29 November 2019

National Gutters Day : London

Happy National Gutters Day UK!

This is National Maintenance Week, an initiative of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) to remind building owners to give their property its annual ‘MoT’ before the onset of winter’s wild weather, rain and hail, sleet and snow, and those worrisome winds. And, one essential part of ensuring your building will cope with the potential problems of winter weather is ensuring your gutters and their hoppers are not full of rubbish and holes.

For me, on this blog, National Gutters Day is the very best excuse to highlight the often under-appreciated, yet truly wonderful designs that decorate many historic gutter hoppers. You can see a miscellany of fabulous guttering from a diverse range of buildings in England and north Wales on my first National Gutters Day blog in 2014, as well as some very nice gutter hoppers from buildings in and around Cardiff in my 2015 celebration blog here. More recently, I blogged about the hoppers I found in the historic East Sussex town of Lewes, and today my eye is focused on some of the hoppers I found during a recent visit to the city of London. Enjoy ... then get out and check those gutters, people!

These are just three of the many hoppers to be found on Westminster Abbey, a building that dates from the 13th century but has been much added to over the subsequent years. Such a large and important structure requires constant maintenance, even – or perhaps especially – to seemingly inconsequential items like the guttering and its hoppers. The few dates I noticed – 1700, 1723 and 1904 – indicate the frequent upkeep of the hoppers.

Southwark Cathedral is another important building with a long history of construction, damage, rebuilding, additions, restoration. It has some magnificent gargoyles, their mouths gaping over the downpipes that take damaging rain water away from the stonework. I also found one beautifully designed hopper, which must date from after 1905 as it shows the Southwark Diocese coat of arms (‘of the lozengy cross from the old Priory arms made up of eleven lozenges with a mitre in the first quarter’) granted in that year by the College of Arms. (The Cathedral’s coat of arms has since been altered.)

Though its various structures are much older, these hoppers on the Tower of London must date from some time during the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901, as they have her royal cipher stamped upon them. I think the Tower authorities need to take heed of SPAB’s advice this week and instigate some urgent gutter maintenance.

24 November 2019

London : clocks

As you might expect in such an historic city, London has some very imposing clocks. Here are some of the more famous I spotted during my recent visit.

Little Ben
Big Ben may be the most famous clock in London, perhaps in the western world, but its tower was covered in scaffolding due to the ongoing restoration and refurbishment of parliament buildings, so here’s Little Ben instead. This clock, which sits at the corner of Victoria Street and Vauxhall Bridge Road, has a plaque that reads:

First erected in 1892. Taken down in 1964. Restored and re-erected on the 15th December 1981 by the Westminster City Council with the help of Elf Aquitaine UK, offered as a gesture of Franco-British friendship.

Little Ben’s apology for summer time

My hands you may retard or may advance
My heart beats true for England as for France.                          J.W.R.

A miniature version of Big Ben, the clock’s time was, in the past, set to daylight saving time rather than Greenwich Mean Time, so was correct for France in the winter months and for Britain in the summer, hence the comment on the plaque about ‘Franco-British friendship’ and the little ditty. 

I imagine local residents and commuters found that extremely confusing and the clock, which was removed again for refurbishment in 2012 and returned in 2016, now reflects the correct local time.

Westminster Abbey
When I was researching the clock on Westminster Abbey’s north-west tower, I discovered that you can buy a wristwatch of the same design, and Mallards, the company that crafts that watch (which can apparently be purchased in the Abbey shop), have included this brief history of the clock on their website:

It’s the north west tower that gave us the inspiration for our new wrist watch, as it’s home to the Abbey’s Georgian clock. The clock was made and fitted by John Seddon in 1738, seven years before the towers themselves were completed, but sadly, two years after Hawksmoor’s death. Each of the three dials has only one hand, which wasn’t remarkable in the 18th century, when accurate timekeeping wasn’t as essential as it is today – indeed, many domestic clocks had just a single hour hand. When the clock was refurbished in 1861, the movement was replaced but they stayed with the single hand – after all, the “Big Ben” clock had been installed by then, and perhaps two accurate clocks was considered an extravagance!

St Paul’s Cathedral
Not only have Smith of Derby been making clocks for over 150 years, they also restore and conserve many high-profile clocks, included the one at St Paul’s Cathedral, which they installed in 1893 and continue to maintain and service. A team at Smith inspects the clock on a regular basis and carries out a routine restoration plan to ensure the 126-year-old clock never misses a chime. As the Smith of Derby website explains:

The dials are integral to the fabric of the building, so cannot be removed. Members of our team qualified for full rope access are on hand to perform such restoration tasks. As with all dial conservation work we use the best quality paints and gold leaf, to ensure as long a life as possible.
The clock incorporates a weight driven mechanism with gravity escapement designed by Edmund Denison Beckett, which is similar to the one used by Edward Dent on ‘Big Ben’ in 1895.  With quarter chimes and hour striking the clock mechanism is now fitted with an electric winding system and the clock movement sits proudly in its 18 foot flat bed frame.

18 foot flat bed frame contains the clock movement
Originally manufactured and installed by John Smith and Sons in 1893
Incorporating a design of escapement by Edmund Denison Beckett
Electronic winding system designed and installed by Smith of Derby Ltd in 1969
Clock mechanism is 5.8 metres long

Royal Mews clock
Construction of the current Royal Mews buildings was completed in 1825, at a cost of over £65,000, as part of the rebuilding of Buckingham Palace commissioned by George IV. I have located one reference that attributes the design of the magnificent Mews clock, which adorns a tower above the Buckingham Palace Road entrance to the Mews, to prestigious clockmaker Benjamin Vulliamy (1747-1811). Vulliamy was granted a Royal Appointment as the King’s Clockmaker by George III in 1773 but he had died by the time of the 1825 rebuilding. It is, however, possible that one of his designs was still used for the clock, or that the clock was retained from an earlier building, or that the design was, in fact, that of his grandson, also named Benjamin ... which mention leads me nicely to my last clock (for now).

Horse Guards Building
Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854) continued the family tradition of crafting magnificent clocks and of the Royal Appointment as Clockmaker to the Crown until his death in 1854. He is responsible for an impressive number of clocks including this one, which is probably most watched at 11am each weekday morning and 10am on Sundays as those times mark the beginning of the daily ceremony of Changing the Queen’s Lifeguard (more details here).   

An entry on Wikipedia gives these details of the Horse Guards building clock:

The clock is sited in the turret above the main archway; it has two faces, one facing Whitehall and the other, Horse Guards Parade, each dial being 7 feet 5 inches (2.25 metres) in diameter. It strikes the quarter-hours on two bells. Originally made by Thwaites in 1756, the clock was rebuilt in 1815–16 by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, the clockmaker to King George III. Prior to the completion of the clock of Big Ben in 1859, the Horse Guards Clock was the main public clock in Westminster. A dark stain above the Roman number two on the clock face is supposed to mark the time of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, which took place in the roadway outside Horse Guards. The annual ceremony of Trooping the Colour commences when the Horse Guards Clock strikes eleven.

22 November 2019

Under my feet : Victoria and Albert Museum

Looking ‘Under my feet’ began as a series of ‘shoe selfies’ (I detest having my photo taken so seldom take face selfies), taken on my phone (so the photos are not very good quality) for posting on my Instagram account. But, almost immediately, I began to see noteworthy things under my feet and to realise how often I look up and around but not down. 

I have now begun to appreciate much more what lies beneath my feet and will occasionally blog about what I photograph. The subjects will probably be varied and a little random but hopefully interesting.

This first series of three photos was taken during a three-night stay in London at the end of October, a stay which included my first ever visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a museum that had long been on my list of must-visit places. As we were on a mission to give an Australian friend a brief taste of London’s famous sites, we didn’t stay long at the V&A so I am already planning a return visit but, as well as all the incredible exhibits that constantly drew my eyes up and around, I did make a point of looking down and so I couldn’t help but notice the incredible mosaic floors.

For my first ‘shoe selfie’ the design (photo above left) was a simple one but, as we visited other rooms within the museum, the mosaic designs just kept getting better and better. And I’ve now discovered that they have their own story to tell, a fascinating story of female convicts.

This is from a blog on the V&A’s website:

Starting in 1869, women from Woking Prison were employed in gangs. Using fragments of refuse marble, which they chipped into suitable sized pieces, they assembled blocks or ‘tiles’ of mosaic. These were then rubbed down to a level surface using a piece of York stone. The result became known as Opus Criminale.

The ‘Opus criminale’ was made by the women prisoners between about 1869 and 1873, following a design by Francis Wollaston Moody (1824-1886). Apparently, the idea of using convict labour, which was approved by the Home Secretary, was proposed by one Captain Du Cane, then a prison official, who went on to become ‘surveyor-general of prisons, chairman of the convict prison directors and inspector-general of military prisons’.   

Not all the museum’s mosaic floors were produced using prison labour: Moody’s designs, which included masks, sea creatures (like the dolphins included in the corner panel above) and geometric patterns, had originally been created for a landing on the West or Ceramic Staircase (now identified as Staircase I), which was crafted by the famous firm of Minton, Hollins & Company.   

Once that section had been completed, the designs were extended and the women prisoners’ work used for the additional floors, for the corridor between the Cast Courts (which is where I took the photo of the bearded man – possibly Poseidon), the cloister beneath the Sheepshanks Gallery (now the Museum bookshop), the Science Schools (now the Henry Cole Wing), and also for part of the V&A Museum of Childhood, a separate museum located in Bethnal Green.

So, if you get the chance to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, do try to tear your eyes away from the wealth of stunning designs all around you to take a few moments to appreciate these remarkable floors.

18 November 2019

London : drinking fountains

I was delighted to spot, completely by chance, these two lovely old drinking fountains during a recent visit to London. As I was out walking with friends, I couldn’t stop to get more detailed photos so have just a single image of each. I hope to return for a better look in the future.

George Sparkes Memorial Fountain
On the embankment, very close to Chelsea Old Church, is this 1880s memorial to George Sparkes
(1810-1878), who had worked as a judge in Madras for the East India Company and later bought a house in High Street, near the church.   

On his death, George Sparkes left his house and its extensive grounds, as well as a sizeable fortune (of £140,000) to his second wife, Emily Dowling (she had remarried). The drinking fountain, constructed of granite, was erected in April 1881, and bears two contemporary inscriptions, one in Latin and one in English:     

In Affectionate Remembrance of the Late
George Sparkes
Of Bromley in Kent Formerly Judge at Madras
In the East India Company’s Civil Service
A great and Good Man
Gifted with Every Refined Feeling
And Much Esteemed by All Who Knew Him
Died 30 January 1878
In His 68th Year
Erected by His Widow
A.D. 1880

The fountain was restored in 2016, as marked by another small plaque, which reads

The restoration of this fountain was undertaken by Transport for London and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The completion of the works was marked in a ceremony led by the Worshipful the Mayor of the Royal Borough, Councillor Robert Freeman on 18th May 2016

A document on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea website notes that the fountain also has four cattle troughs, though this part of London was not at all rural in 1881 so, presumably, it was more likely that horses, dogs and other animals used the lower water troughs. The document puts the cost of the memorial at £525.

Marquess of Westminster Memorial Fountain
This second fountain, also in Chelsea, on the corner of Pimlico and Ebury Roads, is also a memorial, this one to Richard Grosvenor (1795-1869), 2nd Marquess of Westminster

He was, amongst other things, an MP for Chester and later for Cheshire (and South Cheshire, after electoral boundary changes); Lord Steward of the Household; and a member of the Privy Council.

When he wasn’t hunting, fishing and indulging his family’s interest in horse racing, according to Wikipedia, he ‘gave generously to charity, and built and restored churches.’     

The Historic England website notes that the memorial fountain was erected around 1870 and was made of Portland stone and pink and grey granite. The style is Italian Renaissance and it features:

projecting bowls now filled. Upper stage pilastered to corner with carved capitals. Shell niche to each side, lined with mosaic work incorporating inscription. Dentil cornice and key pattern frieze. Surmounted by buff terracotta urn.

The inscription, which is on the east face of the memorial, reads ‘In memory of Richard Second Marquess of Westminster died 1869’.

15 November 2019

Lewes : chimney pots

One of the benefits of climbing a lot of steps to the top level of Lewes castle (well, almost – I couldn’t face the screaming, poorly behaved kids racing round madly on the top floor of the last turret) is the view, both of the surrounding landscape and over the nearby buildings of the town itself. As the castle sits high on a hilltop, you can’t see much of those buildings, except their rooves ... and their chimney pots.

And what wonderful chimney pots! Mostly terracotta, mostly quite plain, but some nicely decorated with swirling curves. And they are not all simply chimney pots – in the process of writing this blog post, I’ve discovered a range of names for the various parts of these structures for moving smoke away from a chimney. There are cowls and caps, flues and terminal bonnets, to prevent drafts, encourage airflow, exclude inclement weather, and to discourage birds from nesting.

11 November 2019

Lewes : Anne of Cleves House

As I’m sure most of you know, Anne of Cleves was the fourth  (and probably the luckiest) wife of England’s King Henry VIII ... but not for long. It seems that the woman who arrived in England in December 1539 was not as attractive to Henry as he had expected from Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait and, although the marriage did go ahead, it was not consummated and was annulled after just 6 months, in July 1540.

Anne was the daughter of a German duke and couldn’t just be sent packing, so Henry was obliged to bestow upon her a generous settlement of money and property. As well as Richmond Palace and Hever Castle, Anne was also gifted a house in Lewes, East Sussex and, though it’s believed she never even visited the house, let alone lived there, the property is now a museum named Anne of Cleves House.

Despite Anne’s absence from the house, it is actually a fascinating place to visit as it’s an excellent example of a grand Wealden hall house, a 15th-century timber-framed construction, built upon the remains of a 13th-century structure.

As a signboard in the house explains:

Wealden hall houses were expensive both in style and technique to build. Built of locally available materials the house is timber framed with a tile and stone roof. The existing original front elevation is also of stone and flint.
Hall houses had a large central hall with first floor rooms that jetted over the front of the building. At each end of the hall were bays or rooms. These bays included service and store rooms at one end and a parlour at the other. ...
Anne of Cleves House was built on a grander scale than a typical hall house and was designed to impress. The house was set within large gardens and orchard and had stables, farm buildings and a malthouse.

The large, open first-floor room is furnished as it would have been in Anne’s time, with beautifully carved furnishings, including chests and a four-poster bed. And you can easily see how the building was constructed, with wattle and daub walls and massive wooden beams.

Though it’s possible the kitchen would originally have been in a separate building to guard against accidental fires, a room on a lower level has been furnished as a kitchen would have been in the 15th century.

The property is managed by the Sussex Archaeological Society, which has made use of additional space in the basement to house an exhibition about the Wealden iron-making industry, and an upper room houses interesting items and artefacts from Lewes’s more recent past. Why there’s even a cafe for tea, coffee and rather scrumptious cakes!

08 November 2019

Lewes : Gutter hoppers

I discovered the joys of gutter hoppers (also known as rainwater hoppers or hopper heads) during a visit to Britain back in 2014 and blogged about the history of guttering (including some of my hopper and gargoyle finds) in a post to celebrate Britain’s National Gutters Day that November (by which time I was living in Cheshire). 

Gutter hoppers, their designs and dates have continued to fascinate me – as well as the overall architecture of a building, I like to look at the smaller, more intricate details of its construction. So, when I spent a day in Lewes, in East Sussex, last week, I couldn’t help but photograph the many attractive hoppers I spotted as we walked the twists, turns and twitterns of that lovely historic town.

The oldest hopper I discovered was lying on the floor at the Anne of Cleves House and Museum. I didn’t spot a sign to explain its presence – although the museum building dates from the 15th century, perhaps this hopper was a later addition that has since been replaced.

This beautiful object is in Southover Grange Gardens, a peaceful and lovely haven adjacent to the 16th-century grange, which now houses the Lewes Register Office, a cafe and a gallery shop. This is now a water pump above a well but I can’t help wondering if it was once a gutter hopper.

Although parts of this building date back to the 16th century, Pelham House was enlarged in the mid-18th century and again in the early 19th century, so I imagine the stunning lion-embossed gutter hoppers were added during one of those later constructions.

Lewes Crown Court was built of Portland stone in the early 1800s so this hopper, dated MCMXXX (1930), is obviously a more modern addition. It’s proof, though, that modern doesn’t have to be boring!

05 November 2019

East Sussex : Clocking on

I’ve just returned from a brief visit with friends in East Sussex and in London so there’ll be a few blogs about some of the architectural features I noticed on my travels. The first of these concerns clocks.

I wondered why so many churches have clocks on their towers but, as a friend pointed out, in times past many people wouldn’t have had clocks or watches, so a clock in a prominent position provided a public service – and possibly helped ensure the congregation was on time for church services.

Hailsham: Parish Church
Hailsham Parish Church dates from the mid-fifteenth century but its clock was installed much later, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The church’s website says ‘Until that time the tower had a single diamond shaped clock face which had the distinction of having only one hand, the intervals between the numerals being divided into four quarters instead of five minutes.’

Lewes: Dial House, 221 Cliffe High Street
Dated 1824 and restored in January 2009, this stunning metal sun dial carries the motto Nosce Teipsum, which translates as ‘Know thyself’. Though I don’t know the original purpose of this building, which was built in the mid-17th century, I did discover that it housed a Quaker School for young women a couple of years after the date of the sundial, in 1826. In 2019, the building is home to the local branch of Waterstone’s bookshop.  

Lewes: St Michael’s Church
According to the Sussex Parish Churches website, this grand clock dates from the 19th century. The clock is not attached to the church itself but projects on decorative cast-iron brackets from the neighbouring church hall.

Lewes: Trinity Church, Southover (below, left)
The Trinity Church website has an excellent guide to the history of this magnificent old church – unfortunately, the guide makes no mention of the clock on the tower.

Lewes: Market Tower (above, right)

Lewes’s Market Tower, a Grade-II listed building, was constructed from red and brown brick in 1792. The crest below the clock depicts the arms of Lewes.

Pevensey: St Nicolas Church
Though this Anglican church is old, completed in 1216, its clock is rather more modern. According to Wikipedia, the two-sided tower clock was manufactured by Smiths of Derby and installed in 1908.   

Bexhill: Clock Tower
Though intended as a memorial to the coronation of Edward VII in August 1902, this clock tower was not completed until two years later. Except for the garish colour scheme, it is a rather plain construction of imitation Bath stone, with clock faces on all four sides. The Public Sculptures of Sussex website reports that the clock is not the original one.