Just over a week ago I was in London – busy, bustling, exciting, varied – so much to see, so much to do. I love visiting London, love the excitement, the endless small details of interest, the big statements of serious important world-changing matters in one of the largest cities in the world.
A visit away is always unsettling – even the kits feel it. Eggy seems to think that if I can take Northumbrian heather to London, I could take her too.It was nominally a visit to see family and friends. To visit my nonagenarian mother (92!) in her Surrey nursing home …And sit in the autumn sun on the bench marking my father’s life …This London trip was different because both my children have moved to areas of London that I don’t know at all, and for one who hates using the Underground like me travel round London is always a challenge!
My daughter’s bedsit was the easier visit because it’s at Mornington Crescent, within walking distance of King’s Cross station where I’d arrived. These tall houses remind me strongly of those at Earls Court where I used to live in the 1970s. The building on the right in the photograph above is the back of the amazing Carreras Cigarette Factory (now the London headquarters of Asos).This is just the sort of the thing I love about London – the serendipity of discovering fascinating buildings, and architectural detailing everywhere. Black cats were part of the Carreras branding, and if you look carefully, you will see them right high up over the windows. I would love to see what it’s like inside.Her little flatlet allows for window sill picnics …And there’s just space for Mum to tog up before gadding about London.The highlight of my visit with Helen was a trip to the Victoria and Albert museum. I used to visit regularly, but for one reason and another haven’t been for many years. We are watching ITV’s Victoria which is a lot of fun even if I doubt some of the nineteenth century veracity. A major theme is Albert’s struggle for some sort of role, and with this in mind, I was amused to see on the entrance façade that Victoria is very much in the senior position. She – with orb and crown and sceptre – stands high over the entrance; Albert – a mere mortal – is far below over the main door.The great delight again with a museum such as the Victoria and Albert museum is the serendipitous treats all around. Look at the marvels of the design of the original building here – that stucco, those arches, a rotunda above – coupled with a magnificent mediaeval altarpiece – and to crown it all a striking piece of modern glass. So much good to see that you don’t really know where to start. I had it in mind to visit the glass gallery after reading LittleLollyTravels blogpost London Baby! some while ago. On the way to the glass we were seduced first by the tins …What a particularly desirable biscuit tin this one is!And then the metalwork … This fantastically snakey green wrought iron piece is a window grille from Castel Henriette, designed by Hector Guimard. Sadly, Castel Henriette has been demolished, but if you travel on the Paris Metro, you can see more of Guimard’s metal designs at some of the entrances. What chance that this lovely piece ended up in the V & A?!!
The glass gallery – when found – was indeed a treat. From the 1969 sculpture “Lollipop Isle”, designed by Oiva Toikka for Nuutajärvi glassworks …To the dawn of the twentieth century with these exquisite German drinking glasses (I posted this picture on Instagram and everybody declared the crocus glass on the left to be their favourite – I wonder which is yours?) …To the nine earlyish Egyptian or perhaps Iraqi fragments of glass, dated to sometime in the 7th – 12th centuries (this case contains lots of fascinating treasures, generally Middle Eastern glass, of the same period) I am blown away by the pattern on these glass fragments …Only a snapshot of what we saw, but there is really no way to justice to this remarkable museum.
My London travels then took me (very bravely by Underground – buses would have involved hours of travel) to Walthamstow where my son now lives. His cottagey terraced house couldn’t be more of a contrast to the mansions of Mornington Crescent. But nice detailing still mostly unspoilt (despite the conversions to modern windows), and I think William Morris would have approved. Walthamstow is very much William Morris’s place. What a way to improve a car park!He grew up in Water House, and this fine building is now the William Morris museum.Morris is intriguing because he defies fashion with an enduring appeal. He was enormously popular in his lifetime, of course. In my youth in the 1970s, he had a comeback, fitting in with the hippy vibe rather well. And now, he seems to be all the rage again – check out this article on New York Fashion week!
So, all the patterns are very familiar – either I’ve had furnishings made of them sometime in my life, or known someone who did. Part of the fun then in the museum was looking for old friends.
It was also intriguing to see how the designs were created. Here’s the Trellis design, both in its raw design state, and as a completed wallpaper print. We know this 1862 print as Morris’ first design for wallpaper, but, in fact, it was Philip Webb who drew the birds. Without them, Morris’ rose trellis would be somewhat lacking. I hadn’t realised how collaborative these designs were.Pleasing details in the museum included these oak drawers – beautiful smooth action, and look at those leather handles. I’m sure William Morris would have liked these.And I was glad to see the museum had fully exploited the fine patterns at its disposal with Morris prints decorating their very superior toilet facilities.The gardens of Water House are now a public park under the care of that rare species (nowadays) a park keeper.We decided that it was the work experience student who was helping with the planting earlier this year and that is why some beds are surrounded with silvery grey foliage and others are not.Like the visitor from Peru, I cannot praise this museum too highly – if you are in London, check it out!In complete contrast to the sumptuousness of the V & A and the William Morris Gallery, I paid a visit to the Wellcome Institute to see their Bedlam exhibition. I’ve been there several times before – it’s a most convenient gallery to visit if you have time spare while waiting for a train to leave King’s Cross railway station (just a little further up the Euston Road). There is a fascinating permanent collection of medical curiosities from the past, and some most interesting modelling of modern problems like obesity.
But I was there to see an exhibition on Bedlam, the infamous London mental asylum founded in the 1700s. Well – that was the starting point of the exhibition, but it continued to examine attitudes to mental health in the years up to the present, as well as focussing on art associated with mental health.
The exhibition was very crowded – lots of students making notes busily. By chance I became separated from my friend. People swirling round me as I looked and looked for a familiar face in the crowd. Suddenly, I realised how cleverly the exhibition was structured to give an impression of the helplessness of the inmates of an asylum. A deeply thought-provoking exhibition.Such a brief visit – lots of interest, company, catching up with family and dear friends. I have now returned to the big skies of a very autumnal Northumberland …Still plenty to do in the garden …The farmer and seagulls are busy too …Working long and late into the night …How incongruously different Northumberland seems from London!