Thursday, 19 April 2018

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

8 Ranger's Rd, London E4 7QH

Thursday 19 April 2018

Beautiful warm and sunny weather accompanied our train ride from Liverpool Street to Chingford for this interesting excursion.  Linda and were accompanied by Roger, the former 63 regular, who was somewhat bemused by our nostalgia for the Chingford bus station, neatly positioned next to the Overground.  But we did not need a bus, as it is a ten minute stroll into the outskirts of Epping Forest and to the Hunting Lodge.

 You know you are almost there when you pass the extremely pseudo-Tudor Premier Inn. The Lodge itself is whitewashed all over, as was apparently the norm at the time of its building.  

As Linda commented later, like the New River (neither new nor a river...) it is neither a Lodge, nor built for Queen Elizabeth, but the Victorians liked to associate anything then could with a previous great female ruler.
Before we went inside, we headed to the green space at the rear of the Lodge to admire the truly spectacular views over this edge of the Forest (perhaps I should explain, as we were told later, that the capitalisation is required because this was a Royal Forest, and as such subject to the Forestry Laws, which King John was forced to sort out alongside other issues in 1215.)

What you see indoors is made up of two parts.  First, we went into The View, as the Visitor Centre is aptly named.  We found this very interesting, which will indicate to those of you who remember that I can be resistant to being educated, the high quality of the displays.  There are two parts:  'who needs the Forest' was all about the different species which inhabit the Forest, and the different uses to which it is and has been put.  Information about the English Long Horn Cattle which now graze the glades, also told us about the Common Rights of ancient times and the attempts by rich landowners to fence parts of the Forest (about which more later). The advice to modern visitors was to enjoy the cattle, 'just try to avoid stepping in their flower dispersal systems', thus neatly making the point that cowpats are ecologically crucial.

The Forest has also been a place for leisure activities for centuries, though the coming of the railways meant a huge increase, as the East End poured its population into the countryside at weekends.  One of the entrepreneurs who set up Riggs Shelter, with refreshments for visitors, was told to supply toilets lest visitors made the Forest 'one perfect closet for their convenience'.

The veteran trees are also remarkable, some of the beeches being as much as 500 years old.  The Forest is very densely planted, with up to 800 trees per acre (compared to 70 in Richmond Park) and this is possible because of centuries of pollarding, or lopping as the Commoners' rights called it.  The poor wanted the branches for firewood; and once the 'bolling' that remains is too high for deer and cattle to munch, the tree can thrive and be lopped frequently.  When lopping was ended in 1878, the compensation built a community hall in Loughton, called Lopping Hall.
Ancient trees led seamlessly into an account of invertebrates, and therefore small bug munching mammals, and therefore owls and other birds.

The other part of the exhibition was about 'who saved the Forest' and here we got a wonderful combination of the great-and-good and the ordinary people. Octavia Hill wanted fresh air as well as good housing 'the poor should never be denied beauty' she said;  William Morris played in the Forest as a lad:  there was a charming cartoon of him saying 'I just can't stop drawing leaves'.  G B Shaw was also in favour of preserving the Forest as an openly accessible space, as was Thomas Nelson, the Solicitor who took up the case of the Commoners against the 16 Landlords (boooo!) who had fenced parts of the Forest. As we know, the right of pasturage and therefore of the openness of the Forest won the day.  And the wealthy City of London stepped in and purchased much disputed land for the public good.  Queen Victoria visited in the 1880s. to be greeted by civic displays and an arch.

But the less wealthy and influential also played their part.  There were serious demonstrations against the enclosures in the 1850s and 60s;  and in the 1970s when a motorway called the M16 was planned as a sort of pre-M25 ringroad, there were again major protests.

There was much more to enjoy, as well as a display of work by local artists, but it was time to move into the Hunting Lodge.

The very friendly staff gave us a brief introduction:  the building dates from 1543 which (as Nigel Molesworth would say, and as I have quoted before, 'any fule kno') was Henry VIII.  At that time it was called the Great Standing, and was a three storey timber frame, to enable the corpulent monarch to kill 'his' deer without getting onto a horse:  game would be driven into the courtyard, and the King and his courtiers would shoot from the upstairs.

The ground floor was set up as the kitchen.  We always enjoy fake food, particularly the venison pastries as described in a quote from Samuel Pepys. And we were impressed by the huge hams, presumably removed from the fire place which the cauldron of pottage was set set to simmer.

But most splendid of all were the decorations of the pies and pasties (pastry being as important as bread in those pre-potato days). There were apparently books of designs, as well I am looking for something more than diamonds next time Roger and Linda make a pie.

The room had some information about who used to poach the Royal deer, their names and histories being known from court records.

The stairs up to the first floor are wide and shallow, suitable the courtiers in posh frocks.  The story that Elizabeth I rode her horse up them after the defeat of the Armada sadly only dates from 1833, and so has to be taken with pinches of salt.

The upstairs room is for education, with the obligatory dressing up clothes, including ruffs and some attractive mens hats.

This would have been the level from which the shooting happened, so the floor upstairs (past a stuffed fallow deer) must have ben just to enjoy the view, or maybe a spot of dalliance (there was Tudor type music playing up here), and it was right to be reminded that the place existed because the Forest was a royal playground, long before it became a public pleasure.

 Did I mention that it is free to enter?  Lots of details here.  Even on a less beautiful day, this is well worth a visit.

Well, then it was time to move on, Roger and Linda to walk through the Forest to Loughton (using the Freedom Pass Walks book) and me to return to the station and so home.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Hayward Gallery

337-338 Belvedere Rd,
Lambeth, London SE1 8XX
(Better Known as the South Bank)

Thursday April 5 2018

Preamble: Apologies for our silence for nearly a month – this has been due to dentistry,  family trips, holidays and general life… also it has to be said that after four years on this project (we started in March 2014) we are finding it difficult to access the last few museums on our list. During our time devoted to visiting several galleries and museums have closed (Bromley) or moved (William de Morgan tiles) and some have indeed had a makeover and re-opened – the Postal Museum and the Hayward being amongst these.

The (first opened 1968)  Hayward Gallery had been showing its age and it was good to see it looking sprucer, cleaner and lighter. It basically has two floors and a kind of mezzanine with connecting ramps. It does not of course have a substantive/permanent collection but puts on temporary exhibition mainly of more modern artists. So this is where we presented ourselves alongside many others. The Hayward is quite accessible so it was good to see several wheelchair and buggy users enjoying the spaces.

The current exhibition features the photographic work of Andreas Gursky.  He was born 1955 in what was then East Germany but grew up and studied mainly round Dusseldorf. Interestingly, his parents ran a commercial photography studio and before long he had picked up the family Leica camera and was on his way… As photographers at the bottom of the talent pool (our partners can’t abide our shaky wonky efforts) we greatly admired the technical brilliance of his early conventional landscape shots where Gursky seemed able to capture every detail of vegetation whether in the fore or back ground so they can be enlarged without losing any of their crispness. Already his technical brilliance was evident in a shot of a cable car just visible in a mountain mist.

As Gursky grew more confident and also had the funds to travel more he became fonder of man-made structures – so architecture in the broadest sense.  Sometimes he gets up close and personal with a huge lighting system or in one case with the very grey utilitarian carpet of an art gallery and these grand scale interpretations are quite arresting without being disturbing. These verge on abstracts as the context of the lighting systems is absent.  The Montparnasse Brutalist housing block does give pause for thought as the viewer cannot fail to remember the troubles there have been along the ‘banlieue’...   

Not that he ignores humankind – there are excellent compositions of the Tokyo stock exchange (pretty devoid of colour) and the German Siemens  electronics factory which conforms to every expectation of the  worker as small cog in the wheel of global capitalism. To paraphrase his own words the clarity of the image execution belies the ambiguity of the subject matter…

Nowhere is this more true than in two of my favourites: the 99cent store and the airport departure boards. By now Gursky is using digital photography and he is able to duplicate/overlap and repeat images in strips which gives an apparent impression of realism while delivering a greater impact and message.
Like many artists he enjoys the same subjects to which he returns but gives them a different treatment and thus interpretation. After the early photos of the river Rhine he returns to this and by straightening and manipulating the images delivers something akin to a Rothko (only with ‘greener’ tones) and where the grey water looks almost as though it has been painted with thick oils. Aware too of environmental degradation he captures the negative human impact on our landscapes.

Nowhere is this more true than in his pictures of oil (?slicks) on water. These later compositions have a near abstract quality and we were also taken with his version of the Formula 1 Racetrack in the desert   of Bahrain – the black empty track has been chopped and joined randomly so leading nowhere but the overall impression is like a modernist work of art. Not that Gursky is humourless – obviously taken with the rituals of Formula 1 he has recorded two pit changes – the red versus the white teams – but exaggerated the number of mechanics needed. This reminded me of the joke whereby the race is not run on the track but is just between two teams changing the car wheels….

Some of his later work also tends to the deliberately blurry (as opposed to our own incompetence) but perhaps because they were quite dark we found them less absorbing. Having said that our attempt at a close up has quite a Monet-in-the-rain look about it… actually while trying to focus on his composition of  Vietnamese basket weavers turning out chairs for IKEA…

It was encouraging to see the gallery re-open with such a popular exhibition though by popular it does not mean that many of the works do not have the kind of content to make you reflect around the subject matter. One of us has some doubts about whether photography is an art form but on the basis of this show you would have to say that it is… Also like many artists – think of Picasso who could draw life-like doves aged 8 but went on to re-interpret them through his life in different formats – Gursky could take brilliantly executed photos at the start of his career yet was re-interpreting the same or similar subject matters in ever evolving ways throughout his working life.   

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The World Rugby Museum

Twickenham Stadium
Whitton Road

Thursday 8 March 2018

After the grim English showing in the Calcutta Cup Match, you may be surprised to learn that we visited this celebration of all things Rugby.  But we did, and found it very interesting.

The Museum is based in the enormous stadium, a short bus ride from Twickenham Station.  You enter through (and purchase your ticket in) the gift shop, and then take the lift in a rather unfinished looking area, to reach the galleries on the first floor.  The museum is very new and shiny, having been open for only a few months.  It was not very crowded, though a French school group passed through swiftly while we were there.

The Museum begins with an account of medieval football, where whole villages fought, bit, punched and kicked their way to victory.  Such games were banned from time to time as being too dangerous.  Moving into the private schools, football remained pretty fierce:  for example at Rugby School, the Big Side game involved the 75 students of School House against the 225 pupils of the other houses.  Because of the legend of William Webb Ellis's 'fine disregard for the rules' in picking up the ball and running with it, there was quite a lot about the School, and the various rituals involved in the game.  We had not known that WWE became Rector of St Clement Danes, an example , we thought, of muscular Christianity.

Things became more formalised in the 1870s, with the establishment of the Rugby Football Union, and the formulation of the Rules.  The handwritten first version is on display here, with a diagram of the standardised pitch, and definitions of 'punt' and 'place kick' and so on.  By 1909, after various rows, the International Rugby Board - now World Rugby - was established. We felt itchy as we examined the England Schoolboy jersey. made of wool...

Rugby spread across the Empire and the world, and there was a plan on the floor which showed the dates at which different nations succumbed to the lure of the game.  It was thought to have amazing character building properties.  Indeed, there is an episode in the Imperialist stories of Sanders of the River in which a Junior District Officer in West Africa puts an end to inter-tribal warfare by encouraging the local people to play Rugby instead.

There was a case of the shirts of different nations, ranging from the sober to the lurid, including such countries as Slovenia as well as more familiar ones.  It was not long before the marketing opportunities of such a major sport attracted attention, and we saw some splendid posters linking Rugby with smoking and drinking, among other pleasures

An interesting display grappled with the issue of Amateur status.  In the days when the working week included Saturdays, the provision of 'boot money' was essential for working men, and thus 'veiled professionalism' became a serious issue, especially in the Northern Union.  The problem of course was that the more wealthy players did not need such subsidising since, even if they were in employment, it was unlikely to involve Saturdays....

Next came a section about Twickenham itself, and the growth of the stadium since the early 20th century, with photos and plans to illustrate the ambition of the place.  There were gaps in the growth.  the pitch was used for grazing during the First World War, and for 'Dig for Victory' allotments in the Second.  It was also the local Civil defence HQ.  It was at this stage that we enjoyed the presents from around the world for the 25th anniversary, particularly the packets of seeds labelled 'Twix Mix' suitable for growing your own rugby pitch.  Since 2003, the stadium has been an important music venue, hosting, for example, the Rolling Stones, as you can see here.

The statue, demonstrating the core values of the game, was put up in 2010 and there were new dressing rooms in 2013, including recovery areas and hydrotherapy facilities.  How surprised William Webb Ellis and his team-mates would be.

We then needed a bit of recovery and went into the John Douglas room, to sit and watch a film, The Rose and the Poppy, narrated by Lewis Moody, about rugby players in the First World War.  A number of interviews, including with Harry Patch  are interspersed with photos and film and chilling statistics.  There were rugby leagues in the army, the navy, and the Royal Flying Corps.  According to the posters, 90% of rugby payers enlisted before the conscription act came into force in 1916;  certainly 28 players from London Irish died during the war.  The stadiums's own memorial for the centenary of the war is the beautiful Rose and Poppy Gate, made from German shell cases.

 A brief reference to the Olympic Games (Rugby has been in and out of the games for more than a century) brought us to some quite political stuff:  a section about Women's Rugby, and then a great deal of material about the South Africa Sports boycott and the end of Apartheid, culminating in statements from the 'keep politics out of sport' factions agreeing that the banning of international sport had eventually helped the final outcome of the struggle in South Africa. 

We saw material about wheel chair rugby, about teams for deaf, blind and learning disabled players and clubs for gay people, and also about rugby teams in prisons.

 One of my favourite exhibits was a 'touch the table' gadget, which played film, with subtitles (in two languages where appropriate) of the Six Nations teams singing their anthems. I never knew that the Italians sang about putting the helmet of Scipio on, or that the Flowers of Scotland were determined to send Edward's men home to think again (certainly worked in the Calcutta Cup match this year). On the other hand, the film of the All Blacks doing the Hacka just caused us to marvel that that seems to be the only sign of New Zealand's first nations on the Rugby pitch

 A little account of the development of the Seven-a-side game brought is to a mock-up of a dressing room with -yes! - dressing up opportunities.  This area was enlivened by opportunities to see how high and how fast one could move, as well as having a go on the rhino trainers for learning how to scrummage.

Here was also some careers advice about how to become a referee, a coach or a physio.

 A further gallery told us about Lions' and Barbarians' tours, though we did not know whether the torn shirt was the result of age or violent play; and we finished with a display about dinners, banquets and other celebrations, with accompanying menus and souvenirs, before we exited, as Banksy says, through the gift show.

We thought this museum measured up well to the other sporting museums we have visited (Lords, Wimbledon) and would certainly recommend a visit, though obviously we should prefer it to be in the flush of an English victory.