Saturday, 25 October 2014

De La Warr Pavilion

A family day at the seaside in October in glorious weather,
saw us heading to Bexhill on Sea.
 With a promise of visiting the

We could not have wished for bluer skies,
an amazing backdrop to this beautiful white building.

Ever since I heard about its re-opening in 2008,
having been shut for five years for renovations,
and Grayson Perry curating the opening exhibition 'Unpopular Culture',
I have wanted to visit.

Aesthetically it's a modernist building

built in 1935,

in the Art Deco style.

Researching about the De La Warr Pavilion on their website,
I read that'
"Modernism, which had started as an expression of national culture,
...adopted a politically informed position.
The Pavilion design is an expression of a specifically social and moral agenda,
...incorporated into an aesthetic philosophy".

In 1932, the mayor, the 9th Earl De La Warr, a junior minister in the National Labour Party,
 launched a "competition for the design of a seaside Pavilion which was to provide culture and entertainment for the masses – a people‘s palace".

It worked, it still has a people's palace feel about it.
Where people can take time,

to meet up

see exhibitions,

gather for open-air performances
round this 2001 movable band-stand,


and admire the view.

Honestly there were loads of people milling about on this gorgeous sunny day,
I just picked my moments to take these photos.

Coming out of the lifts, we spotted this,
the Bexhill Mural.
We couldn't work out why it was tucked down a narrow corridor by the lifts.
But I've since found out why.

Not the original, this is a copy,
done by a "member of staff at the De La Warr Pavilion,
...who painstakingly copied the mural onto canvas".
Originally designed by Edward Wadsworth,
this one is done by a local (I presume), Michael Howard.
Well done Michael Howard!

Back to the corridor...
...well the original, in the restaurant, faded on account of all that glass,
big windows and high light levels.
It has been restored but we didn't see it, it is tucked away safely, away from glass and light.

It hasn't always been a people's palace,
when the Second World War began in 1939,
the De La Warr Pavilion was temporarily closed and forced into blackout.
The first floor was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to house the Southern Command.

As an arts centre, the De La Warr Pavilion holds strong to its modernist roots
of improving people's lives through technology, architecture and the like.
Having looked at how they're doing, they say of themselves...
..."We are an integral part of people’s lives and stories
but not always in the ways we expected.
We discovered that we are valued not only because of what we do but how people use us
- as a place to meet friends and family, to enjoy the food, the weather and the view.
These are relationships that have been “under the radar” for us for many years
and we are excited that they have been uncovered as being at the heart of who we are."

Getting into the spirit of things,
 of self improvement and progress through architecture, exhibitions and coffee,
we went to the De La Warr Pavilion as a family, me, my mum and sisters in-law,
for a coffee on the first floor where we sat in the sun and enjoyed the view
making the most of the people's palace.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Roman Armour from Italy, mostly.

There are objects in museums you think you are familiar with,
armour being one of them.
I've got kids,
they had knights
in plastic, playmobil and lego.

Then last week with a friend, in the British Museum, we spotted these...

Bronze foot guards.
They weren't in our playmobil set
and playmobil make the smallest of accessories.
This was perhaps, along with the real reason foot guards may have become obsolete,
they were too cumbersome.

We loved the fact that the Romans who made these,
had tried to overcome the 'cumbersome-ness' of the foot-guards with practical hinges.
We genuinely did not know that hinges existed in 520BC.
But hang on, they had doors back then.

Much of the armour looked as if it had been moulded on real people,
with knobbly knees...
Bronze greaves (shin guards) 520-480BC

...and muscular chests.
Roman cuirass (breastplate) 4th century BC

Though not all,
this had an 'action-man-chest' look about it.

Then there are helmets,

with questionable practicality,

but with a 'don't-mess-with-me' look about them.

Eventually, sometime after 400BC,
"the eye-holes became so small and close as to be non-functional
and they finally disappeared from the design altogether".
 I think they made the right call there.

Having to be practical wasn't a consideration in the design and manufacture of this armour.

Breastplate and helmet made of crocodile skin.

Made for processional purposes,

for a Crocodile cult in Egypt, 

The most modern of the armour in this blog post,
it has been radio-carbon dated to the 3rd or 4th century AD.

For me, the most intriguing information about this crocodile armour
was how it came to the British Museum, from Egypt to Britain.
It was presented by Mrs Andrews in 1846.

Who was Mrs Andrews?
Why did she have this in her possession?
Had it been in her family for all/most of the fifteen-hundred years of its life?
Where did she keep it?
How often did she get it out and look at it?
Who did she show it to?
Did she ever wear it?
Did she belong to a Crocodile cult?

We can only guess at these answers.
However (though probably not a popular thought with the British Museum curators),
I would love to think that it has served as armour over the centuries,
for children to dress up in,
for all those games of soldiers and war,
long before the days of plastic. 

See armour for yourself at the British Museum.
Details on their website here.


@RockaroundCroc from the British Museum has been in touch
with an answer to my question;
Who was Mrs Andrews?
She was married to Edward James Andrews, a painter and draughtsman.
He produced drawings and plans of the pyramids for H. Vyse,
an anthropologist and Egyptologist in the 19th century.
He died aged 31, and five years after his death
Mrs Andrews donated this crocodile skin to the British Museum.
Two years after this the Andrews' Egyptian collection was sold off at auction.

And @RockaroundCroc, 
well he/she's a Nile Crocodile god, an Egyptian mummy at the British Museum.
Who better to answer my question!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Horsey Windpump

This is Horsey Windpump,
a wind powered drainage pump, now a National Trust property,
by Horsey Mere on the Norfolk Broads.
Right by where we moored up for the night.

I haven't been to many windpumps
but with memories of Camberwick Green and Windy Miller,
I naively assumed that all mills milled flour.

However I should have put two and two together,
we saw a lot of water
and not much wheat.

To explain what this windpump did,
once powered by wind, now powered by diesel,
"an often easily understood analogy
is that of the pump pumping water off a bathroom floor up into the bath
and out through the plug hole into the sea."
Here's the thing,
many rivers of the Norfolk Broads are higher than the surrounding land.

Easily understood analogy or not,
the work of the windpump was vital.

Horsey Windpump was a wind powered drainage pump
until it was put out of action by a lightning strike in 1943.
This was during the Second World War
and it was left unrepaired due to a shortage of timber.

They would have needed Scandinavian Pine for the vertical shaft,

 and Hornbeam for any wooden teeth on the cogwheels.

The broads and rivers take this water out to sea,
providing holiday makers over the years with fabulous places to play

and to moor up for the night.

 As with all good National Trust properties, there's the obligatory tea shop. 

The smallest National Trust tea shop that I've ever been to,
with the kindest proprietor.
Moored up with no bread for our lunch,
she picked me up a loaf from the co-op, on her way to work.

Whilst you're there,
a less-than-a-mile walk to takes you to the coast.
Where you may/will (depending on the time of year)
be rewarded with seals.

For more information and some photos of the windpump with sails still attached,

If Camberwick Green means nothing to you?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Dr Johnson's House

You get off the train at City Thameslink,
have a coffee at a well known coffee chain,
walk past shiny glass offices, high rise buildings and ubiquitous shops.

At one point it seems like you could be in any anonymous modern metropolis.
Except you're not, you're in the City of London,
London's financial and business centre,
where small (in comparison to the huge buildings that surround them)
pieces of history survive.

With the help of a scrappy photocopied map
and a smart phone that neither of you really know how to use,
you eventually find yourself here,
Gough Square,
the home of Dr Johnson.

 Dr Samuel Johnson was a truly sociable fellow,
entertaining 'clergy, politicians, preachers, actors, forgers and even murderers'.
Visitors are still welcome.

It is a beautifully preserved 18th century home.

Spread over four floors.

Samuel Johnson, for fear of being alone, after his wife had died,
surrounded himself with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.

Friends came in person
and now remain in perpetuity on his Withdrawing Room walls.
 The Withdrawing Room, used by women,
who withdrew from the company of men after mealtimes.

Dr Johnson's house may be quiet now but it is said in his biography,
"how uncomfortable (Johnson's) home was made
by the perpetual jarring of those whom he charitably accommodated under his roof". (Boswell)

With so many visitors,
you wonder how Dr Johnson had time to write that dictionary of his.

A poor man of ill health, he wrote out of necessity.
A group of book sellers commissioned Johnson to write
a Dictionary Of The English Language,
which was published in 1755.
It was an instant best seller at £4 10 Shillings
and was the dictionary to turn to for over 100 years.

It was published in two volumes
and a facsimilie is available in the house for visitors to read today.

He had a bit of fun with some (most) definitions,
including over 110,000 quotes from English Literature.
Apparently the verb 'to put' has over 100 variations of meaning.
I wish I'd looked it up at the time.
He included plenty of wit too.
When questioned about some of his definitions, he replied,
"I must have my sport".

Here's a little of 'his sport'.
Available at the cheaper price of 35 pence in the gift shop, on a postcard.
Tea keeps me amused.
Am I idle?

With Dr Johnson long gone,
his desire to have his house full of people continued.
It was used as a community centre
by the Auxiliary Fire Service in the Second World War.

Right in the heart of London, very handy for popping in for a cuppa and a chat.

Or an impromptu music night.

As a thankyou for the hospitality shown,
the house was presented with this workshop scene
made from blitzed wood from Woolwich Arsenal.

After spending a little time in this tranquil 300 year old house,
you can begin to forget where you are,
until you look out of the window.
Straight into 21st century office block windows.

Then back to a 18th century window.
Imagine being the subject of stained glass?

Not tired, we've yet to fulfil one of Dr Johnson's most famous sayings.

We've had a great time, exploring a tiny piece of the City of London.
And there's still more to see.
A group of Small Historic Houses in London.
"A collection of nine of the city's hidden-gems;
small historic houses which tell the stories of fascinating and famous former residents."
Details on London Shh's website here.

And more info on Dr Johnson's House website here.
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