Thursday, 29 December 2011

Off to Bath

27 - 29 December 2011

In the days between Christmas and Caramel returning from Canada, I decided it made sense to make a trip out to Bath.

It was one of these places still on my list, despite visiting with the family more than a decade ago. This is  no doubt initially due to my love of Jane Austen but over the years was embellished and expanded by addition of the details provided in Georgette Heyer's Regency novels.

While London remains contemporary, the Bath I know is that of the Regency Period 1, 1800 - 1820, when Bath was the socially acceptable watering place where invalids and old ladies congregated, creating an insular little society second only to Almacks in London.

I knew about the Baths and the Assembly Rooms - Upper and Lower. The Royal Crescent and Laura Place. I now just wanted to see them for myself, remind myself what they looked like in order that I knew what to imaging when next reading those tales of Bath.

When we'd come with the family, I remember visiting the Jane Austen Museum and the Baths, but inexplicably, the image that stuck most in my mind was that of standing in the park by the river, the columns on one side, a bridge with buildings up ahead and the strange stepped waterfall in the river before us.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Day at Court - Hampton Court

10 October 2011

Hampton Court is one of those places you just have to include in a historical tour of London. 

It was built by Cardinal Wolsey, right hand man to King Henry VIII before being gifted to the King in 1528 in an unsuccessful bid to halt his downfall. This occurred the following year though Wolsey did not live much longer, dying in 1530 as Henry VIII began expanding Hampton Court to make it a suitable residence for his court. 

By the time Henry acquired Hampton Court, Wolsey had already undertaken extensive renovations. He wanted it to be a suitable show of his power and position, and also a place where he would be proud to entertain his King and foreign dignitaries. Wolsey added a new entrance courtyard, a long gallery overlooking new gardens and lined many of the rooms with fine tapestries acquired whilst on a diplomatic mission to France. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Writing your own history - Strawberry Hill

In a city like Perth where there isn't an extensive history of Western European culture it could be understandable that you may want to create your own; build up a family tree and ties to a place that would not otherwise exist.

In a city like London, this is unnecessary, and yet it is exactly what Horace Walpole did when he decided to establish an ancestral seat at Strawberry Hill in the leafy Twickenham.

Muntz, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, from the South, 1758

Intrigued by the remains of medieval castles, monasteries and the historic family seats of his friends, he decided to adapt a couple of attached houses and transform them into a Gothic-inspired masterpiece that would later serve as inspiration for his Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto. 

Saturday, 10 September 2011

A thoroughly modern home. (Homewood)

I have a reputation of liking old stuff.
Old houses, old fashions, old novels, old religions...

So when my photo albums from the UK show photos of The Homewood people get a little confused.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

London's Monument

I can't remember what inspired us. 
It may have been a desire to see a bird's eye view of London from something other than the London Eye. 
It may have been to find the contrasting view to that of London from the river. 

I don't remember why, but I do remember that Caramel decided she wanted to climb the Monument and I decided to tag along. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Modern _Art

I hate modern art.

I really do. I see no purpose or beauty in its presence. Too often its crude, unimaginative, untalented and unworthy of the controversy it provokes.

And yet a recent trip to the Tate Modern did wonders for my soul. I went with C, a beautiful soul who, though a little blonde, is always willing to learn, and unfortunately willing to believe anything seemingly intellectual that utters from my mouth.

We puttered. After all one really cannot leave the Tate off one's tourist list of places to go, and we had time to spare. Given our inclination towards modern art we did well. We examined the main floor, identified all the important artists and exchanged our personal thoughts on the pieces at hand.

What I also did was break each piece down symbolically, creatively, historically. As we wandered through I explained the artist's motive, the vision, the purpose of each piece. By now, C was used to it. She was used to her own private audio guide regardless of the palace or museum we entered. And so she absorbed every morsel that I fed her, nodding happily as I made each piece that little bit more accessible. All of the bullshit I mockingly spouted.
Not at her.  To her.

Strange thing, it took her several months to realise. For me to tell her again that I hadn't known what I was talking about. That I'd make it all up as I went along.

Her response: I'd made it all make sense. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Brighton Rocks

It being the middle of Summer, we decided a trip to the seaside was in order, and with half price tickets to Brighton, it seemed the place to go.

The Brighton Clock Tower, erected in 1888 and depicting the long dead Prince Consort. 

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Lost in the Long Grass

Waiting in Kensington gardens for a friend who was running late, I stumbled upon a stone marker in the ground covered on two sides with a strange series of letters and numbers.

Curious as to its presence but with nothing to indicate its function, I took a couple of pictures before forgetting about it completely.

That was until something similar popped up on an old Time Team episode and I remembered my photos and began to wonder whether what I had stumbled upon was an old parish boundary marker. It had been situated in the grass just off one of the main paths, in line with the boundary perimeter of the St Matthew Bayswater Parish within the larger, older Paddington Parish.

Were the numbers beneath each set of initials the date of the Parish's founding, the date of the definition of the boundary? Were they still representative of boundary lines or nostalgic remnants from bygone years?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Eltham Palace

Hidden on the outskirts of South-East London is Eltham Palace.

Once the abode of medieval kings and a childhood home of Henry VIII, it now contains little more than a snapshot of this history, the majority of its essence being devoted to the elegance of  the Art Deco designs
implemented whilst under the private ownership of the Courtaulds.

From the entrance gate, Eltham Palace looks like one of your normal historical private residences; it has the gate house, the winding driveway through picturesque gardens, a colonnaded entrance and several wings.

However as you cross the moat and turn into the forecourt it becomes apparent that one of the wings is unlike the rest of the building; its lower half is buttressed while the upper is pierced with the delicately decorated arch windows typical of medieval times. This is a building far older than its surrounds, a realisation that if you left yourself time to think would have you wondering what it was you had chosen to stumble upon. Of the main structure of the house, though decorated with the classical pillars, and the terracing and paned windows of a Georgian building, there is still something decidedly recent about it.

However it perhaps isn't until you step inside that you begin to realise why. The Entrance Hall / Living Room is the largest room in the house, filling the spherical triangle between the two wings.
By historical standards it is sparsely furnished, but each piece has been chosen specifically and set upon an original rug placed beneath the pricked central skylight. Flanking either side of the door through which you entered, are marquetry panels of Italy and Scandinavia, guarded by a corresponding depiction of a Roman Legionary and Viking.

Aside from the drawing room, which has been furnished in a somewhat Florentine Renaissance style with visible ceiling beams, ornate wood carvings and  stone alcoves, the remainder of the house has been furnished is a sumptuous Art Deco style befitting the wealth and social position of the Courtaulds. Many of the rooms have been panelled in warm woods and furnished in a minimalist but comfortable style, often inclusive of built-in furniture. 

Aside from the local map embossed into the panelling in Stephen Courtauld's library, perhaps the most impressive room is that of Virginia's bedroom suite. Carved out of a rectangular room, the bed rests against a semicircle of warm wooden panelling through which doors lead to her husband's suite, the wardrobe and a rather ornate bathroom. 

In the marble lined bathroom, Virginia's bath sits within a gold mosaic niche and comes complete with gold plated taps and lion's-head spout.

Surrounding that house is a strange composite of floral and kitchen gardens interspersed with Grecian columns, and the remnants of the medieval moat and bridge. At the front of the house this has retained the appearance of a moat. 

 But as you travel around the garden the moat ceases, and reappears as a lily pond before disappearing altogether to be replaced with a grassy park stretching under another bridge before continuing round to connect with the start of the original moat. 

Wandering through it in spring, the vibrant flowers and bright green grass eagerly take the place of the swirling waters of the moat providing a place for families to picnic and tourists of all ages to rest a while and enjoy the rarity of a bright spring day.

In the warm air the bumble bees clamour over the heads of lavender making the utmost of what little time they have. They are in a drunken frenzy, making it next to impossible to capture their beautiful antics on film.

Originally a Tudor Castle, the only surviving structure (aside from a few ruins in the garden) is the Great Hall, complete with minstrel's gallery and vaulted ceiling. 

And it is in the antechamber of this hall that the Courtauld's pet lemur Mah-jongg is depicted for prosperity.

Mah-jongg was a prominent member of the family, with a centrally heated cage upstairs and his own ladder leading downstairs into the flower room.

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