Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 26 and 27 May 2015 – The Lancastria Window

The Lancastria memorial window was installed in St Katharine Cree Church on Leadenhall Street in the City of London in 1963. It is by Farrar Bell and commemorates the sinking, on 17 June 1940, of HMT Lancastria off the south coast of Brittany. The vessel, built as a liner, had been commandeered to evacuate British troops, as well as French and Belgian civilians, escaping the German invasion of France. 

Around 4,000 lives were lost in the sinking and it remains to this day the worst ever British maritime disaster. It was kept hidden from the British people until after the end of World War II so as not to damage morale so soon after the mixture of embarrassment and triumph that was the famous evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk the previous month. A survivors' organisation was founded and although it has now been formally wound up, there is still an annual act of remembrance in the church every June, attended by family members and the poignantly dwindling band of those who were caught up in the sinking.

When the window was originally installed, there were ugly offices in the side aisles of the church and the lower parts of the aisle windows were in plain glass to let light into the working spaces. The offices were removed in 2010 and now the Lancastria window has been completed with lower sections designed by Michael Coles and funded by a generous donation from The Friends of St Katharine Cree. The new panels, made by Lincolnshire Stained Glass Studio, were installed on 23 May and I saw them for the first time on Monday the 25th.

Deep colour floods into the church through the richly aqueous vertical panels on either side, while the clear glass sections sparkle like the tumble of a waterfall. A sea serpent is shown in yellow holding a roundel bearing the date of the disaster. It is a fantastic piece of work and took my breath away when I went to photograph it. The image is a composite of seven shots taken at direct exposures to yield a high dynamic range.

The second photograph was taken on my phone on 27 May and shows the new bands of colour across the base of the window frame and spilling into the aisle.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 25 May 2015 – In the Isabella Plantation

Bank Holiday Monday and in the morning the sun was shining with a gentle warmth out of a cloudy sky, so we thought it would be good to catch the blooms in the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. It was the first time I had been there in what seems like a couple of decades.

The rhododendrons and azaleas were out in profusion and riots of colour, but most of the magnolias had had their moment of glory. Apart, that is, from the one you see here: Magnolia sieboldii subsp. sinensis. Named after the German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866), Siebold's Magnolia is native to China, Japan and Korea and has dramatically pendulous single blooms and large papery leaves very different from the thick, waxy ones to be found on the commoner spring-flowering varieties of magnolia.

It is the national flower of North Korea.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 22, 23 and 24 May 2015 – Plants Owe Us Nothing

On Friday 22 May I managed a (not terribly good) photograph of one the Common Councilmen of The Ward of Tower placing a wreath on the memorial of Samuel Pepys in St Olave Hart Street, the church where the illustrious diarist is buried. The occasion was the annual Pepys Commemoration Service, a tradition established in the 1920s. The wall is nearly 600 years old.

On Saturday 23 May I pointed my camera at the ceanothus that does rather well at the bottom of our garden. There are about 50 varieties of this shrub, which originates from North America and is sometimes known as California lilac. I love the pale blue of this one and its variegated leaves.

On Sunday 24 May I arranged some small plum tomatoes on the breakfast bar in our kitchen. Their rich red is reflected in the dark, glossy iridescence of the bowl in which they have been placed.

The Solemn, The Decorative and The Edible. We make use of plants but they owe us nothing.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 20 and 21 May 2015 – The Soprano and The Violinist

One of the joys of working at St Olave Hart Street is that we have a tradition of twice-weekly lunchtime classical music recitals. While I am typing away or shuffling papers in my office I can hear, through the double doors that lead into the church, some of the finest music in the world.

The recital tradition at St Olave's goes back over 50 years and a number of world famous artists have, in their younger days, honed their art in the generous acoustic of the little church on Hart Street. Most of the performers are still in the early stages of their professional careers and some are still studying, so the performance opportunities presented to them at St Olave's are very welcome to them.

Here are photos of two of this week's performers.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Year In pictures – 19 May 2015 – Change and Growth

I thought you might like a look at how the new herb beds in the churchyard at St Olave Hart Street are doing. The recent rains and some sunshine have encouraged exuberant growth and the plants are now carpeting the area more lushly, filling it with a variety of colours and leaf shapes, and delighting the eye with small delicate flowers.

In memoriam William Turner (c.1508–1568), Dean of Wells, doctor of physic, "father of English botany".

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 15 to 18 May 2015 – More Façadism, A Tall Pointy Tower, A Lofty Leafy Thing and The Bright Blazing Sun of Eventide

On Friday afternoon, 15 May, I was at the western end of Oxford Street, where an extreme example of façadism is on display. While the engineering involved is a thing to behold, why are two Victorian façades being preserved as a figleaf for the enormous residential development (at present a large hole in the ground) that is to be placed behind them? Such efforts suggest a lack of confidence in modern architecture coupled to a guilt about eradicating the past on this particular patch of London turf.

On Saturday 16 May, my wife and I went to Portsmouth to see my mother. It was good day and the sun blazed from a virtually cloudless sky, although the air was still quite chilly. Here is the Millennium Tower that dominates Gunwharf Quays and has become a major landmark on Portsea Island. At night it is illuminated in a variety of colours.

Sunday 17 May saw the second day of the "Marriott Sevens" at Twickenham Rugby Stadium. The town found itself turned over the weekend into a giant litter bin/urinal/vomitorium for the hordes of 18-25 year-olds drawn by the mindless and irresponsible advertising of the sponsors and the Rugby Football Union, who seem to think that a noisy hedonistic drinkfest is just what the increasingly hard-pressed residents need to wake them out of their cosy complacency. The litter and debris visible when we drove into our road at around 9:20 the previous evening was truly shocking. No efforts were being made to clear this ghastly mess, with the result that detritus would be blown into people's gardens, as well as local parks and streams. I did not witness the scenes in the middle of the town, but they were by all accounts not pretty.

There was mercifully no evidence of this in Richmond College's playing fields on Sunday as I made my way through them back to my house. All was peaceful there, although the fields are within sight of the RFU Stadium, where Sevens matches were still in progress. This was also a sunny day and I spent quite a while photographing an elm and an ash that stand next to each other by the path along the edge of the fields. The leaves are new and their colours fresh and vibrant. Here is one of the shots I took up through the dramatically zig-zagging branches of the ash towards the bright midday sky beyond. 

If you have read some previous posts, you will know that I am no fan of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka "The Walkie-Talkie". It punishes those who walk by it with fierce winds that I know are of concern to the City of London's planning department (who rejected the development, but were ultimately overruled by the then Secretary of State, whose name I neither know nor can be bothered to find out). There are nevertheless things I like about the building, not least the layout of the pavement at its feet, seen here.

At around 6:30pm on Monday, 18 May, we are looking east along Fenchurch Street to the junction with Gracechurch Street and on into Lombard Street, at whose end lies the great commuter magnet that is Bank Station. Not the greatest of shots, but it was taken on my phone and then put through various software hoops to try and tone down the dazzling setting sun. I hope it captures something of the drama of that early evening sun at this time of year.

Friday, 15 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 14 May 2015 – Praise

Every May for the last five years we have put on a fund-raising concert at the church of St Katharine Cree on Leadenhall Street in the City of London.

It is called "The Widow's Mite", the idea being that musicians, most of whom have an existing association with the church, each perform brief items. The title recalls the comments of Jesus on seeing rich people bringing large gifts to the temple treasury and a poor widow depositing two small copper coins. The widow, observed Jesus, had given more than all the rich because she had given sacrificially, while they had contributed out of their abundance. Admission to the concert is a modest amount and a hot meal is served. Additional donations are invited and everyone contributes what they can to the evening. It is a joyful and inspiring event and has raised several thousand pounds each year for the much needed restoration of the church, which is a building loved and used by many.

Here is one of the contributors, singing a gospel song.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 13 May 2015 – St Mary Woolnoth (2)

I am reading 'This Changes Everything' by Naomi Klein, a book that manages to be hopeful and highly dispiriting at the same time, its subject being how we can possibly address the  current crisis of climate change, which by scientific consensus is due to human agency. Since her thesis—which I have for many years believed, by what feels like intuition, to be right—is that resolution of the issues and the survival of civilised values depends on abandoning the pursuit of economic growth in the form that is almost universal among nations, I emerged from Exit 6 of Bank Station this morning with my head spinning at the enormity of the task facing us all.

To regain some sense of perspective and calm I decided to take a quick detour into the church of St Mary Woolnoth and revel in the dazzling order of its architecture. Not escapism, I hope, but an aid to greater clarity of thought and, therefore, of action.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 12 May 2015 – Nightmare on Seething Lane

OK, so what we are looking at here? We are standing just to the north of the gateway (visible in profile at camera right) into the churchyard of St Olave Hart Street, looking south along Seething Lane. The hoarding advises us that the building on the left is Ten Trinity Square, largely hidden in this image behind the boxy structure with its parapet of green glass.

The area surrounded by the dark hoarding has the status of public garden, maintained by the Corporation of London, but the plants and trees (including mature mulberries) were removed a couple of years or more ago to enable the garden area to be used, albeit temporarily, to site construction cranes and equipment needed to convert Ten Trinity Square to a six-star (I kid you not) hotel and apartment block with two levels of basement carpark. Excavation revealed 19th-century vaulted cellars that had belonged to the East India Company, which once was based here, while at the southern end an extensive stretch of 16th-century brick wall was uncovered.

The garden is due to be replanted and something better than what was there before has been promised. So it had better be, because the boxy thing with the green parapet—presumably access to the underground carparks—is an oppressive eyesore and a pretty nasty bit of construction to place so close to listed buildings. Ten Trinity Square was opened by Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1922 as the headquarters of The Port of London Authority and is Grade II listed. The building hosted the inaugural meeting of the United Nations in 1946 and more recently, before the current conversion works, was the European headquarters of the insurance brokers Willis. St Olave Hart Street meanwhile is listed Grade I, as are all the churches in the City of London.

Yes, but what are we looking at? The name of the street entering Seething Lane at camera left gives a clue, for it is Pepys Street. The box has been plonked on nothing less than the site of the 17th-century Navy Office, where Samuel Pepys lived from 1660 until 1673, when the building was destroyed by fire. All but the first few months of his peerless Diary were written while he was living in Seething Lane and attending St Olave's, which is where he was buried alongside his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1669, and his brother John. The fame of Pepys has spread across the world and interest in him is not confined to the English-speaking countries.

Ten Trinity Square is not yet occupied as further fitting out is being carried out, but the exterior stonework has been restored to dazzling effect. All the more surprising then that the box has been allowed into this prestigious space, although the sort of cars that will be parked beneath Ten Trinity Square can be imagined from the fact that a one-bedroom apartment in the converted building will be priced at £5 million.

Monday, 11 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 11 May 2015 – Cherub

As mentioned in my post for 31 January last, the pulpit from St Benet Gracechurch is now in St Olave Hart Street.

Here is a detail from one of the three beautifully carved facets of the pulpit, each of which features a cherub's face surrounded by ornate foliage. This particular one looks to the south and is most easy to shoot in natural light, because it gets plenty of it. St Benet's was demolished in the 19th century to allow for the widening of Gracechurch Street and to release funds for the construction of St Benet Mile End Road. Trinity House made funds available for St Olave's to buy St Benet's pulpit, while its font went to All Hallows Lombard Street.

Demolition was the fate of a number of City churches in the 19th century, which saw a marked reduction in the residential population of The Square Mile as the suburbs were extensively developed, a process accelerated by the arrival of the railways. The Lombard Street church was itself demolished in 1937, its key fitments and tower being transferred to Twickenham and housed in the new church of All Hallows Twickenham, built to serve the spiritual needs of the new housing developments close to the A316 (otherwise known as the Chertsey Road) that leads west out of London.

A Year in Pictures – 8 to 10 May 2015 – The Morning After and Other Sights

The still Sort-of-United-Kingdom had a General Election on Thursday 7 May and I had the good fortune to walk to the polling station with our then Member of Parliament, Vince Cable. While I did expect him to receive fewer votes than five years ago, I certainly did not think he would lose his seat of 18 years. The scare-bombing campaign by the Conservatives to convince people that the Lib Dems would crawl into bed with Ed Miliband's Labour Party and thus allow the Scottish Nationalists to achieve Scottish independence worked, and Twickenham has lost Vince as an MP and there are now only eight Lib Dems in the new parliament.

While our new Conservative MP, Dr Tania Mathias (a GP), seems decent and was certainly most gracious in her remarks about Vince as she stepped up to the plate in the early hours of Friday morning, I have heard her quoted as saying that it was free-market capitalism that persuaded her of the virtues of being a Conservative. Now, I have much to learn about many things, not least the dangers to our planet of current human activities, but I am convinced that if we do not change our ways, seriously bad things are going to happen, both in terms of the health and wellbeing of our fellow humans and our fellow creatures in general. Not that the Lib Dems are the same as the Green Party (who increased their vote locally) but I believe that their values stand more chance of carrying us through the problems that are developing faster than any one of us wants to hear than the sort of impulses that tend to be let more off the hook under Tory government.

My bicycle adjusts to the new political landscape of Twickenham on 8 May
On Saturday 9 May my wife and I made our way out of Twickenham—beset by the crowds attending the Army and Navy rugby match—and over the bridge into Richmond, where the annual May Fair was in progress on the Green. On the way I took this shot of another example of conservatism, Quinlan Terry's Richmond Riverside development, which I have always liked because it certainly fits its environment, although designing in the classical style in the later 20th and now 21st century seems, well, a little strange.

Doubtless there is some profound philosophical reason why this is not to be regarded as mere pastiche?
On 10 May I did not have much time to photograph, but I did have a little while at home on my own in the afternoon, as other family members were elsewhere. Thought I would try another still life. Not great—and the aficionados will doubtless spot the howlers—but I love the colours and, after the political upsets, it was rather consoling to concentrate on elements of the world other than the human.

The pine cones are from Brittany, the stones from Frinton-on-Sea and here's me blathering on about carbon footprints.

Friday, 8 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 7 May 2015 – Watching in the Silence

"Remember the other day when we were down at Saint Olave's, sitting there in the dusky gloom, looking up at the bust of Elizabeth Pepys? And you had just been talking about all she and Sam had been through; the London fire, the plague, the smash-up of two governments, the frights, the flights, the shocks, the sorrows; and there she was, so calm, so secure; and—outside in the street—you could hear it pouring in through the open doors—the dull mutter and rumble of traffic mumbling, 'On, on, on, on'—and you could hear the measured plop-plop of big shaggy hoofs on the cobble-stones, The same old loads were still moving. Same kind of straining horses, bracing their lathery shoulders against the same hot collars, lashed and yelled at by the same cloddish drivers; and Elizabeth, up there, not listening, but hearing; not gladly approving, but accepting…

"So—what? Well—I'm afraid I don't know. I can't quite define it. Maybe it has no bearing at all on the thing I've been trying to talk about... I just know that for an instant, down at Saint Olave's, there came over me an almost stifling wave of—of comprehension. And I said to myself, 'If ever I get into trouble, I should like to be able to come to some place like this, where to-day's struggle and pain is being hammered down hard on top of yesterday's—and let mine be pounded into dust and silence, along with Elizabeth's.’ ”

 From The Green Light, by Lloyd C. Douglas (1877–1951)

The memorial to Elizabeth Pepys (1669) in St Olave Hart Street in the City of London, sculpted by John Bushnell, who also fashioned the royal statues in the Temple Bar.
Elizabeth faces towards the location of the Navy Office gallery pew that once looked down on the main body of the church, and where her husband, Samuel, would have sat with his colleagues. Her face and pose are animated as if she is speaking. Elizabeth died aged only 29, while Samuel lived until the age of 70. They both lie buried in the sealed crypt of the church, along with one of Samuel's brothers.
Samuel never remarried.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Year in Pictures – 30 April to 4 May 2015 – Shapes and Forms

Another few days go by and another backlog amasses itself like cars at a red traffic light. 

With no obvious inspiration or theme last Thursday, 29 April, I took a quick shot of the statuette (about one-third life size) of King Charles I that stands in the south-east corner of the church of St Katharine Cree on Leadenhall Street in the City of London. By the end of that day I was already thinking that—given the commitments of the following days—a backlog would occur, I decided to make sculpture the subject of a series of images.

I knew that on the Friday, 1 May, I could pass by one of the talking points of Twickenham: the group of larger-than-life-size female statues that stand in the gardens of York House near the river. They are sometimes simply (and not surprisingly) known as 'The Naked Ladies'. I thought when I first encountered them some years ago that they were a rather kitsch attempt to render in stone Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, but it seems that they are a small group of Oceanids, the 3,000 daughters of the Greek god Oceanus. Originally part of a larger assemblage of statues and fashioned for another location, where they formed the background to showy Edwardian garden parties, they are now owned by Richmond Council—a bit of a come-down for even minor deities, it must be acknowledged.

On Saturday 2 May I decided to go for something more abstract and a modest venture into still life. I arranged some objects found by my daughter on the beach at Frinton-on-Sea, Essex with a woollen scarf as background. The image you see is a merging of three photographs taken at different exposures, which my camera enables me to do with one press of the shutter. The photographs were grouped into a single image using the HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature in Adobe Lightroom 6 (oooooh!). Two of the objects—stones—were shaped by natural forces, while the shell is the result, to cut a very long story very short indeed, of the biological processes of a mollusc working on minerals. The fourth item—a small piece of glass—is mineral worked on by humans and now momentarily salvaged from its reversion to a "state of nature" under the powerful forces of the sea to form part of this little collection.

Sunday 3 May sees a bit more abstraction and a simple shot of a section of the outside wall of St Paul's Church Hounslow West. Again minerals have been hewn and shaped, this time to make part of a building that can hold several hundred people, has multiple uses and has stood for over 100 years (although it now needs some structural help).

Today, 4 May, I decided to finish off the run of images with an overtly abstract image, but of course it is of something physical: part of the smoothly plastered ceiling of my kitchen, whose angles and resulting shadows created by natural light have fascinated me since they were constructed nearly 10 years ago.