21 December, 2007

St Saviours Church Eltham - The concrete church

St Saviours Church appears in purple brick out of the sea of red brick council houses built in the 1930s by Woolwich Council. Built as one of the 25 new churches from by a special fund initiated by the Bishop of Southwark the building is a striking and fitting church with its foundation stone laid in 1932. Designed by N F Cachemaille-day, from the outside the small concrete windows look as though they would be more at home in a pavement, lighting up a basement and the sculpture in concrete of the Lamb of G*d and the large cross in brick make a statement that this is a modern and forward looking church. The tower of the church, unusually, forms the chancel, and the whole church has very little woodwork, which gives permanence and prevents fires. The font is made from a massive block of concrete with a bowl set into it and carving of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist with the words "this is my beloved son". It is set at the back of the church, not so good for modern practice although Mr Cachemaille-Day was part of the liturgical movement. The glory of the church is the reredos, in concrete, with a concrete sculpture of Jesus by someone called Donald Hastings (who also did the font) who hasn't yet made it to the web.

I hope the congregation appreciates their beautiful church and their pleasant and helpful Priest in Charge, who was kind enough to show me round on a Saturday morning.

10 December, 2007

Manchester Animals

Another trip to Manchester, the centre of the universe. Problems Problems. The first was that Virgin Trains were all delayed (as usual - I think they find it cheaper not to run early trains on Sundays so they don't). The second was I decided not to stay at my usual hotel and instead booked into the Jarvis, currently in the throes of refurbishment. The hotel did have some attractions, such as the flooded bathroom. The couple in the next room also provided amusement and instruction by alternately shagging extremely loudly and discussing the next session. I could almost hear every grunt, groan and word by the judicious application of a glass pressed to the wall. I had a modest evening out but the 'gay village' that the council enthusiastically promotes is more like the deserted village and a pub called the Rembrandt had so few people in it it was more like the Remnant. A secret bar was as good as usual but I was in my bed by half past ten. The next day dawned bright and sunny and after breakfast in the hotel, where my coffee was removed before I had a chance to drink it and my toast never arrived, I went out to take some pictures. I took a picture of the former Technical High School and the Sackville Gardens next door, purchased in 1900 for more than £20000 as a supreme act of municipal folly. This would be £4m today and I would doubt that the site is worth that. The gargoyles appear on the court building, and are not traditional waterspout gargoyles. I can only assume that these are present in order to keep the pigeons off the court, pigeons being the favoured diet of gargoyles. The lion is from the former fire station cum police station down by Piccadilly Station.

On the way back I called at the five towns and wandered through Stoke on Trent up to Etruria and Hanley. The five towns really merge into one and are collectively known as the Potteries, this being an area where pots are made . Hanley streets are named after London streets with a Picadilly and a Pall Mall. Nothing to see there so no pictures alas.

03 December, 2007

10 Miles from London Bridge - Penge and Beckenham

A visit to Penge and Beckenham on a fine winters morning.
The best thing about Penge is the Watermen's almshouses, private as are all these places so no opportunity to get good pictures, but quite an extensive complex. The library has a rather good ironwork sign outside it on top of an old lamp post. It shows a woman reading a book standing near a book case (see picture). Penge shopping centre is rather dreary with nothing much there. A short bus ride away is Beckenham, with the Church of St George standing in proud isolation on Beckenham Green. Beckenham Green is the result of V2 rockets during the second world war and has been left as a much needed open space in this land of dormitory suburbs. The church (Victorian) was proudly flying the flag of its saint and was open when I called. The bombing at Beckenham Green had taken out the former windows which have since been filled with modern stained glass including some that looks like a celebration of technology, with pictures of calculators etc. Very striking. The older windows on the other side were typical representational stained glass of the period of the church. Some antiquities from a 13th century church on the site had been preserved including a piscina. There was a funeral bier in the church stencilled 'Beckenham'.

The font was in the Liturgical North Transept, a good move as it allows many more people to see the baptism which of course is a public ceremony.

The Lych Gate was 13th century and is thought to be the oldest in London. It has had the tiles replaced 3 times and the timbers replaced 5 times. Restored in the 1920s according to a plaque on it the timbers looked extremely new.
The village sign is usual to all villages in Bromley Borough and Beckenham has one, bearing the coat of arms of the former Beckenham Borough.
Beckenham is ten miles and 2 furlongs to London Bridge as marked by a stone on Beckenham Green.
The afternoon was not so nice as the morning and I went home via Chislehurst which was pleasant and very villagey.

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25 November, 2007


A few hours in Northampton seeing the delights of the Greyfriars Bus Station, the market square and the Grosvenor centre.

This picture shows All Saints Church

The next picture shows St John's Church and hall from the 15th Century, which have been converted into a restaurant and so taken off the Buildings at risk register.

19 November, 2007

Everybody's doing it....

So I will too! Every other London Blog has covered the new St Pancras Station, so here's my take on it.
Its got a few reactionary representational statues, including one that wouldn't be out of place in an estate 'gift shop'
It's Blue
It's full of retail outlets (shops and pubs to you and me)
It's got one or two trains as well.
It's a shopping centre with trains- get over it!

11 November, 2007

A weekend in Lincolnshire: Lincoln, Woodhall Spa, Horncastle and an old moated house

The ancient city of Lindum (now known as Lincoln).

Under constant surveillance by video camera I strolled this ancient city set on a hill, with a castle, a cathedral minster dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and a very steep hill called Steep Hill. Lincoln is an old Roman town which came into its own in maedieaval times.

I walked up the hill to the newport gate, calling in at a rather primitive public lavatory, possibly maedieaval, admiring the buildings and the rather excessively expensive bookshops. The books I did buy came from charity shops, rather good value too. Steep Hill also has the Jews House and the next door Jews court. These are romanesque buildings from the twelfth century and was home to some members of the Jewish congregation in Lincoln. Like many maedieval towns Lincoln murdered some of its jews after one of them confessed under torture that jews crucified a christian child every year. I'm not sure who was more stupid - the jew for telling such an appalling lie thing or the torturers for believing him. Eighteen jews of Lincoln were put to death in the Tower of London. Barbarous cruelty and ignorance in Merrie England. The jews house now contains a bookshop and the head quarters of the Lincolnshire local history society.

The Tourist Information Office, Leigh Pemberton house is named after the chairman of the National Westminster Bank who presented the old house to Lincoln. Here as a carved figure on the cornerpost.

The Lincoln town hall is a maedieval gate house called the Stonebow.

The Romanesque cathedral was rebuilt and extended, although some of the romanesque arches are present in the Bell tower and the bellringers chapel. I looked round the Cathedral and saw the tiny Lincoln Imp. I also went on the roof tour up above the vaulting and under the lead, although I did go out onto the leads. The roof is just held on by its own weight. It's pretty heavy though...

There are some Duncan Grant murals in one of the cathedral chapels.

After this there was time to kill before Evensong and, as Lincoln suffers from the provincial disease that no-one is hungry between half past two and six I had to go into a pub and drink beer while waiting for Browns Pie Restaurant to open. I had a pie which wasn't a proper pie but a casserole with crust and felt rather cheated. It were a good casserole but it warn't a pie.

Evensong on Friday for The feast of Margery Kempe - the patron saint of this blog - (look her up) and a celebration of a golden wedding of a couple who were married in 1947. I was a little late after my pie and didn't get to sing the opening hymn, but we had a creed, even though it was not printed in the service booklet. I refuse to face east for a creed if that is not the way I am facing. An omnipresent Lord does not require a particular orientation. The setting was by Batten and Tallis and the choir was for mens and boys voices. I was carrying (a lot of) photographic equipment for a completely different purpose, and someone asked me not to take pictures during the service. I assured them that that was not my intention.

After Evensong I walked around the darkling city. I should have set up my tripod to take pictures of the floodlit cathedral but wasn't inclined to do so, and probably could not have done so with the lack of light. I found a Wetherspoons 'The Ritz' and had their tasting ales, being diddled out of a penny by the barmaid. It must mount up over an evening, but I can't think it does the pub any good. I met up with Mark, Ken and Colin at the station and travelled by train and taxi to an old mellow brick moated manor house from the 15th century, with drinks in front of a roaring fire in the 'drawing room, and then to bed.

Woodhall Spa

Woodhall Spa was developed as a spa in the 19th century after unsuccessful coal prospecting. The empty mineshaft filled up with water rich in iodine and bromine which was found useful for the cure of rheumatism and lots of other diseases according to the British Spas Federation handbook of the 1920s.
The pump room is now derelict and almost ruinous but the small kinema in the wood and the tea house are still operational and serving the needs of visitors and residents.

There is a prefabricated bungalow that serves as the spa museum, although it was closed when we called.

The British Spas Federation in its 1920s handbook regarded Woodhall as a restful spa, suitable for those who needed a rest. The spa specialised in diseases of the rich until the National Health Service made spa treatment available to all, until it went out of fashion.


Bricky market town with quite a lot of antique and secondhand bookshops. There is a stone built church with a squat tower topped by a spire. We had dinner in the Admiral Rodney Best Western Hotel, and good value it was too. and then had a look around the antique shops. I didn't buy anything as there was nothing I fancied, but it was quite a pleasant afternoon.

I stayed at a Grade I-listed moated manor house with five bedrooms, three staircases and a great hall, set in one and a half acres. Arthur Mee mentions it in his Kings England guide to Lincolnshire and the Telegraph has an article about it when it was for sale, which tells of its "Numerous architectural treats, including three feet thick walls, quoins and stone mullion windows." This is quite true.

Kirkstead Abbey and St Leonards church

I also visited the 13th century church of St Leonard,

which is situated near to Kirkstead abbey. Kirkstead was a large and imposing abbey that rebelled against the dissolution and the principal churchmen were executed for treason and the abbey demolished. All that remains is a corner of the transcept. A reminder not to defy the King. Ozymandias comes to mind in this corner.

29 October, 2007

Manchester: where I fear for my life!

Yet another visit to Manchester. I had to go there for a conference but didn't have much time for pleasure while there.

If you're familiar with the band 'The Hidden Cameras', you'll be aware of the lyrics to High on the Church Grounds http://www.thehiddencameras.com/lyrics/L-high.jpg. Certainly the cathedral grounds are being described well by this. The actual cathedral has some nice modern stained glass but photographs are not permitted except with written permission of the dean and chapter and any photographs taken remain their property. I'm not sure they can do that - if the photos were not their property in the first place how can they remain their property?

Back to the cathedral grounds, debauched students and others congregate to deal drugs (although maybe not the other thing) in broad daylight. Even allowing for the fact that they are possibly music students from the nearby Cheethams School of Music, they tend to look excessively debauched, looking at my pictures of student days I'm not sure that the students of my generation were as debauched. Fewer seem to be smoking or have the malnourished look that only excessive drinking can promote. They were smoking and drinking like it was going out of fashion: if anything here ever had been in fashion that is.

I suppose London is just as bad but at least the drug dealing in London is well out of sight.

It's one of the few places where I haven't felt safe.

The picture shows the Manchester Daily Express Building in Gt Ancoats Street

21 October, 2007


The volunteer steward of the museum was bored to death, so when I went in to the museum she thought I must be there for some ulterior motive than to look round. I seriously wonder how many museum visitors are 40 year old (but look younger) males. There are probably government stats somewhere and I just can't be bothered to look for them. Still, it made a change from cat sitting. Nice as Fluffy is, his conversation leaves a lot to be desired.

So I went to Ware, a place I visited on my New River path but only briefly. Ware is a town that once was a coaching stage and its main claim to fame is the gazebos overlooking the river. There are about six or seven of these and they are the remnants of coaching inns. These gazebos were provided for customers to have tea in, away from the bars.

The church is large and partially covered in scaffolding. A wedding was in progress when I called so could not legitimately go in, and by the time the wedding had finished the church was locked up again. I heard eight bells ringing from the steeple. The priory is now a conference centre and its grounds make up a public riverside park. A wedding fayre was in progress. I wonder what the market would be for a non marriage wedding? So many people (girls mostly) want a wedding - the church ceremony, the posh frock, probably white, the enormous party, the cake (I'd just want the cake) and to have this without the inconvenience of getting lumbered with an underwhelming male companion. Perhaps I should explore the market? The non marriage wedding. Now there's a thought!

This picture shows the former bluecoat school, now a public hall.

Ware suffers from the provincial disease: people only are hungry between 1200 and 1430. I have written against this elswhere on the blog but Ware seemed particularly inhospitable on this point. I did not want a kebab, I did not want a pizza but these were the only two options at three o'clock. I have also written about local shops for local people. Will strangers come? No they blooming well won't if they're all as bad as the ones in Ware. Alexi Sayle has always said 'Local' is another word for 'crap'! And it's true. No local shop could sell me a pie, so I went to Tescos for a pie and a bottle of (posh) lemonade. If you're going there, beware.

04 October, 2007

The Chapel Royal, St James Palace.

The Chapel Royal is actually not a place but the college of chaplains, officers and choristers who serve the Royal Household.

I was privileged to go yesterday to the installation of the new Sub-Dean of the Chapel Royal, by the Dean, at the chapel in St James's Palace. The Dean is the Bishop of London The Rt Rev'd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres DD. The Sub Dean also takes the office of sub almoner and Clerk of the Closet which are offices relating to charitable and personal work for the sovereign, and both the offices are held by bishops i.e almoner and keeper of the closet.

The Bishop preached on thankfulness and stated that being Christian always means we have someone to thank for the new day. He's obviously been reading his Chesterton, or perhaps doing a York Course. The new Sub Dean replied that he always tried to love his congregation. With my personal knowledge he will excel in that. There could really be no better person for the job, although of course he will never admit it.

Music for the service by Byrd with an introit by the current composer to the chapel. We had some good hymns mostly relating to love which the congregation and choir sang in a very uplifting manner.

After the installation there was a reception in the palace for the guests. Truly memorable.

20 September, 2007

A visit to the Chilterns

A trip out to see the West Wycombe, the Hellfire Caves and the Dashwood Mausoleum.
Arthur Mee calls West Wycombe unmissable. The whole village was purchased and preserved by the Royal Society of Arts, but they must have run out of money as they subsequently gave it to the National Trust after five years. The gem of the village is the church loft with its 15th Century beams. The village church (St Paul’s) is a red brick Victorian hall with a small apse, no doubt considered a mercy to the National Trust’s tenants, who no longer have to climb a very steep hill to get to the other church in the village.

The Hellfire caves were, in the romantic imagination anyway, used by members of the Hellfire club (half the ruling classes of England at that time) for satanic rituals. The very boring truth is that they were chalk workings for a road building scheme to relieve unemployment amongst agricultural labourers, although I dare say if you were an 18th Century unemployed agricultural labourer your boredom threshold digging out chalk for a shilling a day would be rather higher.

The Hellfire club really did exist, and they did hold dinner parties in the caves, including one spectacular one called the Banqueting chamber. After dinner the senior members of the club would cross an artificial river called the styx and go to the inner temple where they would have a thoroughly good time with the good time girls they had brought with them. So don’t believe the devil worship legends unless you want to include half the then cabinet in satanic practices. In spite of my railing against the enlightenment, they might have been G*dless wretches but they weren’t satanists.
After the caves it was time to wander up the steep hill to the Dashwood Mausoleum and church of St Lawrence(?). The hexagonal mausoleum, open to the sky contains the last resting place of the Dashwood family, containing memorials in a fine setting, although always locked.

The church was also locked up, but I saw its tower with golden ball on the top. 6 people can sit in the golden ball, or could before vandalism prevented it. The church looks to be worth another visit when I shall wear climbing boots.

All the time I was in West Wycombe it was raining. If I’d wanted sunshine, perhaps I should have stayed at home as home looked pretty fine.

Don’t trust the tourist information centre in High Wycombe. They gave me the correct bus to catch to West Wycombe but not the correct stop. I caught the bus from the Bus station with seconds to spare.

High Wycombe is famous for chair making, and they have a chair making museum. I didn’t see it though but it might be worthwhile seeing it next time.

On the way out the train was crowded and a woman said “I don’t care, I’m going into First and they can charge me if they like.” I didn’t like to say that there was no first class on the Chiltern line.

I ended the day with dinner in the Chiltern Court Restaurant in Baker Street station. This is the opulent setting where Sir John Betjeman began his excursion into ‘Metroland’. Now a JD Wetherspoon pub.

19 September, 2007

Silkingrad, Knebworth and Hatfield.

Stevenage, the first one of our new towns was founded in 1946 by the Minister of Town and Country Planning, Lewis Silkin in the face of considerable local opposition. Hence the original locals called it Silkingrad. Silkin had the last laugh however as his face lives for evermore on the iconic clock tower monument to the town’s progress.
A small village on the Great North Road the locals relied on highway robbery(strikethrough) meeting the needs of travellers for their living, until the coming of the railways in the shape of the Great Northern put a stop to that. The people went back to the land. Now the place is buzzing with industry, prosperity and more shops than you can shake a stick at. It has worn quite well in its 61 years.

The town museum is housed in the basement of the striking church of St George Stevenage, and shows the development from the 1980s to earliest times in that order which struck me as bizarre. Perhaps I just went round the wrong way so if you go ask the girl at the desk.

The museum can show you a Central Office of Information film “Charlie in the New Town” which is a cartoon where the eponymous hero (always wanted to use that word) recounts his former life and contrasts it with his new life as he cycles to work. It really made me want to move there. I might make it Harlow though.

I find it slightly bizarre that Stevenage advertises that no nuclear weapons are in the town. I should hope these are well out of the way in an airfield or submarine somewhere...

If you don’t go to rock concerts, Knebworth may not be on your agenda, or it might be a station you never stop at on a GNER™ train. I did not go to Lord Lytton’s tudor mansion, Knebworth House, but instead went to look at the church originally designed by Lutyens and opened in 1915 before completion. It then took the congregation 50 years to complete the church and by that time the costs had spiralled and they had to abandon the remaining parts of Lutyens design. There’s a guide book in the church that tells you about it. The church has two pulpits, although I suppose one is a reading desk, and I got the impression of rival preachers each declaiming from one of them to a bemused congregation.

There is a super organ in the church with its pipes arranged in two spirals, and the whole church is a simple and dignified setting for worship.

Hatfield station dumps you outside the gates to Hatfield House, home of the Cecils, the Marquesses of Salisbury. The Third Marquess is immortalised in Bronze to greet you at his gates. The admission to the grounds only rather put me off going in, and I could not see in St Ethelreda’s church, although I saw the iron gates that had been forged in Sussex using wooden fires, well before coal.

The Bishop of Ely had a palace here and its beautiful mellow brick lies beyond the stone church. Now the see is St Albans and the Bishop of Ely has left his palace to the Cecils.

Hatfield as new town however is scruffy. There was broken glass in the windows of shops that are still trading. There is a dowdy new town pub (these were to a standard plan and run by the government) however another pub had a lovely inn sculpture of an aircraft in flight.

I didn’t spend long in the new town.

17 September, 2007

Manchester and Macclesfield

A trip to Manchester which was as uneventful as these things always are, with a call on the way back at Macclesfield.

Macclesfield is up the hill from its railway station and a fairly steep climb it is too. A helpful map gave information about the surrounding areas but alas, Macclesfield itself is no great shakes. It was once a silk weaving town like Braintree, and like Braintree has a silk museum. Unlike Braintree it is housed in the former post office. Not really into silk so I didn’t visit.
The library is nicely housed in an old bank, very richly marbled.
“Bankers live in marbled halls
Because they encourage deposits and discourage withdrawals”.

There is a stump of a market cross in the market square and a classical town hall with two magnificent porticos. Arthur Mee regards the church as being particularly fine but as it was locked up I could not see the sedan chair that a lady had left in there 300 years ago (presumably on purpose). Nor could I see the vista of arches and the fine hammer beam roof. But I saw the outside through the rain.
Arthur Mee also tells of the Macclesfield boy who nearly killed the man who went on to father Queen Victoria, a rather extraordinary claim to fame that other towns might pass up. Although there was no plaque saying that he was born half way up a wall.

London Open House

Weekend long architecturefest. The top picture shows WillageLondon, some tube trains recycled into studio space for artists. The second picture shows the Queen Anne House in Grange Walk, Bermondsey. This house had been a pottery for many years leaving it virtually unaltered and a fine specimen of the style in architecture.

The third picture shows the oldest houses in Bermondsey.
I also visited the Hoxton Hall, the Geffrey Museum Almshouse and Lloyds of London.

13 September, 2007

St Albans

A visit to St Albans Abbey and Cathedral. St Albans is another romanesque abbey building, however some of the romanesque arcades fell down and was replaced by decorated gothic arcading. There are some fine wall paintings.

There has only been a cathedral here since the 19th century, as the diocese is of the modern foundation.

Evensong had another psalm calling for deliverance from enemies.

11 September, 2007

From Norwich it's the quiz of the week

Ignoring what NORWICH means at the foot of a letter* I had a day in Norwich today.

The title of this post refers to the Sale of the Century, a weekly 1970s quizfest from Anglia Television starring Nicholas Parsons and one of the few things they actually produced. Perhaps that's why the are still in business and other ITV stations like Southern and Meridian have folded.

I visited Norwich on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center [sic] and the Pentagon. Funnily enough six years ago I was in another Cathedral city, Salisbury, when the first news of these despicable acts by muslims came through.

Like Peterborough, Norwich Cathedral (the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity) is Romanesque but has some Gothic bits. One way to access the cathedral is through the Erpingham gate, which reminded me of Joe Orton's play 'The Erpingham Camp' concerning a holiday camp that's more like a prison camp.

The cathedral guide is more of a directed meditation than a guide book and doesn't give a lot away. There is a copper font, which was once a vessel used for making chocolate, now it gives new birth to Christians. The Bishop's throne (cathedra) in Norwich is behind the main holy table, where it would have been since the middle ages. It is a modern throne in oak and is set above what would have been a reliquary in pre reformation days, so that the influence of the relic would permeate the bishop. This is the sort of superstition the reformers had to contend with, and if they were a little over zealous at times, for example Thomas Cromwell's staff smashing stained Glass windows, the sentiments were good.

Edith Cavell seems to be following me around this week. She is buried in Norwich, and there is a sculpture of her near the Cathedral.

I went to find the Stranger's Hall, but this was surrounded by scaffolding so I couldn't take a picture. It was also shut. I didn't go into any museum or cultural attraction with the exception of the library. Many of Norwich's 52 churches were closed, but I went into one that had a Transport and General Workers Union banner for Norwich Busmen. Not sure whose church this was.

I didn't see the cell of Julian of Norwich. Julian of Norwich was a female anchorite who wrote of Jesus as 'she'. An early feminist.

This next picture shows Norwich market

After some aimless wandering round Norwich, including the bits they don't show the tourists, I went to Evensong in the cathedral. One of the psalms was 59, 'Deliver me from my enemies O my G*d,
Defend me from them who rise up against me'. This is quite a hard hitting psalm and seemed rather incongrous being warbled by a men and girls choir - Would have been better as a football chant.

*Nickers off ready when I come home. (Since you ask.)

10 September, 2007

A visit to Ealing and Kensington

I visited Ealing in the hope of going to Pitshanger Manor (see picture) but it was closed. Nevertheless, the Church of Christ the Saviour,Ealing was open. The church was deigned by Sir Gilbert Scott and later decorated in true Anglo Catholic style by the architect of Westminster RC Cathedral, G F Bodley. All the windows were blown out by a bomb during the second world war and replaced although a few fragments were incorporated when reglazed.

After this I went down to the Portobello Road, but it was not market day and most of the antique shops were closed, but the shops that were open were pretty rubbish, more souvenirs for tourists than serious antiques. Maybe won't visit again.

I then went to St Mary Abbots in Kensington, a chrch that was built in Victorian Gothic Style by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who estimated £35000 as the cost although it turned out to be £50000, Architects, eh!

It's a big parish church as befits a church with Kensington Palace in its parish and royal connections. Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Louise, carved one of the monuments.

09 September, 2007

Twentieth Century churches of South London

A circular tour round some of the twentieth century churches south of the Thames.
Some were traditional in shape and others more radical. The best was St John's Peckham in Meeting House Lane. A truly beautiful church and dramatic setting for services.

The picture shows SS Philip and Mark, Avondale Square on a City Corporation Housing Estate on the Old Kent Road. Built in 1963 there are beautiful ceiling paintings although when I called after the service the incense was choking.

This is St John's Peckham, a very beautiful 20th Century church

This is St Katherines Eugenia Road

This is St Lukes Camberwell

08 September, 2007


Peterborough, St Peter’s town is an ancient city and designated new town on the Cambridgeshire - Nothants borders. I visited as part of my Cathedral Cities tour 2007. Starting out from Kings Cross I wondered if my day return would be valid on a GNER train, but I was fine, it was. I had a trip to Bretton to see the typically new town style suburb of Bretton and to see a library sale, which was rubbish. On the way back I got off the bus in a little village called Longthorpe. This had thatched cottages galore and a little church of St Botolph that had been built in the 13th Century and extended in the 20th. A pleasant little church. There was an English HeritageTM tower in the village also, which was only open to pre booked groups. It has, allegedly, the finest medieval domestic wall paintings in the country.

Back to town to explore, visiting the Co√∂perative Department Store and the beautiful Romanesque cathedral, stopping on the way to take a picture of the guildhall with butter market beneath. The Cathedral Church of St Peter (Peterborough – geddit?) and St Andrew was shrouded in scaffolding so I couldn’t see the fine West front of the 11th Century (the most magnificent portico in Europe allegedly). I could see the very fine painted ceilings, and it was worth going into the Cathedral for those. The paintings are not a Victorian painting like at Waltham Abbey but the genuine medieval article. The Sanctuary was entirely closed to the public but had Victorian mosaic work and a marble altar, although with a liturgically correct Holy Table in front of it (altarwise). Katherine of Aragon is buried here, as was Mary Queen of Scots who was dug up and reburied in Westminster Abbey. The Cathedral was very beautiful and worth a visit.

The Benedictine monks did not like the townspeople using the Cathedral, so the civic church of Peterborough is the Parish Church behind the butter market in a dip in the ground. Strangely this church wasn’t open so I couldn’t see in to it, but it looked big. The picture shows the Buttermarket.

I also visited St Mark’s Church which was in the Victorian gothic style having been built in 1855. There’s not much to say about this church, which was an averagely pleasant church with some workmanlike stained glass in the windows. I had a cup of coffee and a cake there at teatime, and good value it was too!

Edith Cavell was educated in Peterborough. She was later shot at dawn in 1915 during the first world war as she had assisted British and allied prisoners to escape.

I also visited the haunted Peterborough museum and allowed myself to be talked into going on the guided tour with the “visitor support officer”. I could have been round that museum in half an hour; the guided tour took two, although we did see the basement storage and the lab. The museum was an old town house that had been the Peterborough infirmary and there was evidence of that within the building, including slippery anti slip protection on the staircase and the site of a hoist used to lift immobile patients to the operating theatre.

The collection covers the story of Peterborough from earliest times to the present. Of the highlights there is a dinosaur discovered by one of the museum staff, the remains of a stone age murder, a bronze age sword, a Roman communion set, medieval stuff, some nineteenth century Prisoner of War art made with bone and a 1950s cooker. There’s a lot more than that of course and the Visitor Services Officer was a good guide, pointing out things that were particularly relevant and illustrating the building’s history. The lab was the old operating theatre from hospital days, and it was just about exactly as it was left.

The museums ghosts are numerous and include little girls, first world war veterans and a former scullion from the time when the museum was a grand town house. Most interesting. By then it was time to return home.

28 August, 2007

Consumer survey

Many thanks to all three of you who voted. 100% of you read the blog every week.

21 August, 2007

Newcastle Upon Tyne - It always rains on Sunday

A visit to Newcastle on a wet Sunday and fine and dry Monday. The last time I visited Newcastle it was raining too. In fact staying in the newly trendy Quayside involves some extremely steep steps (as Newcastle isn't UPon Tyne for nothing) and these steps were turned into a water cascade last time, even though it wasn't as bad as that this time. Newcastle is a mostly stone built georgian city, although J Poulson and T Dan Smith corruptly redeveloped the city in the 1960s giving it the concrete jungle look as shown in Picture 3.

The first picture shows Bessie Surtees's House which is a Jacobean dwelling on the Quayside near the town hall. Bessie Surtees lived here and eloped with John Scott who was to become Lord Chancellor of England and first Earl of Eldon. The second picture shows the bottom of Grey Street, which I regard as an iconic view of Newcastle. Newcastle is picturesque in a sublime way but not particularly photogenic. The view shows the mighty railway bridge at the Scotland end of the Central Station crossing the street at high level. Sublime!
The third picture shows Holy Jesus Hospital, which began life as an alms house - a "Hospital for poor people by the expense of the citizens and leaders of Newcastle upon Tyne in the year of salvation 1683. Built by Timothy Robson, Mayor, John Squire Sheriff. Faith Hope and Charity, and the greatest of these is Charity." The building housed the Central Soup Kitchen, as shown by the plaque in the picture in the 19th Century and a museum (that was always closed) until 1994 when it was transferred to Newcastle Discovery. Now it is used by the National Trust on lease from the Newcastle Council.

I couldn't get away from Newcastle without a picture of the Tyne Bridge, opened by King George V with Queen Mary in the 1930s, so that's at Picture 4.

Newcastle is also a diocese of the modern foundation, a breakaway from Durham in 1882, with the Cathedral of St Nicholas. I thought I might attend evensong there on Sunday night after hearing the church bells ringing at quarter past five. I was hungry and going to eat (see below) but the service was at six and I couldn't wait that long. On the Monday morning I was out at 7:30 (hungry again) and the morning service was at 8:30 so I missed the service again. Frustrated in the Cathedral.
You can see the cathedral tower in the background of this picture of the new castle.

I should always remember that in the provinces people only get hungry between 12 and 3 and not at all on Sunday evenings. When I arrived in Newcastle I wasn't hungry but was at about 5 o'clock. No pub was serving food (or had any left - which is another way of saying the same thing) so had to go to an Indian restaurant, and even there they said the special wasn't available until six. As it was ten minutes to I said "it's nearly six, so that's what I'll have please". I think i was lucky to get it. I have to say that if I did leave London, eating by the clock is the thing that would irritate me intensely.

18 August, 2007

Places where they sing: Churches and chapels around Chelsea and Victoria.

What started out as a mosey round the City to take pictures of Unilever House, the Blackfriars pub and the Daily Express building turned suddenly (I don’t know how) into a march round the churches of Chelsea and Pimlico. After taking the pictures I wanted to take I set off (via Kings Cross – where I took some pictures of Levita House) for Sloane Square, with the intention of walking down the Kings Road and back up the embankment and other streets, to Victoria, taking some pictures all the way.

Update - Levita House, named after the then chairman of the LCC housing Committee has now been featured as the Twentieth Century Society's Building of the Month for September. http://www.c20society.org.uk/docs/building/0907_ossulston/oss_text.html. Remember you read it here first...

I saw the Church of Scotland Church of St Columba at the end of Pont Street that was the scene of Sapphire’s wedding in AbFab. I’m not totally ignorant of modern cultural references….

My first port of call was the “Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement” Holy Trinity Sloane Street. A church where the sanctuary was alarmed, but the nave was calm and composed. The church was full of Tractarian chairs and the windows were full of William Morris glass to designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the east window being filled with beautiful portraits of saints in glass, a most striking effect. The other windows were in those very strange arts and crafts colours that seem dull and glowing at the same time. The effect is pleasing. Leaving the church I went past the Peter Jones Department Store, an essay in modernism, and walked down the Kings Road, named thus as it was a means for the King to get from London to Hampton Court in the days when this journey was not nearly so easy as it is today.

I would have called into St Luke’s Church but a wedding was either awaited or departing so I did not go in. I didn’t take a photograph either although it would have looked good with the vested clergyperson in front – a reminder of the proper purpose of a church.

Continuing down the King’s Road I went down to the river via Beaufort Street, having had a glimpse into the grounds of the Moravian Church, a dignified protestant denomination who now inhabit Thomas More’s garden.

Beaufort Street has the original Chelsea Council Flats of 1904, all named after dukes. At the end of the street is Crosby Hall.

Crosby Hall has recently been restored, but was transferred to the Embankment in 1910 after standing since 1446 in Bishopsgate. Previously a club for women graduates, it is rumoured that the Crown was offered to Richard III under its roof. Now it appears to be in private hands again, having, since King Richard’s time been a prison, a meeting house, a warehouse, a concert hall and a restaurant.

Next to Crosby Hall is Chelsea Old Church, which was destroyed by bombing in the second world war but was rebuilt. A fine church that saved its chained library and some of its old glass, and these are now within the building. There are decadent sculptures of naked women on the embankment near the church.

Leaving the embankment and walking past Gordon Ramsey™’s restaurant I came to Christ church. Consecrated in 1839 it was built cheaply for £4000, (St Luke’s, built in 1824, cost £40000) to accommodate the servants who were starting to work in the large houses in Chelsea and Belgravia. The church had its own schools for infants and juniors (no seniors in those days). In the church I noticed some stained glass windows behind the font near the door of the church and some marble panels below. A small but pleasant place to worship although I was reminded of Betjeman’s
‘Oh cheerful substitution
Thou varnished pitch-pine’

Forward to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, another place where they sing. Founded by King Charles II and built by Sir Christopher Wren as a response to Les Invalides in Paris I always wonder if that king didn’t just carry on plans that had been made by Cromwell. Kings and rulers come and go but the Civil Service (and the military of course) goes on for ever. It doesn’t seem like a King Charles II gesture to me, as he was more interested in harlotry and vindictiveness than the welfare of the Kingdom. Still the Royal Hospital has considerable accommodation for army pensioners, although rather spartan in contrast to the grand surroundings. There is a little pub for them to socialise in and a dining hall linked to a chapel. The chapel had a rather martial scene of the resurrection painted over the holy table and was comfortably furnished. The dining hall was also homely with some pleasant fixtures. Hope the food’s good for the old soldiers.

The next church I spotted was St Barnabas Pimlico. A forerunner of the Tractarian movement it sported some high gothic art although built too early for Tractarian chairs in the 1840s. The windows were by Kemp with a wheatsheaf on them (I didn’t like to ask if it was part of the Co√∂perative – sure it wasn’t). Kemp revived the art of stained glass making and to him we owe the stained glass in our more recent churches. There were some beautiful mosaic panels but the main decoration, as is right in ritualist churches, was for the chancel, a place where they sing. The chancel was a riot of colour and pattern on every possible surface. I can’t really do justice to the exuberance of the decoration, including the reredos (six candlesticks), the organ, the floor with its brasses and everything. A glorious church! Then it was time to go home, at least on a high note.