Saturday, 22 July 2017

Crofton Roman Villa

Crofton Road
Orpington, Kent
BR6  8AF

Friday July 14 2017

“Adjacent to Orpington Station” is one of the selling points of this volunteer run Museum, under the watchful eye of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit so we left our train and walked through the car park and the story of the museum proved to be a tale of car parks various. 

Research has shown that the Roman villa was built following the Romanisation of England in the 2nd Century and occupied and altered over the following 250 or so years. Its site was on a ridge overlooking the Cray valley below, though now what you notice most is that it appears to be on a slope between the station and the road both of whose foundations, back at the start of the last century, evidently destroyed much more of the remains than the comparatively small section available for public view today. Seemingly the building of the railway did not cause a stir amongst the archaeological community but by 1926 when the foundations for the new Civic Building were going up the first remains were discovered. Both the former town hall and the station did and do have car parks and while the latter were being extended again in 1955 (Orpington has always been prime commuting territory) there were some limited excavations but the site was given proper attention in 1988 and was opened in its current configuration four years later.

Research has also revealed that the original villa probably had about 16 rooms, until at some stage late in the 3rd Century the family retrenched to one end of the property at which point they updated the heating system seemingly as part of their ‘downsizing’. The building was sophisticated enough to have glass windows and a heavy roof, with pottery shards from ‘round the Empire’. The remains are such that you can walk round most sides and peer into the foundations – the rooms are numbered and the education officer pointed out the two styles of heating (both underfloor in the modern way) some with underfloor ducts and some with the floor raised on small pillars in part reconstructed. This was not a really sophisticated villa (or maybe multi coloured floor mosaics had gone out of fashion)   but the original floors were etheropus signinum (mottled pink concrete) or tessellated terra cotta tiles.

What was really impressive about this display was the wealth of educational material on display on small tables round the ruins. Here groups of visitors, particularly young visitors, could get seriously involved in a variety of activities. There was a table of Roman games complete with rules and replicas, dolls to dress, dressing up clothes from farm boy to senator, quiz sheets, trails and a range of Roman ‘brass rubbings’ figures dressed appropriately for their stature and place in the well explained Roman society. The walls are covered in charts explaining the life of a legionnaire, a child, a family, what they ate, and so on…

There is also a touch table with fragments from the dig (you can also dig for finds in a sand tray with appropriate archaeological trowel and brush) with numbers to indicate where they were found. Those artefacts which were found whole are available in reproduced forms to handle.

The volunteer on duty said when they were open they were fully booked with school groups and had just said good bye to the last one – it being the end of the school year. However they also run holiday activities.

For the more serious student there are large volumes covering all the ‘digs’ in Kent as a handy map shows there were far more villas around then you might think. Lullingstone Roman Villa  is more extensive and complete but lies beyond the M25. Because of two millennia  of building there are comparatively few Roman remains within Greater London and this is certainly the only villa  open to the public. Though the display is small the volunteers who manage it have maximized the impact and it makes a surprisingly refreshing visit.  
TheTown Hall building that started it all.....

PS Cray Picture from Stage II of London Loop 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Ham House

Ham Street
Ham
Richmond, TW10 7RS
Friday July 7 2017
(This entry guest/ghost-written by ’63 Regular’ as Linda was busy.)

Ham House was an easy add-on to our visit to the Richmond Museum – all it took was a pleasant mile or so’s almost entirely car-free stroll along the river on a path offering views of passing boats and a wide choice of benches for lunchtime sandwiches.  The planes, of course, flew over continuously but we were able to forgive even them on a beautifully sunny day.

Arriving this way your approach to Ham House is impressive: a stately 17th Century red brick façade behind a garden courtyard featuring hedges and topiary cones and cylinders of box (smelling wonderful in the sun), a plethora of carved pineapples and classical busts and a Coade-stone statue of Father Thames.

The house is surrounded by gardens.  To the left (as you look at the front) is the formally laid-out but rather misleadingly named Cherry Garden, which is actually given over almost entirely to lavenders and santolina; to the right the kitchen gardens, orchard etc, and behind the house an expanse of lawns and a ‘wilderness’ which is again a bit of a misnomer given that it is very neatly divided by hedges into a Union Jack pattern…

Ham House was originally built in 1610 on land leased from the royal family by Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I, for whom the river would have made a pleasant commuter route to work at court whether in London, Windsor, Richmond or Hampton Court.  After Vavasour died in 1620, the house went briefly to another tenant but in 1626 the house was leased by William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart, and by dint of some very astute politicking, inheritance and marriage management and general wheeler-dealering (not least through the difficult period of the Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration) Ham thereafter remained a Dysart family property through no fewer than nine Earls and Countesses – a confusingly large number of them called Lionel or Elizabeth – until it was donated to the National Trust in 1948.  An early example of a useful marriage was that between a Dysart heiress and the Duke of Lauderdale, who served a stint as Charles II’s Secretary of State for Scotland and was the ‘L’ in the King’s 'CABAL' kitchen cabinet.

Lauderdale apart, the family seems not to have made a conspicuous contribution to ‘public service’ in any of the traditional aristocratic forms – government, military or religious – but its history does throw up some spectacular alternations of wealth and debt, large broods of children and childlessness, lavish restoration of the house (the Duke and Duchess created several of the rooms you now see at Ham) and near total neglect, and hospitality and reclusiveness, all of which you can read about in the guide book or here.

We found the house itself imposing rather than inviting – the need to keep light levels low to protect the old panelling, tapestries, inlaid floors and leather wall coverings unfortunately make it all rather gloomy and there was nothing above stairs that encouraged you to think of it as a home where a family might actually have enjoyed living.  In this reaction, we seem to be echoing Horace Walpole, who visited the house in 1770 after one of his nieces married into the family.  Even that well-known lover of things Gothic(k) found it all a bit much: “The old furniture is so magnificently ancient, dreary and decayed, that at every step one’s spirits sink, and all my passion for antiquity could not keep them up.”  In the care of the National Trust, ‘decayed’ is no longer fair, but we wouldn’t argue too much with ‘ancient’ and ‘dreary’.

Visitors enter by the old main entrance, straight into the Great Hall which has an unusual first floor gallery and a fine black and white marble floor.  Pausing for the very dark (even by Ham standards) chapel, you come to the splendid Great Staircase with impressive wood carving and plasterwork, an action-packed painting of the Battle of Lepanto and a number of ‘after-Titian’ type pictures.


From the top of the stairs, you go back through the Hall at Gallery level, with many family portraits, into the North Drawing Room and then into the Long Gallery which is not actually as long as some we have seen but still provides hanging space for several more family portraits by Lely and others.  Opening off the Long Gallery is the Green Closet – a rare example of a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ surviving from before the Civil War when such showcases for treasured knickknacks were all the rage.  This one has many miniatures, and a 1630s ceiling which (the room guide was careful to tell us) was not decorated in situ but was actually made up of paper panels stuck to the ceiling after they had been painted.

Diagonally across the Long Gallery is the ‘new’ Library, constructed in the early 1670s: a pleasant working room rather than one for socialising or showing off (although the books on the shelves are not original to the house). The room guide pointed out that cedar wood darkens with age, so the room would have been lighter when built; he also pointed out some of the ‘unknowns’ on the 18th Century globe.

The highlight of this first floor, back on the Green Closet side, is a suite of Versailles-style State Apartments (Antechamber, Bed Chamber and Closet) built to entice visits from Charles II’s Queen, Catherine of Braganza.  You visit in a brief guide-led tour.  The rooms have spent much of the time since their installation shut off from the rest of the house, and are in excellent condition, with parquet floors, tapestry hung walls, decorated ceilings and fireplaces and grand furniture, though the state bed itself is no longer present.


Returning to the ground floor, you can view a majestic WC installed under the Great Staircase, with a wash basin offering three taps (‘soft’ in addition to the usual H&C) before you go on to the suite of apartments for the Duke and Duchess, each of whom originally had a similar set of rooms as in the Queen’s Apartment upstairs, arranged either side of the Marble Dining Room.  The Duchess very soon swapped bedrooms with the Duke so she could have easier access to a bathroom she installed in the basement, though they seem otherwise to have hung on to their own designated closets etc, which cannot have been convenient.  The Duchess’s original bedroom, later the Duke’s (keep up at the back) and subsequently a Drawing Room, is known as the Volury Room.  No, we didn’t know what that meant either: it is not in our Collins dictionary and Google defaults to ‘Voluntary’ but it evidently has to do with birds, as the Duchess originally had birdcages installed outside her bedroom windows.  Another confusing name is the Marble Dining Room, as the floor after which it was named (continuing the chequerboard pattern of the Hall) was later replaced by parquet, but it remains a fine room even if leather wall coverings are not to your taste.
  
From these apartments you pay a brief visit to a couple of rooms allocated to senior domestics and then out again into the daylight.  Round the side of the house you can gain access to some of the below-stairs areas: a volunteer was demonstrating the preparation of herbal posies and potions in the Still Room, and the Kitchen and Cellars clearly provide scope for visiting school parties to unwind a bit.  You can also visit the Duchess’s bathroom referred to earlier, a corrective to all our lazy assumptions about personal hygiene in the old days.

Out-buildings accommodate shops, café and loos, and lead into the gardens, which we enjoyed very much.  Part of the Kitchen Garden is given over this year to growing  the 35+ ingredients for a ‘Grand Salad’ that the website describes as ‘a 17th Century showstopper’ inspired by the writings of John Evelyn: you can get a taste (ho ho) of Evelyn’s thoughts on ‘Sallets’ in this other blog.

We had a bit of a wander through the Wilderness and also lingered in the so-called Cherry Garden, which is wonderful, though bee-lovers might think the determination to grow all those lavender and cotton lavender bushes as attractively coloured tufts of leaf rather than for their flowers is a bit unfair.


Personally, we would put Ham House in the ‘interesting rather than uplifting’ category of stately home, though we feel a bit guilty saying so, as the property is very well looked after and everyone we met – whether staff or volunteer – was helpful, efficient and enthusiastic.  We still found plenty to look at, and the gardens (and the tea room) are a good way of raising your spirits after visiting he house.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Richmond Museum

2nd Floor, Old Town Hall
Whittaker Avenue
Richmond TW9 1TP
Friday July 7 2017


Jo has a series of booked holidays and other commitments so luckily the husband formerly known as 63 regular (no longer such as he has now retired) volunteered to be my photographer. Given the fine weather we headed slightly ‘out of town’ to very accessible Richmond and its museum.

Like most borough museums it is part of the Library Service and as such is housed upstairs in the Old Town Hall – a rather sweet specimen of town hall architecture close to the river. I am not sure where Richmond now runs its affairs from – it is something of a London anomaly especially in its choice of MPs – but the Town Hall does nicely for the Museum. (Twickenham I'm told) 

The first thing we learn is that Richmond was not always Richmond, having started its (medieval) life as Shene or Sheen, but it does have a long history of royal connections and this to a greater extent has marked its development as an area. Edward III was the first monarch to decide to build here – a handy journey upstream from London. (Henry V would later found England’s largest Carthusian Abbey/Monastery nearby when these things mattered.)  When Edward’s palace burnt down another was hastily built and then another – by this time we had got to Henry VII. Henry had an earldom up in Richmond Yorkshire and so liked the Thames-side  residence he decided to rename it in honour of his ‘other home’ and the name stuck. The ‘Shene’ bit got relegated to the right and renamed East Sheen. His son spent time here but then cast envious eyes on Wolseley’s residence along (I’m never very  good with up/down)  the river at Hampton.
Henry VIII’s presence at Hampton Court meant that his various followers (and detractors) all tended to move to these ‘still handy for London’ outskirts so the various houses that went up here all  belonged to what sounded like the ‘cast list’ from  'Wolf Hall'.

By this time I was thinking whether Richmond had ever been home to any ‘ordinary people’ but there was a  board setting out very clearly the manorial system' and even more so the ‘dues’ of those at the bottom of the heap to those above them. '


With the large Charterhouse Monastery destroyed (Cromwell this time) and the palace in ruins after Charles I,  with bits recycled up and down the streets things seem to have gone a bit quiet. No less than five Royal parks had been established (today Richmond and Old Deer parks) so there was never going to be a building boom. We liked the keys for the parks and also Richmond Bridge keeper’s leather money bag for tolls. Crossing the river hereabouts was always an issue – there was a ford at Brentford (no s**t Sherlock), a bridge at Kingston and a ferry (which still exists between Richmond and Ham House) so any locality with pretensions needed its own bridge. The money was raised, not quite by public subscription by via the Tontine system a sort of combination of shares and lottery with the ‘last guy standing’ taking all the shares (and any profit). Still it resulted in Richmond getting its bridge, a forerunner of the current one. The little trumpeter is a replica from said bridge.



 The next major phase of development seems to have come with the Georgians, III in particular, where the Age of Enlightenment and the fashion for spas coincided. Not having waters  to  drink other than the rather dubious Thames meant Richmond ‘s life was rather limited as a spa town but George III did establish a Royal observatory here.  Richmond was fashionable for longer than it was considered a spa boasting a theatre (Edmund Kean was often seen and heard declaiming his Richard III)  and both inns and hotels as visitors came from London for all sorts of pleasures.

There are the usual displays of clay pipes and pots including a rather fine ‘Bellarmine’ originally from Germany and poking fun at the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Again with limited local industry development of smaller homes seemed limited to tradesmen’s establishments. There is a corner with chairs where you can watch videos celebrating the details of fine architecture (cornices/lintels/architraves etc) in the grand houses round Richmond Green and radiating out from there. It does not seem to be a coincidence that the Lord Mayor of London ‘retired’ to Richmond and was promptly elected its first mayor.


The boards tell us that ‘the railways made Richmond’ or with three local stations (as seen on an old estate agents board’ it became (and remains) prime commuting territory and continued its dominance as a venue for ‘a good day out’ offering riverside treats and many inns, and by the Thirties several cinemas.  There were souvenirs to be had, a proper transport map to guide you around of course the option for souvenirs.
The only industry it seemed to boast was that rayon was developed here, with two organic chemists Cross and Bevan forming the Kew Viscose Spinning syndicate. They eventually sold out to Courtaulds but I did learn that Viscose and modal are all derivatives of rayon; this last is hardly used today with its connotations of post war austerity.

As is now expected the local museums will look at the impact of both World Wars on their boroughs and people. The museum seems to consider the impact of the first war to be minimal (what about the loss of life at the front?) and certainly there was no local damage. Ironically however it was  the war that gave Richmond two of its most memorable institutions and both were linked in their aims to help the wounded servicemen of the war – namely the Poppy Factory and the Star & Garter Home.  The latter started life as a hotel, becoming grander and grander, but then falling out of fashion so became a home for those same disabled servicemen until they were moved to  more suitable  premises in 2013; as a listed building it is now a very prestigious and pricey housing development.  

There is the bomb damage map on display from World War II and also an installation where you can listen to the oral history memories of both world wars by former Richmond residents. We liked the handmade ARP and Home Guard dolls that a daughter had made from her father’s original uniforms.



Post war development in Richmond has been limited – a few estates in the Fifties but little since then and what has been is mainly commercial. With no major employers there seems to have been little in the way of an invited (as per ‘Windrush’ ) or subsequent overseas workforce leaving one very much with one’s initial impression that Richmond is well …for the rich. I t certainly has an interesting  history as a borough and area but it is one that lacks the diversity and vibrancy of many of the other London boroughs – or at least as portrayed through its very neat and well captioned museum.    

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Arsenal Museum

Emirates Stadium
Hornsey Road
London N7 7AJ

Thursday June 29 2017

At my request we had deferred this visit until after half-term (obviously) and more importantly until after the 2017 Cup Final, in which of course Arsenal beat one of their serious rivals Chelsea – 2-1. I have to declare an interest here as being both the daughter of a now deceased season ticket holder (Highbury) and the mother of two Emirates season ticket holders.   However as only having been to one live match in my life it’s more a matter of having lived with the highs and lows of being a football supporter at one remove, than being a true fan. This Museum  is clearly aimed at the true fan. Not being such, we opted for the Museum visit only rather than the somewhat pricey Stadium tour combination.

Still, a daytime visit allows the visitor  to admire the Stadium, both from afar (we approached along the Holloway Road) and up close as you have to circulate the ground to get to the museum. We started at the South End where the benches are named after various star footballers and the ground is covered with little metal plaques bought by supporters in their own or others’ memory. The family’s younger season ticket holders had commemorated their granddad’s enthusiasm (and he of course introduced them to the game and club) with an engraving though it now looks rather scuffed. The white benches seemed a good idea as you could arrange to meet your mates by the Robert Pires or Dennis Bergkamp before a match.

I’ve always been a sucker for a stadium from the Roman arenas onwards and was pleased to see there was generous circulating space all round before going through security/turnstiles to the seats and grounds. Equally generous is the toilet provision though we found it odd that the Ladies had no mirrors…?


The Museum is in fact the other side of the walkways and is built into the basement of a doubtless quite pricy block of flats which seems to be part of the same development. We did have some issues with the layout of the Museum (last refurbished July 2016) as it has four short dead –end corridors/display areas which does not make for a flowing experience. There were enough visitors today, without it being crowded, to mean there is a certain mound of stepping aside.  The displays themselves are well lit and captioned – there are no interactive options which may be a good thing as more often than not these can be and remain frustratingly ‘out of order’, which has been our experience elsewhere. The displays are interspersed with large font captions quoting      past or present managers or other commentators which have been well selected to highlight the changing history and fortunes of the club. (If you want the ‘Thomas charging through the midfield … it’s up for grabs now’ moment you need to take a seat in the little cinema at the end…  or just look on   Youtube )    

Arsenal is so firmly rooted in North London that it is easy to forget its origins among the ordnance workers of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, who decided it might be fun to have a football team,  put sixpence into a pot to that end, and eventually found themselves playing on Plumstead marshes. Lest anyone should forget. By 1891 they had been successful enough to turn professional. There is a surprising amount of recognisable memorabilia from this era – team photos, programmes and even a season ticket – all items we tend to think of as more modern. By 1913 the club had moved to North London and there are huge photos of supporters hanging on to all levels of the scaffolding as the Highbury stands go up. Those are the kind of faces you see in all the pictures of soldiers on the front during the First War and it is of course this generation that would have gone off to fight.   And here was one of the mysteries of this museum – there was no mention of outside influences or events – that is neither war, the Depression or even the globalisation of football in this century though there is a map showing the origins of many of the recent football stars and the various international supporters’ groups. You might have thought between the teams of fit young men and the predominantly male supporters the wars might have led to some ‘fall-off’ in performance or attendance??

Whatever the situation the club thrived through the Thirties largely thanks to one man – Herbert Chapman who had many innovative ideas that shaped the club – so not only were the Arsenal leaders in England they began to have world fame . In 1931 Chapman introduced one of the most famous kits with the contrasting sleeves and the gun logo – two elements which have persisted in spite of some more florid interpretations along the way…    (thankfully mainly confined to away strips) Some of Chapman’s quotes are set alongside panels of his most famous players: Cliff Bastin, Alex James,  and Joe Mercer who joined the team at the mature age of 32 playing on till 1954 when he broke his leg.

Football resumed in 1946 with Arsenal gaining their first post war Title in 1947, with Joe Mercer still playing. The History of Arsenal from then on is impressive by any standards – significant wins at successive Cup Finals and then winning the League when it  became as prestigious, even if not more so, than the knockout competitions . The managers’ contributions and achievements are analysed and their star players too get panels – this part of the exhibition is of course very colourful as we are well into the era of colour photography and film. Managers featured include Bertie Mee, who managed through the Sixties and early Seventies, on to George Graham and finally of course the present incumbent  Arsene Wenger. It has to be said that not many other clubs could have organised their exhibits round managers as not many other clubs stick with their managers to this extent…  Additionally there are boots, rosettes, shirts, programmes and trophies from specific and memorable matches plus credit for the team of the Invincibles.
 .


Although you can deduce the sponsors from the text on shirts their role is not looked at considering what a significant contribution they make. 


There could be no history of Arsenal without reference to its grounds; Highbury, built as it was through the Thirties had a workaday Art Deco glamour to it and of course an intimacy, as it held comparatively few spectators. With the need for all seater venues and to raise more revenue the move was finally made to the current location in 2006. The listed facades of Highbury were retained and turned into flats and to our delight the centre spot (looking a little desiccated)  was preserved and is on display here!

The move took place in 2006 with the final match played and won in May – there are photos of tearful fans – and the 2006-7 season played at the new very splendid venue. The club did well   to stay so local (Wimbledon to Milton Keynes anyone?) and continues to be very much part of the community. There are sections (where the four historical ‘wings’ meet) which confirm Arsenal’s place in the world, its world players in Arsenal and the various charities and groups it represents. There has been a women’s team since 1987 and of course junior and outreach services.

We emerged after just under an hour; for me more than Jo some child hood memories evoked by the early matches and names of the Fifties when Saturdays at home were dominated by ‘an early lunch ‘ so my father could drive(!) to the 3PM  home fixtures, later triumphs endlessly discussed or debated  by our younger fans till  they left home, and yes I nearly sent them to bed (it was a school night) before Michael Thomas ran down that pitch… thank goodness for the action replay.     


Above all this is a museum for fans and also allows the visitor a glimpse into the stadium – there are stadium tours additionally but we emerged sufficiently more knowledgeable and were impressed to see an Accessibility Cycle scheme in action with a variety of tandems (side by side and regular), adapted bikes, bicycles with wheelchair platforms being well used by the community who were using the broad promenade area to ride in circuits, and seemed to indicate accessibility was more than lip service.