Folkestone Triennial: Art-on-Sea

A and I are a bit last-minute with exhibitions and regularly miss things because we think we’ll go ‘later’ and then just forget.  However, we actually made it to the Folkestone Triennial with two days to spare.  We followed the yellow seagulls sprayed on the pavement from the station to the visitor centre. There was a lot to see, and we resigned ourselves to not managing it all. I particularly wanted to see the Martello tower installation Towards the Sound of Wilderness by Cristina Iglesias, but it was a long way out of town and we just hadn’t got sufficient energy.  So putting that to one side, high spots were:

The Folk Stones copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Folk Stones, (Mark Wallinger) a square of 19,240 pebbles set in concrete, each one numbered, and the total number is the number of British soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme: they set out for France from Folkestone.  This is a permanent installation.

While we were there a young man was laboriously cleaning each pebble.

Out of Tune (A K Dolven) The sixteenth century church bell suspended on the beach which may only be rung every two minutes as it drives the neighbours to distraction, and can be heard tolling at…

nature taking over copyright Cherry Potts 2011

… the former harbour station, where the first world war troops moved from train to ship.  A bleak spot where nature is taking over – the perfect post-apocalyptic film set, all rusting girders, rotting wood and sprouting chamomile.  The art here is a rather odd 5 headed sculpture on a rug on the tracks; Rug People (Paloma Varga Weisz)  has a built-in anxiety – are these refugees arriving, or exiles leaving?  Either way, the train done gone; and it is the station which excites.

a perfect post apocalypse film set copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We were not alone – a girl child flitted amongst the metal columns and a man poked around the dishevelled rails, (“Isn’t this awesome?” he asked in delight) but there were not enough people to make anyone think they could possibly expect a train.

They were like ghosts, glimpsed from the corner of your eye.

scenes of devastation copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Navy in the Nave copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Navy in the Nave – a fleet of model boats floating suspended for the ceiling of the ancient church of St Mary and St Eanswythe.

A and I argued over the pronunciation, and then forgot about it as we gazed at the extraordinary collection of vessels sailing from nowhere to nowhere, seemingly jostling for space.

'For those in Peril on the Sea' copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The piece is called For Those in Peril on the Sea, (Hew Locke) and it is  as though we are looking up from the sea bed at a drowned armada, gradually settling down to join us.  It feels like something Terry Gilliam would dream up.  Oddly moving.

Folkestone in September is not wildly populated and there are a lot of dilapidated properties and empty shops.  It has only one small sandy beach, the rest are stony and a bit bleak, the harbour is attractive and there are plenty of fish shops, (more A’s thing than mine!).  We were lucky with the weather and it was a delight to walk along the seafront with warmth and late summer sun.

I’m glad Folkestone has the Triennial, because I wouldn’t have come otherwise and  it is important to visit our seaside towns, and celebrate them.

At particular points about the town there are plaques with locals’ comments on what you can see. Everywhere Means Something to Someone (Strange Cargo).  Just so.

I will probably be following the yellow seagulls again in three years’ time. something dreamed up by Terry Gilliam ... copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Open Queue

Sweet Thames flow softly copyright Cherry Potts 2011

It’s day two of London Open House and we’re off to Crossness Pumping Station.  This has been a long-held ambition, but with so much to choose from over the weekend it has taken, ooh, six years? to get here.  The instigator of this sudden resolve is our friend J who phoned and said:

I’m going, come with?

cobwebs copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So we did.  Trying to avoid using the car and with the promise of a special bus to meet the train, we meet J and C at Lewisham and get the train to Abbey Wood.  There is a bus … a minibus that seats 12.  I count the queue.  The bus takes half an hour to make its round trip… We are going to be here two hours.  We rebel and get a mini cab to the gates. We walk up to the back of the queue for the door, which is moving very slowly indeed. There is a distinct smell of drains, and I find myself absentmindedly humming Sweet Thames Flow Softly which we learnt over the summer.

Overwhelming Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Forty minutes later, we arrive at the door, and are given our tickets for the engine house.  We enter, and there is another queue.  We join it with dread, but it only takes another twenty minutes to finally reach the sacred portal and to be handed our hard hats.

Now.  Why would I be prepared to put myself through this?  I am not a patient kind of gal.  And visiting a sewage works isn’t your average glamorous London day out.  Well, the several thousand people who have visited Crossness will be grinning just now.

OTT painted ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011




Overwhelming, over the top, Ro-co-co (except it isn’t) Byzantine, laughter inducing mayhem.  The outside gives no clue to the interior.  The austere if decorative brickwork could be any typical Victorian engine shed – railway architecture at its best – Lombardy arcading, arched windows, bah blah.

floor copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Inside the first hall where the queue is, it is airy, spacious and light… and then, hat on head you enter the inner sanctum, and the dazzle and razzmatazz of the theatre takes over – every surface is moulded or filigreed, even the floors.  There is a feel of Moorish palace, except that the colours are wrong, and then there is the noise.

Flywheel at full tilt copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The beam engine is steady, regular, almost relaxed and surprisingly quiet, a sort of sigh and knock and hiss as it slides up and down, and the flywheel spins.  it is awesome in its grandeur.  There are four of these gracious monsters, but only one has been restored.  And only part of the engine house is painted back to its former glory, about which I am glad – I hope they don’t restore it completely, the ironwork is magnificent and the paint is garish, and whilst amusing, once painted the true skill of the iron casting is hidden.

And the still, silent end of the hall, is magnificent in its cathedral-like space.

Cathedral-like spaces copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Up the stairs, (also pierced into a pattern) there is yet more filigree floor, which is humming ever so gently.  I find this rather unnerving.  In fact it brings me out in a cold sweat.  I am quite relieved to get down again.

Stunning ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011

And yes, there is another queue to get into the basement.  The basement is very different dark, dusty and cramped.

Basement Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I’m not surprised the queue is so long, as we spend ages going round, and they can only let people in with a hard hat.

After a cup of tea and a bit of cake, we take advantage of the fact that there is a gate onto the Thames path (not normally open) and walk back to Woolwich along the river.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Thames path near Thamesmead copyright Cherry Potts 2011

London is Open

Mary Wollstonecraft's pew copyright Cherry Potts

Every year in September, buildings of historic, architectural and ecological note open for the public for free.  In London Open House is in full swing. Take a look at the overwhelming website – it’s all going on tomorrow as well.

Most years I go and feast my eyes and wear out my feet: holidays are planned around Open House we have to be in London the right weekend!  Fortunately, Heritage Open Days  which is similar but nationwide, is usually the weekend prior so some years we’ve managed both, although for the forseeable future we will be Singing for Water over H-O-D weekend.

So, A is busy with a family wedding, and I’m on my tod, and decide to take full advantage of the lovely Overground and quarter the borough of Hackney. I set off with my ‘favourites’ list and Transport For London maps, full of purpose and enthusiasm.

Graeae exterior copyright Cherry Potts 2011

First stop Hoxton.  I’ve been to the Geffreye Museum recently so I bypass it and head for Graeae Theatre’s offices and rehearsal space, right next door.  I bump into R, who I know from BSL classes and who works there, so I get a personal tour.  The building started life as a Tram depot and stables and has great arches all along the front which make for excellent natural light and a showcase for the sculptural logo that runs the entire length of the building.

Graeae rehearsal space copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The rehearsal space is particularly fine, with a sprung floor, and sophisticated lighting rig, all of which can be accessed and controlled from ground level.  The whole building has been thought out very carefully for access issues with textured flooring, good adaptable lighting, plenty of circulation space, induction loops… And according to R it really is a pleasure to work in.

Hoxton Hall detail copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Galvanised by this first venue, I toddle round the corner to Hoxton Hall, which is a very different kettle of fish – still with a drama theme – HH is a tiny musical hall.  It has done time as a temperance hall, a Quaker meeting-house and various other things, and is typical of theatres of its time in being seriously uncomfortable!  I notice a pile of patchwork cushions in the gallery, I’m sure they are needed.

Hoxton Hall performers copyright Cherry Potts

The Hall is being brought to life by a couple of performers, singing about wanting their beer and not getting it.  Disconcertingly they are flanked by a couple of headless dummies in theatrical costume, which in the dim lighting are a bit on the sinister side!

Newington Green Unitarian Church exterior copyright Cherry Potts

Back to the station and a short hop to Canonbury and then a stroll up to Newington Green for the Unitarian Church, at over 300 years old it is the oldest dissenting church in London that is still in use. Built when religious dissenters were still breaking the law ,and expanded since, it isn’t a particularly beautiful building, though it has a peaceful, open atmosphere (they were positively encouraging a young child to play the organ) and apparently the ball-hinges on the pew doors are rare… but it is its history that matters, both in terms of religious dissent, and in terms of feminism.  Mary Wollstonecraft worshipped here (pew 19), and I have a soft spot for her.

I am struck as I have been before, by the similarity of layout in religious buildings of this period, and the musical hall I have just come from.  Something about the galleries…

Newington Green Unitarian Church ball hinge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I have a long list of other places I could go – a tower off Mare Street, The Hackney Empire, another theatre at Dalston (in the old Reeves paint factory), a tour of the East London Line stations… But I’m hungry and its trying to rain, and we are doing Crossness Pumping Station tomorrow, so back to Canonbury station and the train all the way home with no changes.  I love the Overground!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Roaming Round Romsey

I’ve been trying to create a montage of the glorious stone cats of Romsey Abbey, but no matter what  I do with it, I can only get half of them into the featured image at the top of the page, so here they are in their full glory.
11 carved stone cat faces

The Romsey Abbey Cat's Line Up Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

They leave me wondering whether the stone mason(s) working on the Abbey really liked cats, or definitely thought they were creatures of the devil, to have so many gargoyles look feline.  I fear the latter, but they are a formidable line up of humourous grotesques… I probably missed some higher up the building.

Romsey Abbey Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So, what are we doing in Romsey? 

A and I always promise ourselves Fridays for pleasure: seaside or a walk or a garden if it’s fine, exhibition or historic building if not.  We have only been intermittently successful this spring/summer owing to illness, and other more pressing priorities.  It was several weeks ago that we managed this trip; I was still not up to a walk, it was blisteringly hot and I was desperate to get out of the house.

Romsey has been on my list for a while, I’ve always vaguely known that the Abbey was worth a look, and we discovered that A had ancestors there, which gave it further interest in a general sort of way.
In terms of a day out, it’s just about at our limit: two hours travel each way just about justified by what’s at the end of the journey.  Getting there was surprisingly easy by train and the station is an easy walk from the centre (unlike a lot of places!).

Romsey Library copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We discovered that Romsey is actually rather charming, and like its Abbey, has neither been ruined by neglect nor by over restoration.  On our way from the station we passed the library, housed in a pleasing red brick Arts & Crafts style building that had once been a school.  By the time we were in the centre of the town, I was muttering, “I think I could live here, let’s check the politics of the local council… do yo think these houses have much back garden?” Not that we’re planning on moving, it’s just a litmus test; like the occasional National Trust property we walk into and say, “Throw everyone out, send a carriage for the cats, we’re taking possession.” (Lindisfarne Castle and Hill House, Helensburgh; take a bow).

The two main streets are lined with attractive old buildings  and the corn exchange has been preserved as a bank.  On a sunny late May lunchtime, the streets were peaceful but anything but deserted, with a few market stalls operating, and the inhabitants extraordinarily friendly.  We got into conversation in shops, restaurants and on the street with all sorts without any initiative on our part.
There is a proper sweet shop, so I got myself a fix of aniseed balls.  (I love aniseed sweets. Twist for the sharp swift sugary rush, balls for slow release consideration – plus they always escape into the bottom of my bag and, being pretty much indestructible, can be a happy surprise weeks later). 
There are a lot of café/ tea shop/ pubs/ restaurants, though none stood out as the-place-to-eat.  The place we chose was disappointing in that it looked interesting and wasn’t, the dish I picked with care, for not mentioning cheese, arrived smothered in it; and A’s raspberry juice was actually some kind of cordial and so strong we had to water it down with half my Sicilian lemonade to make it drinkable; my own fault for not asking, and A’s for not complaining, but still, poor selling technique and service on their part.  If we went back I’d go for one of the purveyors of sandwiches and baked potatoes.
The other thing Romsey has in spades is charity shops, and pretty high quality too. I got a good haul of books and we also found several elements of costume for the opera; and they let us leave our purchases behind the till to pick up on our way home.
Garden with arch of roses

King John's Hunting Lodge, the garden. Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

 Probably the oldest building in the town (apart from the Abbey) is known at King John’s Hunting Lodge.  That guy must have been a prodigious hunter, his lodges litter the south of the country.  Romsey has documentary evidence that there really was a KJHL in the town, but archeology has proved that this isn’t it. Name not withstanding, it’s an interesting building, well interpreted, friendly staff, and it has a knucklebone floor (which I’d always imagined was a term for decorative flint work or something, but no, it’s actual cow knuckle bones ) and medieval graffiti, and satisfying windows that used to be doors, and windows that are now cupboards and so on, and a very pretty garden.

The museum next door (included in entry, more charming staff) is fairly typical how-life-used-to-be lived, but has two stand out exhibits, a recording on wax cylinder of local celebrity Florence Nightingale, sounding like Celia Johnson on speed having just been goosed; and a recreation of the hunting and fishing and general hardware shop that used to be here, complete with mannikin of the erstwhile owner which talked if you pinged the brass ‘attention’ bell.  The gent in question was an enthusiastic inventor of clever garden gadgets, and we had a whale of a time exploring his ideas, and the drawers of the shop which held everything from cheese graters to fishing flies.
The Abbey itself is very fine, preserved without too much intervention from over enthusiastic restorers, as the parish church.  It is mainly Romanesque and reminded me of Winchester cathedral, but lacks the dark, sinister, quality Winchester has, which consequently made it a good deal more attractive.  A number of the nave columns have a single foliage detail on the base as though a leaf has fallen from the more complex decoration at the top.  A nice touch.  The Abbey have a no commercial photography of the interior policy, and while this doesn’t really count as commercial, I’m not using my interior pictures.  There are some brilliant tombstones (I love tombstones, social history, art, intrigue and often humour all in one) from some ancient brasses to florid 18th Century brutes replete with cherubs and urns, but my two favourites were these:
A simple floor slab deeply engraved:
 Here lyeth ye body of Mr Tho
Warren. A learned pious
and faithfull minister of Christ
A solid Nervous assertor
of discriminating grace
and freed will Jan ye 27 1693/4.
Now then, what does that mean? A nervous assertor?  Discriminating grace? Freed will, as opposed to free will?  And why the two year dates? We didn’t move from Julian to Gregorian calendar until Wednesday 2 September 1752 (which was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752) so what’s that about?  Was there some issue about when the new year started, like not on the 1st january?  Surely by the 27th the year was well and truly launched?  Or was the tombstone carved so much later that no one could remember which year he’d died? Bizarre.
I get quite a picture of  Thomas Warren from those few words, probably completely wrong, but it keeps me amused.
The other high point tomb-wise is from 1658, and has a painted half-length  sculpted double portrait of John Sainte Barbe and his wife Grissell (not one of those antique names people like to resurrect, like Lettice, its apparent derivation gets in the way.)
Below the inscription are shown their children, a bundle of 4 cheerful, plump, slightly surprised moppets in red.  At first glance it looks like 2 girls and 2 boys, but the inscription says 4 sons, and given that their mother was only 22 when she died (the same day as her older husband) the implication is that the two youngest hadn’t yet been ‘breeched’.
There is extraordinary poetry on this inscription which is difficult to follow as it has been set out very oddly, it isn’t obvious which line you read after which, and culminates in an anagram on their names:
Be in shares, in Blest Glorie. 
This feels a bit shoehorned in, and I imagine a scholarly friend, perhaps the tutor of the eldest son, doing his best to meet a passing fad for cod mysticism with this rather paltry effort.  I’m saying no more on the poem, you should really go and read it yourself; but it reminded me of the title of an Ellis Peters detective book (not a Cadfael):

A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs.


Title page of Elegy

Title Page of the Elegy

This brings me back to genealogy and A’s ancient ancestors.  This was a bit of a detective work too.

In the ‘broody box’ a metal cash box owned by A’s father, there was among various other family documents a printed Elegy in memory of a Mrs Dunn.
This is Dunn the gentlemans outfitter, though not that specific branch of the family, and rather earlier in the family tree.  Now, because it only mentions the initial of her husband, and her name not at all, it took a while to work out who she was.  The number of children left motherless was a further clue, and we had a death date, and age at death and we assumed she’d died in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.  However, the fact that the Elegy was printed in Portsmouth suggested a Hampshire link.
A bit of research found her first name to be Elizabeth.
Elizabeth married William Dunn in around 1782 and had six children, William Webb, Elizabeth Witt, Anne Parsons, Joseph Stephen, Maria and Benjamin (the family habit of using other family surnames as middle names is a godsend when doing research, the 1st daughter being called Elizabeth Witt really helped.) 
So with Witt as a possible maiden name, we checked out births in Trowbridge and couldn’t find her, so we back tracked to the Hampshire connection.  We eventually found that Elizabeth Witt was born in 1762 and died in June 1790, that she was the daughter of  Stephen Witt who died in Romsey in 1792, and his wife Elizabeth who died in 1804.  Our Elizabeth had a younger brother, Robert, born after the family moved to Trowbridge.
second page of elegy

second page of elegy

Another typical find: Elizabeth’s brother Robert married Mary Dunn, one of the cousins of Elizabeth’s husband William. This happens a lot in the Trowbridge woollen merchants of A’s family tree, the best example of this is a Mr John Cooper, marries a Miss Wilkins, and his father, also John Cooper, for his third wife then marries the youngest sister of his son’s wife.  That seems a bit over the top to me!  But what a great story there is buried in there.  Not bad from a document too coy to mention the actual name of the writer or the deceased.

So that’s why we were in Romsey.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011