I was down in the Big Smoke last Wednesday, staying near County Hall, which is on the south bank of the Thames near Westminster. It had been a hot sunny day so I went out for a stroll during the evening after I'd eaten
I spotted the tower of this rather splendid red brick Art Deco style building while I was in Greenwich last week so wandered over to have a closer look.
The tower belongs to Meridian House, the former Greenwich Town Hall which was built in 1938-9 to a design by Clifford Culpin. Its original use was as a municipal facility including offices, and included a civic suite and public hall but was sold off by the London Borough of Greenwich in the 1970s and now houses the Greenwich School of Management and private flats. The Borough Hall is occupied by “Greenwich Dance” .
The elegant clock tower is the building’s most prominent feature and was apparently influenced by the work of the Dutch architect W. M. Dudok, paricularly the Hilversum Town Hall. It was designed not only to function as both a clock tower but a public observation tower so local residents could view the Royal Naval College and the Thames.
According to Pevsner the building was
“the only town hall of any London borough to represent the style of our time adequately”. (Buildings of; England, London 2: South)
This giant ship in a bottle can be seen near the rear entrance to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It’s by the Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE.
The ship is a model of Nelson’s flagship, Victory, but with the sails made of the Dutch Wax printed fabrics (African style fabrics) he uses extensively in his work.
‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ was the 2010 Fourth Plinth Commission, and was displayed in Trafalgar Square, London, until January 2012.
The Queen’s House at Greenwich is primarily used as a gallery to display art from the Maritime Museum’s collection. The works are mainly paintings of ships, naval battles, trade, diplomacy, exploration, and scientific discovery and portraits of kings and naval notables. Much of this of only cursory interest to myself. However, there were a number of works that appealed. Here are some of them.
I rather liked this painting by Evelyn de Morgan, a rare female Pre-Raphaelite. I’d seen a small exhibition of her work at Blackwell last year.
The Sea Maidens by Evelyn de Morgan
I rather liked this Dutch delftware tile panel picture of whaling vesels. The gallery’s information panel tells us that such panels were popular in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th Centuries and were used to decorate fireplaces, kitchens and dairies.
Delftware tile panel
Opposite was a modern take on the tile panel picture by Tania Kovats
Sea Mark (2014) by Tania Kovats
This painting of a stormy sea rather reminded me of some paintings by Maggi Hambling I’d seen at the Lowry in Salford back in 2009. We’re going to Whitby in a few months and I hope the weather is kinder.
Rain, Rainbow and Stormy Seas, North Cliff, Whitby (1974) by Godfrey Coker
And nearby, another rough sea a little further up North Sea coast.
View of Whitley Bay, Northumberland (1909) by John Falconer Slater
I recognised the subject of the upper painting in this pair of portraits even before I read the information panel – It’s Emma Hamilton (nee Hart) – and below her is a portrait of her famous lover, Horatio Nelson.
I’d also guessed correctly that the artist was George Romney, originally from Kendal. We’ve become very familiar with his work during our visits to Abbot Hall in his home town. Emma Hart was his muse – he painted over 60 paintings of her, often portraying historical and mythological characters. Abbot Hall, for example, have a painting of her portraying Miranda from Shakespeare’s Tempest.
I liked this textile hanging by Alexander Hardie Williamson, produced for Yarrow Shipbuilders of Glasgow, inspired by ships built on the Clyde. Alas, not much left of that once great industry in Glasgow, or Britain, for that matter.
There were also some displays of contemporary art.
An imagined meeting between ancient Greeks and the Maori of New Zealand brought about by the arrival of the Endeavour in the late eighteenth century.
Portrait of Captain James Cook with a Classical Urn from the Collection of the Admiralty (2005) by Marian Maguire
This series of images from Michelle Stuart’s
arranges astronomy-themed photographs in a grid, lending a narrative character to her poetic pieces.
It combines sights of star clusters, galaxies and nebulae with fireworks, on which Stuart has placed images of telescopic or photographic antique lenses. The lenses invite us to consider the importance of telescopes and cameras in the development of astronomical knowledge.
Drawing on Space (2011) by Michelle Stuart
and in the same room some old educational posters showing celestial bodies
In one of the rooms on the ground floor there was a photographic exhibition Shorelines which
presents life on the British coast and the evolving practice of photography for over 100 years, showing the documentary capacity of the camera and the artistic appeal of photographs
An interesting example of a glass-silver negative on glass
The Sennen Rocket Brigade Rescuing Crew from the Steamship City of Cardiff, Lands End (1912)
A modern documentary series of 32 portraits of men and women working in the Moray Firth fishing community on the North East coast of Scotland, shot on location in harbours, shipyards, factories and sheds between 2009 and 2012.by Paul Duke
At Sea: A Portrait of a Scottish Fishing Community (2012) by Paul Duke
and imaginative contemporary works pushing the boundaries of photography.
This work by Tessa Traeger is from a series created from glass plate negatives she inherited from her grandmother’s cousin, a keen amateur photographer and co-owner of a chemist shop in Tunbridge Wells
Chemistry of Light No 41 Bank Holiday Crowd (2014) by Tessa Traeger
Traeger was particularly drawn to those where the silver gelatin emulsion was decaying, and, photographing these with mirrors or back-lighting, created works that are at once ghostly and charming. With her series, Traeger captures the atmosphere of the time in which the photographs were initially taken, whilst evoking a sense of things past, and lost. (Museum website)
Susan Derges’ ‘Starfield Shoreline’
combines camera-based and camera-less techniques: a view of the heavens, taken in a backyard observatory in South Taunton with a 5/4 Linhof field camera; and a wave sweeping the shoreline, captured on light-sensitive paper laid on the waters edge, exposed to moonlight and a microsecond of flashlight as a wave passes across it. By overlaying the seashore with the image of a star field, Susan Derges connects the ocean and the cosmos, life on Earth to the wider universe. (Museum website)
Starfield Shoreline (2009) by Susan Derges
There’s much more to see. I expected to spend no more than an hour in the Queen’s house, but by the time I’d finished looking around found that about two hours had passed.
“It landed like a Classical spaceship on a Tudor site”
The Queen’s House in Greenwich was the first Classical style house in Britain (although Jones’ other masterpiece, the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall was completed before it) and so an extremely important building in the history of English architecture. It was designed by Inigo Jones, initially for James’s 1st’s wife, Anne of Denmark, although she never saw it dying shortly after construction had started. It was finally completed in1635.when it was given by Charles 1 to his wife Henrietta Maria. At the time it was built it was part of the Tudor Greenwich Palace, also known as the Palace of Placentia, the birthplace of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1, but couldn’t have looked more different than the rambling medieval collection of red brick buildings. Simple and elegantly proportioned, it was revolutionary for it’s time.
Today the house is part of the National Maritime Museum and can be visited free of charge. It underwent a 14-month restoration beginning in 2015, and reopened on October 11, 2016. It is used to display the Museum’s collection of maritime related paintings and also some temporary exhibitions. It’s also hired out for weddings, corporate events and the like so it’s important to check if it’s open or whether parts of the building are closed before visiting to avoid disappointment.
There have been a number of changes to the original design. It was originally H shaped – with the north wings linked by a bridge over a road that went right through the centre of the building, the main Woolwich to Deptford thoroughfare, following the line of today’s Doric collonades. The east and west “bridge rooms”, that completed the rectangle, were added later by Charles II.
Today the entrance is in the north front, with it’s curved staircase and balustraded terrace which were later additions. However, the original entrance was in the south front of the building leading into the ground floor room known as the Orangery.
The collonades were added in the early 19th century when the house was used as part of the Royal Hospital School for the sons of seamen, linking the house to two large flanking pavillions (the west one now forming the main part of the National Maritime Museum).
Entrance to the house is via the ground level door which takes visitors into the reception in the house’s cellar. Climbing up to the ground floor I came to the bottom of one of the building’s most photogenic features, the Tulip Staircase.
This was the first centrally unsupported helical staircase in England. The stairs are supported by being cantilevered from the walls and each tread rests on the one below.
This is Jones’ Great Hall. A perfect cube forty feet in length, breadth and height.
The ceiling originally had an elaborate painted ceiling – An Allegory of Peace and the Arts – by Orazio Gentileschi but it was removed when it was given by Queen Anne to her “favourite” Sarah Churchill, and today can be found in the latter’s former house, Marlborough House on the Mall.
During the recent restoration the Turner-prize winner Richard Wright was commissioned to redo the ceiling. Working with a team of five assistants, he’s created a contemporary design covering the ceiling and the upper part of the walls. A gold leaf fresco of abstract, flower like forms inspired by the Tulip Staircase.
Traditionalists may not agree but I think it’s stunning and complements the Classical design.
There’s a more traditional painted ceiling in the “Queen’s Presence Chamber” – a design commissioned from either of two court artists, John de Critz or Matthew Gooderick, which includes an allegory of ‘Aurora dispersing the shades of Night’.
On the opposite side of the building the “Kings’s Presence Chamber” is richly decorated with gold leaf on the ceiling, cornice and pillasters
Leading down to the “Orangery”, the original entrance to the house, is the elegant South Staircase
It follows Inigo Jones’ design but has been completely reconstructed as this part of the house was drastically altered in the 19th Century when it was being used as part of the school. The wrought-iron balustrade was brought from Pembroke House in 1936 to replace cast-iron balusters and a heavy handrail that had been installed during the alterations.
Other than the above (and the Orangery which I didn’t photograph) there was little of architectural interest to see as the other rooms were devoted to art and other items on display. More about that in another post (as this one is long enough). But a visit is a must for anyone interested in the history of architecture in England.
The Greenwich foot tunnel under the Thames was opened on 4 August 1902 as a means for dock workers who lived on the south side of the river to reach their workplaces on the Isle of Dogs.
It’s about 1/4 mile long, free to use and open 24 hours a day.
I took the spiral staircase down to the bottom
and then walked across to Greenwich
No cycling allowed
Hmm. Obviously the rules don’t apply to these guys. Walking back through the tunnel when I was heading back to my hotel around 6 o’clock I was nearly hit several times by inconsiderate cyclists speeding past in the narrow passage.
This is the way you’re supposed to do it
At the Greenwich end of the tunnel I cheated and took the lift back to ground level – to be greeted by this view.
The Cutty Sark
and a view towards Hawksmoor’s St Alfege’s church
I was down in London on Thursday to run some training in Canary Wharf. I travelled down around midday on Wednesday so I had some time in the afternoon to suss out the venue and then spend a little time looking around. I had in mid going over to Greenwich to take a look at the Queen’s House so decided to walk down from Blackwall, where I was staying, along through the former docklands and cross the river via the foot tunnel at the end of the Isle of Dogs peninsula.
It was bright and sunny when I left home but on the train journey we hit thick cloud that was blanketing the south of England so it was grey and gloomy, and not good for photography, all the time I was in London, while back home there were bright blue skies.
Canary wharf is at the top of the Isle of Dogs, London’s historic dockland. With the closure of the docks during the 1970’s onwards the area became dilapidated and neglected. However, towards the end of the twentieth Century the area started to be redeveloped with the construction of Canary Wharf and improved transport links and the old docks are now surrounded by skyscrapers and expensive housing developments and has become a major financial district.
The development continues and in every direction there were cranes and the skeletons of new buildings being constructed.
It’s not an area I’ve visited before so I took the opportunity to explore. I set off from the Ibis hotel near to the Blackwall DLR station where I was staying making my way towards Canary Wharf
I crossed the South Dock on the modern cable stay footbridge
and carried on through the maze of concrete, glass and steel skyscraper office blocks and Yuppie housing developments. There were some remnants of the area’s industrial past
Rather than walk along the main roads I stuck to the paths alongside the water. Although no longer used for commercial shipping, some of the docks have been developed for use by pleasure craft and some houseboats were moored up in the MiIlwall Inner Dock.
I passed restaurants and shops serving the new residents. However, it all felt rather souless and lacking in real atmosphere.
Interestingly, there were some signs of wildlife in this concrete jungle
Eventually, towards the south end of the peninsula I reached an area of traditional “two up, two down” semi-detached houses that that at one time would have been homes for dock workers
I skirted the edge of Millwall Park
At the bottom end there was a sculpture by the the British sculptor Frank Dobson
A short distance further and I reached the small Island Gardens park at the end of the peninsula where I was greeted by a great view over the river of the old Naval Hospital designed by Wren with the help of Hawksmoor, with the Queen’s House visible in between the two domed buildings.
The entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel is also in the park
Time to go underground and cross the river.