Simeon and a Tale of Two Bridges

Dear Simeon, Norway has gifted our Queen a majestic pet of a polar bear. Her Majesty has given permission for the incredible creature to swim along the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge to hunt for fish and stretch his big, fluffy, white legs. The other day, the royal pet came back from his paddle with something stuck between his teeth … it’s a treasure map of the long-lost mysterious island of Bridges! It’s no surprise that the Palace has tasked YOU to find out where the gold and gems are hidden, after all, you are the world’s most famous treasure hunter. You will need to venture on this epic journey, solving clues scribbled on the back of the map and avoiding booby traps to pinpoint the exact location of the treasure. Good luck, Simeon!

Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), was intrigued to read these instructions while having his elevensies in a cafe on Tooley Street near London Bridge Station. Fortunately, Simeon was only a stone’s throw away from the start of the Treasure Trail, so after finishing his cup of tea, Simeon set off on his search for clues.

To solve his first clue, Simeon carefully climbed down the steps belonging to the 1831 London Bridge designed by John Rennie (1761-1821) and built by his son of the same name (1794-1874). Not only are these stairs very old, but they are also the location of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) book Oliver Twist (1837). Fortunately, there was no sign of the criminal Bill Sikes, so Simeon safely reached the bottom of the staircase.

The current London Bridge is one of many that have spanned the River Thames since the Romans built the first one around 2,000 years ago. The original may have had a drawbridge in the centre to allow ships to pass, but today’s bridge does not have this feature.

Simeon quickly hastened across the bridge, staying away from the edges so that he would not fall into the river. He was a little nervous after hearing that the British warship HMS Jupiter collided with London Bridge in 1984. The Leander-class frigate of the Royal Navy weighed 16,060, approximately the same as 3,200 elephants, so the collision caused a lot of damage. The ship’s captain, Commander Colin Hamilton, was severely reprimanded for the accident.

The first bridge, built around 50 AD, was a wooden pontoon bridge made from several barges that floated on the river. Naturally, this bridge did not last long, and another was constructed in 59 AD. This time, the Romans used long poles known as piles to lift the bridge above the water level. The surrounding area became a small trading settlement, which grew into the town of Londinium. Unfortunately, the second bridge was destroyed in 60 AD by Queen Boudicca of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Although the bridge did not survive, the Romans fought back and defeated the rebels. After this, they built a wall around the town, some of which still survives today, and another bridge.

At the end of Roman rule in Britain, Londinium was abandoned, and the wall, buildings and bridge fell into disrepair. Some claim Alfred the Great (849-899) built another bridge in 878 AD, but others suggest this was Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Cnut the Great (d. 1035). Regardless of its creator, Norse poetry records the destruction of the bridge in 1014 by Olaf II Haraldsson (995-1030), the King of Norway. In Saxon literature about the Battle of Brentford, fought in 1016 between the English led by Edmund Ironside (990-1016) and the Danes led by Cnut, there is mention of a bridge crossing the Thames, which suggests another had been built.

Records reveal that William the Conqueror (1028-87) built a new London Bridge after the Norman Conquest in 1066. His son, William II (1050-1100), repaired or replaced it during his reign, only for it to be destroyed by fire in 1136. King Stephen (1096-1154) built a new one, and Henry II (1133-89) created the “Brethren of the Bridge” to oversee repairs and maintenance.

In 1170, following the murder of Saint Thomas Becket, the repentant Henry II commissioned a new bridge from stone rather than wood, upon which a chapel stood in memory of the martyr. Building works began in 1176 and continued during the reign of King John (1166-1216). In addition to the chapel, several houses and shops spanned the distance across the Thames. Money from the rent helped maintain the bridge. By the late 14th century, the bridge had reached its capacity of 140 houses. Presumably, several of these later merged because, by 1605, there were only 91. Descriptions of the buildings from the 17th century suggest they had four or more storeys, including a shop on the ground floor.

Simeon wishes he could have seen the bridge with all the shops and houses, but sadly several fires made the upkeep of the bridge impossible. These fires destroyed sections of the bridge over the years, and the houses were gradually demolished for safety purposes. The last house was pulled down in 1761.

In 1799, architects and engineers entered a competition to design a new London Bridge to replace the medieval one. Whilst Thomas Telford’s (1757-1834) proposal was deemed the safest, it would result in the demolition of many neighbouring buildings. Instead, John Rennie the Elder (1761-1821) won the competition with his conventional five-stone-arches design. Rennie had previously designed Waterloo Bridge further along the river, which featured nine equal arches. Unfortunately, Rennie died before work on the new London Bridge began, so the construction was overseen by his son, John Rennie the Younger (1794-1874).

The new London Bridge opened in 1831 and soon became the busiest point in London, with over 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossing every hour. Unfortunately, by the 1920s, the bridge was sinking into the riverbed, and talks began about replacing it. Due to costs, nothing much happened for a few decades until Ivan Luckin of the Common Council of the City of London suggested selling the bridge in 1968. Robert P. McCulloch (1911-1977) of McCulloch Oil purchased it for $2,460,000, and the bridge was carefully disassembled and sent to Arizona, where it was reconstructed over Lake Havasu.

The current bridge, or the “New New London Bridge”, as Simeon jokingly calls it, was designed by Baron William Holford (1907-1975) and opened in 1973. It cost £4 million to build, which equates to roughly £60.1 million today. “No wonder they were not happy when HMS Jupiter collided with it in 1984!” exclaimed Simeon.

Shortly after crossing over London Bridge, the clues led Simeon to a church, where he thought he would stop for a rest before carrying on his journey. Peeking through the door into the sanctuary, Simeon almost jumped out of his fur when he came face-to-face with a Viking! Fortunately, it was only a statue, so Simeon bravely entered the building for a closer look.

On closer inspection, Simeon discovered the Viking was Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney (1080-1115), also known as Saint Magnus the Martyr, to whom the church is dedicated. Magnus’ father, Erland, and his uncle Paul were the joint rulers of the Orkney islands off the northeast of Scotland. When he was young, Magnus and his cousin Hakon were kidnapped by King Magnus Barefoot of Norway (1073-1103) and forced to serve aboard a pirate ship. Magnus resisted because piracy went against his Christian values, so he spent his time on board singing psalms and praying. Eventually, Magnus escaped and sought asylum at the court of Malcolm III of Scotland (d. 1093).

When Magnus Barefoot died in 1103, Magnus and Hakon returned to the Orkneys, where they began jointly ruling in 1106. Unfortunately, the power-hungry Hakon wanted full control of the islands and, by 1114, was prepared to battle for the title. Not wanting to fight, Magnus agreed to hold peace negotiations on the Island of Egilsay in c.1115, but instead of reconciliation, Hakon ordered his cousin’s murder. Magnus tried to take refuge in a church, but Hakon’s soldiers captured him. The soldiers refused to kill Magnus despite Hakon’s demands. Instead, Hakon forced his cook to strike Magnus over the head with an axe.

The Church of St Magnus the Martyr was built in the Baroque style of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) following the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed the original church on the site. Due to its proximity to Old Billingsgate Market, a famous fish market, the church became the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. It is also the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and the ward church of the Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without.

Although a church has existed on the site for around 900 years, it was not dedicated to St Magnus until the 20th century. Initially, the church considered dedicating the building to the Roman saint of Cæsarea until the famous Danish archaeologist Professor Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae (1821-85) proposed St Magnus while conducting research about the Vikings in Britain. Support for the latter proposal increased after the discovery of St Magnus of Orkney’s relics in 1919. After much discussion, the dedication to St Magnus took place in April 1926.

During Simeon’s exploration of the church, he came across many exciting things, most notably a model of Old London Bridge by David T. Aggett (1930-2021), a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. Aggett’s phenomenal attention to detail reveals the precariously balanced medieval buildings and over 900 miniature figures, showing how crowded the bridge was on a daily basis. Amongst the crowds is King Henry V (1386-1422), processing from Southwark to the City of London.

Aside from the model of the bridge and the statue of St Magnus, there are several artworks in the church, including iconic paintings of the Virgin Mary. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham references the village where the Virgin allegedly appeared to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout noblewoman, in 1061. On the other side of the church is a monument to Myles Coverdale (1488-1569), an English preacher who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. Other dedicated items are dotted around the church, including stained glass windows, but Simeon had no time to investigate everything. He had treasure to locate!

After leaving the church, Simeon hurried through Old Billingsgate Market, which thankfully no longer smells of fish, and past a church called All Hallows by the Tower until he reached the Tower of London. Due to the temporary Superbloom event, the area in front of the Tower was much more crowded than usual, making searching for clues harder for Simeon, but he was not deterred. Until 18th September 2022, the water-less moat of the Tower is open to the public. In honour of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, over 20 million flower seeds were sown in the moat to create beautiful gardens, including the Queen’s Garden, inspired by her 1953 coronation gown. Simeon had a quick glance down into the moat in case any clues had fallen in and spotted a few (thankfully pretend) fierce lions. He did not spot any polar bears (or gibbons), despite knowing that Henry III was given a white bear by the King of Norway in 1252.

At the side of the Tower of London, Simeon spotted a curious set of stairs leading into the River Thames. Known as the “Queen’s Stairs”, this was once the main entrance to the Tower for important visitors. Anne Boleyn (1507-36) entered the Tower here from a boat to prepare for her coronation as Queen and marriage to Henry VIII (1491-1547). Further along the river, Simeon came across “Traitor’s Gate”, where Anne Boleyn entered the Tower for the final time. All traitors were brought into the Tower through this gate as prisoners, subjected to a trial, and received their punishment. Unfortunately for Anne, she had her head chopped off. With fur standing on end, Simeon hurried away from the Tower before he could suffer the same fate!

Simeon’s next task was to cross back over the river via Tower Bridge. This was even scarier than London Bridge because Tower Bridge is a bascule bridge, meaning it can swing upwards to let large boats pass beneath. After double checking no large boats were heading his way, Simeon began the 240-metre walk across the Thames.

Commercial development in the East End of London rapidly increased in the 19th century, leading to the requirement of another river crossing downstream from London Bridge. In 1877, the Special Bridge or Subway Committee held a design competition, which more than 50 architects and engineers entered. Many bridge concepts were rejected due to insufficient headroom, so the winning design was not chosen until 1884, when civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) proposed a bascule bridge. Working alongside the designer Sir Horace Jones (1819-87), Barry developed the plans to include two Gothic-style towers, joined together by two horizontal walkways around 60 metres above the surface of the water.

Construction of Tower Bridge began in 1886, and officially opened in 1894. The construction cost £1,184,000, equivalent to over £143 million today. During the Second World War, Tower Bridge became a target for enemy action because it was a major transport link across the Thames. In 1940, the high-level walkways took a direct hit, putting the bridge out of action for some time. Another bomb caused damage to the towers and engine room, which contained the hydraulic machinery to power the bascules. Fortunately, by the end of the war, Tower Bridge remained standing but needed significant repairs.

Since 1982, the two towers and high-level walkways have been open to the public as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. Simeon did not have time to investigate on this occasion but has heard about the great views across London from the top. After reaching the opposite bank of the Thames, Simeon hurried off to search for more clues in the historic riverside street, Shad Thames. Known now for restaurants and luxurious apartments, Shad Thames once contained the largest warehouse complex in London. In Victorian times, the warehouses stored tea, coffee, and many spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, anise and coriander.

Shad Thames has featured in many films and television shows, including Oliver! (1968), Doctor Who (1984), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Run Fat Boy Run (2007), and Cruella (2021). Simeon did not see any camera crews, but he made sure to be on his best behaviour just in case.

In Horselydown Square, just off Shad Thames, Simeon discovered an impressive water feature by the British painter and sculptor Antony Donaldson (b. 1938). Created in 1991, Waterfall features a copper cistern from which water flows over the edge. Six life-size, bronze female figures in various poses cling to the cistern, while a seventh reclines on the surrounding wall.

Averting his eyes from the unclothed figures, Simeon took great interest in other bronze objects around the fountain wall. Simeon found a camera, wallet, watch, sunglasses, shoes, and a pile of books, all presumably belonging to the women playing in the water.

Simeon’s next set of clues took him to Potters Field Park between Tower Bridge and City Hall. The name originates from the many potters working in the area during the 17th and 18th century, such as Pickleherring Pottery, established in 1618 by Christian Wilhelm. Between 1618 and 1710, 124 potters operated in the area, which decreased to 68 between 1710 and 1733. Since 1772, pottery making has disappeared from the area, but their memory lives on in the name of the park, which opened in 1988.

Further along the Thames is Hay’s Galleria, where Simeon looked for some of his final clues. Originally a warehouse known as Hay’s Wharf, the galleria gets its name from Alexander Hay, who owned a brewery on the site in 1651. When John Humphrey acquired the property in the 1840s, he commissioned the English engineering contractor and future Lord Mayor William Cubitt (1791-1863) to convert it into a wharf. Hay’s Wharf became one of the chief delivery points for tea in London, and at its height, received around 80% of the dry produce imported to London, earning it the nickname ‘the Larder of London’.

Hay’s Wharf remained in use until the Second World War when it suffered severe bomb damage. Attempts to rebuild the wharf were thwarted by modern shipping techniques, such as containerisation, and Hay’s Wharf officially closed in 1970. The majority of the old dockland areas were purchased by St Martin’s Property Corporation, and Hay’s Wharf was converted into Hay’s Galleria. Hay’s Galleria housed a year-round market and became a popular tourist attraction. Permanent traders sold souvenirs and jewellery from stalls until 2010 when they were removed and replaced with more traditional shop formats. Hay’s Galleria also features restaurants, flats and offices.

Finally, Simeon reached the location of his final clue and discovered the whereabouts of the mysterious Island of Bridges. After reporting back to Treasure Trails, Simeon received his well-deserved certificate. Treasure Trails provide adventure, mystery and spy trails all across Great Britain. Whilst Simeon always has fun solving the clues, he also enjoys learning about the area, as do his human companions.

To purchase A Tale of Two Bridges from Treasure Trails, click here.

Did you know, Simeon is now on Instagram? Follow his latest adventures at @theadventuresofsimeon or on his personal blog page.

If you enjoyed this blog, here are some of Simeon’s other adventures.
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission
Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard


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A House of Prayer for all Nations

“Bath Abbey seeks to be a “House of Prayer for all nations”, praying with and for needy people locally and all around the world, regardless of their political, ethnic or religious affiliation.” – The Rev’d Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey

For over 1,000 years, a Christian place of worship has stood in the centre of the city of Bath, Somerset. Known today as Bath Abbey, the present-day parish church was built in the 16th century, replacing a Norman cathedral, which, in turn, had replaced a Saxon monastery. The Grade I listed building is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West Country and the most visited church outside London.

In 675 AD, a French Abbess, either called Bertana or Berta, was granted a plot of land in Bath for the establishment of a convent. In 781, King Offa of Mercia (reigned 757-796) rebuilt the monastic church on the current site of the abbey, which is where the first king of all England, Edgar the Peaceful (reigned 959-975), was crowned. King Edgar encouraged the monks to adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict, a book of instruction written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia (c. AD 480–550). The Benedictine monastery was led by Abbot Ælfheah, now known as St. Alphege (953-1012), who was later killed during a Viking invasion.

In 1087, William II (1056-100) granted the city of Bath to a royal chaplain, John of Tours (d.1122), subsequently making him the Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath. Three years later, John transferred the bishopric to Bath Abbey, which was much wealthier than Wells. He rebuilt sections of the monastic church and raised it to cathedral status. John planned to expand the cathedral and dedicate it to Saint Peter and Saint Paul but died before its completion in December 1122.

A fire in 1137 hindered the construction of the cathedral, which was eventually completed in around 1156. After a couple of successful years, during which time Pope Innocent IV (1195-1254) awarded joint cathedral status to Bath and Wells, the building gradually fell into disrepair. By 1499, it was almost in ruins. Oliver King (1432-1503), the Bishop of Bath and Wells, blamed the state of the cathedral on the monks being “all too eager to succumb to the temptations of the flesh”.

In 1500, Oliver King allegedly had a dream in which he “saw the Heavenly Host on high with angels ascending and descending by ladder,” similar to the scene dreamt by Jacob in chapter 28 of the Book of Genesis. The earliest recording of King’s dream was written 100 years later and is largely considered to be a story; nonetheless, the dream is represented in stone on the west front of the cathedral.

King commissioned brothers Richard (b.1506) and William Vertue (d.1527), who were also involved with work on the Tower of London, to rebuild the dilapidated cathedral. They promised, “there shall be none so goodly neither in England nor France” and incorporated the surviving Norman wall and arches into their design. The Vertue brothers specialised in fan vaulted ceilings, which remains one of the most admired sections of the building’s architecture today. Unfortunately, King did not live to see the result, which was not completed until at least two decades after his death.

Due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the church was deprived of its cathedral status in 1539, and stripped of £4,800 worth of lead, iron and glass. The roofless remains of the church was given to the corporation of Bath in 1572, which struggled to raise funds for its restoration. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) set up a national fund to finance the necessary works and decreed that it should become the parish church of Bath.

The church remained incomplete when the queen died, but James Montague (1568-1618), the Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1608 to 1616, personally paid £1,000 for a new roof. The gesture came after Montague attempted to shelter in the church during a thunder storm, only to discover the building offered no protection. Montague financed the rest of the restoration, which was completed in 1611. After his death, Montague was buried in an alabaster tomb, which remains in situ in the north aisle.

For a couple of centuries, Bath Abbey survived without the need for any building works until the 1830s, when George Phillips Manners (1789-1866), the first Bath City Architect, remodelled the interior. Manners also added flying buttresses and pinnacles to the exterior. In the 1860s, major restoration work by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) took place, involving the extension of the fan-vaulted ceiling in the nave. Scott also designed the finely-carved pews, later described as “one of the most magnificent and extensive suites of Victorian church seating in the country”. When Scott died in 1878, his pupil, Thomas Graham Jackson (1835-1924), completed the building project.

Bath Abbey is constructed from Bath stone, a form of limestone obtained from the Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines. The majority of buildings in the city are built from the same material, giving the streets a yellowish tinge. The interior of Bath Abbey features the same stone, but the 52 windows, occupying about 80% of the wall space, bring in enough light to make the walls appear much whiter. In recent years, traces of coloured paint were discovered in the spaces between the fan shapes on the vaulted ceiling. Closer inspection revealed these to be the coats of arms of King James I (reigned 1603-25), Cardinal Adriano de Castello, a former Bishop of Bath and Wells (1503-18), and the pre-Reformation priory.

The nave is 211 feet (64 m) long and 35 feet (11 m) wide, ending in a tall stained-glass window depicting 56 events in the life of Jesus from the Annunciation to the Ascension. The window contains 76 square metres (818 sq. ft) of glass, the majority of which dates to the Victorian era. It was likely designed by Alfred Bell (1832-95), who established Clayton and Bell with John Richard Clayton (1827-1913), one of the most prolific British stained-glass windows manufacturers during the latter half of the 19th century. During the air raids of 1942, sections of the coloured glass were destroyed. A Canadian soldier stationed in the area collected the shards and took them home, where they now form part of a window in Christ Church, Meaford, Ontario. In the 1950s, Michael Farrar Bell (1911-93), the great-grandson of the original designer, repaired the war damage.

On the north side of the Abbey, a 19th-century stained-glass window depicts the coronation of King Edgar in 973. The service was devised by Saint Dunstan, which has remained the basis of coronation ceremonies ever since. Dunstan (909-988) was an English bishop who served as the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan became famous for the many stories about his dealings with the Devil. Allegedly, Dunstan resisted the Devil’s temptations by holding the Devil’s face between a pair of red-hot tongs. The only evidence of this event are accounts written at least 100 years after Dunstan’s death, including an old folk song:
St Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.

On Ascension Day in 988, Dunstan had a vision of angels who warned him that he would die in three days. Dunstan made the necessary preparations, warning his congregation of his impending death and choosing a place for his tomb. Three days after the Ascension, Dunstan fell ill, and after partaking in Mass from his bed, he passed away. People immediately revered him as a saint, although Dunstan was not officially canonised until 1029. Dunstan was buried in Bath Cathedral, although later reinterred in Canterbury Cathedral. Until he was overshadowed by Saint Thomas Becket (1119-1170), who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, Saint Dunstan was the favourite saint of the English people.

There are over 1,000 memorials inside Bath Abbey, including the aforementioned effigy of James Montagu, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. On the north wall, a memorial stone remembers Admiral Arthur Philip, who founded the state of New South Wales in Australia. Unfortunately, the inscription states Philip founded Australia. Other people honoured with memorials include Master of Ceremonies Beau Nash (1674-1762), Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), Mary, the Countess Dowager of Kintore (d. 1826), botanist John Sibthorp (1758-96), and several military men. In 1958, the most recent memorial was installed to commemorate Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-97), who developed Pitman shorthand.

In 2007, a frieze of 12 wooden angel musicians was installed above the quire screens. The quire, also known as the choir, is where the clergy and church choir sit during services. The screens were installed in 2004 to improve the acoustics. Music in the Abbey is supplied by the large organ in the north transept, which was first installed in 1895.

The earliest mention of an organ at Bath Abbey dates to 1634, but there are no specific details about the instrument. In 1708, another organ was built by Abraham Jordan and modified in 1718 and 1739 by his son. The organ was later moved to the Bishop’s Palace at Wells in 1836. That year, John of Bristol built a new organ, which now resides at the Church of St Peter & St Paul in Cromer, Norfolk.

Norman and Beard, a pipe organ manufacturer based in Norwich, supplied Bath Abbey with a new organ in 1895. Initially, the instrument stood on two steel beams in the North and South crossing arches before being re-erected in a case designed by Sir Thomas Jackson in the North Transept in 1914. On several occasions, organ manufacturers rebuilt sections of the instrument, adding a variety of keys and stops. Eventually, the entire organ was reconstructed in 1997 by Orgelbau Klais, a German firm, who restored it to its original 1895 condition.

The organ is not the only form of instrument installed in the Abbey. Hung in the ringing chamber in the tower are ten bells. Unconventionally, they are arranged from highest to lowest in an anti-clockwise ring around the chamber, rather than in the usual clockwise fashion. Eight of the bells were created in the early 18th century after six of the originals were melted down. The two lightest bells were added in 1774. The heaviest bell, the tenor, was replaced after it cracked in 1869. After installing the replacement, the organist claimed it was out of tune and ordered it recast.

Visitors to Bath Abbey are offered guided tours of the tower, which include viewing the bells in the ringing chamber. Two spiral staircases consisting of 212 steps provide access to the 161 feet (49 m) structure. The first staircase ends at the roof level, and the second reaches the top of the tower, from where visitors can survey the city of Bath.

Bath Abbey is open most days for visitors except during scheduled service times. Sunday services include Morning Prayer, Holy Communion and Evening Prayer. Weddings, baptisms and funerals also take place throughout the year, although burials are no longer allowed in the Abbey due to health and safety. The last burial took place in 1845 before the practice was outlawed in 1853. Approximately 3,800 bodies are buried under the floor. Only the rich could afford this privilege, and the nearer the altar they wished to be buried, the higher the fee.

Between 1583 and 2022, there have been 28 rectors at Bath Abbey. The first rector was John Long, who held the position for a year before Richard Meredith (1559-1621) took his place. The current rector is Reverend Canon Guy Bridgewater, who was appointed in 2018. Other notable rectors of the past include George Webb (1581-1642), who was also Chaplain-in-Ordinary to King Charles II, the philosopher Joseph Glanvill (1636-80), and James Phillott (1750-1815), of whom the writer Jane Austen thought very little.

Bath Abbey is free to visit, although a donation is most welcome. Tours of the Abbey are available to book for a fee of £8 per adult or £4 per child. Tower tours, which last between 45 minutes to an hour, cost £10 per adult and £5 per child. The Abbey gift shop, which is open every day except Sundays, offers a range of products inspired by Bath Abbey, including books, gifts and postcards.


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Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard

Dear Simeon, During a recent archaeological dig in Bath, a skeleton, believed to be of an elderly male dating back to Roman times, was discovered. Local media have leaked the intriguing news that, clutched in its hands, sealed inside a vessel, was a well-preserved treasure map with some mystifying scrawled notes. Experts at IES (Intrepid Explorers Society) are speculating that this map might lead to a stash of precious gems and possibly Roman gold, buried on an island somewhere in the Bristol Channel. Unfortunately, the very dodgy Brutally Awful Treasure Hunters (aka BATH) are also super keen to discover this lost treasure. IES don’t want them uncovering it before you do so get out there, solve the Clues and identify the location of this hidden hoard!

After receiving this intriguing quest from Treasure Trails, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), grabbed his towel and headed to the bathroom. After laughing hysterically for some time about his mistake, Simeon got out of the bath and into the car to make the long journey from London to Bath in Somerset. Assisted by his friends, Simeon began a perilous expedition around some of the most beautiful, historic streets of Bath.

Simeon began his quest in the Bath Abbey Churchyard, where he squeezed through the crowds of people listening to the buskers. Towering above him, the Bath Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul stood in all its glory. Built between 1499 and 1533, the limestone building is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the United Kingdom. The abbey is the third building on the site, but there has been a church here for over 1,000 years. The Saxons built the first church in the 7th century, which was where King Edgar, the first king of all England, was crowned in 973. The second church was built by the Normans in the 12th century. The present building largely resembles the 16th-century architecture of the third building, although Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) undertook a restoration project during the Victorian era.

Whilst the Abbey is an impressive structure, Simeon did not have time to admire it because he heard about the nearby Beau Street Hoard. Discovered in 2008, 17,577 silver Roman coins dating from 32 BC to 274 AD had been buried under the streets for thousands of years. It is the fifth-largest hoard ever found in Britain, unearthed during the construction of a swimming pool at the Gainsborough Hotel. The hoard consisted of eight money bags and 2,437 loose coins, which are now on display in the Roman Baths Museum. After some investigation, Simeon decided this was not the Roman hoard he was looking for and continued on his quest.

Around the corner, Simeon peered into the Cross Bath, but the clear water did not reveal any treasure. Constructed in 1784 and remodelled in 1789, the Grade I building houses a historic pool famed for its healing properties. The nearby St John’s hospital used the pool for treatments as early as 1180, and the royal family frequently visited between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The water in the Cross Pool fell as rain around 10,000 years ago in the Mendip Hills. After sinking 3 kilometres below the earth’s surface, geothermal energy heated the water, which eventually rose under natural artesian pressure. Legend claims the mythical Prince Bladud discovered the thermal waters in 863 BC, which cured him of his skin disease. The warm water allegedly contains over 42 different types of minerals. The bath and Victorian construction now belong to the adjacent Thermae Bath Spa.

As Simeon continued his journey around Bath, he came across a mystery. Beaufort Square, designed by John Strahan in 1730, appears to have two names. On one signpost, the name reads “Beaufort”, but on another, it says “Beauford”! There does not seem to be an explanation for this other than a spelling mistake, but it was enough to make Simeon stop in his tracks and look around. Beaufort square is surrounded by two-storey cottages and the original frontage of the Theatre Royal. In the centre, a small rectangular lawn is all that remains of the communal area. Simeon could not enter the garden but admired it from the railings. These date from 1805, and the spear shapes commemorate weapons used during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Simeon came across another strange site in Chapel Row, where he stopped briefly to rest. Standing separately from the other buildings is Temple Ornament, which was re-erected in 1976 by students of Bath Technical College. The limestone structure, featuring five Ionic columns, is situated on the original site of St. Mary’s Chapel, built between 1732 and 1734 by John Wood the Elder (1704-54). In 1875, the city demolished the church for road widening. The ornament was constructed from the ruined building.

After paying his respects at the war memorial on the corner, Simeon made his way along the Gravel Walk. The pathway leads past the gardens of the houses in Gay Street, where the English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) once lived. In Austen’s time, the Walk was known as Lover’s Lane and was where young lovers used to meet each other for a stroll. In Austen’s novel Persuasion (1817), it is the setting for a love scene between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Simeon did not see any Georgian ladies and gentlemen walking along the path, but he did come across an intriguing garden.

Signposted as the Georgian Garden, the gap in the wall led Simeon into a Georgian-style garden, which is a recreation of one of the gardens of the Circus (not a circus with animals, as Simeon later discovered). The project started in 1985 to replace the existing Victorian landscape with its former style. There was no grass in the original garden, only gravel and flower beds. Grass lawns were not easily maintained in the 18th century and only became popular after the invention of mechanical lawnmowers in 1832.

Excavation work revealed the original 18th-century layout, including the position of flowerbeds and paths. Dr John Harvey of the Garden History Society sourced appropriate plants, such as honeysuckle and other fragrant flowers. Towards the end of the 18th century, plants from Indo-China and the New World arrived in Britain, replacing many native plants in private gardens.

Keen to continue his quest, Simeon returned to the Gravel Walk and soon found himself in the Royal Victoria Park. Opened by the 11-year-old future Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1830, the 57-acre park consists of grasslands, tennis courts, a golf course, a botanical garden and a children’s playground. It was the first park to carry Victoria’s name and was privately owned until 1921 when it was taken over by the Bath Corporation.

Overlooking the Royal Victoria Park is the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a 500-foot-long (150 m) crescent shape. Built by John Wood the Younger (1728-82), the Grade I listed buildings feature 114 Ionic columns on the first floor with Palladian-style mouldings above. In front of the houses is a ha-ha (ditch), making an invisible partition between the lower and upper lawns. The latter is for residents only.

Notable residents of the Royal Crescent include William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who stayed at number 2; Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), who lived with her father at number 16; and Elizabeth Linley (1754-92) at number 11, who eloped with the playwright, Richard Sheridan (1751-1816). “Would I like to live here?” pondered Simeon. After learning about Georgian lifestyles, particularly sedan chairs, at No. 1 Royal Crescent, a historic house museum, Simeon decided yes, he would.

On the corner of the Royal Crescent, Simeon looked for clues inside a silver-coloured telephone box. Whilst he did not locate any treasure, Simeon found some interesting information about the box. The telephone box or kiosk was designed by English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) in 1924. Over the following years, the design was tweaked before settling on Kiosk no. 6 (K6). The bright red boxes were primarily used in London, but when they spread to neighbouring towns and cities, people complained about the bright colour. In response to the complaints and to coincide with King George V’s silver jubilee, the kiosks were painted battleship grey (silver) with touches of red around the windows.

Tempted to call the Treasure Trail team for more clues, Simeon noticed the kiosk did not contain a telephone. Whilst it is no longer in use, the kiosk is a listed structure of architectural and historical importance. Many K6s were painted the iconic red colour once people got used to their presence, so very few remain battleship grey, making them very rare. This particular box survived the Blitz and has remained in situ for over 80 years.

Next, Simeon visited the Circus, where except for himself and a few pigeons, no animals or entertainers could be seen. The Circus is a circular ring of terrace houses built between 1754 and 1768 by John Wood, the Elder. Its name comes from the Latin word circus, meaning circle. Today, it is a famous example of Georgian architecture and has been designated a Grade I listed building.

Wood was inspired by Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Believing that Bath had once been a centre for Druid activity, Wood mimicked the neo-druid place of worship. Unfortunately, Wood died five days after the construction began and his son, John Wood, the Younger, oversaw the rest of the building project. On completion, it was named King’s Circus, although the royal title was later dropped.

Walking around the Circus, Simeon appreciated the various styles of architecture incorporated into the building. Each floor represents a different Classical order, with Doric on the ground level, Ionic or Composite on the piano nobile (principal floor), and Corinthian on the upper floor. The styles become progressively more ornate as the building rises. Between the Doric and Ionic levels, an entablature decorated with alternating triglyphs and 525 pictorial emblems completes the building’s design. Simeon enjoyed looking at the many images, including nautical, art, science and masonic symbols. He also spotted serpents and owls – so there are some animals in the Circus after all!

Simeon’s instructions eventually led him to Pulteney Bridge, where the confused little gibbon warily eyed the shops on either side, wondering why it was called a bridge. Only later did Simeon discover the buildings were constructed over the River Avon! Designed by Robert Adam (1728-92) in 1774, shops span the length of the Palladian-style Grade I listed bridge, making it a highly unusual construction.

Pulteney Bridge is named after Frances Pulteney, the first cousin once removed of William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath (1684-1764). When the Earl died, Frances inherited his estates and a significant amount of money. Her husband, William Johnstone (1729-1805), promptly changed his surname to Pulteney and made plans to create a new town, Bathwick, which eventually became a suburb of Bath. For easier access across the Avon, William Pulteney commissioned Adam to design a bridge, who took inspiration from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Ponte di Rialto in Venice. The original designs for Pulteney Bridge are held in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. As of 2022, it is one of only four bridges containing shops across its entire span, the others being the aforementioned bridges in Italy and the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany.

As well as the bridge, Great Pulteney Street, Henrietta Street and Laura Place are the work of William Pulteney. Great Pulteney Street connects Bathwick with the City of Bath. It was designed by Thomas Baldwin (1750-1820) and completed in 1789. At over 1,000 feet (300 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, Great Pulteney Street is the widest and the grandest road in Bath. Situated at one end is the Holburne Museum of Art, which was originally the Sydney Hotel. The hotel attracted many visitors, and several notable people lived on the street, including Napoleon III (1808-73), during his exile from France; William Wilberforce, who also stayed in the Royal Crescent; and the “Father of English Geology” William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839).

Henrietta Street and Laura Place were named after Pulteney’s daughters. Both were constructed in the late 1780s by Thomas Baldwin. Laura Place, situated at the end of Pulteney Bridge, is an irregular quadrangle containing four blocks of houses. In the centre sits a circular stone fountain, which was not part of the original plan. Instead, residents petitioned for a column similar to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, but when construction began, they realised it would tower over the area and petitioned against it.

After admiring the weir in the River Avon below Pulteney Bridge, Simeon made his way back to the Abbey for his final clues, resisting the urge to eat Sally Lunn’s buns and Charlotte Brunswick’s chocolates. Sally Lunn’s historic eating house is one of the oldest houses in Bath. It was allegedly the home of a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon during the 1680s, who became known as Sally Lunn. As a baker, Luyon or Lunn became famous for her buns, now known as Bath Buns.

It is claimed that Charlotte Brunswick was the first and finest chocolatier in Bath during the 18th century. Fascinated by flavour, she sought the perfect combination of ingredients to make her delicious chocolate. The men in her family were explorers and brought her back oranges from Spain and ginger and cinnamon from China, which she incorporated into her recipes. The Charlotte Brunswick Shop on Church Street continues to use many of the recipes today.

Another delicacy from Bath is the Bath Oliver biscuit, invented by the physician William Oliver (1695-1764). Some claim Oliver, not Sally Lunn, invented the Bath Bun, but after realising it was too fattening for his rheumatic patients, he sought an alternative. A Bath Oliver is a dry, cracker-like biscuit, often eaten with cheese. When Oliver died, he bequeathed the recipe, ten sacks of wheat flour, and £100 to his coachman, Mr Atkins, who set up a biscuit-baking business.

Back at the Abbey, Simeon used all the clues he had gathered to work out the location of the Roman Hoard. After celebratory ice cream, Simeon sat and reflected on the sites he saw around Bath. Simeon enjoyed walking along quaint streets, admiring the architecture, and felt humbled knowing he was walking in the footsteps of many famous people, not least the Romans. “I think I’ll visit Jane Austen for afternoon tea on Gay Street,” mused Simeon, not fully comprehending that he would not be able to see the REAL Jane Austen but a waxwork. “And after that, I’ll pop in and see Mary Shelley.”

Both the Jane Austen Centre and Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein are located on Gay Street, which links the Circus to Queen’s Square. It is named after Robert Gay (1676-1738), a Member of Parliament for Bath who leased part of his estate to John Wood the Elder for the construction of Queen’s Square.

Simeon recalled seeing many other names on plaques around the city, such as Beau Nash (1674-1762), the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. Nash made it his job to meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company” allowed to attend dances and such-like. He infamously confronted John Wesley (1701-93), the founder of Methodism, when he began preaching in the city. Nash question Wesley’s authority, demanding to know who allowed him to speak to crowds of people. Wesley calmly answered, “Jesus Christ and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” Having lost the argument, Nash left Wesley alone, allowing the people of Bath to flock to hear the preacher speak.

Simeon did not like the sound of Beau Nash, but he was intrigued to learn about William (1738-1822) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), who lived at 19 New King Street. William Herschel famously discovered the planet Uranus, which resulted in his appointment as Court Astronomer to George III (1738-1820). His sister, Caroline, made several discoveries of her own and became the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist and the first woman in England to hold a government position. Today, 19 New King Street is home to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. As well as documenting the Herschels’ astronomical finds, a room is devoted to their love of music, which originally brought the German siblings to England.

Another notable resident of Bath was Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738-1814), the first governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Simeon came across the Admiral’s memorial on Bennett Street during his quest for the Roman hoard. Installed in 2014 by the Britain-Australia Society Education Trust, the sculpture resembles an armillary sphere, which sailors used to determine their position in relation to Earth and the sun. Phillip commanded the first fleet of convicts sent to Australia and established a settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. In 1793, he returned to England and settled in Bath for the remainder of his life.

Other notable residents of Bath include John Christopher Smith (1712-95), the secretary of the Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Smith moved to Bath in 1774 after King George III granted him an annual pension. The 1st Earl of Chatham, also known as William Pitt the Elder (1708-78), lived in the Circus between 1757 and 1766 when he stood as the Member of Parliament for Bath. He then served as Prime Minister of Great Britain for two years.

The artist, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), lived in the Circus with his family from 1759 until 1774. During this time, he became a popular portrait painter for fashionable society. He eventually got bored of painting people and longed for the “quietness and ease” of landscapes. Another artist from Bath is Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), who from the age of ten, supported his family with his pastel portraits. Amongst his sitters were Duchess Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806), who visited Bath in 1782, and Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), a Welsh actress, who first performed in Bath in 1778.

“Who knew there was so much to discover in Bath,” exclaimed Simeon. “I shall have to come back another time to learn more about the historic city.” As well as completing his Treasure Trail, Simeon visited some of the attractions and highly recommends the Abbey and Roman Baths. He also enjoyed the Jane Austen Centre, House of Frankenstein, No. 1 Royal Crescent, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, and travelling on the sightseeing bus. There is only so much a little gibbon can fit into a week, so Simeon has plenty more places to explore on his next visit to Bath.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Some places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall into the Roman Baths. You will get very wet.
  3. Do not pull a face if you try the waterYou will put other people off trying.
  4. Be respectful in the AbbeyIt is a place of worship.
  5. Pace yourself when climbing all the hillsBath is supposedly built on seven.
  6. Remember to use the Park and Ride buses if you are staying outside the city. Parking is free, you only pay for the bus ride.
  7. Do not get ink on your paws if attempting to write with a quill pen at the Jane Austen CentreSimeon did this and it was very messy.
  8. Buy a map. And try not to get lost.
  9. Only go into the basement at the House of Frankenstein if you are really brave. Simeon was not.
  10. Follow social distancing rules. Some places still request you wear a mask.

Read more of Simeon’s adventures:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission


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Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

During his career, English architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, worked on several buildings, including the New Bodleian Library, Battersea Power Station and Liverpool Cathedral. He blended Gothic and modern styles in his architectural designs, resulting in many well-known landmarks. Yet, it is not only these buildings for which we remember him. Scott’s most famous creation was the iconic red telephone box, which still appears on streets in the United Kingdom, Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

Born in Hampstead, London, on 9th November 1880, Giles was one of six children born to George Gilbert Scott Jr. (1839-1897) and Ellen King Sampson. Both his father and grandfather were architects, and the latter, Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-78), produced designs for the Albert Memorial in Kensington and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station. Yet, neither man inspired the young Giles’ interest in architecture; that was his mother.

In 1883, Giles’ father experienced a mental breakdown, which resulted in a lengthy stay at the Bethlem Royal Hospital. The children rarely saw their father and grew close to their mother, who lived in a flat in Battersea. At the weekends and school holidays, they often visited Hollis Street Farm, near Ninfield, Sussex, bequeathed to them by their uncle. On such occasions, Ellen took her sons on trips around the county to study the architecture of impressive buildings. No doubt she wanted her children to learn about their father’s passions rather than his mental illness.

The Scotts were Roman Catholics and Giles attended Beaumont College, run by the Society of Jesus. Yet, the choice of school had little to do with religion, but rather the architecture of the establishment. Due to his father’s reputation and his mother’s encouragement, Giles naturally sought an apprenticeship with an architect after finishing school. In 1899, Giles joined the office of Temple Moore (1856-1920), who once studied with his father. As well as teaching Giles about architecture, Moore taught his pupil about his father’s work, making him feel closer to the man who had been absent for most of his childhood.

Giles Gilbert Scott’s winning design

In 1901, the diocese of Liverpool announced a competition to design a new cathedral. Two well-known architects were assigned to judge the submissions: George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), who had connections with the decorative arts manufacturer Morris & Co., and Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912), the designer of the Piccadilly Hotel in London. At least 103 architects entered the competition, including Temple Moore who also allowed his pupil to submit an entry. Remarkably, Bodley and Shaw selected Scott as the winning architect.

Unsurprisingly, many contested the result, arguing that a 22-year-old with no experience was not a good enough architect for the job. Nonetheless, the diocese accepted Bodley and Shaw’s choice, although asked Bodley to oversee the work. Unfortunately, Bodley had commitments in the United States and was rarely on hand to support the young architect. As a result, the process was slow and frustrating, causing Scott to contemplate handing in his resignation. Before Scott could put this thought into action, Bodley unexpectedly passed away in 1907, leaving Scott in charge of the project.

Scott’s 1910 redesign

Without Bodley to hold him back, Scott made rapid progress with the cathedral, but he no longer liked his original idea. After receiving permission from the diocese, Scott redesigned the building, making it simpler and symmetrical, allowing for more interior space. By the end of 1910, the first part of the building – the Lady Chapel – was constructed and consecrated, but the First World War slowed down the rest of the work.

The main body of the cathedral was erected in 1924 and consecrated in the presence of King George V (1865-1936) and Queen Mary (1867-1953). The Second World War caused problems with the construction and, although Scott worked on the project for the rest of his life, he never saw the finished cathedral. The building works finally came to an end in 1978.

Although Scott spent his entire career working on Liverpool Cathedral, he simultaneously produced designs for other buildings. His first completed construction was the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Bournemouth, followed by other churches in Norfolk, Kent, and the Isle of Man. He also worked on a house in Surrey with his brother, Adrian (1882-1963). During the First World War, while work on Liverpool Cathedral slowed, Scott became a Major in the Royal Marines and oversaw the construction of sea defences on the English coast.

While working in Liverpool, Scott met and married Louise Wallbank Hughes. His mother expressed disapproval about their relationship because Louise was a protestant, but the marriage was a happy one. The couple had three sons, although one died in infancy. One son, Richard Gilbert Scott (1923-2017), worked on several buildings at the London Guildhall amongst other constructions.

During the 1920s, Scott’s reputation as an architect soared, earning him many commissions. Cambridge University, for example, hired him to design a memorial court outside Clare College. Several churches also sought Scott’s expertise, including the Benedictine monastery Downside Abbey, for whom he produced a new nave. In Bath, Scott received the commission to design the Church of Our Lady & St Alphege, which he described as his “first essay into the Romanesque style of architecture.” He later declared the church one of his favourite works.

Chester House

Scott did not produce many domestic buildings during his career, but he is celebrated for the Cropthorne Court mansion block in Maida Vale. Scott also designed a house for his family in Clarendon Place, Paddington, called Chester House, where he lived for the rest of his life. The construction earned him the medal for London street architecture of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1928 and is now on the Grade II list for the National Heritage List for England.

K2 red telephone boxes preserved as a tourist attraction near Covent Garden

Scott’s most iconic design of the 1920s was his entry to a competition held by the Royal Fine Art Commission. They asked architects to submit ideas for the General Post Office’s new public telephone box. The first standard public telephone kiosk (K1) installed in 1921 did not meet everyone’s approval, particularly in London. The competition of 1924 aimed to find a design that suited the London Metropolitan Boroughs.

The dome of Sir John Soane’s mausoleum

Shortly before the competition opened, Scott became a trustee of the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. The museum, formerly the home of the neo-classical architect, John Soane (1753-1837), contains drawings and architectural models of Soane’s projects, plus the paintings and antiquities he collected throughout his career. With this new position fresh in his mind, Scott based his entry on the dome of Soane’s mausoleum, which Soane designed before his death. 

The Post Office selected Scott’s entry as the winning design, although they wished to make a few changes. Whilst they kept the shape, they decided to paint it red like their postboxes, rather than silver with a greeny-blue interior as Scott suggested. They also rejected Scott’s proposal to build the kiosk from steel, in preference to cast iron. By 1926, the new telephone box (K2) appeared on the streets of London. Over time, alterations were made, but the general shape of Scott’s design remains the same. K4, for example, combined the telephone box with a stamp-machine, but various technical issues rendered them useless. K6, a shorter, streamlined version, appeared in 1936 to mark the Silver Jubilee of George V (1865-1936), and it is this version that proved most popular. Examples of the original K2 boxes are displayed near Covent Garden.

Battersea Power Station

At the beginning of the 1930s, the London Power Company hired Scott as a consulting architect for their new power station at Battersea. Electrical engineer Leonard Pearce (1873-1947) had already drawn up designs for the building, but they desired Scott’s input on the external appearance. The public was not happy about a coal-fired power station appearing on their doorstep, so Scott’s task was to make it look as attractive as possible. Scott opted for a brick-cathedral style, remodelling the four chimneys to look like classical columns. The interior designer tried to match Scott’s design by adding Art Deco components to the control rooms. When Battersea Power Station opened in 1933, critics labelled it “one of the finest sights in London”.

In 1933, the Royal Institute of British Architects elected Scott as their president. He encouraged architects to think about their choice of technique and materials to create practical but beautiful buildings, as he was then doing in Cambridge. The University asked Scott to build a library next to the memorial court he developed the previous decade. The library was to replace the old, impractical building that did not have room for Cambridge University’s growing collection of books. Scott designed a large reading room featuring a 12 storey tower, which is visible for several miles around the city.

Weston Library, Oxford

After completing the Cambridge University Library, Scott travelled to Oxford to work on their main research library. The Weston Library, or New Bodleian Library as it is also known, needed to be large enough to accommodate several millions of books. So as not to produce a construction that towered high above the surrounding buildings, Scott dug deep into the ground so that only part of the library is visible at street level. Conscious that the rest of the street featured a mix of architectural styles from Gothic (16th century) to Victorian (19th century), Scott opted for something in between: Jacobean (17th century). Unfortunately, it is not considered one of his greatest works.

Scott often searched for the “middle line” when producing designs. He combined modern architecture with the age of the surrounding buildings. Whilst this technique generally worked well, the Bishop of Coventry, who wished him to draw up plans for a modern cathedral, rejected his proposals. The Royal Fine Arts Commission, on the other hand, thought the new cathedral should resemble the old and not contain any contemporary elements. Despite working on the project for five years, Scott resigned in 1947 because he felt unable to satisfy both parties.

The Second World War temporarily halted many projects, but in the aftermath, many bombed-out buildings needed reconstructing. The House of Commons hired Scott to rebuild the Commons Chamber at the Palace of Westminster. On this occasion, Scott decided not to search for a middle line, but rather design something that complemented the rest of the palace. After a fire in 1834, British architect Charles Barry (1795-1860), remodelled the building in a Gothic style, which designer Augustus Pugin (1812-52) augmented with the interior design. Scott argued that any other architectural style would clash with the surviving parts, and after much discussion, Parliament approved his proposal.

Tate Modern

Gradually, post-war repair work died down, and Scott became available to accept other commissions. Although he opposed the mass construction of industrial buildings, Scott agreed to redevelop Bankside Power Station on the River Thames. In some ways, Scott’s design resembled a modern church, with the 99-metre tall chimney standing in the centre. Nonetheless, it was a stark contrast with the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite bank. 

Bankside Power Station closed down in the 1980s, and the Tate Modern art gallery took over the building in 2000. Despite disliking industrial buildings, Scott agreed to design North Tees Power Station in Durham and Rye House Power Station in Hertfordshire. Neither building still stands today.

Scott worked as an architect for the rest of his life, mostly on religious buildings. He designed many Roman Catholic Churches, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Kensington and St Anthony’s Church in Preston. He worked on two Anglican churches: St Leonard’s Church in Sussex and St Mark’s Church in the London Borough of Bromley. Scott also drew up the plans for the Trinity College Chapel in Toronto, Canada.

During his late seventies, Scott developed lung cancer, but he was determined to finish all his design projects, even if he would not live to see them built. When he was admitted to the University College Hospital in London, Scott took his plans for the Church of Christ the King in Plymouth with him and worked on them from his hospital bed. By the time he passed away on 8th February 1960 at the age of 79, his final design was complete.

Scott’s grave at Liverpool Cathedral

Giles Gilbert Scott’s funeral took place at St James’s Roman Catholic Church, London, on 17th February 1960 before his body travelled north for burial outside Liverpool Cathedral. Although the cathedral was Scott’s first project, the construction did not finish until 1978, 18 years after his death. In the plans, Scott stipulated that burials were not to take place inside the church because he did not want the cathedral to become a mausoleum. Nonetheless, the Diocese of Liverpool honoured the architect with a memorial stone set into the floor of the cathedral.

For an architect, Scott’s gravestone is rather modest, but who needs a monument when buried next to a cathedral of his own design? Since not many people know his name, Giles Gilbert Scott was probably not a great celebrity during his lifetime, but he did win a few awards. Early in his career, Scott received a knighthood from George V. In 1944, George VI appointed Scott a Member of the Order of Merit (OM).

During his career, Scott designed many buildings, including some that are now familiar landmarks. Arguably, his most famous design is the K2 Telephone Box. Although it is rare to see one in use, the design is synonymous with London and a great tourist attraction. But how many people look at a telephone box and think about the man who made them? The same goes for buildings. We are aware buildings do not just appear, but without the vision of an architect, they would not be built. We must remember and celebrate the lives of people such as Giles Gilbert Scott, for, without them, many famous landmarks would not exist.


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Antony Gormley

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Entering the Antony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is almost like walking onto a construction site. Full of dense, hard-edged steel slabs, visitors navigate around building-like constructions to get to the next room. Overwhelmed by the stark, geometric shapes, it is easy to miss the human forms that the sculptures are representing. Open until 3rd December 2019, the human body plays a large role in Gormley’s latest exhibition in ways you would least expect.

Unlike most solo exhibitions, there is no history of Gormley’s life or 45-year career. There is no explanation about his style of work or artistic movement. Instead, the only story in the exhibition is the one visitors bring with them. With many interactive exhibits, Gormley’s aim is for everyone to come away with unique, individual experiences. He invites people to slow down, become more aware of their bodies and rethink their understanding of the connection between body and mind.

Sir Antony Mark David Gormley was born on 30th August 1950, the youngest of seven children to a German mother and Irish father. Growing up in the suburbs of London, Gormley attended the Benedictine boarding school Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire before enrolling at Trinity College, Cambridge to study archaeology, anthropology and the history of art. Despite being brought up in a Roman Catholic family, Gormley travelled to India and Sri Lanka to learn more about Buddhism. On return from his time abroad, he began attending Saint Martin’s School of Art and Goldsmiths in London, finally completing a postgraduate course in sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art.

iron-baby

Iron Baby 1999

Whilst at the Slade, Gormley met his future assistant and, as of 1980, wife, Vicken Parsons (b.1957). The couple have since been blessed with two sons and a daughter, the latter was the inspiration for the first sculpture in the exhibition. Situated on the floor of the courtyard where anyone could trip over it is a small iron cast of a newborn baby. Cast from Gormely’s 6-week old daughter, the life-size baby is made from the same material as the core of planet Earth. Gormley aims to make visitors aware of our “precarious position in relation to our planetary future.” The curled up body of the baby represents a need for shelter, comfort and peace.

Antony Gormley’s career began with a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1981. The majority of his sculptures were based on the human body, often cast from his physique. In 2006, with the help of 350 Chinese villagers, Gormley submitted an installation of 180,000 small clay figures to the 2006 Sydney Biennale and in 2007, 31 life-size casts of his body were installed on top of public buildings along the South Bank of the River Thames.

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Slabworks series, 2019

Gormley began making cubist sculptures in 2012, similar to the Slabworks installed in the first room of the exhibition. Despite being made of geometric shapes, each sculpture is positioned in the vague shapes of human bodies, whether standing, sitting, curled up or lying down. Those visitors who are unaware of the significance of the shapes could be forgiven for mistaking them to be the layout of cityscapes, ourselves being giants navigating our way around them, careful not to cause any disruption or damage.

Gormley won the Turner Prize in 1994 for Field for the British Isles, which consisted of 35,000 miniature figures, which is in keeping with his fascination of the human body. Of course, Gormley is most famous for his Angel of the North, one of the UK’s most famous public art sculptures located in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Constructed from steel, the angel is 20 metres (66 feet) tall with large geometric wings spanning 54 metres (177 feet).

Not all of Gormley’s work involves representations of the human body. The second room of the exhibition explores some of his earlier works produced in the 1970s and early 80s. During this time, Gormley experimented with different materials and everyday items, for example, an apple. His installation One Apple bisects the room with a row of 53 lead cases of increasing size. The cases record the growth of an apple from the first fallen petal to the ripening of the fruit. Originally constructed during the Cold War, Gormley used lead to encase the individual pieces for two reasons; one, it was an easy, malleable material to work with and, two, it is a material that can insulate against radiation. Gormley’s reason for wrapping objects in protective material is to make people think about how they wrap and protect their own bodies.

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Mother’s Pride V

Gormley’s most unconventional choice of material is arguably the bread he used to construct Mother’s Pride in 1982. Reconstructed for the fifth time for this exhibition, the shape of a curled-up body has been cut out of a hundred or so wax-covered slices of bread. The edges of the figure are jagged, suggesting the artist has eaten the bread to achieve the result. By consuming food, we keep our body alive. In this instance, the foetal position of the figure could suggest a baby in a mother’s womb; therefore, the mother is eating to keep both herself and the child within alive and well.

Overhead, a highly tensioned steel bar zips across the room and into another where it meets a second bar going in a different direction. A third bar travels from the ceiling to the floor, completing an abstract notion of the x, y and z-axes on a graph. Gormley’s aim to heighten our awareness of our position in space and time. Wherever we go, our location can be pinpointed using the horizontal and vertical lines on a graph to plot the coordinates.

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Clearing VII, 2019.

Visitors become part of the exhibition on entering the third room. Full from ceiling to floor and wall to wall with a continuous eight-kilometre coil of aluminium wire, visitors must navigate their way through to reach the next room. The curls of wire feel like a three-dimensional representation of a child’s energetic scribble. As a sculpture, Clearing VII has no boundaries, the walls of the room are the only parameters; had the room been bigger or smaller, the result would have a completely different look.

By entering the bundle of wire, visitors become part of the installation as they physically negotiate their way through. Bending under, side-stepping and climbing over low sections, a path is eventually navigated through to the room on the opposite side. If the wires are likened to confusion, the journey through them represents the way we solve the problem. The tighter the coils, the harder the problem.

Having traversed the wire-filled room, the next sculpture is a bit of an anticlimax. Subject II is a single life-size body constructed from tightly packed steel bars. With its head bent, contemplating the ground on which it stands, the sculpture is studied from all sides as people make their way around it. Due to the varying horizontal and verticle segments, the sculpture appears to change its appearance when looked at from different positions. Then it is back through the eight-kilometres of wire to reach the next room of the exhibition.

As well as completed sculptures, the exhibition features four decades worth of Gormley’s preliminary work. Hundreds of sketchbooks fill display cases revealing the thought processes and drawings Gormley made before sourcing materials and making his ideas reality. Several of the sculptures on display can be recognised in the sketchbooks as well as other works, such as Angel of the North.

Rather than detailed sketches, Gormley prefers to make rough scribbles. It is more important for him to get his thoughts down on paper than it is to produce accurate representations. Except for this exhibition, Gormley’s sketchbooks are for his eyes only; the presentation of the drawings are irrelevant.

The drawings show the progression of Gormley’s thoughts and the realisation of the outcome. The more developed sketches contain notes of materials and sizes that will be used to construct the sculptures. Not all of Gormley’s final pieces are constructed solely by himself, for instance, his Turner Prize-winning Field for the British Isles, for which he enlisted the help of 60 Mexican brickmakers.

Matrix III is an example of a sculpture that needed input from assistants. The “perpetual maze” consists of 21 intersecting cages suspended from the ceiling. Each cage is roughly the size of an average European bedroom, however, it is impossible to work out where each cage begins and ends.

“I’m trying to activate the space itself in such a way that the viewer’s body becomes activated.”
– Antony Gormley

Once again, the sculpture relies on the viewer’s curiosity and personal interpretation. By walking around it, or even under it, the perspective of the interlocking mesh changes. Gormley’s idea was to visually show the effect an increasing population is having on architecture. With high-rise buildings and blocks of flats being built left, right and centre, we as a society are beginning to live on top of each other. Gormley is asking, “what does that mean for our collective identity?”

The six-tonnes of standard steel mesh is usually used to reinforce concrete walls and lift shafts. As Gormley says, “This rebar is the inner skeleton of the environment we live in.” By only using the densely latticed steel, Gormley has stripped a growing city to its bare bones.

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Lost Horizon I, 2008

The eeriest installation is hands-down Lost Horizon I. Gormley began to work with cast iron, which was suitable for works situated outside. Lost Horizon I consists of dozens of iron casts of the artist’s body. Covering himself in plaster, Gormley spent hours staying still to produce six different moulds. The iron versions have been placed around the room, climbing the walls and standing on the ceiling.

Entering the room, visitors are instantly met by an imposing naked iron man. With slightly rusted appearances, the others come into view as the crowds make their way through the installation. Some people may be familiar with Gormley’s iron men since these are not the first he has produced. Many life-size figures have been placed in deserts, fields, cities and beaches around the world. One, for example, stands in the sea in Margate, Kent, which gradually becomes hidden as the tide comes in.

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Cave, 2019

The largest exhibit in terms of architectural scale is titled Cave. This is another interactive sculpture, which involves visitors making a choice: enter a constricted passageway or navigate around the outside. Those who brave entering the “cave” have to stoop to walk through a pitch-black corridor from one side of the sculpture to the middle and eventually through to the other side.

Gormley is attempting to recreate the darkness we experience when we close our eyes. We become fully aware of our bodies and the walls around us, however, we need to rely on our imagination and intuition to determine where we are in the room. Gormley likens this to cosmic space: we are bounded by our bodies on Earth yet, although we cannot go there, we can imagine the endlessness of space.

Those who opt to walk around the outside of the cave, navigate around rectangular and cuboid chunks of steel, intersected at chaotic angles. What they may not realise, however, is that if viewed from above, the shapes are arranged to look like a human form curled up on its side. In the next room, small sculptures of precariously stacked pieces of clay are laid out to produce a similar shape. In Gormley’s sketchbooks, visitors can see the thought process that went into making these sculptures.

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The final room of the exhibition can only be viewed from the doorway. Titled Host, the entire room is flooded with seawater on a bed of clay. Gormley calls this an “invasion of the inside by the outside,” resulting in something beautiful, yet destructive. Unlike the rest of the exhibition, which involves structure and man-made materials, Host only uses organic elements. The walls of the gallery are the only thing giving the “sculpture” any shape.

This exhibit changes throughout the day as the natural light darkens towards the evening. The water level may recede as the months go on, gradually being absorbed into the clay. The smell of the seawater and the stark contrast of the nineteenth-century gallery also play a role in the way visitors react to the exhibit.

Is Host a work of art or is it a form of destruction? What will the state of the room be like when the exhibition closes in December? Will the floor and walls be damaged – one assumes there must be some form of protection in place. Is the water representing a flood, the destruction of the world; or is it the total opposite, a creation of some sort? There is no explanation, only the interpretation of each individual peering through the door.

It is interesting to see the different reactions of people passing by the entrance to the room. Some take a glance and move on, whereas others stop and stare for a little while. It is impossible to determine what they are thinking but many are no doubt captivated by the reflection of the wooden door in the water. It is not a reflection you often get to see in seawater.

Host marks the end of the Antony Gormley exhibition and people are thrust out into the gift shop with thoughts ranging from “wow” to “what on earth was that about?” Having been a Royal Academician since 2003 and an OBE since 2014, Gormley had hundreds of works to choose between to display in the exhibition and, presumably, these are some of his best or at least most thought-provoking.

It is impossible to sum up the Antony Gormley exhibition. You do not come away having learnt something, you still know next to nothing about the artist. Has Gormley achieved what he set out to do; have we been inspired to self-reflect and challenge the status quo?

“Art becomes this proposition that invites you to rethink what the world is, and your position in it. In the end, the raw material of this exhibition is the psyche, the bodies, the people who come and indeed the feeling that they make together. That is not something that can be moulded or carved or cast, and that’s what makes the whole thing worth doing, because I want to move people. Can we care? Can we look at things anew?”
– Antony Gormley

The Antony Gormley exhibition is open until 3rd December 2019. Tickets are priced between £18 and £22. Please note that some exhibits are not suitable for people sensitive to enclosed spaces or those with mobility problems.


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The Power of Seeing

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The name John Ruskin may be familiar to many people, however, how many can accurately say who he was, what he did and why he is important in today’s art world? In a recent exhibition at Two Temple Place in London, the bicentenary of his birth was celebrated with a collection of 200 paintings, drawings, daguerreotypes, plaster casts and so forth that demonstrated Ruskin’s stance on aesthetics, culture and society. Regarded today as one of the greatest Victorian artists, critics, educators and social thinkers who devoted his life to the pursuit of knowledge, the exhibition briefly delved into the mind of a polymath whose influence is still felt today.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was the only child of sherry and wine importer John James Ruskin (1785–1864), co-founder of Ruskin, Telford and Domecq, and his wife Margaret (1781–1871). From an early age, Ruskin’s parents pressed their ambitions upon him, introducing him to writers, such as Byron (1788-1824), Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Walter Scott (1771-1832). Whilst John Ruskin Senior was focused on intellectual knowledge, his mother, an Evangelical Christian, pressed the Bible upon her son, teaching him to repeatedly read it from beginning to end and learn lengthy passages by heart. At this time, Ruskin also began to develop a passion for geology.

Described by Ruskin in his autobiography Praeterita, he had very few friends his own age, to begin with, as a result of being homeschooled at Herne Hill, in Camberwell, South London, although, he later spent a year at a school in Peckham. It was not his education, however, that set his path for the future. When he was thirteen, Ruskin was given a book-length poem illustrated by the painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), which sparked an interest in both art and poetry.

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Portrait of John Ruskin (1875)

Whilst studying at Oxford University, where he took up residence at Christ Church in 1837, he won the prestigious Newdigate Prize for poetry and met the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850). Ruskin also met and became close to the future Dean of Westminster, William Buckland (1784-1856), who also had an interest in geology and palaeontology. Ruskin’s other good friends, however, were studying archaeology and medicine.

Unfortunately, Ruskin never achieved independence whilst at university because his mother was lodging nearby and his father joined him at weekends. He was also suffering from ill health and had to take a lengthy break from Oxford before returning to pass his exams with a double fourth-class degree.

Even with a degree under his belt, Ruskin was unable to escape from the clutches of his parents. From 1840 until 1842, the Ruskin family spent time abroad, mainly in Italy, where John had the opportunity to study Italian painting. After returning to England, Ruskin continued to live with his parents in Camberwell, where they were frequently visited by the likes of Turner and the watercolourist Samuel Prout (1783-1851), whose work was collected by Ruskin’s father. At this time, J.M.W. Turner’s work was under severe criticism at the Royal Academy and Ruskin was spurred to defend his childhood idol.

Ruskin passionately regarded Turner as the greatest painter of his age and was thus outraged at the critical judgment of the Royal Academy. In a book eventually published in 1843 under the anonymity of “A Graduate of Oxford”, Ruskin wrote Modern Painters I as a response to these attacks.

“Turner perceives at a glance the whole sum of visual truth open to human intelligence … The power of every picture depends on the penetration of the imagined into the TRUE nature of the thing represented, and on the utter scorn of the imagination for all shackles and fetters of mere external fact that stand in the way of its suggestiveness.”
– John Ruskin

John Ruskin held the controversial opinion that landscape artists, such as Turner, were superior to the “Old Masters” from the post-Renaissance era. He argued that these so-called Masters painted from pictorial convention, i.e. with emotion, and were not being true to nature. Ruskin maintained that an artist should observe the reality of nature and not produce imaginary scenes in a studio. Turner, on the other hand, had a better understanding of the “truth”, such as the air, the clouds, water, stones, and plants.

Inspired by Turner, Ruskin produced his own artworks, adopting the artist’s subtle use of colour. His watercolour painting of Towers of Freiburg, which was painted on a misty morning in Germany’s Black Forest, was used in the book Modern Painters as an example of “Turnerian Topography”. While in France, Ruskin painted Lanslebourg, Savoie, recording the “facts” and landscape that he saw, rather than an attractive impression.

Unlike Turner’s paintings that sometimes appear as a blur of colour, Ruskin produced many carefully observed drawings, such as The Kappellbrücke at Luzern (Lucerne) in which he has captured every element, including the angles of the bridge, the stonework on the turret and the shimmering light on the water.

As well as modern landscape painters, Ruskin was inspired by the works he saw on his travels around Europe. In 1844, whilst in France with his parents, Ruskin was able to investigate the geology of the Alps as well as study the artwork at the Louvre in Paris. Finally, in 1845 at the age of 26, Ruskin travelled without his parents for the first time, taking the opportunity to explore medieval art and architecture in France, Switzerland and Italy. Cities such as Florence, Pisa and Venice were of great inspirational value to the young artist, however, he was dismayed at the modernisation processes, which were gradually replacing the traditional buildings.

Ruskin’s independent tour of western Europe led him to write a second volume of Modern Painters. This time, however, he concentrated on the Renaissance and pre-Renaissance, arguing that aesthetic and the divine are inextricably bound together: “the Beautiful as a gift of God”. His tour also took him in a new artistic direction; temporarily leaving painting behind, Ruskin developed a keen interest in architecture.

Bunney, John Wharlton, 1828-1882; Western Facade of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice

Western Façade of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice – John Wharlton Bunney

In 1847, Ruskin developed a close relationship with Euphemia “Effie” Grey (1828-97), the daughter of family friends for whom he had written the story The King of the Golden River when she was twelve years old. They married on 10th April 1848 at her home in Perth, Scotland and spent their early years together in Mayfair, London.

Although the European Revolutions of 1848 restricted the amount of travel the newlyweds could undertake, the couple eventually visited Venice in October 1849. In the meantime, Ruskin’s knowledge of architecture had been rapidly increasing and earlier that year he had travelled with his parents – Effie was not well enough to join him – to gather material for the third and fourth editions of Modern Painters.

The North-West Angle of the Facade of St Mark's, Venice by John Ruskin 1819-1900

The North-West Angle of the Facade of St Mark’s, Venice – Ruskin, 1851

Whilst in Venice, John and Effie’s marriage began to breakdown. Effie wished to socialise, whereas, her husband was occupied in solitary studies. Already that year he had published The Seven Lamps of Architecture, which promoted the seven virtues of secular and Protestant Gothic buildings: sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience. Now, all he wanted to do was gather material for his three-volume work, The Stones of Venice and create sketches of notable buildings that he feared would be destroyed by the occupying Austrian troops.

“Nothing interrupts him … He is either with a black cloth over his head taking Daguerreotypes or climbing about the capitals covered with dust, or else with cobwebs just as if he had just arrived from taking a voyage with the old woman on her broomstick.”
– Effie in a letter home to her family

Despite Effie not being keen on her husband’s work, Ruskin was a great influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which was established in 1848 by John Everett Millais (1829-96), William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1826-82). The group were committed to “paint[ing] from nature only” and shared Ruskin’s opinion about the “Old Masters”.

Through the poet Coventry Patmore (1823-96), a mutual friend of Ruskin and Millais, Ruskin met the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and wrote letters to The Times to argue against their critics. Ruskin provided the Brotherhood, particularly Millais, with encouragement and patronage, and Effie became one of their models.

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John Ruskin – Millais

In 1853, Millais visited the Ruskin’s in Scotland where he studied and closely observed the landscape. In his painting of Glenfinlas, Millais added Ruskin’s portrait. Previously, Millais had painted Effie for The Order of Release, 1746, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1852.

Unfortunately, Effie was growing increasingly distressed about her unhappy marriage, causing her to suffer both physical and mental illnesses. She was constantly arguing with Ruskin who would rather concentrate on his studies than spend time with his wife. Effie was also fed up with his intense and overly protective parents. In an act of desperation, Effie filed for an annulment on grounds of “non-consummation” due to Ruskin’s supposed “incurable impotency”. Although Ruskin disputed the claim, the annulment was granted in July 1854. A year later, Effie married Millais.

Shortly before the end of his marriage, Ruskin had begun lecturing on architecture and painting in Edinburgh. This led to lectures at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857 about how to use and acquire art. By 1869, Ruskin had become the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University, delivering his inaugural lecture on his 51st birthday in 1870, at the Sheldonian Theatre.

The following year, he founded The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University. The School’s intent was to challenge the orthodox teaching and methodology of government art schools. Often, his lectures, which included themes such as myth, ornithology, geology, nature-study and literature, were so popular, they had to be given twice.

“The teaching of Art is the teaching of all things.”
– John Ruskin

In the 1870s, Ruskin visited Sheffield where his former pupil and friend Henry Swan (1825-89) was working as an engraver. By this time, not only had Ruskin had a fairly successful career, he had amassed an impressive collection of art, minerals, books, architectural casts, ancient coins and other precious, beautiful objects. After purchasing a small cottage in the district of Walkley to store his collection, Ruskin founded the Guild of St George, a charity devoted to arts, crafts and the rural economy. The cottage was then opened as a museum and he encouraged the working class man to view artworks that were once only something the wealthy could afford to see. The majority of the items at the Two Temple Place exhibition came from this museum.

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Rose La Touche – Ruskin

Whilst it is not certain how the collapse of Ruskin’s marriage to Effie affected him, he remained unlucky in love for the remainder of his life. When he was nearly 40 years old, he became the private art tutor to the daughters of the Irish poet Maria La Touche. Rose La Touche (1848–1875), who was only ten at the time, caught the eye of the much older Ruskin who gradually fell in love with her. Ruskin proposed to her on her 18th birthday but she asked him to wait three years until she was 21. At the time, Ruskin was having doubts about the Christian faith, which was beginning to cause problems with the staunchly Protestant family.

Ruskin proposed a number of times to Rose but she consistently turned him down. Her final rejection occurred in 1872, however, they still met up occasionally. Sadly, Rose died at the age of 27 after suffering from a long illness. As a result, Ruskin was plunged into despair, which led to bouts of mental illness, breakdowns and hallucinations. In an attempt to help himself come to terms with Rose’s death, Ruskin turned to Spiritualism, believing it would give him to power to communicate with the dead. Gradually, desperate to believe there was life after death, Ruskin returned to Christianity.

Throughout his life, Ruskin wrote numerous books, ranging in topic from art and architecture to travel guides and literature. His last great work was his autobiography Praeterita, meaning “things of the past”, which focused on selective parts of his life, omitting many facts.

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John Ruskin, 1882

Ruskin’s final home was in the Lake District where he tried to continue to write, however, most of this work was considered irrelevant in the art world. He was also still suffering from mental health issues and was unable to continue to travel to Europe. His 80th birthday was celebrated around the country, however, Ruskin was barely aware of the proceedings. Not long after, he passed away from influenza.

The once slim lecturer with piercing blue eyes became the grumpy old man with a long beard who resembled an Old Testament prophet. Although he held strong opinions throughout his life, his later convictions were more complaints than anything insightful. As part of the Two Temple Place exhibition, the curators had pieced together Fifteen Things Heartily Loathed from the writings of John Ruskin.

Ruskin detested iron railings and bemoaned that the Houses of Parliament were “the most effeminate and effectless heap of stones ever raised by man.” The Renaissance buildings in Venice were defined as the “ribaldries of drunkenness” and, apparently, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge looked like an upsidedown table.

Other things Ruskin despised were the “doggerel sound” of Wagner’s The Meistersingers, lawyers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, being photographed and cycling. He hated railway stations and could not stand the “beastly, blockheady, loggerheady, doggish, loggish, hoggish-poggish, filthy, fool-begotten, swindler-swallowed” railways round Dieppe in Northern France. And more fool anyone who got Ruskin talking on matters such as making money or the English constitution: “The rottenest mixture of Simony, bribery, sneaking tyranny, shameless cowardice, and accomplished lying that ever the Devil chewed small to spit into God’s Paradise.”

Regardless of the ups and downs of his personal life and his strong opinions, Ruskin is renowned across the world. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) described him as “one of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times”. Ruskin also influenced people such as Gandhi (1869-1948), the architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965), T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and William Morris (1834-96). Ruskin’s thoughts about the conservation of historic buildings inspired the foundation of the National Trust and many Christian socialists were inspired by his ideas.

Overall, Ruskin wrote more than 250 works, beginning with topics involving art and architecture. As he became more known for his work, he expanded to cover topics encompassing science, geology, ornithology, literary criticism, pollution, mythology, travel, economy and social reform. Alongside this, he painted and developed the idea that it was important to paint what can be physically seen rather than imagined.

Numerous areas of study, research and thought have been affected by Ruskin in one way or another. His influence is still present throughout the arts, education, economy and environment today. Although most people are oblivious to his presence, John Ruskin is embedded in contemporary culture and society. Without him, who knows what the world would be like today.

Whilst it is important to celebrate the phenomenal works of John Ruskin, the man behind the books and artwork must not be overlooked. A number of events are being held by Ruskin 200 in honour of the bicentenary of his birth. Details of events can be found on their website www.ruskin200.com


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The Other St Paul’s

 

 

 

We are unafraid to reason, laugh and explore.

Ask anyone in London the way to St Paul’s and they will inevitably point you towards the magnificent cathedral by the river. Yet, so many Christian churches have been dedicated to Paul the Apostle that it can be guaranteed that Sir Christopher Wren’s famous architecture is not the only building in London with that name. In fact, there are over a dozen “St Paul” churches in the capital alone, one of which is probably walked past by thousands of tourists every day.

Located on Bedford Street overlooking Covent Garden, is C of E’s St Paul’s Church. With a heritage designation Grade 1, the church, whose architecture reflects that of an early Roman temple, was built at the same time as the famous piazza during the 17th century. Still in use today, St Paul’s offers services throughout the week, its main one being at 11am every Sunday. However, visitors are welcome to visit during the week for a look around the historic building or to sit quietly and pray.

St Paul’s Church was designed by the famous architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) whose other notable buildings include the Queen’s House in Greenwich and Whitehall’s Banqueting House. Jones was employed by Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford, to build a square (Covent Garden) surrounded by mansions and a church. Purportedly, Lord Bedford requested a very basic church “not much better than a barn”, which Jones countered with: “Then you shall have the most handsome barn in England!”

Building began in 1631 and was quickly completed within two years, becoming the first church to be built in London since the Reformation – hence its Church of England denomination. Constructed from stone, the eastern end of the church looking over Covent Garden is fitted with a portico supported by four columns. It is this feature that most resembles the Etruscan-style temple that Inigo Jones so favoured. The main entrance, however, is at the rear of the church, through a less impressive facade.

Inigo Jones’ original plan was to have the main entrance at the east end so that the congregation could enter the small 50x100ft building from the main square. However, Christian tradition dictated that the altar must be at the east side and not the west where it had initially been placed. With the altar preventing anyone from entering through the portico, the entrance was bricked up, and a fake door erected in its place.

The church has undergone a few changes since its completion in 1633, however, it still largely corresponds to Inigo Jones’ original plan. A decade after it opened, St Paul’s Church was extended to add a gallery along the south wall, then, twelves years following that, another gallery was added on the north wall. Finally, in 1647, one more gallery was added, this time on the west wall.

In 1788, Thomas Hardwick (1752-1829), the English architect and founder of the Architects’ Club (1791), began restoration of the building which had already seen its first centenary. Unfortunately, a fire in the Bell Tower consumed the rest of the building, destroying the majority of the structure. Mercifully, the original pulpit was saved and the church was reerected to Inigo Jones’ archetype. The final major change was conducted by William Butterfield (1814-1900), a local Gothic Revival architect, in 1872, who raised the altar and was responsible for the positioning of the fake door on the east wall.

 

 

 

Madonna of the Magnificat (Madonna del Magnificat) 1480-81

Madonna of the Magnificat (Madonna del Magnificat) 1480-81

The interior of St Paul’s Church has been updated within the past century, including a restoration between the years 1981 and 1990. Changes such as the installment of electric lighting, sound systems, and heating were inevitable as technologies became readily available and affordable, however, other aspects of the church have been updated too. In 1945, the main altar was redecorated to include a copy of Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat (1480-1).

During the Second World War, St Paul’s Church was fortunate to avoid a direct hit from falling bombs, nevertheless, nearby explosions shattered the original windows. In 1969, the Reverend Clarence May paid for, as a parting gift, brand new stained glass windows, which are still in place today.

To the side of the main altar is a much smaller altar for the purpose of prayer to St Genesius, the Patron Saint of actors, clowns, comedians, dancers, and musicians. This is due to the church’s long association with the theatre community for which it received the sobriquet “The Actor’s Church”.

Covent Garden in the West End is London’s main theatre and entertainment area. Therefore, St Paul’s Church was predestined to have some connection with the acting industry. The first relationship developed as early as 1662 when the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was created. The same year saw the first ever production of the puppet show Punch and Judy – something of great significance in the area, emphasised by the pub of the same name on the west side of Covent Garden. Another significant link was established in 1723 when the Covent Garden Theatre was built (now named the Royal Opera House).

Many famous names have passed through the doors of St Paul’s Church. As early as 1710, baptisms were taking place for soon-to-be-famous people, such as Thomas Arne (1710-78) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Of course, at the time, these babies were unknown to the world and were only baptised at the church due to their parents living in the parish. No one knew that the boys would grow up to compose the patriotic song Rule Britannia or produce over 2000 paintings. Similarly, there have been a few well-known burials, but, most interestingly, the first victim of the Great Plague of London. On 12th April 1665, Margaret Ponteous was laid to rest in the churchyard.

Burials were stopped in the 1850s resulting in headstones in the graveyard being removed and a garden laid in its place. However, this did not stop the people of St Paul’s Church commemorating the lives of well-known people associated with the church.

 

 

 

Adorning the plainly decorated walls inside the church are simple plaques stating the name, birth, and death of many actors, playwrights, singers and so forth who became part of The Actor’s Church during their lifetime. Theatrical personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Terrence Rattigan, Vivien Leigh and Ivor Novello are just a handful of names located around the building. Although burials had stopped, the ashes of Ellen Terry and Dame Edith Evans can also be found.

21616375_10212172990511422_1047123178265667066_nThe theatre memorials began after the Second World War, however, plaques have been raised for people who lived many years before then. This includes Thomas Arne, who was buried as well as baptised in the church and Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), a Dutch-British woodcarver who worshipped at St Paul’s. Gibbons is responsible for the limewood wreath near the entrance to the church and may have been the producer of the original pulpit saved from the fire in 1795.

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Macklin’s memorial plaque in St Paul’s in Covent Garden

Most of the memorials are very basic with no embellishments, however, there are a few that have a more decorative appearance. One of these belongs to the memory of Charles Macklin (1690-1797), an Irish actor and dramatist who spent most of his career at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. His memorial features a carving of a theatrical mask with a dagger positioned through the eye socket. This may seem a peculiar choice of imagery, however, it is significant to the actor’s downfall. In 1735, Macklin was sentenced for manslaughter after an argument over a wig with fellow actor, Thomas Hallam, spiralled out of control. In a fit of temper, Macklin thrust his cane into Hallam’s eye. Although he did not intend to kill him, the cane pierced through the eyeball and into the brain. Considering the circumstances, Macklin got off fairly lightly and was still honoured with a plaque inside St Paul’s Church.

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21616287_10212172991951458_8208480877705092628_nSince the graveyard was removed and garden laid in its place, St Paul’s Church owns one of the quietest grounds in the busiest city in England. Whilst the portico faces the bustling shopping piazza, the reverse opens up onto a small, peaceful area with two lawns and plenty of benches. Visitors are encouraged to spend time in quiet reflection away from the hustle and bustle of the city around them. Just as the church often gets overlooked by tourists, the gardens almost feel like a secret with only a lucky few stumbling over its existence. St Paul’s Churchyard is a lovely place for a picnic, place to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, read a book or recuperate after braving the hoards of tourists in Covent Garden. St Paul’s welcomes everyone, although, in order to keep the idyllic enclosure the much-loved peaceful environment, visitors are asked to respect the wildlife, avoid playing music, abstain from drinking alcohol, and not to feed the pesky pigeons!

St Paul’s Church has been extremely supportive of the theatrical world and, after almost 400 years, continues to be a pillar of support in the community. In 2007, the Iris Theatre was established in order to aid and encourage the next generation of professional theatre practitioners. The charity puts on regular shows at St Paul’s Church, relying on audiences and supporters for funding. St Paul’s hosts over 300 events a year, many as a result of the Iris Theatre. The company has a stimulating repertoire with different shows tailored to a variety of tastes. From opera and classical theatre to circus-style performances, there is something to entertain everyone. The next performance is a musical titled Fidel which explores the life of the longest standing political leader, Fidel Castro, and the Cuban revolution. With tickets at £15, the show will be performed twice on 16th November 2017. The final show of the year will be Xmas Factor on 1st December.

Another charity that began at St Paul’s Church is the Theatre Chaplaincy UK (established 1899). The charity offers pastoral and practical support to anyone engaged in the performing arts regardless of their faith and background. Although a Christian charity, the chaplains are not there to convert non-believers; their only goal is to provide support and guidance for those aspiring to develop their acting career.

Of course, St Paul’s Church is first and foremost a religious establishment with regular Christian services and festivals throughout the year. It is important to keep this in mind whilst exploring the historical structure, relaxing in the garden, or enjoying a theatre production. It may not be as impressive as the famous St Paul’s Cathedral, however, it does play a significant role in the community and has an interesting background. The theatre memorials are an invaluable feature, attracting tourists of all faiths and none.

We welcome people of faith, all who seek faith and friendship, and all who doubt.

Services are held every Sunday (at 11am) and most weekdays. The Eucharist is celebrated at 11am each Sunday. Weekday Eucharists: Tuesday & Wednesday 1:10pm. All are welcome.  

Art in the Park

It has already been five years since London held the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. Years of preparation took place beforehand, building new venues and creating a sporting complex for an event that would only last a few weeks. However, unlike the situation in Rio after the last Olympic games, London has not abandoned this expensive project and is continuing to use and develop the Olympic Park today.  Christened the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in commemoration of the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, the area was developed into the largest urban park in Western Europe by restoring wetland habitats and cultivating native plants.

Of course, the original Olympic arenas are still in use and sit within the park in all their quirky architectural glory. The London Aquatics Centre has been open to the public since 2014 as has the Lee Valley VeloPark at the opposite end of the park. The Olympic Stadium, now known as the London Stadium, is home to West Ham United Football Club and British Athletics, both making use of its multi-purpose arena.

During the construction of the Olympic Park, designers and landscapers were fully aware of the impact the project would have on the local area. In order for Londoners to benefit from the park, they chose to incorporate creative features so that the final outcome would not be completely sports oriented. In 2011, The Legacy List charity was set up to support the games but also to create connections with the general public by commissioning art installations and educational enterprises.

The art installations are still displayed in the park, reflecting on the landscape, history and local memories. Artists from far and wide were invited to participate, resulting in some unconventional outcomes. Some may not be much to look at whilst others may be easily overlooked, however, they all have interesting stories behind them.

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ArcelorMittal Orbit

Due to its 560 acres, it is not possible to see all the artworks in the park on one visit, but there are a few that are unmissable from the moment of entry. In fact, one can be seen from a distance and has attracted many visitors since its re-opening to the public in 2016. The ArcelorMittal Orbit stands at 114.5-metres and is the tallest sculpture in the United Kingdom. Originally commissioned by the Mayor of London in 2012. Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s intricate continuous loop of recycled steel has been converted into a 178-metre tunnel slide that takes daring visitors spinning around the structure twelve times at the same speed it takes World Record Holder Wayde van Niekerk to run 400-metres.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, originally commissioned the construction because he thought the park needed “something extra”. Designers were given the task of blueprinting ideas for an Olympic Tower from which Kapoor and Balmond’s concept was chosen as the winner. This brings about the question as to what the other designs looked like and why this contemporary eye-sore was selected above them all. At least the views from the top promise to be impressive.

The other fairly noticeable artistic feature in the park is Keith Wilson’s Steles. Thirty-five coloured poles ranging in height between 3 and 5-metres are found along the side of the Waterworks River which flows through the park before joining up with the River Lea. Although 8-kilometres of waterways flow through the park, Wilson’s Steles are only situated in a small section. Painted in the colours of the Olympic rings, these Steles look like giant crayons, however, are meant to resemble nautical waymarkers. These were the first art installation to be completed in the park and have a physical function as well as an aesthetic one. Due to their position in the water, they can easily be used as mooring posts for barges and small boats that float along the river. Alternatively, they make good roosting posts for the local black herons.

Other art installations are less noticeable until you stumble across them whilst exploring the park. Some may not even be noticed unless you are aware of them, to begin with. Hidden behind the Aquatics Centre is a utility building that has been used as a canvas by the artist DJ Simpson. Commissioned by the Olympic Delivering Authority, Simpson’s peculiar artwork, Open Folds, was installed in March 2012 to represent the contours of the neighbouring landscape. Constructed of dark anodised aluminium, Open Folds hugs the outside walls of the building. Simpson has punched out holes and formed patterned lines to emphasise the varying shape of the surrounding terrain.

In the main section of the park, another building has been used to display an installation of 2000 wooden cubes. One wall of the Podium Café is the location of Pixel Wall by the London-based design collective known as Tomato. The interactive wall allows visitors to turn the cubes, which have a mix of light and dark surfaces, in order to create different pixellated images or words. This is something that appeals to most visitors who cannot resist touching and playing with the cubes and discovering their creative potential. Despite clear instructions not to, vandals have unfortunately written on the cubes, ruining the overall aesthetic of the artwork.

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The Fun Palace by Caroline Bird.

All forms of art were involved with the development of the Olympic Park and, although they all resulted in something tangible, they did not necessarily begin that way. As well as artists and designers, poets were invited to contribute their thoughts and words. On a wooden shed by the South Lawn is an engraved verse from a poem written by Caroline Bird.

Titled The Fun Palace, Bird’s poem narrates the life of Joan Littlewood (1914-2002), a theatre director who was heavily involved with the Theatre Royal in Stratford. During her career, she dreamt up the idea of a “Fun Palace” – an arts and education centre. She envisioned this building on the site of the park, however, her ambition never came to fruition. In honour of what would have been her 100th birthday in 2014, Caroline Bird penned this poem in celebration of everything she did for the artistic community in Stratford.

Other poets have also produced verses to be displayed around the park that reflect on the local area and its history. Lemn Sissay, a local author, was the first to be commissioned to write for the London Olympics. He provided three poems – Living Is In; Spark Catchers; and Spark – which are all exhibited in a similar manner to Bird’s poem. Carol Ann Duffy, who was appointed the Poet Laureate in 2009, also contributed with a poem about Eton Manor, a former leisure centre in the area.

John Burnside, a Scottish poet, was inspired by the suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst, who was known to cycle around the area whilst campaigning for women’s equality. With this significant piece of history in mind, Burnside wrote Bicycling for Ladies, which has also been etched into wood, along with visual imagery.

Sylvia Pankhurst

I dreamed you came again

through the smog of time,

match-girls and broom-makers,

cycling from street to street

with The Women’s Dreadnought;

the houses lit for miles,

like beacons

and a true friend

– Extract from Bicycling For Ladies

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Made of glass and steel, and standing 9-metres high, Monica Bonvicini‘s artwork is hard to miss from the road passing the Copper Box Arena. Functioning as a mirror by day and sporting neon lights by night, the Italian artist’s contribution has an ambiguous meaning. Is it referring to the athletes at the Olympic Games, or is it instructing people to run for their lives?

 

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Freeze Frame by Neville Gabie

 

Not all the artwork that has featured in the Olympic Park remains on public display. In 2012, Neville Gabie was appointed artist in residence for a period of 16 months. During this time, he created a series of work using film and photography. In one film, he recorded his attempt to sit on every seat in the stadium. His most imaginative outcome, however, is the recreation of George Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884). By carefully placing people in high visibility jackets, Gabie reimagined the famous painting in the modern setting of the Olympic Park.

Although not commissioned as an art installation, there are two famous structures that attract many visitors and make great photograph opportunities. These are, of course, the Olympic Rings and the Paralympic Agitos. Located either side of the River Lea, these relics from the Games will remain as a reminder that the park was where the majority of the events took place. For whatever reason that you have gone to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, seeing the Rings and the Agitos is a must.

Despite being transformed into a recreational public parkland, it is impossible to erase the success London had in being the host city of the Olympic Games. Along with the Rings, Agitos, and arenas, facts and memories of the Games have been dotted around the park. The entrance near the Aquatics Centre has a series of facts spread over the pathway, reminding people what London and its athletes achieved, as well as informing the future generations. There is also an opportunity to try and beat Greg Rutherford’s long jump world record of 8.31-metres.

The park has been made child-friendly with the addition of playgrounds containing several different climbing frames, swings and slides to enjoy. These have been designed as abstractly as the buildings and structures surrounding them, in keeping with the contemporary appeal of the area. During the summer, Children can enjoy racing through the water fountains as they turn on and off at great speed.

The park, architecture, and artworks have not appealed to everyone, resulting in a lot of criticism, including in the national papers. The architecture critic for The Guardian expressed the opinion that “There is a frenzy of wacky light fittings, of playground installations, of seats, tree species, sculptural lumps of granite, kiosks, railings and coloured surfaces…It suffers from an Olympic syndrome, where everyone wants to be a Mo or a Jessica and make their mark … Great care was taken to make the Athletes’ Village aesthetically orderly, to the point where it began to resemble Ceausescu’s Bucharest: this eruption makes such efforts futile.”

It appears that the developers have tried too hard to make everything look modern and have ultimately created something that looks obscure and slightly alien. Unlike the natural parks around Britain, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park feels false and overcultivated. Attempts have been made to produce gardens of foreign plants, including those from Asia and the Southern Hemisphere, however, this increases the unnatural feel of the park. Granted, the park is clean, neat and well looked after, but it looks too perfect to be considered parklands. It does not help matters that between the arenas and different “green” sections is an abundance of concrete pathways. The roads crisscrossing the park are a nuisance too; it is impossible to forget you are in London.

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is still being developed as new installations and areas are added to improve visitors’ experience. No doubt more artwork and perplexing architecture will be added to the area over the coming years. With different events happening throughout the year, there is always something new to attract tourists to the area, making the park a worthy project.

Whether or not contemporary art appeals, it is still worth taking a trip to the Olympic Park. We are fortunate to have free access to a place where British history was made and, hopefully, always be remembered.

The park is a short walk from both Stratford Station and Stratford International Station. There are also many buses in the area, making the park easily accessible. Facilities are available for children, adults and disabled to ensure that everybody gets the most out of their visits. Numerous cafés and restaurants are on site and there are plenty of staff to help if you need directions or would like a tour of the park.

Download the Art in the Park field guide for more information about the art installations and where to find them.

Faith at the Heart of the Nation

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© 2017 THE DEAN AND CHAPTER OF WESTMINSTER

It is virtually impossible to find a building more steeped in British history than the spectacular structure of Westminster Abbey. Although sections of the present building date from the 1200s, its history dates even further back. Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Abbey has been in constant use and importance in the life of past and present royal families. Still used for church services today, Westminster Abbey welcomes visitors to tour the sacred building and marvel at the architecture and the many wonders hidden inside.

There is a discrepancy about the origins of the first church built on this site, however, historical evidence has been confirmed for the years subsequent to the death of Edward the Confessor at the very beginning of 1066. Children are taught at an early age about the Battle of Hastings that followed the death of this holy king, but little to no emphasis is put on the use of Westminster Abbey at that time, nor in the lives of future monarchs.

Visiting the Abbey will provide all the information about its uses and significance to various Kings and Queens of England. Commentary through an audio guide explains the events of different years that involved the Abbey’s use and development and, although no written information is displayed in the building, a full account of the history is available for purchase in a souvenir guide.

Originally, the church founded by Edward the Confessor stood in roughly the same place as the current Abbey, however, its surroundings would have looked completely different to the built up area that exists today. Over a thousand years ago, the Westminster area was on the very outskirts of London, a city which had not yet expanded to its contemporary grand size. Not only was the church located in the suburbs, it stood on a boggy, inhospitable island known as Thorney. Surrounded by many tributaries of the River Thames, it was not the welcoming district it is today.

The current building was erected over hundreds of years, beginning during the reign of Henry III (crowned 1216-1272). As a devotee to the canonised St Edward (the Confessor), Henry wished to demolish the existing church and construct a spectacular structure in the European Gothic Style in the saint’s honour. St Edward, who had been buried in his own construction, was provided with his own shrine. St Edward the Confessor’s Chapel still remains in the centre of the Abbey, unfortunately, due to fragility and age, visitors are unable to enter.

Little is known about who was responsible for the design of what was to become Westminster Abbey, but the three main stone masons involved in the raising of the building have been recorded as Henry of Reyns (d1253), John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverley (d1285). Although influenced by French cathedrals, the continental style was simply appropriated rather than copied. In order to make the building unique to England, as well as contain the highest vault (102ft/31m), certain aspects were altered from the geometrical system. This includes a single aisle, a lengthy nave and wide transepts. The stone and marble sculptures add to the Englishness of the building.

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Great West Door (Hazel Stainer 2017)

The façade of the Abbey, for which it is most famous, is as impressive as its interior. In order to keep its magnificent appearance, Westminster Abbey has been refaced several times, and may no longer resemble the original building. Architects, such as Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and James Wyatt (1746-1813), have done a great deal of work on the building over the centuries. The latest major restoration took place between 1973-1995.

It is not clear who is responsible for the carvings, statues and effigies, but these are in over abundance in and out of the Abbey. Many Kings and Queens of England have been laid to rest under elaborate shrines and memorials that are so intricate it is difficult to believe that they were produced by the hands of a human being. And it is not only the royals who have been subjected to this lavish treatment; many members of the aristocracy have been honoured with a burial place in Westminster Abbey.

The most remarkable monument in the Abbey can be found in St Michael’s Chapel, one of the many small chapels located around the perimeter. Interestingly, this does not belong to a monarch but rather Lady Elizabeth Nightingale (1704-31) who died in childbirth. The memorial was designed by the French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac (1702-1762) and consists of life-size figurines of Lady Elizabeth’s husband trying to protect her body from a skeletal apparition of death. To create realistic statues of people is one thing, but to successfully carve a skeleton from stone is a serious feat. Roubiliac was responsible for other effigies in the Abbey, including one of the musician Handel located in Poet’s Corner.

 

Westminster Abbey is open to the public every day for services including Holy Communion, Morning Prayer and Evensong. For a fee, tourists are allowed in to follow a plotted tour around the holy building. Although this means it is difficult to take your time and study every hidden corner as a result of the crowd continually surging forth in one direction, the tour is laid out so that nothing is missed. The accompanying audio guide provides the history of the building’s involvement with the English royal family but also points out works of art, sculpture and architecture that will amaze many a visitor.

Unlike most churches throughout the country, not all the effigies remain the whitish-grey colour of stone. Evidence remains of coloured paint that was added to the statues to make them as lifelike as possible. Although some of these have faded over the years, many are still covered in the rich reds and blues.

Westminster Abbey was built before the fashion of painted ceilings and walls came in to being. In contrast to other London churches, for instance, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Abbey relies on ornate carvings for decoration. Having said that, during a cleaning in the 1930s, two wall paintings were uncovered that historians believe date back to the end of the 13th century. These have been identified as images of Christ with the apostle Thomas and Saint Christopher. Of all the artistic components of the Abbey, these early paintings are one of the few that feature religious content.

The most complex piece of art situated in the Abbey is the Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar. This also dates back to the 13th century and was commissioned by the abbot of the monastery, Richard de Ware (d1283). Pavements made of mosaics were all the rage in Italy, therefore Roman stonemasons were invited to England to lay something similar in the newly built Abbey. The pavement spans 24ft and is made up of a variety of material: onyx, porphyry, limestone and glass. The geometric pattern consists of an assortment of shapes and colours and, despite its age, still looks colourful today.

Although the architecture is phenomenal, the greatest attractions are the tombs and memorials of famous people – and not purely the Royals. Upwards of 3000 people are eternally remembered in the Abbey and more are likely to be included in years to come. The flamboyance of previous centuries has abated resulting in more indistinct plaques and stones for the more recent tributes. The most popular area for tourists is located in the South Transept and is most commonly known as Poet’s Corner.

Over 100 well-known authors, poets and playwrights are celebrated in Poet’s corner. Some, such as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), have ostentatious friezes, however, the majority have modest stone slabs, many of which are embedded into the floor. Literature lovers will be excited to locate some of their favourite authors, including Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Geoffrey Chaucer (the first to be buried in this corner), Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Lewis, Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth.

With floor and wall space running out, memorials have begun to feature on stained glass windows. These have been added fairly recently and take into consideration the writers who were shunned at the times of their deaths. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wilde (1854-1900) is one example. Almost 100 years after his death, Oscar Wilde, who had been denied a place in Westminster Abbey on account of his sexuality, was awarded a humble lozenge in the giant window above the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer. Space remains on the window for future authors to take their place amongst the other literary greats.

Westminster Abbey is a captivating example of British architecture and history and is certainly worth the visit. There is no other church or building as elaborately adorned as this structure on the edge of the Thames. As visitors follow the numbered audio points on their tour, they are encouraged to look up and marvel at the mesmerising ceilings that must have taken several years to produce.

 

As well as the main Abbey, your ticket will also allow you to explore the cloisters behind the dominant building. Here can be found the Pyx Chamber, Chapter House and the College Garden (check opening times). There is also a restaurant that is open seven days a week where you can get refreshments after walking around the entire Abbey.

It is without a doubt that Westminster Abbey is a worthy tourist attraction, nevertheless, the extortionate entry fee may cause something of a dispute. At £22 a head, it is questionable whether walking around what is effectively a giant tomb is worth it. One could joke that it is a once in a lifetime experience because, at that price, no one is likely to want to do it twice.

Having now visited Westminster and Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral – London’s two most famous religious buildings – the differences between the two are striking. Westminster Abbey is quite clearly intended for the aristocracy, evidenced by the class of people buried in its grounds. St Paul’s, on the other hand, is much more user-friendly. Of course, the architectural styles differ significantly on account of the periods in which they were built, but Westminster Abbey makes the general public feel as though they do not belong there (the strict rules and watchful security guards do not help matters), whereas St Paul’s is a much more welcoming and comfortable environment. In terms of their purposes as a house of God, St Paul’s definitely comes out on top.

It is irrefutable that Westminster Abbey is one of the most popular landmarks in London. Whether you attend a service or join the lengthy queue to tour the building, it will certainly be a place you will never forget. Despite the development of building materials and the constantly rising number of skyscrapers in the area, Westminster Abbey will remain a true advocate of the country’s history at the heart of the nation.

 

The Art of the Natural World

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© The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London

When visiting the Natural History Museum in London South Kensington, visitors already have some idea of what to expect. For starters, the recently erected skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling of Hintze Hall has been the talk of the public for some time. Whilst many tourists have flocked to view this giant, they are also expecting dinosaurs, fossils, extinct animals, creepy crawlies and volcanoes. People have not come with the hopes of looking at artworks.

To the casual observer, the exhibitions at the museum are exactly what they expected: bones, stuffed animals, more bones, ancient rocks, bones, fossils, dead things, and a wealth of information. On the other hand, looking past the scientific and factual details is a plethora of art waiting patiently to be acknowledged.

Before entering the museum, the original building screams out for attention, demonstrating Romanesque-style features, making it one of the finest Victorian buildings in Britain. Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905) was an English architect who became greatly associated with the Victorian Gothic Revival Style. The Liverpudlian designer was only 36, thus still in the beginning stages of his career, when he inherited the task of designing the building for the Natural History Museum.

Influenced by German Cathedrals, Waterhouse developed the first building to be decorated both inside and out with intricate designs. Using honey and pale blue terracotta, beautiful decorations were modelled from Waterhouse’s drawings, representing fossils, birds, animals and fish – many of the items in the museum’s collection. After its completion in 1881, critics from The Times exclaimed, “The walls and ceiling are decorated as befits a Palace of Nature.”

Although it has been extended in recent years, the original building looks much the same as when it was first constructed. Many visitors wonder whether it was formerly a cathedral or monastery due to its phenomenal beauty, however, it was built especially for the museum.

The Natural History Museum would not have existed at all if it were not for the proficient naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Although his initial claim to fame was introducing drinking chocolate to England, his collecting skills, which narrowly bordered on hoarding, provided scientists with the opportunity to learn the secrets of the natural world. By his death at the age of 92, Sloane had stockpiled over 80,000 objects and books from all over the world. The collection was crammed into his own home, however, his will stipulated that he wished to leave it to the nation. As a result, the British Museum in Bloomsbury was born.

The collection was rapidly added to over the following century and a decision was made to split the artefacts into sections. Thus, a new building was commissioned and by 1881, the natural history section was gradually relocated to its new home. As scientists learn more about the world, the collection continues to grow. It is estimated that the museum currently houses over 22 million items preserved in methylated spirits alone.

Looking at ancient dead things may seem like a long way from looking at art, however, there is a specific section of the museum that begs to differ. Within the blue section on the map supplied by the museum (actually, just ask someone to direct you; the map is not all that helpful) is an exhibition titled Images of Nature. Unlike the majority of the museum where reconstructed skeletons and educational models are in abundance, this long room works more like an art gallery with most items hung up on the bare walls.

Nowadays, a simple click of a button can eternally save evidence of nature, but, before the development of the camera, artists were relied upon to produce highly detailed illustrations. Although some of these artworks were produced to be enjoyed, scientists found them extremely valuable. Specimens were often collected by explorers, but after a while, colours would fade and plants would dry and shrivel up, making it impossible to demonstrate what it originally looked like. A watercolour study produced by an adept artist recorded an accurate image that visually explained the appearance of the foreign objects.

The museum has 500,000 natural history artworks within its collection, but only a handful of them are on display. Due to the fragility of many of the older drawings and paintings, the collection is rotated as curators periodically change the exhibit in order to limit any light damage.

Presently (July/August 2017), examples of illustrations can be seen by several different artists. Edward Wilson (1872-1912), for example, was a polar explorer who also enjoyed painting and drawing. In a glass cabinet alongside stuffed versions, his illustrations of the British hedgehog are on view. This is just one of the many iconic mammals he drew in the early 1900s. In cabinets nearby are more illustrations such as British birds by Phyllida Lumsden (c.1940), Nautilus by George Brettingham Sowerby (1788-1854) and Eggs of British birds by the Dutch artist Henrik Grönvold (1858-1940).

Slightly more graphic images are included in this gallery. Scientists are not only interested in what a specimen looks like on the outside, they are also intrigued by the inner workings of the plant or animal they are studying. One example is of the innards of a loggerhead turtle produced by Cesare Ferreri (1802-1859). Interestingly, developments have been made since 1833 when this image was produced. Originally it was labelled a spur-thigh tortoise, but today’s scientists, with their extensive knowledge, have identified it as the loggerhead.

Although cameras are available to most people, some scientists still prefer to capture their findings on paper. Bryan Kneale (1930-) provides a great example of modern illustration with a blue chalk drawing of a giant tortoise, which stands out amongst the other artworks surrounding it.

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Giant Tortoise, Bryan Kneale, 1986

The most interesting aspect of Images of Nature is the analysis of a 17th-century oil painting by the Flemish artist Roelandt Savery (1576-1639). The painting of a dodo may be recognisable by many and is the go to image when looking for representations of the extinct bird. Hung next to the initial painting is a modern version painted by the talented scientist, Dr Julian Pender Hume. Apart from the choice of artistic medium (oil/acrylic), there are a number of alterations to the plump, flightless bird.

When Savery painted the comical looking bird, dodos had mostly succumbed to extinction. The artist relied on limited fragments of a dodo skeleton to come up with this representation. Pender Hume, with his knowledge of avifaunal anatomy, explains in an accompanying video that, due to its inability to fly, the dodo would not have had such a bulky body; it would not have needed as much muscle as the Flemish artist gave it.

Images of Nature is one of the more quiet sections of the museum and may not appeal to younger children. However, there is an interactive game of sorts that allows the player to learn about the basic process of drawing a beetle specimen. The game goes through the stages an artist may look at, beginning with the initial shape of the insect and ending with a close look at adding appropriate colour. There is also the opportunity for visitors to draw their own picture based on any of the specimens seen around the museum. These can be posted in a box in the gallery for the chance of it being displayed for all to see.

Despite the fact that the purpose of the Natural History Museum is to store and display the collected specimens of past and present explorers and scientists, it does host an exhibition devoted to the art form photography. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the museum’s most popular exhibition that takes place once a year. Currently, the finalists and winners of the 2016 entries to the annual competition are being showcased in the East Pavillion.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the most highly regarded as well as the largest photography competition in the world, often attracting over 42,000 professional and amateur artists each year. This figure also includes an exceptional number of teenagers who submit their nature photographs to the junior section.

The competition is now in its 52nd year and has expanded significantly. When it first ran in 1965, only three categories were provided. Today there are more than five times the amount of categories including animal portraits, underwater photographs, plants and fungi, and black and white images.

Set in a dimly lit display room, the finalists and winners from each category are arranged on the walls on digital screens. This enables the museum to display all the photographs without needing to print them out on sizeable photo paper or worry about light damage. On each screen are details about the photographer and the image itself.

Unlike the rest of the museum, which is full of over excited children and their parents, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is a peaceful environment. Its silence and subdued lighting allow visitors to contemplate each photograph in their own time and appreciate the splendour and variety of nature.

As well as being displayed at the museum, the exhibition goes on tour around all six continents, therefore it is only viewable in London for a limited time. The current exhibition is open until 17th September and costs £10.50 (£6.50 for under 17s) to enter. Of course, the photographs can be found online, but there is something special about being able to see them all in one place.

For whatever reasons you decide to visit the Natural History Museum, be it the blue whale or a fascination with dinosaurs, be on the look out for examples of art. The fact that a science-oriented museum can display such artistry is proof that art can be found in the most unexpected of places. If you do not believe me, go to the museum yourself and witness the beauty and ornamentation of nature.