The other week, before Omicron arrived, I popped into Christchurch Mansion to catch up on the latest ‘Creating Constable’ exhibition. The gallery is only a 15 minute walk from where I live and I always enjoy walking through the Mansion’s park on my visits, particularly at dusk.
As I said I went to see the art, but I was distracted by the fine sunset and then the Christmas Trees on display. And, as this is my last post before Christmas this year, I thought we might make a toast or two in the Servants’ Hall.
The servants’ hall was first recorded as such in the 1840s, although it was probably used in this way much earlier. The space was conveniently situated near to the kitchen, to the servants’ staircase to the attic bedrooms and to the service wing of the mansion where the work of running the house was carried out.
All the servants ate together in the hall, but it was expected that the butler and the housekeeper would retire to take wine and a dessert. These formal meals provided an opportunity for junior servants to learn how to serve by waiting on the older servants.
The furniture now on display is not typical of a usual servants’ hall, but represents the sort of pieces that might be found in a large farmhouse kitchen or country inn. I think the idea is to give the visitor an essence of Victorian life rather than historical accuracy. Also, I am not sure how many servants would have been offered a serving of the rather fancy apples à la Parisienne!
Sometimes the mixing of old and new can work well and the result can be quite beautiful, both enhancing the past and showcasing the new. One example of this is the south porch of St Peter’s Church in Ipswich. It has a 21st-century metal grille door set within a 15th-century stone and flint arch complete with Tudor roses.
The gates of gilded steel were made in 2008 by Paul Richardson (1967-). The work was commissioned by the Ipswich Hospital Band, when the church was deconsecrated and became a concert venue. If you look carefully you can see the two musical angels are partially constructed using metalwork from musical instruments. They also wear gowns patterned with the Tudor rose motif. I particular liked the golden fish weaving through the scrollwork waves, referencing St Peter as a fisherman and also the proximity to the nearby Ipswich Waterfront.
Sadly though not all the local medieval treasures of Ipswich have fared so well where redevelopment of the harbour waterside has seen a mushrooming of tall residential tower blocks. The new blocks have replaced drab, utilitarian warehouses, but the trouble with these new blocks is that they are much taller buildings and they dwarf the Old Customs House and the medieval churches nearby.
However, although the site of Quay Place from the north is no doubt nothing like the look and feel of its original 15th-century setting, the view from the east, as it lines up with St Peter’s is very pleasing. And, despite the fact that Key Street is now part of a busy one-way system, this is is one of my favourite views in Ipswich. (Sadly, my photograph doesn’t do it justice.)
Back in July of this year the builders of ‘The Hold’ completed their part of the project and handed over the keys to Paul West, the Suffolk County Councillor with responsibility for heritage. On receiving the keys Mr West commented, “We can get on with fitting out and that’s a two to three month project. Then we’ll have a sort of phased opening over the autumn. We hope to have an exhibition in November.” Well, as we all know November 2020 brought us another lockdown.
If you’re not from Ipswich or Suffolk, you are probably wondering what on earth is ‘The Hold’. The answer is, it is the new, purpose-built complex that will house the Suffolk County Archive.
I have followed this project with interest since 2017 when, firstly and sadly, I noticed some large trees were being chopped down. Then a smart black fence of boards was erected securing the site and carrying a display of information about the development.
Over the past 18 months I have been taking the odd photograph as the buildings started to take shape. The Hold is situated on the edge of the University of Suffolk complex and is close to the Ipswich Waterfront. It has been mostly erected on part of the university car park, it was a pity about the trees though.
Originally this £20 million project was scheduled to open around Easter 2020 no doubt with a special, civic event, however that date passed in the middle of the first lockdown and ‘The Hold’ finally opened in October.
It may have taken an extra six months to complete, but the finished building looks interesting and inviting and I look forward to visiting in normal times.
After living here in Suffolk at various times of my life and frequently visiting the county for over fifty years, I finally got round to making a trip to see Leiston Abbey. And, it was well worth the effort.
Most of what we see today is the remains of the 14th-century abbey of Premonstratensian canons. Premonstratensian canons, also known as the White Canons, was an order founded in 1120 by St Norbert of Xanten at Premontre in Picardy, France.
According to English Heritage, Leiston Abbey is among Suffolk’s most impressive monastic ruins retaining some spectacular architectural features.
The abbey church was built in the form of the cross with two chapels on either side of the chancel. The small, roofed chapel we today is the Lady Chapel and is occasionally used for services.
As you can see from the photographs it is mostly constructed of flint with fine examples of knapped flint, which is known as flint flushwork. Naturally occurring stone in Suffolk is in short supply and it appears that some of the stonework of this church, for example the arches, was constructed from re-used stone from the Order’s earlier abbey buildings at Minsmere. The original abbey was founded in 1182 by Ranulf de Glanville (Lord Chief Justice to King Henry II), and was built on an island in the Minsmere marshes nearer the coast. In 1363, the monastery was relocated two miles further from the coast to the higher ground of the Leiston site.
With the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, as one of the smaller houses in the country, Leiston was among the first wave surrendered to the king, then gifted to the dukes of Suffolk. But, even for a small house the commissioners inventory showed there were silver and copper candlesticks and an altar of carved alabaster.
Dissolution might have been the beginning of the end of the abbey as a monastery, but part of the site became a farmhouse and eventually in 1928 the abbey ruins and farm were bought by Ellen Wrightson and used as a religious retreat until her death in 1946.
In 1977 the Pro Corda Trust, the National School for Young Chamber Music Players, a charity running chamber music courses for children, bought Leiston Abbey. It is pleasing that there is an arrangement with English Heritage for the care of the ruins and that free, public access is allowed.
Back in February, just before the full extent of the Covid Crisis became obvious to all, I was in London and managed to visit the ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ museum. It had been on my wish list for some while.
It was truly a double delight for me. To be in the space, to walk the rooms and to experience the ambience of an 18th-century London house (annual rent in 1742 was £50) with such music credentials was very special. I am a fan both of the grand, ornate choral works of Handel and the explosive and intricate guitar solos of Hendrix. And, I prefer to visit the past homes of the exceptionally talented and able rather than residences simply gifted down to generation after generation of the same family.
We were lucky with the timing of our visit as in one room a volunteer was sat at the Kirckman harpsichord playing Handel’s ‘Air and Variations’ (The Harmonious Blacksmith). To hear Handel’s music played in his house was a breathtaking treat, sublime.
After experiencing the elegant Georgian rooms, it was, as you would guess, an utter change of gear as you step across from 25 Brook Street to the upper floors of 23 Brook Street and the Swinging Sixties of Jimi Hendrix.
Apart from the decorated bedroom there is a room of Hendrix memorabilia. The first guitar Jimi Hendrix ever played on British soil was Zoot Money’s Wandre ‘Blue Jean’ Model Guitar. It is still strung with the same strings that Jimi played on the day he made London his home in 1966.
Jimi arrived in London for the very first time when he stepped off a plane at Heathrow Airport with Chas Chandler on the morning of 24 September 1966. Jimi was taken straight from the airport to the West London Home of bandleader and keyboardist George Bruno ‘Zoot’ Money, a major figure on the Soho scene at the time. While looking for a guitar to play that evening, Jimi picked this instrument up and started playing it (apparently remarking it had a “nice easy action”), before Chas and Zoot managed to track down something more suitable for Jimi’s first public performance in London.
From the ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ display.
It is sad to note that it will be 50 years next month since Jimi Hendrix died at his Notting Hill home at the young age of 27. What a terrible loss to the world of music.
There is a little good news though, the ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ museum is re-opening this Saturday, 22nd August 2020 – but, of course, now you have to book timed-tickets in advance.
At heart I am a visual culture purist. I say this to forewarn you about my comments regarding the rood screen and pulpit of St Edmund’s Church in Southwold.
St Edmund’s is a beautiful medieval church built in the Perpendicular style. It’s full name is ‘The Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr’. The building we see today (suggested date 1413 in the church’s guide, but circa 1430 in both Pevsner and Mortlock accounts) was built on the site of an earlier thirteen-century church, a smaller building that had been destroyed by fire. According to the church guide during 1758 the foundations of that original building were located underneath part of the present church.
The straight lines of the Perpendicular style have been emphasised at St Edmund’s by the luxury flushwork of flint and stone. The linear quality of the building is doubly emphasised by the striking effect of an inlaid chessboard decoration on the west tower that is repeated on the exterior walls of the south porch.
South porch with niche that would originally have held a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Edmund, king, saint and martyr. Statue by Andrew Swinley, 1989.
From the appearance of the grand, ornate exterior it is evident that St Edmund’s was built at a time when the parish of Southwold and its environs had generous wealthy donors. This is confirmed by the quality of the surviving medieval interior furnishings that include the rood screen, the pulpit and the font.
Of course, the splendid, painted and gilded rood screen alone is worth a visit to the church, but there is also a fine pre-Reformation pulpit and a beautifully decorated and adorned hammerbeam ceiling together with the original, though defaced font.
Now here is the issue. Between its glorious fifteenth-century heyday and today, St Edmund’s, along with many East Anglian medieval churches, has had some turbulent, destructive times, and equally, some impoverished, neglected and generally detrimental times. The visit of William Dowsing and the iconoclasts in 1643 brought the first and substantial destructive episode which included the defacing of the font.
SOUTHWOLD, APRIL the 8th. We break
down 130 superstitious Pictures ; St. Andrew ; and 4
Crosses on the four corners of the Vestry ; and gave
order to take down 13 Cherubims; and take down 20
Angels ; and to take down the Cover of the Font.
Quote from 'The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford,
parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the
Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious
pictures and ornaments of churches.' Journal commenced
1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.
After this deliberate, seventeenth-century image smashing came the long period of straightened times for Church of England buildings as the eighteenth century saw the rise of the Nonconformists and the subsequent fall in C of E congregation numbers. A neglected St Edmund’s functioned with a series of temporary curates as the chancel roof and wood of the east window slowly rotted away.
However, with the rise of the Evangelical movement across the course of the nineteenth century it was all change again. A widening interest in re-examining the medieval past combined with the Victorian’s obsession for progress, resulted in large funds being provided for extensive renovation schemes at St Edmund’s.
The attractively painted ceiling of the hammerbeam roof adorned with painted angels we see today is one such renovation scheme. The replacement ceiling is a fine example of nineteenth-century carpentry and decorative painting skills as well as an insight into how a previous generation reinterpreted our shared medieval past. The Victorians aimed for reconstructing a perfectly finished past whilst our twenty-first-century sensibility is all about the delicately preserved, authentic original however dilapidated and tatty it looks.
Apparently, the colourful blue and painted details are very near to sketched records of the original medieval ceiling, but how fair a facsimile it is difficult to judge. That situation is brought acutely into focus when we turn to consider the ‘restoration’ of the medieval pulpit during the 1920s.
Along with providing designs for the reredos, the lectern and the font cover, an ‘inspired young church architect from Oxford’, F E Howard (1888-1934), oversaw the restoration and painting of the pulpit. Sadly, the once elegant original medieval trumpet-stemmed pulpit is almost obliterated beneath thick layers of overdone paintwork and gilding.
Curiously, the writer of the church’s own guidebook gives special credit to F E Howard for making St Edmund’s interior the delight it is today. However, even the guide’s sympathetic author informs us that any desires by Howard to renovate the rood screen were not permitted.
Personally, I am very, very pleased he was stopped.
I have nothing against Victorian art and it is as much part of the history and culture of this church as the medieval art. Nevertheless from the our twenty-first-century viewpoint the Victorians’ well-meaning yet heavy-handed painting and renovations can border on vandalism. The repainting of the damaged saints’ faces by Sir George Richmond in 1874 are bad enough, but just think what Howard would have done in the 1920s to all that delicate gilding on the rood screen given half a chance.
As I mentioned at the beginning I am a visual culture purist and as such I appreciate seeing what is left of our medieval culture when it is gently conserved, but I do realise that a little active conservation is necessary. Of course, what we have left is still only an approximation of the reality of the past. Today’s impression for a visitor to St Edmund’s is nothing like the spectacle and mystery experienced by a medieval parishioner or even a Victorian church goer as all the medieval stained glass was blown from the windows by a bomb in 1943 during the Second World War.
It’s a little hard to see from the photographs, but this is the rare, possibly unique, triangular tower of All Saints Church, Maldon, Essex. The top photograph shows two sides of the triangle as you stand looking up to the belfry from the third side.
It really is a proper three-sided, stone and flintwork tower supporting a hexagonal roof structure. In fact the three walls of the tower actually form an equilateral triangle and were constructed in the mid-thirteenth century from stone reclaimed from an earlier twelfth-century Norman built church.
It was interesting to find such a quirky tower enhancing a local parish church in what is an unremarkable, market town on the watery fringes of Essex, but . . . there was more – striking mid-twentieth-century stained glass.
This stained glass was made by Frederick W Cole (1908-1998) working for Morris & Sons. Yes, that’s Morris & Sons which is not the famous Morris & Co founded by the William Morris. This stained glass company, Morris and Sons, was originally William Morris & Co of Westminster (also known as William Morris Studios). I can’t help but think that in our litigious times the chances of trading with such a similar name to a famous ‘brand’ would be nigh on impossible.
Generally, I am not a fan of twentieth-century figurative glass and I was surprised to find that this beautiful glass was installed in All Saints in 1950. Interestingly the style of the angels would not look out of place amongst late 1960s or early 1970s fashion illustrations yet perhaps Cole had been influenced by the earlier work of the Arts and Crafts stained glass master, Christopher Whall. For comparison some of Whall’s wonderful windows can be seen at Upton on Severn, Worcestershire.
Last week I posted a piece about my recent visit to the Royal Opera House to see a rather passé production of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’. During the interval I recalled that last year my father and I had visited the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan. Also known as Casa Verdi, this is a home for retired opera singers and musicians, and it was set up by Verdi in 1896. It is also the place where both Verdi and his wife, the opera soprano Giuseppina, are buried.
Verdi commissioned this building to be a home for those musical people who, one way or another, had fallen on hard times during their latter years, often occurring when they could no longer perform for a living.
The home was open to residents on 10th October 1902 a couple of years after Verdi’s death and it was supported by bequeathed funds from the royalties received from Verdi’s operas. However, these royalties expired in the 1950s and the home is run now on income from Verdi’s property investments, donations and contributions from the residents. The residents, or guests, as Verdi preferred them to be known, each have their own room and some have views that overlook the inner courtyard, pictured above in the top photograph. The windows are those in the wings to the left and right side of the central complex which contains the communal rooms.
A recent (3 January 2018) social piece in the Financial Times written by Hannah Roberts interviews one of the guests, the 95 year old opera singer, Luisa Mandelli. From the piece I read that the current average age of guests is 89 years old. And, when I visited, we were shown the small but elegant concert hall where the guests could get together either to perform, or to listen to music, and then share musical discussions.
For the guests at Casa Verdi keeping up with their musical interests is seen as very important for maintaining robust cognitive abilities as well as offering a good quality of life. Verdi is recorded as saying that he thought his fame would only last about 30 years after his death. How wrong he was and it isn’t just his wonderful music, but also his thoughtful philanthropy that keeps his memory alive.
There is a long tradition of the rich elite funding charitable organisations. In the United Kingdom the building of almshouses for the poor is one such tradition and dates from the tenth century. A wealthy individual or family, partly in hope of improving the souls’ lot once their earthly lives had ceased, would provide land and shelter for the poor of their community. A fine example of this type of patronage survives in Long Melford, Suffolk.
Local landowner and dignitary, Sir William Cordell, founded ‘The Hospital of the Holy Blessed Trinity’ in 1573. During his lifetime Sir William had been Master of the Rolls, High Steward of Ipswich and, in 1558, Speaker of the House of Commons. Residing in Melford Hall he had been born and raised in Long Melford and as an act of piety he provided these almshouses for some of the poor residents of his home town. He also endowed these almshouses with land and property in the surrounding area to ensure a regular source of income for the ‘twelve brethren’ who qualified to live there.
The building we see today was heavily restored in 1847 and the property continues to be administered by the Trustees of the Hospital for the benefit of the poor of Long Melford.
The neighbouring church, Holy Trinity, had been substantially rebuilt with financing from the pious wealthy during the century before the almshouses were established. And, most notably, the church windows had been magnificently glazed with stained glass (also with a view to the afterlife) displaying many recognisable donor portraits. These portraits were accompanied with heraldic information to ensure future generations would be able to identify and pray for those individuals represented.
This surviving visual record and architectural history offers a glimpse of the complex, slippery and slightly dubious relationship between God and Mammon. In our contemporary eyes there appears to be an awkward interdependence for the medieval wealthy to negotiate. Of course, during the medieval period the rich man and poor man believed that God had ordered their world and each man knew his place and acted accordingly. One earthly benefit arising from this arrangement was employment for craftsmen and builders, and latterly, a glorious record of their skills and creativity for us to appreciate today.
Now here I come to ‘the role reversal’ – an interesting visual comparison, a wealthy medieval woman is shown praying for her soul (15th-century brass, Holy Trinity, Long Melford) and now, according to 21st-century marketing, a modern (wealthy?) woman is shown praying to/for luxury goods!
Fifteenth-century brass of Margery Clopton praying. Holy Trinity, Long Melford, Suffolk
Sometimes a single photograph simply doesn’t convey the sheer scale and drama of a building. Last month I was staying in Milan and took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Italian Gothic cathedral – the Duomo di Milano. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the third largest in Europe with only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Seville Cathedral being bigger.
Even when you walk across the Piazza del Duomo through the tourist crowds it doesn’t ‘feel’ huge as unlike many other medieval cathedrals it is broad rather than tall. Then, the closer you get the magnificent marble façade looms and looms above you. The scale is best appreciated when a few humans stand in front of the mighty west doors – mille grazie soldati!
The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and was begun in 1386 and took over six centuries to finish. It is constructed from grey and pink-veined Candoglian marble that was ferried down a system of waterways from the Lake Maggiore quarries. From a distance it looks like an intricately iced cake, but up close you can truly appreciate the many marble statues and the fine ornate decoration.
Glimpsing ‘The Madonnina’, the highest point. Gilded copper.
There are 3,400 statues, 135 spires including 700 figures and 96 large gargoyles adorning the church. Looking up at the spires you might assume they were simply decorated with architectural, sculpted foliage, but in fact they are spires with multiple niches each holding a statue and finally each pinnacle is topped by another statue.
Interestingly, such a vast and lengthy undertaking as building and embellishing a magnificent cathedral resulted in a collaboration between local Lombardy sculptors and workers from further afield including French and German sculptors.
And inside. . . The interior can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres – I think the guide below was just checking to see where they all were on this very, cold morning.
Following on from Oxburgh Hall Part 1 let’s now take a tour of the interior of this National Trust moated manor house. As we wander through the ground floor rooms we find essentially a nineteenth-century, neo-Gothic revival aesthetic. As with any property surviving over 500 years the handful of grand rooms open to visitors is an eclectic mix of period layers, but essentially the top gloss is a Victorian version of Gothic.
The first noteworthy room on the tour is the Saloon. This is a large space built to be a picture gallery by the architect John Tasker in 1775. Today, all is not quite what it seems. For example, beneath the residual Neo-classical frieze (see chandelier photo) is a red Gothic Revival wallpaper. The original Pugin design for a red flock wallpaper was made by J D Crace, but the paper on the walls today is a replica. This large room is also hung with a number of oil paintings that turn out to be mostly 19th-century copies of earlier royal portraits.
There are a few earlier primary pictures such as this portrait of Lady Arundell of Wardour that may have adorned this specific space when it was first built. Lady Arundell was a distant cousin of Sir Henry Arundell Bedingfeld’s (1689-1760) wife. As an interesting and valuable original painting, it was sold from the estate in 1951 before the house was given to the NT. However, in 2007, it was bought back by the NT for £11,250 from an auction at Sotheby’s in London and then restored to Oxburgh Hall.
The decision to style this room, despite its 18th century origins, with royal portrait copies, heavily carved neo-Gothic furniture, flock wallpaper and a 19th-chandelier giving it a high Victorian sensibility, is puzzling. Perhaps this is more a nod to a version of the manor house when it was in its Victorian heyday. Of course, all these derivative oils may have been collected/bought by the Bedingfelds during the 19th century to boost their credentials during the period when the old English Catholic families were returning from exclusion. Interestingly, there is also a question mark as to the authenticity of one of the Oxburgh grand furniture pieces, the splendid Antwerp Cabinet. It looks like a Collectors’ Cabinet that was traditionally made in Antwerp during the period 1650 to 1670, but according to the experts it has features that suggest it may have been constructed in the 19th century to look like an older piece.
The West Drawing Room was also originally a Neo-classical room with floral chintz wallpaper, but was substantially changed in 1865. Today there is a painting by the renowned 18th-century portrait painter Angelica Kauffman hanging to the right of the original Neo-classical fireplace.
It’s a portrait of Mary Walsh also later known as Mrs Ralph Clavering, another Bedingfeld’s wife’s relative. It too was sold in 1951, but in 2008 it was also purchased back at Sotheby’s in London for £79,250 and returned to Oxburgh Hall by the NT. And, here’s what the NT has to tell us about finding the funding to make the purchase. It is an excerpt from their blog – Treasure Hunt, National Trust Collections:
It was clear that we would need significant funds to buy back the personable Mrs Clavering. However, the volunteers who run the second-hand bookshop at Oxburgh generously contributed a substantial sum, and we also managed to secure a grant from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. In the end we had just enough to beat off the competition, and the picture is now back at Oxburgh.
Next we walk past the West Staircase which is adorned by the most fascinating painted leather wall covering (early 18th century from the Low Countries), but it’s cordoned off. Then it’s into the library. This room displays more of a wholesome expression of Victorian Gothic as it appears less restored and has a more authentic feel.
Naturally, a library has many books and along with the room’s original Buckler fireplace (1831) and the (mostly original) heavily carved Victorian Gothic furniture, the library contains little groupings of ephemera that bring the room to life.
For example there is a table set with a cut glass decanter, glasses, pipes and matches, and, predictably, a family photograph. Oddly the chosen photograph is not an early photographic portrait – though it could be. They could have used the 19th-century photograph of Margaret Paston who married Sir Henry Bedingfeld in 1826. It was she, together with her husband, who was primarily responsible for the creation of this room. Obviously, the original image cannot be displayed in daylight, but a good quality copy could be easily made.
After the library we walk into the Dining Room which used to be the library during the 18th century. Like much of Oxburgh Hall this is another room reworked by the Victorian architect J C Buckler. During the 1830s Buckler oversaw the installation of the heavily carved wooden panelling some of which also includes earlier carved sections dating from 1635 and 1731. The room has an enchanting atmosphere created by the slightly distressed, gilt and scarlet wallpaper thought to be designed by the Victorian stained glass artist, Thomas Willement.
However, the most beautiful arrangement in the room is the octagonal table in the bay window.
How delightful it would be to sit here, sipping coffee and gazing out over the moat towards the Norfolk countryside.
Morning view towards the south-west.
Morning view towards the north-west.
As National Trust visitors when you enter Oxburgh Hall you turn right, but if you’re “U” then you turn left . . . . . . . . a bit like boarding a plane!