Bingeing on Epstein in Walsall

Saturday, June 21st 2014

Our intention today was to make a trip to Walsall, not just to see the town itself but, more importantly, to take a look at the new art gallery. We visited Walsall once before and I described that trip in A dull day in Walsall, where I was somewhat unflattering about the place. Would I feel any better about it today?

Walsall Station
Walsall Station
Familiar from our previous trip

When we arrived at Walsall Station, I had a sense of déja vu, remembering how Tigger and I had rendezvoused hereon our two-town courier run in October 2009. Today we were not making any deliveries or beating any deadlines and could take things easy.

Walsall street scene
Walsall street scene
Looking NW along Park Street

To get to Walsall from London, you almost inevitably have to pass through Birmingham, as indeed we did today. The town is often jokingly dismissed as a satellite of its larger neighbour but, as I discovered on this trip, Walsall is actually an ancient town in its own right. It had become famous for its leather goods even before during the Industrial Revolution when its deposits of coal, iron and limestone brought it to prominence.

The usual explanation of the name Walsall is that it derives from two Anglo-Saxon words, wealh and halh, meaning, respectively, ‘native Briton’ and ‘valley’, suggesting that the invaders saw this as a place inhabited by indigenes. An alternative explanation has it that the land was taken over by an Anglo-Saxon farmer called Walla and thus become known as ‘Walla’s Valley’. Knowing the Anglo-Saxon proclivity for naming places after themselves, I see this as quite plausible. Unfortunately we shall never know for certain. The first known mention of the place in a document occurs in a will dated to 1002 or 1004, where it appears as ‘Walesho’.

There is a claimed mystique about the way the name is pronounced. It is said that those in the know pronounce it in some special way. Maybe they do but as far as I know, it is pronounced “wall Saul”, with the emphasis on the first syllable.

Walsall is a market town
Walsall is a market town

Walsall is also an ancient market town. It is known that a charter was issued by the Crown to one William le Rous in 1220 for a market to be held on Mondays. Later this changed to Tuesdays and, later still, a Saturday market was added. The picture shows part of the market in a square known as The Bridge because there was once a bridge here over the Walsall Brook. We spotted a statue among the stalls and approached for a closer look.

Sister Dora
Sister Dora

The statue, by Francis John Williamson, stands atop a monument to Sister Dora, first unveiled in 1883. Sister Dora (Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison, 1832-78) in 1864 joined the Sisters of the Good Samaritan where she took the name by which she became generally known. She thus entered a career of nursing and supporting her community which led to her being well known and admired right up to the present day. The present statue was cast in 1956 from the original model, the existing one having suffered deterioration. Around the plinth are plaques showing four scenes from Sister Dora’s career, of which I show just two below. A more detailed account of the life and work of this remarkable woman can be found here.

The Pelsall Hall pithead disaster 1872 The Smallpox Epidemic 1875
Incidents from the life of Sister Dora
The Pelsall Hall Pithead Disaster of 1872 (left) and
The Smallpox Epidemic of 1875

Also in the square is another piece piece of sculpture, purely art this one, and not a monument. It was originally intended as a fountain but the water no longer flows and is unlikely to do so again in the foreseeable future.

Source of Ingenuity Source of Ingenuity
Source of Ingenuity
Tom Lomax, 2001

By Tom Lomax and unveiled in 2001, this sculpture is entitled Source of Inspiration and is based on the figure of the Roman god Janus who looks in two directions at once. For the purposes of the sculpture, these two directions are the Past and the Future as indicated by the different ages of the heads, one smooth-featured and young and the other lined with age. At the top of each disc are objects which add detail to the symbolism: on the “young side”, they are the tools of traditional industry while on the “old side”, solar panels, fragments of binary code, an electrical circuit board, etc. speak of future development. The water was turned off in 2005 amid fears of Legionnaires’ Disease.

St Paul's Church
St Paul’s Church
aka The Crossing

Like any medium-sized town, Walsall has several churches, some more interesting than others. This one is the local parish church of St Paul, built in 1893. At first sight a pretty ordinary Victorian church, St Paul’s does have an unusual feature.

The Crossing
The Crossing
A shopping mall in a church

Faced with shrinking support and the economic vulnerability this causes, the church authorities were inspired – whether by God or by Mammon isn’t known – to reorganize the building into two parts, one for worship and the other as a place of “Christian Social Enterprise”, including retail outlets, a coffee shop and four conference rooms for hire. This is quite a clever idea, I suppose, but I think the Muslims got there first – for example, see the Aziziye Camii, mosque and butcher’s shop, in A stroll along Ermine Street.

The Imperial Cinema
The Imperial Cinema
Now a Wetherspoons pub

A little further on we came to the rather grand Imperial Cinema. This building was not always a cinema and, sadly, it no longer is. Its first incarnation was in 1868 when it was built as the Agricultural Hall. Despite the name, it seems to have become more and more a place of theatrical performances and in 1887, with the acquisition if a new façade, renamed itself St George’s Hall. It became successively St George’s Hall and Theatre and then plain St George’s Theatre until 1899, when the Imperial Theatre was born. A decade later, in 1910, with another new frontage, the building became the Imperial Picture House, and continued as a cinema, albeit with a change of ownership in the 1930s, until 1968 when it fell victim, as did many cinemas in those years, to the bingo disease. The Alpha Bingo Club itself closed in 1996 and the premises became a pub in the ownership of J.D. Wetherspoon, who seem to have a passion for collecting worthy antique buildings such as this one.

Where once was the silver screen...
Where once was the silver screen…

We had a look inside and even though the place was crowded, managed to get a few photos of the decor which seems to have changed little from its cinema (and perhaps theatre) days. Where once was the silver screen there is now a massive screen of glass that looks out onto a terrace accessible through a glass door. Natural daylight thus illumines the interior of the pub much as the flickering images on the screen would once have lit the cinema.

The gallery survives
The gallery survives
But is not in general use

To the left of the screen (looking from the body of the pub), is a small gallery from where you have the fine view of the Imperial’s interior shown above. The balcony belonging to the cinema, and no doubt to the theatre before it, is still in place though it is not open to customers.

St Matthew's Hall
St Matthew’s Hall
Yet another Wetherspoons pub

Around the corner in Lichfield Street, we found another venerable building that has been preserved by pubification. What first strike you are the Doric pillars forming a sort of atrium or narthex. The umbrellas in front straightaway give the game away: whatever this was once, it too is now a Wetherspoons pub.

No one had challenged us as we took photos in the Imperial and that is the norm for pubs. Things turned out a little differently here, however. I spotted a plate on one of the pillars (you can see it on the third pillar from the left, partly hidden by a lamp) and approached to photograph it. A member of staff came out and addressed us. Now, as you will know from previous posts, my hearing is not good, so I didn’t understand what he said though his expression  was not welcoming. Tigger afterwards said she thought he had said “No photos”. Fortunately, I did not hear this and went ahead and took my photo. In view of this unusual unwelcoming attitude, however,we did not go inside.

The Greek Doric style building has served a number of purposes since it was built in 1830/31. St Matthews Hall, as it was called, was established as Walsall’s first permanent library, open to membership by subscription. By 1851, it had become a savings bank and soon after was converted into the County Court. This role ended in 1998 when it became a pub, though under whose management I do not know. It was added to the Wetherspoons collection in 2011.

Town Hall
Town Hall

Also in Lichfield Street is the Town Hall that opened for business in 1905. I’m not sure how much Council business is still transacted here as there is now a Civic Centre in Darwall Street and I see bills advertising events and entertainments here.

Carnegie Library and Museum
Carnegie Library and Museum

A year after the Town Hall was inaugurated, a new library and museum was opened next to it. Walsall’s first public library and museum had started up in 1859 in Goodall Street but in 1902, the Free Library Committee began correspondence with philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, provider of funds for so many of the UK’s public libraries, and were successful in their negotiations although Carnegie himself was unable to attend the grand opening of the new library and museum in 1906.

New library and museum entrance
New library and museum entrance (2002)

We entered the museum through the new entrance. The museum is fairly small though it intends to cover the history of Walsall. Photography is allowed but the displays here did not detain us for long.

Hatherton House
Hatherton House
Colourful at least

We were now making for the new art gallery. In Hatherton Road we spotted (pardon the pun) this building called Hatherton House. Someone had already spotted it first (never waste a good pun). The result is at least colourful though it has attracted some unfavourable comments. For example, see here.

Cafe Boat
Cafe Boat

The art gallery is beside a large basin at the end of a spur leading off the Walsall Canal. A number of narrowboats are moored there, some of them businesses. As we were in need of refreshment by now, we thought to try our luck aboard the Tea Junction which describes itself as a Cafe Boat.

Inside the Cafe Boat
Inside the Cafe Boat

Inside the narrowboat everything was, as you might expect, tiny. We could barely fit into the tiny seats at one of the tiny tables. We managed somehow, though, and had tea and a snack.

Walsall New Art Gallery
Walsall New Art Gallery
Home of the Garman-Ryan Collection

Thus refreshed, we could turn our attention to the Walsall New Art Gallery. The good news is that admission to the gallery is free (my favourite price) and that photography is allowed in the permanent collections. It may be prohibited in visiting exhibitions for copyright reasons, something I find quite reasonable.

From the outside, the building is, if not beautiful, at least not as bad as some of the horrors foisted on our communal environment by too many modern architects. Inside, the environment is perfect for an art gallery. For one thing, there are acres of space and the ceilings are high enough to admit very large pieces. I found the lighting a bit too dim in places, though I accept that some works are fragile and need protecting from over vigorous bombardment by photons.

Panorama of Walsall
Panorama of Walsall
From the viewing platform of the Walsall New Gallery

We long ago learnt that the wisest way to visit a gallery is to take the lift to the top floor and then work your way down. The more floors there are, the more valuable this advice becomes. As a bonus, the New Gallery has a balcony or viewing platform at the top which offers impressive views of the surroundings. Just the place to practise using my camera’s panorama function! Click on the above image to see a larger version. The zig-zag handrail is an artifact of the panorama function. In reality the rail is quite smooth.

Walsall as an architect's model
Walsall as an architect’s model
Looking down from the New Gallery

The gallery contains a wide range of art works but what interested me today was the Garman Ryan Collection. Kathleen Garman was a model, sometime mistress and subsequently second wife of sculptor Jacob Epstein. An account of her life will be found here. Kathleen, who also traded in art put together a collection of works with her friend Sally Ryan and this collection was donated to the people of Walsall in 1973. It has now found very comfortable accommodation in the New Gallery.

Most galleries that I have visited have held just a few works by Epstein, if any at all. Finding a large number all together in one place was quite an experience. I show a selection of nine below. If you think this is too many, well, the title of the post did contain a warning!

Roland Joffé c. 1949-50
Roland Joffé c. 1949-50

Epstein’s relationship to Roland Joffé is described as that of “adopted grandfather”. I am not sure what that means, but Joffé went on to become famous as a director of TV and films.

St Francis, 1942
St Francis, 1942

Epstein produced a number of sculptures of the angel St Michael, mainly for churches, but this slightly haunting head is of an altogether gentler – and human – saint, St Francis.

Romilly John, c. 1907/8
Romilly John, c. 1907/8

Romilly was the son of Augustus John, the painter and etcher. Epstein’s portraits are usually naturalistic but this one veers into the abstract with the smooth, helmet-like hair that has caused the piece to be described  as “almost like a cannon-ball in the process of becoming human”.

Study of a cat c.1920
Study of a cat c.1920

Epstein  made sculptures of animals as well as of people. The pose and self-contained demeanour of this feline will be familiar to any cat lover. The gallery lighting made this a difficult subject for photography and there is loss of detail in the shadowed areas.

Study for Rock Drill c. 1913
Study for Rock Drill c. 1913

I was quite excited to see this sketch by Epstein. It is a study for his Rock Drill and it was the interest and puzzlement caused by this sculpture that brought me to Epstein in the first place – see A day of sculpture and Photorealism in Birmingham. Often characterised as the culminating work of the short-lived Vorticist movement, Rock Drill came to be for Epstein a symbol of humanity’s race to dehumanize itself and he destroyed it, leaving only the torso. In his autobiography he wrote these oft quoted words about it: “Here is the armed and menacing man of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the machine like and terrible Frankenstein we have made ourselves into”. See also this page on the Web site of the Tate.

First Portrait of Kathleen, 1921
First Portrait of Kathleen, 1921

Kathleen Garman modelled for Epstein and became his long-term mistress. When Kathleen first came into the sculptor’s life, he was married to Margaret. Though Margaret tolerated Epstein’s other affairs, she was jealous of Kathleen and shot her in the shoulder with a pistol. Epstein finally married Kathleen in 1955, Margaret having died in 1947.

Second Portrait of Kitty, 1947
Second Portrait of Kitty, 1947

Epstein had five children, three of them with Kathleen Garman, Theo (1924-54), Kitty (1926-2011) and Esther (1929-54). Above is a portrait of Kitty.

First portrait of Esther (with long hair), 1944
First portrait of Esther (with long hair), 1944

Two of Epstein’s children died young, Theo (aged 30) and Esther (aged 25), both in 1954. Esther was the youngest of Kathleen’s children and Epstein referred to her as “Esther the Beautiful”.

Frisky, the Artist's Dog, 1953
Frisky, the Artist’s Dog, 1953

My final selection is a sculpture of Frisky, Epstein’s Border Collie. The dog accompanied Epstein to his studio every day and even climbed onto the scaffolding with him during the making of a large piece. Frisky went missing on a number of occasions, on the last being absent for three months before being found.

The Red Lion
The Red Lion
A Victorian pub (1896)

The visit to the Walsall New Art Gallery was a great success and I enjoyed seeing so many works by Jacob Epstein and other artists such as Modigliani and Picasso. From that point of view, the trip had been a success but what of my view of Walsall? Had this changed at all?

Waiting for the train back
Waiting for the train back
The Art Gallery still in view

I think the answer to that question is yes. I saw aspects of Walsall that I missed on our first visit and certain annoying factors of that occasion were not present today. Also, I am aware that we have not exhausted Walsall – to do so in one short visit is impossible – and that more remains to be discovered. Will we return? It is not impossible and we shall keep an eye on the programme of exhibitions at the Art Gallery as a good one would be an inducement to pay another visit.

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

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Tonbridge and Tunbridge

Saturday, June 14th 2014

Today’s outing took us to two towns in Kent which, though they are separate and distinct, have confusingly similar names. They are, respectively, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells or, to give the latter its full title, Royal Tunbridge Wells. The two towns are but a short bus ride apart, as the following map shows (click on it for a live Google map):

Map of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells 
Map of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells
Click for live Google Map

Where the name ‘Tunbridge’ or ‘Tonbridge’ comes from is uncertain. There are several rival theories that are set out succinctly on the Tonbridge History site. Why the difference in spelling, given that they are pronounced the same (in both cases, the first syllable rhymes with “fun”)? As recounted on that page, it seems that the spelling alternated capriciously between ‘o’ and ‘u’ until Tonbridge formally adopted the ‘o’ spelling in the 1890s. Tunbridge Wells, on the other hand, preferred to remain with the ‘u’, perhaps to distinguish itself from its neighbour. It seems that while Tonbridge has existed since ancient times, Tunbridge Wells appeared only in the 17th century when the chalybeate springs were discovered and the settlement that grew up around them was named after the nearest town. The brief but glittering heyday of “taking the waters” brought wealth and renown to Tunbridge Wells and a prestige that, deserved or not, it still clings to. The town’s petition to Edward VII to be granted the Royal title was accepted in 1909. Since then it has acquired a reputation of conservative stuffiness symbolised by the name of the mythical anonymous author of readers’ letters to the Times, “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

Tonbridge Station
Tonbridge Station

We arrived first at Tonbridge. Our main reason for coming here was that we had not been to either town before. We did not know what we would find until we found it… or failed to find it!

The Public Library
The Public Library
And sometime Technical Institute

I was of course interested to see the public library which opened in 1900 and then included a Technical Institute. We did not visit the library, though.

The Gasworks Stream
The Gasworks Stream

There is plenty of water in and around Tonbridge. It is on the River Medway which in this regions breaks up into several branches. Walking from the station you first cross a body of water with the unromantic name of Gasworks Stream. Whether this is a natural branch of the river or was formed artificially to feed the aforesaid gas works, I do not know.

The Old Post Office
The Old Post Office
Now the Humphrey Bean

In many towns, the grand old Post Office has ceased to be used as such and that is the case in Tonbridge, whose old Post Office is now a pub. There is more than a touch of irony in this, however, because before there was ever a Post Office here, a series of pubs occupied the site. Beer has once more gained the upper hand as a result of the acquisition of the premises by Wetherspoons. As for the name, who was Humphrey Bean? According to the pub’s Web site, this was the name of a former landlord of one of the pre-Post Office pubs.

The River Medway
The River Medway
The High Street crossing

Shortly afterwards, the High Street, which we were now following, meets the River Medway and crosses it by a bridge. A medium sized river here, the Medway gathers strength and volume from its tributaries further on and becomes a major river, eventually emptying into the Thames at Sheerness. The watery nature of the neighbourhood leads some to think that the name of the town derives from “town of bridges”, though this seems unlikely in view of the fact that evidence of the name long precedes any mention of a bridge.

Castle ruins
Castle ruins
With Morris Dancers

Just opposite, we spotted the ruins of the castle. In front of it, from our angle, were some people in costume and a Morris Dance troupe was in action. We certainly wanted to visit the castle but before that I had pressing business to see to. The gents toilet had been out of action at the station (“Sorry for the inconvenience” – is that a pun?) and I had been keeping a lookout for pubs and cafes but none were open. Tonbridge business people are late risers, it seems. I was becoming a little anxious…

The Rose and Crown
The Rose and Crown
18th century with older bits

The Rose and Crown looked closed but I pushed the door and it opened. The Rose and Crown is an old inn – just how old, I am not sure, but it is a timber framed building with an 18th century façade. It is an hotel as well as a pub and although there were no other customers, there was someone at the reception.

Timbered interior
Timbered interior
Rose and Crown

Even though I think the bar was still not open, they kindly served us coffee in the timbered bar-dining room. Thus refreshed and fortified, we felt ready to continue our explorations.

New Memorial
New Memorial
Additional to the existing war memorials

The way to the entrance of the castle is in the appropriately named Castle Road, an offshoot of the High Street. First, though, we had a look at what is apparently called the New Memorial. Tonbridge already had three other war memorials – for the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War, respectively – when this one was added in 2004. Its purpose is set out in an inscription: ‘In proud memory of all Tonbridge men and women who have given their lives in serving our community during war and peace’.

Arriving at the Castle
Arriving at the Castle
The main gate

Not much is left of the built parts of the castle. Some stretches of wall, the motte and, above all, the massive gate, are all that remain to conjure up visions of what it must once have been. The castle was originally built shortly after the Norman Conquest, by Richard Fitz Gilbert to guard the crossing of the River Medway. His was a simple motte-and-bailey structure, consisting of a fortified enclosure (the bailey) and the castle’s keep or stronghold on an artificial hill called the motte (for more information on such structures, see here).

The Gate
The Gate
Built by the de Clares

The castle was inherited by the de Clares, descendants of Fitz Gilbert. They rebelled against William II who took the castle by siege and then burnt it and the town as a punishment. Nothing daunted, the de Clares rebuilt the castle. They put up new walls and the present gate which took 13 years to build, being completed in 1260.

View across the courtyard
View across the courtyard
Showing the gate and the motte

The gate gives access to the large courtyard, an open flat area surrounded by walls. Here would have been all the supplementary buildings necessary to house, feed and maintain the personnel, with stabling for the horses. Today it is just a wide space in which several groups of children were playing. The keep no longer exists on top of the motte, where a spiral pathway has been cut. The whole would have been protected by a ditch or moat, traces of which can still be seen. Henry VIII seized the castle and it was further fortified in 1643 by Parliament. More peaceful times came and the castle was bought in 1897 by the town and served as its seat of government until 1974.

Gate and modern buildings
Gate and modern buildings
A study in contrasts

Beside the gate (which, despite its robustness, seems to have lost some of its upper fabric) are modern buildings which today accommodate the Tourist Information Office.

River and Town Bridge
River and Town Bridge
Viewed from the castle walls

The Medway runs close beside the castle, serving as part of its defences. The bridge is the latest in a series of bridges that have provided a crossing point through the centuries. In times past, the bridge here was known as the Great Bridge, showing its strategic importance to the region. The 18th century stone bridge was replaced  in 1887 with an iron bridge, which, in modified form, is the one we see today: as traffic increased in volume and the size of vehicles, it became necessary to widen the bridge in 1913 and again in the 1920s. It now looks adequate to the task but who knows what the future holds?

Boer War Memorial Boer War Memorial
Boer War Memorial

We went down to the riverside and, beneath the castle walls, found this memorial to those from Tonbridge who died in the Boer War. Its inscription is a period piece, expressive of the way people of the time thought about war and Britain’s role in the world.

Tunbridge Wells Station
Tunbridge Wells Station

Feeling that we had more or less exhausted what Tonbridge had to offer, we took a bus to the other Tunbridge, which spells its name with a ‘u’. The bus deposited us at Tunbridge Wells Station, at the bottom of Mount Pleasant Road. The railway reached the not-yet-royal Tunbridge Wells in 1846 and I assume the station dates from that time though I am not certain of that, though English Heritage gives a date of 1845 to the Up platform. Either way, the name of the station remains plain unadorned ‘Tunbridge Wells’.

Great Hall Arcade
Great Hall Arcade
Old style shopping centre

We had a look at the Great Hall Arcade, a Victorian-style shopping arcade where the BBC has studios. I say “Victorian-style” because I do not know the date of this building though it existed before 1912 when it is mentioned in a book about Tunbridge Wells. Then we began to walk up the hill.

Town Hall
Town Hall
Neo-Georgian bland

At the top of the hill stands the Town Hall. It was built in 1939 and English Heritage is enthusiastic enough about it to give it a Grade II listing. The listing text describes it as ‘Neo-Georgian with “Moderne” details’ but I would be inclined to call it “corporate bland”. The remarkable feature is that the complex contains everything you need to start a town: town hall, library and museum, police station, law court and an Assembly Hall that performs the functions of a theatre. All of this resides on the one site.

Market stalls at the Town Hall
Market stalls at the Town Hall

We wanted to have a look at the museum which, fortunately, is open on Saturdays, but before that, we crossed to the appropriately named Church Road to look at a building there.

This is not a church
This is not a church
Now the Trinity Theatre

If you wander around this building looking for the board giving the church’s details, you will do so in vain. Today it operates as the Trinity Theatre. It obviously was once a church, though, and the theatre’s name gives a clue as to what it was called: Holy Trinity. Designed by Decimus Bruton, architect and garden designer, Holy Trinity was consecrated in 1829 but finally became redundant in 1972. After lying derelict for a decade, the old church found new life and purpose as a theatre.

The Museum and Art Gallery
The Museum and Art Gallery

Returning to the town hall, we went through the library and museum entrance to find the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery on the first floor. It is a fairly small museum with a permanent collection and special exhibitions. It is run along traditional lines and is none the worse for that. Happily, it has not succumbed to the current fad for dumbing down museums. As a bonus, photography is allowed.

Tunbridge Ware
Tunbridge Ware
Fine decorative work in wood

One section is deservedly dedicated to locally produced Tunbridge Ware. This is a highly developed form of decorative art in which patterns and pictures and decorative motifs are made in the form of inlaid work in wood. Different colours and textures of wood are used to their full advantage and the results are remarkable. Some of the pictures could be mistaken for photographs at first glance. This marquetry art work flourished as a local speciality during the 18th and 19th centuries and the best pieces have both antique and aesthetic value. Information on the history and techniques of Tunbridge Ware can be found here.

Old Congregational Church
Old Congregational Church

Across the road, and startlingly different in style from the surrounding buildings, the Old Congregational Church and Lecture Hall impresses with its Classical lines. The main part of the structure dates from the 1840s (it opened in 1848) and was made of local stone. The Tuscan columns forming a narthex were added in 1866. As the signs indicate, this elegantly compact pile no longer serves as a church but has been dedicated to the gods of retail.

Elephant Heads
Elephant Heads
Victoria Snooker Centre

Walking on we found more items of interest – and curiosities. As an example of the latter, consider these elephant heads decorating the door of number 7 Camden Road. The ground floor of this building is occupied by shops while the upper floor accommodates the Victoria Snooker Centre. I cannot see any obvious connection between the shops or the snooker centre and elephants, so I assume they must have been installed by a previous occupant of the building. I have not been able to discover who or what this might be.

The Millennium Clock
The Millennium Clock
Somewhat controversial

In the category of curiosities too – at least, for me – is the Millennium Clock, sited at Fiveways, Grosvenor Road. By Jon Mills, the clock has attracted criticism, amid hints that it may be moved to make way for a water feature. A clepsydra, perhaps?

The Opera House The Opera House
The Opera House
Now a pub

Fronting onto Mount Pleasant Road but bounded by Monson Road and Newton Road, stands the Neo-Georgian Opera House. I gather that it was purpose-built as a block incorporating shops as well as the theatre. It was completed in 1902 but has experienced a slightly chequered life since then, becoming a cinema in 1931, a bingo hall in the 1960s and, saved from demolition by being listed, a Wetherspoons pub in 1996. Moreover, it was damaged by a bomb in the Second World War and restored.

Dividing the sheep from the goats
Dividing the sheep from the goats

Though the entrance now leads to a democratic single open space, the lettering above the door is a reminder of a time when audiences were separated into different seating locations according to the amount paid for a ticket, a division that was as much class-conscious as financial.

Boxes and balcony
Boxes and balcony

Though the interior has of necessity suffered alteration in order to turn it into a pub, it remains recognizably a theatre, and a rather splendid one, at that.

The ceiling
The ceiling

Above the unconcerned heads of the drinkers, there is still the elaborately styled ceiling from which hangs a brilliantly lit chandelier though whether it is the original, I doubt.

The Corn Exchange
The Corn Exchange
Once a theatre, now a lacklustre shopping centre

To conclude our visit, we went to the end of town known as The Pantiles, the nearest thing Tunbridge Wells has to a tourist attraction. The name, which may seem mysterious to present-day visitors, derives from the fact that what is called the Upper Walks were once paved, not with gold but with pantiles. Here I at last located the Corn Exchange, though it turned out to be a rather unusual one. Its design is explained by the fact that it was originally built as a theatre, opening in 1802, and continuing in that function until the mid-19th century when it became the Corn Exchange. I at first thought the figure on the roof belonged to the its days as a theatre but a lady with a scythe and a sheaf of corn could even better symbolize the trade of grain merchant.

The Bath House
The Bath House
Surprising what a little water can do

The Pantiles, and indeed Tunbridge Wells itself, owes its existence to mineral water. The plaque on the bath house gives as neat an explanation as you are likely to find, so I will simply quote it.

Dudley Lord North, a young nobleman, discovered the spring in c 1606 and taking the waters soon became fashionable. By 1619 “The Wells” had become a popular meeting place for royalty and the aristocracy.
     By 1676, a flourishing village had grown up around the spring, with a number of London shopkeepers taking up residence along the Upper Walks for the summer season.
    The Bath House was built over the spring about 1804, to a design by J.T. Groves. It originally contained vapour shower and hot and cold baths using the spring waters. “Dippers” served the Chalybeate water for drinking from the basin over the spring. In 1847 the columns and the portico were added but the baths soon fell into disuse and by 1857 the eastern wing had been removed and replaced by a shopfront.
    The Bath House façade was restored again in 1987. The Chalybeate spring waters are still dispensed by the “dipper” from Easter until the end of September.

The Pantiles
The Pantiles
General view

The Pantiles has inevitably departed from its original purpose though it maintains something of its old historic appearance. To be honest, it makes me think of an imaginary studio set for a TV drama series set in Georgian Cheltenham. Perhaps it is the self-consciously earnest historicity of the place.

This ended our tour and we wearily retraced our steps to the station and there took a bus back to Tonbridge as our train tickets were valid only from there. I would say that the visit had been “interesting” but that neither town captivated me. While I am glad to have seen them and learnt something about their history, I will be in no hurry to return.

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

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Two destinations in Manchester

Saturday, May 31st 2014

We had two reasons for making a day trip to Manchester, and as we had explored the city in June 2011 and therefore knew our way around (at least, Tigger, with her “inner pigeon” to guide her, did), I was sure we would manage to do it all. We duly arrived at Manchester Piccadilly Station and then set out on the second leg of the journey.

Taking the tram
Taking the tram

For this, we descended to the lower level of the station to the tram platforms. Manchester has a very efficient tram service and we took the route leading to Salford Quays or, more precisely, to MediaCityUK (yes, written as a single word).

Arriving at MediaCityUK
Arriving at MediaCityUK

Salford Quays no longer being needed for their original purpose, the area has been developed to create a whole new quarter, principally for the media industries (the BBC has studios there, for example) but with lots of other things as well. In fact, as the name suggests, it is a virtual small city in its own right. The availability of space has made it a good location for business enterprises but also for museums and art galleries.

Water and space
Water and space

What strikes the visitor is the space and the open aspect of the views. The presence of bodies of water forces separation between blocks of buildings, leaving views of the sky and a feeling of airiness and light as the sky is reflected from the water. The buildings are modern in design and every one is different from every other. As one who has a prejudice against modern architecture, I was favourably impressed. The designers have somehow avoided the worst excesses of modern “architects”. But the space counts too: cram all these buildings into the narrow confines of the existing city and the result would be nightmarish. Here, though, they are spread out and this eases the burden on the eye.

A map, such as this one, makes the area look compact by it is in fact very spacious.

The Lowry
The Lowry

We first stepped into The Lowry, the art gallery named after L.S. Lowry, the artist who lived and worked in the Salford area. Here I took my first panorama photo of the day. MediaCityUK invites panoramas and I took several – I’ll show you another shortly. This is because wherever you turn you have wide open views and if you attempt to capture that in an ordinary photo, the result is apt to be disappointing. As it happens, I got the above photo a little off-centre. I obviously need to practise using the panorama function… (As usual, click to see a large version.)

MediaCityUK Footbridge
MediaCityUK Footbridge

We hadn’t gone into the Lowry to see the artworks but because we remembered it was a pleasant place to have a cup of tea. Because there are bodies of water everywhere there are also, as you would expect, bridges by which to cross them. We took this one, MediaCityUK Footbridge, on our way to our next venue.

Imperial War Museum North
Imperial War Museum North

This was an institution with the catchy title Imperial War Museum North, a member of what I am tempted to call a chain of museums dedicated to the history of war and a sister of the Imperial War Museum in London. Though I hate war and violence and tend to visit these museums only seldom, the year 2014, being the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, has seen the organizing of numerous events and exhibitions and we had come to see one of these, From Street to Trench: A World War that Shaped a Region. The good news is that admission to the museum is free and the bad news, that photography was not allowed, so I cannot show you any pictures of the exhibition.

"Oh, what a tangled web..."
“Oh, what a tangled web…”
Museum girder work

I did sneak a picture of the girders holding the museum together and…

T-55 Tank
T-55 Tank
Soviet Union 1947-89

another of this military tank which was parked outside and was therefore available to be photographed. This one was apparently captured from Iraqi forces during Operation Telic in 2003.

Here follow four more pictures of MediaCityUK, scenes taken more or less at random and therefore without captions. The first is a panoramic photo (click to see a larger version).

MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, Manchester

MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, Manchester

MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, Manchester

MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, Manchester
MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, Manchester

We now caught the tram back to the centre of Manchester on the way to our next destination. In passing, we photographed some of the places remembered from our previous visits to the city.

Manchester Central Library
Manchester Central Library

The Classical style Central Library with a pillared entrance was designed by Emanuel Vincent Harris and built between 1930 and 1934.

St George's House
St George’s House

This rather fine building is called St George’s House. It was built in 1911 to a design by the Woodhouse, Corbett & Dean company and originally accommodate a YMCA hostel. Today it has been refurbished inside as an office block. The front entrance of St George’s House is on Peter Street and beside it runs a smaller thoroughfare called Museum Street. The name puzzles people because there is no museum there. How did that come about? The answer is that the city’s first Museum of Natural History came to occupy a building on this site in 1821 and the street beside it took its name from it. The Manchester Geological Society’s collection was added in 1850 but in 1867 the whole collection moved to Oxford Road under the auspices of Owens College (later the University of Manchester). The museum building was demolished to make room for St George’s House.

The Midland Hotel
The Midland Hotel

The uniquely styled “Edwardian Baroque” Midland Hotel was designed by Charles Trubshaw and was completed in 1903. As its name suggests, it was commissioned by the Midland Railway Company and it was sited conveniently opposite Manchester Central Station. Happily, the Grade II listed building still continues in its original function. A curious story suggests that Adolf Hitler, a keen student of architecture, had earmarked the Midland Hotel as a possible HQ in Britain. It may be for that reason that the area in which it resides was allegedly spared from wartime bombing.

Albert Memorial Albert Memorial
Albert Memorial

In Albert Square stands a Gothic style monument to Queen Victoria’s much mourned Consort, Prince Albert. This elaborate and, I think, rather splendid memorial was erected in 1862-5, the sandstone canopy being by Thomas Worthington and the white marble statue of the Prince by Matthew Noble. Memorials to royal personages are common enough but it can at least be said of Albert that he did a lot of good for his adopted country.

Manchester Town Hall Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall

Facing onto Albert Square is the Town Hall, an unmistakeably Victorian Gothic creation. A competition for the design was won by Alfred Waterhouse and the building was completed in 1877. The medieval theme is supported by appropriate decorative motifs but the building  was modern for its time and included such advanced facilities as warm air heating.

Tutti Frutti
Tutti Frutti
Joana Vasconcelos

Our second destination was Manchester Art Gallery. This fine art gallery has a permanent collection and visiting exhibitions and today had been taken over largely by an artist called Joana Vasconcelos. Already at the entrance we met one of her sculptures, entitled Tutti Frutti. A special exhibition, Time Machine, could be visited separately but works of hers were all over the gallery.

Joana Vasconcelos Joana Vasconcelos
Britannia

Some of her creations are enormous in extent such as this piece hanging in the stairwell like a strange growth from a tropical forest. All the arts of the dressmaker and furniture upholsterer seem to be exploited to the full to produce forms which hover between the dazzling and the nightmarish.

Cottonopolis
Cottonopolis

While the artist uses a variety of materials, including in this work hand painted tiles, her preference seems to be with knitting, sewing and crochet work.

Bond Girl Maria Pia
Lace overlays

A favourite medium seems to be overlays made of crocheted lace, whether over existing objects or objects made for the purpose. On the left is Bond Girl and on the right, Maria Pia, though I think this is intended to be part of a larger installation.

True Faith
True Faith

I quite liked this one which, being in a gilded frame, subverts the usual concept of a framed picture, being composed of a set of cushion-like objects that hang out of the picture as though stuffed into a cupboard that is too small to hold them. I will admit that here, as elsewhere, the connection between the work and its title is far from clear to me but, then again, artists seem no longer to feel an obligation give their works sensible titles or, at least, to make their works be sensible representations of the concept in the title.

Fruit Cake
Fruit Cake

On the way out, we met another sculpture, this one called, reasonably enough, Fruit Cake. These few samples do not do anything like justice to the wide range of forms invented by this artist and the materials used by her to create them. Some more examples can be found here.

Favela Chair
Favela Chair
Humberto and Fernando Campana (1991)

I have concentrated on Joana Vasconcelos but the gallery of course had plenty of works by author artists. I was amused to discover one that we had previously seen in Brighton at an exhibition called Subversive Design. The piece is entitled Favela Chair and I wrote about it in my post Subversive Design in Brighton.

George Street in China Town
George Street in China Town

It was now time to make our way back to the station, and our route took us through China Town.

View from the footbridge over London Road
View from the footbridge over London Road

Manchester is a  city that wears its history proudly but also looks optimistically to the future, as shown by the remarkable development of MediaCityUk. For now, though, we had to return to the station to catch our train home but we shall return again, I am sure, to enjoy what the city offers.

Manchester Piccadilly Station
Manchester Piccadilly Station

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