Monday, 22 August 2016

Book-ended by water

An odd title for a post perhaps but our trip to Brecon was rather topped and tailed by water - in the form of reservoirs and a waterfall, and that's to forget the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.  The reservoirs are at Crai and Talybont (with its slightly sinister buildings), the waterfall, in the Vale of Neath, is at Aberdulais and is owned now by the National Trust.  Aberdulais was a favourite of Romantic painters such as Turner, but such admiration didn't prevent it being turned into a tin works in the 19th century.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Brecon, town and cathedral

Last week and a short break in Wales. On the Friday we drove over the Brecon Beacons and down into the verdant valley of the Usk - heartland of the old kingdom of Brycheiniog - and the attractive market town of Brecon.  Brecon has always been a place of some importance, standing at the point where the Tallant and the Honddlu join the Usk, which is fordable at this point.  It was a hub on the network of drove roads that led from the pastures of west Wales into England and then in the late 18th/early 19th century the turnpike system. Prosperous too. From the Middle ages there remain the priory (now the cathedral), the castle, St Mary's church and Christ College - originally the Dominican priory of St Nicholas.  We saw all except for the college.
The old town has an intricate, and very satisfying pattern of narrow streets lined with mainly Georgian facades.  At its centre stands the church of St Mary, which possesses a very fine west tower.  Welsh both in its bluntness and the relative smallness of openings; and Somerest in its details.

The cathedral stands above and to the north of the town centre.  It is a big-boned structure, rubble built with a squat central tower.  The whole thing could almost be a geological feature, rather than something may by the hand of man.  The interior is spacious, the architecture massive and powerful, seemingly much more ancient than it actually is.  Cavernous almost, particularly in the nave where the walls are stripped of plaster.  In places one gets a sense of the architecture - the arches and windows - having been sculpted out of a great mass of masonry like it was solid rock.
As at Kidwelly and Abergavenny 'the Church of St John the Evangelist beyond the walls' is an Anglo-Norman foundation, (1093, by Bernard de Neufmarche) and built in close proximity to a castle.  A benedictine house, it was under the temporal and spiritual authority of the Abbey at Battle, Sussex. The font, with its powerful, barbaric carving is the earliest recognizable feature.

The transepts and choir are Early English.  The architecture of the nave later still, though it is possible that the rubble walls are much older.  At the Reformation the priory was dissolved, the church became parochial and the priory buildings sold to Sir John Price.  The transepts are full of memorials from that period.  Look out in particular for the amazing number of distinctive floor-slabs.  George Gilbert Scott senior restored the cathedral in the mid 19th century (1860-75) but his touch was light.  His one major visual contribution was the vaulting in the choir.  A stroke of genius.  Further restoration was undertaken by W D Caroe and later by his son Alban both of whom worked in an Arts & Crafts idiom.  In 1923 it became the cathedral church for a new Anglican diocese - Swansea and Brecon.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016


Some photos I took on my last visit to my county town.

Monday, 8 August 2016

London: Bridie Hall & Dr John Dee

Nearly a fortnight ago I popped up to town for a few short hours to catch Bridie Hall's pop-up shop and the Dr Dee exhibition.  An odd mix, and one I can't readily or cleverly link.  Firstly then to Rugby St and 'Pentreath and Hall' which Bridie co-owns with her business partner my friend Ben Pentreath.  As visitors to Pentreath and Hall will know the premises consists of two small linked shops - they share a common entrance.  The left hand shop is available as a pop-up shop and it is that that Bridie has transformed into something very stylish for two months over the summer.
Bridie Hall is a designer and maker heavily influenced by the idea of 'The Grand Tour' - the trip to the Italian states undertaken by young British aristocrats in the 18th & early 19th centuries ostensibly to study Roman Antiquity.  And this influence is very much evident in the goodies on display: 'Pediment Mirrors' and 'Roman Emperor Intaglio Cases'.  The decor too reflects that interest with one wall papered with a copy of the 'Rocque Map of London' and beneath a fabulous dado designed by Bridie in bold, strong colours - oranges, black and pink. The rest of the space was painted a lovely sage-ish green, the woodwork highlighted in white; an homage perhaps to the 1960s & 70s and to the interior designer David Hicks in particular.  The other items, the End of Day Confetti Lamps for instance, too strike that more modern note.  A contrast that Ben also explores in his interiors.  What gives a unity to it all however is the that bold use of colour I've mentioned before.   Colours are confident, the combinations often striking and original.  In fact it has been noticeable in the work of both Bridie and Ben how their use of colour has become much brighter and stronger, sharper even, of late. You have now until the end of the month to visit.  The Roque Plan and Bride's range of perfumed candles and decoupage (I particularly love the brushpots) are available in Pentreath and Hall next door.  Do go.

Then to Regent's Park and the Royal College of Physicians - a Modernist building by Sir Denis Lasdun, opened in 1964, set amongst creamy stucco and verdant greenery - and the exhibition:  Scholar, courtier, magician:  The Lost Library of John Dee.  The good doctor (1527-1608/9,) 'that excellent Physitian, Doctor John Dee', is an almost mythic figure in British culture - not only a courtier and scholar but physician, navigator, mathematician and spy.  A true renaissance man, an 'uomo universale'. The man who coined the term 'British Empire', whose cipher it is claimed is the origin of James Bond's number 007.  A clerk in Holy Orders who was also alchemist and magician, who claimed to have spoken to the angels.  Damon Albarn has even written an opera about him.  And it is that last - the magician steeped in the Neo-Platonic and Hermetical traditions - that interests me. Dee the 'conjurer of wicked and damned sprites'.  A man who stands simultaneously in both the Pre-Modern and early Modern worlds.
Dee was a great collector of books.  Even by today's standards his library was large with 3,000 volumes and it is a selection from the hundred or so books that have come in to the Royal College's library from Dee that form the nucleus of this exhibition.  A popular exhibition too when I was there. Quite crowded in fact.  Though that may be explained by the staging of the exhibition on what was effectively a landing. A little disappointing that it was quite so repetitive, and that the books weren't that visually exciting - no illuminated pages, for instance.  But they are minor points; the books were full of Dr Dee's annotations and little, charming sketches.  Marginalia I believe the term is.  My favourite object was what had been claimed to be his scrying glass or mirror - 'Dr Dee's black stone' (on loan from the British Museum).  In origin an Aztec mirror fashioned from a sheet of obsidian, that may have had it's ritual use in the New World.  Writing this post I was suddenly struck by the similarity between Dr Dee's black stone and the palantirs found in the Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings', and subsequently realized that Galadriel herself used a scrying mirror (in the form of a basin of water).  I have suspected for a while now that Tolkien's work is more influenced by the occult that is at first apparent. At one time Dr Dee's mirror had been in the collection, suitably no doubt, of that artificer of the Gothic imagination Horace Walpole.  I can't think of a better place to keep such a strange and potent object as Strawberry Hill.

Perhaps we ought not to be so surprised at Dee's mix of the devout christian faith and his interest in the occult.  There is a long history of it 'all the way from Pico della Mirandola to Arthur Machen to Charles Williams' - the 'Third Inkling' and friend of Tolkein,  Anglo-catholic and Rosicrucian.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Worcester: The Guildhall

Without a doubt the most important secular building in Worcester is the sumptuous, Baroque Town Hall.  Pevsner thought there was something barbaric about it, but I'm not so sure about that. I think it's splendid.  It was built between 1721 & 1724 and Pevsner and Richard Morrice, in 'Stuart and Baroque' in 'The Buildings of Britain' series, credit the design to Thomas White who was the sculptor of the exuberant display of arms in the pediment. The three statues arranged around the door are of Charles I, II and Queen Anne - a very public display of the city's support of the Royalist cause in the Civil War.  Surprisingly it was restored in the 1870's by that arch-goth George Gilbert Scott, who did so much work at the cathedral, and seems none the worse for it. The slightly lower side wings are a rather French in style and very stylish, as are the wrought iron gates and overthrow.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Own work: The Rustiche of Sebastiano Serlio

I've reached arch IX, but having done a some out of sequence I have actually completed 12 of the XXX.  This picture marks a departure for me in that it is my first proper collage, and I'm rather pleased with it - although it is bit too much like work by Ed Kluz, though that isn't a bad thing in itself.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Classic Car and Bike show - 2016

Midsummer and the return of the Classic Car and Bike Show in Bourne.  Last year there was some doubt over the continuance of the show, but thankfully a new team of organizers stepped forward and this year's show was bigger, spreading into the town itself, ith West St closed to traffic.  Nice too to have the grounds of the Red Hall used for an event.  It was perhaps, however, a little brasher than last year with a stage and amplified music.  Not sure that that's a development I entirely welcome.  Still everybody seemed to be having a great time and that can only be an encouragement for next year.  Here are a random selection of vehicles that attracted my lens.