Monday, August 20th 2018
We are spending a few days in Bristol, arriving today, Monday, and leaving on Thursday. As shown by the map below, Bristol is a city in the south-west of England. For a while, Bristol was part of the county of Avon but when this was abolished in 1996, Bristol became part of a county with which is shares its name.
The origins of Bristol, known to its inhabitants as ‘Brizzle’, go back at least to Anglo-Saxon times and the city has an important maritime history. The name derives from Anglo-Saxon words, brycg, meaning ‘bridge’, and stow, which can mean a meeting place or simply ‘a place’.
Bristol bestrides the River Avon, whose name derives from a Celtic word meaning ‘river’. There are at least six rivers in England and Scotland called Avon (see here for a list). A second river, the Frome (pronounced ‘froom’), joins the Avon as a tributary. Its name is thought to derive from the putative Celtic word frama, meaning ‘brisk’ or ‘lively’, and is shared by other rivers in the area. (Cf. Welsh ffraw.)
We are staying in the Holiday Inn Express which is close to Temple Meads Station where we arrive from London. Below are a couple of views from our bedroom window.
The main business today was to go and look at some street art and we set out on foot to the area where we expected to find it.
As we passed the end of Concorde Street (named in honour of the briefly famous but ill-fated supersonic airliner built jointly by Aerospace Bristol and the French company Sud Aviation), our attention was caught by this array of miniature hot-air balloons. The installation was mounted by the Cabot Circus shopping centre as a homage to Bristol’s annual International Balloon Fiesta.
On the three days July 28th to July 30th, this year’s Upfest had been held in the Bedminster area of Bristol. This is one of the more important street art festivals attended by artists from far and wide and sponsored by an impressive number of organizations. This year it was held in association with Bristol Women’s Voice. We had not been able to come to the festival itself but hoped to have a look at many of the paintings today.
The map above, courtesy of GeoSetter, shows where we went in Bristol, starting from the hotel marked by the brown and yellow pin). The locations where I took photos in Bedminster are shown by the lower row of blue pins.
During the festival, access to the surfaces to be painted is cleared but once the festival is over and the life of the streets resumes its normal pattern, the paintings may not be so accessible. Some are defaced by taggers and others are obscured by dustbins, parked cars, street furniture, etc., making it hard to get clear photos. The paintings covered quite a wide area and it was a challenge to visit them all. Below I show a selection, my own idiosyncratic choice from among those that were not too badly defaced or obscured. In each case the caption gives the artist’s (or artists’) name(s).
You will find a good account of the festival and many more photos in this post by London Calling Blog.
The next one, by SakeOneDesign, is not part of Upfest but is painted on the shutter of the Lion Stores and was therefore presumably done as a commission. Whatever its genesis, I liked it and so I am including it here.
Having covered a lot of ground, we felt it was time to go back to the hotel for a rest and a cup (or two) of tea.
On the way, we passed by the Hippodrome and its attached Piano Bar. The Hippodrome was designed by the justly famous theatre architect Frank Matcham and opened in 1912. It is a Grade II listed building.
In the evening we made an excursion to see one of Bristol’s best known landmarks. I mean, of course, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Night had fallen by the time we reached the bridge but I think it looks very fine in its dress of illuminations.
The building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge was a tale of disputes and delays. Destined to be world-famous, it was designed and built by by a world-famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who, sadly, did not live to see it completed in 1864. For a brief history of the building of the bridge, see this page.
We waited for some time at a bus stop but a bus eventually came and carried us back to the hotel where we had no trouble sleeping after the day’s exertions!
Tuesday, August 21st 2018
Although Bristol is worth visiting on its own account it can also serve as a centre from which to explore other towns in the region. So it was that today we made an excursion to the beautiful city of Bath.
Bath lies in the county of Somerset and its origins go back into prehistoric times. Even before the advent of the Romans with their love of baths, the settlements was known for its hot springs. The natives called it Sulis, probably after a local goddess of the waters. The Romans, as they often did, associated the local deity with one from their own pantheon and called the town Aquae Sulis Minerva (‘the waters of Sulis-Minerva’). They developed the bath complex that can still be visited and admired today. After the departure of the Roman legions, the baths fell into disrepair but continued to be used. Then came the Anglo-Saxons who, having no truck with Roman names, knew the place as Baðum (pronounced ‘bathum’) from which the modern name derives.
In the Georgian era, waters thought to be ‘medicinal’ were all the rage and Bath became a fashionable place wherein to ‘take the waters’. In common with other watering places, it took the soubriquet Spa, and is still officially known as Bath Spa. (British spa towns took the word from the name of the town of Spa in Belgium which, like Bath, had been developed as a bathing place by the Romans who called it Aquae Spadanae.)
We travelled, as we usually do, by train, arriving at Bath Spa Station. Perfectly in tune with the town and its buildings of Bath stone, the station was the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Opened in 1840 it is deservedly a Grade II* listed building.
Our destination today was a remarkable and famous Georgian housing development called Royal Crescent, shown above (click the image to see a larger version). The picture is a composite of several photos and there is a small amount of perspective distortion but I don’t think this detracts from the grandeur of this curving row of 30 Georgian town houses built the the latter third of the 18th century. It was designed by John Wood the Younger and the whole row is Grade I listed.
Number 1 Royal Crescent was the first house in the row to be built. From 1776 to 1796 a Mr Henry Sandford lived here with his wife and retinue of servants. Today it is a museum run by the Bath Preservation Society and can be visited. It has been decorated and furnished in the manner of the 1770s.
The house follows the typical Georgian layout with a front door at street level and an open ‘area’ below giving access to the basement which was the realm of the servants. A bridge leads over the area from the pavement to the door which is flanked by columns but is rather modest in size. Note the boot scrapers on either side of the door, testifying to the dirty state of the streets in the Georgian and Victorian eras.
We were free to visit all the rooms of the house (except for certain reserved areas) at our own pace. Information cards were provided for each room and there were curators to whom we could put questions. Photography was allowed but it was often quite difficult to get clear shots because of other visitors milling out. As always on such visits, patience is called for and a readiness to click the shutter during the faction of a second that the view is clear!
The parlour on the ground floor was where the family might sit when not entertaining. Against one wall was a writing desk-cum-bookcase where I imagine the man of the house might have sat to deal with correspondence and other business.
This room is called ‘The Gentleman’s Retreat’ (I am using the names of rooms given on the information sheets) and is furnished accordingly with items that an educated man with plenty of leisure might use for his hobbies and pastimes.
Every discerning gentleman would own a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ containing strange and interesting objects from all over the world. This could be shown to visitors as a talking point and allow the master of the house to show off his knowledge of the exotic items on show.
As guests would be entertained to dinner here, the dining room was of great importance as it showed off the family’s taste and style and wealth. The best silver and porcelain would be used and paintings of quality, including family portraits, would decorate the walls.
A lady’s bedroom was more than a place in which to sleep. She could retire here to be on her own and it was here that, helped by her maid, she would perform the mysteries of dress, make-up and hair styling before presenting herself to her guests.
The withdrawing room (the room to which one withdrew after dinner) was the most luxuriously decorated and furnished as it was used for entertaining guests. The lady of the house would bring her friends here to indulge in the ritual of taking tea. In an era before TV, radio and gramophones one had to provide one’s own entertainment and both family members and visitors could be persuaded to play the piano and to sing.
Like the lady of the house, the gentleman also had his own bedroom where he slept and prepared himself for the day ahead (note the wig on a stand). Both of the Sandfords suffered health problems which may have been their reason for their taking up residence in Bath where they could take the supposedly healing waters. On the chest of drawers, you can see a small medicine chest containing specifics for treating ailments at home.
The servants slept on the top floor of the house in bedrooms accessed by a special servants’ staircase at the bask of the house. They spent the day ‘below stairs’, in the basement, unless engaged in tasks above, such as cleaning or serving the family. The servants’ hall was the room in which they ate their meals but it was also used for tasks such as preparing food, cleaning the silver, etc. A kitchen range can be seen at the back, fitted with a spit for roasting meat. This was turned by ‘canine power’: a small dog ran in a wheel to perform motive force. Apparently a special breed of dog was used. (The person in the picture is a curator who was too busy with her own activity to pay any attention to visitors.)
One of the most important rooms in the house was the kitchen because meals were prepared here not only for the family but also for their guests whom they would wish to impress. The cook therefore held an important and respected position in the servant hierarchy. In the picture can be seen various cooking implements, including, on the table, the sugar ‘nippers’ (like scissors but with flanges instead of straight blades). Sugar was supplied in large cakes or loaves and the nippers were needed to break off pieces of more manageable size.
The scullery was a room off the kitchen. It contained a sink, supplied with water drawn by pump from a well, the meat safe (extreme left) and access to the coal chute (not shown). Coal was delivered through a special ‘coal hole’ in the pavement in front of the house, avoiding the necessity of men tramping through the house carrying sacks of coal. (Such coal holes, though no longer used, remain a feature of many residential areas in London and other cities. The round iron covers with their makers’ names are ‘collected’ photographically by enthusiasts.)
The housekeeper was usually a lady of mature years, the dignity of whose role placed her above the other servants. She was responsible for organizing the household, paying bills and keeping the accounts. Her prestige entitled her to a room of her own where she carried out her accounting duties and took her meals.
After our visit to Number 1 Royal Crescent, we went for an exploratory walk and stopped for refreshments at a cafe that had a special history of its own.
The sign declares it to be the Green Park Brasserie but the size and style of the building argues for a different origin. Built in the 1840s and designed by that ubiquitous builder and engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it was the Bath Green Park Station and the terminus of the Midland Railways’ now defunct Mangotsfield and Bath Branch line. Today it is a Grade II* listed building.
Inside is a fairly large venue serving as a cafe restaurant with live music on certain occasions (mercifully not while we were there).
Where once there were platforms and sidings, the area has been concreted over, though the place still gives an eerie feeling of being a ghost station.
The magnificent arched roof of cast iron and glass is still in place but what it covers now is no longer railway tracks, platforms and the bustle of travellers but, more prosaically, a car park.
One of the best known and most photographed features of Bath is the Pulteney Bridge and Pulteney Weir. I have often photographed it myself (for example, see here). Today, we noticed that boat rides were being offered and so we went along.
The boat was fairly small and was full, so it was hard to take photos avoiding people’s heads. We travelled up-stream from Pulteney to the Mill Lane Bridge. (You might like to have fun tracing the route on a map.) There was a voice commentary but the main pleasure was simply watching the world drift peacefully by.
We returned to Bath Spa Station and took the train back to Bristol. Our last sight of Bath, or rather, over Bath, was of five hot air balloons. I don’t know whether they were taking part in some festival or were being flown just for the fun of it.
Wednesday, August 22nd 2018
Today’s trip took us to the Bristol Channel and the seaside resort of Weston super Mare. The map below shows the town’s location and you can click on it to visit the live OpenStreetMap.
The town’s unusual name derives from a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Latin words. Weston comes from the Old English west tun, which can mean ‘west farm’ or ‘west settlement’. Weston is such a common name in the area that it was often considered necessary to add a tag to distinguish it from its namesakes, Weston juxta Worle (‘Weston next to the village of Worle’) and Weston juxta Mare (‘Weston beside the sea’) being but two examples. Sometime in the 14th century the name Weston super Mare (‘Weston on Sea’) was coined. Mare is of course pronounced as though it were the English word for a female horse, i.e. to rhyme with ‘care’ and ‘fare’. For more on Weston’s names, see this article in the Mercury.
Weston remained an obscure village until the beginning of the 19th century, when the new fad for sea bathing brought it to prominence and the ‘super Mare’ tag, which had long fallen out of use, was revived to advertise its position as a resort by the sea. Unfortunately, Weston’s shallow sloping beach means that the sea retires a long way out at low tide and if you try to bathe then, you will discover why the town’s unofficial soubriquet is ‘Weston super Mud’.
The railway first reached Weston in 1841 but the present station is its third and was opened in 1884 with additions made in 1986.
From the station, we walked into the town. I had been here on one occasion as a child but remembered hardly anything of it. I do remember, however, that I was sent, with a towel, my bathing trunks and money for the entrance fee, to a bathing station where I duly took my dip in the sea. I don’t know whether that bathing station still exists or, if not, what happened to it.
This time around, Weston left on me the impression of a pleasant, slightly old-fashioned seaside resort with some elegant .buildings and a broad sandy beach crossed by the eye-catching Grand Pier, of which more anon. There is another pier, Weston’s first, completed in 1867. It is called the Birnbeck Pier and has the interesting peculiarity that its seaward end rests on a small island. Unfortunately, it is now derelict and closed to the public, its future uncertain.
On the way from the station we passed the town hall. This beautiful building by James Wilson of Bath was built in the 1850s and extended by Hans Price in 1897. It is a Grade II listed building.
Nearby is that Grade II listed Emmanuel Church built by Manners and Gill in Perpendicular style in 1847.
The Quakers of Weston first met in a member’s home but in 1846 they opened their first meeting house on land gifted by a local resident. This building was destroyed by war bombing in 1942 and a present one was built to replace it.
This 30 metre tall structure is an artwork that incorporates a kiosk as well as serving as a bus stop. Unsurprisingly, its siting here, as part of the town’s renovation plan, has been controversial. It probably comes into its own at night when it is illuminated, although we were unable to see it thus. The artist is Wolfgang Buttress, creator of, among other works, of the Islington Angel Wings.
The men’s tailoring company, Burton’s, was founded in 1903 and became a household name as a supplier of modestly priced men’s clothing. During its heyday, the company opened many stores of characteristic design all over Britain. Most of these have been repurposed but are immediately recognizable. The Burton name continues in business under different owners. This old Burton’s shop stands on the corner of Regent Street and High Street. It is occupied by jointly by Costa Coffee and CEX. The store was considered for listed building status by unfortunately the alterations made to the façade by CEX have been deemed to spoil the building enough to deny it a listing.
And so to the beach. The vast expanse of flat sand is quite impressive. It is large enough to make people on the sand look like ants. (Click to see a larger version of the picture.) Weston is one of the towns that still has traditional donkey rides on the beach although we did not see any today.
The Grand Pier is a traditional banjo-shaped pier 1,201 ft (366 m) or just under a quarter of a mile, long. It is privately owned (an increasing trend among Britain’s piers) and there is an admission charge of £1. On the pier you find all the usual shops and entertainments (see the pier’s Website). The pier first opened in 1904 and has since then passed through the hands of several owners. A fire in 2008 did a great amount of damage to the superstructure but the current owners repaired and reinforced the pier which reopened in 2010. This Wikipedia article gives a more detailed account of the history of this fine Grade II listed pier.
I observed this herring gull intently watching a family eating their picnic lunch. He was obviously hoping to ‘score’ some food for himself.
It might be thought that the heyday of the seaside pier is over. A number of once successful piers have fallen derelict or been destroyed by storms and never rebuilt. Weston’s Birnbeck Pier and Brighton’s lamented West Pier bear witness to this trend. Yet many piers survive and have managed to make a place for themselves in the affections of local inhabitants and holidaymakers. It seems that there is still a role for the traditional pier as long as it can cater for a broad range of tastes and do what it has always done – charm money out of visitors’ purses!
Another institution that is facing difficult times is the museum. No longer can museums afford to tidy their exhibits away into glass cases, not matter how attractively labelled. Visitors may accept to be educated but usually only in short bursts and museums need to sugar the didactic pill or risk losing their patrons. Making themselves educational but also entertaining is a problem that museums solve (or not) in a variety of ways. Older museum-goers such as yours truly may frown on children rushing around with question sheets or dressing up in spurious period costumes or playing with models but we realize that this is necessary in order for our beloved museums to survive in the age of TV, video and electronic games.
We took a look at Weston Museum. It provides a historical survey from the dinosaurs to the present day with special emphasis of the town and the region. We also enjoyed tea and cake Clara’s Cafe! (For the choice of name, see below.)
This object might seem to be a sculpture from the Classical era rescued by archaeologists though the colour probably gives it away. It is an item from the museum’s collection of products of the local Royal Potteries that operated from 1836 to 1961. Originally manufacturers of bricks and tiles, the company later used the local clay for making flower pots and garden ornaments such as this statue.
This contraption is a conveyance of a type that I had never before heard of. Called a Donkey Chair, it was in fact a forerunner of the taxicab. As the name suggests, it was pulled by a donkey and the passenger occupied the seat. What about the driver? Well, he must has been pretty fit because he had to run along beside the vehicle controlling the donkey. The arrival of motorized vehicles sent the donkey chair, and its athletic driver, into a well earned retirement.
An important set of exhibits and one with a decided local flavour, is that called Clara’s Cottage. The cottage adjoins the museum and some of its rooms have been furnished and decorated much as they would have been during the occupancy of the eponymous Clara Payne who occupied the premises from 1901 until her death in 1952. The house was originally built in 1865 with a façade of local limestone and was occupied by several families until Clara and her husband Robert took it over in 1901, first as tenants and then as owners from 1919. For its architectural and historic interest, the cottage has been given a Grade II listing.
In the middle 1800s, Weston’s Methodists made do with a small chapel on the corner of St James Street with Regent Street. When this became too small for the growing congregation a new church was commissioned and duly opened in 1900. All went well with the new church until 1934 when it was devastated by fire. The original church could not be rebuilt in the original form because a road-widening scheme made this impossible so a new church was built to a new design and that is the one in use today. The old chapel, in case you are wondering, can no longer be found: in its place stands a branch of Barclay’s Bank.
As we walked to the station, I took a final photo. This was, fittingly, of a noble-looking Grade II listed building.
This was the old Magistrates’ Court which included, as courts often did in a by-gone era, a police station, though this one was in an adjoining building. Its rather classical allure belies the date of its construction which was 1934 (though additions were made in 1970). Sadly, perhaps, the Grade II listed building’s career in justice came to an end in 2007 and a new future awaits it as a residential block.
Weston is a pleasant enough town with the added advantage being beside the sea. For people living in Bath or Bristol and even farther afield, it no doubt offers an easily accessible location for a day at the seaside but I cannot imagine it being thought of a major destination. However, attempts are being made to brighten up the town and improve facilities (the installation of Wolfgang Buttress’s Silica is part of that plan) and this may improve Weston’s appeal. I certainly hope so.
Thursday, August23rd 2018
Today is our last day in Bristol this time around. Our train departs later in the day, leaving us free to take a last look at this fine city.
This map, courtesy of Geosetter, shows the location of our two main visits. (Click for a live OpenStreetMap of the locality.)
Our first landmark was this striking and elegant building called the Victoria Rooms. The Grade II* listed concert hall opened in 1842. It was designed in French Neoclassical Style by Charles Dyer with carvings by Jabez Tyler. Today it houses the University of Bristol’s Department of Music. In front of the building is an elaborate fountain with a statue of King Edward VII added in 1912 as a memorial to that monarch. I took this photo of it on a previous visit.
Almost opposite the Victoria Rooms stands another prestigious Grade II* listed building, the Royal West of England Academy. It opened in 1857 as Bristol’s first art gallery. Its royal title was conferred by King in George V in 1913. A more detailed history of the establishment will be found here. We stepped inside to take a look.
One of the works on display was this eye-catching rendition of a rhinoceros by the Raqs Media Collective. It is a 3D recreation of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of said beast, reimagined as a carousel animal. Dürer had never actually seen a rhinoceros and was working from descriptions of the animal. (See this Wikipedia entry on Dürer and his woodcut.)
We went up onto the terrace of the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) from where I took the above photo of the Victoria Rooms and its crossroads site.
At either side of the façade stand statues of, respectively, John Flaxman and Joshua Reynolds.
On the first floor, this impressive ceiling done caught our attention.
We next walked down Queen’s Road to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, always a good place to spend time. You can explore specific topics or themes or simply wander as fancy takes you as we did. Here are a few of the items that claimed my attention.
Jacob Epstein is one of my favourite sculptors. His portraits of both famous personalities and members of his family are justly famous.
This bust, entitled Prisoner, is by Elizabeth Frink much of whose work is influenced by her experiences as a child growing up near an operational airfield during the Second World War and often explores themes of human cruelty.
Lynn Chadwirk is another artist influenced by the horrors of the Second World War. He is known for his human figures with geometrical shapes for heads (see Couple on Seat in my post West India Quay). This strange, rather alien, creature is described by its label thus:
‘Idiomorphic’ means ‘having its own characteristic form’ and this sculpture is unique. Chadwick welded iron rods to form the cage-like torso. He exhibited the Beast at the Venice Biennale in 1956, where he won the sculpture prize.
Barbara Hepworth was a pioneer in abstract sculpture. Works featuring holes joined by wires are almost certain to be by her though other artists also used the technique. In her day, her works were innovative though today they seem to me – dare I say it? – to have a slightly old-fashioned feel. They are, I think, very much of the period when they were made.
One of his last works, this portrait by Jacob Epstein is of the historian Professor Charles MacInnes and has been praised for way in which the sculptor has expressed his subject’s blindness.
Suspended, as though photographed in mid flight, is a replica of the Bristol Biplane, known affectionately as the Boxkite. It was the first aircraft produced by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, later known as the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
For us, it was now time to turn for the station and take our train back to London. Bristol is a charming and historic city, full of interest for the visitor. We have visited it before and I don’t doubt that we shall return again.