As the sun sets over London, I am packing my bags and getting ready to say farewell

It has been an incredible time in the United Kingdom.  The Residency at Hospitalfield was inspirational, and my attitudes towards ceramics have been permanently altered in new and exciting ways.  I made good friends, ate beautiful food, slept in a historic room in an ancient house, learned about tweed, devoured the best cod and chips in Arbroath, and saw amazing scenery.  The time in London, a 180 degree turn around from the rural countryside of Scotland, has been just as enjoyable.   So what did I learn that I could pass on to you?

First, in London, do your homework.  Get a hotel or a Bed and Breakfast near to the sights that you want to see.  There are many ways of travelling in this well laid out city.  You can take the London Underground.  An off-peak day ticket is around 134 GBP or $26 CDN$.  This means you can ride the tube as much as you want and there are underground stations all over the place.  You can take one of the red double-decker buses.  Your tube ticket allows you to switch between them.  Alternatively, you can catch a black taxi. They take credit cards so no need to worry about exchanging money or running short.  The machine is in the back with you, not upfront with the driver.  Very easy.

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An excellent example of the cost is that it is about 25 GBP from London King’s Cross to Hyde Park in a cab whereas it is less than 6 GBP on a single tube ticket.  When you arrive, the amount of luggage that you have will really impact the transport that you need to get to your hotel.  One other word of warning, if you have a considerable suitcase like I do with all of its ceramic supplies and a plaster mould inside, you do not want to book yourself into a B & B and be staying on the top floor unless you have Hercules with you to carry that suitcase up those stairs!  OK.  Maybe you are 20something and reading this but seriously, try not to pack your entire house if you can. You will have many more options.  Once you get settled in you can take the tube, take a taxi, rent an electric bicycle for 2 GBP a day, or you can walk.

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Many of the sights are actually close together, and you can get some good exercise in.  It is also good to ‘get lost’ and discover places you might not otherwise see.  There is history in every corner of London!

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I chose to stay right across from Hyde Park because I was going to meet a long time friend and co-author, Richard Barnes, at the Albert Memorial.

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Richard and I agreed to meet at the ‘America’ corner which his relative had carved out of gorgeous marble, John Bell.  Each corner was designed to represent the four corners of the globe with America being represented by the bison.  Canada is on the left looking on as the United States is on the right.  Some of Britain’s finest Victorian sculptors have their work on this grandiose memorial.

The Albert Memorial has Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria looking over to the Royal Albert Hall and the Science Museum.  That is another attraction in the area which is really a ‘must see’.  Of course, he is also looking towards the Victoria & Albert Museum (assuming his eyesight is better than mine!).  You can easily spend an entire day at the Museum.  Their blockbuster exhibition, Dior, has been extended and do not get distressed if you see the ‘sold out’ sign and don’t have a ticket.  If you really want to see this comprehensive exhibition of one of the world’s great 20th century designers then go over and purchase yourself a membership to the museum.  I promise you will get a ticket to the show!  Inside there is the new Cast Court exhibition area.  Richard told me that people went all over taking casts and bringing them back.  The Museum has art from all over the world including an excellent Asian section.

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And they also have ‘the’ Moon Jar.

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The Victoria and Albert Museum has a cafe where you can get salads, sandwiches, hot meals, cakes, tea, or other drinks.  On a sunny day, you can sit outside, or you can relax in the William Morris room.  It was a sad day for me.  My old friend, Pauline Rohatgi and I, used to meet to have lunch in the William Morris room or sitting outside on a bench every time I was in London.  Pauline was the Keeper of the Prints and Drawings for the India Office Library.  That was how I met her.   Over the years we worked on publications and exchanged information on British sculpture sent to India.  Pauline has health issues and now lives permanently in India.  I hope that we can have tea there soon!  But she was very much missed.

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But that wasn’t the only reason.  Within walking distance, inside the park, you can tour Kensington Palace – the home of the Cambridges and the Sussexes.  You can tour their gardens.  You can visit Princess Diana’s children’s playground, go to the Serpentine Gallery, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, sit and eat ice cream by Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain, or have tea by the Albert Memorial.  You can even feed the pigeons, crows, geese, and swans at the Round Pond.

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One of the things I wanted to do was to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.  I am a bit curious.  When I was a teenager, everyone remembered where they were when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.  I wonder how many people remember where they were when the news came of Diana’s death?

The fountain was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 6th July 2004.  Using contemporary technology, 545 pieces of Cornish granite were shaped and placed together using traditional masonry skills.  All of the information says:  “The design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London’s water table.”  It is a very quiet, contemplative memorial that sits in the landscape in the same way that Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial does.

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There are many reasons to visit London this time of year if you are from Canada.  The first is an escape from the last remnants of a long, snowy, cold Canadian winter.  The flowers are bursting forth.  The temperature is about 11-14 degrees Celsius.  You can get by with a lined windbreaker.  Hotel prices are more reasonable, and you can get special deals on air tickets.

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If you are flying in at either of the two main airports that serve London, London Heathrow or London Gatwick, there are reasonable ways of getting into the City and back out again.  If its Heathrow, you can take the London underground directly into the City.  Arriving at Gatwick presents several options.  One is the Thameslink train that will take you into the City.  Or you can take the National Express bus which will get you to London Victoria.  There are various limo services and flat rate taxes that cost around 62 GBP.  These could be helpful if you have too much luggage.

All of the museums in London are free except for their special exhibitions.  You could keep yourself busy, as I said, right here near to Hyde Park.  One other one I didn’t list is the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.   If you want to have high tea, Harrod’s is in walking distance.  They will continue to refill the pot and the plates until you leave.  Down Exhibition Road into South Kensington, you can find some of the very smart places for meals all during the day.  If you are looking for Middle Eastern food, including Persian, try Queensway Road.

Happy travelling!

Hospitalfield, Day 5

The last object that we looked at yesterday was a red Jasper table that was made specifically from a large piece of Jasper found on the shore.  This room with its magnificent marble fireplace and piano is the largest room on the second floor.  It is the table in front of the window – one solid piece of Red Jasper.  On the walls, you will notice lots of pictures.  Patrick Allan-Fraser, who you will recall was a member of The Clique Art Group, wrote to his fellow members and friends and said that he would pay them 100 GBP if they would send him a portrait they had painted.  At the time, the average wage for a Headmaster (considered one of the highest paying positions) was 70 GBP.  Allan-Fraser was well known for helping artists to further their training.  He even paid for some to attend art school in Edinburgh.

One of only two members of the group, Edith Ballantyne, sent the portrait below. She was active as a painter for only seven years, 1880-87.

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The title is Afternoon Tea.  The parrot makes reference to Allan-Fraser’s wife, Elizabeth, who was a member of the Parrot family at Hawkesbury.  It was her inheritance that bought this grand property.

One other portrait is D O Hill of Hill and Adamson.  They were pioneers of Scottish photography.  Hill supplied the picture, The Old Mill.

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This room contains a number of paintings and ceramics.  Sadly, Allan-Fraser had no interest in ceramics! Tomorrow I will talk about the use of bitumen to darken the oils and the subsequent unstoppable deterioration on these 19th-century pictures because of it.

One other picture from the group is A Bell Middleton, Portrait of A Bell Middleton.

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Turning around and to the left is the room that for a better title I will call the Harp Room.  Hospitalfield recently held a fundraiser to restore this 17th-century harp and they have harp concerts during the year.

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There are several other curiosities in this room.  One is the large cedar cabinet with its camphor wood drawers.  Inside, after Elizabeth died, Patrick had some of her clothes kept including the dress she was wearing in the portrait he painted of her earlier in this blog.

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There are also two other cabinets that hold collections of shells and rocks as well as flora.  These were typical hobbies during the 19th century.

Every day Simon bakes homemade bread for us and there is a growing interesting in using handmade wooden breadboards.  The one below was carved by John Hutchinson who also did other fine wood carvings in the house.  One of his pieces is encased in a glass frame in the Harp Room.

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Also in this room are several marble groups and a number of pictures.

W. Calder Marshall carved the beautiful figure of Psyche.  Marshall was born in Edinburgh (1813) and attended Edinburgh University before he became a student at the Royal Academy in London in 1834.  There his tutors were Francis Chantrey and Edward Hodges Baily.  Two years later, in 1836, Marshall travels to Rome to study classical sculpture.  He returns to England in 1836.  At the age of fifty-one, he was commissioned to carve the allegorical group, Agriculture, for the Albert Memorial.  In that magnificent work, a female figure symbolizing Agriculture directs the attention of the farmers to the benefits of the latest farming technology including a steam cylinder, cob, and a retort.  Marshall was the most accomplished and prolific sculptors during the Victorian era.

Also in the room is a lovely group, Hen and Chicks, by Longbardi.  I have yet to find information on this sculptor.  If you know, write to me!

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And right as you exit, to your right, is a lovely genre picture by Alexander Bell Middleton’s (1829-1860), The Evening Guide Sir!  It is one of three or four pictures by Middleton in the Hospitalfield collection.

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It is such a privilege being at Hospitalfield House.  When I was reading for my PhD, I wished that I could transport myself back into the lives of the people in the 19th century.  Decades later that wish has come true!

And now, my project.  I came with the anticipation of casting 54 ovoid bottles and placing them along the coastline.  Two problems:  too damp to dry that many bottles even with mechanical assistance (heat lamps and lights) and you cannot actually get right down to the sea because the railway is there.  So they are being placed among the plants in the kitchen garden.

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The forecast is for snow tomorrow.  It is Saturday and I am due to take a day off and drive up through the Scottish Highlands.  More images to share with you!