&A’ (‘the vee and ay’).

Street artists had been busy in Camden town and we toured the usual spots that we have come to know as likely places to find new work. Below I include half a dozen examples of what we saw. A lot of street art is signed these days, at least with the artists’ street names, making it easy to ascribe paintings to their makers. Collaborative works to which two or more artists have contributed are not uncommon and working out who did which part of a painting can pose an interesting challenge.

I have indicated the names of the artists without any further comment. (Click their names for more details.)

Milo Tchais and Louis Masai
Milo Tchais and Louis Masai

Cloakwork and Tom Blackford
Cloakwork and Tom Blackford

Plim
Plim

Studioflop
Studioflop

Hunto
Hunto

Flesh031 and Tony Boy
Flesh031 and Tony Boy

We walked along Kentish Town Road and this crosses the Regent’s Canal. From the road bridge you have a good view of the nearby lock. This is Lock No. 3, the Kentish Town Lock.

Kentish Town Lock
Kentish Town Lock
(Regent’s Canal)

As a means of allowing barges to pass from one section to another of the canal where the water level is different in each section, the concept of the lock is simple and logical. The engineering is a different matter altogether, because the lock gates have to stand massive pressure as the locks fill and empty and yet must be easy to operate by hand.

In the above photo, you can see a barge in the background. We noticed that it was preparing to move through the lock so we stopped to watch. I took 7 photos which I have combined into a time-lapse Gif of the barge’s passage through the lock.

Passing through the lock
Passing through the lock

What would happen if you were to open the wrong gate? It is a virtue of the system that this is impossible to do because the weight of the water on the gate that must remain closed prevents it being opened. A gate can be opened only when the water level is the same on either side of it.

The Victoria and Albert Museum was one of the many offsprings of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was known as the Museum of Manufactures, echoing the theme of the Exhibition, when it opened in 1852 in Marlborough House. It soon moved to Somerset House and then, five years later, found a permanent home in its current location. This was Brompton Park House which was extended and modified to receive it. Queen Victoria herself opened the new museum in June 1857 and since then it has continued to develop as one of London’s best loved museums.

Admission is free (though you are invited to place a suggested contribution in one of the several donation boxes) and photography is allowed. Like most of London’s museums, the collection is so large that you need to visit the V&A again and again in order to take it all in. Below I present just three of the objects we saw.

Fountain made by Minton in 1877
Fountain made by Minton in 1877

Minton Fountain (detail)
Minton Fountain (detail)

This highly decorative ceramic fountain was made by Mintons in 1877 and exhibited in the Paris International Exhibition of 1878 for which it was undoubtedly made in order to demonstrate the firm’s prowess in the manufacture of pieces decorated by inlaying different clays. It was possibly the largest piece ever made by this process.

Bust of Queen Victoria
Bust of Queen Victoria
Johann Jacob Flatters, 1843

I have mentioned elsewhere that I feel a certain fascination for the life and person of Queen Victoria. She was no doubt a complex personality and that personality is today hard to discover, girt about as it is by myth and legend and biased opinions. She must, I think, be one of Britain’s most frequently portrayed monarchs as well as the first to be photographed. Many towns and cities possess statues of the Queen in later life, perhaps sculpted for her jubilee, showing her solidly robed and with imperial mien. There also exist portraits done earlier in her life in which the freshness of youth lends a liveliness and spontaneity. The above pictured bust by Johann Jacob Flatters (1786-1845) is not one such: it is highly idealized and I do not recognize the features from any other portrait I have seen of the young queen. Did Victoria like it? We shall probably never know…

Washstand
Washstand, 1880

Some older readers may remember seeing in guest bedrooms a marble-topped stand with a bowl and jug upon it. This used to be standard equipment in the days before bedrooms were provided with washbasins with plumbed-in hot and cold water or en suite bathrooms. Few, though, will have seen anything quite as elaborate as this remarkable example.

It was made in 1880 and was designed by William Burges (1827-81) for the guest bedroom of his own house. The design theme is based on Dante’s poem Vita Nova and suggests a garden full of life.

Burges Washstand (detail)
Burges Washstand (detail)

Incorporated within the structure is a tank to hold water, obviating a need for the traditional hot water jug. Water enters the bowl through a tap or faucet fashioned to represent what I think is an ibex coming to drink from a pool.

Wash Basin
Wash Basin

The designer considered the natural veins of colour of the marble to be sufficient decoration for the wash basin but did add a further detail: a silver fish. This beautiful and striking piece of work would grace any bedroom and shows that the Victorians loved colour and elegant design as much as we do.

Circular Interior Windows
Circular Interior Windows

The building which the V&A occupies has its own set of beautiful and fascinating features. For example, I was intrigued by this pair of circular interior windows aligned with a glazed external window, bringing daylight across two rooms.

Ceiling Dome
Ceiling Dome

Or how about this ceiling dome that brings in daylight but also contributes a feeling of space and airiness. With a substantial permanent collection and a rolling programme of special exhibitions, the V&A is always worth a visit.

Copyright © 2016 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Around Canary Wharf

Saturday, February 11th 2016

This afternoon we went for a little walk in Docklands. More specifically, we went to the complex of old docks called West India Docks, now part of the development known as Canary Wharf.

West India Docks
West India Docks
(Click for Google Map)

The above map shows the layout of the area and if you click on it, this will take you to the corresponding Google Map. Our walk was mainly beside the North Dock.

West India Quay
West India Quay

Taken from the south side of the North Dock, this photo looks a little north of east towards West India Quay, once a place for unloading cargoes but now the site of the  Museum of London Docklands and such tourist facilities as bars and restaurants.

Crossrail Place (Crossrail Station)
Crossrail Place (Crossrail Station)

Seemingly floating in the dock is this very large building (on the above map it coincides with the words ‘North Dock’). Apparently rejoicing in the gloriously anodyne name of ‘Crossrail Place’, it is a peculiar-looking thing though that is to be expected given that the architects responsible for its  design (if ‘design’ is the correct word to use in such circumstances) was Foster & Partners, authors of a number of other structures created without much concern for aesthetic principles or appropriateness to their environment.

At first sight it is an eccentric shopping mall, with retail units and restaurants spread over several floors. Its raison d’être, however, is to serve as the local station on the new Crossrail network. It is common practice these days to build, or rebuild, stations to include a layer of money-generating enterprises.

Sculpture, Fisherman's Walk
Sculpture, Fisherman’s Walk

As we approached the building along Fisherman’s Walk, we encountered a sculpture. I am very much in favour of sculpture in public places but I do wish that those who install these works would also take care to label them, at least to the extent of showing the name of the artist together with the title and date of the work. This is often sufficient but it also allows one to look up the artist later if one wishes. Leaving the sculpture unlabelled is frustrating for the viewer and, I think, a slight on the artist.

Water gardens?
Water gardens?

I don’t know the purpose of this body of water crossing the complex, whether it is necessary because of the movement of the waters, whether it is decorative or has some other practical use. Patches of greenery suggest experiments to find out which plants would best thrive in this environment.

The Roof Garden
The Roof Garden

A happy discovery in the building was the roof garden. This is a totally enclosed garden the size of a small public park.

The Roof Garden

There is an ambiguous feel to the garden because the over-arching transparent roof almost gives the impression of open sky, but not quite, so that the garden looks as if it is in the open air but at the same time feels enclosed (which it is, of course). There is nothing wrong with this, as there are many enclosed gardens that are beautiful and worth visiting such as the various glass houses in Kew Gardens,  the Sheffield Winter Garden and the Conservatory in the Barbican, to mention but a few.

The Roof Garden

The garden offers you the choice of strolling along the paths (deliberately curved so that your view is always within the garden) or sitting on one of the benches. Because it was Sunday, the garden was almost empty of people but I imagine that during the week it would be more crowded.

We tried to have lunch in Crossrail Place but were unsuccessful – one place was apparently full and we are advised to come back later, while the menus of other places seemed not very inviting to vegetarians – so we sought a change of fortune in the streets. We eventually plumped, faute de mieux, for a Jamie’s Italian. I went in with misgivings (having previously tried the branch near us) and carried the misgivings away with me when I left. I would have crossed Jamie’s Italian off my list of places to eat but for the fact that I had already done so after the first experience.

Funnels, Canada Square
Funnels, Canada Square

I photographed these funnel-shaped artifacts in Canada Square in front of one of the buildings. I assume that they are artworks or, at least decorative elements. Perhaps they represent trees. Again, I could not see any labels or explanatory panels.

Alien landscapes
Alien landscapes

I wonder whether I am alone in feeling uncomfortable in the Docklands environment. It somehow feels unreal as though it is a huge film set for a story set in a future dystopian world. Or perhaps a city built by aliens on another planet. It seems disconnected from anything else that I know, somehow inhuman.

Water, the saving grace
Water, the saving grace

Tall buildings tower over you and press in on you as you walk along the streets. I can’t imagine what it is like to go there day after day to work. I think it must be depressing. The one saving grace is the water, the docks within and the Thames making a loop around it. The water forces the buildings apart and lets us see the sky that the towers seek to hide from us.

Waterfowl on North Dock
Waterfowl on North Dock

That’s why I spent some time watching the swans and other water birds. They seem at home is these waters and they add a familiar and calming note to the scene.

I was quite pleased to board the bus that took us away from here.

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