The Very Old and the Very New

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.

St Peter’s Gate -Paul Richardson. Gilded steel, 2008.

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.

Quay Place Heritage and Well-being Centre. The repurposed, redundant medieval church, St Mary at the Quay dwarfed by the newly opened Winerack (the tall, white residential block).

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.)

Ancient and Modern


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.


Adaptive reuse – art school to apartments

St-Martins-DoorwayWhen I was younger I spent a year attending evening classes at the St Martin’s School of Art in London. I mostly remember arriving at the Charing Cross Road entrance on dark and wet and windy nights although it couldn’t always have been raining.

St Martin's School of Art, Charing Cross Rd brick and steel
St Martin’s School of Art, Charing Cross Rd, London sometime in the mid 1980s.

It was an important experience for me culminating in an end of year fashion show with professional models.  The evening show was extra special as the renowned British designer Zandra Rhodes attended offering her support and encouragement to the student/newbie designers.

Nowadays, St Martin’s School of Art has combined with the Central School of Arts & Crafts and is known as  Central St Martins (CSM) and since 2011 is based in the King’s Cross area of London. This relocation has left the 1939 purpose-built art school site in the heart of London available for renovation and a new lease of life as retail premises and loft apartments.

adaptive reuse of the old art school building
The adaptive reuse of the old art school building – now Foyles bookstore with apartments on the upper floors. November 2015

Although it is not listed the building is nevertheless an interesting construction of steel, brickwork, Cornish granite and Portland stone. It definitely has a 1930s feel about it and fortunately the recent renovations have not significantly remodelled its external appearance. From the street it looks very much like a successful ‘adaptive reuse’ and so much better than being simply knocked down to allow for yet another soulless glass and steel affair the likes of which seem to be springing up all around.

Foyles St Martin’s Lofts designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Grayson Perry, art and Julie’s House

A-House-for-Essex-Stour-EstuaryFor special occasions and celebrations many folk like to stay somewhere a little different, unique, historical or even perhaps theatrical, and now, added to the list of interesting residences available to let, there is ‘A House for Essex’ by Grayson Perry. This house is a fusion of art and architecture commissioned by  Living Architecture and built into existence from the collaboration of Grayson Perry with the architect Charles Holland of FAT Architects. Grayson Perry says of the house,

“It’s an ornate, terracotta covered temple and it’s by far the biggest artwork I’ll ever get to make.”

This three year collaborative process was made into a television documentary where Perry’s original drawings (more like illustrations for ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ with a twist of Gaudí) become a breathtaking holiday home. Clips of the house can be seen on YouTube during a three minute news item interviewing Grayson Perry. Plus, if you’d like to see more fascinating photos including shots of the interiors visit ‘A House for Essex‘.

“There’s a story behind its creation and it’s even more bonkers than you thought!” muses Perry.

It turns out the house is a kind of autobiography and at the same time a biography of a fictional woman called Julie May Cope. It is also a 21st century shrine to Julie and mining her imagined everyday life provides much of the content of this artwork and its overall tone. It is an “Essex Taj Mahal” says Perry and he remarks

“The house is devoted to a fictional Essex everywoman.”

Julie tile Grayson Perry
One of the Julie tiles before glazing.

There is much to admire about this building. Ornate and ornamented it is the antithesis to the spare, ‘less is more’ contemporary architectural sensibility which dominates much of our recently built more innovative buildings. I think it is exciting that this chapel-like structure with its bold elaborate external finish passed the planning committee and got built in Essex. The polychromy and the almost Romanesque Revival semicircular arched windows reminds me of some of the grander Victorian buildings such as the Natural History Museum in London.

finished Julie tiles
Julie tiles ready for final inspection.

As an artist famous for his pots, tapestries and sculptures it is no surprise that his dream house is expressed as a combination of bas relief ceramic tiles, sculptural adornments and narrative wall hangings. For example all the tiles have been manufactured from Perry’s original clay work and it is in the detail of these designs and the art filled interior that his story of Julie is told.

Personally, I don’t see any issues with such an unusual building as Julie’s House adorning this part of rural Essex. The local setting is not just wheatfields and the River Stour, but in the background is Parkeston Quay, Harwich and across the other side of the estuary is the Port of Felixstowe, the UK’s busiest container port. I am a little biased about this part of the world as the river/estuary area from Manningtree down to the North Sea is one of my favourite places. But, the one aspect of the house that I do find disappointing is that it is essentially inward-looking. You look at the house almost as a discrete isolated whole and not at it within it’s setting. And, then inside, the whole artwork interior appears to encourage a confined engagement leading to contemplation and reflection. No overt connection is made with the external environment and, sadly, there’s no enormous panoramic window framing the glorious Stour Estuary. I suppose as a chapel-like building focussing inwards is appropriate, but perhaps a wayside chapel sited on a road into an Essex town would have made for a more believable backdrop for this ‘story house’ art. However, who wants to spend their celebration weekend on the busy A120 trunk road into Colchester!