The view from the windows of the train on the St Ives line is always a joy but, when the tide is out, Lelant Saltings doesn’t look quite so prepossessing…..nevertheless, and despite it being a grey day, as soon as you see the bay you are cheered up straightaway.And the sea at St Ives always has a magical quality and colour..We were here today to visit the Tate and Barbara Hepworth’s Museum (you get a joint ticket…half price for us with our National Art Pass). On our walk in from the station we saw the Parish Church open for the first time, so in we went, curious as to what we might find. It is dedicated to Saint Ia of Cornwall, a 5th- or 6th-century Irish saint, and is a Grade I listed building. “The current building dates to the reign of King Henry V of England. It became a parish church in 1826. It was built between 1410 and 1434 as a chapel of ease: St Ives being within the parish of Lelant. The tower is of granite and of four stages (over 80 ft high): the church is large but not particularly high and built in a Devonian rather than a Cornish style. An outer south aisle was added by the Trenwith family about 1500: this is now the Lady Chapel and contains a statue by Barbara Hepworth.” This was very beautiful and poignant, carved as it was in memory of her son Paul who was killed whilst serving with the RAF in 1953. The font is of granite and probably of the 15th century. It is carved with four angels holding shields. The pillars are made from sandstone possibly from Godrevy across the bay, and allowed for more decorative carving than if they had been the more usual granite. You might just see that they tend to lean outwards and this is probably because of subsidence….the alternative put forward is that they symbolise the sides of a boat. That seems a better story!There are bench ends of the standard design and also two complete benches in the chancel. Very finely carved they are too…here is one of them. There is a brass to a member of the Trenwith family, 1463, and a monument to the Hitchens family by Garland & Fieldwick, 1815.As we left the church and walked through St Ives there were flowers everywhere including a Cornish favourite of mine (tho not of Frances…..) – agapanthus. Walking across the higher end of town, you always get more of a feel for the old fishing port it once was….Next stop the Porthmeor Beach Cafeand then just a hop across the road to The Tate.….views everywhere in the museum are fantastic, whether outside or climbing the stairs..This, a second viewing for us, was not as memorable as the first – obviously, but we were able to take in things and paintings which we hadn’t been able to look at in any depth the first time round. One of the first striking paintings you see is this abstract by Patrick Heron..and the famous Modernist painters of St Ives keep on coming – all mixed with fascinating display cabinets with correspondence between the artists, brochures, catalogues etcI liked these two by William Scott – the first Mackerel On A Plate and then the second The Harbour which must surely echo the first in its composition.One thing we couldn’t understand was that this Matisse you could go up to, examine the brushwork, and virtually touch, whereas elsewhere in the displays you were kept back by a cordon. I don’t think I would want anyone touching my Matisse!I love Snow On Exmoor by J A Park…and in the adjoining cabinet some newspaper clippings of him painting….There was a special exhibition this time, a retrospective of Patrick Heron…..and then a little alcove where you could view the life story of Barbara Hepworth and film of her working with interesting commentary….The last but one gallery gives out onto the entrance foyer…..and there we were taken with the detail of polished metal cladding positioned to reflect the world outside….A short walk would take us to our next stop, but the route was not without its distractions…So at last the Hepworth Museum and Gardens. First some of her work seen indoors but then the beautiful bit, being in her garden with her magnificent sculptures..and seeing the raw bits of granite from which she created her masterpieces…and the covered patio areas and conservatory where she worked, and her coats and tools just as though she had put them down five minutes ago..It was a fascinating insight into the working life of one of our great Artists, oh and by the way there was even a little outhouse with her simple bed in it….much needed I am sure, after toiling at shaping granite and marble!On the way back to the station we called at the St Ives Harbour Hotel beautiful location, very boutiquey, and a good-looking menu…. a pleasant interlude whilst waiting for the train…..and the walk down through the hotel’s gardens was much better than trudging through the station car park!These white agapanthus were terrific…So now we know, if we have friends or family visit, a trip to the Tate and to the Barbara Hepworth museum will be well worthwhile….
For the second time this week a visit for Frances to Plymouth Hospital. I had a visit too, sandwiched in-between hers – to Liskeard Hospital. A worrying time today’s, but a terrific result. A suspicious small lump on the breast was diagnosed as a cyst by the Greek specialist and removed immediately, sucked out, with the minimum of fuss. We await the results of our other visits! Such it is to be retired…….I do dislike going to Derriford Hospital at Plymouth – you have to admit it looks like the Brutalist architecture of Moscow in the Fifties. Once inside it’s a bit friendlier. Good job really. After that we needed fresh air, so off we went to the NT house at Saltram which we were totally unsure we had visited before (despite living very near here in the Seventies). This was our first glimpse of the beautiful Georgian house, and no we hadn’t been before. First stop as nearly always was the cafe for lunch. No beer, only cider, and a menu which was disgustingly full of fat….there were hardly any nice healthy eating options. I had to have the soup, and F. a pork pie which was very dry. Very poor fare.We then toured the house which was very interesting and cool enough (it was 30 degrees outside). The hall was Adamesque ( and indeed Robert Adam had a very influential input at Saltram for the Parker family who transformed what was a Tudor building into a magnificent Georgian house).and I did like the ‘Tenants Table’ where were stored the records for each tenant. I am sure it must be in its correct place in the entrance hallway. Wouldn’t want tenants coming too far into the interior!The house is stuffed with valuable original pieces but it is disconcerting that this bust of Cicero for instance is labelled Roman…is it original or not?! Anyhow, full of character. What we loved were the walls cram bang full of paintings just as the owners would originally liked to have displayed them in order to show off their wealth…..You don’t often see this (you do at the RA’s Summer Exhibition ironically enough).This card table was set with intaglio cards, gaming chips, and a letter…marvellous!The inner courtyard had orange bins…very appropriate in this weather……and after that we passed into the core of the house which still retained its Tudor kitchen, with original and more up-to-date features…brass and copper are so evocative, are they not?Now here’s a picture with a story, it’s of Theresa Parker who, with her husband John, brought most of the valuable contents to Saltram. And it’s by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds was born only four miles from Saltram in Plympton, Devon. His first studio was in Dock (modern day Devonport, Plymouth) but as his popularity grew, he quickly moved to London to meet the demands of those who wanted their ‘likeness’ made by him. By1768, Reynolds had established himself as the leading portrait painter of his time and became the founding president of the Royal Academy. Reynolds was good friends with John and Theresa Parker and they met often both for business and on social occasions. In 1770 he began painting this full-length portrait of Theresa in a landscape. When it was still not complete two years later, Theresa joked that Reynolds was ‘very lazy’. She sat for him at least two more times in 1772 whilst heavily pregnant. There are many Reynolds paintings at Saltram as well as many by Angelica Kauffman, and here is her self-portrait…..“Reynolds was not the only Academician to be patronised by the Parkers. Angelica Kauffman painted numerous portraits and history paintings for the interiors at Saltram. Like Reynolds, Kauffman was a founder member of the Royal Academy, but along with painter Mary Moser, shewas one of only two female members. Kauffman was born in Switzerland and rose to fame as an accomplished painter in Europe before even moving to London in 1766. Here, her work was so popular that by 1781 the Danish Ambassador wrote that the whole world was ‘Angelica mad.’ Despite being hugely famous, she was still a minority in the male-dominated art world. Kauffman was left in social and financial difficulty after a disastrous first marriage but it was through her talent and determination, along with the support of Queen Charlotte and patrons like the Parkers of Saltram, that she was able to continue working.” In the portrait (which NT want to restore, and for which we bought raffle tickets to help), it seems absurdly apparent that the right hand has been re-painted by someone else at a later stage – and someone who was not very good at painting hands! Have you ever seen such an awful hand? And compare its butcher’s fingers with the delicate digits of the left hand………On the stairs, Reynolds by Kauffman…nice and relaxed, it seems obvious they are good friends.But there are many paintings to catch the eye…the Victorian mother and child captures that couple superbly.And so to bed…well the bedrooms, nearly all in Chinoiserie style, obviously well-regarded at the period, certainly not to my taste. Much of it imported through the East Indian Company. These individually painted wall panels are rather good.The last room on the tour however undoubtedly the best – the Library. Beautiful room, lovely books, lots of places to sit, not just to work – wonderful.A quick walk past some pretty borders to the Orangery was all we had time for.Yet another eventful day in the life of the Smiths….. and, before I forget, the day before we had popped into Looe on the bus to do our usual walk and greatly admired the amazing conversion of the old Sardine Factory….we went into the downstairs cafe….and admired the brand new and very good Heritage Centre, of which more another time…….
‘The Salt Path’ is a book about walking the South-West Coast path. There are many books about doing that and I have read quite a few, but this is different. It starts with the background that the author, Raynor Winn, is being chucked off her farm at the same time that her husband learns he is terminally ill with a brain disease. They have nothing left and decide to do The Path walk investing what little they have in a tent and cheap sleeping bags . Everyone seems to find this very uplifting (look on the Net and it’s all ‘The Uplifting true story’…….blah, blah, blah….), but I am afraid that right from the start I felt unease about the whole premise, and where it would lead. The entirety of the book seems, to me at least, to be self-serving, and to offer exaggeration, and deliberate play on our sympathies throughout. When did the publisher get involved? Maybe it’s just my cynicism, but I really do have my doubts about a lot of things in here. And the fairy-tale ending? It’s all a little too good to be true….
Because we live on the borders of Cornwall and Devon it is just as near for us to go to South Devon as many places in Cornwall, so I read the Bradt Slow Travel book ‘South Devon and Dartmoor’ with a great deal of pleasure. This really is one of those travel books that you can pick up and read from start to finish. And it’s a book that keeps on giving. Nearly all of the suggestions in here are things you really do want to do, and it is extremely well-researched and personal. We know the area very well, but I just kept finding things and places I didn’t know throughout. If you’re not acquainted with this series, please do get hold of one of their books…they’re great.
I recently read three Peter Robinson crime novels one after the other. So they must be good? Well, yes and no. What I don’t like about them is that as the series develops Peter seems, like Ian Rankin, to be obsessed with music. Not only do his characters , and in particular the main one DS Banks (as he now is), listen to music but we have to be told in detail what their musical taste is, why they are listening to such and such, how it relates to other music. Frankly it is all a bit of a bore and totally irrelevant as far as I am concerned. It seems to be designed to show off how much the author knows about music. Why do these Crime writers feel they have to do it? Right that’s my gripe out of the way (and unfortunately it does mean I’ll be reluctant to pick up another one). The novels are otherwise very good. The setting – Eastvale, which seemed to me to be quite obviously Richmond in Yorkshire, but is apparently that town mixed with Ripon – is terrific and adds an awful lot to our enjoyment. Who doesn’t love the Yorkshire Dales, and Richmond is fantastic. The main character Banks is particularly well developed but not so much the other ones. And the plots are interesting and topical. Well, the first one I picked up – ‘Gallows View’ – happened by chance to be the first in the series and is about glue-sniffing amongst other things, so it was no doubt topical then (1987), but you don’t hear much about glue-sniffing now! The plot weaves together a number of themes and characters very nicely. And not much music….I also had on my shelves ‘Past Reason Hated’ (1992), probably when I last read it, and it too was satisfyingly complex with any number of suspects for the murder of someone who, we found out, was really the sufferer of abuse from her husband, a famous composer (music again!). Family secrets, lesbianism, a newly promoted Detective, it was full of interesting bits and pieces. Anyhow I also read ‘When The Music’s Over’ (I wish it was) where Banks has been promoted and has to deal with a case of historic sexual abuse, as well as being in charge of another investigation as Senior Officer. Nicely complicated plots. Good in nearly all respects. I thoroughly recommend Peter Robinson. How many years before I read another?
Yet another re-read from my shelves ( I barely remembered ) was ‘Devices and Desires’ by P D James. This is that great rarity these days – a literary Crime novel. It is so well written and certainly evokes tremendously well the area where this one is set – the remote Norfolk coast. And what an interesting plot, based on Larksoken nuclear power station which itself has an important brooding role. Commander Dalgliesh from London (nice to have an up-market detective) is staying at his aunt’s converted windmill in order to put her affairs to rest, but can’t help becoming involved in a local murder case. In fact as we learn he becomes too involved, and there is a very satisfying mix of local characters as well as outsiders working at the power station. I did enjoy it, and must read some more P D James.
Well not quite, but the first time for many a long day I have done anything on my own (F. being in Spain…)! I had booked a very cheap first-class ticket to Exmouth (£13 return) which we had never visited before. The view from the train is always interesting, here rather burnt countryside near Liskeard. And three or four rivers or estuaries passed in the short section to Plymouth…First glimpses of the Exmouth estuary promising..But one reason I had come was to see how much Exmouth deserves its self-appointed accolade of floral town. As I exited the station and came towards the underpass it was clear that the work of the volunteers extended everywhere….This really is how underpasses should be….and the shopping streets were well garlanded….and the parks flower filled….Flowers literally everywhere…I was glad to see the beach was pretty special too, it was quite a surprise…I visited more parks and enjoyed the wildlife….quite tame in Exmouth apparently…and who doesn’t get cheered up by the bright colours of beach huts?I found myself quite a long way down the promenade so doubled back, and as I approached town it was evident it had a certain Eastbourne or Bournemouth-like gentility with some nice seafront houses….and some quirky modern housing at the marina reminiscent of our recent trip to Amble but on a much larger scale…So my verdict? Exmouth is well-worth a trip, and I am so glad that here is a place which its inhabitants take a genuine pride in…..at least enough of them to make a difference! they should be really proud of their efforts. It was strange being on my own for a change, and I was at a loss what to do at times. What could I do after all my wandering – 16,000 steps? I decided to make my way back to Exeter, and there I gave the main museum, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, another chance as we had found it disappointing on our first visit. Sure enough it was much better than expected. First I went up to the viewing platform to see the Roman wall…..quite impressive in its own way.I then started to explore the museum’s collections which whilst arranged chronologically really adopt the ‘highlights’ style presentation which seems common these days (Coventry, Edinburgh etc)…here is a beautiful clock face. This clock was made in 1619-21 by the Exeter craftsman Matthew Hoppin and is the oldest surviving clock in Devon. It consisted of a stone dial with a seated figure of Matthew above. The figures on the clock include Apollo, Ceres and Mars. It was actually located on one of Exeter’s poorest parish churches…no-one knows why. There is also a magnificent collection of medieval woodwork (one of the best). It is the Hems Collection of woodwork. An outstanding collection of nearly 500 pieces of medieval woodwork, collected by the Exeter master sculptor Harry Hems. The pieces were originally displayed in Hems’ workshop to inspire his craftsmen in their world-renowned work. The woodwork is intermingled with architectural fragments which are mainly fragments from historic buildings in Exeter. ‘Many of these items were salvaged during renovation or demolition of historic buildings in the post-war redevelopment of the city. The collection includes fragments of woodwork and plasterwork from the city’s Tudor houses, and fragments and casts of stonework from the Cathedral and the Guildhall.’
In one room there is the remarkable Seaton Down hoard..’The Seaton Down Hoard consists of 22,888 Roman coins and three iron ingots. It was buried in around AD 350 but why, and by whom is a mystery. Could it have been wages for workers or a merchant’s savings? Were the coins stolen or were they being hidden from the taxman? We may never know. The coins were found a few fields away from known Roman sites. One was a farmstead, the other an army watch tower. The hoard is probably connected to these in some way.’But the Roman object I found most fascinating was a tile where the person who made it used the wet clay to practice their writing….they scratched into it IABCDIIFF – the earliest recorded use of the Latin alphabet in Devon.These Roman decorations are pretty unusual too…Medusa maybe?and Devon is famous for its stone-age axes…these all from one site – the earliest stone tools made by humans – a remarkable collection of 350,000-year-old flint handaxes from the gravel pits at Broom near Axminster. Quite quite amazing. I had time left for a quick look around Exeter…here a view from Wagamama.Here the beautiful Georgian area Southernhay…. but I was headed for the river and a well deserved (I thought) drink at The Prospect Inn which I took outside and enjoyed in the shelter of the old Customs shedThe Customs House projects itself as the most prominent building on the riverfront……One last glimpse of the Cathedral….and it was time to make for the station. On the way I noticed this plaque to perhaps the greatest local historian of them all W G Hoskins someone with whom I am very familiar, having studied much of his work………..an interesting day…on my own!
Tickets yet again (we are really lucky….) to Centre Court Wimbledon on Manic Monday. But first we have to get there. At our local station Liskeard there was a goods train waiting and I was amazed to see that not only is its signage not metric but apparently goes back to the old chains and furlongs days! How many chains in a furlong? 22 yards = one chain….10 chains = one furlong….8 furlongs = one mile……easy.The thing about going to London on the train, even to Plymouth which is our nearest big city, is that you get some wonderful views. It would be nice to have a route map, and we talked to BR in the Seventies about producing them….but that’s another story.Anyway after leaving our bags at David and Jennifer’s flat we decided to use our National Art passes for the Courtauld Institute, a new one for us. All we knew was that is famous for its Impressionists paintings. the cafe was a huge disappointment as they had run out of food….how can you do that? Never mind. The gallery is arranged by period and one of the first things that greets you is this wonderful medieval marriage chest from Florence showing exquisitely painted scenes of Romantic knightly endeavours….And I did like this portrait, a young lady whom you could meet in the streets outside, painted with real feeling.Mr and Mrs Gainsborough on the wall here….and here is the Courtauld on Mrs Gainsborough…. “Family legend holds that Mr. Gainsborough painted a portrait of his Mrs. every year on their wedding anniversary. Sadly we only know of 5 portraits of Mrs. Gainsborough by her husband, but this portrait is a beautiful testament to their (sometimes fraught) relationship. When painting family, someone the artist knows well, the experience is vastly different from a commissioned portrait or working with a professional model. This painting is more informal, the technique looser than in other Gainsborough portraits.”
The start of the series of Impressionist paintings shows this Pisarro of a Lordship Lane station in a growing suburb, but curiously devoid of people….A famous painting of course is Degas’ Two Dancers On A Stage, of which the Courtauld indicates…For many years it was assumed that Degas’ depiction of two dancers on the stage did not represent any specific performance and was meant as a general representation of ballet. However recent research has shown that the costumes of the dancers, especially the one on the right, match the bell-shaped tutus and hairpieces with roses of the dancers in the Ballet des roses, a ballet section added to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787) for performances at the Paris Opera House from 1866 onwards. The scenery in the background suggests foliage, which would have been appropriate to the garden setting of the Ballet des roses. The new expanded version of Don Giovanni was performed more than fifty times at the Paris Opéra between 1872 and 1874, so Degas’ subject is very much engaged with contemporary life. The painting was shown at the dealer Durand-Ruel’s London gallery in 1874, where it was purchased by Captain Henry Hill of Brighton.” Incidentally the bronze is also by Degas….Renoir’s La Loge or Theatre Box shows a male with binoculars but the female (very unfairly in my opinion known as fish-face!) concentrating – perhaps knowing that she is being observed…..Over to Gaugin – they keep on coming – “The two figures in the background and the ‘bird of the devil that is keeping watch’, as Gauguin called it, seem to be conspiring against the reclining woman. She lies awake, perhaps conscious of being watched. The title evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in which a poet, driven mad by the loss of his love, hears a raven repeating endlessly ‘Nevermore’. Here, Gauguin suggests the loss of innocence. He was deeply disappointed by Tahiti, where he had moved from Paris, hoping to find a primitive and unspoilt paradise. Instead, he found a society marred by corruption and colonialism.”Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe was considered shocking in its day “because his pastoral idyll made deliberate references to contemporary life. The men wore modern clothing, and the naked woman was considered ugly. As such, it seemed to mock academic ‘high’ art.”And now the painting the Institute has chosen to represent itself…Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère….. “The Folies-Bergère was Paris’s first music hall. A magazine described its atmosphere of ‘unmixed joy’ where everyone spoke ‘the language of pleasure’. It was notorious for the access it gave to prostitutes. The barmaids, according to the poet Maupassant, were ‘vendors of drink and of love’. This picture was Manet’s last major work, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. Manet knew the Folies-Bergère well. He made preparatory sketches on site, but the final painting was executed in his studio. He set up a bar and employed one of the barmaids, Suzon, to pose behind it. Manet’s picture is unsettling. An acrobat’s feet, clad in green boots, dangle in the air. The quickly sketched crowds convey the bustle of the Folies-Bergères. In contrast, the barmaid is detached and marooned behind her bar, with her reflection displaced to the right. She stares at the viewer, but the mirror shows her facing a customer.” Strange indeed. What a hypnotic painting though….A good gallery visit wouldn’t be a good gallery visit without a bit of sex, and Van Dongen’s 1905 painting Torso, The Idol certainly gives us that. This is in fact the artist’s wife, and surely she is shown at a moment of post-coital abandon with her sexually charged posture and her flushed face. Did the artist pick up his brushes immediately after having sex? That would certainly seem to be suggested, and maybe she is just a bit embarrassed at being painted thus? An in-your-face picture that you can’t ignore.In contrast, one of Renoir’s last paintings Woman Tying Her Shoes seems very decorous indeed….One of my favourite paintings was this one – Bonnard’s the River Seine In Paris. The sky is so unusual and beautiful, and even the road in the foreground seems to reflect the overall mood. Now to a really disturbing painting one of several by Walter Sickert depicting presumably prostitutes in sleazy rooms in Camden Town. The suggestive bent leg and the prostitute’s gaze (one would think at a client at the end of the bed) convey raw sex. But the whole thing is very seedy and threatening. This reminded me that Patricia Cornwall in a recent book, the result of many years research, presented what many would say is compelling evidence that Sickert was Jack The Ripper. Indeed even more disturbing Sickert paintings show depictions of women being attacked: “One of them is tied up in a chair and being stabbed.” Another shows decapitated heads. When you see this painting, you can perhaps see where it leads. Astonishing.Max Pechstein’s Portrait of a Man has recently been shown to be of his patron an architect of the time. It all seems a little incongruous with him dressed very smartly for the Opera but in an avant-guard setting with its bright colours. Just love it.Getting even closer to modern times (it was getting near to closing) Lucien Freud’s Girl With Roses is regarded as one of his more important early paintings. Although he went on to marry Kitty, the painting aims to set us on edge with her wide eyes and the fact she is grasping a very prickly rose. Not so much love shown here.I had to include this last image of Polperro, 20 minutes drive for us. Painted in 1939 by an artist who had just fled from Prague and settled there, Kokoschka it perhaps shows his unease and includes allegorical details such as the large crab which he said represented disaster, and a woman mourning over a prostrate body. Very prophetic.Whilst staying with David and Jennifer we had a nice ramble through Acton Park, just over the road from them, and another look at the Mini-Golf course which is much the nicest we have ever seen, planted superbly with all kinds of things including mature olives and terrific water features. I really must do a five star review for them.The exercise area was pretty impressive too…On another day we took the bus out to the river and had a wonderful stroll from Hammersmith with its amazing bridge to Barnes which we really love with its village-like atmosphere……Some exceptional buildings along the way including this – part of the library of St Paul’s school….and a very good pub to finish – The Bull’s Head, famous for its jazz apparently and with its Bolan Room (Marc Bolan died in a car crash nearby….).Beautiful buildings on the river frontage in Barnes…they really are… Very near to David and Jennifer is Bedford Park which many say is the world’s first real garden suburb. We just knew it was full of nice houses, many obviously by the same architect. But we explored its history a bit and it is fascinating. Do read about it. Sir John Betjeman no less described Bedford Park “the most significant suburb built in the last century, probably in the western world”. Herman Muthesius, the celebrated German critic who wrote The English House in 1904 said, “It signifies neither more nor less than the starting point of the smaller modern house, which spread from there over the whole country.”And now to the real reason we came to London for this visit. We’ve done this before but we always like to take the tube to Wimbledon (not the nearest tube station) and walk up the hill to one of many places for a nice breakfast. We chose well this time, although you can’t go wrong. It is then not too much of a walk to the venue, and what a venue. We like to look at what is going on in the outside courts first, where you get really close to the action, and realise what incredible athletes these people are. And anyway everywhere is so pretty….. it really is my best sporting day out ever even, I would go so far as to say, the best day out ever.After picking up some lunch and a drink we made our way to our seats in Centre Court, towards the back this time but what a view…and on such a hot day we were glad to be in the shade…first up was Federer who won easily…what an elegant and brilliant player, a privilege to see him..Then it was Serena Williams, also in super form and winning fairly easily….she’s big, strong and athletic (and with a lovely personality – when not on Court!).It’s quite something to examine your fellow-spectators too, not all middle-class oiks by any means.Next up the masterful Nadal, what a trier he is. Jimmy Connors was one never to let a point go by without maximum effort, but Rafa excels even him. His efforts are super-human. Won in straight sets. maybe this was all a bit too straightforward. We saw the big names but not for long. However, we had an amazing bonus because transferred to our court now was the mixed doubles match featuring Jamie Murray and his new partner Victoria Azarenko.and the match was so tight and went on for so long that they had to close the roof and finish under lights…..a wonderful experience. How exciting was this….5-1 down in the final set and led by the brilliance of Azarenko the ‘British’ partnership drew level and won. Fantastic! The atmosphere was indeed electric, a cliche but in this case so true. We couldn’t have asked for more…..Federer, Williams, Nadal and a Murray victory.On our last day having a couple of hours before my train and F.’s plane we had lunch at the V&A. It never fails.How could you eat in more impressive surroundings?And we had time to fit in things we didn’t see last time round, including the sculpture gallery….You’ve just got to love this statue of the quack doctor Joshua Ward, maybe intended for a monument in Westminster Abbey (in the event this didn’t happen). Rather touchingly the V&A says ‘His hand gesture may indicate generosity, while his bulky figure suggest prosperity’. That’s certainly one way of putting it.Everywhere you get marvellous surprises like this striking portrait at the top of the stairs. I can’t for the life of me remember who this is, and I have searched the V&A archives to no avail….But the real eye-opener came when we visited the jewellery rooms. No wonder the V&A say this is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of jewellery in the world. Over 3,000 jewels tell the story of jewellery in Europe from ancient times to the present day. The displays use themes…and a historical timeline…here is Etruscan gold jewellery for instance…….not too dissimilar, you have to agree, from the Art Nouveau jewellery except that they are separated by 3000 years! The piece de resistance in the rooms is a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet, and a friend of Charles Dickens and later his literary executor. The stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum, mainly in a series of standardised gold settings, often of the coronet or galleried type. How absolutely staggering!But even the staircase to the upper level of the collections is amazing. You could spend hours in here……On the way out we peeped at the Cast Halls, closed for refurbishment, but worth a look over the balcony….…..and so to the long, long tunnel leading back to the Tube…I certainly did my 10,000 steps today….How lucky we are that our son and lovely daughter-in-law live in London. I wouldn’t like to, but I love what London has (including Jennifer and David!)……
Two night’s away for F’s birthday present and I chose Wells, England’s second smallest city (after only the City of London). We stayed at the Lord Leazes Hotel in Chard as this got extremely good write-ups. However it was strange driving on a convoluted route through a large housing estate and then down a short country lane to arrive there. As our room wasn’t ready we asked to leave our suitcase and were directed to our room. Bad mistake! With unmade bed and the detritus of someone else’s occupation it was a horrible experience, and I nearly sought out somewhere else. Anyhow off we went to Wells and our first impressions on walking from the car park into the centre were very favourable, with neat streets of old houses (above and below)……and a historic market place crammed with characterful buildings…The range of independent shops we had passed was impressive too…First stop for lunch was ASK which, as often with them, was in a lovely old building, in this case the former market hall also in the square. We used a couple of offers by virtue of the kind waitress booking us theoretically onto two separate tables…mine a glass of Aperol spritz which was delicious..the meal and service were great.Next to the Bishop’s Palace free with our HHA cards and the major reason for our visit. On entering through the imposing gatehouse……..the first you see is the moat which along with the battlements surround all fours sides of the groundsThe inner precinct is approached over a drawbridge. This is all a very impressive-looking assemblage of buildings. In the 14th century, Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury continued the building of the original palace and he had an uneasy relationship with the citizens of Wells, partly because of his imposition of taxes. Thus he surrounded his palace with the crenellated walls, moat and a drawbridge. None of this was built for serious defence as the walls are flimsy and the moat shallow. But it served its purpose. Inside a harmonious range of buildings. In this view the original palace on the left, the chapel, and the ruined wall of the banqueting hall. On close inspection, the hall built by Bishop Burnell as a splendid dining and entertaining hall, was built c.1290 alongside his chapel. Although only two walls and the four corner turrets survive, it is still one of the most impressive examples of a medieval open hall; its huge size reflects the power held by Bishop Burnell as a leading statesman of his time. It is the third largest secular hall in England after Canterbury and Westminster Palace. Built in the Early English Decorative style, elements of this can be seen in the remaining wonderfully large windows…….As part of our visit we did a grounds tour with a very knowledgeable guide, and here we are walking on a section of the ramparts…then proceeding through one of the many beautiful gardens…before getting to a point where there are spectacular views of the Cathedral itself….We then looked at the three wells or springs – in Anglo-Saxon, wella -, to which Wells owes both its name and its origins….they bubble up continuously at a point which is now within the gardens. The most northerly spring was held to be a holy well and was dedicated to St Andrew. The springs are a result of the geology of the surrounding area. When it rains, water runs off the Mendip Hills and disappears into a system of underground channels and rivers. When it reaches Wells the water hits a layer of mudstone and is forced up through clefts in the rock to form what are known as the springs. On average 4 million gallons of water flow from the springs every day.use of the springs is made in the community allotment gardens which are also within the precinct….What a wonderful spot for the citizens of Wells, the gardens are quite magnificent….Inside the chapel was quite as restful as the grounds…Built by Bishop Robert Burnell at around the same time as the adjoining Great Hall in the late-thirteenth century, the windows are surprisingly large for the period and the tracery in them is an exceptionally fine example of the Early English style. The roof bosses are of naturalistic foliage and bizarre animals painted in traditional medieval colours. The Chapel was restored by Bishop George Henry Law in the nineteenth century. In the windows he used fragments of French medieval glass from churches in the Rouen area, which were destroyed in the revolutionary era.The Bishop’s Palace dates from the early-thirteenth century when Bishop Jocelin Trotman, the first Bishop to hold the title Bishop of Bath and Wells, received a crown licence to build a residence and deer park on land to the south of the Cathedral of St Andrew, and inside there are lots of reminders of how it has developed through the centuries…This piece of wood carving presumably very recent is very good….and the dining hall atmosphericI enjoyed the pictures of past Bishops including the large one of Laud who was responsible for the splendid Canterbury Quadrangle at my old college St Johns….Unsure which arms these are…more research needed, but obviously could be William Piers Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1663……On the way back to Chard from Wells we pulled in for refreshments at The King’s Arms at a beautiful little village called Charlton Horethorne…vintage Jag sports car outside, not at all like the pesky Ford influenced ones now. We wished we were staying here…never mind……Next day first port of call was the NT’s Barrington Court It was a hot one. We were there to see the gardens mainly and the various rooms and borders were exceptional. It just made me want a herbaceous border of my own all the more. Must look into this.Built in c.1550 for William Clifton, a prosperous London merchant, Barrington Court is a typical early-Elizabethan E-plan house built of honey-coloured Ham stone. The original entrance façade to the south consists of two long projecting wings enclosing a forecourt and is topped with a riot of finials and spiral chimneys. Inside, apart from 2 overmantels, one of which depicts the Judgment of Solomon, little original decoration survives. In 1907, neglected and dilapidated, Barrington was the first country house to be acquired by the National Trust, although the Trust was unable to find the funds necessary for its repair. In 1920 it was let to Colonel A.A. Lyle, who restored the house and filled it with his fine collections of oak panelling and other interior fittings. Strode House (below), built in 1674, was originally a stable block. This grand, red brick building bears the initials of William Strode II, who was keen to display evidence of his wealth by housing his horses and carriages in style. It was remodelled and restored in the 1920s for the Lyle family’s use, and they added a connecting corridor from it to the Court. So there are two houses to explore as well as the gardens.Colonel Lyle (yes, of the sugar dynasty) really did have a passion for collecting historic woodwork and other architectural features, salvaged from houses that were neglected or abandoned. The items he saved included linenfold panneling, fireplaces and surrounds, and a staircase saved from a Scottish castle and installed in the east hall. Together with his architect, E.F. Forbes, Colonel Lyle put his collection to good use during the Court’s restoration between 1920 and 1925.It is very instructive to see the before and after pictures of the long gallery, showing it when it was used as a farm building in the 1920’s and then after restoration….what a great job Lyle and his architect did.Plenty of inspiring views from the house both to the wider world and internally….Walking through the fruit and veg garden on the way back it was obvious the gardeners believe in the magic French marigolds can do!Footpaths everywhere were different and well-maintained….The white garden……..Our next step was another NT property nearby Montacute House.…..We had a drink and something to eat in the rather nice pub at the end of the village and then admired the village of Monatcute itself. Built almost entirely of the local hamstone, from the 15th century until the beginning of the 20th century it formed the heart of the estate of the Phelips family of Montacute House. First built in the 12th century the church contains monuments to the Phelips family, of Montacute House. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to exploreMontacute House is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, the glow of the ham stone and its surrounding gardens, it is certainly a place of beauty and wonder. Sir Edward Phelips was the visionary force and money behind it, and it was completed in 1601. Built by skilled craftsman using local stone under the instruction of William Arnold, master mason, the house was a statement of wealth, ambition and showmanship. Sir Edward Phelips made his fortune as a lawyer, enjoying a successful political career after entering Parliament in 1584 and becoming speaker of the House of Commons from 1601-1611. Edward played a key role in one of the trials of the century, making the opening statement for the prosecution against the notorious Guy Fawkes and his fellow gunpowder plotters. The architecture is a mix of two styles, the traditional Gothic and the new fashionable Renaissance, with ideas and influences coming from the continent. The house was built on a grand scale with turrets, obelisks, shell niches, pavilions and walls of glass. On the east front stand the Nine Worthies, statues of biblical, classical and medieval figures, including Julius Caesar and King Arthur.Sir Edward takes pride of place as you would expect in the entrance hall……Family portraits line the walls …..This remarkable C17 plasterwork frieze panel in the Great Hall tells a story. On the left, a husband is being chastised by his wife for drinking while minding the baby. On the right, a (perhaps the) man is seen “riding the Skimmington”, being carried around the village on a pole while being mocked…………In 1787 the house was occupied by a later Edward Phelips, who gave it a face lift. Remarkably he took an ornamental façade from another local 16th century house, Clifton Maybank, and added it to the west front. It meant the layout of the house could be changed. On the ground floor, rooms were enlarged and fireplaces added. The first floor was transformed by the creation of a corridor; family and visitors could have privacy and their own door. Before this, family and visitors would have to go through each other’s rooms to get from one side of the house to the other. By 1895 Montacute House was being leased to tenants, the most notable being Lord Curzon, who took the lease from 1915 till his death in 1925. Two portraits, one of the Lord and another his mistress Elinor Glyn are touchingly together. The painting of Elinor is particularly powerful…..His personal bathroom in a cupboard is quite remarkable……Four years later, Gerard Almarus Phelips felt he had no alternative but to sell the house. It eventually made its way into the possession of the National Trust, but the house was virtually bare except for the Phelips family portraits and Lord Curzon’s bath. Much of the collection in place today came via a bequest from the industrialist Sir Malcolm Stewart, ‘…for the adornment of Montacute House in order that it may re-assume its former character.’ The Long Gallery extends the full length of the house. Measuring an amazing 172 feet from end to end, making it the longest surviving Elizabethan gallery in the country, and an amazing place to be. On a rainy day no trouble getting my 7000 steps in…… And in rooms off the Gallery there are lots of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, a great touch. Mind you most of them are by artists unknown or ‘after’ so the NPG not quite as generous as I thought first. If you’re interested in British History, there’s plenty to interest you….. and me. Here Thomas More (his hair shirt we have seen in Buckland Abbey).Here Jane Seymour, not exactly a beauty….’after Holbein’….and Katherine Parr…Here Sir William Butts ‘after Holbein’ and physician to Henry VIII. The original is in America and this is dated to Elizabeth’s reign, so it indicates an interest by Elizabethan patrons in early Tudor history…..And here Elizabeth ‘by an unknown artist’. Painted in the 1580’s this together with similar portraits copying early originals shows an increased demand for images of the Queen….It was discovered in a blackened state in 1890 built into the fireplace of a blacksmith’s cottage in Sussex. Astonishing!Essex ‘by an unknown artist’ shows him as the adventurer he was. Painted on English oak from the West Midlands…..and his co-conspirator the Earl of Southampton. they led a badly planned rebellion against Elizabeth. Both condemned to death, Southampton survived (he had been a favourite of Elizabeth).Here Sir Christopher Hatton (you’ve guessed it) ‘by an unknown artist’ . He became Lord Chancellor and was visited by the Queen on his deathbed. he is shown holding a cameo of the Queen.This portrait of James I is thought to have been presented to the builder of Montacute Sir Edward Phelips. By John de Critz.and his daughter Elizabeth for a very short while Queen of Bohemia…there is a special exhibition about ‘the Winter Queen’ in one room..
Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596-1662) was an extraordinary political and cultural figure in the networks of power that spanned seventeenth-century Europe. Born in Scotland, she was the goddaughter of Elizabeth I, sister of Charles I and grandmother of George I.
This special display in Room 4 exploring Elizabeth’s life and portraits has been developed by the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery, in partnership with the University of Bristol, as part of the National Trust’s year of events on ‘Women and Power’.
Strikingly beautiful and highly educated, at sixteen Elizabeth was married to a German count, Frederick, Elector Palatine. Ruling from Heidelberg, the Protestant couple were drawn into the religious wars that raged across Christian Europe when Frederick was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia. After little more than a year, they were expelled from Prague, the capital of Bohemia, and their German dominions by Catholic forces and forced to flee to The Netherlands where they settled in The Hague.
Elizabeth spent the rest of her life campaigning for the restitution of the German lands of the Palatinate, first to her husband, and then to her children. Hundreds of her letters survive, many written in code. Initially described in scorn as the ‘Winter Queen’ because her reign in Bohemia had lasted only a single winter, the term was adopted by her supporters as a sign of affectionate respect.
Elizabeth became a symbol of militant Protestantism in Europe whose supporters proclaimed allegiance to her as ‘Queen of Hearts’ and her descendants played a crucial role in the continuity of Protestant rule in Britain. Her grandson, the eldest son of her youngest daughter Sophia, was invited to take the British throne as George I after the Stuart line ended with the death of Queen Anne in 1714.
This display was inspired by the important early seventeenth-century bed associated with Elizabeth’s marriage that is on permanent display in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House. The ornate carved headboard includes the Royal Arms of James I, flanked by the Prince of Wales escutcheon and the arms of the Elector Palatine. Sir Edward Phelips, the builder of Montacute House, was closely associated with the Stuart royal family and paid for a masque written in celebration of Elizabeth’s marriage in 1613.
and her son, one of my favourites, the dashing and scholarly Prince Rupert…A portrait you’ll agree absolutely full of character ‘by an unknown artist’.Now this which I like also for its character is by Joshua Reynolds but in this case of an unknown sitter!Outside the weather was still sweltering…so off we went to Lyme Regis…it could well be called a genteel watering hole, and whereas I dislike gravel beaches, the pebbles on this beach are lovely although, as my research reveals, imported!some very quirky houses right on the front…and some nice looking pubs which I like to see……On our last day we decided to return to Wells as we had liked it so much and visit the Cathedral this time. We parked near Waitrose and had a lovely walk in again.It’s a pity we didn’t have time to visit St Cuthbert’s as it is often mistaken for the cathedral and a very impressive Grade I church….We visited the cathedral first for a general look around…and then for an hour’s guided tour. Here the famous West front of course…… and here the cloisters..and the unique scissor arches………. The scissor arches, which often visitors believe to be later, modern additions were constructed from 1338-48 as an engineering solution to a very real problem. By 1313 a high tower topped by a lead covered wooden spire had been constructed but as the foundations were not stable large cracks began to appear in the tower structure. In fear of a total collapse, several attempts at internal strengthening and buttressing were made, until the famous ‘scissor arches’ were put in place by master mason William Joy as a final solution.The Stations of The Cross around the nave were beautiful, but it seems very Catholic?
“The Stations of the Cross is a very old devotion; it may well originate in the desire of Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and be in the place where Jesus went to his death. Most Catholic churches nowadays will have ‘stations’ (the name means ‘stopping-places’), in the form of fourteen pictures or sculptures or engravings, or sometimes simple crosses, to allow Christians to pause (‘stop’) and enter reflectively into those last moments of Jesus’s journey of love, and to pray by imagining themselves in Jerusalem with him. Over the centuries the number and format of this devotion has changed a good deal, but it has had its present form since the 15th Century.”
Interesting monuments as you would expect….here Bishop Still..The Georgians in their desire to show ecstasy in the translation to Heaven often sculpted extremely sexy figures……dating from 1703 this figure is supposed to be Bishop Stiller’s mourning daughter looking up at urns containing her two dead parents, who were killed when a chimney stack collapsed on them….These well-worn steps are probably some of the most famous there are…often called the ‘sea of steps’…….They lead to the chapter house…an amazing piece of architecture…Intricate sculpture had developed considerably since the early Gothic period and the Chapter House is a triumph of the decorated style. Delicate ball-flower surrounds each window arch and the vault bosses have beautiful leaf designs. Seats round the outer walls give places to more than forty prebendaries or canons, to meet together and discuss the affairs of the cathedral……. Legal proceedings were also carried out from time to time. Each seat is marked with headstops under the canopies and in all the corners there are humorous and mischievous faces…..here one sticking out his tongue at the Dean’s place directly opposite….‘The Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral is one of the most splendid examples of 14th century stained glass in Europe. It dates from about 1340 and, considering its age, is still remarkably intact. Fortunately, the window has survived the vicissitudes of time and British history (narrowly escaping destruction during the English Civil War) and so what we see today is basically how medieval glaziers designed and created it and how our ancestors viewed it before us.’The Choir is as one might expect splendid….and we managed to squeeze in a brief look around the Library with its chained books..The tour guide we had was very knowledgeable about architecture, giving us an easily understandable explanation of the move in the cathedral from Gothic or ‘French Style’ through Decorated to Perpendicular. Great to have a good guide….now outside I was anxious to see Vicar’s Close. Vicars’ Close was built over 650 years ago to house the Vicars Choral and it has since been continuously inhabited by their successors. Vicars’ Close is unique; physically connected to Wells Cathedral and the most complete example of a medieval Close in the UK. It embodies an internationally renowned musical heritage. A privilege to see it…On the way back to the car we passed through a couple of streets filled with Georgian architecture….and by chance the memorial to Harry PatchThe inscription says it all…….Somerset is a very large county with a lot going for it, but we saw some of the very best during our visit…..