Friday, 26 January 2018

Headstone Manor Museum


Thursday 25 January 2018
Today, Linda and I went to Harrow's Borough Museum, in the charming setting of Headstone Manor.  The River Yeading runs nearby, and there were catkins overhanging the water of the moat.

The museum exists in three buildings, apart from the Great Barn, which is reserved for weddings and other events of that nature.  The gardens around are being interestingly planted, and will be lovely in a year or two

We began in the small barn, where a film outlined the main events in the history of the manor, and then crossed the bridge into the manor house.

This area has been inhabited for over 10,000 years and, while the museum has comparatively few artefacts, its collection is well displayed and explained.  As befits a community museum, children and families are generously catered for. Rather a nice cartoon mallard (called Bill, hoho) points the way to various puzzles and activities, and there are cases showing the fruits of collaboration with local schools and colleges.

The Romans were here, conveniently for the A5 (or, as it was then, Watling Street) and the Anglo-Saxons had a shrine, or Herga on Harrow Hill.  It is thought that Herga morphed into Harrow as a name.

The Domesday Book confirms what a prosperous place this was in 1087.  Its lord was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was a country home for succeeding prelates until Henry VIII annexed it in 1545 and then sold it on to Sir Edward North.  But of course the land continued to be farmed by tenant farmers, whatever was happening to ownership and power.

A country area until the arrival of the railway in 1837, Harrow rapidly became commuter territory.  But a number of industries also flourished here, and we learned about them as we wandered from room to room.

We saw a microlith from the stone age. In Roman times, a potter alled Doinius worked in the village, and his (signed) pots have been found far away, just as Samian ware had been found in Harrow

We were able to move coloured wooden blocks to map the growth of the house over the centuries.  Starting life as . wooden structure, the house was faced with fashionable brick in the 18th century, and sash windows were put in.

The Whitefriars glassworks was one of the most famous industries of the area, and we saw examples of Whitefriars work, as well as the interpretations of the local Art College Students

It was possible to visit the rooms in any order, so we rapidly came to an account of Harrow during the Second World War. There was a splendid display of wartime recipe books and cards, as well as posters about allotments and 'digging for Victory, as well as examples of 'make do and mend' dresses and other wartime items.  We suspect that every borough museum has a child's gasmask, which of course slightly distorts the history, since they were never used except for rehearsal.

Next we came to the area with the dressing up box, but also an excellent opportunity to cut up (wooden) vegetables to make a stew. We were especially impressed with some plastic lettuce leaves, which seemed completely real, and with the interesting information.  Did you know that Tudor cooks always cooked fruit before putting it in a pie?  even strawberries?  apparently for health reasons!

This is where the bread oven had been put in the the 17th century, presumably making the bedroom above nice and cosy.
Upstairs there was a room about Metroland.  The most interesting thing here was a display of period maps, so you could lower them sequentially, and see the green fields (1912) vanish under housing in the 1920s and 30s.  The great Kodak factory was in Harrow before moving to Hemel Hempstead.

Also here was a display of 20th century toys, and some clothes and wallpaper of the period.  Another room had some material about the First World War, though it felt a bit detached from other things we had seen,

There was another room upstairs devoted to the Whitefriars glass works.  Who knew that the chandeliers for the Bath Assembly Rooms were made by Whitefriars?  Another local firm was Hamilton's (Paintbrushes;  there was a display case of them)

There was a room with material about Harrow Private School, explaining that the Trustees had set up John Lyon School in the 1876, to fulfil the terms of the original Tudor endowment, since by then there was little free or local about Harrow School.

We know that borough museums always have an area about famous residents.  Mrs Beeton, of Household Management fame, lived in Pinner, so she is recorded here.  But I thought much more interesting was the story of Daniel Dancer, the local 18th century miser, who slept on straw and ate sheep found dead in the fields, and left a derelict house with every cranny stuffed full of coins and treasury bills.  Of course, anyone who has read Our Mutual Friend knows about Dancer, because his was one of the lives which Noddy Boffin pretended to emulate when he was trying to develop a character as a skinflint

In several places, we came across projections of former residents, who described aspects of their lives.  One was the housekeeper to the Archbishops, who led us into an account of how things had been before the Thomas Cranmer handed the property over to Henry VIII

The Great Hall, no longer very 'great' because of alterations over the centuries, was the last part of the Manor House which we looked at, before crossing to the Granary, passing the pillory on the way.  The granary is the Education Area, but open to the public when no schools need it.  It is full of activities and puzzles, so we had a few moments of fun there

Finally, as we left, we past a splendid toposcope set in the ground, with useful distances:  Lambeth Palace would have been seven hours away by horse;  Bentley Priory is four seconds away by Second World War Spitfire;  the Bannister Stadium could be reached in 5.2 minutes if you run a sub-4 minute mile.

And then we left, well pleased with our visit, though the sunshine, and aromatic herbs planted in the raised beds certainly helped the mood.  And, appropriately for an area so changed by the coming of the railways, we headed back to Harrow and Wealdstone Station.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Little Holland House

40 Beeches Avenue
Carshalton  SM5 3LW.
Thursday January 18 2018

Sutton borough, as opposed to Bromley, seems to have a thriving Museum department and today’s visit was an excellent example of their support and enthusiasm for the local heritage. This small gem is easily accessible and really is only a 3 minute walk from Carshalton Beeches station… and there is a bus that goes past the door. 
And quite an interesting one too.

Our visit today was part of a group and with a commentary from one of Sutton’s archivists. I did try to take some notes but my pen died, not from old age but as I later discovered from the cold … and boy was it cold as of course the materials, and the plans used to build the house long pre-date any ideas about environmental impact or insulation or heating other than a central open fire…

Little Holland House was named in honour of Frank Dickinson’s ‘hero’ George Frederic Watts, artist and sculptor, whose home was Little Holland House in the eponymous West London park.  His was the Dower House of the much grander building, some of which remains today. Watts was hero for Frank Dickinson the builder and decorator for this, which is a very personalised family home. There are elements of GF Watts throughout the house but back to Frank Dickinson:

He was born in 1874 to a poor family in Lincolnshire where he was one of seven children, needing to leave school at 13 to help with the family income. He did a variety of jobs including employment in an iron foundry, some woodworking and sessions with  Doultons Tiles'.

As an admirer of not only GF Watts but of the art critic John Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts movement he aspired to an Arts & Crafts House but without any income to speak of or capital. Luckily he ‘won’ a co-operative guild pay-out (a bit like the lottery) and with this bought the land in Carshalton – an area he chose because of the Ruskin associations and because back in 1900 it was still very rural. When the house was built between 1902-4 there were still lavender fields and corn growing.

The exterior of the house, which does not stand out much today, would have been unusual in its day using the 'roughcast' finish beloved of the Arts & Crafts movement. Although lacking in formal training Frank, together with his wife and friends, completed the building, based on his own designs and plans, within two years. By this time Frank had married and not only did his wife give up her trousseau to buy the Cumbrian slate roof tiles but spent her honeymoon in the house sanding the floors. Though there was no mention of this we surmised that Frank was an obsessive, albeit of a harmless nature, and his completer tendencies are seen in every detail of the home, outside and in. From the front gate and letter box to the lampshades and furniture everything adheres to the spirit of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement. The furniture pieces; tables, chairs (his and hers), work boxes and chests are all wonderful, well-proportioned and timeless. Some of the wooden carvings used as friezes are attractive but do look amateurish or maybe we are just spoilt after the Grinling Gibbons magnificence of St Paul’s last week?  Mrs Dickinson – Florence – contributed equally with her embroidered curtains and perhaps the lampshades.

Other well-crafted items include the copper friezes round the fireplaces (sadly unlit) and the beds. Overall the proportions of the house are very generous – Dickinson could not abide the meanness of narrow doors so these are wide, as is the staircase round the corner off the dining area.

The front door leads through to a fairly basic kitchen, which is not really part of the tour. The remaining downstairs consists of a back, opening on the garden sitting area and towards the front of the house the dining table – this is on a raised platform and the Dickinsons used to do ‘entertainments’ with their friends. The two rooms can be curtained off but it looks like what it was designed to be: a space for a family but generous enough to be hospitable too.  The fact that millions of households have since ‘broken through’ to join their front and back rooms makes this no less revolutionary as a design in its time. There are charming occasional tables, a sewing box next to Florence’s sewing machine and two fireplaces. The Doulton tiles in the surrounds were apparently a wedding gift for them and Frank crafted copper surrounds to tie in. Over the sitting room fireplace is a triptych painted by Frank, in the spirit of GF Watts. The carving reads ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ but this is no religious picture – pride of place is given to the farm labourer tilling the soil to nurture the wheat, while to right and left are side lined Church, Law & State and Arts and Science respectively. The other downstairs pictures include local views painted at the time – which other visitors to the house recognised.  The family lived here until 1981 though Frank died in 1961 and he certainly quite resented the fact that other houses had gone up in the street. The other very charming pictures by him are of all the other family members at different stages of their life. His son tried to get a gallery to exhibit his work but by the early 20th Century modernism had very much pushed out Dickinson’s more traditional approach to painting. Another eye-catching picture is a version of the Death of Ananias with such contemporary celebrities as Shaw, Lenin and Marx in the ‘crowd’ – you can see where Dickinson’s allegiances lay. His family are in the foreground. 

The garden is really quite large for the size of house and Sutton are using volunteers to help restore it to a more original design.

The tour continues upstairs where the back main bedroom is the attraction; there are several very beautiful pieces of furniture – wardrobe, chest of drawers and bed, hand embroidered curtains and several period pottery pieces. Over the bed hangs a copy of GF Watts’  'Hope' (who always looks more than a little depressed) and Frank took the colour scheme from there to use in the frieze round the room.

Freeze being the operative word today, we looked into the newly opened front room which had been that of their daughter Isabel, usually known as Julie. Until recently there had been a resident warden at the house and this had been their room but now Sutton are planning to use it as an ‘exhibition’ room.
On display were some plans that Frank had submitted to the council laying out his ideas for the redevelopment of Carshalton town/village centre, but his were not adopted. In the centre was the silver tea set he had made himself (after attending silversmith classes) and presented to his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary. Theirs was a very enduring relationship; he died in the Sixties and she survived him by some 20 years and eventually moved into a local care home living until 1981.  Their son Gerard then offered the house to Sutton, who with considerable foresight took it over in 1981.

The remaining back bedroom belonged to Gerard and it is suitably modest with its bed and chest (by this time Gerard was assisting/learning woodwork from his father) and a clever use of the corner to hang clothes. The adjacent bathroom was modernised in the Sixties but retains the original copper boiler, which is why characters in period novels tend to say ‘she put on the copper’ – it is essentially an unenclosed uninsulated immersion heater…

Our tour concluded with a very welcome cup of tea and home-made cake as we badly needed to thaw – pretty tea cups on the proper dining table and settle were very welcome. What is impressive here is the love, thought and hard work that the whole family put into building and maintaining a unique family home, which we can admire and visit today.  


Saturday, 13 January 2018

St Paul's Cathedral


Thursday 11 January 2018

Today we visited the magnificent base of the new Bishop of London (just thought I'd mention her).  Photography is not permitted in the Cathedral itself, but we were privileged to see the Education areas, thanks to the generosity of one of the busy people in the department, so this post is embellished with photos of that area. (And thank you, Roger, for rescuing me from the fact that I had forgotten my camera)

The Education area is spacious (room for 60, but dividable for smaller groups) and decorated with the art works of some of the schools who visit (from every borough, and quite possibly every primary school in London)  There are vestments to help with teaching about 'sacred spaces', diagrams and artefacts to explain the remarkable Physics involved in this building and photographs and other sources to explain the history of the building.  in 2016, the department collaborated with the Museum of London to remember the Great Fire of 1666 which is, after all, the reason this building exists.  Increasingly, the department is allowed to make use of the huge spaces above, with both art and singing workshops taking place in the Quire, and students interacting with, for example, the art works connected with the First World War commemorations.

Our host then took us up to the Triforium, which was a real treat, as we could glimpse parts of the Library, which is housed up here and is available to scholars.  Also stored up here are the cartoons by Sir William Blake Richmond, for the mosaics inside the Dome/ We also got a close- up view of the new-ish (trumpet) organ pipes installed at the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

Then, because we were halfway there, we went up to the Whispering Gallery, before reviving ourselves with a chelsea bun in the Crypt Cafe

We had been booked into a guided tour of the Cathedral itself.  We should never have imagined that we should be absorbed and interested for over two hours, but so it was.  Our charming guide had said we could abandon her at any time, but we felt no inclination to do so. We began at the west end After a few dates (604AD for the foundation of the diocese, fires in 1087 and 1666, this building completed in a snappy 35 years from 1675 to 1711) we were shown the floor memorial to the St Pauls Watch, who began training in 1938 to protect the Cathedral in case of the blanket bombing that people were expecting after the Fascist horrors of the Spanish Civil War. John Betjeman was a member of the Watch, which dealt with many incendiaries, but could not prevent the October 1940 HE bomb which destroyed the High Altar, or the April 1941 damage to the North Transept. Interestingly, Churchill forbade reporting of these two incidents, for reasons of morale.

We then sat in the former Consistory Court, now the Chapel of the Order of St Michael and St George, to hear some of the history of the Cathedral.  I'm not going to tell you it all, as this is a blog post not an encyclopedia, but you might not know that the Diocese of London is north of the river only, the Southern part of the town having been first Winchester, then Rochester and now Southwark. The medieval cathedral was larger than the current one, and had a spire as tall as Nelson's Column on top of the Dome, at least until it was struck by lightning in 1561. By the 17th century the whole place was looking rather shabby, and Inigo Jones was hired to do up the west front.  What with lawyers using it as a meeting place, and booksellers and book printers using the crypt as workshops, it needed a bit more than that, even before Cromwell allowed the army to stable its horses in the nave. In August 1666, Christopher Wren put forward his plans to tidy up the cathedral, less than a month before the Great Fire ensured a more thorough job would be necessary.  Our guide explained that the fire had been particularly devastating because many people had rushed their (wooden) furniture into the safety of the Cathedral; because the molten lead from the roof had cracked the stone; and because the crypt was full of the combustible stores of the book sellers and printers. It's thought that 2,000,000 books went up in the flames.

So far, I haven't really said that the most impressive thing about this huge building is its uncluttered feel.  All built to one design, with no changes of style as decades passed, it benefits from Wren's interest in the classical styles he had seen in Paris.  Straight walls, no side chapels and no images to speak of, this was the first post-reformation cathedral in the world.  The huge planned weight of the dome meant that the side walls had to be reinforced:  since buttresses were out of the question in a modern building, there is a 'curtain wall' as well as interior and invisible buttressing.

Next, we went down to the well of the Dean's Stair.  We had seen it from above in the triforium, where this photo was taken, but it is even more amazing viewed from below.  These 'geometric stairs', each resting on the one below as well as 6 inches into the wall, have become seriously famous in recent  years, appearing both at Hogwarts and in the Paddington film.  

We then paused by the huge oval font, dating from 1750, to hear that the Portland stone for the Cathedral was brought by ship and then boat (London Bridge being impassible for large craft) and unloaded at St Paul's wharf, just where the Millennium Bridge is now.  So as you walk up that slope to the firefighters' memorial (here, in case you've forgotten) you need to imagine workmen lugging the great stones towards the building site.

When the Victorian era began, the Cathedral was felt to be too plain (Victoria herself said it was insufficiently devotional) so stained glass windows and a very 'high' high altar were put in, but happily the Luftwaffe restored things to their simpler state.

There were no memorials at all in the church until the end of the eighteenth century, but since then, many military men have been memorialised here.  We were told the long and complex story of the memorial for the Duke of Wellington, whose gigantic memorial is only outdone by his actual tomb in the crypt.  He had been dead for sixty years before his memorial was complete.

Now we were under the dome, and learned the difficulties of building enormous heavy structures on a base of London clay (St Peter's, Rome, has a nice rocky foothold).  So the eight huge pillars actually hold up a dome of wood and brick, faced with stone, and plastered on the inside, by a master plasterer called Henry Dogood.  There is a fine statue of Lord Nelson here (he has the plum burial position in the crypt, directly under the centre of the dome) and round the corner is a statue of John Donne, who fo course was Dean of the old Cathedral, but whose monument is the only one which survived to be put in the new one, though not till the 1820s.

We sat in the Quire to hear about the long history of singing boys, and to see the wonderful Grinling Gibbons carvings of botanical items on the Bishop's Chair.  The Quire was in use for services from 1697 onwards, though it must have been pretty chilly with the nave and dome incomplete.  The ceiling mosaics are also a symptom if the Victorian need for embellishment, but the beautiful gates are the work of Tijou, who was employed by Wren

Behind the high altar is the American Memorial Chapel, for the 28,000 Americans who were stationed in Britain and died in the Second World War. 

As we headed down to the crypt, we paused at the memorial to Samuel Johnson, rather oddly dressed in nothing but a sheet.

The crypt is the same size as the cathedral, which is very unusual.  Beneath the entry to the Quire, Wren had to put in extra arches to bear the weight of Schmidt's organ above (or his 'confounded box of whistles' as Wren described it).

Here we saw Wren's own memorial, in a quiet corner (lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice) near Millais and Turner and various other Royal Academicians. The Chapel of St Faith is now a chapel for the British Empire Order.  There are so many members that there has to be a ballot for the service of 24 May (or Empire Day as people of our age sometimes knew it)

And there are many more memorials:  Admirals Beattie and Jellicoe close enough together to continue the tetchy relationship they had during the First World War, Sullivan and Parry for music,  Alexander Fleming for science.  There was a coffin slot in the ceiling through which the dead could be lowered, but Beattie was the last actual burial here, in 1936.

And finally we came to the huge tombs of Wellington and Nelson.  Nelson's body is in a sarcophagus originally designed and made at the orders of Cardinal Wolsey, but never used because of his disgrace.  Weillington is in a massive granite tomb; the mosaic on the floor around is made up of chips broken by women prisoners in Woking Gaol, which gives a whole new meaning to the term 'stone-breaking' as a stereotype of prison work.

I could go on but enough is enough, so I shall spare you tales of Churchill's funeral, and the difference between a terrorist and an organist, merely advising you that a visit is seriously worth while and worth the not insignificant entry charge.