Money Prevailed.

Just a few kilometres from Stourhead is the historic village of Maiden Bradley; a quiet and unassuming place that many pass through on their way to the Stourhead estate.  Here in 1617 was born Edmund Ludlow into a line of politicians.  Like his father Henry, Ludlow was a strong advocate of parliament, but also a staunch republican.  At the age of 27 he was commanding forces in the English Civil War, and in 1649 was one of the 59 signatories on the warrant of execution for Charles I.  His memoirs have become an important historical account of that period.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever read them, but I’d be interested to get inside Edmund’s head to understand his motivation, for in 1644 he and his forces ransacked Stourhead manor house, which was then the property of the Barons of Stourton.  Was his action against a neighbour driven by jealousy, justice, religious intolerance (William Stourton was a catholic) or order from Cromwell?

I don’t know the extent of the damage, but in 1714 the Stourtons sold the property, and shortly afterwards in 1717 their manor house was demolished and the new owners (the Hoares) began the development of the estate that we see today.

Taste is a funny thing.  Ruskin hated the elaborate decoration of baroque architecture and decoration, but I love it (why else would this atheist spend so much time in Italian churches?).  And yet here at Stourhead, everything felt a little de trop.  The pillars and mouldings seemed more appropriate to a larger structure.  The fireplaces screamed for attention.  The architraves too.

The artwork gives some clues.  Room after room you see pictures featuring buildings from antiquity, many of them painted in the picturesque and romantic styles and drawing on Burke’s philosophy of the sublime.  The Hoares were clearly striving for some ideal which found its way into their house and ultimately their formal gardens.

In 1902 the house suffered a fire which gutted the interior, though many of the heirlooms within were saved.  Unlike  Studley Royal however Stourton was completely rebuilt and restored to as close a replica of the original as possible.  The Hoares need to present themselves to the world as aesthetes was clearly paramount.  Their library incidentally contains Lady Alda Hoare’s collection of Thomas Hardy novels, she being a friend of the Wessex writer.  (Were country houses the Facebook pages of their day?)

The restoration cost must have been significant, but no matter, for the Hoare family were bankers, and owners of the country’s oldest private bank.  Their money couldn’t buy everything however.  The last member of the family to own Stourhead, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, had outlived his only son and heir who was killed in action during the Great War.  He bequeathed what was to become one of their most visited properties to the National Trust in 1946.  As for Ludlow, he died in Switzerland in exile following the Restoration.

Stourhead House, Wiltshire

Unrelated piece of trivia: If you recognise the building you may have been a fan of sixties TV series Thunderbirds; Lady Penelope’s mansion was a scale model copy.

Things Ancient & Modern

Hymns Ancient & Modern was the name of the hymn book I sang from in my chorister days, so-called because the 500 plus songs it held included traditional (though hardly ancient) and more contemporary melodies.  It occurred to me while I was in Ripon Cathedral that the descriptor was perhaps more appropriately applied to the contents of this church.

The crypt of St Wilfrid’s church clearly counts as ancient being over 13 centuries old, but let’s start at the other extreme.  The Modern.

The cathedral is clearly a vibrant contributor to the life of the Ripon community.  On the morning that I visited and area was given over to running a coffee shop in one of the transepts, and a number of children were completing a treasure trail around the building accompanied by parents displaying varying degrees of patience and interest.  This is important, because so long as people value the cathedral for what it offers to them, then they will support its upkeep and development.

The great west end doorways for example have changed enormously since I first visited.  After 45 years or so I can’t remember exactly how you entered the church, but I suspect it was through huge heavy wooden doors blackened by centuries.  The stone remains much the same (this is a Grade I listed building after all) but is augmented by a glass porch that allows light to penetrate but not the vicissitudes of Yorkshire weather.  Added only a few years ago it features beautiful engravings from the life of the saint who founded the cathedral.

There’s some pretty modern stained glass too to compete with these engravings.

Step back a few decades to the 1920’s and we have another screen (ambitious to design such a piece in a building already famed for its medieval version.

This one, behind the altar, is a magnificent memorial to townsfolk killed in the Great War and was designed by Ninian Cooper, a gothic revivalist who specialised in such work.  Though installed in 1922 it recalls a much earlier period and depicts contemporaries of Wilfrid.

As does the pulpit, though the style here is very different.  A few years earlier and it would have been Arts & Crafts, or Art Nouveau but those styles were losing momentum in 1913 when this was constructed here.  The coming war would shake things up in the art world but for now there was no clear direction, which is not in anyway to diminish the impact of this fantastic work.  Featuring green marble pillars, bronze sculpture and a polished wooden canopy it depicts more Anglo-Saxon celebrity; St Chad, St Cuthbert, St Hilda and St Etheldreda.

Leave the 20th century and you’ll find all manner of memorials and ephemera from earlier times, including an internal gargoyle, the beast having failed to make its escape when the building acquired an extension.

For me though it’s still hard to beat the medieval original; the soaring arches of the cathedral itself… at least until I reveal a final treasure in my next Ripon posting!

Wooden It Be Nice

Of the two churches I visited in Manchester, it seemed right to begin with St Ann’s as archaeological evidence suggests that the first church to be built in Manchester was erected near that site though it was destroyed by vikings in the 10th Century.

_pw_4032That said my second church can also point to Anglo-Saxon origins as a carved stone from that period is embedded into the present building’s fabric.  I refer to the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, or as it is now known, Manchester Cathedral.  The present structure began as a parish church in the early 13th century, but in 1421 Baron Thomas de la Warre was granted permission by his king and the pope to establish a collegiate church here, and so began a remodelling into the current building.  The use of the same red sandstone as St Ann’s produced the same issues of erosion and with wartime bomb damage contributing to the need for restoration, the building has a more youthful look and might be mistaken for a Victorian gothic revival.  It is Grade I listed.

On this occasion then I’ll turn my back on the stonework, but not on the architecture for the most impressive structural details are in wood.

The roof beams are perhaps the first to catch your eye on entering the building, or perhaps the paired cherubs of the font cover,  but these are soon forgotten when you reach the chancel area and see the choir stalls.  Is exquisite too strong and adjective?  Centuries of wear from cleric and choristers passing hands over the carvings have softened some of the lines, but once out of reach of human contact the structures are detailed and intricate and look as sharp as when they were installed installed in the Tudor period.

A recent exchange on British quiz show Pointless had two suggestions for the meaning of the word misericord, the first was that it was an organ-like musical instrument, the second that it was a medieval knife.  Neither was fully correct, though there was dagger called a misericorde.  The correct answer is that it is a protrusion on the underside of a folding seat which gives support to someone standing, for example through a lengthy set of prayers.  The term means giver of mercy – hence the dagger.  The thirty examples in Manchester are considered to be amongst the best in Europe, though several weren’t visible on the day as many seats were folded down so I didn’t see the example which apparently shows the earliest example of backgammon being played in the UK.

_pw_4044Something else that was hidden on this occasion was the choir screen for a new organ is being installed, meaning that the perpendicular gothic lines were overlaid with vertical scaffolding that camouflaged and obscured them.

Luckily I’d found myself with a moment or two to spare earlier this year when en route to catch a train at Manchester Victoria.  I hadn’t had time to fully explore, but I did have enough to see this…


Clumber Parky

Another road trip. Another refreshment break courtesy of the National Trust.

Clumber Park was established as a deer park at the beginning of the 18th Century, a fenced of area for the local gentry to go hunting, though over the years the hunting lodge was developed to become the manor house of the Dukes of Newcastle.

Now I’m not a political animal; that is to say I follow political developments nationally and internationally, but I owe allegiance to no particular party or political model.

I source my news from the BBC, The Guardian and the Independent; does that make me left leaning?  I’ve never voted that way. The fact is I’m cynical about a system where doing the right thing is secondary to partisan bickering.

I mention this because for the first time I felt a sense of discomfort at the ostentatious display here.  Not in the rich works of art on display in the mansion; those were dispersed in sales and auctions before the National Trust gained control, nor in the rich architectural details of the mansion itself, because it was abandoned in the early 20th century and demolished in 1938.

So what could be so offensive about the remaining outbuildings and 15 square km of parkland?   Other great houses I’ve visited bear testimony to the excesses of the nobility, and yet I think I’ve been able to forgive them because of the legacy they have left; the gardens and incredible vistas at Stowe or the sense of history at Wimpole for example.  There is nothing similar here to sugar the pill.

My arrival was along the lime tree avenue; the largest double avenue of its kind in Europe featuring over 1200 carefully spaced trees that draw the eye to… nothing.  It doesn’t even have an aesthetic value, for the avenue runs alongside, rather than to, the estate.  Pointless excess it seems.

Then there is the Serpentine Lake, an engineered swelling in the River Poulter.  Extending from the estate it runs for a couple of kilometres and covers 87 acres.  It keeps the local bird life happy and provides a medium for reflective photography, but need there be so much of it?  Yes if you’re to stage mock naval battles from a lakeside gunnery against the 1/3 size frigate that you have to patrol the waters as the 2nd Duke did in the early 19th Century.  Every home should have one!

How about a small chapel to conduct family worship?  How does this Grade I listed piece of Gothic Revival suit?  180 feet of spire?  Too much?  Surely not?_PW_5134_5_6-Edit

Even the cricket ground pavilion has a sense of self importance._PW_5225_6_7-Edit

Perhaps it was the fact that this week Oxfam announced that there are 62 individuals in the world whose combined wealth equates to that owned by half of the rest of the world that created this unease.  Or perhaps it was the ghost of a legendary resident of these parts.  The park does adjoin Sherwood Forest.


Wimpole Within

That’s where Wimpole’s real treats are to be found; at least to my eye.

Perhaps it was the conditions outside, but I think the design of the interior should claim the credit, because this building had some of the most gorgeous light that I’ve encountered since the nude and lingerie shoot in Northumberland a couple of years back.APW_6447

Of course, it’s one thing to have the light, but you need to have the subject matter too and here you’re spoilt for choice.  The great pity was that I didn’t have tong to spend here due to the demands of my journey, but even at a gallop through the rooms I was in my element as I moved from one grand chamber to the next.

The last monochrome image is worth viewing at full size to see if you can spot one of the features of this building.  The Georgian obsession with symmetry continued to the interior, so the pair of doors you see at the far end of the room are matched by an identical pair just behind the spot where I shot from… and they are all fake.  Beautifully painted in midnight blue and gold, including the door handles, they are solid wall.  Look slightly to the left of the far door however and you’ll see a faint outline of the real, but carefully hidden door.

Apart from the multitude of windows, the light trickles down from skylights and staircases giving a wonderful sculptural effect to walls rich with mouldings and soft colours.

In such an environment you can virtually shoot anything and make it look interesting.

So I did!


Virginia Woolf was of course talking of the thoroughfare in London when she wrote:

when the world seems tumbling to ruin, and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one has only to go to Wimpole Street…

I feel that the rooms here could have the same effect; it’s not everyday that I find a curtain tie-back an object of fascination but how could you not love the way the highlights fade into Caravaggian abyss?




The light is fading, the pier is closed, the holidaymakers left days ago. Even the gulls’ fight for the day’s leftovers seems lethargic

So what are you going to do to find a picture when you have only an hour to spare in Southend?

It may be the world’s longest pier, but denied access to its boards it looks dingy and uninspiring from other vantage points, and its dark underbelly is safe from any more adventurous shooting thanks to the estuary mud.

So what are you left with? The mud, the Thames, and a sun that plays hide and seek between plentiful clouds.

Should do the trick.


Red Hill Resonance (Venezia 4)

As we flew to Venice from Stansted we passed Markham Moor on the A1, a location notable for a derelict petrol station with a large winged concrete canopy that reminded J of the Sydney Opera House.  It is one of two 1960’s petrol station canopies that have listed status in the UK, the other, at Red Hill consists of a series of overlapping circular parasol structures.

I’ve never seen the Red Hill site, but when we arrived at the Lido…

Canopies on Lido
Canopies on Lido