Windermere Jetty

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Just over a week ago we headed up to the Lake District to visit the Windermere Jetty steamboat museum that opened last year. Windermere Jetty is part of Lakeland Arts, so we were able to use our Friends membership to gain entry. The collection of boats is housed in a brand new purpose built modern building.

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The museum has a collection of 40 vessels that tell the story of boating on Windermere from 1780 to the present day. There’s a conservation centre, where boats are repaired and renovated, a waterside cafe looking over the lake and mountains and they also run Heritage Boat Trips out on the lake on board Osprey, a restored Edwardian steam launch.

On arrival we booked our place on a boat trip (there’s an extra charge for this) and then had a look around the main exhibition spaces.

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The collection includes examples of steam launches – pleasure boats owned by wealthy families – power boats used for racing and setting speed records on the lakes, and working boats

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Steam launch Branksome, built in 1896.
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An old rowing boat

Th Steam Boat Dolly was built around 1850/60. Originally on Windermere it was transferred to Ullswater where it sank in 1895. It was salvaged in 1962 and then restored.

Steamboat Dolly

And here’s Beatrix Potter’s flat bottomed rowing boat!

Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat
The view from the cafe

We broke our exploration of the collection for our trip on the Osprey, which was built in 1902 in Bowness. Built as a private pleasure boat, from 1948 it was used as a passenger vessel for the Bowness Bay Boating Company.

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It was a perfect morning for a boat trip. The lake was calm, the sun was shining, the air was clear so we had excellent views over the mountains of the Fairfield Horseshoe and the Far Eastern Fells, where the high peaks were capped with snow.

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A Windermere Kettle – used for making a brew on board!

After a good hour on the water the Osprey returned tot he Jetty

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After disembarking, we had a bite to eat in the cafe, enjoying the views through the large windows and then finished our tour of the museum. We had a look at the Conservation workshop

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We had a look at the old boat that was on display outside the workshop. We couldn’t go inside but were able to look through the large windows where we could see a couple of the staff hard at work.

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We then passed through the boat yard, where there were a couple of larger boats on display and then on into the boat house.

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There were more boats from the collection inside the boathouse, together with other privately owned boats that were moored up.

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Jane a very glamorous speedboatt built in 1937
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Two small boats used in the film of Swallows and Amazons

After looking round the boat house we went back into the main gallery for a final look. We’d spent a good 3 hours in the museum and it’s somewhere we’ll certainly be going back to in the future.

Conwy Castle

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After a week away in Ireland with work, I took a break last week . We’d thought about going away somewhere, but decided we’d stay at home and have a few days out. Things didn’t work out quite as we’d planned, but I still had an enjoyable week off.

On Monday we decided to take advantage of our Cadw membership and drove over to Conwy, about an hour and a half away in North Wales. I zoom past regularly on the way too and from Holyhead during my Irish trips, but it has been a while since we last visited the town.

Conwy (Anglicised as Conway), was founded along with it’s castle by Edward I during his subjugation of Wales in the 13th Century.  The castle and the town walls (which are still practically intact) form an imposing fortification that dominates a strategic position at the mouth of the River Conwy. They’re even more impressive when you consider they were built in 4 years between 1283 and 1287, at the same time as similar fortifications were being constructed further south down the coast at Caernarfon and Harlech.

Although there was a monastery nearby and ther had been a Norman Castle over the river at Deganwy, Conwy was a new town, built from scratch. It was a bastide, a settlement populated by English settlers from which the Welsh natives were barred.

After parking up we stopped for a brew and a cake in a nice little Turkish cafe in the town before making our way to the castle.

The castle is a massive structure with a high curtain wall with eight towers and is extremely well preserved.

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Spiral staircases in the towers have been restored so that it’s possible to walk a complete circuit around the battlements and visitors can also climb to the top of most of the towers.

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There’s great views from the battlements and towers over the town and the river

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It was a bit of a dull day, so the estuary looked rather grey, but attractive, nevertheless.

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There were views over to the mountains

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Looking over the battlements at the north end of the castle there was a good view of the three bridges – the new road bridge we’d driven over, the suspension bridge built by  Thomas Telford in 1822–26 and the tubular railway bridge designed by  Robert Stephenson which opened in 1849. The two older bridges are smaller versions of the structures built by the same engineers over the Menai Straits .

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Visitors need to take care as the steps, battlements and flooring is rather uneven in places. A slight slip coming down from one of the towers led to a twisted ankle that had some repercussions for our plans later that week.

The Tassen Museum

Well, I never thought I’d ever visit a museum dedicated to bags and purses, but that’s what we did after we’d been to Foam. My wife had been before on a solo trip to see our daughter earlier this year, had enjoyed it and said that I’d find it interesting. It’s on the Herengracht, just a short walk from Foam, so we made our way over there.

The museum was founded to display a private collection of bags owned by Hendrikje and Heinz Ivo. Originally it was in Amstelveen, a suburb south of Amsterdam, but moved to it’s present location in a rather grand 17th-century canal house that had previously been the residence of the Mayor of Amsterdam in 2007.

The collection is shown on the top two floors of the house with elegant tea rooms and temporary exhibitions on the first floor. So visitors start by climbing to the top floor and working their way down.

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Modern stained glass window in the ground floor ceiling

My wife was right, I did find it interesting and enjoyed the visit. It was really a social history revealed by showing how handbags and the like (including bags used by men) evolved since medieval times. Right back then, both women and men kept their money and odds and ends in a leather bag on their belt – the oldest item in thecollection is a sixteenth century men’s bag made of goat leather with a metal frame.

the oldest exhibit

Over time men started to keep their stuff in pockets in their clothing while women tended to keep their’s in bags, the design which evolved over the years. For a while chatelaines, a series of chains hanging from the belt with hooks to hold small purses, scissors, sewing equipment and other items were fashionable, and their were quite a few examples of these in the collection.

From the 17th century to the late 19th century, women used pockets too. But these were seperate from clothing. They were hung from the waist under clothing which had slits in them so the pockets could be reached. This is how Lucy Lockett could lose her pocket! These went out of fashion with the advent of high waisted dresses in the Georgian period, leading to the development of the handbag.

Men continued to use bags, of course (I have several myself!), but they tended to be for specialised purposes – and there were examples of these, including tobacco pouches, gamblers’ bags and doctor’s bags, in the collection.

I found the top floor, with the earlier items, the most interesting. The floor below had a large display of bags from the 20th century, including expensive examples by designers and bags previously owned by celebrities including Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor and Hilary Clinton. They even had one from a certain Prime Minister, whose name I can’t bring myself to mention.

It’s amazing how many different styles of bag there have been, some of them quite vulgar! A surprising range of materials have been used to make them too from bamboo, beads, feathers, perspex, bottle tops, plastic cables and the skins of various animals including crocodiles, stingrays, leopards, and armadillos. Some of the animal skin bags being particularly horrible in that they included heads, legs, tails and other body parts as decoration.

If I hadn’t been encouraged by my wife, I’d never had thought of visiting the museum. But I found it fascinating and worth taking the time out to have a look around even for those of us with no interest whatsoever in fashion for the insights into social history. .

Foam Amsterdam

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The second full day of our break in the Netherlands we left our son to spend the day with his sister and then took the train into Amsterdam – a 20 minute journey. I wanted to visit the Foam photographic museum, which is on the “Golden Bend” section of the Keizersgracht . It was a warm day, if overcast, so we decided we’d walk along the canal, which I always enjoy. It was surprisingly quiet – there weren’t as many people and, particularly, bicycles, around as during previous visits as can be seen in the photos I shot.

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Foam is one of two photographic museums in Amsterdam. The other one, Huis Marseille, which we visited the last time we were in the Netherlands at Christmas, is also on the Keizergracht, and we passed it on our way to Foam.

There were four exhibitions showing in the museum. The main one was Silver Lake Drive a retrospective of the work of Alex Prager, an American photographer and film maker from Los Angeles. The exhibition included large scale prints and a number of films, in some cases photographs being stills from the films. Rather like Cindy Sherman, she creates scenarios but, rather than featuring herself, as Sherman does, she uses actors, models and extras. The scenarios are influenced by film noir, thriller, melodrama and crime fiction, but also have a surreal quality. Some of them were clearly influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock such as The Birds and North by North West.

The style of the photographs, with bright vibrant colours, was very similar to that of Martin Parr and there were similarities too in the way the photographs capture people in action, although Alex Prager’s scenes are staged whereas Martin Parr’s photographs are of real people, sometimes caught unawares but sometimes posed.

Crowd #1 from the series Long Week-end (2010)

Her compositions were interesting and often taken from unusual angles, like this one, looking upwards from floor level and with the figures positioned at the edges of the photo.

I hadn’t come across her work before so this was a good discovery!

Another of the exhibitions featured the work of a British visual artist Dominic Hawgood. In Casting Out the Self he

visualises the effect of the drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which he personally experienced as a transfer into the digital realm. (Foam website)

The works in this exhibition weren’t photographs as such but 3 dimensional objects and digital projections, a number of them including a statue of the Buddha. I had mixed feelings about this exhibition, but I did like one of the installations which included a circle of smaller reflective silver spheres surrounding a larger one, illuminated by UV light (A statue of the Buddha was also included in the installation)

On the top floor Morpher III (1989) by the French artist, Kévin Bray was an abstract multimedia work centred on a digital film in which he created a surreal, imaginary landscape.

I wasn’t so sure about this one at first, but once I’d worked out what was going on after watching the film a couple of times I found it quite engaging.

So, overall an interesting visit. Some of the works a little challenging and not to my taste but I certainly enjoyed the Alex Prager exhibition.

Teylers Museum

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During our previous visits to Haarlem, we’ve passed the entrance to the Teylers Museum, which stands on the Spaarn embankment, many times, but I’d never visited.

Open to the public since 1784, it was the first museum in the Netherlands. It was founded after the death of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) a successful silk merchant and financier who had a wide range of interests in the arts and sciences. In his will, Teyler left two million guilders (roughly 80 million euros) to establish a foundation, to promote theology, the sciences, and the arts.  In 1779, the Foundation’s first directors commissioned the young architect Leendert Viervant to design a ‘Books and Art Room’ behind the Foundation House (Fundatiehuis, where Pieter Teyler had lived). The result was the Oval Room, which is still the heart of the museum, although the premises have been expanded considerably since then. In fact, it’s rather like the Tardis. It doesn’t look so big from the outside but once you’re inside there’s a whole series of interconnected rooms and a whole new extension which, from the outside, you wouldn’t know were there.

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By Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Link

It’s quite an amazing place. In many ways it’s an old fashioned museum with lots of exhibits, including fossils, minerals, coins and scientific instruments, many in glass display cases. There’s also two galleries of paintings and a large collection of drawings and prints by artists including Michelangelo, Raphael, and  Rembrandt. The building itself is also fascinating. We spent a couple of hours looking round but there’s really too much to see during one visit.

Visitors are provided with an audio guide which provides information on selected exhibits by entering a number. For this summer the audio guide also includes an introductory tour, a “radio play” based on Napoleon’s visit to the museum in 1811 which focused on the history of the museum and key exhibits.

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We followed the “Napoleon tour”, which took about half an hour, and then had a more detailed look around, concentrating on particular areas of interest.

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Just a few of the large collection of fossils
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Humanoid skulls and bones
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Fluorescent minerals
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The large electrostatic generator. They had smaller examples to see as well.

The Oval room was one of the highlights. Originally this was the whole museum! It’s lit only by natural light that comes in through the skylights – so it’s probably best to visit on a bright summer’s day!

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It was difficult to get a shot that really shows off the room, so I resorted to embedding a picture from Wikipedia which was taken from the balcony, which isn’t accessible to the public.

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By Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Link (source: Wikipedia)

A painting in one of the art galleries shows what the room looked like in 1800, with the large electrostatic generator in the centre.

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A large horseshoe magnet supporting 100 kg
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An early electric battery
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An astronomical globe

The two art galleries were also lit by natural light

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The collection mainly features works from the Dutch Romantic School and the later Hague School and Amsterdam Impressionists.

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Wintergezicht met Schaatsers (1864) by Johan Barthold Jongkind
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De Molen (1899) by Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch
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Twee dienstboden op een Amsterdamse brug bij avond (1890) George Hendrik Breitner
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Trommelslaagster (c 1908) by Isaac Israels

Like many other galleries and museums in the Netherlands there was a temporary exhibition marking 250 years since the death of Rembrandt. It featured prints by the master and some of his contemporaries.

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As usual, I was bowled over by the beauty and the amazing detail of Rembrandt’s tiny prints. One of them had been blown up and covered the whole of one wall. Even on such a large scale the detail was amazing.

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And this was the real thing, which, even though it is the largest of his landscape prints, was not even as big as an A3 sheet of paper

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The newest part of the museum, an exhibition hall and a cafe, were built in 1996 and are airy, cantilevered spaces on two sides of a “secret” courtyard / garden.

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It was time for some refreshment!

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the Dutch know how to make mint tea!

We’d spent more than a couple of hours in the museum so had a last look around before returning our audio guides and leaving the building to meet up with our son and daughter, who’s been spending some time together.

Teylers is an excellent museum and I suspect we’ll be paying a visit another time when we next visit Haarlem.

The Hardmans’ House

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A couple of weeks ago, the last Saturday in May, we drove over to Liverpool. One of the things we wanted to do was to visit a National Trust property in Rodney Street, close to the centre of Liverpool. Rodney Street, a street of mainly Georgian period houses, is often referred to as the “Harley Street of Liverpool” as many of the buildings are occupied by private medical services. Gladstone, the Victorian Liberal Prime MInister was born in the street at No. 62, However, we were visiting the house at No. 59 that used to be the home of  E. Chambré Hardman and his wife Margaret who were both photographers and ran a successful photography studio and business here.

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Hardman was quite eccentric and after his wife died in 1979 from cancer he continued to live and work in the house, living as a virtual recluse until he died in 1988. He hardly left the house and was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, including foodstuffs! When he died he left behind an archive of more than 200,000 images. Realising the importance of the collection of photographs, the property was acquired by the National Trust in 2003. As it’s a small property, the Trust run guided tours of the house which, with the contents accumulated by the Hardmans, is a “timecapsule” of life in mid twentieth century Liverpool.

Chambré Hardman was Irish, and had been a regular soldier in India in the 1920’s where he developed an interest in photography. Returning to Britain, he set up in business with a partner, Kenneth Burrell a fellow officer in India. Although Burrell left the business within five years, but the two remained friends and Hardman continued to include his friend’s name in that of the business

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Chambré Hardman first met Margaret when she cam to work with him as an assistant. Although she was much younger than him there was a mutual attraction and they eventually married. She was also a talented photographer in her own right and was very much the commercial brain which helped the business to be successful. 

We’d visited some years ago but decided we’d like to take another look, so I rang and booked a tour for the Saturday afternoon. The visit started with a short talk and a video providing some background information about the Hardmans and their business followed by the guided tour of the studio, waiting rooms, darkrooms, other work rooms (the business employed a number of staff who worked here) and the Hardmans’ private living quarters. There were also examples of the Hardmans’ photographs on display.

The bread and butter of the business was taking studio portraits and clients would visit the house to have their photographs taken. The business also specialised in taking photographs of children and pets. Chambré Hardman was also employed by the Liverpool Playhouse theatre to take portraits of actors, including some relatively well known faces such as Ivor Novello and Patricia Routledge (a local girl!). The Hardmans’ passion, though, was landscape photography and they spent weekends and holidays travelling and taking photographs for their own interest. Hardman also took many photographs around and about Liverpool. There’s plenty of examples of their work on the National Trust Website

Unlike the last time we visited, photographs were allowed, but, as is usually the case, only without flash. I took some snaps, but they are generally a little dark.

The majority of the rooms in the house were devoted to the business and the Hardmans’ hobby. Although it’s clear from the outside that it’s a Georgian building, the Hardmans’ modernised and adapted the house for their business, so few original interior features remain. But the interest is in seeing how they lived and worked

This is the studio where the portraits were taken

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the Hardmans’ personal dark room

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The room where the commercial photographs were finished and packaged and sent to clients. It also acted as an office

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And a few pictures from the Hardmans’ living quarters

Their living room

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The kitchen

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the kitchen store cupboard with items going back to WW2

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Old boxes from his time in India in the cellar

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Chambré Hardman died in 1988, and so was living here when I was at Liverpool University in the late 1970’s. I must have walked past more than a few times so it was particularly interesting to see what it was like inside.

Ancient Textiles from the Andes – at the Whitworth

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Last Tuesday I had a meeting at the University in Manchester. Afterwards, I’d planned to meet my wife, grab a bite to eat and watch a film at Home (the venue on Tony Wilson Place, not our house!). Before that we had an hour to spare so decided to visit the Whitworth Gallery, just a few hundred yards from the building where I had my meeting, to have a look at an exhibition of ancient textiles from South America. The exhibition mainly features textiles from a collector, Paul Hughes, together with some examples from the Whitworth’s own collection.

The textiles are very old, created between 300 BC and 1400AD. Most of them were layers of cloth used to wrap dead bodies when they were buried, called “mummy bundles”. After excavation, due to the very dry conditions and lack of exposure to sunlight, the colours were amazingly bright. The patterns have a very modern look – some of them looked like they’d just come from IKEA! – reflecting the influence of ancient cultures on modern and contemporary art and taste.

We’re all familiar with the Incas and Aztecs and possibly the Tolmecs, but from the exhibition I learned that there were a number of other “cultures” in South America before the Europeans arrived and which also preceded the Incas.

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The oldest exhibits were these two pieces created by the Paracas culture

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The piece on the left, a painted fragment of textile, is from around 100 BC. The one on the right, a shirt, is even older from about 300 BC.

Most of the exhibits were produced by the Wari culture which I’d never heard of before, but they were a major civilisation in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about AD 500 to 1000. They were, apparently particularly, adapt at creating colourful textiles as well as metalwork and ceramics.

Unfortunately, due to the lighting in the gallery (it can’t be too bright otherwise the colours and textiles themselves could be degraded) and as I was only using my phone camera, my photos really can’t bring across just how beautiful the textiles looked. However, here’s a few of shots

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These three pieces, again from the Wari culture, are aprons created from feathers. Again the colours are amazingly bright.

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It was a very interesting exhibition with incredible pieces on display. But it raises some difficult questions. In particular, is it ethical to remove the textiles from graves? Of course, archaeologists have been doing this for hundreds of years, but in recent years they’ve often come into conflict with indigenous peoples over the custody and handling of excavated human remains, associated grave goods and other sacred objects. No easy answers, I guess.