Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Wales II: Coed Darcy, Swansea and Llandeilo Fawr

Another packed day.  It doesn't seem a week ago to the day.  In the morning we went to the new planned town to the east of Swansea: Coed Darcy.  The masterplan is by Alan Baxter Associates, and sits on the site of a former oil refinery.  A lot of time and money has been spent cleaning it up. Unfortunately we were unable to gain access to the Demonstration Village designed by my friend Ben Pentreath.   (You will have to make do with Ben's blog, here.  Where you will also get to know more about the re-development.)  Safe to say that it is an example of the 'New Urbanism' rather like Poundbury in Dorset, and has the involvement of the Prince Foundation. Instead of the Demonstration Village we had a wander around the part of the development being built by Persimmon.

From there we drove back into Swansea, past the new University buildings that, unfortunately, put me in the mind of Mussolini's EUR in Rome.  Except that quite possibly the EUR buildings were a better build quality....

Swansea seems to undergoing huge re-development, most of which looks regrettable.  We paid a flying visit to the slightly underwhelming Dylan Thomas Centre housed in a splendid old building - the former Guildhall - near the docks.  The exhibition was interesting, if a little too noisy when all the audio clips were playing at once.  From there to the Promenade, and reminiscences of the Mumbles Train, and then swiftly on to 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, in the Uplands area of the city and the childhood home of Dylan Thomas.

Back down the hill to the The Guildhall, 1934, by Sir Percy Thomas.  A huge building brooding of white Portland stone.  A fortress of a building.  A classical building where all the entablatures have been omitted giving each facade the look of a cliff  The entrances are like the mouths of caves punched in the massive masonry.  The windows almost seem incidental at times to the elemental feel.  Each entrance is filled with a Bronze grille and door as though they had stepped out of ancient Rome.  The whole thing is powerful confection of Imperial Rome, French Neo-classicism (Ledoux and Boulle) and Art Deco.

As you can see ornament is used sparingly - the Guildhall uses mass rather than ornament for effect - though there are a number of Art Deco-ish sculptures.  Sir Robert Lorrimer developed a similar language of bare monumental wall contrasting with carefully placed ornament.  Perhaps it would have benefited from the use of another stone, one with more personality than the even-grained Portland.

Inside there are civilized spaces and long corridors.  The detailing is superb: bronze handrails end in the prows of Viking Long Boats.  At the centre of this great hulk of a building nestles the Brangwyn Hall.  This enormous concert Hall contains a series of great mural paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn, each painted to resemble a tapestry.  Known either as the 'Brangywn Panels' or the 'Empire Panels', they were painted by Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867 - 1956) as a celebration of the riches, both cultural and material, of the British Empire. 

After lunch we headed north to Llandeilo Fawr and Dinefwr.  Plas Dinefor, also known as Newton House, is a property that has been rescued by the National Trust from near dereliction.  The estate marks the political centre of the old Welsh Principality of Deheubarth.  The current house was originally erected during the Restoration, and was surrounded by a Baroque Garden and landscape.  These were swept away, a landscae Park laid out by Capability Brown and exterior of the house recast in Victorian High Gothic, but retaining the classical proportions of the original design.

The port-cochere and the corner towers are Victorian additions.  The interior was a bit of a disappointment. Firstly the interior had been wrecked by squatters, and secondly the Trust had decided to re-instate the interior as it would have been in the Edwardian Age.  I think this was a mistake; I would have preferred the Trust had used an interior designer, someone say of the calibre of the late John Fowler, to create new interiors in a traditional taste. 

At the rear the Victorian architect, had added this remarkable porch and conservatory.

In the park I found these remarkable oak trees with their writhing roots.

Finally (!) we stopped briefly in Llandeilo Fawr and I took these.  I need to return and explore some more.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Wales I: Laugharne and Tenby

On the first full day of our trip we went west to Laugharne and Tenby.  (Guess who forgot his camera the previous evening when we went on to the Gower?)
Laugharne is a lovely, rather urban, village tucked up on a winding estuary.  The main street of stuccoed houses is what you'd expect to find in a market town.  Indeed many of the houses were particularly grand (some also undergoing restoration) which suggests that it was once a wealthy place.  Today it famous for being the last home of Dylan Thomas - and partly the inspiration for the Radio drama 'Under Milk Wood'.  Standing on the quay side, and ascending up to Thomas's Writing Shed I was struck by the incredible, profound silence of it all.  The view down the estuary to the sea contained, also, a deep sense of mystery and I was reminded of the pivotal role Wales had in the Neo-Romantic imagination:  Piper travelled all over Wales, while Sutherland and Craxton went west into Pembrokeshire.  And of course, there was Thomas himself.

The Boat House where Dylan and Caitlin lived from 1949 onwards.  It is now a small museum and tea room.  I found it very moving.

The writing shed.  It stands high above the estuary.

The interior - both commonplace and magical.

The view from Dylan's house across the estuary.

We drove on into the west, passing through Pendine, Marros, Amroth, Wiseman's Bridge and Saundersfoot.  At Pendine church we found this cast iron gravestone which had been cast in Saundersfoot up the coast.

Tenby is very beautiful, probably one of most beautiful small towns in Britain.  Though it was that day too hot and too busy for me to be comfortable.  Both its location and architecture couldn't be better. I particularly love the joyous colour of the buildings.

 Tucked away in an alley way is this medieval house that once housed a merchant and his family.  It is owned by the National Trust and has been re-furnished in an historically informed manner.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Catching up.....

It has been a long time since I last wrote a post - nearly a month in fact.  Please allow me to apologize.  Things have been somewhat fraught here and then when things thankfully settled down I went on holiday to South Wales with the bf.
On the 9th my father fell and broke his hip.  He was taken into hospital and operated on the following day, but the day after his condition worsened and I was called in to the hospital.  Thankfully his condition improved, and he was returned to his nursing home a week later.  My holiday, mercifully, started the next Monday though not without an unhappily eventful journey that being a sensitive soul I haven't quite yet come to terms with.  That said the holiday was lovely, and busy.  I took plenty of photographs and in the next few days hope will post them here.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Own work - Bourne Abbey Church

I've only just finished this a mixed media work depicting the south side of Bourne Abbey in Lincolnshire - watercolour, charcoal, ink, wax pastel, pencil, collage.  Personally I think it a bit overworked in places.  The second image is to give you a rough idea of what it will look liked when mounted.

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Manor House, Aslackby 2014

Since posting this article the owner of the house has kindly consented to allow to illustrate this post with some photos

Back in June, 2012, I finally got to see something that had first seen on lunchtime TV as a child way back in the late 1970s or early 1980s - Aslackby Manor House.  (Aslackby - a Scandinavian placename - is pronounced Azzleby) I was not disappointed, and posted about it here.  Yesterday I returned with the bf.
I have a deep and abiding love and interest in the Medieval 'Hortus Conclusus' and the Italian Renaissance 'Giardino Segreto'.  They are are a recurring themes in my writing, and the gardens are Aslackby are in that tradition.  There is even a 'mount' - viewing mound constructed of earth - in the Tudor and Jacobean manner.
The Manor House is also perhaps a very Lincolnshire thing - hidden, small, remote.  Lincolnshire is, apart from the utter greatness of her cathedral, not a county given much to magnificent architectural gestures. Though perhaps in the Middle Ages she was.  Lincolnshire is a county of understated beauty.  Likewise the pleasures at Aslackby are understated - the textures of old brick and stone, lichen on old apple trees, 'humble' work-a-day architecture, not the controlling hand of the architect, but the lighter touch of the builder and the mason.  The scale is small.  There are, there must be admitted, more successful parts than others, but the whole, the accumulation of so much, is so particularly satisfying and compelling.

The Manor consist of two wings brick and stone - the latter is the oldest part.  The 18th century stone work conceals a much older timber construction.

The Artisan Mannerist wing c 1650 - there is another building in the village with this sort of detail.

Like a Samuel Palmer watercolour

Next door - the Old Vicarage - was also open and was lovely.

I think more and more that we are obliged to create the beautiful.  I don't mean the 'nice' the 'pretty', the 'smart' or the 'fashionable'.  They simply won't do.  The 'smart and the fashionable' are too transient, too caught up in the getting and the spending to be truly fulfilling.  I mean the beautiful.  The transcendent.  It is beyond our obligation; it is, almost, a moral duty to attempt to do so.  And beyond that act of creation we have a duty also to share what we have made, to turn the introverted world, the 'segreto', outward, enabling all to share in the (hopefully) harmonious union of the natural and the man made - the designed and the serendipitous - the beautiful.  They cannot be replacements for God, for there is only God, no other substitute will do.  But nature and beauty do provide a rest and recharging.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Own work - designs from Serlio

Way back in April (where does the time go?) I posted a couple of mixed media drawings of images designs by the Italian Mannerist architect Sebastiano Serlio.  They've actually been finished for quite a while, put away and forgotten about. Until now.  Enjoy.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Vintage Car and Motorcycle Show

Just back from the Car and Motorcycle show in Bourne.  It's one of my favourite local events.  Any event that has old cars and a jazz band can't be bad.  It is has a wonderful mellow atmosphere.  The owners sit around in folding garden chairs enjoying picnic lunches.  And then there are the vehicles.  I don't drive, but if I had to (and I think I may have to) I'd be sore tempted to get something old.  They have such great colours and character - I don't care that they maybe difficult to drive, or keep repaired, or guzzle petrol with a thirst that resembles alcoholism.  Here are some of them that attracted my attention.  I have 'painted' out the registration numbers.  If I've missed any I apologize to the owners.

Morris minor estate.  Lovely

Camp little number this.

A Maxi.  My parents had one of these - a green one - when I was young.

One of these is tempting.  I did suggest to the bf getting one and driving around the British Coast for a year, but he wasn't having that.  Shame.

And then there are these.  Even more tempting. And scarier.