Saturday, September 1st 2012
This was the first day of our holiday and, as we are taking it in London and we therefore had no trains to catch or other pressing engagements, we allowed ourselves a leisurely start. We went to Pret in St John Street for breakfast and tarried over it. Then we took a bus to Green Park.
At Green Park we visited the memorial to Bomber Command which has attracted considerable attention since it was unveiled in June this year.
Ever since the plan to erect a monument was announced, great interest has been shown in it. Even today, three months after its unveiling by the Queen, there were so many people visiting the monument that getting photos was difficult. They were not just standing looking at the sculpture (by Philip Jackson) but were reading the inscriptions on the walls of the portico (architect Liam O’Connor) and the cards attached to the bouquets and other items deposited by visitors.
Opinions of the sculpture vary widely. It has been praised and it has been described as “jingoistic”. This reflects the controversy over the building of the monument in the first place. Personally, I find the sculpture a striking and remarkable piece of work. According to the sculptor, it reflects the moment when the bomber crew has just landed after a mission and its members are in suitably reflective mood. The detail and accuracy could not be surpassed and I think the sculptor has captured the mood that he sought.
It has taken 7 decades – a lifetime – for this memorial to be finally raised in memory of those who died flying bombing missions over enemy territory. The wholesale destruction of property and lives on both sides of the conflict resulting from bombing campaigns naturally raised strong feelings and became a political issue. For this reason, it is only now, when the moral and political air has cleared somewhat, that it has been possible to honour those Allied flyers who gave their lives in this most horrendous conflict.
The controversy will continue for a long time yet and as many will praise and admire as will criticise and condemn. Yet surely it is only just that, when all other branches of the armed forces has received their memorials, Bomber Command should at last receive its memorial too? To judge by the people I saw today, many – perhaps the majority – agree with that proposition.
The memorial is certainly impressive and the sculpted figures have been executed in remarkable detail. Larger than life (9 feet tall), they are both realistic and monumental at the same time.
Afterwards we took a bus to Fulham and had a look around. We got off the bus at the Putney Bridge end of Fulham High Street and then walked up this road and Fulham Road. Virtually the first thing I saw was this pair of buildings. They attracted me because of their neat and pleasing appearance. I don’t know what purpose they were intended to serve – workshops, perhaps – but they were designed to look good, whatever their practical use may have been. Nor do I know when they were built. I would hazard a guess at the 1920s or 1930s but that may be completely wrong. If anyone has any information, I would be interested to know about it.
On a nearby corner stands The Temperance. It needs no more than a glance to see that this is a pub and to wonder by what irony it acquired its name. The answer is that this was once a billiard hall built and furnished by Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd, part of the then strong temperance movement. From about the middle or the Victorian era to the early decades of the 20th century, there was a thriving temperance movement but as the century wore on, this lost momentum for political and other reasons and faded away. A number of temperance billiard halls were built and some still survive though they may have been altered in the process of being put to other uses.
The pub furnishings cannot disguise the spaciousness of the interior. In fact, the bar, though by no means small, seems dwarfed in all that space. The Hall was designed by Norman Evans, company architect to Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd, and built in 1910. The sensible motive was to provide an alternative to the pub, an alcohol-free place of recreation for working men.
The mezzanine floor, which makes perfect sense in a pub with a large floor area, is a modern addition. The building originally consisted of two billiard halls side by side, divided by a wooden partition. The current decor is rather dark, and a little depressing, but I believe the original wall colour would have been lighter. The billiard tables presumably each had their own lights.
A pleasant effect is created by the stained glass windows. They are very pretty and of top quality design. There is a touch or Art Nouveau about the stylized flowers and foliage or even something reminiscent of the designs of William Morris.
I need hardly say that this is a listed building and if you want further details, I will direct you to the English Heritage listing information here. Their descriptions are often a dry list of “features” but this one also gives some idea of the building’s origin and history.
Almost opposite the Temperance, we spotted this unusual tiled arch. I am guessing that it is Victorian or Edwardian but I have no certain knowledge either way. The frieze seems to be a Classical-inspired design representing the making and pouring out of wine. I wonder whether this was once the premises of a wine merchant. Today it looks as if it serves as the terrace of a bar, possibly that of the pub to which it is adjacent. I can find no reference to it and would like to know more about it.
The pub to which it may belong is this one, dated 1888 and originally called the Kings Arms. Why publicans feel the need to replace a perfectly good name (which moreover remains plainly displayed) with a stupid modern name is beyond me. Weak puns and feeble attempts at humour just make them look ridiculous. Perhaps the name change in this case was prompted by the fact that there is another Kings Arms fairly nearby in Fulham Road.
This old tree obviously came to feel constricted by the iron railings and solved the problem by growing between the bars and absorbing the ironwork into itself. When the tree finally goes, so will the railings. The pair are now inseparable and will share the same fate.
When I saw this pretty little Victorian building, I guessed it housed council offices of some sort but I was wrong. It may once have been council property (it has that look about it) but today it belongs to Fulham Prep School. It is the “pre-prep” or infant school. I know nothing more than that about it, not even the date when it was built. Fulham was turning out to offer more questions than answers!
We made a stop for a late lunch here at Pires Sandwich Bar which, despite its name, is also a cafe. I thought the little palm trees beside the door added a nice touch.
As a one-time library worker, I am always pleased to discover a local library, even more so in these days of cuts when so many are being closed. This one, mercifully, still seems to be operating. The library came into being in two stages. The first was in 1887 when an 18th-century house called Westfield House was adapted as a public library. I would have liked to see that. The second was in 1908 when the house, sadly, was demolished and a new library built to replace it. A plaque refers to it as the Carnegie Library, indicating that funds were given for it by philanthropist and educational enthusiast, Andrew Carnegie. The Hammersmith and Fulham borough has other libraries and I hope they can survive in these times of shrinking resources.
Our final discovery of the outing was Fulham Fire Station, a real jewel. The fire service, as an integrated service, exists only since an Act of Parliament in 1866 and Fulham’s first Metropolitan Fire Brigade station was built in 1870, on a site next to the present one. It was demolished to allow the present Fulham Fire Station to be built in 1896-6. Unusually for such an old station, it continues in use up to the present. A plaque refers to its reopening in 1994 and I do not know whether this follows refurbishment or whether the station went out of service for a while. The design by Robert Pearsall, was developed from the Gothic Revival style popular in Victorian times. The fire station is listed, Grade II, for its historic and architectural interest. Once again, I can refer you to the English Heritage listing text which supplies some historical background and architectural descriptions. You will find that here.
Soon after seeing the fire station we caught a bus and returned home. As well as buildings, Fulham of course has inhabitants and here is a picture of one I found relaxing in a rubbish bin the Fulham Road.
Sunday, September 1st 2012
We are having another in-town today today and strolled along to Pret in St John Street for 9:30am. As I often mention this establishment, you may to curious to know more about it, especially if you live beyond our shores. Pret A Manger (no accents, please, we’re British) is one of our favoured haunts for breakfast. As sandwich bar cafes go, this chain has been successful and continues to attract customers. They claim that all food is made on the premises and it is certainly fresh. You order at the counter (our typical breakfast is porridge, a croissant and coffee) and take your food away or eat it at one of the tables.
There is no pressure to eat quickly and leave and branches of Pret now rival Starbuck’s and other coffee shops as places where students and business people spend hours working on their laptops while consuming the odd coffee from time to time. They also offer that boon for urban explorers, the customer toilet.
After breakfast we walked along Colebrook Row to Regent’s Canal where we had heard that the Angel Canal Festival was taking place. This is where the canal, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, enters the Islington Canal (see map).
The canal here runs through a quiet residential neighbourhood and offers pleasant overnight moorings for barges, most of which are used as mobile houseboats.
This year has been notable for the amount of duckweed to be seen on ponds, lakes, canals and other bodies of water. I don’t know the reason for this, unless it has something to do with the relatively mild weather we have enjoyed, but on all our visits to canals and other slow-moving streams and rivers, we have seen an almost unbroken layer of green, looking like a vast carpet.
The above photo shows the solid carpet of duckweed at City Road Lock. Duckweed is peculiar stuff, consisting of small, lentil-shaped plants floating on the surface of the water. It is known to reproduce very fast, soon covering the surface of any water where it arrives. It is often brought on the feet and bodies of water fowl from one body of water to another. Is it a pest? Opinions seem to vary on this. The plant is high in protein and provides food for water fowl. In some parts of the world it is also harvested as a food for humans. Some people regard it as unsightly while others like it. Being small and free-floating, it doesn’t prevent boats from moving through the water and doesn’t get tangled in their propellors like some types of rooted weed. I would have thought that it would act as a barrier to light and prevent other water plants from growing though this might even be seen as a good thing in canals where you don’t want abundant plant life clogging up the space. In will be interesting to see whether it continues to flourish or declines in future years.
It turned out that we were rather too early, even though it was already mid-morning. They were still setting up the various stalls and there was a general air of getting ready rather than actually being ready. There were few visitors as yet.
There was the usual assortment of stalls, some selling bric à brac, others craft goods, and so on. There were also places where you could join various clubs and societies.
There were food stalls, firing up their cookers and hotplates and no doubt hoping for a good lunchtime clientele.
Something that took me by surprise was the floating hair salon. But why not? Barge-dwelling ladies need their hair attended to the same as anyone else and the salon can up sticks and sail to where the customers are.
One exhibit was that provided by the Epping Forest Hawk & Owl Sanctuary. There was an enclosure with a large number of hawks and owls, staked close together on perches. I have to say that I didn’t like this at all. Firstly, I don’t like to see birds caged or tied in any case, especially in proximity to large numbers of people where they are likely to suffer fright and stress. These were, after all, wild birds, not birds bred in captivity. Secondly, I felt that they were packed too tightly together as several of the neighbouring birds kept trying to attack one another. Altogether, this gave me a bad impression. However, I must also say that I am not an expert in these matters and that those who are might have found conditions acceptable. I, however, felt very uncomfortable.
The individual birds, though, were magnificent and this consoled me somewhat as it presupposed that they were well treated. There were both hawks and owls on display but the owls were nearest and easiest to photograph. There is something about owls that reminds us of humans – perhaps the front-facing eyes – and this in large part accounts for the fascination they exercise over us, I think.
As nothing much was happening beside the canal, we decided to move on. Things would probably liven up later but we didn’t want to waste time waiting. We passed the pub called The Charles Lamb after the famous essayist, though I doubt whether he ever drank here. Apart from Tales from Shakespeare, written with his sister Mary, Lamb is best known for his essays written under the pen name Elia. Today that is the name of the street in which the pub resides. I have already written about Charles and Mary Lamb (see, for example, Arrows and essays).
We walked back towards the Angel and in Nelson Place I had a chance to photograph this squirrel. He made as if to flee by climbing the tree and then stopped, perhaps wondering if we had anything to give him. This one looks to be in the peak of condition.
Later in Colebrooke Gardens, we found this fly, sunning himself on a bench. We say of a callous act that it was done “as casually as swatting a fly” and many times, when I was young, I swatted flies without a second thought. But when you actually look at them closely, then a different world opens up. You realize how remarkable such a tiny creature is, perfect in every way, and superbly adapted for survival.
Back at the Angel crossroads, I took a photo of one of my favourite landmarks in this area, the Angel Clock. I have already written about the historic timepiece several times. See, for example, Researching the Angel Clock and the links in that article. Behind it in the background, you can see another of my favourites, the Angel Building with its dome, that stands on the site of the original Angel Inn that gave the district its name.
From the Angel we travelled by bus to deepest Kensington where we had it in mind to visit the house of an artist, well known in Victorian times though less so today, perhaps. His home, now called Leighton House Museum is in Holland Park Road. That is not the house shown above, which is a handsome apartment block guarding the entrance to the street.
Leighton House was the home, studio and gallery of Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), later Lord Leighton. He was a famous artist during the Victorian era and Queen Victoria herself bought one of his paintings. In 1878, Leighton received a knighthood and in 1896 was made a baronet, an honour that he enjoyed only briefly because he died on the following day. He created a most unusual and beautiful house which contains many works of art, both by himself and other artists of the period, most of whom were friends of his. Photography, unfortunately, is not allowed.
The house is well worth a visit as it gives the visitor a good idea of how Frederick Leighton lived and worked. His studio can be visited and many of his art works are on view. While the house looks rather ordinary from outside, the interior is a different matter. Leighton was fascinated by Middle Eastern architecture and decorative arts and made an addition to the house in 1877 called the Arab Hall. In the words of the Leighton House Museum Web site, “Lined with hundreds of sixteenth and seventeenth century tiles from Damascus, Syria, and inlaid with Egyptian woodwork, the hall is a striking celebration of the Middle East in London.” More on Frederick Leighton himself will be found here and examples of his art here.
The local parish church is called St Mary Abbots. The present church building, which has an intriguing cloistered entrance, dates from 1872 and is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott in the neo-Gothic style that was in favour at the time. The name is thought to come from the origins of the church. The Norman landowner of Kensington gave land for the church to be built in 1262 in gratitude to the Abbey of St Mary in Abingdon after the Abbot thereof allegedly cured his son of a sickness. We did not look inside the church this time because by now we were more interested in a certain establishment on the other side of the street.
As it was now some time since breakfast and there was a branch of My Old Dutch so close by and this happens to be one of our favourite eating places, all other ideas were were smothered by thoughts of the pancakes being served therein.
The name of the establishment is perhaps a little odd. Its founders obviously wanted a name that alluded to the Dutch style pancakes that they sell but perhaps felt that “Dutch Pancake House” sounded too ordinary and settled on the quirky “My Old Dutch” instead. Is this an appropriate name, though? Probably not. No Londoner can hear the phrase “My Old Dutch” without remembering the Albert Chevalier music hall song of the same name, composed in the 1880s. This song refers to the singer’s wife and has nothing to do with Dutch people or with pancakes. “Dutch” is in this case is probably the slang term derived by abbreviation from the word “duchess”, long used as an affectionate epithet for a woman significant to the speaker, typically his wife. (For an interesting account of the competing derivations offered for the term “old Dutch”, see The Phrase Finder.)
Notwithstanding the inappropriateness of the name, My Old Dutch serves very tasty pancakes and we greatly enjoyed this rounding off of our day out.
Monday, September 3rd 2012
We started with breakfast at Bill’s in White Lion Street. They are a little expensive, partly owing to what I consider the execrable habit of adding a 12.5% service charge to the bill. What other industry would get away with that? Imagine the supermarket adding a service charge to your bill or the petrol filling station doing the same! I think it is high time that restaurants and cafes charged exactly the prices they state on the menu. Pubs that serve food do not not add a service charge so why should restaurants?
Time was when waiters needed tips because they were paid little or nothing by the restaurant but those days are long gone and waiters today receive wages. A tip should be given only if the customer feels that the service has been exceptionally good – “above and beyond”, as it were. In any case, I am not convinced that when the service is included in the bill that it goes to the waiters. I think that many restaurants keep it for themselves. This is why I never add a tip when I pay by credit card but give the tip separately in cash to make sure it goes to the right person.
It is a beautiful warm and sunny day, perfect for going on a ramble and taking photographs. We caught a number 30 bus in the direction of Highbury and disembarked at Highbury & Islington station. Here we boarded an Overground train in the direction of Clapham Junction but changed at Willesden Junction.
Where we eventually arrived was Richmond or Richmond upon Thames, to give it its full official title. This pleasant riverside town was known as Sheen or Shene in the Middle Ages and was the location of a royal residence called Sheen Palace in which Edward III died and Henry VIII was born. Henry VII had rebuilt the palace in 1497 after a fire, and renamed it Richmond Palace after his earldom in Yorkshire. The palace was left to decay after the death of Elizabeth I and was demolished in 1650. By this time, however, the royal presence had encouraged the town to grow, a tendency increased by its being considered by the rich as a refuge from London in times of epidemics. Medicinal wells were discovered in the 17th century, bringing in a more variegated clientele even though the wells ceased attracting customers and closed in 1763. By then, however, the town’s success was assured and today it gives every sign of being a vigorous and affluent community.
From the station, we walked down to Orleans Road, a narrow thoroughfare, almost a lane, in which we spied The Old Chapel. A shield above the door seems to indicate the date “AD 1856”, though the carving is rather florid and difficult to read. I can, however, find no historical references to this building which appears not to be listed. If it was indeed once a chapel, it is a dwelling these days.
Further along the road, you pass this building which, I think, is White Lodge, which probably was once the lodge that guarded the approach to Marble Hill House, an 18th-century Palladian villa now managed by the National Trust. For now, however, we continued until we reached a modest gate leading into gardens.
These are Orleans House Gardens, the pleasantly planted and wooded grounds of what is now called Orleans House Gallery but was once an early 18th-century house. The grounds are kept tidy but are not over-manicured so that the gardens preserve an air of naturalness.
The house was built in 1710 for James Johnson who was Queen Anne’s Secretary of State for Scotland. A century or so later, Louis Philippe lived here from 1800 to 1814 and again between 1815 and 1817. In 1720, Johnson had the Octagon Room added to the house as a place where he would entertain the wife of George II, Queen Caroline. Ironically, the Octagon is the only original part of the house that still survives, the rest having been demolished in 1927. Our reason for coming here is suggested by the building’s modern name, Orleans House Gallery.
(Update May 30th 2013 on the identity of the above sculpture: see comment by Jonathan Farley.)
We arrived at Orleans House Gallery with high hopes but these were soon dashed. It turns out the the gallery is open every day… except Mondays!
Nearby, as I mentioned, was Marble Hill House, which was also on our list to visit, so we thought to go there instead. When we arrived, however, we found it was open only at weekends. Strike two. The house was built in 1724-29 for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk and also mistress of King George II. Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift were among the famous visitors to the house in its heyday. Today it is managed by English Heritage and can be visited at weekends.
We had one last trick left up our sleeve but to get there, we needed to cross the river.
We therefore made our way down to the Thames because we knew there was a ferry here that would take us across.
The crossing by ferry takes only a few minutes and costs £1. This is good value as it saves a lengthy walk to the nearest bridge which is some way away.
This is a very pretty and charming place and crossing the river by ferry reveals some beautiful views. In fact, I found myself wishing the crossing lasted longer!
Ham House is a splendid and well preserved 17th century mansion, set in beautiful parkland. The above view is the rear of the house as seen from the grounds.
The gardens comprise formal sections set out with geometrical precision with more relaxed environments such as the alley above which invite you to stroll and discover what is around the next corner.
The many different settings provide places where art works can be shown off to advantage. Some of these are of the more traditional kind, such as Mercury shown above. It also happened that the grounds were hosting a collection of modern art. Guided tours had been organized and we joined one. I did my best to understand the art works but as the tour progressed, I became more and more sceptical about the whole thing, despite the guide’s carefully researched explanations. I will say no more than that these works did nothing for me and show you just a couple of examples. (Unfortunately, I cannot provide ascriptions as I have mislaid my notes.)
In the left one, the human is not part of the art work. He is a spectator. At least that work is hands-on or, rather, feet-on.
The house itself is magnificent and deserves a long and careful visit. Its decor and furnishings have been lovingly restored and give you an authentic feeling of a grand house that served both as the family home and an impressive venue in which to receive guests. I believe the ceiling was originally continuous but was later pierced to add light and an impression of size.
Access to the upper level is by this magnificent staircase, intricately carved. The themes of war and coats of arms are very masculine but the paintings that crowd the walls here and in other parts of the house, add softer notes.
The staircase leads to a gallery off which branch all the other rooms. Piercing the floor to make a well has limited the floor space and now it is just a passageway but I wonder whether it was originally intended to be a reception room, perhaps a place where guests assembled before moving to other rooms, such as the dining room. Note, for example, the elaborate ceiling.
Some of the rooms are very grand and elaborately decorated and furnished, like the one above. Guests would have been received and entertained in such rooms and the opulent decor would no doubt have impressed them and persuaded them that their host was a rich and successful citizen. These rooms are obviously designed for show.
Even the bed chamber falls into this category. It is not decorated to the same opulent degree as the reception rooms but it is still obviously meant to impress. We must remember that as you achieved ever greater prestige and favour in the house so you would be allowed to penetrate ever more deeply into the private parts of the house. The ultimate accolade of intimacy was to be invited into the bed chamber, so this too needed to uphold appearances.
In contrast, there are rooms where the decor is “calmer” and the setting altogether more intimate and domestic. You can imagine the master and mistress of the house enjoying breakfast together here, while perhaps discussing the day’s activities.
Another example is this charming little room. It is the study where the master of the house would have dealt with his correspondence and his business transactions. It is small and comfortable but the fireplace is decorated with a painting of a naval battle, showing that this is a masculine space.
Many other rooms could be singled out for attention. There is the library, its shelves still lined with leather-bound volumes. Or the chapel, opulently done out in dark red and gold. Then there is the basement area where we find the kitchen, the pantry, the buttery, storage areas and, in a word, the realm of the servants. All in all, it is a beautiful and fascinating house, with so much to see that you will want to return again and again.
As we leave, we pass this sculpture of a bearded god pouring out water. Intuitively one thinks of Neptune, the god of the sea, but, on reflection isn’t it more likely, given the location of this fine house, that the figure represents Old Father Thames? Yes, I rather think he does.
We returned to the station and caught a train back to Waterloo and from there, a bus to the Southbank. We fancied having supper at the branch of Canteen there. We there discovered something called the Festival of the World Museum and gave it a cursory examination. To be honest, I was feeling “museumed-out” by now and couldn’t really concentrate on whatever it was the displays were trying to tell me.
We made our way to Canteen and had our supper then, finally, took a bus back to the Angel and home. It had been a day with some disappointments but also with enough successes to have made it worthwhile. If only all days were as good as that!
Tuesday, September 4th 2012
We made an effort to get up and out earlier today in order to make the most of the day. We took the 341 to Waterloo station and while Tigger bought train tickets I acquired breakfast from Upper Crust – our well rehearsed routine.
In the end, our hurry availed us little because tickets bought using the Network Southeast saver card are not valid until 10am on weekdays and it was still only 9:15. So we sat and waited patiently in the busy concourse until 9.55 when the departures board showed a train for our destination leaving at 10.05. This was a Southwest Trains service to Weymouth but we are not going to that pretty Dorset seaside resort on this outing, though we shall surely return there one day. Today’s destination is Swanage.
The train does not actually go to Swanage. Instead, it takes us to Poole and here we disembark and look for a bus to take us the rest of the way.
The bus ride to Swanage took an hour and a half. This was because the bus from Poole followed a very indirect route, describing a big letter ‘C’ through the countryside, as you can see from the above map. Swanage is bottom right, its name almost hidden by camera icons. On the map you can also see Brownsea Island where Robert Baden-Powell organized his first experimental camp for boys in 1907 while writing the book, Scouting for Boys, that led to the formation of the Boy Scouts. Events were held here as part of the Scouting 2007 Centenary marking 100 years of the Movement.
We paid a visit to Swanage station. British Rail closed it in 1972 but it is today a terminus of the Swanage Railway which runs the Purbeck Line. This is what is called a “heritage railway”, run mainly by volunteers, and created by restoring a section of the original railway track and obtaining old locomotives and rolling stock which, while conforming as far as possible to their original specifications, also have to meet modern safety standards. Such railways have proved remarkably successful with the public who enjoy the novelty of “old time” rail travel and the “Brief Encounters” atmosphere of the restored platform and station buildings.
The staff are volunteers and their most palpable quality is enthusiasm based on sound knowledge of railway history and a close understanding of the wonderful old machines they work with. If their uniforms are just a tad too new and shiny, I think we can forgive them that! We didn’t go for a train ride with them today but I hope to do so on another visit.
By now, we were feeling ready for lunch. We looked at the buffet on Swanage station but that provided mainly snacks so we went into town to see what the High Street had to offer.
We didn’t find a lot to tempt us but perhaps we weren’t looking in the right place or were in too much of a hurry, Finally, faute de mieux, we settled on a pizza restaurant.
We had a little look around town, which has some picturesque corners, but soon turned our attention to the coast where, in our opinion, the most beautiful views of Swanage are to be found.
On a sunny day, Swanage Bay presents a colourful and peaceful seaside panorama. There is a lot to see, both in terms of the broader view and in terms of things closer to hand.
All sorts of craft are moored in the Bay.
We walked along the promenade and came upon this well-kept vintage car. The owner was standing nearby, obviously enjoying the interest being shown by me and by others in his beloved vehicle. The admiration is deserved as he must have spent hours (not to mention pounds) on maintaining this senior member of the motoring community.
Like all self-respecting seaside towns, Swanage boasts its Victorian Pier and it is currently enjoying the accolade of Pier of the Year 2012. The pier was built in 1859-60 by the Swanage Pier and Transport Company, mainly for the shipping of stone from the nearby quarries. The stone was brought along the seafront and onto the pier in carts drawn by horses and running on narrow-gauge tramway tracks. The pier was opened by a famous local, John Mowlem.
Nearby is a beautiful park with sloping lawns and an open air amphitheatre, called Prince Albert Gardens. This is a pleasant area in which to stroll, sit or sunbathe, or simply enjoy the view.
The gently sloping terrain of the garden affords fine views of Swanage Bay and the countryside beyond. A lovely spot on a sunny day like today.
From the road above the Gardens, I noticed this intriguing building. What was it – the remains of a small church? We turned back to the waterside where I hoped to find a clue and perhaps a closer view of the tower.
Getting a good photo proved difficult as the tower stands on private land and cannot be visited and the light was behind it when viewing it from its most exposed side. So what have we here? To cut a long story short, this is the Wellington Clock Tower. It was designed by Arthur Ashpital and built in 1854 at the south end of London Bridge, to commemorate Lord Wellington. However, the clock proved unreliable and the statue of the Iron Duke too expensive. Moreover, as traffic across the bridge increased it was seen as an obstruction and was in danger of demolition. In 1860, George Burt, a business partner of John Mowlem, brought it in pieces to Swanage where it was re-erected and where it remains, an intriguing feature of Swanage’s shore.
We were at the east end of the shore and began our walk back towards the town. Down beside the water, we had a different perspective of the bay with its blue sea, blue sky and brightly painted boats.
The shore along here has been put to many uses and has been built up and altered in various ways. People launch boats from here and gulls come prospecting for food.
There is history to be discovered here if only you can disentangle it.
As well individually owned boats, there were what looked like at least two yacht clubs, their forecourts decorated with dinghies and their trailers.
Back in town, we stopped for milkshakes at Forte’s and then sat for a while in a seafront shelter with views of the Bay and the beach.
My final Swanage picture captures two facets of the town’s history, roughly one thousand years apart. This column was erected in 1862 by John Mowlem, by now a prominent citizen. According to the dedication, it stands “IN COMMEMORATION OF A GREAT NAVAL BATTLE FOUGHT WITH THE DANES IN SWANAGE BAY BY ALFRED THE GREAT A.D. 877”. Alfred the Great won many important battles but in this case historians have suggested that what happened in Swanage Bay was less a victory of the English over the Danes than a wrecking of the Danish ships driven onto Peveril Point by a storm. Probably, we shall never know for sure.
The man who made to monument – and topped it with cannon balls that had been fired at the British during the Crimean War – is himself an interesting character. The son of a local quarryman, John went to London and, in cahoots with George Burt (he of the Wellington Clock Tower) and Joseph Freeman, established a building firm which, among other projects, paved two of London’s bridges. The name of this local lad who made good resounds in his native Swanage still today.
To start the return journey, we decided to take the number 50 bus to Bournemouth and see whether we could join the London train there. If we could, it would be worthwhile as it would shorten our journey time. We reached Bournemouth in one hour 15 minutes and boarded a train for London. This train starts here so we cannot pretend that we boarded in Poole. The inspector gave our tickets only cursory attention so all was well for the journey home!
Back at Waterloo, we thought about having supper before taking the bus home. We chose the local branch of Azurro as we had been there once before and enjoyed the meal. Today, however, we found the food was bland and disappointing. It’s surprising how often this happens, as though restaurant chains have difficulty maintaining standards – not that they have any difficulty maintaining their prices. It’ll be a while before we return to this one.
We thought that while we were here, we might as well take some night-time photos of the Southbank Centre and the Thames. While lavish use of electricity no doubt contributes to global warming and all the problems associated with that, one has to admit that the lights are beautiful in themselves and transform the city into something new and exciting.
Looking downriver from Waterloo Bridge we could see the floodlit dome of St Paul’s and, further on, the tall buildings of the City, picked out in smaller lights. Nearer, on the right, beams of laser light (green in the photo) were sweeping back and forth from a source in the Southbank Centre.
Upriver, the big wheel of the London Eye was performing its slow revolutions and we could hear the screams of the people being spun on the high-level carousel (centre of the picture). The lights were reflected on the dark water like jewels spread on the black velvet of the jewel case.
We walked to the bus stop at the north end of Waterloo Bridge, taking in the sights as we went. My final photo was this view along the north bank, taking in the famous Art Deco clock tower of the Shell Building.
Travel where you may, and see the beautiful and fascinating sights that other places offer you, and you will still find enchantment and wonder awaiting you in London. Sometimes ugly by day, London dresses at night in her finery and sparkles with luminescent jewellery, finding a beauty and magic all her own.
Wednesday, September 5th 2012
We were having an in-town day today, so we started in leisurely fashion with breakfast at Pret in St John Street and then made our way to the Tate Britain.
We passed through Millbank Gardens, a pretty and well kept park, extremely pleasant on a sunny day like today, which forms the quiet centre of a quiet residential area.
Millbank was originally the name of a road running through marshy land with a few market gardens, from Westminster to Chelsea. The name came from the Westminster Abbey mill that stood hereabouts. The mill was demolished in 1736 to make way for Sir Robert Grosvenor to build a fine house in an area that must have been rather lonely and exposed. This was not to change until the 1820s when Thomas Cubbitt began to develop the area by building houses along the road.
In its turn, Grosvenor’s house was demolished around 1809 to allow the building of Millbank Penitentiary. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham had in 1791 published his plan for an ideal prison that he dubbed the Panopticon, a name meant to imply that the warders, occupying an “inspection house” in the centre, could continually observe all the prisoners, confined in cells in the perimeter. The prisoners could not tell whether at any moment they were being observed or not. Bentham obtained a contract to build the new penitentiary according to his design but the scheme fell through. The government took over and in 1813 built the penitentiary according to a modified design consisting of a six-pointed star. The huge size of the prison and its three miles of corridors were so confusing that one warder was said to mark his path with chalk even after seven years of service.
The marshy area and exposed position were not conducive to healthy conditions. The prison regime was harsh and the inmates, both men and women, suffered malnutrition and disease. In the 1820s, epidemics of scurvy and cholera led to the deaths of 30 inmates. An Act of Parliament improved conditions in the prison but it was finally demolished in 1890. The Tate was built on part of the site in 1897 and the Royal Army Medical College opened nearby in 1907.
While we were here, we took a look at the Millbank Estate, a large residential project comprising 16 blocks of flats intended for 4,430 working people. Built in 1897-1902, using bricks from the demolished penitentiary, the estate was considered a new and modern design with open courts providing airy conditions. The present appearance of the buildings results from their being rebuilt in the 1930s, following the 1928 Thames Flood Disaster. The whole estate is now listed Grade II. The sixteen blocks are all named after famous artists. Above are three views of the estate and more details of its history can be found here and here.
On our way to the Tate, we passed within view of the building that was originally the Royal Army Medical College but is now the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Today, in the forecourt, was standing what I take to be a sample of students’ work.
Counterintuitively, the entrance to the Tate Britain is below street level and you reach it via a slope with shallow steps.
We had come to see a particular exhibition, entitled Another London, International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980. It was well worth a visit but – as you have no doubt guessed – photography was not allowed and so I am unable to show you any scenes from the exhibition.
For lunch we went to the Regency Cafe in Pimlico. Established in 1946, it has an Art Deco look to it and seems caught in a time warp. For this reason it has attracted the attention of film makers looking for locations suggestive of the mid-20th century. Most recently, Rowan Joffe chose the cafe for some of the scenes in his 2010 remake of Brighton Rock. Transported in imagination by the film-maker’s art to the south coast, the Regency performed as the very image of a seaside cafe of the 1960s epoch chosen by the director.
The cafe was crowded despite the closely spaced tables. Reviews talk of an “eclectic mix” of customers by which they mean that working men in overalls rub shoulders with executives in business shirts and ties. There are no waiters and on your first visit you may wonder how you get served. You soon find out. You go to the counter, give your order and sit down. You get no numbered ticket, no wooden spoon with a number on it. Suddenly a voice, a very loud voice, announces the next set of meals ready to be collected. So you had better remember exactly what you ordered. In the above picture, on the left, you can see a blonde lady wearing an apron. She is quite short and I wasn’t prepared for the voice that came from her diminutive figure when she called out the food. I wondered whether she had been trained for opera!
After lunch we started moving, without any hurry, to our next destination, exploring and taking photos of anything that interested us. Thus we discovered another gem of a building which could well also provide a location for a film, this time set in Victorian or Edwardian times. It is the Westminster Coroner’s Court, built in 1893 and described by English Heritage as “an early example of Arts and Crafts freely-handled neo-Georgian-Jacobean”. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get a look inside.
We took a bus towards our next port of call and found ourselves in Smith Square. Here resides a well known church, called St John’s. Or perhaps I should say an ex-church, because this building, owing to its splendid acoustic properties, is today one of London’s best known and best loved concert halls, from which many BBC music broadcasts are made. It is generally referred to as “St John’s, Smith Square”.
St John’s was built in 1713-28 as one of the churches called for by the famous Act of Parliament of 1711 which required 50 new churches to be built in London. It was designed by Thomas Archer with the notable characteristic of four symmetrically placed towers of equal height. These were topped (without the architect’s permission) with cupolas. This led to a strange story being circulated. It was claimed that Queen Anne had been asked what design she would like for the church and, being in a tetchy mood, she had kicked over a footstool which ended up on its seat with the four legs pointing upwards, and had snapped “Like that!”. Whether this was a true event or a gossip’s tale, the church became known informally as “Queen Anne’s footstool”.
The life of St John’s was far from uneventful. In 1742, it was gutted by fire and the interior had to be rebuilt in 1744-5. Modern opinion sees it as a fine example of Baroque architecture but earlier in its career, the church was regarded as ugly. No less a personage than Dickens likened it to a frightful monster with its legs in the air. A second disaster befell it in the Second World War when it was hit by incendiary bombs and the interior was again gutted. For the next 20 years it remained derelict, an obvious candidate for demolition. St John’s was rescued by Lady Parker of Waddington who in 1962 formed an organization called the Friends of St John’s who raised the necessary funds for its restoration according to the original plans, but now as a concert hall. The inaugural concert was given in October 1969. More information on the history of St John’s can be found here and here.
In nearby Victoria Tower Gardens, we stopped to photograph this structure. I like it but I can imagine that some people would find the design rather overdone. It is certainly very elaborate and colourful but… what is it?
The interior presents as a drinking fountain with granite bowls and terra cotta lion-headed spouts. I don’t know whether it ever served that purpose but it seems not to be in functioning order today. This view shows the variety of materials used in the construction and how they combine to achieve a colourful effect. Incidentally, this reminds us that when we think of the Victorian era as a time of dull colours (perhaps because we see it principally through the medium of black and white photos and engravings – though the paintings of the period go a long way to correcting this view), we are mistaken. The Victorians loved colour and many of their schemes, considered tasteful in their day, might seem garish to us now.
A large plaque, set into the structure declares its purpose. It reads as follows:
ERECTED IN 1835
CHARLES BUXTON MP
IN COMMEMORATION OF
THE EMANCIPATION OF THE SLAVES 1834
AND IN MEMORY OF HIS FATHER
SIR T. FOWELL BUXTON
AND THOSE ASSOCIATED WITH HIM
DR LUSHINGTON AND OTHERS
The monument was originally sited in Parliament Square and was moved to Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957 to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1807 Act abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade. For more details of the design and related material, see this page on Victorian Web.
Victoria Tower Gardens is on the bank of the Thames, near the Houses of Parliament and when you are not taking photos, there are interesting sights and activities to observe on London’s great river, such as this tug pulling two laden barges upstream against the current. I think the picturesque tower peeping over the trees belongs to the old St Thomas’s hospital building.
We were heading for the National Portrait Gallery and on the way, passed the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. I took this not particularly good photo of it more by reflex than conviction. It’s a strange piece of architecture, built in 1903. I find it decidedly peculiar, especially the preposterously tall tower. I can’t help thinking they told the builders to start building the tower but forgot to tell them when to stop. The result is ridiculously oversized. While the stripes are very striking, I really can’t find much else to say in its favour.
I like visiting the National Portrait Gallery because there are a lot of very good pictures there, both paintings and photographs. It seems that portraiture leaves less scope for the sort of pretentious silliness that afflicts much modern art. After all, if you are an important person having your portrait painted, you want a proper job done. You don’t want to end up as a few black squiggly lines on a yellow background. It is therefore a joy to wander around the galleries, enjoying the different styles of individual artists and the periods in which they were working. Some of the works are simply breath-taking. And you can access all this for my favourite price: free!
We had come to see a specific exhibition, the BP Portrait Award 2012. I enjoyed it greatly but, of course, we were not allowed to take any photos, so you will have to take my word for it that it was worth seeing or, better still, go and see the BP Portrait Award 2013, or whatever year you can manage.
We rounded off the day with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery cafe. I think we treated ourselves to a cream tea but even this was outdone by the view from the windows. Here you have a true bird’s eye view of London and for a dizzying moment I could almost imagine myself flying like a gull or a pigeon over the roofs and towers. A truly spectacular view. (The picture has a slightly soft focus because I had to take it through the window glass.)
Thursday, September 6th 2012
The first item on the agenda today was my hospital appointment. The background to this has already been narrated (see The follow-up or Nothing concluded) so I won’t go over it all again. I will just say that having a catheter replaced is not an enjoyable experience but it was done expertly and with minimal trauma.
We returned home after the hospital appointment to drop off the supplies I had been given and to have a cup of tea. Around 12 we set out on the next phase of the day’s activity. We had a choice of places to go and decided on Burgh House in Hampstead as it had been closed last time we went there.
We took the 214 to Kentish Town and got off at Prince of Wales Road. There we had lunch in the PizzaExpress restaurant sited in the apartment block on the corner of Prince of Wales Road and Kentish Town Road. Going there always gives me an odd feeling because this building previously belonged to the polytechnic where I taught for some years. The restaurant is in the old gymnasium, though this is no longer obvious apart from the unusual height of the room.
Whenever we go to Kentish Town, we always take a look at 132 Kentish Town Road. This scruffy establishment was once an Indian restaurant and we even had a meal here once – but only after we had convinced the owner that we were respectable folk. I don’t know the reason for his caution though he did hint at trouble from ruffians. Since then, the place has remained virtually derelict which is very unusual in a vigorous business area like the Kentish Town Road. The scaffolding hints that changes are in view but time will tell.
After lunch we took the 46 to Hampstead and got off at the top of the High Street. By now I was beginning to feel sore from my morning’s adventure and walking was causing acute discomfort. Apart from anything else, this distracted me from enjoying my surroundings and taking photos.
I tried to ignore the discomfort, telling myself it would wear off. At Burgh House we looked at some of the exhibits. In one room was a series of paintings of Hampstead done at various periods, mainly the 19th and early 20th centuries, accompanied by photos of the same views today so that we could compare “then” and “now”. It was interesting that while many views had changed somewhat or even completely (and not always for the better), some scenes were still recognizably the same.
We made our way back to Hampstead High Street and went Café Rouge for coffee and cake. I took a painkiller but also went to the toilet where I managed to re-arrange things “down there” in a better configuration. It made all the difference, I’m glad to say, and I was reasonably comfortable from then on.
Despite being on holiday, we had certain chores to perform, one of which was to deal with an over-full laundry basket. We decided that as the day was already somewhat truncated, we might as well do the laundry this evening. The launderette we use most often is in Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury, a bus ride from home.
We found the launderette almost empty and thus had no competition for washers and dryers.
While the laundry was spinning in the washing machines, we went to the nearby branch of Costa for coffee.
Waiting for the dryers is probably the most boring part of the operation. You put in your money and start the machine. Then you wait for it to stop. By now some of the laundry will be dry and the rest still damp. So you repeat the process… until everything is dry.
It was still light when we arrived at the launderette…
…but dark by the time we left.
As a reward for getting the job done, we dumped the laundry at home and went to the noodle bar for supper. That was a good end to a rather odd day. Tomorrow is a special day and, all being well, we will find something special to do.
Friday, September 7th 2012
Today is my birthday so we are making it a special day. We started with breakfast at Pret in St John Street and while we were there, a pigeon came in, looking for food. Something frightened the bird and it naturally flew off towards the light which, in this case, took it, not to the door but to the window where it found itself trapped behind the glass, trying to fly out but unable to do so.
This is the third time I have I have witnessed such a scenario and when it happens, the shop staff seem at a loss to known what to do. They may even chase the pigeon with a broom and this just makes things worse by putting the pigeon into a state of panic. I simply went to the window, cornered the pigeon and picked it up, taking care to confine its wings with my hands. All I had to do then was go to the door and release it outside. I tossed the pigeon in the air and with a whirr of wings it soared up and perched on a building on the other side of the road, none the worse for its experience, though probably a little shaken.
For me this was a birthday present as I like handling pigeons, and any birds, but don’t get an opportunity to do so every day. It was a pretty, brown and white pigeon, seemingly in good health.
We then caught a bus to Waterloo station and there took a train to Strawberry Hill. It was our intention to visit Horace Walpole’s house, Strawberry Hill House, “one of England’s most elegant and eccentric Gothic houses” (the Web site). While we were on the train, however, Tigger checked the House’s opening hours and discovered that the house is open to the public every day except Friday! Oh well, at least we found out before getting there!
We decided to continue and to take a look at (and photograph) the house from outside, ready for our next visit, and then perhaps explore the area.
We were able to enter the grounds and walk around the outside of the house, photographing the building and the gardens in which it is set.
Walpole started building his fantasy house in 1749 and added to it in several iterations thereafter. The design is a precursor of the later Gothic Revival.
The impression is of an accumulation of details added serially rather than of a fixed original design carried out in one go.
The gardens are beautiful and well kept. They have been restored in accordance with the plans drawn up by Horace Walpole. The unspoilt views that he would have enjoyed beyond the boundaries of his property have not survived unscathed, however.
It was a pity that we could not see inside the house which, I am sure, is well worth seeing. At least the views of the outside acted as a taster and I hope that we can visit the house properly in the not too distant future.
From Strawberry Hill House we walked down to the Thames. Here it is bordered by trees and and greenery, quite unlike the Thames that we Londoners are used to seeing.
We found a pretty park called Radnor Gardens and went in to explore. The park was formed from a number of riverside properties, including Radnor House, from which is takes its name. Between 1722 and 1757, Radnor House was the home of John Robartes, 4th Earl of Radnor. Unfortunately, the house was destroyed by a bomb in 1940.
In Radnor Gardens we found the War Memorial. This was erected to commemorate the First World War and is dated 1921 beside the name of the sculptor, Mortimer Brown. This is the most unusual war memorial that I have ever seen. Instead of a triumphant figure of Victory or sculptures of weeping widows, we have a cheerful soldier waving his cap, apparently in greeting. Perhaps it celebrates the return home of the surviving soldiers. It could also be construed as having the same meaning as the statues of Victory but in a realistic human form and for that reason, is all the more moving.
On the sides of the memorial were two plaques, shown above. One shows a group of three airmen, with an World War One aeroplane in the background, and the other a nurse and what is possibly a female cycle courier.
There was originally a third panel depicting two naval officers standing on the bridge of a ship but this was stolen in October 2011 by metal thieves. A replica was installed on Remembrance Day 2012.
From Radnor Gardens there are beautiful views up and down the Thames and on a sunny day like today the scene sparkles with colour.
From Radnor Gardens we went into Richmond and looked around for somewhere to have lunch. We plumped for a local branch of All Bar One.
After lunch we went up to Marble Hill, not to see Marble Hill House, which we knew was closed, but to make another attempt to visit Orleans House Gallery (see our first attempt).
We entered the grounds, which provide a pleasant walk and made our way to the house.
In a holly bush we saw this huge spider’s web, glistening like a sliver wheel with the spider basking in the sun in the centre.
On the way to the house we passed by the North Stables. It is a pretty building with a clock and a small bell tower.
The stalls in the stables no longer accommodate horses but have been rearranged as booths in the Stable Cafe.
We at last managed to visit the gallery but a disappointment still awaited us: the big Octagon Room was closed so we will go back another day to see it. We contented ourselves with the exhibition Polemically Small, “based on the idea that small works of art are often more powerful in their effect than big ones”.
Photography of individual works was not allowed but we were permitted to take general views of the galleries.
We walked through the garden, which is very inviting as a place to sit or stroll, and came to the main road where we found a bus stop. The weather was extremely hot and neither of us could remember such a hot September. We were quite content to take a bus to the station and start our journey home.
I had had an enjoyable day out for my birthday. We visited two fine old houses but without exhausting the treasures they offer. They remain on the list to be visited and enjoyed again.
Saturday, September 8th 2012
We may be on holiday but, as we are staying at home, the shopping finally caught up with us. After breakfast at Pret we trundled the trolley round to Sainsbury and collected our needs for the forthcoming week.
After putting away the spoils and fortifying ourselves with tea, we boarded a bus and got off in the Kingsland Road in Hoxton. The rather exotic minaret that you see in the photo belongs to the Suleymaniye Mosque, built 1995-9 and funded by the UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre.
We had come to pay a visit to the splendid Geffrye Museum but before going in, we went to have a look at the Victorian drinking fountain set in a nearby wall. This bears a date of 1865 and the inscription tells us about the donors:
THE GIFT OF
Mr and the HONBLE Mrs RASHLEIGH
OF 31 HILL STREET BERKELEY SQUARE
The house at the address given for the donors still exists and is a Grade II listed mid-18th-century building but is today occupied by a firm of lawyers. For some interesting snippets on the Hon. Mrs Rashleigh and the fountain, see here and here on the London Remembers site.
The Geffrye Museum of the Home is a lovely place to visit. Rare for this part of London, it has an extensive garden between itself and the road where open-air exhibitions and other events can be held. It was built in 1715 (some say 1714) at the behest of Sir Robert Geffrye, sometime Lord Mayor of London and Master of the Ironmongers’ Company, as a set of 14 almshouses, principally for the widows of ironmongers. Its original function having come to an end, it was eventually acquired by the London County Council and converted into a museum, opening in 1914. In 1991, the Geffrye became an independent charitable trust with funding from various sources and a modern extension was added in 1998 in a style different from, but in sympathy with, the original buildings. The museum seeks to portray the history of domestic interiors, from Elizabethan times to the modern day. The heart of the permanent collection is a series of rooms furnished and decorated in a manner consistent with a particular period.
The rooms are beautifully arranged, as authentically as possible, but are not static, dust-gathering displays: they change according to the seasons and we usually pay a visit in December to see the rooms decorated for Christmas as they would have been at their respective periods.
I have to admit that these interiors fascinate me. I know they are artificial but they are so designed as to leave you with the feeling that the occupants could walk into the room at any moment and I like to imagine myself into these settings, perhaps sitting reading beside the first or taking afternoon tea perched on one of the delicate chairs. Information boards describe the social and historical background and point out features of particular interest.
All of the interiors are appealing and deserve to be shown but I have chosen a more or less random selection of three. In case you are wondering about the intrusive pink labels, these are a temporary feature to do with an exhibition entitled At Home with the World (see the Web page for details). Interesting as that may be, I found the presence of the labels jarring and hope they will have disappeared by the time of my next visit.
As well as room settings, there are other types of display, such as the classic museum glass case, information boards and…
…displays of furniture, ornaments and other domestic artifacts.
The museum also has a small shop and a rather nice cafe but today the latter was busy and people were queueing so we gave it a miss.
After our visit to the Geffrye, we took another bus ride, this time to the Southbank Centre.
There were plenty of events and activities taking place and the crowds were dense. This and the heat dissuaded rapid movement. We went to Canteen and had lunch.
Our next move was to Victoria, where we were intending to visit the interior of that monument to Catholicism, Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey), another sort of monument). As luck would have it, a sung mass was in progress when we arrived and photography was banned until it ended. We waited as patiently as we could while the pantomime wound slowly to its conclusion. The temple was packed. Some people were curious onlookers, some visitors like ourselves, but the vast majority seemed to be faithful members of the flock.
The mass over, a few people remained behind in contemplation while others tidied up. We were able to wander at will and take photos of whatever interested us.
While we were doing the rounds, a group scuttled past carrying an effigy of the Virgin Mary. I only had time for a quick snap before they were gone. This was our first intimation that there was to be a procession outside the church.
The interior is certainly very colourful and reminded me more of Greek Orthodox church decoration than the usual Catholic church interiors. There were a lot of mosaics and gold and silver abounded.
As with most larger churches in both the Catholic and Anglican confessions, there are a number of side chapels, each dedicated to a particular saint or whatever. Each is different in design and some are rather beautiful, even if their religious theme does not appeal to an unbeliever. This one is Holy Souls Chapel, dedicated to those who are on their way to Heaven but who, because of some minor unpurged naughtiness, still have to do time in the celestial choky, aka Purgatory.
Above are two examples of mosaics, representing St Christopher and St Joan of Arc, respectively. St Christopher was said to be a man of fearsome countenance and some attempt has been made in the mosaic to hint at this. The caption beneath St Joan reads “BEATA JOANNA INTERCEDE PRO NOBIS” (“Blessed Joan, intercede for us”), something which I suspect the good lady might be reluctant to do as she was put to death rather horribly by burning at the behest of the English.
I was rather fascinated by this silver ceiling because (as you may have guessed), I prefer the subtlety and understated beauty of silver to gold, which I find showy and vulgar – not for nothing is it the mainstay of “bling”. The inscription is the second half of a quotation whose first half is above and behind me. In its entirety, it reads “[ET SICUT IN ADAM OMNES MORIUNTUR] ITA ET IN CHRISTO OMNES VIVIFICABUNTUR” (“[For as in Adam all die,] even so in Christ shall all be made alive”).
Finally, here is a rather splendid sculpture of Saint Peter, clutching a big key, the symbol of his post mortem role as bouncer at the gates of Heaven. On the face of the pedestal is a medallion bearing the inscription “TU ES PETRUS ET SUPER HANC PETRAM ÆDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM” (“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church”), the famous pun on the name of Peter, in Latin Petrus, meaning a rock.
When we emerged into daylight once more, we found the Virgin and her porters still waiting. I believe the procession was in honour of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin.
We waited a while, as did a curious crowd of onlookers, politely remaining behind the tape barriers, but as it seemed to be taking for ever for the procession to get organized, we retired to a nearby Caffè Nero for refreshments and then took the bus home.
We had, after all, had enough excitement for one day!
Saturday, September 9th 2012
Today was the last day of our September staycation and so we wanted to make it a good one. As we both like the seaside, that’s where we headed today. The sun is shining in a blue sky, just the sort of day for a trip to the coast.
We walked down to St Pancras station and had breakfast at the Camden Food Co cafe there, then went up to the HS1 platforms to take a train to Ashford where we would change for Ramsgate.
Ramsgate is a small but picturesque seaside town in Kent. It was declared a Royal Port by King George IV and has proudly borne the title ever since. The small ships of Ramsgate were among those who played such an important part in evacuating Allied troops from the Normandy beaches after the unsuccessful Dunkirk landing in the Second World War. Ramsgate also has a ferry port serving various European destinations, carrying both passengers and freight.
From the station, we walked down towards the sea, taking in any sights along the way that interested us. One of these was a ghost sign on the corner of Mays Road.
This painted sign, partly obscured by a modern sign, advertises A & B Garage which used to be around the corner from Mays Road in Lorne Road. It later moved to St Mildred’s Road and was demolished in 2008. I don’t know when the sign was painted but it probably dates from well before the Second World War.
I was a little amused by the name of this pub which is also an hotel. It is called Hotel de Ville, perhaps in the hope of attracting visitors from across the Channel. Whoever named it may not have realized that in a French town, the hôtel de ville is not an hotel but the town hall.
We at last came within sight of the sea but saw it only from the cliff-top gardens as we had other things in mind at this point. Perhaps we would go down to the sea later.
We had two visits lined up. The first was to the Grange, the house that famous architect Augustus Pugin built for himself in Ramsgate. Like Rennie Mackintosh, Pugin designed interiors and furniture as well as the outside appearance of buildings. He was in love with the Gothic Revival style that flowered during the Victorian era. Bizarrely, he considered this to be a “Christian” style as opposed to the Classical style favoured by other architects which he considered “pagan”.
Pugin embraced the English Catholic faith and expressed his religious sentiments in his church designs. His house, as one might expect, is a showcase of the Gothic Revival form while the private chapel included within it expresses his religious faith.
Next door to the house is the Catholic Shrine of St Augustine, which Pugin designed as his personal church and wherein he is buried. Pugin was fascinated by St Augustine, who was sent by Pope Gregory in 595 to convert the Anglo-Saxons and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597.
Our second visit (having first lunched in a Chinese restaurant called Symphony) was to the Church of St George the Martyr. I should also mention that Ramsgate was celebrating an Open House Event and that these two places were among those welcoming the public to visit. The church first opened for business in October 1827 when Ramsgate’s increasing population outgrew the existing Church of St Lawrence.
Its tall belfry (136 feet high) contains unusual tubular bells as it is not strong enough to support a traditional peal of bells. It is quite an impressive structure.
As well as visiting these two buildings we also renewed our acquaintance with the town, including the seafront where the Maritime Museum building is a dominant feature.
Returning to the station, we just missed a train to St Pancras so took a Charing Cross train and changed at Ashford to an HS1 (now referred to as the Javelin) to St Pancras.
This ends what was a full and active week of visits and explorations. The weather was kind to us – too kind, perhaps, as sometimes it was hotter than was comfortable – and we were able to carry out our programme of visits without let or hindrance.