Thursday, 15 March 2018

The World Rugby Museum

Twickenham Stadium
Whitton Road

Thursday 8 March 2018

After the grim English showing in the Calcutta Cup Match, you may be surprised to learn that we visited this celebration of all things Rugby.  But we did, and found it very interesting.

The Museum is based in the enormous stadium, a short bus ride from Twickenham Station.  You enter through (and purchase your ticket in) the gift shop, and then take the lift in a rather unfinished looking area, to reach the galleries on the first floor.  The museum is very new and shiny, having been open for only a few months.  It was not very crowded, though a French school group passed through swiftly while we were there.

The Museum begins with an account of medieval football, where whole villages fought, bit, punched and kicked their way to victory.  Such games were banned from time to time as being too dangerous.  Moving into the private schools, football remained pretty fierce:  for example at Rugby School, the Big Side game involved the 75 students of School House against the 225 pupils of the other houses.  Because of the legend of William Webb Ellis's 'fine disregard for the rules' in picking up the ball and running with it, there was quite a lot about the School, and the various rituals involved in the game.  We had not known that WWE became Rector of St Clement Danes, an example , we thought, of muscular Christianity.

Things became more formalised in the 1870s, with the establishment of the Rugby Football Union, and the formulation of the Rules.  The handwritten first version is on display here, with a diagram of the standardised pitch, and definitions of 'punt' and 'place kick' and so on.  By 1909, after various rows, the International Rugby Board - now World Rugby - was established. We felt itchy as we examined the England Schoolboy jersey. made of wool...

Rugby spread across the Empire and the world, and there was a plan on the floor which showed the dates at which different nations succumbed to the lure of the game.  It was thought to have amazing character building properties.  Indeed, there is an episode in the Imperialist stories of Sanders of the River in which a Junior District Officer in West Africa puts an end to inter-tribal warfare by encouraging the local people to play Rugby instead.

There was a case of the shirts of different nations, ranging from the sober to the lurid, including such countries as Slovenia as well as more familiar ones.  It was not long before the marketing opportunities of such a major sport attracted attention, and we saw some splendid posters linking Rugby with smoking and drinking, among other pleasures

An interesting display grappled with the issue of Amateur status.  In the days when the working week included Saturdays, the provision of 'boot money' was essential for working men, and thus 'veiled professionalism' became a serious issue, especially in the Northern Union.  The problem of course was that the more wealthy players did not need such subsidising since, even if they were in employment, it was unlikely to involve Saturdays....

Next came a section about Twickenham itself, and the growth of the stadium since the early 20th century, with photos and plans to illustrate the ambition of the place.  There were gaps in the growth.  the pitch was used for grazing during the First World War, and for 'Dig for Victory' allotments in the Second.  It was also the local Civil defence HQ.  It was at this stage that we enjoyed the presents from around the world for the 25th anniversary, particularly the packets of seeds labelled 'Twix Mix' suitable for growing your own rugby pitch.  Since 2003, the stadium has been an important music venue, hosting, for example, the Rolling Stones, as you can see here.

The statue, demonstrating the core values of the game, was put up in 2010 and there were new dressing rooms in 2013, including recovery areas and hydrotherapy facilities.  How surprised William Webb Ellis and his team-mates would be.

We then needed a bit of recovery and went into the John Douglas room, to sit and watch a film, The Rose and the Poppy, narrated by Lewis Moody, about rugby players in the First World War.  A number of interviews, including with Harry Patch  are interspersed with photos and film and chilling statistics.  There were rugby leagues in the army, the navy, and the Royal Flying Corps.  According to the posters, 90% of rugby payers enlisted before the conscription act came into force in 1916;  certainly 28 players from London Irish died during the war.  The stadiums's own memorial for the centenary of the war is the beautiful Rose and Poppy Gate, made from German shell cases.

 A brief reference to the Olympic Games (Rugby has been in and out of the games for more than a century) brought us to some quite political stuff:  a section about Women's Rugby, and then a great deal of material about the South Africa Sports boycott and the end of Apartheid, culminating in statements from the 'keep politics out of sport' factions agreeing that the banning of international sport had eventually helped the final outcome of the struggle in South Africa. 

We saw material about wheel chair rugby, about teams for deaf, blind and learning disabled players and clubs for gay people, and also about rugby teams in prisons.

 One of my favourite exhibits was a 'touch the table' gadget, which played film, with subtitles (in two languages where appropriate) of the Six Nations teams singing their anthems. I never knew that the Italians sang about putting the helmet of Scipio on, or that the Flowers of Scotland were determined to send Edward's men home to think again (certainly worked in the Calcutta Cup match this year). On the other hand, the film of the All Blacks doing the Hacka just caused us to marvel that that seems to be the only sign of New Zealand's first nations on the Rugby pitch

 A little account of the development of the Seven-a-side game brought is to a mock-up of a dressing room with -yes! - dressing up opportunities.  This area was enlivened by opportunities to see how high and how fast one could move, as well as having a go on the rhino trainers for learning how to scrummage.

Here was also some careers advice about how to become a referee, a coach or a physio.

 A further gallery told us about Lions' and Barbarians' tours, though we did not know whether the torn shirt was the result of age or violent play; and we finished with a display about dinners, banquets and other celebrations, with accompanying menus and souvenirs, before we exited, as Banksy says, through the gift show.

We thought this museum measured up well to the other sporting museums we have visited (Lords, Wimbledon) and would certainly recommend a visit, though obviously we should prefer it to be in the flush of an English victory.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Emery Walker House

7 Hammersmith Terrace
London W6 9TS
Thursday March 1 2018

When I booked this guided visit I had imagined us walking, in Spring sunshine,  through the pleasant back streets of Chiswick admiring people’s front gardens and camellias, while in fact we picked our way carefully in crampons and with sticks in order not to slide on the icy pavements.  The house itself is also not heated so it was a pretty chilly tour with Jo and I wondering whether it was colder (yes) than Little Holland House six weeks ago. It also meant, rather sadly, we could not go into the conservatory and garden which leads down to the river. 

The views from the upstairs bedrooms were impressive even on the greyest of days and must be even more enticing in better weather. Photography is not allowed; in any case lighting levels are very low, but the website has some excellent photos of the three key rooms. Though looking quite modest, and as the guide showed at the time in quite an industry-heavy part of London, this is in fact a 5 storey house with two rooms on each level. The basement is now a (slightly modernised) rental flat, while the top floor (servants’ quarters) is office space.
If you are not a fan of the Arts & Crafts Movement you might wish to stop here..

Yes, but who was Emery Walker, or Sir Emery as he later became?  Coming from quite humble beginnings, he was born in Paddington in 1857 to a coach maker and tried his hand at various trades until he found his metier in typography. Together with a business partner called Bootle they had a business of etchings and photography, which included the first ever systematic photography of the exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery. This work gave him a footing in the Art World and he gradually became acquainted with William Morris. This was hardly surprising as the latter lived up the road at Kelmscott House, they often took the same underground (overground here of course) train and, the key point, both were members, and later officers, of the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist Party. Admiring of his work to date in the printing trade Morris offered Walker a partnership which he declined, recognising that Morris was a force to be reckoned with, but he did agree to be a technical advisor to the Kelmscott Press which Morris was setting up. The books they printed, often using the Jensen font were very ‘high end’ publications and while very beautiful (facsimiles were shown to us) do not really seem to fit with the Socialist ideals of the printers, being quite costly.

Emery did marry, though Mary Grace Walker (as she became) ‘enjoyed’ poor health which did not appreciate the pollution that was Hammersmith at the time and spent most of her life in the fresh air of the Cotswolds where Emery joined her at weekends. They had a single child Dorothy who inherited the house and lived here too; as she grew older she advertised for a ‘companion’ and Elizabeth de Haas arrived from Holland. After Dorothy’s death Elizabeth continued ‘curating’ the contents of the house (she had by then learnt all about the Arts & Crafts Movement) and trying to make arrangements for its long-term preservation. Even by selling off Emery’s book collection she was unable to create enough of an endowment to persuade the National Trust to take it on (there were also some doubts about what the NT might have done to the property) so instead set up the Trust that currently looks after the house, often running Arts & Crafts-related projects and events in partnership with the William Morris Society down the road.
I think it’s fair to say that Emery devoted more time to his house interiors and his voluntary and honorary posts various and to an extent his business than to his family,   After William Morris died in 1896 Walker went into another venture – the Doves Press (named after a local pub) again printing. His partner this time was Thomas Cobden-Sanderson who trained as a lawyer but felt himself to be artist manqué and career-switched to bookbinding, setting up the Doves Bindery.  After the Kelmscott Press wound up in 1898 Sanderson perceived a gap in the market and relaunched his business as the Doves Press in 1900.  This time Emery agreed to be a partner but not to contribute start-up funds – the money came from Sanderson’s wife.  The new press developed its own Doves font. It employed about seven people including one Edward Johnston whose later typographical work still graces the London Underground, and whose copyright is absolute.  

When the Doves Press partnership – never a happy one – ended after just eight years in 1908 there was a dispute between the partners as to who should inherit the type, Sanderson seemed unable to contemplate the type outliving him and in a series of clandestine night walks dropped all the known type face in the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge. This remarkable story  is recounted here and also if you enjoy the world of fonts in ‘Just My Type’ by Simon Garfield 
Another visitor in our group asked why some-one did not ‘just copy’ the type from the printed examples – the article explains how there was no-one able to do this skilled job and even with today’s computer technology it took the man who has resurrected it three years…
But not quite all Emery’s friends were obsessives – after Morris Emery had a long relationship with Philip Webb, the architect for Morris of The Red House  his first project and Standen, his last and a ‘stand out’ (sorry) example of the Arts & Crafts movement both inside and out. When Webb died he bequeathed to Walker many of his pieces of furniture designed by him and built by the group of craftsmen who had settled in Sapperton, in the Cotswolds.    

The tour of the house (you thought I would never get there but context is all) starts on the ground floor dining room where the levels of light were especially low today.  The bookcases to the left of the door on the wall opposite the fireplace had both come from Philip Webb’s house, the wallpaper is Morris (original as are all the papers in the house having been carefully conserved) and there is a wonderful wall hanging from May Morris’ workshop – only now is she getting the recognition she deserves. May worked next door and one of her embroiderers was Lily Yeats, sister to the more famous WB, another contact made through the local Socialist league. Talking of May Morris there is an excellent sketch of her by Edward Burne Jones, probably the best artwork in the house.

Up the stairs – only here has the paper been replaced with a more modern ‘Willow’ – to the first floor drawing room where the view is over the garden to the Thames. Another glass fronted Webb cabinet holds some of his claret glasses manufactured by Whitefriars, whom we heard about on our recent trip to Headstone Manor.

On the table are some charming jugs made expressly for Emery at the Wedgewood factory and with his initials, and a basalt tea-pot which belonged to Rossetti, one time lover of Janey Morris and presumably when he moved on, as he was inclined to do, he left the pot behind.
There are fireplaces in each room and we are sure there were servants who did the tedious task of clearing and relaying the fires and these were originally plain – however in the Sixties  Elizabeth de Haas found some William de Morgan tiles in a skip (yes, often our parents were vandals and ripped out ‘original features’)  and arranged them round the fireplace!

The third floor with similar excellent views has a bed crafted by another Sapperton worker with a unique bedcover by May Morris – it depicts a range of English wildflowers within a bright blue knot pattern – which was used as a funeral pall for the last few of the house’s occupants.
Two of the front rooms are accessible also.  On the first floor what was the bathroom for Dorothy and had originally been Emery’s study is now a small exhibition room where there are some personal artefacts from Emery which can be looked at more closely. Downstairs at ground level what was the kitchen has an excellent collection of chargers (large serving plates) and decorative wall plates, many of them souvenirs from Emery’s ‘art trips’ to Europe, and where there is now a small shop.   

Though the cold rather hampered our enthusiasm this is a house where you can immerse yourself in the life and tastes of a particular class and group of dedicated artists and craftsmen who turned their attention to every detail of their environment from the printed word to the exteriors. They also frequently inter-married or fell out – which makes the visit here one that is fascinating in many ways: well worth trekking through the snow, and doubtless even more enjoyable in better weather….