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.


Liam said...

Very beautiful photos and text ,david, one felt one was there. You could produce a beautiful little series of booklets.


David said...

Thanks, dear Liam. One thing I might like to do is eventually to produce a book of the Norfolk churches walks, but we need to do at least 10 more first...

Sooo-this-is-me said...

I don't think you are allowed to use the word winter when you have green grass, flowers and birds flying around, lol! We call that spring! I'm sending you ice and snow by the tonne right now. Beautiful pictures, they made my day.

David said...

S-t-i-m, you should have felt the temperature at Kew - probably not as cold as what you have in Canada, but still well below freezing. Didn't bother the birds, though, and I like cold if it goes with clear and dry. Heck, I even liked -14 in Moscow, though I soon found out that can't walk around in it for more than 20 minutes.

Susan Scheid said...

Blooms and flowers, hallelujah. It remains gray and brown here, so it's especially cheering to be reminded that spring is coming on somewhere in the world. Your half-moons provide the perfect book-ends for this wonder-filled post.

David said...

Everything seems to have gone back into a sort of limbo, though we did have a couple of days of that golden-brown light peculiar to February earlier this week. And it seemed so odd to go to, and leave, Glyndebourne in the dark yesterday (phenomenal youth opera I must now write up).

Laurent said...

Certainly looks like Spring but I can imagine the cold damp in the City. It is much nicer to see Winter retreat has we did in PEI where we had European Spring weather but then again we are only 4 hours from Europe, back in Ottawa its -24C with loads of snow. I know that you and J. are great walkers and I enjoy a good walk but Will not so much anymore, can't walk so fast anymore.

I think that is what we love so much about the Island even when you are on the beach facing the Atlantic, the air is cold but different and it is so quiet. Lovely pictures and so much history. I would not worry too much about the developers at the old Bromley Cemetery, not likely they can move in unless its in a pine box.

David said...

Yes, the island looks beautiful. Any island, even ones which used to be prisons like Capraia off the Tuscan coast, has a special magic.

There's a constant battle to keep Brompton Cemetery going, led by a devoted team of Friends. As you know, bones can be disinterred and moved - how many years do folk get on San Michele in Venice? - so eternity is not guaranteed.

Laurent said...

What, what? Eternity not guaranteed! What a revelation, you are shattering dogma, but all joking aside this is why we go for ashes in my family, easier to dispose of eternally. I think I misspelled Brompton, me and names, ohlala!

David said...

Can't decide between burial and cremation. Wish I was like Mr Bialetti who invented the espresso pot and had the wacky idea of his ashes in that. Makes the usage of such things feel a bit odd now for the rest of us.

Bromley is in Kent, Brompton is a slightly lost zone of inner London immortalised only by its cemetery and the splendidly designed little West Brompton station next to it.