Art in Wulfrun’s town

Saturday, April 11th 2014

We are heading for the thriving and lively city of Birmingham which has  plenty to offer the visitor, as we have discovered on previous trips (for example, see here, here and here) but today we are not staying in Birmingham but, we hope, going on from there by a special route.

Birmingham's Moor Street Station
Birmingham’s Moor Street Station
Delightfully “retro”

We took a number 205 bus to Marylebone Station where we caught the 10:45 Chiltern Railways  train terminating at Birmingham Snow Hill. Just before noon, we disembarked one stop before the end of the line at the delightfully “retro” Moor Street Station. (See here for background information on this Edwardian survivor.)

The Balloon Man A sulky Superman
Along New Street
The Balloon Man and a sulky-looking Superman

As we usually do, we went from Moor Street Station, through the Bull Ring into New Street. Known to travellers mainly as the name of Birmingham’s main railway station, New Street is in fact a long pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants. We had had a picnic breakfast aboard the train but we soon stopped at a Costa for coffee and cake!

Fine building Fine building
Splendid in red
A couple of Birmingham’s fine buildings

Birmingham has a lot of fine buildings, many of these dating from Victorian times and now protected by an English Heritage listing. We admired and photographed a number of these as we continued our walk. Above are just two examples.

Midlands Metro Tram
Midlands Metro Tram
Linking Snow Hill to Wolverhampton

We reached our destination at Snow Hill Station where, in addition to the railway, there is also the Birmingham terminus of the Midlands Metro tram service. Were you to board the tram and pay £5, you would in exchange receive a return ticket to Wolverhampton and this is what we had planned to do. The route passes through Wednesbury and West Bromwich to arrive at a station called Wolverhampton St George’s. There are 23 stations along the route, including the two termini.

Wolverhampton terminus
Wolverhampton terminus
An efficient service

The distance from end to end is just over 12½ miles and the journey takes about  30 minutes. There is plenty to see along the route, especially if this is your first trip. Thus we arrived at Wolverhampton and, of course, set out to explore!

Dudley Street
Dudley Street
Wolverhampton’s pedestrian street

We found our way to a long thoroughfare called Dudley Street. This is a pedestrian-only street and some of the older shops are to be found here, as well as some spanking new ones. It seemed just as busy as Birmingham’s shopping centre but the pace was a little less frenetic perhaps. You felt you could stop and look around without people running into you.

Prince Albert Prince Albert
Prince Albert
Inaugurated by Queen Victoria 1866

Not the least of Wolverhampton’s impeccable Victorian credentials is this equestrian statue of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. By Thomas Thorneycroft (1815-85), the sculpture bears a simple inscription, “Albert, Prince Consort, born 1819, died 1861”, and was inaugurated by the Prince’s widow on what is said to have been her first public engagement after his death. That fact, together with the noble solidity of the Prince’s bearing, somehow makes this a very touching memorial.

St Peter's Church
St Peter’s Church
Where Wolverhampton began

From there, we made out way to the great church of St Peter. Church managers like to boast that their church has existed from ancient times but in the case of St Peter’s the boast has substance for there was a church here by no later than the 10th century, though the current building has been altered and extended since then.

The Lady Wulfrun
The Lady Wulfrun
Founder of the minster church and hence the town

In front of the church is a sculpture by Charles Wheeler (1892-1974), the eminent sculptor who grew up in Wolverhampton. No one can now know what Wulfrun actually looked like but this sculpture presents a plausible suggestion. Wulfrun is thought to have been the grand-daughter of King Aethelred I and was therefore a high-ranking citizen of Anglo-Saxon England. There is a curious story that in 943 she was abducted by Vikings when they captured the fort of Tamworth. This was presumably in order to extract a ransom as she appears again (assuming it is the same Wulfrun) in 985 when King Aethelred II grants her ten hides1 of land at a place called Heantune, which in Anglo-Saxon means ‘high farm/enclosure’. In 994, Wulfrun donated various pieces of this land as an endowment to the minster church that she helped found. The settlement that grew up around it thus became known as Wulfrun Heantune, which mutated in due course into modern Wolverhampton.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

We next went to visit the Wolverhampton Art Gallery and here we spent some time. Photography was allowed everywhere except in one gallery where I think there were copyright issues of some kind. What follows is a selection of items seen. The gallery has a strong hands-on orientation which, I suppose, is the current fashion, though I am uncertain as to how much good this does. It also takes away valuable space that could otherwise be used for exhibiting works of art.

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
(Cecil) Atri Brown

We were met in the entrance by this slightly startling sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi who looks as though he is running to catch a beach ball. The sculptor is given as Atri Brown, an artist about whom there seems to be little information available. Cecil ‘Atri’ Brown was born in 1906 and was active in the earlier half of last century. I have seen a hint that he is/was a local lad but don’t know this for certain.

Likeness Guaranteed
Likeness Guaranteed
David Mach (1995)

It took me a moment to realize that this spiky portrait bust is in fact made out of wire coathangers welded together. The subject is Richard Jobson, Scottish TV presenter and film producer, among other things. If you do not know him, you may (or may not) find illumination on his Web site. The sculptor, David Mach (born 1956) is also Scottish and apparently chose Jobson as his subject because of his “typically Scottish features”. Mach also has a Web site and seems to have a bit of a thing about coathangers but also does other forms of sculpture and installations.

Moses
Moses
Philip John Evett (1953)

This piece represents Moses clutching to his bosom the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments which he has presumably just acquired from God. I like its modern feel and the way the figure is pared down to essentials without losing expressiveness. It has a mythic quality, which is fair enough, I think, given the subject. Evett (born 1923) has a Web site here.

Diana and Actaeon
Diana and Actaeon
John Paddison

I also liked this sculpture, entitled Diana and Actaeon. It is by local lad John Paddison (1929-2000). Similar to Moses, it has modern styling and a mythic feel to it but also a feeling of realism. In his portrayal of Diana, the artist has broken away from the conventional Greek beauty and made a rather ordinary-looking female figure whose movements nonetheless show the determination of her desire for revenge. In this representation, of furious goddess participates in the destruction of Actaeon, apparently shooting at him with a bow  while his own hounds tear him to pieces. (If you need reminding of the story of Diana and Actaeon, there is a succinct account here.)

The Young Aviator (Mother and Child)
The Young Aviator (Mother and Child)
Robert Jackson Emerson (1940)

This beautiful work by Robert Jackson Emerson (1878-1944) was created in 1940. At first sight a work on the theme of “mother and child”, the baby has been given wings on his ankles, hence the title. Though born in Leicestershire, Emerson taught for some thirty-odd years in the Wolverhampton Municipal School of Art which makes him a Wolverhampton artist if only by adoption. A short article on this sculpture will be found here.

Mother & Child
Mother & Child
Charles Wheeler (1960s)
Click to see the slideshow

My last sculpture is by Charles Wheeler and it is entitled, reasonably enough, Mother & Child, and was probably sculpted in the 1960s. You might like to compare this with his sculpture of the Lady Wulfrun, shown earlier. This figure is notable for its elongation of the lower body, while the torso, arms, head and child have more natural proportions. Unlike paintings, which are flat, sculptures are meant to be viewed in the round. Positioning in galleries, however, does not always make this possible. Here we can access the sculpture on three sides and so I have taken several photos and combined them in a slide show. You can view it by clicking on the above image.

Eighteenth Century Gallery
Eighteenth Century Gallery
General view

The art gallery’s collection includes several rooms of paintings. Above you see a general view of the Eighteenth Century Gallery, with the clothes rack in the foreground. These are garments for children to dress up in. I am not convinced that this either improves their understanding of art or helps encourage them to visit art galleries. I would prefer the space to be used to exhibit art as it should be seen and to allow more items to be accommodated.

The Family of Eldred Lancelot Lee
The Family of Eldred Lancelot Lee
Joseph Highmore 1736

This gallery is dominated by a large portrait of an obviously affluent family. It is attributed to Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) and is carefully planned and posed though the result is conventional. There is something curious about it: although it is “the family of Eldred Lancelot Lee” and shows his wife and ten children, the pater familias himself is not present. That is odd because the wealthy enjoyed having their portraits painted to show their wealth and status. Why, then, is the principal person missing? The eye is drawn to the eldest son in the foreground, proudly posed with his hand on the hilt of his sword. His bright blue coat make him stand out against the paler colours of the women’s dresses. The artist has chosen to focus on him in place of the missing father. (Update: The “mystery of the missing father” has been solved – see comments below.)

'Tea-Totalism', 'Temperance' and 'Intemperance'
‘Tea-Totalism’, ‘Temperance’ and ‘Intemperance’
Edward Bird (1795)

This trio of small paintings by Edward Bird (1772-1819) reflects the artist’s interest in unusual-looking people, grotesques and low-life. The pictures are perhaps meant to be humorous, mocking both tea drinkers themselves and (by exaggerating the supposed evils of tea) those who condemn it. They are caricatures or cartoons and compare tea drinkers, whether they indulge in order to follow fashion (1) or because they are addicted to tea (3), with the calm and contentment of the abstainer (2).

A Tiger
A Tiger
Charles Towne (1818)

I was, of course, not going to miss the portrait of the magnificent beast shown above! Charles Towne (1763-1840) painted landscapes, animals and hunting scenes. Painted at a time when wild animals such as tigers were seen as exotic and frightful, fit only for zoos and as targets for big game hunters, the painting nevertheless captures something of the animal’s beauty, even if the head is more like that of a domestic moggy than of a tiger!

The Highland Laddie's Return
The Highland Laddie’s Return
Philip Richard Morris (c1881)

In the Victorian section there was the usual range from the sentimental, exemplified by the above scene of the soldier’s return to his home village by Philip Richard Morris (1838-1902), to the taste for the extoic (see below). As far as paintings were concerned, there was nothing that particularly took my attention in this section.

Breton Brother and Sister
Breton Brother and Sister
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (c1861)

The above painting was done either by William-Adolphe Bouguerau or by someone working “in the manner of” the artist. It corresponds to a period when there was great interest among artists and writers in the customs, costumes and habits of localised groups of people such as beggars, gypsies, peasants and even certain classes of people in towns. The approach was “picturesque” rather than realistic.

Majolica fountain
Majolica fountain Majolica fountain
Majolica fountain

My interest was, however, caught by this extraordinary majolica fountain in the middle of the gallery. Unfortunately, I know nothing about it though I was told that it had originally been kept outside. The decorative elements include a strange mixture of Classical mythology (the horned head of the god Pan), Western motifs (the winged cherubs) and lifelike representations of fish. It appeared to be in remarkably good condition with hardly any damage – all the more surprising as the material of which it is made is known for its fragility.

The Old Post Office
The Old Post Office
No longer in use

Leaving the gallery, we had a little look around town before starting back. We were far from seeing all the town has to offer and may even have missed the best bits. Perhaps we will return another time and try again. We found this old Victorian (1895) post office. No longer used for its original purpose, it is huge. This is just the façade: round the corner in the next street we found more of it, including what I supposed to be the sorting office and the parcels office.

Carvings above the main door
Carvings above the main door
The Old Post Office

In several places over the façade there appeared the “VR” monogram of Queen Victoria and, over the door, this elaborate piece of carving which includes the date 1895. This must have been an impressive institution in its day. It is no longer in use, however, and sports a property dealer’s board advertising it as a “restaurant opportunity”. The post office, as a business, is still in the same street (Lichfield Street), having moved twice already.

As for us, it was time to start the return journey, first taking the tram to back Birmingham, where we had a late lunch or early dinner in an Italian restaurant before regaining Moor Street Station and boarding our train to Marylebone.

Hotel canopy
Hotel canopy
Marylebone Station

Waiting for the 205 bus outside Marylebone Station, I could not resist photographing, as I always do, the iron and glass canopy stretching between the station and what was once the station hotel. It fascinates as much with its elegant design as with imaginings of the Victorian ladies and gentlemen it once sheltered from the elements as they moved between the hotel and the station, accompanied by flunkies carrying their voluminous luggage. Their day is long past and even more distant from us is the day of the Lady Wulfrun, benefactress of the minster church and perhaps unwitting founder of the town that took her name. And yet, both eras are still in some sense present, written as they are into the fabric of this strange little island nation.

________

1A hide was a unit of land measurement, though it is difficult to say exactly how large it was as its value seems to vary from place to place. The word is cognate with hiwan, meaning ‘family’, and the hide was considered enough land to sustain a family. It was also used as a land measure for tax purposes.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Readymoney in Regent’s Park

Saturday, April 5th 2014

Today’s outing was going to be leisurely, a gentle stroll with the odd bus ride in between. First was the question of breakfast and where to go for it. Tigger reminded me that we had not for a long time been to what used to be one of our favourite breakfast haunts and so we decided to renew our acquaintance with it. For this we took to 214  to Camden Town.

Camden High Street
Camden High Street
Markets and trendy shops

The bus stops in Kentish Town Road, near the Camden Town tube station. We cut along Buck Street to arrive at Camden High Street.

Spot the human
Spot the humans

On Saturdays, this is a happening place with markets, shops selling trendy clothes and accessories, tattoo and body-piercing salons and all sorts of strange and odd boutiques. Just up the road is Camden Lock, a complete story in its own right.

Inverness Street
Inverness Street
Street market and cafes

We were only passing through Camden High Street to reach Inverness Street. This street is cut into two parts by Arlington Road and, while the upper part is residential, the lower part, near Camden High Street, has been known for its street market since the early years of the 20th century. Originally, this was a fruit and vegetable market but over the last 30 years of so, the produce stalls have melted away and been replaced by those selling cheap clothes, shoes and gifts. Along one side is a row of cafes, bars and restaurants.

Cafe Solo
Cafe Solo
Quiet at breakfast time

One of these is the establishment we were heading for, known variously as Bar Solo and Cafe Solo. I think this indicates that earlier in the day it is fairly quiet, serving coffee and meals, but becomes more lively in the evenings. There is also something called Under Solo, which I guess is a night club. We have watched this place go through several metamorphoses and today it was again different from our last visit. We shall no doubt return at some point and see whether it has changed yet again.

Painted van
Painted van
Mobile art

After breakfast we continued our stroll. In the upper part of Inverness Street we spotted this painted van. The first hand-painted van I ever noticed was in Paris (see Paris 2007 and this picture) but since then the habit of painting vans seems to have spread like wildfire and these days we see painted vans everywhere we go, both in the UK and abroad. Perhaps this indicates increasing use of vans as personal, non-commercial, vehicles.

Gloucester Crescent
Gloucester Crescent
Part of Camden’s leafy suburb

Though Camden Town is known for its popular and youth-dominated markets and culture, the Borough of Camden of which it is part is more varied than this. As well as the trendy shops and clubs of Camden Town there are the affluent residential areas of Regent’s Park and Hampstead.

Regent's Park Terrace
Regent’s Park Terrace
Complete with private road

For example, here is Regent’s Park Terrace, consisting of a row of up-market town houses with its own private road.

Regent's Canal
Regent’s Canal
Near the Cumberland Basin

We walked along Prince Albert Road which leads to the Regent’s Canal. Here the canal makes a right-angled turn and in the “elbow” is the Cumberland Basin.

The Cumberland Basin today
The Cumberland Basin today
Home to the Feng Shang floating restaurant

Today, the Cumberland Basin is a quiet backwater providing moorings for a few canal barges a home for the Feng Shang floating Chinese restaurant. The basin is also known as the Cumberland Market Basin and this gives a clue to the reason for its existence. Between here and the Euston Road, there existed from the early 1800s until the 1920s an important market, Cumberland Market, and the Basin was built to serve it. The market is long gone and the basin now serves other purposes.

Cormorant Cormorant
Cormorant
Drying his wings in typical pose

I was surprised to catch sight of a cormorant standing drying his wings on a convenient perch next to the Feng Shang. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised because cormorants are quite numerous on the Thames these days and I suppose this one may have come here to this quieter place to avoid the competition. The fact that he was drying his wings showed that he had been fishing though whether or not he had been successful, we cannot know.

St Mark's Church
St Mark’s Church
The “Zoo Church”?

Across the road stands this Victorian Gothic church. St Mark’s Regents Park was consecrated in 1853 and its Web site claims that it has become known as the “Zoo Church” because in the 1930s tea parties were organized on Summer Bank Holidays and these attracted the attention of the press which then applied the epithet because of the church’s proximity to Regent’s Park Zoo.

Looking along the canal...
Looking along the canal…
…towards Regent’s Park Zoo

The closeness of the zoo can be gauged from the above photo looking along the canal. Just above the bridge you can see the pyramid shapes of the Snowdon Aviary. This was built in 1964 and was designed by Anthony Armstrong-Jones, aka the 1st Earl of Snowdon, sometime husband of Princess Margaret.

Readymoney Fountain
Readymoney Fountain
A gift of Sir Cowasgee Jehangir

The bridge mentioned above leads into Regent’s Park. This large and rather fine park is open to the public and provides facilities for sports and games. It is not owned by either of the boroughs on which it impinges (Westminster and Camden) but is Crown property. The borough councils therefore have little or no say in what is done to and within the park. Originally part of the Manor of Tyburn, owned by the Abbess of Barking, the land was appropriated (or should that be “misappropriated”?) by Henry VIII upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The land began to take on its present form as a park under architect John Nash and hence became closely associated with the Prince Regent whose name it took.

A feature of the park is this rather splendid drinking fountain. It was erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association but was paid for by Sir Cowasgee Jehangir and inaugurated by HRH Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck, in 18691.

Sir Cowasgee Jehangir Clock
Donor bust and clock

The dedicatory plaque tells us that Sir Cowasgee Jehangir (Companion of the Star of India) made a gift of this fountain

AS A TOKEN OF GRATITUDE TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND
FOR THE PROTECTION ENJOYED BY HIM AND HIS PARSEE
FELLOW COUNTRYMEN UNDER THE BRITISH RULE IN INDIA

The dedication describes Sir Cowasgee as “A WEALTHY PARSEE GENTLEMAN OF BOMBAY”. The family was indeed rich, having made a fortune in the opium trade. Two uncles had become known by the nickname “Readymoney” and had eventually taken this as their surname. Sir Cowasgee was therefore also known as Sir Cowasgee Jenhangir Readymoney, hence the fact that this fountain is more commonly known as the Readymoney Fountain, even though the donor chose not to include his soubriquet in the inscription on the monument.

A carved portrait head of Sir Cowasgee appears on the fountain but is by now badly eroded. Unusually, the fountain includes a clock (I have so far not seen another public fountain with a clock on it). The present clock looks to me to be fairly modern, so perhaps it is a later model replacing an original that had been broken.

Regent's Park is big
Regent’s Park is big
And provides distant views

Regent’s Park is quite big and provides some interesting views of the surrounding city. Much of it is dedicated to sport and team games. Today, everywhere you looked, you could see people in football kit, kicking balls about. In a few cases, actual matches seemed to be taking place but most of the pitches were being used for practice sessions. (I suppose playing football is as good a way of wasting time as any other.)

The Hub
The Hub
Regent’s Park’s sports facility

In the middle stands what looks like a drum-shaped cafe on a hillock. The visible part may indeed be a cafe (we didn’t investigate) but I think the hillock is in fact artificial and hides more extensive facilities for sporting activities.

One of the avenues
One of the avenues
Pleasant for strolling or sitting

There are also walkways or avenues through cultivated areas and it is pleasant to stroll here or sit on a bench and let the world go by for a while. There are birds and squirrels to watch while you do so.

Abundant blossom
Abundant blossom
Asserts that spring has arrived

Many of the trees and bushes were laden with blossom as though to convince us that spring has come at last. Indeed, there are moments when you might almost think this was so but then comes the relapse and the weather turns cold a wet once more.

Gothick Villa
Gothick Villa
A modern development

Under Nash’s plan, 56 villas were to be built in the park. In the event, only eight were actually built, though some more have been added in modern times. I am not sure how many currently exist or what purposes they serve. Some are certainly still used as private residences, for example Winfield House which is the residence of the American Ambassador. The villa shown is called Gothick Villa. Its barley-twist chimneys notwithstanding, it is not old but is one of a batch built between 1988 and 2004, each with the name of the architectural tradition it reflects.

Central London Mosque
Central London Mosque
Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1978)

On the edge of the park stands a large building with a landmark golden dome. This is the Central London Mosque, also known, for obvious reasons, as the Regent’s Park Mosque. It is very big and forms part of the Islamic Cultural Centre. It was designed by English architect Sir Frederick Gibberd and built in 1978.

Hanover Gate Lodge Sculpture
Hanover Gate Lodge
Hanover Gate, Regent’s Park

We also took a look at this sweet little property at one of the entrances to the park. It is the gatehouse or lodge at the park’s Hanover Gate. It is a two-storey round structure with two statues in niches, one of which is pictured above. The lodge was built in 1822-3 to the design of John Nash and is now listed Grade II. I don’t know whether anyone lives there or whether it is used for storage or office space. I think it would make a dwelling of character though the vehicles continually passing by on both sides might be a nuisance.

The cafe
The cafe
Camden Arts Centre

We fancied taking a look at some art and so caught a bus up Finchley Road to the Camden Arts Centre. We spent some time looking around the bookshop before discovering that the galleries were currently closed in preparation for the next round of exhibitions. Boo! We consoled ourselves as best we could with tea and cake in the gallery cafe.

Hampstead Telephone Exchange
Hampstead Telephone Exchange

We went to the nearby bus stop to catch a bus home and while waiting I took this picture of the telephone exchange nearly opposite. It is called the Hampstead Telephone Exchange and I have tried but failed to find out its age. I have seen photos of the interior supposedly dated to 1904 but I am sure this building is much later. On the façade appears the cipher of George V, which dates it to between 1910 and 1936 and I would guess a date towards the upper end of that time span.

We saw a number of interesting things on this ramble but if I had to choose a favourite it would be the cormorant drying his wings in the Cumberland Basin.

________

1Princess Mary (1833-97), also known as Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, was a granddaughter of George III and the mother of Queen Mary, the consort of George V, and therefore the great-grandmother of the present Queen. Born in Hanover, Princess Mary spent most of her life in England and married Prince Francis of Teck (Württemberg). More information here.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Water and music at Kew Bridge

Saturday, March 29th 2014

Today’s jaunt took in a couple of museums, one we had previously visited and one that had been closed when we had tried. Today we saw both of them. To get to them, we travelled by bus from Islington, first crossing the Thames by Waterloo Bridge and then trundling more or less westwards along the south side of the river to our first stop at Richmond.

Today, Richmond gives the impression of being an affluent and even genteel sort of place but its origins are relatively humble. It started out as a cluster of fishermen’s cottages around the manor of Sheen or Shene. It acquired its present name only in the late 15th or early 16th century when Henry VII, having rebuilt the manor after its destruction by fire in 1497, called the place Rychemond after his earldom in Yorkshire.

Old Fire Station (1870)
Old Fire Station (1870)

Like any modern urban centre, Richmond has its share of modern buildings but a few pleasant reminders of past ages remain to be admired, such as the Victorian  “Fire Brigade Station”, bearing a date of 1870, though today its ground floor is home to a couple of retailers. Ladies’ shoes, boots and handbags are displayed where once the horses would have galloped out in answer to a fire alarm.

Old Post Office The Old Post Office
The Old Post Office
Uniting Victoria and Edward

In George Street stands the old Post Office, also now diverted from its original purpose into retail. The noble, if slightly pompous, bearing of this structure suggests it is Victorian but I do not know its date. We did notice something curious about it: the two doors make reference to two monarchs. The left door bears the initials ‘V’ and ‘R’ (for Victoria Regina), while the right door bears ‘E’ and ‘R’ (for Edward Rex), suggesting that building work commenced while the Queen was alive but was completed only after her death, in the reign of her son. (This remains to be verified.)

A view from Richmond Bridge
A view from Richmond Bridge
Looking downriver

One of the elements – perhaps the the most important one – making Richmond so attractive is its position beside the Thames. The river here is not the Thames of the City and the docks, the Thames of Tower Bridge and tall ships, a Thames that is almost the sea. Here it is an inland waterway, a river of pleasure boats, green banks and herons fishing from the shallows. For all that, it is a muscular river, dreaming of the mighty thing it becomes a few twists and bends downstream.

Ducks preen and herons fish
Ducks preen and herons fish
The Thames of Richmond

Here the water is shallow near the edge and provides good dabbling for ducks, moorhens and coots. In the picture you can see a heron who has just arrived. Herons are surprisingly abundant along the upper Thames, perhaps because the terrain is suitable for their fishing techniques and because they have lost their fear of people who are generally welcoming of these strange creatures.

Corporation Island
Corporation Island
Trees and herons but no people

Islands are always fascinating and whenever I see one I find myself wondering what it would be like to live on it. This island, a little beyond Richmond Bridge, is called Corporation Island. It is small and thick with trees. No people live on it, which is no doubt a blessing for the local waterfowl as it offers them a sanctuary. The trees provide a suitable environment for herons to build nests. Perhaps the heron in the previous photo is one that has a des res on Corporation Island.

The standpipe tower
The standpipe tower
London Museum of Water and Steam

We took a bus to Kew Bridge at Brentford where this rather fine tower is a noticeable landmark. It is variously known as the Standpipe Tower and the Pump-House Tower. It was built in 1867 as part of the Metropolitan Water Board’s pump-house building. As water was distributed over a large area surrounding the pumping station, water was raised up the tower to produce the necessary pressure in the system.

Machines with spinning wheels...
Machines with spinning wheels…

When the facility was no longer needed as part of London’s water supply, it was reopened as a museum first with the name of Kew Bridge Steam Museum and latterly as the London Museum of Water and Steam. The building, with the several generations of machines in place – many of them in running order – has been adapted to tell the story of London’s need for water and the supply of this precious commodity.

Water wheel - from inside Water wheel - from outside
Water wheel
From inside and outside

I won’t pretend that I understand what all these machines actually did when they were on active service or that I was sufficiently interested to find out. I was content to walk among the huge machines with their spinning fly-wheels and pumping noises, taking photos, though this was not always easy in the low-light conditions.

Inside the pump-house tower
Inside the pump-house tower

We could enter the pump-house tower but only in the ground-level section. Even so, it was lofty with an iron staircase hinting at mysterious upper regions.

Hello...? Hello...?
Hello…? Hello…?
Once all telephones were like this

To me, more interesting than the big machines, impressive and historically important as they are, were the smaller items that recalled a past that has gone for ever, such as this old telephone with a separate microphone and earpiece. On the dial are instructions for use: “LIFT HAND-MICRO & LISTEN FOR DIAL TONE” and “PULL DIAL ROUND TO STOP & LET GO”. This telephone’s own number is written by hand on the dial, as was always the case, and is 254. Compare that with today’s eleven-digit numbers!

Clock Clock
Clock
Strangely ornate and top quality

Nor could I, with my horological interests, fail to notice this clock, almost hidden away on a shelf behind a huge piece of machinery spinning its great fly-wheel. It struck me that the clock was strangely ornate for the surroundings, unlike a larger, more functional-looking timepiece nearby. Closer scrutiny revealed that the dial bears the name of the maker and the date when the clock was made – 1874. The presence of this information shows that this is no ordinary clock and I hope the museum keeps it safe.

The maker was Charles Frodsham (1810-71) of 84 Strand, whose company, which started in 1843 by taking over a previous company at that address, received the Royal Warrant as suppliers of clocks to Queen Victoria. Charles Frodsham was twice Master of the Clockmakers’ Company and the firm he created still exists, though at a different address. This clock is therefore something of an heirloom of theirs and of historical interest. It is the one item here that I would have taken home with me, had it been on offer!

General view
General view
Kew Bridge Pumping Station

There are several buildings, each containing machinery of interest, though we spent most time in the main hall, pictured above. One can see why industrial establishments such as this are often compared with cathedrals. There is the huge size, the soaring perspectives and the sense of serious purpose. Thankfully, though, there was no awed hush and people roamed freely, exploring whatever took their interest.

Thomas Wicksteed
Thomas Wicksteed
The museum’s steam locomotive

In the pumping-station grounds we also found things to explore. Attracting many visitors, especially the younger ones, is a short railway. This was offering rides in carriages drawn by a steam locomotive called Thomas Wicksteed. Now, establishments such as pumping stations often did have their own railways but this one is, I think, rather an “add-on”, responding more to people’s love of fairground rides than to any historical relevance. The locomotive is in fact modern, built in 2009. (To be fair, the museum does state this.)

"Sculpture"
“Sculpture”
Unidentified piece of iron work

On an upper level is a garden. This is being actively maintained, I suspect, by volunteers. If so, they are doing a good job. I photographed this piece of ironwork posed on blocks like a work of sculpture. If there was an information plate, I didn’t spot it.

Garden pond Tadpoles
Garden pond
With tadpoles

In the garden was a small pond. Looking closely, I was surprised to see tadpoles! That took me right back to my childhood when we used to collect tadpoles every spring and try to have them turn into frogs – usually unsuccessfully. I don’t know how many of these will survive but there were enough to cause a local population explosion of frogs!

"Crazy Maisie"
“Crazy Maisie”
Bird scarer

We also here met Crazy Maisie, or, at least, that’s what I called her, because she made me think of the heroine of some lurid Victorian novel, driven insane by a disastrous love affair. I don’t doubt that her job is to deter birds from attacking the seed beds but how successful she is in that enterprise, I have no idea. I for one found her scary but, then, I’m not a bird…

Pianola, players pianos, etc
Pianola, players pianos, etc
The Musical Museum

Leaving the pumping station, aka the London Museum of Water and Steam, we walked along the road to our next destination. This was the Musical Museum. We had already visited this fascinating and, I would say unique, establishment (see The Musical Museum). Large as the building is, it is positively crammed with exhibits. Most of these are described with information boards but it is useful to go on one of the guided tours. The guides are volunteers and amateurs but none the worse for that. They know their stuff and evince a genuine interest in, and love for, the items they describe. From them, visitor’s learn details that may otherwise escape them.

Piano Violinola
Piano Violinola
A trio in a box

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, machines were produced that made music by playing actual musical instruments. Usually programmed by rolls of punched paper, the machines were at first operated manually, by turning a handle or pedals, or mechanically, by water pressure or falling weights. The coming of electricity revolutionized this branch of engineering as it did every other. Shown above is a Piano Violonola manufactured by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago in 1915. This is an arcade machine, operated by inserting a penny in the slot. (The mug on top of the case contains spare pennies for use by the demonstrator!) It features three musical instruments, a cut-down piano and two violins. The sophisticated mechanism even applies rosin to the violin strings before starting to play.

The Orchestrion
The Orchestrion
Imhof & Mukie, 1899

The above machine, called an Orchestrion, was designed for the larger and more affluent domestic interior, though this one was kept on display in the manufacturer’s London showroom. Imhof and Mukie presented a similar machine in the Great Exhibition in 1851. Driven by electricity, the Orchestrion comprises several instruments (organ, flute, trumpet, oboe, diapason, drums, cymbals, tambourine and triangle) and is programmed by perforated cardboard rolls whose holes are sensed by metal “fingers”.

Piano Orchestrion
Piano Orchestrion
Ludwig Hupfeld AG, 1920

The Piano Orchestrion shown above consists of a “player piano” (a piano that plays automatically, usually from a perforated paper roll) with a bandbox attached that emulates a small jazz band. It can be left to play on its own or a pianist can play the piano and be accompanied by the other instruments. It can also be coin operated. Although manufactured by Ludwig Hupfeld, the piano bears the name of Keith Prowse, then the retailer. This is because at the time these instruments were on the market, German products were still unpopular as a result of the Great War and a little discreet “rebadging” made them easier to sell.

The above are just a few of the items on display which include all sorts of musical boxes and other mechanical devices for producing music, some simple, others extremely complex. The advent of sound recording and ever better sound reproduction systems finally killed off the music machine business though music boxes of various sizes and formats continue to be made and sold in large numbers.

The Wurlitzer Organ
The Wurlitzer Organ
An entire orchestra played by one person

The climax of the guided tour is a demonstration of the the Musical Museum’s Wurlitzer organ. Manufactured in 1929, it was made for a private customer who never collected it because, so it is believed, he lost his money in the Wall Street Crash. Wurlitzers came into their own in the era of the silent film when the organist improvised music to fit the actions on the screen. What is visible here is just the console which can be made to rise into view, as here, for organ recitals, or to sink below floor level during films so as not to obstruct the audience’s view of the screen.

The console
The console
The organ’s “control centre”

The console, though flashily impressive, is merely the control centre. The “works” are hidden around the stage and take up far more space, especially the huge pipes required for the lowest notes. In addition to the traditional organ sound, the instrument can imitate all other instruments in the orchestra and also possesses a battery of sound effects. Accompanying this particular organ is the last surviving control box that allows the organ to be “played” automatically in the manner of the player pianos and orchestrions already described. An organist would play a piece and all of his actions would be recorded, to be reproduced later electromechanically in an exact imitation of his performance.

The Pump-House Tower
The Pump-House Tower
Seen from near the Musical Museum

After partaking of refreshments in the museum cafe, we made for home. Walking along Kew Bridge Road gave us a good view of the Pump House Tower, its remarkable Italianate design delineated in bright evening sunlight. For the return journey, we decided to take a train back to town.

A view from the footbridge
A view from the footbridge
Kew Bridge Station

Here comes the train!

One of the good things about London is the possibility of travelling to the same destination by a variety of means, by bus, tube, railway and tram. In this case, the railway would carry us back to town much faster than the combination of buses that was the alternative. I stopped to take a photo from the station footbridge but as I was doing so, realized I had to hurry as our train was approaching! We caught the train and made our way back, firstly to Waterloo then to the Angel.

We had successfully visited two museums and enjoyed what I hope turns out to be the onset of spring. We have waited long enough for the sun!

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