A brief visit to Knaersborough

Last week we’d been up to the North East for a few days. I had a work commitment up there so we took the opportunity to stop over a couple of nights and visit some family. On the way back home we decided to break the journey and stopped off at Knaersborough, somewhere I’d never been before.

It’s an old town, going back to Norman times, if not before, with the remnants of a Norman fortress. Although in the middle of Yorkshire it used to be part of the Duchy of Lancaster. It’s very close to Harrogate (which I have visited several times for work and pleasure) and was the main centre in the locality until mineral waters were discovered in the latter leading to it’s development of a spa resort and subsequently outgrowing it’s older neighbour in size and importance.

We only had a few hours to spare – especially with the short hours of daylight during this time of the year, but that was enough to get a flavour of the small town. We parked up in a car park on the edge of the town centre and then made our way down to the market square. It was market day, so we had a mooch around the stalls before looking for a suitable hostelry to grab a bite to eat. The small town isn’t lacking in cafes and the likes, and we decided on the Six Poor Folk a cafe bar located in a former hospital for paupers, dating back to 1480. It was quite small and could only “cater” for a small number of patients, hence its name.

It was very cosy and nicely decorated inside (with appropriate spacing and other Covid precautions)

and was even frequented by the Town Crier

We bought ourelves a tasty light lunch (I had the steak sandwich) and J treated herself to a glass of mulled wine

Well fed, we wandered over towards the ruins of the Norman castle, taking in the view over the River Nidd far below.

There were dark clouds in the sky, but some sunshine kept breaking through lighting up the keep.

The castle was held by Royalists during the Civil War but was captured by Parliamentarian troops. As with other Royalist strongholds, it was subsequently dismantled leaving the ruins we see today.

Inside the grounds there’s an impressive Tudaor building which today houses a small museum

with displays, including furniture from when it was used as a courtroom during Tudor times, and exhibits about the castle, the town and notable former residents.

After visiting the interesting little museum (entry fee only £2) we had a mooch around the small town centre. The buildings looked to be largely Georgian. I noticed that quite a few of them had tromp d’oiel paintings on their exterior.

Knaresborough used to a centre of the linen industry and there’s a number of old textile mills that have been repurposed, like the one below which is an art gallery and framing shop

The most famous person associated with Knaersborough is Ursula Sontheil, better known as Mother Shipton. Born in 1488, during the reign of Henry VII, she found renown as a prophetess, allegedly foretelling the future of several monarchs, the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. the cave where she is supposed to have been born is a popular tourist attraction, which include a petrifying well which “turns everyday objects into stone” by the precipitation of minerals onto their surface when submerged. There’s a statue of the prophetess in the Market Square

close to a second celebrating another former resident, Jack Metcalf, better known as Blind Jack, who lost his eyesight due to smallpox at the age of six. Despite this he found fame as a musician, tourist guide, soldier (who was present at the Battle of Culloden) and road engineer.

After purchasing a couple of slices of Yorkshire curd from a local baker’s to take home with us, we headed back to the car and then set off on the journey home. It was only 4 o’cock but was already starting to go dark.

We enjoyed our brief stop in the town and may find ourselves back there again to explore further in the furture.

Scarborough Castle

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Scarborough Castle is an impressive medieval fortress in a stunning location overlooking the town from high up on the cliffs. Given it’s setting, it rather reminded me of Chinon Castle in the Loire region of France.

We walked across the town from the museum and climbed up the hill to enter through the fortified gatehouse. The castle is under the stewardship of English Heritage so we were able to enter without paying the entrance fee on the day.

There’s evidence of human habitation on the promentry from pre-historic times and the Romans were here – they built a signal station on the cliffs. The first castle on the site was built in the 12th Century. It becam a Crown property during the reign of Henry II and over time was expanded to become a major fortress. It was beseiged, and badly damaged, during the Civil War, although, due to it’s strategic position on the coast, a garrison was kept here until the 19th century. Although a ruin today, there are substantial remains to explore and it’s location presents good views over the coast and town.

The remains of the fortifications are along the south of the headland, facing the old town. During medieval times the cliffs to the north would have been pretty much impregnable.

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A view over the Barbican towards the south bay

We walked past the Inner Bailey and bought a coffee from the kiosk next to the Master Gunner’s House – a later building. We then decided to walk along the top of the cliffsto take in the views before exploring the walls from the east side.

About half way along the cliffs there’s the site of a Roman signal station, one of a chain of structures built along the north east coast. There’s little in the way of physical remains of the Roman structure. A chapel was built on the site near a “holy” well, in about 1000 AD which was extended over the next few centuries and the visible stonework are the remains of this building.

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The well
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At the end of the headland we reached the eastern end of the castle walls. They’re still quite substantial.

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There’s remains of several towers and rooms incorporated with the curtain walls and ruins of other structures inside the Outer Bailey.

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We made our way to the Inner Bailey with it’s rectangular keep known as the Great Tower.

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There’s a viewing platform here that provides god views over the town, harbour and south bay.

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A view from the castle walls over the harbour
The Great Tower – it was badly damaged when beseiged during the Civil War
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Inside the Great Tower
View over the Inner Bailey from the viewing platform
The curtain walls seen from the viewing platform
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Looking back towards the castle on our way back to the car after our visit

Whitby Abbey

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After the walk with my son along to Sandsend and back, during the afternoon all four of us headed through Whitby, over to the East Cliff and then up the 199 steps to visit the ruins of the Abbey. Perched on top of the cliffs above the town and next to the old Parish Church, even on a fine day it has rather a “spooky” atmosphere, especially when viewed across the graveyard as in the picture above! No wonder Bram Stoker used this as a location for the early part of Dracula.

We’d all been into the abbey during our previous visit to Whitby, but it was certainly worth another visit – although you can much of the structure from outside the walls without paying the entry fee, we’re all either members of English Heritage or Cadw (the Welsh equivalent) so we got free entry and were able to get a closer view.

The current Abbey wasn’t the first one on the site. The original Anglo Saxon builing was founded St Hild when Whitby was part of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, way back in the 7th Century when the the town was known as Streaneshalch and is the liklely location of an important gathering of the clergy, known as the Synod of Whitby, which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Celtic tradition in the kingdom of Northumbria. The Anglo Saxon building was destroyed following the Viking raids in the 9th Century. The site was then deserted for a couple of hundred years until after the Norman invasion when a new Romanesque Benedictine Abbey was founded in 1078. This wasreplaced by the current Gothic structure constructed over a protracted period between the 13th and 15th Centuries. The Abbey was closed by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and it gradually fell into ruin – no doubt used as a “quarry” by the locals.

Here’s a few shots I took during our visit.

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Ripon Cathedral

It can a long, tedious drive back home from the North east. I didn’t fancy the chaos of the M62 after a bad, traffic jammed journey the previous Friday, so we decided we’d drive back across the Pennines on the A59 via Harrogate and Skipton. Not a fast route but likely to be more pleasant than the alternative. We also decided to break the journey so stopped at Ripon, somewhere we’ve never visited before. It’s quite a small town, and the major attraction, besides nearby Fountains Abbey, is the Cathedral.

There’s been a church on the site since the 7th Century, originally a wooden structure, which was replaced by a stone building in 672, one of the earliest stone buildings erected in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. It’s been twice destroyed (first by the Vikings and then by the Normans) and rebuilt. It’s been modified many times over the years, resulting in the building we see today. Like many of the old Cathedrals it incorporates several different styles of architecture, mainly Gothic but with some traces of Romanesque style. There’s even a remnant of the first stone church – the crypt.

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The west front is a very impressive example of the early English Gothic style, with it’s lancet windows

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Entry was free although you are supposed to buy a pass, costing £3, to take photos. I stumped up but there were plenty of people snapping away who clearly hadn’t.

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Looking at the lancet windows from inside the building

The first thing we noticed on entering the Cathedral was the installation suspended high up in the ceiling

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The Cathedral’s website tells us

Since May, 10,000 origami angels have been made by 100 volunteers and 300 school pupils, who have helped to create an inspiring host of angels in the nave of Ripon Cathedral. Each angel represents a dedication made during the COVID-19 pandemic to key workers and loved ones. Our volunteers range from 3 – 90 years old and are located across the region.

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The Nave was in a later Perpendicular Gothic style

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This is the old 15th Century stone font

I liked the impressive Arts and Crafts style pulpit, made by Henry Wilson in 1913 a.

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At the end of the nave, we descended down these narrow stone steps into the crypt

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This is the only remaining part of the original stone building and would hold the “holy relics” which are so important in the Catholic Church. It’s a tiny space and was only reopened recently, entry having been stopped during the height of the Covid crisis.

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The transept is one of the oldest parts of the main building, with elements of both Gothic and, with the rounded windows, the earlier Romanesque or Norman style.

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The highly decorative roode screen leads to the Quire (or Choir – take your pick as to the spelling!). The stone screen is medieval, but the stautes of Kings, bishops and saints are Victorian

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There’s a massive stained glass Great East Window – an example of Decorated Gothic – at the end of the Quire, behind the high altar. The glass is Victorian – the original glass was destroyed by Puritans during the Civil War.

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Looking back down the Quire (the light made it difficult to get a decent photo

The misericords on the choir seats were carved between 1489 and 1494 and depict various mythical figures. It is alleged that some of the figures influenced and inspired Lewis Carroll who visited the Cathedral (interesting as we were returning from Whitburn where there definitely is a Lewis Carroll connection.)

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The same workers also carved the misericords at Beverley Minster and Manchester Cathedral.

The massive spaces of the Nave and Quire in cathedrals can be overwhelming and I often find the smaller, more initmate, side chapels the most interesting. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is on the south side of the quire and has a modern look. The striking screen, meant to resemble lightning bolts, screen was designed by Leslie Durbin, a jeweller who designed the rear of the first pound coins and the Stalingrad Sword that was presented to Stalin by Churchill at the end of the Second World War.

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The altar frontals were designed by the (female) textiles expert Theo Moorman
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St peter’s Chapel, on the other side of the Quire, has a more traditional look

The altar is made of a reused font, possibly dating back to the medieval period. The painting behind the altar is a reproduction of a work by Reubens.

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The Chapel of Justice and Peace is located at the west end of the church, to thee north of the entrance

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Behind the altar are words of the poet Wilfred Owen, who spent his last birthday here in 1918, words that speak of tragedy and loss through war.

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It’s been a while since I’ve indulged my interst in art and architecture, so it was good to have the opportunity to visit this excellent example of a grand Gothic church. We spent a good hour looking round but had to hit the road. I’ll have to find time to take another look sometime, perhaps combined with a visit to Fountain’s Abbey. I’ve not been there for a while. And I do have coneections with Ripon – my family history research suggests I have a family connection – but I don’t shout that out, it’s hard to accept I might have some Yorkshire genes 😬

Plas Mawr

During our day in Conway, after visiting the castle and before our walk along the walls, we decided to pay a visit to Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan town house on the main street in the middle of the town. It’s owned by Cadw and has been beautifully restored.

Plas Mawr is Welsh for the ‘Great Hall’, and it was built between 1576 and 1585, at a total cost of around £800, for a wealthy merchant, Robert Wynn, the third son of a local landowner who’d made his fortune by working for a Tudor diplomat, which led to him travelling across Europe. When he returned home to North Wales, he had the house built and it’s design is influenced by the Flemish buildings that had impressed him during his travels. After his death legal complications meant that ownership of the house took time to resolve and so it was left untouched, which is why it hasn’t changed much over the years.

Entrance is through the gatehouse which is on High Street. Visitors then pass through a small courtyard into the main building. It’s a self-guided tour but visitors are provided with one of those audio guides that you point at a data point to listen to the relevant commentary.

Robert Wynn wanted to impress his visitors to show off his wealth and the house has a number of features to try and achieve this, including some very fancy plasterwork. There were examples of this in the first room we visited, the hall. Cadw have had it restored, wit the figures of “Greek” priestesses and other symbols painted in bright colours. The owner’s initials featuring prominently.

There was plasterwork all over the house, even in the kitchen. It must have cost a fortune to have all this work done by travelling craftsmen.

After looking round the kitchen and pantry, the next stop was the brewery – an important room as until relatively recently water wasn’t fit to drink so the “small beer” (dilute ale) was the staple drink. Stronger beer would also have been brewed here.

The commentary made a point of stressing that the brewery was located directly underneath the master’s bedroom and that he would have had to endure some strong odours on brew day!

We then visited the courtyard and restored Elizabethan garden where we got a good view of the exterior. Notable features are the tower and the stepped gables, influenced by Flemish architecture and which would have been very unusual in North Wales.

Some of what looked like the original woodwork was visible on the exterior doors

Back inside we went upstairs to the top of the house. The large attic is where the servants would have slept.

The timber roof has arch-braced collar trusses, joined using an unusual system called “double pegging”, which was only used in the Conwy valley during the late 16th century.

In 1683 the Mostyns, who were a powerful family in North Wales, took over ownership of the house and over the years it was used for various purposes, with rooms subdivided and let out as cheap lodgings and at one time an infant school occupied some of the rooms. Cadw have furnished one of the rooms on the top floor of the house to show ho it would have looked when it was rented out by a poorer family

Moving down a floor, we saw the bedchambers of Robert Wynn and his wife.

More fancy plaster work in his bedroom

and here’s his privy, just off his bedroom. Rather a luxury for it’s time!

And here’s Dorothy’s chamber. He married her in 1588 after his first wife, also called Dorothy, had died childless. Although he was getting on in years they had 7 children together.

Most of the first floor was occupied by the very grand Great Chamber, the main room where the Wynns would entertain their guests. Of course, there was yet more plaster work

The remaining rooms on the first floor were devoted to an exhibition about hygiene and water provision. These would originally have been used as bedrooms for guests and the children of the family. We rounded off the visit by climbing the steep stairs and ladder up to the top of the tower where there were views over the town, castle, harbour and nearby mountains.

Plas Mawr is certainly a very well preserved and interesting building. It provides a glimpse into the life of a prosperous family living in a small town in North Wales during the Elizabethan period. The architecture is interesting too, showing the influence of continental styles on the British gentry.

Back to Haarlem

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Last week we were back in Haarlem, to visit our daughter while taking a few days break. As usual, we managed to pack a lot into the week – spending some time exploring the small, historic city, watching some live music acts (the Haarlem Jazz Festival started towards the end of our little holiday), taking in some art in Amsterdam and even managing a short walk on the dunes.

We caught the plane from Manchester. Unfortunately there was a dealy which meant we were sat on the plane for over an hour and a half before it took off. Not the greatest experience, but it could have been worse. So we arrived in Haarlem a couple of hours late. It’s quite easy to get to the city by catching the Number 300 bis that runs from Schipol airport to the train station in Haarlem, a 40 minute journey with buses about every 10 minutes during the daytime. We’d rented a house a few minutes walk from the station, so after picking up the keys we were soon settled in.

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The next morning we spent the morning wandering around Haarlem. The Single canal was just a couple of minutes walk from our little house. The canal was built as part of the city defences and the northern section zig zags – a defensive arrangement. The city walls used to stand on an embankment to the south of this section of the canal but they were dismantled many years ago as the city expanded northwards and a park created where they used to stand. We followed the path along the canal bank through the park.

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We spent the rest of the morning mooching around the pleasant streets in the city centre before grabbing a bite to eat in the cafe on the top floor of the Hudson Bay department store

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from where there are good views over the city.

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The building that the Hudson Bay store occupies was built in the 1930’s for the Vroom en Dreesman store. It’s architecture is modernist in style with Amsterdam School and Art Deco influences. It’s something of a Marmite building – you either love it or hate it – I fall into the former camp! V and D went bust in 2015 and the building was unoccupied the first time we visited Haarlem, but it was taken over by Hudson Bay (a Canadian company) who opened there in 2018.

There are some rather nice stained glass windows in the stairwell and on some of the floors

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After we’d eaten we wandered through the shopping streets down to the Spaarn and made our way to the Tyler’s Museum. Our visit there warrants its own post so to finish this one, here’s a few photos I took around the town (some taken later in the week).

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A wander around Ruthin

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After we’d looked around the exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre, we decided to walk the short distance into the small town and have a look around.

There’s been a town here since the 13th century when, during t his consolidation of the conquest of North Wales, Edward I had a castle constructed in this strategic location. There’ not much left of the castle today and it’s now part of a hotel, set in it’s own grounds. Apparently  Prince Charles stayed here for the night before his investiture as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. As was usually the case, a community developed around the castle, so the town was probably originally a bastide, populated with English settlers. But these days it’s very Welsh!

Probably the most notable event in the town’s history occurred during the Welsh revolt 1400–1415 led by Owain Glyndŵr. The revolt was sparked when Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin, who was a big mate of the king, Henry IV, allegedly stole some land claimed by Glyndŵr . His response was to attack Ruthin with several hundred men, looting and burning down most of the buildings in the town. This was the start of the rebellion, during which Glyndŵr  was proclaimed Prince of Wales.

Being rather out on a limb away from the main industrial centres, Ruthin is rather frozen in time and, as a consequence, there’s a significant number of interesting old buildings. It’s a small town centre, only a few streets, so it didn’t take long to look around.

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The Old Court House was built in 1421 after the original court house building was burned down by Owain Glyndŵr ‘s men. It’s a Grade II* Listed building and until 2017 housed a branch of the National Westminster Bank.

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The Old Court House

Nantclwyd House in Castle Street is a Grade I listed timber-framed mansion and the oldest building in Ruthin dating from 1314.

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Nantclwyd House

Today, it’s a museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit.

There’s some “newer” buildings, too, a number from the Georgian period

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Exmewe Hall, on St Peter’s Square, it looks like a Tudor timber framed building, but was actually reconstructed during the 20th century to mimic the black and white town mansion, built around 1550, that originally stood on the site.

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Exmewe Hall

I enjoyed looking at the old buildings, but before we headed back to the car to set off for Anglesey, we had to go to prison!

Spitalfields

I was back in London for a day last week with work. As I had an early start, I went down the evening before and not being one for sitting around in a hotel room, I decided to get out for a wander. I was staying near Tower Bridge, but rather than stick to the more touristy areas nearby (especially busy at this time of the year) I wandered over to Whitechapel and then over to Spitalfields.

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The district was created in the 17th century and became populated with Irish and Huguenot silk weavers. The industry prospered for a while but went into decline, as did the area which became something of a notorious slum. Over time other immigrants moved in, Jewish and then later in the 20th Century there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, who also worked in the local textile industry and made Brick Lane the curry capital of London.

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Today, like much of the East End, the area has been gentrified with the old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped. It’s quite a “buzzing” area at night, centred on the curry houses on Brick Lane, although they seem to be more up-market these days.

I had a good mooch around and took a few photos before heading back to my hotel.

A favourite building of mine is Hawksmoor’s Christ Church. One of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known. I’ll get a look inside one of these days (it’s never open when I’ve been there!)

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There’s quite a few streets where the 17th century buildings are still standing, with many having been renovated

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Street art too, especially around Brick Lane

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After had a good mooch, it was a short walk back to my hotel which was opposite this well known landmark

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An early start for the YSP

It was our wedding anniversary last Saturday (6th July), a cause for a celebration. But there was another reason why it was a special day.

We were up early, despite it being a Saturday, to drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a favourite place which we usually visit 2 or 3 times a year to see exhibitions and enjoy a walk through the park. This time, however, we were going to a special event. For Christmas I’d paid for my wife’s name to be cast in iron as part of the “Walk of Art 2” on the pathway leading into the new visitor centre, the Weston. The second section of the walk, which includes her entry, had been recently installed and we were attending the official opening.

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There were speeches by Peter Murray, the YSP’s Director, Gordon Young, the artist who designed the work as well as his granddaughter

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Peter Murray
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Gordon Young
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Gordon Young and Sophie, his granddaughter
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We then went outdoors where the artist and his grandchildren cut the ribbon to officially open “Walk of Art 2

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Cutting the ribbon
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The names are cast in iron on a series of plates (my wife’s entry is on Plate 27) . Newly installed they were reddish-brown but will change over time due to weathering. The first set of plates, installed a few months ago, had already weathered and were more of a silvery-grey colour.

My wife’s name is on one of these plates

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but you’ll have to guess which one it is!

The new visitor centre is at the far end of the park, on the car park nearest to the M1. It’s quite a lot smaller than the main centre, but has a restaurant, small gallery and shop. The design is quite clean and simple, constructed from layered pigmented concrete with lots of wood and glass

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The architects have designed in sustainable features such as natural ventilation, an air-source heat pump, a low-energy environmental control system and a wild-flower roof .

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Inside the Weston’s gallery

The new visitor centre has opened up the far end of the park for displaying art, which make it even harder to see everything in one day’s visit!

Currently there are a number of works by Damien Hirst, the Leeds born artist, on display as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition which is being run in partnership with the Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

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After the ceremony we strolled across the park to visit the new exhibitions that have opened in the Underground Gallery and the Chapel – I’ll be writing them up in a couple of other posts – and to have a wander round the park looking at some new exhibits as well as some old favourites.

Art Deco London

Work is taking me down to London a few times during June and July. The first of three visits took place last week. I caught a train late Wednesday afternoon ready for a meeting the next day. It’s not much fun sitting in a budget hotel room near Euston, so I decided to get out for a wander around Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia.

London’s a different world from a northern town like Wigan. So much more hectic and busier and with a lot more activity and things to see even while just mooching about. I’m fairly familiar with Bloomsbury as you’re in the district as soon as you step outside Euston station, but, even so, I often spot something I’ve not noticed before while I’m out “street haunting”.

Bloomsbury and nearby Fitzrovia are noted for Georgian and Regency architecture. But in amongst the neo-Classical squares and crescents there are other types of buildings, including a few in the Art Deco / “Streamline Moderne” style from the 1930’s. Here’s a few photos – some I’d seen before but a few I’d noticed for the first time. The light wasn’t great for photos, unfortunately, but here’s a few snaps anyway.

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Block of flats on Coram Street, Bloomsbury
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Former Bentley Garage
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University College London, Senate House, off Russell Square
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The doorway of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
I sat my BOHS Certificate oral examination in this building many years ago
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This building on the Edgeware Road looks like it used to be a cinema
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Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, on the corner of Portland Place and Langham Place, Fitzrovia. The first radio broadcast from the building was made on 15 March 1932
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The sculpture of Prospero and Ariel  by Eric Gill on the facade of Broadcasting House.
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Middlesex House in Fitzrovia. A 5 storey office building erected in 1934 that was previously a garment factory
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Another view of Middlesex House