Tranquility in the Heart of the City – Bunhill Fields Burial Ground

Green space in the middle of urban sprawl is definitely something to be treasured. It doesn’t have to be a park or common it could be a graveyard or burial ground. Cemeteries offer lots of opportunities for city wildlife and provide quiet, tranquil spaces for humans too.

Bunhill Fields Burial Ground (technically in the London Borough of Islington) is just off the City Road and is only a 10 minute walk north of the Barbican and the edge of the towering, hectic energy of the Square Mile.

The name Bunhill is thought to be derived from Bone Hill as the site has been used for burials for over 1000 years.

Bunhill Fields is not a large area and it is surprising to think that nearly 123,000 burials have taken place here between the 1660s and when the grounds closed for burials in 1867.

It was a burial ground for Nonconformists, those folk who were dissenters from the Church of England. Nowadays, there are some two thousand monuments, mostly simple headstones of Portland stone, still standing.

Tomb of John Bunyan (1628-1688)

There are also some famous people buried here with tombs and monuments marking their burial places amongst whom are John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe.

Resting place of Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). The inscription reads ‘This monument is the result of an appeal in the Christian World newspaper to the boys and girls of England for funds to place a suitable memorial upon the grave of Daniel De-Foe. It represents the united contributions of seventeen hundred persons. Sept 1870.’

Most famously it is also the resting place of William Blake and his wife Catherine Sophia although until recently the precise location of Blake’s grave was unmarked.

Inscription reads ‘Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake (1757-1827) and of his wife Catherine Sophia (1762-1831).

That has now all changed as following more than a year’s research by Luis and Carol Garrido, Blake’s final resting place has been re-discovered. A new grave marker, organised by the Blake Society along with many Blake enthusiasts, was unveiled in a ceremony last August (2018).

Majestic plane trees planted in the 1870s provide cooling, dappled shade adding to the tranquility of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground.
Advertisements

Mid August is Definitely Dahlia Time

It has been a very mixed summer of weather here in the UK. My part of the country, East Anglia, is known as the driest region and earlier this summer the farmers did have their large-scale, agricultural sprinklers out for a while. However, it’s been all change for August with a significant low-pressure weather system bringing high winds, heavy rain and thunderstorms. Just the kind of weather we need for all those delicate flower blooms – not.

Cosmos ‘Purity’, ammi visnaga (bishop’s weed) and sweet peas cut before the wind and rain.

Continuing my recent resolution to try and see a silver lining to any negative situation, I decided that the loss of flowers in the backyard would be transformed into a gain of floral colour indoors.

To that end I cut several small bunches before the storms arrived . . . to brighten up my office . . . . . my workroom . . .

. . . and the kitchen.

Dahlias ‘Bishop of Canterbury’, ‘Black Jack, ‘Blue Bayou’, ‘Emory Paul’, ‘New Baby’ and ‘Totally Tangerine’.

Annoyingly, when I was cutting the dahlias I noticed an unstaked sunflower had already bitten the dust and the runner bean flowers were fairly bashed about too.

But I do have my fingers crossed that the delicate white flowers were already pollinated otherwise there won’t be any beans to pick in the coming weeks.

Pollinator at work – Mr Busy Bee still visiting the fading agapanthus.

It is only the middle of August, but the cooler weather has reminded me that the autumn is just around the corner. Nevertheless for the time being this is my floral muddle on the kitchen table, scented and colourful – mustn’t grumble too much.

A Silver Lining

My online shop has been up and running for over six years now and about three times a year I place an order for plain silk blanks. I use three different suppliers depending on what type of silk I require. All three companies offer plain scarves with hand rolled hems ready for dyeing. The two European suppliers, one in Belgium and the other in Spain, list my favourite silk twill including the classical 90 x 90 cm squares. The third company I use is based in the United States and they sell excellent quality flat crepe pieces.

Earlier this year I ordered 12 neckerchief sized squares and for only the second time in my years of painting silk I noticed one of the scarves had a fault in the weave.

Now you’ve probably guessed I do own one or two scarves that I have painted myself – actually most of mine are over 30 years old and date from the time when I was a fashion/textile student. Amongst my own collection the only red I have is a full 90 x 90 that was originally a peachy pink. It had been a gift to my mother and was returned to me on her death. She was of the generation that often wore their scarves pinned with a brooch and when I came to overpaint the peach with red (peach is not a colour for me) I noticed several of the pin pricks had become small holes. It was good to experiment extravagantly and boldly with red dyes, but I still didn’t have a wearable red scarf.

As you can now see, a faulty blank has given me the opportunity to get the red dye out again and go for it big time. The design is looser and has more swirls than my usual style with plenty of red and a dash of very bright fuchsia. Naturally, this neckerchief with a fault isn’t for sale (mmm, fortunately, it seems it’s fine for me though!).

But, as you may have already gathered, I do like this combination. And indeed, so much so I have painted another similar version on pristine silk. It, too, is the neckerchief size. A size I think works well when you feel like some bright colour, but not too much. An accent.

And, here’s the finished piece now available on my shop.

A Victorian passion for collecting and display: Stuffed birds at the Ipswich Museum.

Apparently for 21st-century folk, ‘stuff’ is so last century. I am sure there are still plenty of people who are collectors, but generally the marketing people inform us that it’s experiences and not things we prefer these days. Of course, with more and more bad news regarding the climate emergency and all those shocking images of plastic waste, the old mantra ‘less is more’ could not be more necessary. However, for our more prosperous Victorian forebears it was very different and with drawing rooms, parlours and front rooms overflowing with collections of objects, more was definitely more.

Last month I made my first visit to the Ipswich Museum. It was opened in 1881 and was dedicated to the study of science and art. And, in that Victorian tradition of progress and improvement, the museum’s founding purpose was to ‘promote the study and extend the knowledge, of natural history in all its branches’. To this end it still displays its nineteenth-century collections of stuffed animals and birds.

The type and number of birds and animals is not as large as either Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum or Norwich’s Castle Museum (the town museums of the last two places where I’ve lived), yet it still offers visitors a thought-provoking display of the Victorian’s approach to a Natural History collection. Arguably, there is some scientific value from these various collections across the country as examples of life forms now extinct can be seen in their 3D form. However, all is not always what it seems as I read when I looked up ‘stuffed dodos’.

No stuffed dodos remain in any collections. Recently the last two were lost to fire and attack from museum pests. Some museums have made mock-up dodos using pigeon and chicken feathers, and there is a head, leg and single foot remaining at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Grant Museum, UCL, London.

I have mixed feelings about these stuffed creatures. I think today we are lucky. We have the luxury of digital cameras, computer animation, David Attenborough documentaries, wild life centres and opportunities to travel around the world to see some of the more exotic exhibits alive and in their natural habitats. It is understandable that in the past these stuffed creatures were prized objects within a museum setting. It is also intriguing that they found their way into many domestic parlours where exotic birds were the stars of glass dome dioramas. I suppose it can also be seen as part of the Victorian’s wider obsession for collection and display combined with their keen interest in Natural History.

Nowadays, these displays of exotic birds, survivors from over a hundred years ago, are themselves collected. Examples can be found in antique shops and popping up from time to time at auctions, but what other options are available for today’s avid collector interested in Natural History. If it’s now more about experiences than stuff then shooting exotic birds with a camera and not stuffing them must surely be the answer. (Is that a collective tweet of relief from birds around the world we hear?)

Finally, one of the most popular exhibits at the Ipswich Museum, especially with children, is a very large, 3D animal. It is the life-sized model of a woolly mammoth standing just inside the museum’s entrance. The model is based on the bones of a woolly mammoth unearthed in 1976 during the building of a local school. This woolly mammoth lived and died some 186,000 to 245,000 years ago, thousands of years before an accomplished taxidermist or even an experienced Ancient Egyptian embalmer ever drew breath, however the surviving bones tell their own story. It is suggested the animal died as a result of being stuck in the mud.

For a very interesting opinion regarding Ipswich Museum posted June 2019 see, current Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Charles Saumarez-Smith’s post.

Flowering favourites, July 2019

Well, it is the end of July so there should be some flowers in the garden. My hollyhocks, sown from seed earlier this year, won’t bloom until next summer, but I spotted this beautiful single pink variety in our local park.

Single hollyhock in Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

Of course summertime is the season of plenty in the flower garden and there really, really must be some to cut for the house.

A spray of the rambling rose ‘Ethel’ (planted as a bare-root rose this spring), a mophead from the old hydrangea and a couple of old-fashioned sweet peas.

Disappointingly, there are not as many as I would have hoped, but it is a start.

The second and last spray of the rambling rose and a mophead from my newly planted hyrdrangea ‘Schneeball’ and a few old-fashioned sweet peas.

And, naturally, just as my late-sown sweet peas are getting into their stride, Mother Nature gifts us a mini heatwave. And, sweet peas do not like the heat.

First of the dark red dahlias to bloom – dahlia ‘Black Jack’

It can all be a little disheartening, but that’s the standard trials and tribulations of gardening.

I don’t have a photo of the old hydrangea in the front before the rain, but I saw my next door neighbour has posted a couple of pictures on Instagram.

As if all this heat wasn’t enough, last Friday we had torrential rain through the night and I woke up to find the big old hydrangea at the front of my house had split in two.

The sheer number of huge, sodden blooms had weighed down the shrub until one of the two main stems split. I have had to remove nearly half of the plant. I stuck a handful of blooms in a vase and have strung up some stems to dry, but sadly most of it has been chopped up and added to the compost bin.

And, a few more sweet peas, dahlias and clematis and the salvaged hydrangea blooms in the background.

Nevertheless there is good news, the remains of the hydrangea is still adding some oomph to the pot arrangements at the front of the house.

Layering some Summer Colour

Now I am a fan of the colour green. In one way or another it has been a colour I have used in painting different rooms since my first house back in 1996. Of course, there are greens and greens. I remember the first time I used green it was a bright apple green and in a south-facing room it definitely had a hint of lime about it. At the same time I was painting the walls the plumber was installing the central heating and he could barely conceal his revulsion!

Back on the frame adding new gutta lines and shapes.

It appears that lime green is not a popular colour in our northern light and as we have so few days of summer sun when it looks really good, I reappraised the one lime green scarf on my shop and decided to give it the layer treatment.

Painting another layer filling the new shapes with pink, orange and pale turquoise.

Now, regular perusers of my blog will know that amongst the tools in my ‘creative process’ box layering is a technique I use to change my work and give it more depth.

I did like the flat pattern of the original, but I can see that the very nature of the flatness made the lime green less appealing especially in the photographs.

Over-painted, steamed again to fix the work and newly photographed and now uploaded to my online shop. I think it is definitely a more interesting piece.

The Fourth ‘B’ and his muse at the Red House, Aldeburgh

The Drawing Room of the Red House, Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Portrait of Benjamin Britten by Henry Lamb (1883-1960). Oil. 1945

Much has been written about the negative effects of overly ambitious, pushy mothers in recent times, but sometimes their obsessive drive has been to the benefit of the wider world.

Bust of Benjamin Britten. Georg Erhlich (1897-1966) Bronze. 1951

This is certainly the case for Edith Britten a keen mezzo-soprano who sang with, and was secretary of, the Lowestoft Musical Society during the first decades of the 20th century. Edith made early claims that her son, Benjie, born in 1913, would become the fourth ‘B’ after Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

Benjamin Britten. Kenneth Green (1905-1986). Charcoal. 1944

It is just over six years since I had the privilege of attending the centenary celebrations of Benjamin Britten’s birth with the ‘Grimes on the Beach‘ performance of Britten’s first opera ‘Peter Grimes’. However, it was way back on 7th June 1945 that the premiere was given at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London with Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, singing the title role.

Royal Crown Derby hand painted plate in fine bone china commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival to celebrate the 60th birthday of the composer Benjamin Britten in 1973. Artwork by ceramic designer June Branscombe. Originally, 500 complete sets comprising two bowls and twelve plates were planned however only 129 sets were completed. The cost for the full set in 1973 was £350.00. 

Naturally Britten’s first opera was set in Aldeburgh in Suffolk, his home county, and, for its first production Britten suggested a local artist, Kenneth Green, for the set design.

Aldeburgh today no longer a working, fishing town on the East Coast of Suffolk.

Green provided realistic visualisations of Aldeburgh as a working fishing town as it was then and not the quaint seaside holiday town that we see today.

Scene design for the Boat (Interior), Act I, scene 2, ‘Peter Grimes’ at Sadler’s Wells, London. Kenneth Green. Ink and watercolour on paper. 1945

The lead character of the opera is Peter Grimes. It is a part for a tenor and Britten wrote it specifically for Pears, who was reported to have been strongly influential on the interpretation of the roll. For him that interpretation was life as an outsider.

Portrait of Peter Pears. Diana Cumming (b. 1929) Oil on board. 1961

Soon after the the premiere, the critic William Glock (Music critic for The Observer in June 1945) wrote “During the last fortnight, I have heard and read several comments on Peter Grimes . . . which describe it as a fierce and challenging work.” And, another critic, Scott Goddard commented, “Peter Grimes is no child’s play. The tale is fierce, its development tragic, and the music fascinating”.

Portrait of Peter Pears. Philip Sutton (b. 1928) Oil on canvas. 1955

Despite being ‘challenging’ for the 1940s audiences the opera was successful and at the time Britten wrote to his friend, Imogen Holst,

I think the occasion is actually a greater one than either Sadler’s Wells or me, I feel. Perhaps it is an omen for English opera in the future.

Benjamin Britten, Summer 1945
Portrait of Benjamin Britten with Clytie. Mary Potter (1900-1981). Wax medium on canvas. 1959

The success of ‘Peter Grimes’ at Sadler’s Wells and its subsequent addition to the canon, firmly placed Britten as an opera composer and, although I am not sure everybody agrees with his mother about Britten being the fourth ‘B’, his oeuvre without doubt places him alongside Purcell whom he so greatly admired.

Buried side by side in the graveyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Aldeburgh.

The Red House, Golf Lane, Aldeburgh is open to the public and well worth a visit.

Beginning to take shape – at last

It is over 18 months since the tree surgeon cut down the overgrown ornamental cherry that had been planted too close to the house and also removed two-thirds of the ‘Victorian shrubbery’ of laurels filling my backyard.

Not long after the tree surgeon’s visit.

With the laurels cleared the residual mess was easier to see and the slow process of sorting and removing other people’s rubbish began. A task that took seven or eight weekends last autumn. I was particularly concerned about some of the unrecognisable lumps and bumps of rubbish that was stuffed into a pair of brimming wheelie bins. It was all rather smelly, but in the end nothing horrific.

Concrete finds from my tiny backyard.

Without the pseudo hedge it was obvious that there wasn’t much of a fence in place either and what remained upright was so rotten it would all need replacing. Scroll forward to this year and with a new fence in place I began to dig over the tiny borders. The fencing guys had commented to me that they’d never done a job with so much buried concrete and it seemed to me that with every thrust of the spade I struck another lump of the stuff. It has been hard physical work. It was dispiriting too, as two pieces were so large and deeply embedded I have had to leave them in the ground and simply mark their position. At some point I will either cover with shallow rooted plants or place a pot on top.

Just maybe, just maybe this urban concrete backyard might become a garden.

Fortunately, over the years I have acquired a number of pots of various sizes which is just as well as there is more cheaply paved patio than plantable ground in this backyard. Over the Easter holiday, during the four days of fine weather, I was able to paint the mismatched fencing all the same colour and plant young climbers to begin to make a garden. It is early days, but a rambling rose, several clematis, jasmine and a fast-growing ceanothus are all in and will eventually cover most of the fencing.

And, there have been blooms. The beautiful perennial oriental poppy ‘Patty’s Plum’, a gift from my sister, has been the first star. These were followed in June by the stately white foxgloves easily grown from the seeds I brought from my last garden.

Finally, with the recent warmth of the July sun the dahlias are coming into flower.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Canterbury’

A Larger Version – Lisette Red

It’s one of those elements to be taken into consideration when shopping on the Internet – size. It is so easy to simply assume you have a rough idea of the size of anything you are looking at, but checking the measurements is essential.

I recently painted a set of neckerchiefs, my Hudeca series, inspired by Lady Drury’s Hawstead Panels. The design worked for the neckerchief sized squares (50 x 50 cm) and so I thought I’d paint a larger, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. You might guess from the above picture that they were the same size. It’s only in a photograph containing other points of reference that you see one scarf is almost double the size of the other.

Even in this video it is difficult to judge the overall size of the scarf with just my hand and a couple of paintbrushes flitting about.

Usually at some point during the designing and painting of my work, a scarf acquires a name. This is important as it helps me keep my work in some kind of order especially if I paint roughly the same design in several different colour combinations and use different silk of different sizes.

This painting sequence doesn’t give any indication of size – is this a 50 x 50 or 90 x 90 cm?

At first glance my naming process may seem random, but it is usually linked in some way or other to the original source of inspiration. This time I wanted an Anglo-Saxon girl’s name beginning with ‘H’ for Hawstead and chose Hudeca. The 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine (a really gorgeous, 14mm weight piece of silk by the way) painted with my ‘Hawstead’ design became Lisette and not a Hudeca. I arrived at ‘Lisette’ from Elizabeth for the bigger scarf as Lady Drury was the mother to two daughters, neither of whom reached adulthood, and one was called Elizabeth.

Wonder Walls

It’s time to celebrate some rather well known, that would be Gainsborough and Constable, and some less well known Suffolk artists. From now until 28th July 2019 there are 76 works of art displayed in the Wolsey Gallery of Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. These works are arranged in a salon-style hang, a style first presented to the public by the formidable Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the 18th century.

Paintings by Gainsborough (14 May 1727 – 2 August 1788) and Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) hang with works by less stellar Suffolk artists such as Thomas Churchyard (22 January 1798 – 19 August 1865) Accompanying quote from John Constable, 1821.

This exhibition is perhaps one that Goldilocks would appreciate as it is neither too large nor too small. Several of the museum’s familiar favourites by Gainsborough and Constable are on show amongst paintings that have not been on public display for many years.

The earliest work in the exhibition is ‘The Entombment of Christ’ dating from the 15th century.

The Entombment of Christ. East Anglian School circa 1450-60.

The gallery display is loosely chronological as you progress round the room with small groupings by theme, such as portraits or landscapes. For example, below and to the left, the pair of Constable paintings of the East Bergholt area, ‘Golding Constable’s Flower Garden’ and ‘Golding Constable’s Kitchen Garden’ are placed between Suffolk scenes of Woodbridge, Ufford and the River Deben painted by the 19th-century, Woodbridge artist, Thomas Churchyard.

The pair of landscapes on the left are by Constable with the three smaller paintings underneath and the two above are by Churchyard. Accompanying quote Constable, 1821.

Thomas Churchyard was born in Melton near Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1798. He was an artist who also worked as a solicitor in Woodbridge. Although, he was unable to support himself and his family through his creative endeavours during his lifetime, he left a legacy of paintings of local towns and villages and the Suffolk coast that now hang in art galleries around the world.

Fifteen Scenes of Melton and Woodbridge. Thomas Churchyard. Oil on canvas.

Wonder Walls also includes sketches and paintings of Ipswich in the past including a drawing of the beached whale that had lost its way and swam up the River Orwell in 1811. (The skull of this unlucky creature is now hanging from the ceiling in the Geology section of the Ipswich Museum).

‘The Whale at Denham Beach, River Orwell’. George Frost (1745-1821) Pencil.

Not all the art on display has a direct connection to Suffolk. There is a Walter Sickert oil painting of Bath, a Joan Miró lithograph, and, as you finish your circuit of the gallery, a Patrick Caulfield screenprint that brings us, chronologically speaking, almost to the present.

‘Interior Light’ Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005). Screenprint.

But for me this exhibition provided an opportunity to photograph a personal favourite. It normally hangs in a narrow corridor and is easily missed, but now on display in the gallery you can’t fail to notice this captivating yet somehow whistful interpretation of a very English moment.

‘The Felixstowe to Ipswich Coach’ Russell Sidney Reeve (1895-1970) Oil on canvas. C. 1940-50.

Flower Arranging: A Competitive Activity

Time stands still for no one and nothing and that includes formal flower arranging. Forty-five years ago my mother belonged to the local Flower Club. The ladies used to meet once a month with visiting guests demonstrating how to create pedestal, triangular and cascade arrangements amongst others. My mum’s favourite was the Hogarth Curve.

And, as with every other aspect of life, arranging flowers has fashions and favourites and, of course, time inexorably ticks on bringing gradual change, though not uniformly and not for everyone. Here’s a wee snapshot of a formal pedestal competition. The brief was titled ‘In Memory’ with the entrants free to choose a well-known person as their subject as well as their source of inspiration.

This arrangement ‘In Memory of Edith Cavell’ by Maggie Morton won Best Use of Colour, First Prize and Best in Show.
This arrangement won Second Prize. The judge commented “A delightful pedestal with great movement depicting your chosen subject. This needs a stronger link to the base of the design”. Area Judge, NAFAS.
Third Prize was awarded to Julia Morley for ‘In Memory of Kevin Beattie’. The judge noted “A beautiful design depicting your chosen subject. Maybe a few less accessories would improve the overall look of the arrangement.”
This was my personal favourite “Remembering David Hockney”. This arrangement, despite having an interesting palette, was not to the judge’s taste who commented “An unconventional approach to a pedestal design. The landscapes are rather flat and would be improved by using bolder local flowers.”

Now I realise that the ‘pedestal’ form of arranging flowers is the epitome of formal flowers, not least as it is still used in churches, but isn’t it time to loosen up the form a little. There were a further two, different flower competitions in the Floral Marquee at the recent Suffolk Show, but no entries were to my taste. I wandered away, disappointed and moved on to the displays from the local growers and nurseries. Now this was a completely different story.

Horticultural specialists arranged their flowering beauties as if they were at last month’s Chelsea Flower Show. Thoughtful form and colour combinations bedecked their stands in an informal, naturalistic celebration of plant possibilities for your garden. I can’t help but feel that in these times of climate crisis that the formal displays of cut flowers could move towards a more informal regime to include naturalistic designs and wildflower arrangements perhaps even reflecting local biodiversity.

Bearded iris with white alliums as part of a nursery display.

If you would like to see a more contemporary approach to flower arranging have look at the displays produced by florists The Flower Appreciation Society.