We’re off to S….

Tuesday, March 24th 2015

Yes, tomorrow we are going on a trip. It is just a short one as we will be spending 3 nights in a city whose name begins with ‘S’. As usual, I will not say where we are going but I will give you some clues.

It is an ancient city on the other side of the Channel. It has swapped its nationality a couple of times and therefore possesses a local language as well as the official language of the nation to which it now belongs. It has strong connections with the issue of human rights.

The city of S… is often represented visually by its famous cathedral dedicated to “Our Lady of S…” (translated). Building of the cathedral began in the 12th century (though some writers claim earlier antecedents) and the project was never finished – one of the cathedral’s main elements is still missing. As a result, it displays an unusual asymmetrical appearance.

We expect to return home on Saturday and pick up the threads of our usual life again, including fetching Freya home from her holiday accommodations. In due course, I hope to write up our trip, illustrated as usual with photos.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Travel | 3 Comments

An Anglo-Catholic church and an artist’s house

Saturday, March 21st 2015

In a recent post, A house near the river, I referred to the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer in Exmouth Market as a Catholic church but this designation was challenged in a comment, causing me to edit the description. Today, as we were passing near Exmouth Market, we decided to take a closer look at the church. From this visit I conclude that, although I was wrong to describe the church as “Catholic”, meaning Roman Catholic, I was also in a sense right. Our Most Holy Redeemer is an Anglican church but it clearly belongs to the Anglo-Catholic tradition and anybody wandering into the church without first reading the signboard outside could easily believe that they had entered a Roman Catholic church.

Our Most Holy Redeemer Clerkenwell
Our Most Holy Redeemer Clerkenwell

The church, which is Grade II* listed, was built in two phases, 1887-8 by John Dando Sedding, and 1892-5 by Henry Wilson. Wilson’s Lady Chapel was completed in 1904. As well as the church, the structure also includes a clergy house and parish hall.

Our Most Holy Redeemer, interior
Our Most Holy Redeemer, interior

The church was open, so we went in to take a look. It is quite large and the decor is elaborate. The altar is reached through a tall canopy called a baldachin (deriving from Italian baldacchino). I don’t know whether this is typical of Anglo-Catholic churches or whether it is a unique feature of this particular design.

The Baldachin
The Baldachin

As we approach Easter, the narrative of the passion and death of Jesus naturally comes to the fore, especially, you would expect, in a church named Our Most Holy Redeemer and with the motto ‘CHRISTO LIBERATOR’ written in giant letters across the façade.

One of the Stations of the Cross
One of the Stations of the Cross
Possibly by F.W. Pomeroy

A ceremony or ritual associated with Easter is the Stations of the Cross, in which the congregation processes around the church visiting in turn each of a set of images or tableaux representing the journey of Christ from judgement through execution to the tomb. The Stations of the Cross in this church were possibly done by F.W. Pomeroy who was  recorded as being responsible for the interior sculpture.

Interior, looking back towards the entrance
Interior, looking back towards the entrance

The structure of the church seemed complicated to me and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable. For example, one of the main chapels lies behind the altar and is accessible only through either of the side chapels and without an obvious official entrance.

Chapel behind the altar
Chapel behind the altar

This chapel no doubt has a name of its own but I failed to find and note what this is. To one side of the altar is a sculpture group of the Virgin and Child and, on the other, a figure of St Pancras.

Sculpture of St Pancras
Sculpture of St Pancras

One might say that St Pancras is big in Islington, having two churches and a station named after him. This sculpture unfortunately reminded us both of early 20th century pictures of men showing of the latest in male swimming attire. This is presumably not the effect that the sculptor was hoping for.

St Francis St George
St Francis and St George

St Pancras was not the only saint in evidence. In the body of the church, two other worthies are found, each with a tray for candles suggesting that they can be asked to intercede on one’s behalf. Why St Pancras was not offered the same responsibility, I do not know. The saints are not named but plausible guesswork suggests that they are St Francis and St George. To my eyes, St George looks uncomfortably like a young Elvis Presley waiting to go onto a film set.

Choirboy seeking alms
Choirboy seeking alms

Near the door stands the figure of an acolyte, altar boy or choir boy, holding a box for alms. He wears an expression of studied humility and turns his gaze away from the box as though discreetly avoiding knowing how little the alms giver has actually contributed.

The above mentioned saints are but extras compared with the one who presence pervades the church and of whom we are reminded at every turn – St Mary, Virgin and Mother of God.

Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

Slap in the middle of the church is the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is this emphasis on St Mary that most conveys the impression that this is in reality a Catholic church.

Leighton House Museum
Leighton House Museum

We now set off to Holland Park where we visited the beautiful and uniquely styled Leighton House. The Grade II* listed building was built over about three decades to 1896 as the home of painter Frederick, Lord Leighton. The beautiful interior is worth visiting for its own sake as well as for the exhibitions of art that are held there. More information on the house will be found here. The domed section of the house is a court, with fountain, called the Arab Hall and designed in traditional and luxurious Middle Eastern style, a jewel of a creation.

We had come to see an exhibition of paintings entitled A Victorian Obsession. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, whether in exhibitions or in the house itself. This is a great pity as I cannot show you any pictures of either.

The entrance to the garden
The entrance to the garden

After enjoying the art on show, we paid a visit to the garden. Public access to the garden is through a gate at the side of the house.

Leighton House garden
Leighton House garden

The garden is pleasant enough though it seems that not as much care was lavished on its design as on that of the interior of the house.

A Moment of Peril
A Moment of Peril
Sir Thomas Brock, 1881
Click to see a slide show

On the lawn is a sculpture. At a quick glance you might think it is one more treatment of the theme of St George and the Dragon, and I suppose this must have been in the sculptor’s mind. However, the piece is entitled A Moment of Peril and shows a warrior, wearing a feathered headdress and riding a horse that is writhing in fear, engaged in combat with a large serpent which he is trying to stab with his spear. Dramatic indeed. (Click on the picture to see a slideshow of images of the sculpture.)

A photograph of the garden façade of the house (below) concluded our visit and our outing. We look forward to other exhibitions that will offer opportunities to visit and admire Leighton House.

Leighton House from the garden
Leighton House from the garden

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Invisible eclipse

Friday, March 20th 2015

I got up this morning in my usual leisurely way. Tigger was working the late shift and there seemed to be no need to hurry. Then, out of the blue, she enquired whether I was coming with her to watch the eclipse.

Eclipse? What eclipse?!

Yes, somehow, news of this important astronomical event had passed me by and I was unaware of it. To cut a long story short, I threw on a coat, buckled on my camera, and followed Tigger to the bus stop, still half asleep.

Mid-eclipse was timed at 9:31 in London and so we planned to be at our observation post a little while before that. The sky was solidly overcast and there was little chance that we would see anything, other than a slight dimming of the light (as seen from London, at most, 84% of the solar disc would be covered), so it was not worth spending a lot of time waiting to see essentially nothing.

Tigger’s chosen observation point was the roof terrace of 1 New Change, an office “development” near St Paul’s Cathedral. The roof, reached only by lift, is open to the public. I thought that by the time we arrived it would be packed.

The roof terrace, 1 New Change
The roof terrace, 1 New Change

Happily I was wrong, as you can see from the picture, though it became somewhat more crowded later. I think a lot of people must have realized that the weather would make the eclipse invisible and so did not bother to watch.

Roof-top view
Roof-top view
Steam rising from central heating systems

Not only was the sky heavily overcast but the atmosphere was extremely hazy. The roof of 1 New Change affords splendid views across London but today the haze blotted out detail and rendered the scene grey and dull. Over some of the roofs, clouds of steam arose, puffed out by the buildings’ central heating systems.

Photographer photographed
Photographer photographed

I spotted someone in a roof-top cafe photographing the crowd – us – and it seemed only just to reciprocate by photographing her.

The London Eye
The London Eye
Veiled in haze

The London Eye was visible from the terrace though veiled with haze. I watched it carefully but could detect no movement. This surprised me somewhat as I thought that riding the Eye to see the eclipse would have been popular.

Down in the streets
Down in the streets…
…life went on as usual

A gap in the buildings allows a restricted view of the streets below and, as far as I could see, life in the streets carried on as normal. During the eclipse, the light did dim slightly, adding to the dullness caused by the overcast, but it hardly made any difference.

Spectators on a nearby roof
Spectators on a nearby roof

Most of the roofs within view were unsuitable for public access but the one in the picture was visited by a small group, presumably people working in the building, as indicated by the fact that a couple of the men were in their shirtsleeves.

An obscene gesture - the Shard
An obscene gesture – the Shard

If ever there was an obscene gesture made solid by architecture, it is the Shard. It dominated the view, disfiguring the skyline, the very personification and symbol of corporate greed. The top is often veiled by cloud as though it is hiding its face in shame, as well it might. One might regard it as the Disneyesque farce that it is but for its effect in degrading our environment. Those who sanctioned the construction of this hideous monster should also veil their faces in shame.

The London Eye wakes up
The London Eye wakes up

The lights around the wheel of the London Eye came on though they barely showed through the haze. The hour of the eclipse had passed and neither we, nor the other watchers, had seen anything worthy of mention.

At this point a slimy mannered fellow slid up to us and with a sugary smile invited us to more 4 feet to our left. It appeared that there was a camera crew on the roof recording footage for a film and we were in their line of sight. Would we move, please? I was for telling him and his camera crew to eff off but we decided that it was time to go as Tigger needed to get to work. We left Slimy and his camera crew in possession of the view and headed for the bus stop.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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A house near the river

Saturday, March 14th 2015

Note: The pictures are bigger than I can show them below so please click on the images to see larger versions.

Today we were meeting friends to go to see and exhibition together. As the rendezvous was not until late morning and we had plenty of time, we again made our way down the road to have breakfast at CAFE MAΨA.

CAFE MAΨA
CAFE MAΨA
A mystery solved

In last Saturday’s post (see More Clerkenwell and some Bethnal Green), I said we were uncertain how to pronounce the name of this cafe and that one day I would ask. Today was the day and on enquiring I was told that it is “café my-uh” (rhyming with “higher”).

Exmouth Market
Exmouth Market
Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer

Before catching a bus onward, we had a quick look at Exmouth Market. This thoroughfare, now closed to vehicles, was originally called Exmouth Street and was named in honour of Admiral Edward Pellew, later created 1st Viscount Exmouth for his distinguished naval career. Famous clown and comic actor Joseph Grimaldi once lived here (1818-28) and the market which eventually gave the street its name started in late Victorian times but it still vigorous and popular today. The Italianate tower belongs to the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer which was built in stages from 1887 to 1906 and is a Grade II* listed building. According to English Heritage, “This church is of outstanding importance as an example of the late C19 reaction against High Victorian Gothic”.

Blackfriars Bridges
Blackfriars Bridges

Our bus brought us to the Thames at the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge. My photo above, taken from the south bank, shows the two present bridges and the remains of a previous one. On the left is the road and foot bridge by Joseph Cubitt, which was opened by Queen Victoria in 1869 (exactly 100 years after its predecessor). Cubitt also designed the first Blackfriars Railway Bridge which opened in 1864 and was much criticized for being ugly. Use of the bridge declined until it was shut completely and the superstructure removed in 1985, leaving its set of red columns in curious isolation. The second and surviving railway bridge, designed by John Wolfe-Barry, opened in 1886 and is still in operation.

Cubitt's Bridge
Cubitt’s Bridge
Viewed from under the railway bridge

We started walking east along the south bank to Waterloo Station where we were to meet our friends. I looked back from under the railway bridge to capture this view of the road bridge.

The Thames skyline
The Thames skyline
Cluttered with ugly towers

Removal of the sensible height restriction on London buildings has led to a rash of oversized monstrosities. In the above photo, the group on the right consists (from left to right) of the Heron Tower, the ‘Cheesegrater’ and the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. The latter revealed itself as a good example of the inability of modern architects to understand the results of their wretched designs when its shape acted like a burning mirror and damaged a car parked in the street below. Awnings have had to be attached to the building to prevent recurrence of the problem.1

Wall painting
Wall painting
Grems, aka Mickael Eveno

Heading west again, we met our friends at Waterloo Station and then proceeded north via the Southbank Centre. There we paused to admire this complex and detailed wall painting. It is by a French painter called Mickael Eveno who practises under the name of Grems. You can learn more about him here and here.

Wall painting
Wall painting
Artist(s) unknown (to me)

Nearby are some other pieces of artwork, equally intriguing though slightly less accessible. Then again, part of the charm of what we should perhaps call “open air art” is the way it coexists with surroundings that were never intended as foils for art. The artist or artists responsible for these works is/are unknown to me.

The view upriver from Waterloo Bridge
View upriver from Waterloo Bridge

We crossed Waterloo Bridge which offers  splendid views both up and down the river but now the sun disappeared behind clouds and the lighting became dull and dark. Here we are looking upriver with the London Eye on the left and the Hungerford railway bridge ahead.

Hanging about on the river
Hanging about on the river
Boats at anchor

The Thames is a busy waterway and provides moorings for all sorts of craft. What these are for is not always apparent to the layman.

View downriver from Waterloo Bridge
The view downriver from Waterloo Bridge

Lighting conditions were now rather poor and there was a haze adding to our woes.

Speeding downriver to what destination?
Speeding downriver to what destination?

The Thames forms a majestic high road through London but also has the somewhat unfortunate effect of dividing us so that North London and South London often seem like two distinct worlds.

John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
Author of On Liberty

We passed through Middle Temple Gardens where John Stuart Mill (1806-73), seated upon his monument, keeps an avuncular eye on passers-by. With Jeremy Bentham a proponent of Utilitarianism, Mill is particularly remembered for his key work, On Liberty. But for the trifling lapse of 200 years, I might have regarded Mill as a neighbour because he was born in Rodney Street, Islington, barely a stone’s throw from our home.

2 Temple Place
2 Temple Place
Once the home of Lord Astor

Our destination was the remarkable house generally known simply as “2 Temple Place”. Today it is run by the Bulldog Trust as an exhibition centre and a museum in its own right. Whenever I go there, I feel that it is the house itself that is the prize exhibit. I have already written about it with a short account of its history (see Cornish fishermen and the William Morris Gallery) and for a little more detail, see here and here.

Lancashire Loom
Lancashire Loom
Pemberton & Co, Burnley, 1894

The exhibition that we had come to see was Cotton To Gold, Extraordinary collections of the industrial North West. During the boom years of cotton production in the North West of England, mill owners became extremely rich. They dedicated some of their money to philanthropic projects in the community and much also went into the creation of private collections of art, curios and precious objects. The exhibition is a selection provided by Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Haworth Art Gallery (Accrington) and Towneley Hall (Burnley).

Missal, c. 1400
Missal
Johannes de Berlandia, Lombardy, c. 1400

There was a range of objects on view from the Lancashire Loom (see above), through books and coins to paintings, giving testimony to the eclectic interests of the collectors.

Life drawings - Millais
Life drawings by John Everett Millais
Donated by Wilfred Dean

The above set of pencil and chalk life drawings of a nude man by John Everett Millais was in the possession of Wilfred Dean, a manufacturer of gas-heated washing machines and boilers and other appliances in Burrnley, until he donated them to Towneley Hall.

Rope and clogs
Rope and clogs

This group of objects – a coil of rope and three pairs of clogs, presumably belonging to father, mother and child – made an intriguing exhibit, though I do not know what, specifically, it was intended to convey.

Both in the exhibition and in the house as a whole, photography was allowed as long as flash was not used. At one point, Tigger was falsely accused of using flash but soon sent the curator off with a flea in her ear to find the true offender! I dedicated the rest of my time to photographing the house as the exhibition did not excite me all that much.

Main staircase skylight
Main staircase skylight

No expense was spared, whether in terms of money, or imagination or of attention to detail, in the creation of this neo-Gothic Victorian mansion. For those who, like Adolf Loos, believe that “ornament is crime”, 2 Temple Place must seem like hell but to those of us who love beautiful surroundings designed with art and elegance, it is a joy to visit. I can dedicate only a few words to what requires a book to do it justice. The main stairwell is lit by a massive skylight but not just a skylight – a skylight of panels of beautiful stained glass.

Hall and stairwell
Hall and stairwell

Some of these photos, like the one above, are composites and will therefore show a certain amount of distortion. I don’t think this should worry us too much and, in any case, it is the sort of thing painters do almost as routine!

Carved figure Carved figure
Carved figures

The decor shows something of the preoccupations of the Pre-Raphaelites in which human figures abound but in the dress and postures of a romantically conceived medieval period.

First floor landing
First floor landing

The above composite has uneven edges because if I were to trim it to a rectangular shape, there wouldn’t be much left! Just enjoy the novelty!


Stairwell frieze

I don’t know whether the frieze is intended to tell a story but if you examine it for a while you find yourself making up your own!

Great Hall
The Great Hall

At the top of the house is the Great Hall, commodious enough for balls, banquets and exhibitions of all kinds. This is a very splendid room and in addition to the decorated walls, there are carved support beams for the roof, adding to the glamour and “historical” temper of the place.

Stained glass window
Stained glass window

At either end of the hall is a stained glass window, cunningly designed so that each panel is a picture in its own right and yet the whole composes one large view.

Stained glass window
Stained glass window

These may be intended as “scenes” from life but they show life in a special world, a faery world of romance in which the peasants are princesses and princes dressed as peasants and time congeals to make that world an eternal paradise.

Metal panelled door
Metal panelled door

Door detail
Door detail

I was rather taken with this door covered with metal panels showing images reminiscent of coins or images from Egyptian art. I wandered around the house in a sort of dream, taking it all in and wondering what it was like to have lived there as the first owner. Few people manage to have such beauty for themselves and we are fortunate that we can at least enjoy the house from time to time as visitors.

________

1The same architect, Rafael Viñoly, caused a similar problem – dubbed the ‘Vdara death ray’ – with his design of the Vdara Hotel, Las Vegas, opened in 2009. We await his next trick with interest.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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More Clerkenwell and some Bethnal Green

Saturday, March 7th 2015

Today I found myself returning to Clerkenwell, which I visited yesterday, this time at Tigger’s suggestion. What drew us there was the prospect of a tasty but healthy breakfast.

CAFE MAΨA
CAFE MAΨA
Breakfast with haloumi

We used to visit “CAFE MAΨA” often but it became popular and was often too crowded for us to find a seat. Happily, today there were free tables and we could indulge ourselves with a MAΨA vegetarian breakfast. This seems to be modelled  on the “Turkish breakfast” offered by many cafes these days, and includes slices of grilled haloumi cheese. (How do you pronounce “CAFE MAΨA”? I assume to Greek letter psi should be taken as a ‘Y’, making it “mayer” or “my-ah”. One of these days I’ll remember to ask…)

Looking down Rosebery Avenue
Looking down Rosebery Avenue
Viewed from Mount Pleasant

This neighbourhood is also known as Mount Pleasant and is home to the famous – one might almost say legendary – postal sorting office of the same name. Whence came that name, for there are no mounts to be seen and while the area is no less pleasant than many similar neighbourhoods, its delights are not so obvious as to be enshrined in its name. The only explanation I have so far found is that offered by the London Encyclopaedia which explains it thus:

Formerly a country path leading down to the Fleet River and rising beyond the far bank. By 1720 Strype described the area as ‘a dirty Place with some ill buildings’, so the name was presumably ironic.

I am glad to say that the “ill buildings” have vanished and that modern day Mount Pleasant is no dirtier than any other city district.


Abbotts Court
Once John Greenwood’s clocks and watches

In Farringdon Lane I always admire this handsome building. It dates from 1875 and is fine enough to have received a Grade II listing from English Heritage. It was built for John Greenwood, an importer and manufacturer of clocks and watches. This, in turn, reminds us that this neighbourhood was once known for the large number of clockmakers and jewellery manufacturers who had their businesses here from Huguenot times onwards. This trade has now faded away, though a few businesses remain and Abbotts Court, as it is now called, serves as an office block.

Church of St James Clerkenwell
Church of St James Clerkenwell
Viewed from Clerkenwell Green

From Clerkwenwell Green we had a fine view of the sunlit spire of the Church of St James. (See my previous post for more details.)

Holborn Union Offices
Holborn Union Offices
Adminstrative centre of the Holborn Union Board of Guardians

This handsome building, dating from 1885-7, is often wrongly described as a workhouse. In fact, it was the administrative offices, medical and out-relief departments of the Holborn Union Board of Guardians. A “union”, in this sense, was an area administered by a Board of Guardians for the purpose of poor relief under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Clerkenwell came under the jurisdiction of the Holborn Union. Such unions existed until 1930 and you can find out more about them in the Poor Law Union Wikipedia article. I passed this way yesterday and thought about photographing the building then, but the light had been too contrary, leaving the façade entirely in shadow. Today, it was mottled with reflected sunlight making what I found to be an attractive picture. The building has been converted as a residential block.

A ghostly Shard
A ghostly Shard
Viewed from Britton Street

We walked along Britton Street that runs beside the Holborn Union Office and even here, the Shard obtrudes itself like a malevolent omnipresent ghost.

Forgotten conversations
Forgotten conversations
St John’s Garden

We took a stroll around St John’s Garden where these chairs, grouped beside the bench, looked as though they were left from some now forgotten conversation. In 1751, this parcel of land was donated to the Church of the Priory of St John (see my previous post) as an extension to its burial ground. In 1854, London’s cemeteries were closed and in 1880, this one was converted into a garden for public use. A few traces of its original purpose remain.

Cowcross Street, Farringdon
Cowcross Street
Farringdon

We found ourselves in the Farringdon area whose name derives from one Nicholas Farringdon or Farringdone who in 1279 purchased land that was to become the ward of Farringdon and became its Alderman two years later. The name appears to be a compound of two Anglo-Saxon words meaning “fern covered hill” and occurs in many parts of England. The Farringdons perhaps acquired their name from living is one of these places.

Near here stands the famous Smithfield meat market to which generations of sheep and cattle have been led to an appointment with their executioner. There was a separate market for cows and it had its own market cross. From this derives the name of Cowcross Street (until the late 18th century still written as two words, Cow Cross). Happily, animals are no longer led along it to the indignity of slaughter.

Farringdon Station old parcel office
Farringdon Station old parcel office

This façade belongs to Farringdon Station. When the the steam-powered Metropolitan Line opened, it may very well have been possible to send parcels without an accompanying human being but this is no longer the case. What is the space used for now? I have no idea…

Farringdon Station
Farringdon Station
Originally Victorian, rebuilt 1922

The original Farringdon Station opened for business in 1863 as the terminus of the new underground Metropolitan Railway. Since then it has acquired access to the Circle Line and the Hammersmith & City Line as well as mainline railway services. It once sent trains to a special unloading bay at Smithfield Market but this no longer exists, I am glad to say. Much rebuilding and refurbishment has taken place recently below ground to make the station ready for enhanced Thameslink services and to be a stop on the route of the as yet unfinished Crossrail service. What one sees above ground, however, is the station of 1922 which opened under the name of Farringdon and High Holborn. Since 1936, the Grade II listed station has been plain Farringdon.

Saffron Hill meets Charterhouse Street
Saffron Hill meets Charterhouse Street

We walked along a road which later becomes a footpath between buildings and leads, via a staircase, to Charterhouse Street. This is Saffron Hill which was once part of land acquired in 1272 by John Kirkby, Treasurer of the Realm. Kirkby later became Bishop of Ely (Cambridgeshire) and, on his death, bequeathed the property as a London Palace to the Bishopric. Saffron Hill runs where once the lavish palace garden lay, among whose exotic flowers and fruits was saffron, first introduced into England in the 14th century.

Is it art? Or something utilitarian?
Is it art? Or something utilitarian?
Or both?

Saffron Hill runs into a courtyard between buildings with posts to forbid the entry of motor vehicles. You exit into Charterhouse Street via a broad staircase. In one corner of the courtyard is this strange object, reminiscent of the pipe chamber of an organ – if organs had square-section tubes. What is it? Is it art, a utilitarian structure disguised as art or… well, what? There is no indication to help the curious investigator identify the structure.

Looking back at Saffron Hill
Looking back at Saffron Hill

We climbed the stairs and entered into Charterhouse Street where I took a last look back along Saffron Hill, once adorned with exotic blooms. We now stepped into Holborn (pronounced hoe-b’n) where we met an old friend.

Equestrian statue of Prince Albert
Equestrian statue of Prince Albert

I refer of course to the equestrian statue of Prince Albert at Holborn Circus, not to the Prince himself whom I never met. I do harbour some admiration for this man who embraced his adoptive  homeland and was a force for good. Albert possessed extraordinary energy allied to uncommon intelligence and a social conscience. His breadth of vision might be envied by politicians today.

History Peace
The Prince’s companions
History and Peace

In addition to the Prince, riding a horse and tipping his hat to the City of London, there is a plaque explaining what the monument celebrates. This shows the Prince laying the foundation stone of the Royal Exchange on January 17th 1842. The monument, whose sculptures are by Charles Bacon, was not raised until 1874, 15 years after the death of the Prince.

Museum of Childhood
Museum of Childhood
Bethnal Green

From Holborn we took a bus to Bethnal Green where, among other delights, one finds the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. We had already visited this intriguing institution (see Vegetarian cafe and museum of childhood) and today were principally interested in going to the museum’s cafe for a cup of tea!

If you wonder what is the derivation of the name Bethnal in Bethnal Green, I can tell you that it is subject to a certain amount of scholarly debate. One view has it that it derives from two Anglo-Saxon words, healh (angle, nook or corner) and blithe (blithe, happy), thus meaning “Happy place”. Another view agrees with healh but takes the second word to be Blitha, a personal name. In that case, it would mean “Blitha’s Place” or “Blitha’s Corner”. Both seem quite plausible to me.

Denman Regelous Memorial Fountain
Denman Regelous Memorial Fountain
Museum Gardens

Beside the museum is a pleasant park called Museum Gardens. One of the historic items in it is a drinking fountain dedication to the memory of two people who perished in a house fire. The memorial plaque reads as follows.

MEMORIAL
TO
ALICE MAUD DENMAN
AND
PETER REGELOUS
WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN ATTEMPTING
TO SAVE OTHERS
AT A FIRE AT 423, HACKNEY ROAD,
ON THE 20TH OF APRIL, 1902

It seems that, more precisely, Mr Regelous was trying to save the occupants of the burning house, Alice Denman and her four children, and all parties perished in the flames. The disaster had a big impact on the community and large crowds turned out for the funeral. The mayor of Bethnal Green set up a public fund for those who suffered from the fire and the fountain was erected in 1903.

Museum of Childhood
Museum of Childhood
Seen from Museum Gardens

The Green and Museum Gardens are remnants of what was known as Poor’s Land. In 1678 owners of properties around the Green bought it collectively to avoid it being built on. The land was kept open and rented, the proceeds being used to help the local poor. Much of it has now been built on (for example, by the Museum of Childhood and the Church of St John shown below) but the Museum Gardens remain as a reminder of what was both a self-interested and a charitable act.

St John on Bethnal Green
St John on Bethnal Green

This is Bethnal Green’s parish church and is named St John on Bethnal Green. It was built in 1824-5 to designs by Sir John Soane with later additions and repairs. It is Grade I listed.

The fire to which the Museum Gardens fountain is a memorial is not Bethnal Green’s only major disaster. The Bethnal Green Tube Shelter Disaster claimed 173 lives and is still vividly remembered by the community. During the Second World War, underground tube stations were designed as bomb shelters and when a bombing raid occurred in an area, the local station would experience a rush of people seeking safety within.

On the evening of March 3rd 1943, a bombing raid caused people to rush into the Bethnal Green tube station to shelter. At the bottom of the first staircase, a woman with a small child fell and within seconds many others fell and were crushed because people entering the station were unaware of the accident and continued to push their way in. No bombs fell on the station and all the deaths and injuries were caused by the crush, making this the gravest civilian accident of the War.

Stairway to Heaven Monument
Stairway to Heaven Monument
In memory of the Tube disaster of 1943

A memorial to the disaster and in memory of those who lost their lives, called the Stairway to Heaven, has been created. Its design recalls the fateful staircase and provides room for people to place individual wreaths and tokens to loved ones who perished.

Stairway to Heaven Memorial
Stairway to Heaven Memorial
Reflecting the grief of a community

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Glimpses of Clerkenwell

Friday, March 6th 2015

My doctor wanted me to submit a blood sample for analysis. I had kept putting it off but finally went this morning to do it. The way it works here is that the doctor issues a docket which specifies what is to be tested for and gives this to the patient. The docket also gives a list of places where you can be tested. I chose the Finsbury Health Centre in Pine Street as this is near to home and you don’t need to make an appointment. You simply walk in, take a ticket from the machine and then sit and watch the number box on the wall until it shows the number on your ticket.

When your number appears, you walk into the room and sit in the big chair. On a previous occasion, the medical technician had been clumsy and I had ended up with a tasteful blue, green and mauve mosaic all down my arm. This time, though, the young lady knew her business and was bidding me hold the pad of cotton wool on the puncture before I was even aware that she had finished.

Really, I wanted to go home and make coffee, because these medical things always unnerve me, but I managed to persuade myself to first go for a little walk around the local area which is Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell, as you probably guess, takes its name from the well sited in the neighbourhood. There were two monastic foundations here, St Mary’s Nunnery and the Priory of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, and the monks, referred to as clerks or clerics (“clerken” being the medieval plural) gave their name to the well. The clerks’ well was rediscovered in 1924 and can be viewed with difficulty through the window of the building that now contains it, Well Court, or more comfortably by appointment.

The Clerks' Well
The Clerks’ Well

The light shining on the glass made it impossible to photograph it today but I managed to get the above snap on a previous visit. The well today is just a hole in the ground but I imagine that in its heyday it would have have a more impressive sight.

St James Clerkenwell
St James Clerkenwell
Successor of the church of St Mary’s Nunnery

When Henry VIII closed down the religious houses in the 1530s and 1540s, St Mary’s Nunnery was also dispossessed but its church continued in use by the local community. At some point, for reasons that are not clear, it had become dedicated to St James. The church we see today was built in the later 18th century with additions in 1822.

St James Clerkenwell
St James Clerkenwell
Entrance and tower

As is common in the city, the churchyard has been largely cleared and turned into a public garden.

Middlesex Sessions House
Middlesex Sessions House

The heart of Clerkenwell is a large square called Clerkenwell Green. It is no longer green but has been paved. It is dominated at one end by a building that was once the Middlesex Sessions House, the court for justices of the peace. It was built around 1780 but soon surrendered is role as a court to other purposes and is currently awaiting a decision on a planning application.

Sessions House relief
Sessions House relief

This is one of the relief work panels decorating the façade whose symbolism alludes to the dispensing of justice within.

St James from Clerkenwell Green
St James from Clerkenwell Green

Here is a view of the Church of St James as seen from Clerkenwell Green. It sits comfortably amid a cohort of buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and historically interesting, many of them listed as is the church itself (Grade II*).

Garden of the Priory Church of St John
Garden of the Priory Church of St John

In St John’s Square is the Priory Church of St John of Jerusalem. This, and the nearby St John’s Gate, formed part of the Grand Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the order of Knights Hospitallers. Whenever I passed this building previously I had found it closed but today it was open and I went in to look around. I knew the museum in St John’s Gate but it seems that this site too has now been opened to the public, also as a museum.

The main church was a mixture of fabric from the 16th and 18th centuries and was badly damaged in wartime bombing, being restored in the 1950s. The crypt, however, is much older being of the 12th century. It was there that, despite the low level of lighting, I was able to take the following three photos.

Crypt of Priory Church of St John

Crypt of the Priory Church of St John

Unknown Knight of St John

The effigy above is of an unknown knight of St John, obviously representing the subject in death. What I found slightly unusual was that the main figure is accompanied by smaller one lying beside his legs. I deduce that this must represent the knight’s squire, devastated by the death of his master.

St John's Gate
St John’s Gate

The part of the complex that is most familiar to passers-by is the Gate of St John. Originally the entrance to the Grand Priory, it has served many purposes during its history and today houses the museum. A plaque on the wall provides a succinct history:

ST JOHN’S GATE.

THIS BUILDING WAS THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO THE
GRAND PRIORY OF THE ORDER OF THE HOSPITAL OF
ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM · THE ORIGINAL GATEHOUSE
WAS ERECTED ABOUT THE YEAR 1148 & WAS BURNT
DOWN BY WAT TYLER IN 1381 · IT WAS RESTORED BY
PRIOR JOHN REDINGTON & AND WAS FINALLY REBUILT IN
ITS PRESENT FORM BY PRIOR THOMAS DOCWRA IN 1504
THE GRAND PRIORY BUILDINGS WERE APPROPRIATED
BY THE CROWN IN 1559 · THE ORDER OF THE HOSPITAL
OF ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM RESUMED POSSESSION
OF THIS GATEHOUSE IN 1873

Door or widow?
Door or window?

Beside the gate I spied this feature. It is soldily blocked by stone but looks very much like an old window. Was it a window lighting the lower levels of the building or perhaps even a door accessed by steps that vanished long ago? Perhaps I shall find out one day but for now the mystery remains.

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A stitch in time

Wednesday, March 4th 2015

Earlier today, I had received a call to the SilverTiger Pigeon Rescue Service. It seemed that, despite the netting installed to prevent such incursions, a pigeon had entered the small backyard at Tigger’s workplace and become trapped. No one seemed to know what to do about it – or perhaps they didn’t care – and, as I had already rescued trapped pigeons, I was asked to help. In the event, the match was postponed because, search as I might, I could find no trace of said Columba livia or rock dove. I conclude that it had somehow managed to find the hole in the net by which it had entered and thus escape. I might add that feral or street pigeons are a lot cleverer than people give them credit for. They are also excellent flyers and I have seen them perform exploits on the wing that took my breath away. Yes, OK, I love pigeons, but then, you already knew that Smile

Despite the anticlimactic outcome, Tigger promised me a reward and so, on the way home, we stopped at the newly opened London Grind espresso bar on London Bridge. While drinking what is there called a “long black” and eating a cream horn, I thought about taking a photo or two. Not wishing to be too encumbered for pigeon hunting I had left my camera at home so had to use the camera of my iPhone instead.

I had an ulterior motive in taking these photos because I wanted to test further the stitching application that I wrote about in my last post (see Stitching photos to make a panorama). I took two sets of photos, one horizontal and one vertical. In the case of the latter, I was interested to know whether the software (Microsoft Research’s Image Composite Editor, commonly known as ICE) could cope with a vertical set of images or whether I would first have to rotate them and then rotate the finished photo back the other way.

Here is the horizontal set combined to make a panorama:

London Grind, London Bridge
London Grind, London Bridge
Panorama (stitched)
Click to see a larger version

This stitched panorama is made of four separate images. These were taken from left to right consecutively without pause but even so they reveal movement. If you look closely you will see that two members of staff appear twice!

While making this composite, I also made a discovery about ICE. This works in stages and the third stage takes you to the crop screen. This, as its name suggests, provides the means to trim the photo, perhaps by cutting off any black edges. What I noticed this time, however, is that there is an option called “Auto complete”. What is this? Well, let’s give it a try and find out!

The crop screen
ICE’s crop screen
Showing the options

The result of trying it left me gasping. In a word, this option fills in all the blank bits left around the edges because of inequalities in the sizes and orientations of the photos. When it works, it is magnificent but when it doesn’t… but we’ll come to that in a moment.

For the London Grind photo it worked wonderfully well. What it does it to take bits from some photos and add them to other photos to fill in the blanks and complete the picture. In this case, it worked so well that it took my breath away.

Here is the vertical set combined to make a panorama:

The Shard from the window of London Grind
The Shard from the window of London Grind
Panorama (stitched)
Click to see a larger version

This combines three separate images, taken from bottom to top. I did not have to rotate them for stitching as ICE was clever enough to see where the matching occurred. You will notice, however, that the stitching process has caused the edges of the window to appear curved. I don’t know the reason for this distortion and can only speculate that it results from the perspective characteristics of the individual photos.

This version of the photo has not been Auto completed. Why not? Well, because this is where the process sometimes falls down. In order to fill in a blank area, the application puts in it material copied from elsewhere and this may be inappropriate in that position. To give you a better example of how things can go wrong, I will combine the following three images which are admittedly quite unsuitable for forming a panorama.

Wheelbarrow art Wheelbarrow art Wheelbarrow art

Here is the result without Auto complete:

Stitch without Auto complete

As you can see, there is a lot of black (unfilled) space around the edges of the photo owing to the incompatible shapes of the originals. If I had intended to take these photos for a composite, I would have framed them differently.

Here now is the result with Auto complete:

Stitch with Auto complete

At first sight, this looks pretty good. It is at least a complete picture, nicely filling the whole rectangle. But then you realize that the top left and bottom left sections of the photo are pure fiction! They have been cobbled together from other parts of the photos, producing a sort of Frankenstein’s monster. It’s quite amusing, though, and depending on what you were trying to achieve you might in some circumstances find this version acceptable. It at least gives the illusion of completeness.

I may have had a wasted journey regarding the pigeon but I did have coffee and cake and make an interesting and useful discovery about stitching photos. I am well content with that!

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Posted in Photography | 8 Comments