A winter afternoon at Blackwell

After looking round the Scottish Colourists exhibition at Abbot Hall, and picking up some shopping in Kendal town centre, we decided to drive over to Blackwell as we’d not been for a while. It had been a beautiful, sunny, winter’s day and, although some cloud had come in, I caught some rather nice shots of the house and Lakeland fells illuminated by the winter light.

View towards the Kentmere Fells from the window in the White Drawing Room
A close up of Yoke and Ill Bell
Christmas installation in the main hall
The White Drawing Room

Birmingham Cathedral Stained Glass

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A couple of weeks ago I had to go down to the centre of Birmingham with work. I’d bought an Advance ticket on the train and as I wasn’t sure how long my meeting and site visit would last, I’d booked on a train in the late afternoon. As it happened I was done by 1 o’clock so I had just over a couple of hours to kill. I could have gone to a café to do some work, but that wouldn’t be much fun and the work could wait until I was back at base, so I decided to have a bit of a mooch.

My first stop was Birmingham Cathedral as I wanted to have a look at the stained glass windows designed by Birmingham born pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by the firm of William Morris & Co.

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There are four windows in total, three at the east end of the building with the fourth immediately opposite at the west end. They’re quite magnificent works of Pre-Raphaelite art, and my photos, taken with my mobile phone, really can’t do them justice.

The left east window, the Nativity
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The central east window, the Ascension
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The right east window, the Crucifixion
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The west window, the Last Judgment
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The Ascension was installed in 1885 and the Nativity and the Crucifixion two years later. The Last Judgement was installed in 1897.

The Cathedral website tells us

They are considered characteristic of Burne-Jones’ later style – elongated bodies with small heads in relation to body length and designs which divide in two equal halves, horizontally. This technique separates heaven from earth in each of the windows.

and that

They demonstrate Burne-Jones’ immense skill and the fine craftsmanship of William Morris & Co. They are known for their vibrancy, the life-likeness of the figures, their ability to tell a story and their inspiring and dramatic qualities.

Well worth a visit to  take a look, particularly on a sunny day with the light streaming through the windows emphasising their vibrant colours..

Two East End Buildings

One of my main objectives during my mooch around Spitalfields last week was to have a look at a couple of Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau buildings  in the area, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. He was a Scouser – well, almost, he was born in Birkenhead – who moved to London in 1880.

The first of the two buildings was the Whitechapel gallery, a short distance down Whitechapel from Aldgate where I’d been working. I’d been there a few times before to visit exhibitions and always admired the building with it’s twin towers and massive, off-centre round arch above the front door.

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It’s creamy stone stands out in a street of dark brick buildings. In a number of ways, with it’s solid stone construction and relatively but curved surfaces, it rather reminds me of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, particularly the Glasgow School of Art.

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Originally, it was intended that the upper part of the facade would be filled with mosaics by the renowned Arts and Crafts designer Walter Crane, but these were never completed. However, today there’s a lovely metallic frieze of leaves and branches by Rachael Whiteread that was installed just a few years ago.

The gallery was founded  1901, intended to bring art to the working classes of East London, and was one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in the Capital.

The second building was on Bishopgate at the far side of Spitalsfields and close to Liverpool Street Station – The Bishopgate Institute.

Like the Whitechapel Gallery, it has a broad semi-circular arched entrance and twin towers, in this case topped by ornate, multifacetted turrets. It has a different look, though – a little more traditional, more ornate and influenced by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.

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There are beautiful friezes above the entrance and towards the top of the towers, representing the Tree of Life. It was difficult to get a photo of them – the street was busy with commuters at rush hour, but I’ve done my best to enlarge sections of my pictures of the building

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According to the Institute’s website

The original aims of the Institute were to provide a public library, public hall and meeting rooms for people living and working in the City of London. The Great Hall in particular was ‘erected for the benefit of the public to promote lectures, exhibitions and otherwise the advancement of literature, science and the fine arts’.

So both buildings reflect the Art and Crafts Movement’s dedication to the cause of social progress (and, in may cases, Socialism) by providing facilities for the education and enlightenment of the working class. It’s good to see that both buildings are still being used for the purposes originally intended.

Charles Harrison Townsend designed another Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau building, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, South London. I’ve had a look at some pictures of the Museum on the web and it’s now on the bucket list. It’s not so far from the Dulwich Picture Gallery so perhaps I can arrange to combine a visit to both of them.

The Honan Chapel

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The Honan Chapel stands just outside the official boundary of the UCC campus, but is effectively, part of the site. So I couldn’t help but notice it. I almost passed it by, but as I wasn’t in a particular hurry to get back to the train station I decided I might as well take a closer look. I’m glad I did. It was a little gem.

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It was only built in the early 20th Century,being consecrated on 5 November 1916. At first glance I could see it was a neo-Romanesque building, this doorway being very typical of the style

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but a closer look revealed Celtic features, such as these capitals

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The chapel is, in fact, a product of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and is Hiberno-Romanesque, reflecting the style of early Christian churches in Ireland. It’s a product of the Celtic Twilight of Irish artists influenced by Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and the Celtic traditions of their native land.

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Inside there is a magnificent mosaic floor depicting the “River of Life”, (the colours haven’t come out on my photos, unfortunately)

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All the “furniture and fittings” were beautifully crafted and full of detail

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But I was particularly taken by the superb stained glass. There are nineteen windows in the Honan Chapel. Eight of the windows were designed by An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), the stained glass studio of the Irish artist Sarah Purser. The other eleven were designed by Harry Clarke, the artist responsible for the Eve of St Agnes window that’s displayed in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin  The Honan Chapel was his first major commission.

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Clarke’s work is exquisite. Very much influenced by the Art Nouveau, Symbolist and Arts and Crafts movement with finely drawn figures, minutely detailed images and luminous colours. Thee photos really can’t do them justice;they need to be seen “in the flesh” to be really appreciated.

Ruskin’s Memorial

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John Ruskin died at Brantwood from influenza on 20 January 1900 at the age of 80. He was buried five days later in Coniston churchyard rather than in Westminster Abbey, which might have been expected. But he’d asked to be laid to rest in the Lakeland village near where he spent the last years of his life.

It was easy enough to find his gave as there was a sign on the side of the church pointing the way. I was quite surprised at the simplicity of the design of the monument. I’d noticed a grand, Gothic style monument at the back of the church from the road as we passed a few days earlier and, given that Ruskin was probably the main driving force behind  the Victorian Gothic Revival, I assumed that was his. But I later discovered that monument, which was actually quite close to Ruskin’s grave, marked those of a family of local big wigs.

Ruskin’s monument, although heavily decorated with carvings, is more elegant and less vulgar, more in the Arts and Crafts tradition. It was designed by his Secretary and friend, W G Collingwood and was carved by a mason from Ulverston, H T Miles . I found this out while reading Collingwood’s “The Book of Coniston”, which I discovered while conducting some research on him after our holiday. It’s available via Project Gutenberg. In it, he writes

In Coniston Churchyard the centre of general interest is Ruskin’s grave, marked by the tall sculptured cross of gray Tilberthwaite stone, which stands under the fir trees near the wall separating the churchyard from the schoolyard. Near it are the white crosses of the Beevers, and the railed-in space is reserved for the family of Brantwood. The sculptures on the east face are intended to suggest Ruskin’s earlier writings—the lower panel his juvenile poems; above, the young artist with a hint of sunrise over Mont Blanc in the background, for “Modern Painters;” the Lion of St. Mark, for “Stones of Venice,” and the candlestick of the Tabernacle for “Seven Lamps.”

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There’s also a swastika separating the years of Ruskin’s birth and death. Quite innocent as it was carved before the symbol was appropriated by the Nazis. But I’m sure it’s use would have been deliberate and have some meaning.

On the west face below is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard—”Unto this Last,” then “Sesame and Lilies,” the Angel of Fate with club, key and nail for “Fors Clavigera,” the “Crown of Wild Olive,” and St. George, symbolizing his later work. On the south edge are the Squirrel, the Robin and the Kingfisher in a scroll of wild rose to suggest Ruskin’s favourite studies in natural history. On the north edge is a simple interlaced plait. The cross was carved by the late H. T. Miles of Ulverston from designs by W. G. Collingwood.

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Collingwood also designed a number of war memorials for towns in the region, including Hawkshead, Ulverston and St Bees. He also designed the one standing at the front of the church in Coniston.

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Collingwood, his wife and some of his children are buried nearby Ruskin’s grave. Their headstones are simple with distinctive Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau style lettering

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Mount Grace Priory

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We’ve whizzed up the A19 many a time visiting family in the North East, and never noticed the brown sign for Mount Grace Priory, a property managed by English Heritage. We checked out what we might visit when we were heading north up to Sunderland after out short stay in York,  and thought it would be worth a short stop.

It’s the site of a former Carthusian priory, with substantial ruins of the monastery (dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII) and a 17th-century manor house which had been extended and remodelled as a holiday home for a wealthy industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, at the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s also a relatively small (by Stately home standards, anyway) at the front of the house.

The brown sign was hard to spot and we then had to make a right turn pretty soon after, crossing over the south bound carriageway of the busy A19 to turn into the narrow driveway that led up to the property. A bonus when we arrived – National Trust members are allowed free entry. as the property, although managed by EH is actually owned by the Trust.

First of all we had a look round the house. A couple of the rooms on the ground floor have been done up in Arts and Crafts style, including William Morris and Co. wallpaper, recreating the look from when the house was owned by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.

This is the Drawing Room

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with an attractive fireplace, which reminded me of those at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House in the Lake District.

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And this is the entrance hall

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A room at the back of the house has been simply furnished

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and has a particularly attractive stone fireplace – very Arts and Craft in style.

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On the first floor there was an exhibition about the history of the house and the attic space, which was used for the bedrooms for Isaac Bell’s children, has recently been opened to visitors. One interesting feature was the marks on the wall indicating the changing heights of the three children.

Once we’d finished looking round the house we went out the back door outside to where the remains of the monastery are found.

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It had belonged to the Carthusian order (the same as that to which the monks in France who produce the Chartreuse liqueur). Unlike other orders the monks live a solitary lives, praying and meditating, working and taking their meals in their own “cells” and only congregating for short periods during the day. So the church was relatively small and the site is dominated by two large cloisters surrounded by the remains of the cells where the monks lived.

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English Heritage have recreated one of the cells so it’s possible to gain an impression of how the monks lived

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The word “cell” conjures up an image of a dingy space with bars on the windows, but this was far from the case at the Priory. The cell was a reasonably large house

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with a kitchen and living room,

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space for prayer and study

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and bedroom on the ground floor

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and a workshop where weaving and the like was done on the first floor (accessed by a steep ladder)

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with it’s own kitchen garden.

The cells had toilets at the end of the garden, provided with running water

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and accessed by a covered passage

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Very sophisticated for its time!

To maintain the seclusion, the cells were separated by a high wall.

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The standard of living of the monks, and the standard of hygiene, would have been much better than that experienced by the majority of the population. But I don’t know how many people would be able to put up with a life of work and prayer where there was very little contact with other human beings.

The gardens at the front of the house, although not particularly extensive, were very pleasant.

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Even today, the site is very secluded. It’s miles from anywhere and surrounded by woodland. The traffic on the A19 rushes past, mainly oblivious to the fact that the Priory is there. It would be perfectly peaceful, but traffic noise from the busy road does intrude a little. Nevertheless, it was a good way to break our journey.

Blackwell, Arts and Crafts House

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It’s been a busy week. On Wednesday we went up to Cumbria. In the morning we went to see the latest exhibition at the Abbot Hall Gallery and the, in the afternoon, drove the few miles over to Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house near to Bowness that’s also owned by the Lakelands Art Trust.

Built at the turn of the 20th Century as a holiday home for the Mancunian Brewery tycoon, Edward Holt,  on a hill overlooking Lake Windermere, its a superb example of a house built in the English Arts and Crafts Movement style. The architect was Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and, according to the Blackwell website

Blackwell offered him the opportunity to put his ideas on the use of space, light and texture into practice on a grand scale and, perhaps, to experiment in ways which might not have been possible had the property been intended as the client’s main home, rather than a holiday home.

The house is orientated east west with the main windows on the south side to capture the light, although the best views are to the west, towards Lake Windermere and the fells.

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I guess the holidaying occupants were not too interested in sitting staring at the views when they were inside the house. The priority seems to have been to get the light in. However, the opportunity to sit and admire the view is available in the Drawing room at the south end of the house. They could also enjoy the view while sitting on the terrace.

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The exterior of the house is not particularly exceptional. I guess the best description of it’s style is “vernacular” with it’s stuccoed walls and steep pitched roof. There is certainly no symmetry or deliberate, harmonious Palladian proportions. Baillie Scott’s primary concern seems to have been designing a house that worked – a case of “form following function” and this has determined the shape of the building and the size and positioning of windows which from outside appear to be placed almost at random.

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Although the exterior is relatively plain, but looking closely, the application of philosophy of the Art and Crafts Movement to create beautiful objects can be seen in the intricate decoration of the drainpipes.

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and the Gothic style front door

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The main priority of the design of the house was the interior, which has been exceptionally well restored by the Trust. They were lucky in that many of the original features have been preserved and the Trust have acquired furniture, objects and fine art consistent with Baillie Scott’s original designs and ideas about the layout so that the interior (downstairs at least) probably looks very much as the architect intended.

It wasn’t permitted to take photographs inside – although you can download some photographs from the Trust’s website here. But one Blogger, who’s an architect, has managed to get away with it and there are some good pictures and commentary here. He also visited and photographed another Arts and Crafts house, Broad Leys, designed by Charles Voysey which is nearby. It’s interesting to see how they compare.

The centrepiece of the house is the Medieval inspired great hall. Although the medieval and Elizabethan influence is clear to see – half timbered, it even has a small “minstrel’s gallery”- there are many “Art Nouveau” style features – the peacock frieze on the upper part of the wall at the end nearest the dining room, the copper lampshades, stained glass and the magnificent fireplace in it’s  “inglenook”. Inglenooks are recessed fireplaces almost forming a small room within a room. These must have been a speciality of Baillie Scott as these are exceptional features in all the main downstairs rooms. He incorporates windows and seating and they must have been very cosy places to sit and read or talk on a cold damp Lakeland day.

The design of the fireplace in the hall and in the dining room is a blend of modern and traditional. The surround is very modern with interlocking dark and light stones which slot together like pieces of a jigsaw, but he has used Delft style tiles to surround the grate.

The dining room has a very dark decor, which reminded me very much of those in Rennie Mackintosh’s reconstructed house at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and his “House for an Art Lover”. Besides the fireplace, the other outstanding feature was the hand printed hessian wall covering. It’s amazing that it is still in such wonderful condition after all these years.

My favourite room was the white drawing room at the west end of the house. This is a very “modern” rather than traditional room – very “Art Nouveau”. Light floods in and there is a magnificent view over Lake Windermere and the Coniston fells. There’s another beautiful recessed fireplace and I particularly liked the ceiling and the spindly columns with the decorated capitals, which all seemed to be different.

I found the following picture of the fireplace in the drawing room on Wikipedia.

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Picture source: geograph.org.uk via Wikipedia (The copyright on this image is owned by Rob Farrow and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

I thought there were many similarities with Rennie Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover which we visited last year

and also his Hill House (now owned by the National Trust for Scotland)

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with the vernacular style exteriors and with a very similar approach to interior design.