Friday, 27 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 26 February 2015 – Façadism (1)

Façadism: the practice of preserving the fronts of old buildings while demolishing their interiors and constructing new ones.

Declaration of interest: I generally don't like this.

33 Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0BT
Now a branch of TK Maxx

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 25 February 2015 – Another Monstrous Carbuncle (9)

The Walkie-Talkie was trying very hard to win me over this morning as I walked east along Lombard Street on my way to work. It is a building that responds well to light—hardly surprising considering that the most of its external surfaces are reflective glass.

Can buildings flirt?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 24 February 2015 – Marble Hill House

As you will recall (please keep up at the back), I broke a tooth yesterday. The molar had been giving me trouble for over a year, twinging jarringly if ever I was eating anything crunchy—a sure sign of a gnasher destined for eventual crowning. I managed to get a short-notice appointment with the dentist today. She drilled out the old filling and has packed the tooth with some high-text compound that goes off like concrete and will form a basis for the crown that will protect what is left of the tooth for the rest of my born days.

So two more appointments and some expenditure to face over the next few weeks, so I consoled myself on the way back home by another detour into Marble Hill Park. I took this photo from underneath the branches of the oak tree I showed you a few days ago (Friday, 20 February).

Marble Hill House, a Palladian gem that influenced architectural taste and was a model for other houses in succeeding years, was built between 1724 and 1729 by (to use the term loosely) Henrietta Howard, estranged wife of the boorish, violent and drunken ninth Earl of Suffolk and mistress of George II, who had wooed her with interminable accounts of military campaigns. Described as "a women of reason in the Age of Reason", she enjoyed the glittering conversation of, among others, Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole, both of whom also had houses west of Marble Hill in the then fashionable village of Twickenham. The house, now owned by English Heritage and open for visiting at weekends in the generally warmer months of the year, stands across The Thames from another architectural treasure, the 17th-century Ham House, which is the property of The National Trust. Heritage heaven!

Have not been inside Marble Hill House yet. Really should...

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 23 February 2015 – The Joy of Commuting (4)

Twickenham Station has been having a makeover to welcome the hordes who will be descending on the town for the Rugby World Cup later this year. The lead-up to this has been a long and not very happy story and at one stage a group of concerned local residents dug deep into their pockets to seek judicial review (unsuccessfully) of the Council's planning decisions.

In consequence of the delays arising from the court case the full scheme (involving blocks of flats being built on a massive concrete slab over the station platforms), cannot now be implemented before the great event, but even the modest improvements possible in the available time seem to be dragging on interminably. Here is the small section of new platform tarmac that was at my feet as my train pulled in this morning. Although freshly laid, the tarmac is, as you can see, already flecked with numerous wretched, depressing blobs of chewing gum. Considering the dismal frequency of this antisocial material, it is surprising that I have never managed to see someone in the act of depositing it on any platform or pavement anywhere.

And I broke a tooth this morning...

A Year in Pictures – 22 February 2015 – Dragon

The supporters of the coat of arms of The City of London are two Tudor dragons, and the particular example is to be seen at one of the entrances to Leadenhall Market.

I have not been able to find out precisely why dragons have such an association with the City, save that Henry Tudor sought to substantiate his claim to sovereignty over Wales by appropriating the dragon of Cadwalader to his own colours of green and white, which he bore to St Paul's Cathedral to be blessed after his defeat of Richard III at Bosworth Field. I may be wide of the mark here and it also depends who we mean by "Cadwalader", much of the history being impenetrably ancient and flecked through with legend.

Striking looking beast though, isn't it?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 21 February 2015 – St Luke the Evangelist

For some reason I have felt pretty whacked today and not in the least inclined to take photographs outdoors in the biting wind, so this is another image from the archive.

We are once again in the stupendous Elisabethkirche in Marburg, Germany, and here, from one of the facets of the carved stone pulpit, is St Luke with his symbolic creature, the winged ox (or maybe bull), representing strength, service and sacrifice.

I have always been drawn to Luke as he was, like my father, a physician. I first learned of him from the television drama Paul of Tarsus (1960). Patrick Troughton, who went on to play the second Doctor Who, played the title role, while Luke was played by Philip Latham, whose kind face and gentle manner appealed to my five-year-old self.

Friday, 20 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 20 February 2015 – A Mighty Oak

Walking home from my French class today, I took a short detour into Marble Hill Park, where this splendid tree stands on the expanse of green between the Richmond Road and the Palladian gem of a mansion nearer the river.

I had been reflecting on some sad news received this week, of the sudden and most untimely death of a greatly loved and respected local pharmacist. His funeral was yesterday. I had not been able to attend, but was glad (if that can possibly be the word) to hear from a friend who was there that several hundred people had been present to bid him farewell and pay their respects.

While I had known him ever since he took over the pharmacy in the centre of East Twickenham and been impressed by the way he had developed his dispensary and surrounding shop into an invaluable part of the community, it was in relatively recent years that I had got to know him better and come to rely increasingly on his advice. He was the nearest pharmacist to my GP's surgery and it was him that I saw for a review of my regular medications there in the late summer of 2010. He noticed in my records that I had not had a regular blood test for several years and suggested that I consider one. Timely advice, since the test revealed that the fatigue and general malaise I was increasingly experiencing were not inevitable signs of advancing middle age, but indicative of Waldenström's macroglobulinaemia and within a very short space of time I was receiving appropriate treatment and was on my way to the remission I have enjoyed for the last few years. Since then my trips to his shop for prescriptions and general purchases have more often than not included some time for conversation, the last time just a few weeks ago. I owed him so much.

A model of his vital profession, he will be sorely missed by many. Rest in peace.

A Year in Pictures – 19 February 2015 – Another Monstrous Carbuncle (8)

I can forgive this building a lot when viewing it from this angle. This was taken on 18 February, so a bit of a cheat on timing again.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 18 February 2015 – The Joy of Commuting (3)

At Bank Station, proceeding to Exit 6 and Lombard Street. The most disliked station on the Tube network (according to a 2013 survey) is being made the subject of a "capacity upgrade". Relatively quiet in this mid-morning scene, the station presents a very different aspect in the evenings, when the slightest delay on any of the lines served by it causes thrombotic queues to form in the long narrow corridors.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 17 February 2015 – The Clothworkers' Company

The Hall of The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, one of "The Great Twelve" livery companies of the City of London stands in Dunster Court, off Mincing Lane. We have already met one of the Gryphons that adorns the pillars of the gateway into Dunster Court and its companion is visible in this photograph.

The Clothworkers were established in the Middle Ages in days when licence to engage in a craft was tightly controlled and fields of work were highly stratified. While the crest on the Clothworkers' coat of arms is a ram in recognition that without sheep there would be no making of cloth, "clothworking" was not the weaving of woollen cloth but rather the carding of woven cloth to raise the nap of it and produce a fine finish. That is why a teasel is shown in the coat of arms and bristling teasels feature heavily in the iconography of this particularly livery company. The two hooks on the shield are "habicks": the pincers used to hold cloth steady on the surface where it was being worked.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 16 February 2015 – Another Monstrous Carbuncle (7)

20 Fenchurch Street, more usually known as 'The Walkie-Talkie', is seen here in a face-off with a rather earlier upstart, Number 130 (Fountain House), which was once pointed out to me as the first modernist building in the City of London to be listed. Not so sure of this last factoid, as a Google search brings up no mention of listing, but rather some details of a recently unsuccessful planning submission for redevelopment of the site that would have involved defacing the street yet further with two daft-looking twisty towers which would probably have ended up being called 'the Helter-Skelters'.

This last bit of gimmickry has apparently been trounced, but how much longer before some other scheme is offered for the site in a bid to bridge the gap between the (deservedly) isolated Walkie-Talkie and the cluster of other tall buildings between Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall street to the north? In the City at the moment it seems you can hardly move for the number of demolition and construction workers in high-vis jackets swarming the streets.

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 15 February 2015 – Homecoming

Today our daughter returned to the UK from a seven-week stay in China. Our son and his wife also joined us for lunch at the end of their own short break in Birmingham. We celebrated.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 14 February 2015 – Winter on the Wane

Now the full throated daffodils
Our trumpeters in gold
Call resurrection form the ground
And bid the year be bold

                                                                   C Day Lewis,  From Feathers to Iron, 1931

Saturday, 14 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 13 February 2015 – Mr Turner's

Most Fridays I pass very close to this unique house, Sandycombe Lodge, which the artist JMW Turner (1789 – 1862)—who had some architectural training and was a friend of the great architect John Soane—designed for himself and his father as a country retreat. The Turners lived there from 1813 until 1826, by which time Turner senior's health was in decline.

The house has, since 2010, been owned by Turner's House Trust, which has just been awarded a grant of £1.4 million to restore it. Extensions that are not part of Turner's original design will be removed and the house will be developed sensitively for public access and education during most weeks of the year. The projected completion date is in 2016, but the house will be open to the public between April and October 2015 on the first Saturday of the month. The Trust has created a most informative website about the house and its plans.

Although since Turner's times Twickenham has grown from a riverside settlement of market gardens and stately parks into a developed suburb of London and the raucous home of English rugby, it nevertheless retains enough elements of what it once was to enable an appreciation of why England's greatest landscape artist was drawn to make his home here.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 12 February 2015 – Apple and Pear

A Braeburn apple and a Conference pear hook up in my kitchen.

The Braeburn, a possible descendant of Granny Smith herself, was developed in New Zealand from a chance seedling in 1952 and is named after the orchard where it was first produced commercially.

The Conference pear, on the other hand, is thoroughly European, originating in Britain and since grown also in France. The cultivar's rather prosaic name derives from the fact that it won first prize in the National British Pear Conference in 1885.

A Year in Pictures – 11 February 2015 – Blueberries

These particular berries are from Chile, the biggest South American producer and the chief exporter to the Northern Hemisphere. The berry harvest is long in Chile because of the spread of farms down the length of the country, with the result that we can generally see Chilean produce in our shops from October through to late March.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 10 February 2015 – St John the Evangelist

As I have not been able to get out and take a new photo for today, here is one taken last summer in the Elisabethkirche in Marburg, Germany. Referring back to the post of 8 February—where I showed you part of a brass Victorian eagle lectern from a church in West London—here is the eagle again, this time clearly shown as the symbolic creature of St John the Evangelist.

The carving shown above forms one facet of the Elisabethkirche's 19th-century pulpit, whose other facets show the Gospel writers in sequence. In addition to a number of important sacred artworks associated with St Elisabeth of Hungary, the church also contains tombs of mediaeval Landgraves of Hessen and, controversially for some, the tombs of Paul von Hindenburg and his wife.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 9 February 2015 – The First Snowdrop

Sorry everyone, but this latest one, being posted on 10 February and referring to 9 February, was actually taken on 8 February.

My excuse is that I am unwell, having succumbed in the last few days to an unnamed virus that is taking the wind out of my sails and eating into my energy and (such as it is) creativity. I have been working at home the last couple of days, as I tend to coddle my immune system more than I ever used to in the days before diagnosis with WM (see blog posts from September 2010 until 2014, originally written under the heading "Life and Love with a Rare Lymphoma").

I made a promise to a friend in Germany to produce a photo of the first snowdrop I saw this winter. Coming out of church on Sunday the 8th, I spied this little beauty and captured something of its likeness on my phone. Apologies for the electrical cable snaking its way through the middle foreground, as well as for the lack of detail in the flower itself (the latter being an example of what are known as "blown highlights"). In spite of such imperfections, my heart lifts at the sign of this unpretentious little flower raising its pretty little head into the freezing air.

This is the original shot (or SOOC, short for "straight out of the camera"). The main image in this post was produced by tweaking the original in a wonderful little phone app called Snapseed.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 8 February 2015 – Eagle

A lectern is a reading desk, typically free standing (though sometimes they can be smaller items, placed on a table-top), from which speeches, lectures or public announcements are given. The word comes from the Latin legere, meaning 'to read', from whose root we derive the word 'legible'.

Modern politicians' lecterns can be dull affairs, perspex or wood for example, and largely devoid of ornament, but the lecterns in churches, not least those dating from earlier centuries, are often of brass and highly ornamental. The favoured shape for the desk part is an eagle, upon whose back and spreading wings a large Bible can be placed. The eagle is the creature associated with St John the Evangelist, and by tradition symbolises the exalted level of his writing in the first chapter of his Gospel, which begins "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God..."

On a personal note I first learned of the association of the eagle with St John from a Tintin book, Red Rackham's Treasure. If you are a fan of Hergé's Adventures of Tintin, you will know the part of the story I am referring to. If you have yet to discover the wonders of Hergé's work, I could not possibly spoil the plot for you.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 6 February 2015 – Selfie

Today did not turn out as I expected or had planned. I awoke to the news that our house was without central heating, although we did have hot water. The weather is bitterly cold, so you can guess how welcome the news was.

As I had to rush home from my French class to meet the central heating engineer, I was unable to photograph the subject I had intended to show you: one of Twickenham's historic buildings. That will have to wait. Maybe next week...

While the engineer was at work, I tried a few shots of a potted orchid we have in the kitchen, but in the end I decided to go with the sunlight in the hall, as it was pleasantly diffused by the glass in the front door. I know lots of photographers shoot images of themselves like this, hiding behind their cameras, but the light was too good to miss. Please pardon my self-indulgence.

We are still without heating, which we hope will be fixed on Monday when a new part for the boiler will be available. Brrrrrrr!

Friday, 6 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 5 February 2015 – Memento Mori

Monument on the north-east wall of St Katharine Cree, Leadenhall Street, in the City of London.

I am often asked why the churches I work for (and churches in general) contain so much skull imagery. The simplest explanation, though it can be refined and elaborated, is that the sculpted skulls and bones are to remind those who look upon them of the inevitability of death. We know death awaits us, but our ancestors lived in closer conscious proximity to the frequent experience of death and disease. Sometimes inscriptions on monuments have words such as the following:

What you are, I was. What I am, you will be.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 4 February 2015 – Looking East at Lunchtime

We are looking east down Hart Street and on into Crutched Friars from the west side of Mark Lane, which connects Great Tower Street in the south and Fenchurch Street in the north.

In the distance the Deco styling of America Square is just visible, as is the railway arch that spans Crutched Friars and bears the weight of trains travelling into and out of Fenchurch Street Station. Just beyond the swinging sign of The Ship pub, perspective reduces the north side of St Olave Hart Street to a thin sliver. At the junction of Hart Street with Seething Lane, which runs up the east side of St Olave's and on which stands the Ghastly Grim gate we saw yesterday, is Walsingham House, named after Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, whose house was in that location.

On the left is 70 Mark Lane, a brand new building, not yet fully fitted out and occupied, although one of the four ground-floor food outlets pinned for street level is already open for business, doing a nice line in fresh soups and salads (I have yet to try their coffee). The top storeys of this building have a sloping glass frontage to the south and contain a planted viewing terrace from which there are spectacular views, particularly towards Tower Hill and all points east. The sophisticated climate-controlling louvres that are aimed at keeping the plants in good health are just visible in the photograph.

Planning permission for this building was originally granted in 2003, but the banking crisis of 2008 and the subsequent search for suitable occupants delayed its ultimate development. It feels like this small corner of the City is awaking again.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 3 February 2015 – St Ghastly Grim

The gateway into the churchyard of St Olave Hart Street in the City of London.
The gateway is situated on Seething Lane opposite the historic site of The Navy Office, where Samuel Pepys lived and worked between 1660 and 1673.

“One of my best beloved churchyards, I call the churchyard of Saint Ghastly Grim; touching what men in general call it, I have no information. It lies at the heart of the City, and the Blackwall Railway shrieks at it daily. It is a small small churchyard, with a ferocious, strong, spiked iron gate, like a jail. This gate is ornamented with skulls and cross-bones, larger than the life, wrought in stone; but it likewise came into the mind of Saint Ghastly Grim, that to stick iron spikes a-top of the stone skulls, as though they were impaled, would be a pleasant device. Therefore the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with iron spears. Hence, there is attraction of repulsion for me in Saint Ghastly Grim, and, having often contemplated it in the daylight and the dark, I once felt drawn towards it in a thunderstorm at midnight. ‘Why not?’ I said, in self-excuse. ‘I have been to see the Colosseum by the light of the moon; is it worse to go to see Saint Ghastly Grim by the light of the lightning?’ I repaired to the Saint in a hackney cab, and found the skulls most effective, having the air of a public execution, and seeming, as the lightning flashed, to wink and grin with the pain of the spikes. Having no other person to whom to impart my satisfaction, I communicated it to the driver. So far from being responsive, he surveyed me—he was naturally a bottled-nosed, red-faced man—with a blanched countenance. And as he drove me back, he ever and again glanced in over his shoulder through the little front window of his carriage, as mistrusting that I was a fare originally from a grave in the churchyard of Saint Ghastly Grim, who might have flitted home again without paying.”

Charles Dickens – The Uncommercial Traveller


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 2 February 2015 – Another Monstrous Carbuncle (6)


The northern face of 20 Fenchurch Street—"the Walkie-Talkie"—looms over Leadenhall Market like a Martian war machine sprung from the imagination of HG Wells.

Leadenhall Market is at the heart of Roman London, being situated at what was the eastern end of the Roman civic centre, the Forum-Basilica. Its architecture is a rich feast of ornately painted late Victorian plaster and metalwork, with its main entrances built in Portland Stone. It was designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones, who was also the architect of Smithfield and Billingsgate Markets as well as the designer of Tower Bridge. Sir Horace's work replaced the tangled nest of market courts that had proliferated steadily since the Middle Ages.

While there is some trading of light food from open stalls, the reek of meat, poultry and fish has disappeared and the shop units are mostly occupied by upmarket retailers and a variety of eateries. There is still a very good cheesemonger though.

The Market is accessible from a number of directions and the entrance shown is on Whittington Avenue, which leads off Leadenhall Street itself. The original "Leadenhall" was a lead-roofed mansion belonging in the early 14th century to Sir Hugh Nevil.

We will return to the Market on occasions and we are not done with 20 Fenchurch Street.  

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Year in Pictures – 1 February 2015 – Beats Thinking

As much percussion as I can carry in one bag

This is the set-up I use in church most of the time now. The cajon (Spanish for "box") is a wonderfully versatile instrument and easily portable. The hole in the side allows me to clip on a small "gooseneck" microphone that snakes its little head close to the playing surface at the front of the instrument and allows the modest instrument to speak dramatically.

On the keyboard stool to the right is an assortment of shakers, their different materials providing an assortment of soft and louder sounds. The world contains a huge variety of shakers—they crop up in (I would wager) all musical cultures and I love them and the myriad ways they can provide colour and rhythm.

I have been making rhythm for as long as I can remember. It beats thinking sometimes. 

A Year in Pictures – 31 January 2015 – All Hallows Twickenham

My walk home from the house of friends today took me down Fulwood Gardens, a street of Art Deco maisonettes.

This part of the town between the centre and the A316 (which becomes the M3 motorway at its western end) saw quite extensive housebuilding during the 1930s, but only a couple or so of the maisonettes retain the fine horizontal lines and small glass panes of their original steel Crittall windows, let alone any stained glass Deco details. In the interests of keeping warm and for ease of maintenance owners have over the years replaced 30s elegance with the clunky styles of UPVC double-glazed window units, as you see here. I am not pointing a finger, as my own house—a short distance from the ones in the photo and, having been built around 1930 with styling looking back to the Mock Tudor rather than forward to the racy stylings of Deco—lost its own wooden windows and stained glass nearly twenty years ago.

Crittall windows. The company still trades.
The church of All Hallows Twickenham stands next to the A316 and is a Grade I Listed Building by virtue of the fact that its tower and stone cloister, along with many of its internal fittings—organ, pulpit, reredos, bells—are those of the City of London church of All Hallows Lombard Street, which was in a bad state of repair at the end of the 1930s and was judged unworthy to stand in the way of the expansion of Barclays Bank. The Lombard Street church was from the workshop of Christopher Wren, but originally of mediaeval foundation, and its parish was, after the demolition, united with that of St Edmund King and Martyr, whose spire we have seen previously in this blog doing battle with the looming bulk of the brand new 20 Fenchurch Street, aka "the Walkie-Talkie".

Some of the peal of 10 bells at All Hallows were originally from the wonderfully named St Dionis Backchurch—also in the City—which was demolished in the 1870s, and whose proceeds of sale of its land were used to construct St Dionis Parsons Green. The reredos bears a resemblance to the authenticated work of Grinling Gibbons still to be seen in St Mary Abchurch and which I have promised to show you at some stage during the coming year), while the font passed to All Hallows Lombard Street from St Benet Gracechurch, which was demolished in 1868 to make way for the widening of Gracechurch Street.

The pulpit of St Benet was acquired, with a gift from Trinity House, by St Olave Hart Street, where I work. You will also be seeing something of its fine 17th-century carving in the weeks ahead.

Many are the tales that can be told of the scattering and cannibalisation of church assets. One day the surviving elements of these ancient buildings will themselves be lost forever.