I’d booked myself a short break in the Lakes starting the Wednesday after Easter. After a good few days during the Bank Holiday weekend I was hoping for some good weather to do some walking but, unfortunately, the forecast for the first couple of days wasn’t so good. I decided against what promised to be a drowning on my first day and so, instead of going for a walk, I headed over to Windermere to pick up some supplies and then drove the short distance to Blackwell. It’s always a good bet on a rainy day and I wanted to have a look at their latest exhibition.
Unearthed by Kendal-based artist Amy Williams, celebrates the contribution of women in Cumbria who have often been overlooked by history, representing them with large scale paper-cut wildflowers. It’s not a large exhibition, only occupying one room upstairs in the Arts and Crafts style house, but I found it quite fascinating and educational.
For each of the ten women featured in the exhibition Amy selected a wild flower that she felt represented their character and created a large scale version from paper. Looking closely at these paper sculptures I could see that she had incorporated features and symbols that represented their life and contribution to society.
“For me it feels important to be able to shine a light on these extraordinary women and to commemorate their lives through this visual medium. I’m pleased we’ve been able to coordinate the exhibition to run across Women’s History Month, especially given this year’s theme of ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.’ I love the setting of Blackwell and am looking forward to transforming the space into a delightful wonderland. I’m grateful to Naomi Gariff, the curator, for giving me so much creative freedom to fulfil this vision. It’s a special thing as an artist to be given this opportunity.”
In an adjacent room there was a Community Garden – a display of wildflower paper cuts created by women from local community groups over a six-month period
Each of the women had written a short note about a woman who had influenced them and made a mark on their lives.
When Charles Wade bought Snowshill Manor the area around the house was a “muddy farmyard” but he was determined that it should become “a garden of interest”. The original design was by Hugh Baillie Scott, modified by Wade who’d originally trained as an architect, and, with the assistance of a local builder, William Hodge, he then set about its transformation.
Like Hidcote the garden at Snowshill Manor was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement style as an extension of the house, based around a series of “garden rooms” with terraces, stone walls, buildings and features such as a sunken pool, a well, an obelisk and a model village. Although it is much small than that at Hidcote.
Checking out what we might do while we were on holiday in Warwickshire, we found that there were several National Trust properties within 30 minutes drive. One that particularly took our fancy was Hidcote, only about 20 minutes away in the north Cotswolds. It’s famous for its “Arts and Crafts” style gardens and being interest in the movement we decided that a visit was a must. We drove over on the Bank Holiday Monday, but the traffic was light and, although busy, the gardens weren’t crowded.
The gardens were created by the American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston who’d moved to Britain with his mother at the turn of the 20th Century. He became a British citizen and fought in the British army during the Boer war. His mother remarried and bought Hidcote Manor in the north of the Cotswolds and he set about turning the surrounding fields into gardens.
I mainly associate the Arts and Crafts movement with architecture, furniture and the decorative arts, but its principles also influenced garden design. Notable garden designers associated with the style include Gertrude Jekyll who designed the garden at Lindisfarne Castle we’d seen a few years ago at the end of our walk on the St Cuthbert’s Way, and the Lancastrian, Thomas Mawson whose works included Rydal Hall gardens and the Rivington terraced gardens. Mawson wrote an influential book – ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’.
Curious about what comprised an “Arts and Crafts” style garden I did (as I often do) a little research! I discovered that that moving away from the grand, large scale sweeping landscapes normally associated with grand country houses, the garden is seen as an extension of the house and a space for outdoor living and leisure. They were more intimate, with smaller scale “garden rooms” topiary and colourful plantings. They frequently have water features and structures such as terraces, pergolas, summer houses and dry stone walls and local materials and craftsmanship are utilised. All of this was certainly true at Hidcote.
There was a lot to see – you could wander around for hours – we certainly did.
A couple of weeks ago we decided to drive up to the Lake District to visit one of our favourite places – Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts style house near Bowness. We hadn’t been there for over two years (yes, you know why) but we were keen to see the latest exhibition there – Something in Common – featuring the works of James Fox, a textile artist from Glasgow, now living in Lancaster. His recent work delves into the history of land rights and land ownership, posing the question – Who Owns England? – and the Blackwell exhibition takes up this theme, exploring the “right to roam” and is part of their ‘Year of Protest’ programme, featuring artists who use craft as a form of tool for social change and revolt.
I spend quite a lot of my leisure time out walking on the moors and mountains and kind of take it for granted that I can do that. But that wouldn’t always have been possible. In many areas landlords forbid the hoi poloi accessing their estates on the moors that they used for hunting and shooting. But as working people started to have more leisure time walking and hiking became more popular, leading to frustration where they couldn’t gain access to what they saw as open land. This led to protests and mass trespasses, the most well known being that on Kinder but there were others, two examples being the trespasses on Winter Hill in 1896 and Latrigg, near Keswick, in 1887. We’re free to walk on all of those hills now, but despite the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act of 2000 the Right to Roam only applies to “open access land”, which comprises about 8% of the mountains, moors, heath, and coastlines in England and Wales. (Scotland has a different legal system and the The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allows everyone access to most land and inland water in Scotland for “certain purposes”.) People campaigning and fighting for the Right to Roam have never gone away, including veteran campaigner John Bainbridge, who sometimes comments on this blog 🙂 – his book is worth a read.
Of course, there’s a balance between access and respecting people’s property and in Scotland exempts land where there are buildings, private gardens, land where crops are growing, schools and school grounds sports grounds. The legislation also requires the right to roam to be exercised “reasonably and responsibly” and I’m sure that the vast majority of people would respect this. I can’t see any reason why the same approach shouldn’t be applied to England and Wales. Yet many wealthy landowners think otherwise and resist any extension of the Right to Roam.
During lockdown, where travel was restricted, James Fox started going out exploring the countryside close to his home in Lancaster. In particular, the Abbeystead Estate in the Forest of Bowland. the estate is owned by the Duke of Westminster and before the CRoW Act access to many parts of the wild moorland was restricted. I experienced this 20 or so years ago I used to go walking in Bowland regularly and know that I strayed off the permitted track more than once.
The works on display were created by a combination of hand stitching, machine embroidery and digital media. A small number of works from the Lakeland Trust’s collection, including paintings by Lowry, Ben Nicholson and Sheila Fell were included in the exhibition and there were two “soundscapes” playing
a series of speeches by protesters and politicians who thought for the Right to Roam, Political Soundscape reflects the deeply emotional relationship between people and the land throughout history. Together, the readings are a testament to the ability of everyday people to affect positive social change when their voices rise as one.
Featuring a series of poems by writers who were inspired by the landscape, Bucolic Soundscape reflects the enduring and affectionate relationship that people have with the land.
A two sided quilt A Patchwork Quilt (2021) illustrates the two different sides to the gouse shooting on the Abbeystead estate,
the front displaying images associated with grouse shooting
while the reverse highlands the “hidden” aspects of the use of the land for this leisure pursuit – restricted access, eradication of predators and “unwanted” wildlife and vegetation, burning of the land and other environmental issues.
One of three videos running on a loop showed how this banner had been created
The Rewilding Plinth (2022) raised questions about how the grouse moors impact on the ecology of the moors. He also raises the question of what impact “rewilding” – returning the land to it’s natural environment – could have on tenant farmers
and how, depending how it’s done, could have other adverse effects on the land.
It’s a small exhibition, but inspiring and thought provoking, and we felt it was definitely worth the visit. Of course, we also took the opportunity to revisit the house and have a light meal in the cafe, after which we took another look around the exhibition.
And I never tire of the view from the gardens over Windermere towards the Coniston fells.
It was still early afternoon as we left the house, but we felt that we weren’t ready to return home. So what to do next?
On Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to visit the exhibition about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the “Glasgow style” that had recently opened at the Walker Gallery. I’m a fan of the work of this rather brilliant architect / artist / interior designer and have visited a number of buildings that he designed over the years, so was keen to see the exhibition, even though, unusually for the Walker, there was a charge for entry. Despite this we had to queue for a short while before we were allowed in as the galleries were at capacity, so the entry fee certainly hasn’t put everybody off.
There was a lot to see; architects’ drawings, paintings, furniture, other objects produced by Mackintosh and other members of the Glasgow School, plus contextual information (including a number of short videos), and we spent a good hour and a half looking round. Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed but the catalogue was, I thought, reasonably priced at a tenner, so we were able to take home a good reminder of what we’d seen. A number of “highlights” can also be viewed on the exhibition website.
Although Mackintosh’s work featured heavily, and was no doubt the main draw for visitors, there were some works by the other members of his close circle, Margaret MacDonald (who he married), her sister Frances and his friend James Herbert McNair (who married Frances). Together, they became known as “the Four”. The group has a Liverpool connection as McNair was appointed as Instructor in Design at the city’s School of Architecture and Applied Art in 1898 and he moved there with Frances. The Walker had previously held an exhibition about the McNairs back in 2007, which I remeber visiting.
Exponents of the Glasgow Style were influenced by a number of artistic movements, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, and Symbolism , and they in turn, particularly Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald had an impact on the Continental artists.
Although a lot of attention is paid to Mackintosh, I think that his wife had a major influence on him and it could be argued that they were collaborators. And one of the highlights of the exhibition for me was Margaret’s large gesso work , The May Queen
Other highlights included
Architectural drawings by Mackintosh for some of his iconic buildings including the Glasgow School of Art (sadly severely damaged by the fire last year) and his proposal for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, which I think would have been a magnificent building if his design had been selected,
Wigan Hall was actually the Rectory for Wigan Parish Church which stands at the opposite end of Hallgate. It replaced an older building that stood on the site. The Rector was quite a powerful individual in old Wigan as he was also lord of the manor – a hang over from the Feudal system – and a major land owner.
It looks Medieval or Tudor but it was actually built in in 1875 in the Arts and Crafts style. The architect was GE Street who was also responsible for the Royal Courts of Justice in London and was usually associated with the Gothic Revival style. It’s a Grade II Listed Building and described on the Historic England website.
The building was derelict for many years, but has recently been renovated to become the headquarters of The Sports Office, a software company owned by former Wigan Rugby League player and Sky Sports pundit, Phil Clarke.
She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded slowly as she danced
One of the highlights of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin is thje collection of modern stained glass displayed in a small, darkened room close to the entry of the Gallery. My favourite of these works is the the Art Nouveau / Arts and crafts style stained glass window by the Irish artist Harry Clarke, inspired by the poem The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats, completed in 1924. Last year it was joined by an exquisite small panel, only a few inches across, purchased from the Fine Art Society in London. It was originally intended to be part of Clarke’s Geneva Window, described by Clarke’s friend and patron Thomas Bodkin as ‘the loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’.
It’s a beautiful little work, typical of Clarke’s work – and like The Eve of St Agnes it’s incredibly detailed and beautifully composed with rich, deep and vibrant colour.
The panel depicts a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley, showing a partially nude dancer, Nelly, Gilhooley’s mistress, covered only by a transparent veil. It was one of a series of eight panels inspired by the literature of 20th Century Irish authors including Yeats, Shaw and O’Casey. The Hugh Lane’s pane was Clarke’s original attempt to create the scene, but during its final firing, it developed a hairline crack. Clarke later remade this section. He had to replace it in the final work and in doing so changed the colour scheme from pink to blue.The Geneva Window was commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations building in Geneva in late 1920s but was deemed to be unsuitable by the then president of the executive council of the Irish Free State ,WT Cosgrave. In 1988 Clarke’s sons, David and Michael, sold it to a wealthy American art collector, Mitchell Wolfson, and today it’s displayed in his museum in Miami Beach, Florida.More detailed information and images of the Geneva Window can be found here and here.
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.
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
but a closer look revealed Celtic features, such as these capitals
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.
Inside there is a magnificent mosaic floor depicting the “River of Life”, (the colours haven’t come out on my photos, unfortunately)
All the “furniture and fittings” were beautifully crafted and full of detail
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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