Sunday, 24 November 2013

An Artistic Interior in Hampstead

"Miss Redpath was a cousin of one of the leading Pre-Raphaelites (I think Holman Hunt) and the interior of her house had already acquired a strong period flavour.  Immediately on entering one was confronted with a large reproduction of 'May Morning on Magdalen Tower' with an affectionate message from the artist scrawled on the mount, and on all sides one was conscious of Burne-Jones maidens yearning at one in sanguine chalk above bosky thickets of honesty and cape-gooseberries tastefully arranged in polished copper pots.  Elsewhere were many brass-rubbings of recumbent knights and innumerable Arundel prints, while the presence of several Della Robbia plaques, a set of faded, purplish photographs of the Gozzoli frescoes in the Medici Chapel  and some small, painstaking water-colours of Assisi, indicated that their owner shared to the full the Italophil enthusiasm of the late Victorians.  The two small ground-floor rooms in which, against Morris wallpapers, all these treasures were displayed were connected by an open arch so that it was possible on the moment of entry to see right through the house to the little orchard beyond.   This, besides filling the interior with a green, filtered light, invariably suggested to me the scene that would be revealed were one to walk through the range of buildings in the background of Millais' Autumn Leaves."

All Done from Memory Osbert Lancaster

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A town and country life for Constable

"My wife is at Hampstead, and both she and the infant are doing well.  I am endeavouring to secure a permanent small house there, and have put the upper part of this house into an upholsterer's hands to let, made my painting room warm and comfortable and have become an inhabitant of my parlours.  I am three miles from door to door, and can have a message in an hour.  I shall be more out of the way of idle caller, and above all, see nature, and unite a town and country life, and to all these things I hope to add a plan of economy…"

Letter to John Fisher, from  Charlotte Street,  November 28th 1826

" …This house is to my wife's heart's content; it is situated on an eminence… and our little drawing-room commands a view unsurpassed in Europe, from Westminster Abbey to Gravesend.  The dome of St. Paul's in the air seems to realise Michael Angelo's words on seeing the Pantheon: 'I will build such a thing in the sky.'  We see the woods and lofty grounds of the East Saxons to the north-east.   …I have painted one of my best pictures here."

Letter to John Fisher, from  Well Walk, Hampstead,  Aug 26th 1827

Memoirs of the Life of John Constable  C.R. Leslie

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

To Colin Cloute

Thy lovely Rosolinde seemes now forlorn,
  and all thy gentle flockes forgotten quight,
Thy chaunged hart now holdes thy pypes in scorne,
  those prety pypes that did thy mates delight.
Those trustie mates, that loved thee so well,
Whom thou gav'st mirth: as they gave thee the bell.

Yet as thou earst with sweete roundelayes,
  didst stirre to glee our laddes in homely bowers:
So moughtst thou now in these refined layes,
  delight the dainty eares of higher powers.
And so mought they in their deepe skanning skill
Alow and grace our Collyns flowing quill.

And fare befall that Faerie Queene of thine,
  in whose faire eyes love linked with vertue sits:
Enfusing by those bewties fiers devyne,
  such high conceites into thy humble wits,
As raised hath poor pastors oaten reede,
From rusticke tunes, to chaunt heroique deedes.


From To the learned Shepheard.  Hobynoll.

[Verse by Gabriel Harvey on Spenser's The Faerie Queene]

Sunday, 17 November 2013

John Painter at Hardwick Hall

"The ceiling and cornice in the Long Gallery were entrusted to another plasterer, John Marker, and the frieze was painted by John Painter -- a name which may have been a convenient substitute for something unpronounceably foreign.  Painter occupied an important position, acting as a sort of general foreman as well as exercising his own craft, for which he had to be supplied with a lot of special material.  For example, four gallons of linseed oil at fourpence the gallon and a runlet to put the oil in.  Two pounds of yellow ochre cost another four pence and two hundredths of painting gold came to twelve shillings.  He also needed a pound of red lead and six pounds of varnish which was bought at Nottingham at sixteen pence the pound, not to mention two pounds of verdigrease [sic] which cost six shillings and eightpence.  Other exotic sounding commodities ordered by John Painter include fernando bark, brasill, blockwood, allorme, fusticke and coppris, but his list ends with a prosaic request for a pound of gum and two pounds of glue costing one and fivepence."

Mistress of Hardwick  Alison Plowden

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Tudor writing box

Writing-box from the court of Henry VIII, wood, covered with painted and gilded leather, c. 1525
Figures represented are Mars and Venus, head of Christ and St. George, and Paris and Helen of Troy in roundels (after designs by Hans Burgkmair).

©  Victoria & Albert Museum

Monday, 11 November 2013

Two Minutes' Silence

Sunday, 9 November 1947

"Two points of interest today.  Potato rationing, and the fact that I observed the Two Minutes' Silence in the kitchen here, with the two German POWs.  If anyone had told me on 11 November 1918, that,  twenty-nine years later, I should observe the Silence in my kitchen, with two German POWs from World War II, I should have thought they were crazy.  I wonder with whom I shall observe it in, say, ten years' time, after World War III has happened?  Hermann brought me two large turnips."

B. Charles in Our Hidden Lives, the Remarkable diaries of Post-war Britain  ed.  Simon Garfield

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Posted to France

"Half past five.  And still Commandant has not sorted the letters.
.    .   .    .    .
At six o'clock the room is practically empty.  Those who are hungry for letters have given up in despair and gone to lie down.  The ten o'clock convoy may turn out a certainty, although the eight o'clock one is off.  Five new drivers arrive straight out from England.  They look half-dead.  They have had a drive of about seventy miles in the snow in an ambulance on top of a filthy crossing to Boulogne.  They are completely exhausted.  The tea is finished, too.  I am about to enquire of cook when Commandant comes in.  She eyes the newcomers severely and, without any greeting, turns to me.
'Smith, show these drivers to the vacant beds and see they report to me in five minutes.'
What a welcome! No wonder the poor things look depressed.  She leaves her door open.  I simply dare not ask about the tea.
'I'm dying for a cup of tea,' says one, 'and then I'm going to have a sleep.'

Poor deluded fool.  She has no idea she will be sent straight out to learn the various localities of the different hospitals, to take over her own ambulance at midnight.  She is lucky if she gets a cup of hot tea first.  It all depends whether Commandant has closed her door and I can bully cook.

'Smith.  Take one of these new drivers. Preston, go with Smith.'

The snow is thick now.  I am so cold my fingers refuse to grip the wheel. ... How am I going to point out the landmarks when they are all snow-obscured?  The black tree-stump on the left that leads to Number Eight, the shell-hole that indicates the turning to Number Five, and so on.  Familiar as the landscape is to me, it takes me all my time to keep my bearings.  We go on and on in silence till the station is reached.  We couldn't converse, even if we felt chatty.  The snow gets in our mouths every time we open them.
This girl has been twice round the camp...I am only supposed to take her once.  But so worried am I at the possibility of the wounded men being ditched in the snow ... or worse... I have exceeded my duty.  The result is she has not located one hospital correctly.

It is after ten when we get back.  I am so numb I cannot feel my feet.  All I want is a hot drink, a fag, a hot-water bottle, and an hour's stew in my fleabag.

There are four letters on my camp-bed from my sister Trix, one from mother, one in a handwriting I do not recognise, and one from Aunt Helen.  They can wait until I am warm and cosy under my blankets."

Not So Quiet ... Stepdaughters of War  Helen Zenna Smith (pseudonym of Evadne Price)  based on the war diaries of Winifred C. Young.
[This is one of the less searing passages to read of those young ambulance drivers' experiences on the night convoys of wounded men.]

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The purloined pages

"November 1.
Mrs Birrell called, and in reply to me, said: 'She never see no book, much less take such a liberty as touch it.'
.... I would willingly give ten shillings to find out who tore my diary."

"November 9.  My endeavors to discover who tore the sheets out of my diary still fruitless."

"November 11.
 Returned home to find the house in the most disgraceful uproar....Sarah was excited and crying.  Mrs Birrell (the charwoman) who had evidently been drinking, was shouting at the top of her voice.  Lupin .... was standing between the two women, and I regret to say, in his endeavour to act as peace-maker, he made use of rather strong language in the presence of his mother; and I was just in time to hear him say: 'All this fuss about the loss of a few pages from a rotten diary that wouldn't fetch three-halfpence a pound!'  I said, quietly: 'Pardon me, Lupin, that is a matter of opinion; and as I am master of this house, perhaps you will allow me to take the reins.'

I ascertained that the cause of the row was, that Sarah had accused Mrs Birrell of tearing the pages out of my diary to wrap up some kitchen fat and leavings which she had taken out of the house last week.  Mrs Birrell had slapped Sarah's face, and said she had taken nothing out of the place, as there was 'never no leavings to take'. I ordered Sarah back to her work, and requested Mrs Birrell to go home.  When I entered the parlour Lupin was kicking his legs in the air, and roaring with laughter."

The Diary of a Nobody  George and Weedon Grossmith

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Publishers' wares in Westminster

"During this time I noticed the windows of publishers' offices. To say that the standard of display has now improved will be to make those who had not marked their former disarray boggle with incredulity.  The faded crepe paper and yellow jackets of one were matched by the dust and dead flies of another.  Warped bindings, scratched peg-boarding, bearing the hangover of last year's sellotape, curling show-cards and scarred areas of cobwebbed woodwork displaying nothing except the need for a char -- these typified the average publisher's window.  In some cases, still do.  But many are now making concessions to current trends and while the effect is mostly pathetic there are exceptions, like Heinemann's, who in their new building in Queen Street, Mayfair, mount eye-catching set pieces.  Macmillan's, in St Martin's Street and Collins', in St. James's Place, however, maintain a stately domestic dignity and do not show their wares at all."

The Book of Westminster  ed. Ian Norrie

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Parliament in Flames

..."I saw the fire of the two Parliament Houses; and, what was curious enough, Matthew Allan (of York, you remember) found me out in the crowd there, whom I had not seen for years.  The crowd was quiet, rather pleased than otherwise; whew'd and whistled  when the breeze came as if to encourage it:
'there's a flare-up (what we call shine) for the House of Lords.' -- 'A judgment for the Poor Law Bill!'  -- 'There go their hacts' (acts)!  Such exclamations seemed to be the prevailing ones.   A man sorry I did not anywhere see. -- They will have to build a new house; and it may produce consequences not generally foreseen yet..."

Letters  Thomas Carlyle

[The Houses of Parliament were burnt in October 1834, not November 5th; the old Court of Exchequer wooden tally sticks were being burnt in the furnace and the fire spread to the Palace of Westminster buildings above]  

Friday, 1 November 2013

Gough Square to Gunpowder Alley

For the shade of the author of Rasselas still seems to haunt the scenes of his Titanic labours, and his ponderous but homely and temperate rejoicings.  Every court and alley whispers of books and the making of books; formes of type trundled noisily on trollies by inksmeared boys, salute the wayfarer at odd corners, piles of strawboard, rolls or bales of paper, drums of printing-ink or roller composition stand on the pavement outside dark entries; basement windows give glimpses into Hadean caverns tenanted by legions of printer's devils, and the very air is charged with the hum of press  and with odours of glue and oil.  The entire neighbourhood is given to the printer and binder;..."

Dr. Thorndyke and the Eye of Osiris  R. Austin Freeman