Monday, 22 February 2016
Winter wanderings: Kew, Ditchling, Chelsea
So we had some real winter at last, in short spells (who knows, there may be more to come). On the weekend of the first big freeze, which coincided with Lumiere London 2016 and yielded a clear half-moon in the afternoons and evenings, we took a spin around Kew Gardens.
Snowdrop weekends arrived early at Chelsea Physic Garden,
so it was time to follow the route south-eastwards from him via the fabulous Old Brompton Cemetery - what wouldn't real-estate developers do to get their hands on its huge expanses - with its mini-St Peter's homage, colonnades and dome included
south-eastwards from home. There were in fact plenty of snowdrops in patches around the cemetery.
And I wanted to see the little exhibition of David Jones's animal paintings and drawings in Ditchling below Sussex's South Downs before it finished - that on what turned out to be the least promising of the days. The bridleway from Burgess Hill was a quagmire and took us a long time to negotiate
though it brought us out by a splendid 1703 windmill which seems to be in good hands
and the barrow just above the village looked rather impressive through bare beech trees.
The outlines of big trees in winter have a handsomeness all their own: here, an oak in a line of trees stretching northwards uphill towards the windmill
and here in Kew, a prize specimen in sharper, sunny weather.
We'd been longing to get out, do more, take four days off abroad between Christmas and half term, but workloads and dates got in the way. Still, I can't complain, when nature in London can look like this
- in other words, the Serpentine on another clear, cold morning - and a heron
can be seen motionless among the bobbing gulls and geese near the public bathing area.
Bird-life was frenzied in Kew on that even colder day. Somewhere up in this Spanish chestnut a woodpecker was drilling.
J did get him on camera eventually, for ocular proof, but it's probably not worth reproducing the results. The flash of red against the green was the giveaway. The parakeets which have now multiplied up and down the Thames were screeching away as usual, though this one seems puffed up to keep warm in the freeze
while gulls were just sitting or standing on the ice.
Further advances towards the spring were apparent on the way to the Physic, not least in Paultons Square
and either side of Chelsea Old Church's tower.
A little further along Cheyne Walk, I dropped my camera through the railings having snapped this perfect white camellia flower
and fortunately an American resident answered our frantic calls on the bell and allowed me to wander into the bushes to retrieve it.
Peppers and grapefruits are thriving in the CPG
and I brought back for the window boxes specimens of Crocus chrysanthus 'Gypsy Girl'
and Fritillaria michailovskyi
which are doing well among the still-flowering scented pelargoniums.
These were art-ful walks. I'm now very familiar with the best of Old Brompton Cemetery, not least the prize tomb designed by Burne-Jones for Frederick Leyland (d. 1892), ship-owner and patron of the Pre-Raphaelites
while to the south in the same line stands an old gothic sarcophagus in Sienese marble, a singular monument for Leyland's son-in law, the artist Val Prinsep (d.1904).
Don't know much about this one, but I like the comedy and tragedy masks either side of the muse.
I've enjoyed the Serpentine Gallery simply for wandering through: the most recent exhibition, which closed last Sunday, has ephemeral objects in day-glo colours by Dublin-born Michael Craig-Martin (b.1941)
nicely placed in the rooms
above all the cassette and torch beneath the central dome.
Transience was the exhibition's title, and that just about says it all.
Our friend Tilly had drawn our attention to the David Jones exhibition in Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. It's a beautifully designed gallery - though 30 years old, it must have had a makeover and a huge injection of cash recently - and very educative on the group of artists gathered round Eric Gill when he came here. I didn't realise we were seeing its conglomeration of buildings across the pond as we walked into the village.
The first main room is currently hosting the 'Wunderkammer' of beloved Mark Hearld, two of whose gouaches we snapped up in Ledbury long before he become the cynosure of all prints and greetings cards.
Folk art and toy animals which have informed his prints, drawings and paintings share the cases.
Gill's two garden rollers are beautifully carved. As the museum's blurb to an online photo (this is mine, as are all except the ones of the Nye drawing and the elephant painting), 'Gill’s two garden rollers demonstrate his importance both as a sculptor and as an exquisite letter cutter. The rollers also reflect the two communities in which he lived; one was carved for the weaver Ethel Mairet’s home in Ditchling, while the other was cut to Gill’s design by David Kindersley for Gill’s home in Buckinghamshire'.
I liked his profile portraits, especially the ones of David Jones in pencil and coloured crayon, drawn shortly after Jones had come to Ditchling in 1921
and of Ditchling resident John Nye, who had been killed in the Battle of the Somme by the time Gill completed this portrait from a photograph, possibly as a memorial.
Can't say many of the Jones animals enthralled me - should have gone to the bigger Pallant House exhibition in Chichester before it closed today - but there's a sketch for the famous elephant
which perhaps I like even more for its simple lines and touches of colour.
In its own humble way the church, handsomely placed on a hill
with an over-restored interior and only the odd treasure, like this monument to Henry Poole (d. 1580),
was doing its bit with an exhibition of another sort, summing up the iniquities of hostility towards refugees
and the appalling persecutions (including the throwing of gay men off high buildings) these people face at home. Katie Hopkins' odious Daily Mail definition of refugees as 'cockroaches' is given its full, disgusting context, too.
Bravo, or brava, that vicar.
The plan had been to walk along the ridge of the downs back to Hassocks via a fascinating-sounding medieval painted church at Clayton, but it was beginning to drizzle again, the light was fading and so we took a bus back to Burgess Hill. Plenty still to explore here. As a sunset coda, here's a walk we took back through Kensington Gardens from visiting Teddy and his owners last Sunday.
And I'll end where I started, with a half-moon and bare branches, exactly a month on from the first shot.