Today we met friends for a trip to Colchester to visit the firstsite Gallery. The meeting was to take place at Liverpool Street station and so we went there early in order to have breakfast on the way.
Liverpool Street station can become uncomfortably crowded on weekdays, especially during the morning and evening rush hours. This morning, because we were early, there was a different atmosphere. People were in holiday mood, emphasised by the morning sun streaming in through the windows.
Our goal in Colchester was the gallery built by Rafael Viñoly. firstsite describes its mission thus:
firstsite is a contemporary visual arts organisation based in Colchester with a mission to make contemporary art relevant to everyone.
One of the ways in which it helps make art relevant is by prohibiting photography. You cannot even photograph the inside of the building, let alone its collection a very indifferent and uninspiring "art". Fortunately, admission is free.
The building looks like a warped metal box. This is just one more piece of pretentious and over-hyped construction whose architects (if that is the appropriate word for them) seem more concerned to design something unique and eccentric containing “interesting spaces” than in making a building that is both practical and comfortable to use. If you want to know more about firstsite (which follows the illiterate modern trend of writing in its own name and much else in lower case) you will find information on their Web site.
As we were leaving, the above pictured group arrived and took up position in front of the gallery. Their costumes seem to be a strange interpretation of a Roman centurion’s uniform. Their drums bore the legend “Boudica Samba School”. They beat out their rhythm on drums of several sizes which made a very loud noise. There were no other instruments. The drum patterns seemed to be directed by the woman on the right of the photo who made hand and finger gestures to the band. There was another female figure in an elaborate costume who danced on her own like the drunk girl at a party whom no one will partner.
Despite it being the 1st of October, the day was sunny and very hot, hotter than many summer days. It was humid too, which made conditions uncomfortable and sapped energy.
There has been a town hall on the site since 1160 but the present one was built in 1898 and opened for business in 1902. Its clock tower forms an impressive landmark.
The George is, as you might expect, a listed (Grade II) building. Dating originally from the 15th century it has been remodelled in the 17th and 18th centuries, resulting in the not unattractive form we see today.
The Red Lion is even more impressive. It dates from the 15th and 16th centuries when it was perhaps a house that later became an inn. There are some 18th century additions but it has largely kept its original form and character. It is of course listed (Grade I).
I can’t help wondering whether the Red Lion was once called the George and Dragon because that would seem to be the theme of the bas-relief over the door. The carving is sufficiently old to allow this supposition.
Above is one of the two figures that flank the doorway. It looks like a royal personage of some sort.
Walking through Red Lion Yard you come to Red Lion Walk, an open precinct with shops and cafes. The space is dominated by this tall tower or steeple, which seems even taller because of the narrow space. It belongs to Lion Walk Church (United Reformed). We had coffee and cake in the nearby Costa Cafe.
Colchester is of course an ancient town with a picturesque history behind it. A Celtic stronghold, called Camulodunon, existed here long before the Romans arrived and renamed it Camulodunum. A major Roman colonia was established here and was the major town of Britain until Londinium took over that title. It was sacked during Boudicca’s revolt but subsequently recovered.
Where the Romans once trod, the Saxons and the Normans followed. There had been a Roman fortress here and when William the Conqueror ordered a castle to be built it was erected on the foundations of its predecessor. Unusually for Norman castles, which were generally built of stone, the builders of this one used stones and tiles from the Roman ruins. As a result, the castle has a rather colourful finish which confers a certain charm despite its military purpose.
The castle is set in a park or gardens which are open to the public. On such a warm day, the public was making full use of it. This was once the property of Viscount Cowdray who donated it to the town for public use in 1922.
The firstsite gallery was a disappointment. Perhaps it will improve with time and experience. Colchester is an interesting town with some historic traces that are beautiful in their own right and worth studying for what they can tell us of the past, though it is not the first town I would think of when planning a day out.
By the time we reached Liverpool Street station again, the sky was growing dark and the electric lights were taking over, transforming the city, making both more beautiful and more mysterious.
There wasn’t a useful bus in the bus station so we decided to walk through to City Road at Moorgate. We didn’t have a tripod but had a try some at night shots despite that.
The City is crowded during the working day and practically deserted over the weekend. Together with the darkness and the lights, it often acquires a rather allusive, if not poetic, atmosphere.
Despite it being Saturday and late in the evening, many of the office suites still had all their lights full on. Whether this was because they were being cleaned, whether people were putting in extra hours or whether the last people out had simply not bothered to turn off the lights, I do not know.