Thursday, 23 June 2016

Carshalton Water Tower, Hermitage & Historic Garden

West Street, Carshalton, Surrey SM5 2PN
Wednesday  21 June 2016

Today’s trip, as last week’s,  was organised via the Friends of the British Library, and in spite of strike action by Southern Rail the party assembled at 2.00 for a ‘booked visit’. Usually this attraction is only open between April and October on Sunday PMs, being run entirely by volunteers.

The context for the Water Tower, which is not really seen at its best from the narrow but busy road West Street, is that it is part of the former ‘manor or merchant house’ built originally by a Mr Carleton but embellished by Sir John Fellowes. The house is now part of St Philomena’s School and the Tower, lake and other buildings are all part of the school grounds.

Sir John  Fellowes, like  many other ‘entrepreneurs’ in the early 18th century made his money through slavery, and if not slavery then sugar from the Caribbean, which comes to much the same thing. Having enhanced the main house he was looking for a ‘glory project’ and conceived a water Tower which had not only a practical use – to bring fresh spring water to the main house – but also a ‘vanity’ element in that at its base it housed both an orangery and a bath. It was built between 1717 and 1720 as by 1720 he was formally declared bankrupt, having been a major player in the South Sea Company which precipitated the famous  'Bubble' and subsequent crash.

He was also consigned for a month to the Tower of London where he managed to spend £1000 on ‘entertainment’, but still emerged not noticeably poorer (which is not unlike the fate of those responsible for subsequent bubbles – without even the symbolic satisfaction of a spell in the Tower).

Compared to all that putting up a water tower must have seemed quite mundane – and cheap.   

The tour started in the Orangery – a familiar structure and seen in many houses of the period (we saw one at Hampton Court last year) and in its time would have housed ‘exotic’ specimens such as citrus trees and myrtle. The full length windows are wonderful though sadly the view today is out onto the catholic Primary school with its utilitarian Sixties buildings. Adjacent and at about half the size is the Saloon, which again would have been used for entertaining. The Trust has provided and collected many prints of the key buildings over their time, which shows how the house and estate would have looked prior to more recent developments, and when the lake, as lake it is, was used for pleasure boating . Both the Orangery and Saloon had domed ceilings but World War II bomb damage led to their being restored as merely an oval ceiling.

From the Saloon a small door leads to the Bath – what we might call a  communal plunge pool as it was almost certainly not used for washing and too small for swimming – so was a vanity or entertainment construction and is one of the few such to survive intact. It is beautifully tiled with Delft tiles of the period and the few missing have been thoughtfully added/reconstructed with the help of conservators at Ironbridge. There are a couple of empty niches – perhaps once filled with statues or maybe even ‘posing bathers’.

Whence the water?

Well broadly speaking the River Wandle but more specifically there are various ‘springs’ that rise here (not sure of the geological strata…) and are then channelled into a canal  that runs into the Pump Chamber – our next stop on the tour. The water wheel on display is a Victorian replacement and while narrow generates enough ‘power’ for pumps to send water up the tower for the house – Sir John’s house was ahead of its time in having running water on two floors. The Trust is working on having the mechanisms restored to working order but it is interesting to note that it was in full working use up to the start of the Second World War. Evident also are the four stout pillars which support the water tower structure above.   
Squeezed between the bath and the pump room but only accessible from the Pump Chamber is the Robing Room, or I suppose dis-robing room where the friends and family would have prepared to enter the bath by a direct door – as the Robing Room faces north and the water would have been cold this would have been a bracing experience at best. The Robing Room is largely in use as a kitchen for the Trust and those who rent the Tower as a ‘venue’.

From there the tour (and a modest 37 steps)  takes you up onto the roof at about half the height of the Tower but high enough to give a good view back to the ‘House’ over the lake and across West Road to Margaret’s Pool, named in honour of Ruskin’s mother. From here, although the lake is very grassy and overgrown, you can see how Mr Carleton’s original straight canal was ‘landscaped’ Arcadia  style , into a kidney shaped lake and curved canal to be more in fashion.  You can also gaze upwards, being careful not to fall over the parapet or into the gullies which collect rainwater and admire the Tower which once held the tank.  Fellowes also owned a brickfield, so the Tower is built of bricks, fairly soft red ones for decoration with London stocks for structure.

Leaving the Tower, and fortified by tea and biscuits, we continued to admire the outside from the back and then proceeded carefully across the causeway. Apparently the ‘lake’  has usually dried up by this point in the summer but – surprise, surprise – this year there was still enough water to mean that the groundsmen had refused to deploy their ‘heavy plant’  and cut the grass and weeds. So we threaded our way along a narrow path between shoulder high grasses and nettles, quite an experience. From midway on the causeway we could see the false or ‘Sham’ bridge which is basically at the edge of the lake but gives the illusion of water passing through it. There is a similar one at Kenwood and familiar trick of the 18th century landscape designers, in this case the aptly named Charles Bridgeman; he must have squeezed this 1720 commission in between Blenheim and  getting royal patronage!

The causeway brings you onto the school lawns and a better view of what was Sir John Fellowes’ home . The Daughters of the Cross, a Catholic Foundation, were  here for many years though the house had had some other illustrious owners or tenants previously: Radcliffe later to have the Oxford Infirmary named after him, Anson who became Admiral of the Fleet after many naval battles, and a certain Mr Hardwick who gave his name to the Marriage Act of 1759.

The Sisters left the most lasting impact on the whole estate as, as well as living here they established a school initially for their own but more recently a 1000 strong secondary school for Girls.  
Carleton’s original stable block was ’adapted’ into a school extension and the clock tower is noticeably that of the Stables. The Sisters also laid a trail (that’s what it always feels like when outdoors as opposed to round the sides of the church) of the Stations of the Cross and used the handily rustic Hermitage as a grotto for their Pieta. The Hermitage was built of ever so soft Reigate stone and while it was never probably used for a hermit it has more recently been expensively restored to make it a safe structure. It is built into a hill on the side of the lake with tunnels and suchlike to fulfil all the Romantic criteria for such a structure.

We greatly enjoyed our visit to this corner of Carshalton where a combination of industrial heritage and 18th landscaping come together most successfully. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

The House Mill

The Miller’s House
Three Mill Lane
Bromley by Bow E3 3DU

Thursday 9 June 2016

Since Linda and Mary were both busy, I was delighted to have the company of Roger for this Friends of the British Library special tour.

Three Mill Island is very close to Bromley by Bow Underground Station, and we walked across the bridge onto this man-made island, unaware that we were stepping onto land sitting on medieval timber piles:  but we learned that later.

We began with an introductory talk, which told us that at the time of Domesday Book there were eight mills in the West Ham area, and that bread made in Stratford-at-Bow could be sold in London, provided the penny loaf was 2oz heavier than those made by London bakers. I do love the history of restrictive practices.

The history of this site really begins with some Huguenot immigrants in the 18th Century. They bought the site of the Mill to set up a distillery.  The produced alcohol, not just for the gin trade, but also for perfumiers like Yardleys.
Later on in the 18th century a different family bought the site and eventually three mills were built, for grinding corn. Two of the mills were tidal and the third was wind powered.

A fire in 1802 meant that the House mill had to be rebuilt (initial fears that the fire was the work of the French were unfounded) and then in October 1940, the mills narrowly escaped another fire when an incendiary bomb hit a bonded warehouse full of alcohol nearby. The last bit of the introduction was about how the Mill was saved and indeed, Grade 1 listed, thanks to local enthusiasts, the EU and English Heritage, whose influence can be seen in the signage all around the Mill. Actually, the cobbles outside are Grade 2 listed, which must be a bit unusual for roadways.

So next we went on our tour, with a very clear and entertaining guide. We started upstairs in what had been the grain bin. Since wheat flour catches fire very easily, mills were made of wood, to avoid sparks; there is no lighting and of course no heating, though that did not bother us on this warm day. We were shown the grain hoists, which function off the water wheels of the mill, and thee holes in the floor through which the grain went down to be mill. The wooden beams all had chisel marks to show the workers putting it all back together after the 1892 fire how it fitted.

We then went downstairs, and out of the Mill into what had been the house: the fireplace demonstrated that! Then it was back into the mill to visit the smutting and dressing room, where fans and brushes were used to get rid of potentially lethal funguses like ergot. Apparently there was a piggery down the road which bought the sweepings: they had a contract to supply pork to the Royal Navy, which tells you something about 19th century defence spending.

This is where we were told about the actual working of a tide mill:  this one worked on the ebb not the flow, but since the tide went up the River Lea as far as Lea Bridge Road, there was plenty of power there.  The tide works twice every 25 hours, making the shift patterns a little complicated for the workers.

Also on this floor was the pattern room, with light wooden templates for every part of the machinery, so that replacements could be made without delay.

The mill must have shaken with every turn of the great wheels, and so the builders put in the kind of 'knees' which brace the hulls of ships. Some of the wood is native hornbeam, but some is from American softwood, possibly, said our guide, salvaged from a ship not worth repairing. There was also pine from Poland in the mix.

The next floor down is the milling floor, where we saw the great stones, of which the mill had twelve.  They are of French quartz. A stone will last for about three hundred hours before it needs to be redressed, that is, have its grooves recut. The bed stone remains still, while the running stone revolves upon it, at 110 revolutions per minute, grinding a ton of wheat in two hours. 

Then we went on down, to see the wheels themselves. These are undershot wheels, meaning that the flat paddles of wheel are dragged round by the flowing water, rather than being pushed down as with an overshot wheel. One of the wheels had scoops, but the others were made with flat planks, and we were told that this is not a very efficient use of the water's power.  On the other hand, one can be sure that it will keep coming..... A later wheel was an Edwardian one, which was a 'low breast shot' meaning that the water hits the wheel about 2 ft above the base for slightly more efficiency.

The ground floor is, of course, where the grain comes in and the flour goes out. Hoists using the power of the turning wheels unloaded the carts and raised the grain to the top of the building , as well as collecting the flour and sending it out to the transport.  There were inspection hatches in the flour chutes, so that the fineness of the milling could be tested by the 'rule of thumb'.

Outside, we saw the metal ties which hold the handsome brick facade onto the wood of the mill itself, and the charming garden.  Also the mud flats of the River Lea at ebb, when the grain barges would be unloaded with minimal risk of capsizing.

It was a very interesting tour;  how lucky we are that the listing should protect this charming spot from development into riverside apartments.  The Clock Mill is now a Free School, but the House Mill should be safe.

It is open on Sundays, should you wish to have a look, and all the details are here.

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Queen’s Gallery

Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA

Thursday June 2 2016

Jo’s turn to be on a walking holiday with her destination guaranteeing rather more reliable weather than ours, lucky though we were; this meant the choice of outing was Linda’s alone.
I opted for the Queen's Gallery – Jo had been once and was not inclined to repeat the experience, especially as it comes at quite a cost.   

The purpose-built gallery is neatly positioned between the Palace itself (only open late July/August) and the Royal Mews, for which I could have bought a joint ticket. But it was to be pictures today. Within the Gallery the undercroft has a cloakroom and some sumptuous toilets, the ground floor an extensive shop and reception and security and the exhibition rooms are on the first floor – there are two substantial ones, two smaller ones and an Education area. Each room is named for a past curator though there was no sign of a ‘Blunt’ room …

Throughout the time of his activities in espionage, Blunt's public career was in the History of Art, a field in which he gained prominence. Following his dissertation on Italian Art he was given the position of Surveyor of the King's Pictures, and later the Queen’s Pictures (after the death of King George VI in 1952), one of the largest private collections in the world. He held the position for 27 years, was knighted as a KCVO in 1956 for his work,  and his contribution was vital in the expansion and cataloguing of the Queen’s Gallery, which opened in 1962.

The Gallery runs different exhibitions throughout the year and today you could enjoy ‘Scottish Artists 1750-1900’ and Maria Merian’s ‘Butterflies’ . I was not unduly thrilled at the thought of Victorian Scottish landscapes and sure enough there were plenty of stags at bay and heather coloured moors; the gallery visitors included a sprinkling of Scottish kilts, who felt very at home I’m sure. Sir David Wilkie was most popular in his day and the Georgian then Victorian public clearly loved his narrative painting – earlier works such as the game of Blind Man’s Buff bought by George IV when Prince Regent and Penny Wedding gave the monarchs an ‘impression’ of life among the lower orders even if in a cleaned up way.  More interesting was his trip abroad and though he did visit Italy (as almost any artist from Dürer to the present day has to do and does) the newly opened up Spain inspired three interesting narrative works – ‘The Guerrilla’s Departure’, ‘Defence of Saragossa’ and lastly ‘The Guerrilla’s Return’ – of course wounded, on a donkey and not unlike scenes from the Passion. (You can tell I am newly returned from a Catholic part of Germany where such scenes are supposed to be a penance and therefore inspire you to walk uphill…)  

George IV seemed to like these works and his purchase re-established Sir David’s somewhat fading fortunes. The Gallery offered a 10 minute talk slot focussing on an admirer and to some extent protégé of Wilkie’s by the name of John Philip, who (again inspired by a book) had also ventured to Spain and painted amongst others ‘The Dying Contrabandista’ – another strong narrative piece . There are clear influences of both Velasquez and Murillo with a ewer in the foreground and a texture to the textiles… Philip left Scotland quite young and was another Royal Academy student  teaming up with other artists including Richard Dadd, whose work we had encountered a few months back during our visit to the Bethlem Museum, and whose sister Maria he married. Unfortunately she was as mentally unstable as her brother and the marriage proved volatile – partly to escape and forget he travelled to Spain, so recently opened up following gaining their ‘freedom’ from Napoleon. After his return from Spain John Philip, or Philip of Spain as began to be known, was patronised by LANDSEER which helped him get commissions. The side galleries have very low light to enable  the Gallery to show what are essentially preparatory sketches and plans for the big pictures.

(I managed to lose my camera in Germany and though my phone worked well for the second half the light was too low  and flash discouraged - the Gallery website offers the full range of the exhibition) Apologies.

The real attraction for me today was the opportunity to see the ‘Butterflies of Maria Merian’ – the very contrasting show in the adjacent rooms. In some ways Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717) is a ‘one-trick pony’ as what is on display are her consummate quasi-scientific watercolours, executed on vellum which gives them an added lustre and of course longevity. Her subject matter is almost entirely the life-cycle of butterflies and she combines, artistically, in each picture an accurate, life-sized depiction of the caterpillar> chrysalis (pupa) > butterfly ‘grazing’ on the tropical plant which gives it nourishment. She was the daughter of a Frankfurt printer and her widowed mother remarried an artist who taught his step-daughter how to paint flowers but she showed an early interest in insect life as well. Following the breakdown of her marriage she left to join a religious group in Amsterdam with her two daughters, whom she later taught to be artists also.

There she could develop her skills against the background of the European Enlightenment and its interest in scientific demonstration and advances. A bit like imagining a belief system ‘before Galileo or Darwin’, it is hard to remember that until the mid-17 th Century most folk still believed as Aristotle had thought  that insect life was generated from rotting matter – it was only Francesco Redi who demonstrated that the insects had a life independent though linked to the rotting meat. Even more surprising was the conclusion that the three stages of insect development are not three separate life-forms but one creature undergoing metamorphosis. It was the Dutchman Jan Swammerdam with his microscope work who demonstrated that the three life stages are one animal not three.

Maria Merian wished to catalogue these findings in a pictorial way and enterprising woman that she was, having seen some tropical specimens in Amsterdam, set off for Suriname, then a Dutch colony in South America. When I worry about our daughter heading in to the Pantanal (again) I have to salute the enterprise of this woman searching out mini-beasts three hundred years ago… 

She was there with her daughter from 1701-3 and the gallery shows many examples of her exquisite representations of the different moths, butterflies and insects, plus a few reptiles that she observed and captured very accurately. It was a bit like going to the tropical fruit section in the supermarket only better as her fruits looked fresher and more at home with the different species having their preferred habitats. So the wonderful red pomegranate has a Blue Morpho butterfly, the Pomelo a different species. She would ask locals mostly expat Sugar Plantation owners and enquire about plant names and they would mock her for ‘seeking anything other than sugar’… That was not to say that she had no sense of business because she was so impressed with the Seville Orange Moth’s strong thread that she sent some back  to Amsterdam in the hope it might generate a silk industry..

Similarly we have the Papaya and Nymphidium Butterfly and the Pineapple (a fruit only recently introduced in Europe) with its cockroaches and the Dido Longwing Butterfly.

I found the combination of scientific enquiry with artistic skill a most compelling but soothing exhibition. The ‘pictures’ are actually all pages from her magnum opus ‘Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium’ – I thought you might have a better chance of understanding the Latin than the Dutch!

Her legacy was not inconsiderable inspiring both successive scientists and innumerable fabric and porcelain designers.