Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery

Pitzhanger Manor

We are in Ealing to meet our friends Chris and Philippa who have taken us to see the recently restored Pitzhanger Manor and the newly upgraded art Gallery. Pitzhanger was the short-lived home of the architect Sir John Soane, who was architect and surveyor to the Bank of England for 45 years from 1788 to 1833. Soane set out to build a largely new country house, retaining only the left wing of the existing house. This had been added by George Dance, to whom Soane had been apprenticed. The design of the main part of the house is based on a Roman triumphal arch and is obviously much more elaborate and dramatic than Dance's wing. The caryatids, atop the four columns, are based on those in the sanctuary of Pandrosus in Athens.

You enter through this rather attractive archway.

We decided to start with the Gallery which had a wonderful exhibition of work by Anish Kapoor.

The exhibits are described as sculptures and consist of exceptionally clever and intriguing mirrors. For example, this one, in a corner, consists of two roundels. The right hand one is lacquered and placed so that the left hand one (which is a mirror) reflects its colours. However, the view alters according to where you are standing and then you notice that the left hand one in fact presents an upside down image.

We recently saw something similar, but simpler, by Kapoor: the Sky Mirror in Nottingham.

On the opposite wall a pair of linked spheres with open ends produced all sorts of complex reflections, again inverted.

Further mirrors reflected the beautiful roof lights. Some in the other room were more complex and produced an uncomfortable reaction in my brain (not Kapoor's fault).

We now headed across through the lovely columned passageway which leads to the house.

This meant that we arrived in the basement, but we headed up to the Dining Room which is in the left wing of the house, i.e. the wing added by George Dance. It is a large high room whose highlight is the fantastic and beautifully restored ceiling

The Breakfast Room is smaller and more domestic, but also has a lovely ceiling, this time with an almost Japanese feeling

The dramatic Small Drawing Room is a wonderful space, which like most of the house is sparsely furnished.

The nearby room, a sort of inner hall (I confess I can't remember its name), has a ceiling which is almost art deco.

We headed upstairs looking up the richly coloured stairwell ...

... to reach the main bedroom with its exquisite hand-painted wall paper.

That completed our tour of this wonderful building. It is rather sad that Soane spent four years (1800-1804) designing and constructing it and lived there for only six years before selling it and reverting to living in his London town house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, now Sir John Soane's Museum.

Pitzhanger was in private hands after 1810 but by 1900 it had been bought by Ealing Council and was used, with various changes and additions, from then until 1985 as a public library. It opened as a heritage attraction in 1987, showing contemporary art exhibitions from 1996. A major conservation project to restore the Manor to Soane’s original designs, and upgrade the contemporary Gallery began in 2015. It was led by Ealing Council in collaboration with Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery Trust. Well done to them!

Conditions: mild but showery.

Rating: five stars. An absolute delight.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Snelsmore, Bagnor, Winterbourne

An enjoyable, but somewhat chaotic, walk with our friends Gillian and Russell. The main problem was that we missed the intended path towards Winterbourne and only got our bearings when we passed the watch tower (above) and reached the southern extremity of the Country Park. As walk leader I decided that the best solution would be do the planned walk in reverse and start by walking southwards to Bagnor.

Our first sight was this rather splendid house.

We followed a lovely wooded track and emerged at Bargnor, passing behind the celebrated Watermill Theatre, where we recently saw a fantastic performance of The importance of being Earnest.

The path continued across a large field where Gillian encouraged a flock of doves (?) to burst into flight.

This led into a woodland path which soon gave way to farmland. Mount Hill lay ahead and we spent some time debating the crop in the field on our left - was it corn or not? Late we me some farm workers who told us that it was a new type of wheat.

After Mount Hill we continued between more fields with a fine view across to Winterbourne Church.

We walked across Boxford Common and turned right onto a road then left at the wonderfully named Mud Hall Cottage. We following a poorly marked path to reach Borough Hill when we headed east towards Winterbourne, passing a classic black sheep, seemingly isolated by the other members of the flock.

On the edge on Winterbourne we passed this interesting barn style development ...

... to then reach the church of St James the Less, a medieval church with 19th and 20th century restorations. Googling suggests that there is some confusion as to exactly who St James the Less was.

We passed the 19th century Manor House and headed towards the village, passing a lovely flower meadow on the right. Curiously, there was no sign of any butterflies.

In Winterbourne, we were sad to see that the local pub had closed and was slated for a change of use to residential.

Now across fields to reach Winterbourne Holt and through woodland on the edge of the Country Park where we finally worked out where we had gone wrong. It was revealed to be a combination of lack of clear signs and of common sense on the part of the walk leader.

Conditions: sunny and warm.

Distance: six miles plus at least another half mile stumbling around in search of the right path.

From: Kennet Valley and Watership Down (Rambling for Pleasure series, produced by East Berkshire Ramblers).

Rating: four stars. It was both pleasing and surprising how rural this bit of country felt, despite the occasional sounds of the A34. Doing the walk in reverse was a good test of my map reading skills, which were fortunately up to the challenge.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Minster Lovell

Minster Lovell

Having finished our enjoyable walk around Witney, Merv and I adjourned to do a circular walk from Minster Lovell. We parked near the pub on the left and walked up the absolutely delightful main street.

The houses petered out towards the top of the hill and we continued past the road to the church and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, planning to make those the culmination of this walk. We took a path on the right and headed across fields towards Crawley. Soon we had a view back towards the lovely circular dovecote.

At the end of this large field we followed a track between fields. The one on the left was absolutely covered with poppies - I can't ever recall seeing such a density.

After this field, the hedgerow was swarming with butterflies: Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Skippers, the odd Red Admiral.

This was the view back when we reached Crawley.

It is a small village, but with a nice-looking pub - which was unfortunately closed! It was pretty hot and a nice beer would have gone down a treat.

We decided to head back along the road for a while with the River Windrush over to our right. We passed a former mill, now an industrial estate and took a path to the right which led us down to a field edge which we followed until a right turn led us down to the river. Our first glimpse was a delight.

We followed the river bank and emerged by the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. It was built in 1431-42 by William, the 7th Lord Lovell, and incorporated parts of an earlier building. William's grandson, Francis was a prominent Yorkist and hosted Richard III at Minstell Lovell in 1483. As history tells us, he backed the wrong side and Francis's estates were confiscated by the crown after defeat at Bosworth in 1485. In 1602 the house was bought by Sir Edward Coke and around 1747 it was dismantled by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. The ruins were used as farm buildings until being restored in the 1930s. Pevsner (who is the source for the history of the house) says the ruins are "the most picturesque in the county".

A helpful information panel shows what the house may once have looked. A Great Hall on the right above, with guest rooms on the left wing and a service wing at right angles to the Hall.

At the end of the guest accommodation was a large defensive tower.

 This is the Great Hall from the front.

Some battered roof bosses can still be seen in the main gateway.

Just beyond the Hall is the 15th century church of St Kenelm, unusually almost unaltered from when it was built.

There is a splendid alabaster tomb-chest, possibly William Lovell or his son John.

We completed the walk with a drink, now long overdue, in the village pub.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars.


St Mary's church

Another walk with my friend Merv exploring English towns. Witney is east of Oxford, just off the A40. We parked near a newish shopping centre in Welch Way. The shops were quiet and many had sales on; on the opposite side of the road there was a motley collection of civic buildings. At the end we turned right into the High St when things looked up: more character, more life.

The first really striking building we noticed was the 18th century Town Hall in the Market Place, a single room over a lovely two-bay loggia.

Opposite is the Butter Cross, dating from about 1600, while the clock dates from 1683. The Market Place now feels like a cross roads, but once it was where people came from all around to buy their butter and other produce.

We continued southwards along the left hand side of the Church Green, a massive gassy area with houses (mainly now offices) on both sides. This is the view looking back from the right hand side.

At the end is the Church of St Mary, a13th century church with a splendid spire 156 ft high - I realised now that I had got too close to get a good picture (the light wasn't too good either).  Inside however it felt rather messy, seemingly the result of a 19th century restoration - Pevsner describes it as "bleak".

The new roof over the chancel was impressive through, with, we were told, showing the stars as they were at a point during the Second World War.

To the left of the church, as you admire the spire, are the Almshouses. They were originally built in 1724 for six widows of blanket-makers (the town's most important industry) and rbuilt in 1868 by William Wilkinson of Oxford. They make an attractive group.

We headed down the right hand side of Church Green, where there were several attractive Georgian houses, to reach the Corn Exchange of 1868. Pevsner rails against its "debased classical style" and "coarse detail", but we thought it a splendid building with a bit more drama than most neo-Georgian buildings.

Continuing northwards along the High Street, we cam to the simple, but pleasing, Blanket Hall, where blankets were weighed and measured. There is a panel with "Robert Collier 1724" on it.

We crossed the River Windrush, over a bridge of 1822 ...

... to reach the former Courtroom (just one room) of 1858.

Turning right into Bridge St and right again into Oxford Road brought us to Townsend's Almshouses of 1827.

The plaque reveals that they were built and endowed by William Townsend, a native of the town, now a Haberdasher in London. They were intended for "six aged unmarried women" and designed in a rather austere style.

Conditions: grey with a threat of rain.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four stars. A charming town, much more interesting and characterful than first impresssions would suggest.

Footnote: we had intended to walk out along the Windrush to Minster Lovell and back. By the time we had had lunch, however, this seemed optimistic so we drove to Minster Lovell and did an excellent circular walk there.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Bindon Hill

View of Bindon Hill from the Lulworth Cove car park

Butterfly spotting today at Bindon Hill which overlooks Lulworth Cove. It looks fairly stark in the photo above, but it is very different close up, with flowers and long grass. I parked in the car park and headed inland towards the village of West Lulworth taking a right turn to follow the route of the South West Coast Path onto the bottom of the slope of Bindon Hill.

I turned left, off the path, into a grassy area, spotting a pyramidal orchid ...

... and soon had my first sightings, some Large and Small Skippers and a Small Blue, my first of the year.

It quickly became clear that the whole hillside was covered with Marbled Whites, always exquisitely photogenic.

After a while I rejoined the SWCP and followed the curving track around the lower part of the hill. In the hedgerows to the right numbers of Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Gatekeepers could be seen.  At a certain point there was a sudden intensifying of the number and type of butterflies on the slope.

I began to see Dark Green Fritillaries, the first I have seen for ages.

Then, in quick succession, a Chalkhill Blue that I couldn't get a photo of, a few Silver-studded Blues ...

... a Brown Argus ...

... and, appropriately enough, a Lulworth Skipper (another first of the year).

There were even a couple of Red Admirals and a Large White, giving a pleasing count of 14 species. There was a nice view towards the chalky path which leads over Hambury Tout to Durdle Door.

This is perhaps a more realistic picture (the Isle of Portland can just be seen on the left).

Conditions: Hot and sunny.

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset).

Rating: Four and a half stars.