Melbourne – The Nicholas Building


We left a hot and sunny Canberra (the first day it had been like that!) and took a flight to Melbourne, arriving to grey skies which turned into heavy rain during the evening. No worries though, as the weather improved the next day and stayed fine and sunny for the rest of our time there 🙂

Standing at the baggage reclaim waiting for our bags, one of them arrived fairly quickly, but after a while we realised that we were the only ones from the Canberra flight still standing there. Good news – we only had one bag to cart to our accommodation. Bad news – my bag had gone astray. We reported the loss at the information desk – the guy there reckoned it had probably been sent to the International terminal by mistake. That was probably the case as a couple of hours later I received a text telling me they’d located it and it was delivered to our Apart-Hotel early the next morning (Phew!).

We took the Sky bus to the city centre and then the shuttle to the Adina Apart Hotel on Flinders Street. After freshening up and getting a bite to eat, we set out to explore. As it had started raining we explored the Arcades which are one of the features of the Central Business District shopping streets.


Dodging a heavy downpour (even though we were wearing our rain coats) we found ourselves in the Cathedral Arcade, an L-shaped Art Deco style arcade that cuts the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street.  The arcade, which is  situated on the ground floor of the Nicholas Building, which was built in 1925, has a particularly attractive arched stained glass ceiling and central dome and the floors are decorated with ceramic tiles.


While we were admiring the arcade, we spotted a number of people milling around and going up and down a stairwell. Checking it out we discovered that there was an open night in the Nicholas Building which, today, is something of a “creative hub” with the offices occupied by artists, design studios, architects offices and small start-ups as well as a number of galleries, jewellers, and boutiques  who are members of the Nicholas Building Association.

For the open night, the shops and galleries were open late and a number of the occupants of offices and workshops were open with displays showing off their work. Many of them were providing sweets, cakes and snacks and there was a pop up bar.  A group of musicians were performing on the stairwell and there were performances taking place too in one of the offices.



The creatives moved in when previous occupants had moved out and the building began to become dilapidated. It has something of a “grungy” look to it, like the trendy, bohemian areas of city we were to visit later during our stay, and it still had many of it’s original features


We must have spent over an hour pottering around. It’s always good to stumble across something interesting by accident and that was definitely the case with the Nicholas Building and Cathedral Arcade.



The Australian War Memorial

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After 5 days of weather typical of an English summer (i.e. cool, grey, intermittent rain), the day we were leaving Canberra was hot and sunny. C’est la vie! Our flight to our next destination, Melbourne, wasn’t due to leave until around midday so we had a couple of hours to kill and took the opportunity to walk up to the Australian War Memorial, about 20 minutes away on foot.

It’s in a dominant location in Canberra, standing on a hill at the north end of the city’s ceremonial land axis, which stretches from Parliament House on Capital Hill along a line passing through the summit of  Mount Ainslie.  There are three parts to the Memorial – the Commemorative Area (shrine) including the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Memorial’s galleries (museum) and Research Centre (records). The road leading up to the Memorial from the city centre and along the axis is known as the  Anzac Parade  and is lined with memorials to various campaigns the Australian armed forces have been involved in.

Conceived in the 1920’s, indecision about the design and the Great Depression in the 1930’s delayed it’s construction and it was only completed in 1941, after the outbreak of World War II.  It was designed by two architects from Sydney, Emil Sodersten and John Crust. The main feature, the Byzantine domed  Hall of Memory is a Modernist, Art Deco structure.

Time was very limited, so we didn’t have much time to look around once we’d reached the memorial, and could only get a quick look around the Shrine.


In the courtyard there are  a series of bronze plaques, the Roll of Honour, which lists the names of 102,185 Australian servicemen and women killed in conflict or on peacekeeping operations. The poppies are not an official part of the monument but have been left by relatives visiting the Shrine who have left the poppies next to the names of their relatives. A moving, unofficial, tribute bringing a human touch to the monument.


We returned to our hotel via the Anzac Parade. Here’s a few photos of some of the monuments lining the avenue.



Northampton architecture

After my visit to 78 Derngate, I didn’t have much time to have a look around as I needed to get back on my way down the motorway. But I did manage a brief stroll through the town centre.

This Art Deco style block of flats, Bedford Mansions built in 1935 is immediately opposite the house.


This is the Guild Hall, a very grand neo-Gothic building, built between 1861 and 1864


A little further along the road, this neo-Classical church, All Saints. It was built in 1675 to replace an older, Medieval church that was largely destroyed  during the “Great Fire of Northampton“.


Quite a mix of styles in a relatively short distance!


78 Derngate

A couple of weeks ago I had to drive down to Hertfordshire on a Sunday as zi was working down there on the Monday. An 8 o’clock start meant a stay over on Sunday evening. Rather than just belt all the way down the Motorway I decided to break the journey, pulling off the M1 at Northampton, with a view to visiting 78 Derngate, a house where the interior had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.


The house was owned by a local industrialist, W J Bassett-Lowke a man of Progressive ideals, Fabian politics (he knew G B Shaw who visited the house and stayed in the guest bedroom), had, for the time (the early 20th Century), rather modern tastes.

One of a row of Georgian houses in the centre of Northampton, Bassett-Lowke’s father  bought the relatively small house for him in 1916 when he got married. Being right in the middle of WWI it wasn’t possible to build a new house (which I guess he would have preferred) so he set about getting it modified so it would be more in line with his Modernist inclinations and he hired Mackintosh, who was living in Chelsea at the time, to help with the interior design.


The Bassett-Lowkes lived in the house 1926 when they moved to a newly built Modernist home designed by Peter Behrens. It passed through several owners until 1964 when it was bought by Northampton High School for Girls who initially used it for offices and then later as classrooms.   When the school decided to sell off the house it was bought by Northampton Borough Council. A Trust was formed who restored the house and it was opened to the public at the end of 2003. The house itself is quite small so the Trust has also bought No’s 80 and 82 which houses the reception desk,  gift shop, museum, restaurant, art galleries, meeting rooms and offices.

Although visitors can explore the house and garden on their own, there are regular guided tours, which take just over an hour, and it’s well worth joining one. I arrived about 45 minutes before the next tour was due to start so I spent some time looking around the small garden (it was a fine, sunny, autumn afternoon), the museum and the galleries where there were exhibitions of works by a local artist, Roy Holding, and the Northamptonshire Guild of Designer Craftsmen. The guided tour, which started with a short video, was led by a knowledgeable volunteer and was excellent. After the tour I had about 45 minutes left to have a quick look round on my own to take a closer look at the rooms and furnishings.

Bassett-Lowke had a number of structural changes made to the house. A rectangular extension was added at the back to enlarge the kitchen and the dining room and creating balconies for the two bedrooms. It isn’t clear how much of these changes (and, indeed the dĂ©cor) Mackintosh designed.


Mackintosh was hired during a period when his architectural and design work had largely dried up, so he must have welcomed the commission.  Bassett-Lowke must have been a difficult client to work for, though. He had had some architectural training and had his own definite ideas about what he wanted and certainly didn’t leave mackintosh to get on with it, organising the work himself. His wife, who it seems had more conventional tastes, didn’t get much of a look in! But  Mackintosh’s touch is clearly evident throughout the house. The dĂ©cor is a little different  to his earlier work, being more angular and almost prefiguring what became known as “Art Deco” style.

After watching the video which covered the history of the house and an overview of the interior,  the tour started in the garden. We could see the rear elevation which looked very Modernist and nothing like a Georgian property.

This planter looks very “Mackintosh”, but it’s not certain he designed it.


Moving inside the house, first stop was the kitchen. No Mackintosh touches here but quite modern for the early 20th century. Bassett-Lowke was very keen on having all the latest electrical gadgets including an electric kettle and other appliances, many which had to be specially imported.


The kitchen would have been the domain of Lotte, the Bassett-Lowkes’ servant. She was Austrian so an “enemy alien” during the war, so I don’t know how they managed to keep her employed.

Moving upstairs to the dining room


Mackintosh’s main contribution to this room was the walnut cabinets to either side of the fireplace.


Across the stairwell and we were in the living room (the house is only two rooms wide)



This screen beside the staircase is probably Mackintosh’s “tour de force”.



He designed the décor, an angular pattern representing trees, which is predominantly black, making the room rather dark.


Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it so it was changed to a much lighter design, which was shown in a display on one of the rooms on the top floor of the house


Up another floor and into the main bedroom. There wasn’t much furnishing in here.


but the guest bedroom on the next floor has been recreated.  This is where G B slept when he stayed in the house. The striped décor is very striking and must have looked so radically different in 1917. It could easily have been designed in modern times.


Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it at all.



Across the corridor the bathroom had all the mod cons for the time


I spent almost 3 hours in the house, much longer than I expected. It was certainly well worth the diversion!

The Grote Kerk, Haarlem


The Grote Kerk church Stands on the Grote Markt in Haarlem. Originally a Catholic cathedral, following the Dutch Reformation it became a Protestant church and is dedicated to Saint Bavo. After our visit to the Molen de Adriaan we wandered though the pleasant streets of the town back to the square and decided pay the modest entry fee and take a look inside

It’s a massive Gothic building, the nave and choir covered by 16th Century wooden vaulting and the first thing that hits you when you walk inside is its height.


It’s hard to convey in a photograph just how high it is. Looking up almost made me feel dizzy!

It’s also very plain and light, the interior being painted white, giving it a quite different feeling to the Gothic Cathedrals I’m used to seeing in the UK. This is a consequence of the Beeldenstorm during the Dutch Reformation. Prior to this the church would have been decorated with paintings, stained glass and statues. However this offended the Protestants for a number of reasons. The images and statues were considered to be blasphemous and idolatry. Rich decoration was also seen as a way for rich donors to flaunt their wealth. For them places of worship should be plain and simple so after the Reformation the decorations and statues were removed from the converted Catholic churches.

The floor of the church is made up of gravestones, including that of the painter Frans Hals.

Another feature of the church is the massive organ at the end of the nave.


Installed in 1738, it covers the whole west wall of the church and is almost 30 metres high. It’s something of a tourist attraction in it’s own right and has been played by Handel and Mozart.

The interior was painted by local artist, Pieter Jansz Saenredam, his paintings emphasising the height of the building.



Today, there is some decoration in the church, with fancy chandeliers and illustrated texts on some of the massive columns, and some stained glass – although most of the windows glazed with plain glass.


and the roof above the crossing is also decorated


But overall it remains relatively plain, especially compared to Baroque Catholic and Anglo-Catholic cathedrals and churches.

A day in Haarlem

Last week we flew over to Amsterdam for a few days. A job in Ireland had been postponed so I had a week free. Our daughter has recently started a Master course at the University there and as she wouldn’t be home for Christmas we wanted to take the opportunity to see her. We flew out on Sunday afternoon and on the Monday we all took the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem, 20 kilometres to the west and a 15 minute journey. It was a grey, cloudy morning but the cloud cleared in the afternoon.


Haarlem, which sits on the River Spaarne, was an important city when Amsterdam was just a fishing village on  the River Amstel. But as the city grew and became the centre of commerce, Haarlem became a sleepy backwater. Today it’s a pleasant commuter town with a well preserved medieval centre and winding waterways.

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The station is just a short walk from the Grote Market, the heart of the medieval city.





Being a Monday morning, the shops and attractions were closed until midday (that’s normal in the Netherlands – Monday morning doesn’t exist!) and most of the museums weren’t open. However we had an enjoyable time strolling around the attractive streets and along the canals, looking at the many interesting buildings.



Haarlem was built on the Spaarne river which still meanders through the heart of city, and there are several canals, although they don’t dominate the city as much as in Amsterdam.



One of the main tourist attractions stands on the river – the Molen  de Adriaan. The imposing wooden windmill has been a definitive feature on Haarlem’s skyline since the 18th century, although the existing windmill is actually a reconstruction, the original sadly burnt down in 1932. It was open for guided tours in the afternoon, so we took the opportunity to visit. More about that in a later post.


There were two more towers that dominated the city skyline – the belfries of the Grote Kerk in the Grote Market and that of the old town hall.


Another landmark is the Amsterdamse Poort, constructed in the early 15th century as part of the city’s fortifications.


We had a full day looking around and there was much more to see. We’d have liked to have visited the Frans Hals Museum and the Corrie ten Boom House, both of which are closed on a Monday. We also didn’t have time to explore the Hofjes typically Dutch courtyards surrounded alms house, which were built mainly in the 14th century by Christian communities and rich individuals. We plan to go back to Amsterdam early next year, so perhaps a return to Haarlem will be on the cards.