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