Sunday 30 August 2015

The Gardens Of Selwyn College

Just behind Selwyn College's Chapel there are gardens to explore. These were laid out in the Victorian era, soon after the college was founded, so the gardens and particularly the trees have had time to mature into the lovely retreat we can wander through today.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Now, I think we have to venture through this gate and descend the steps....

From the lawn at the base of the steps you can look across to the rather prosaically-named "Victorian Beds".

That shadow which you can see encroaching at the bottom right is being cast by one of the corner spires of the Chapel.

There's a wonderful display of Dahlias at this time of year. We now take them to be "typically English" but they originally came from Mexico where they were eaten as food (!). Apparently the gardener stores the tubers under the Chapel to over-winter.

As you wander around the bed you'll find it's an "island-bed" in that it's completely surrounded by lawns. From the far side there's a view back to the Chapel, which misleadingly looks as though it's atop a high hill from this angle. The island-bed also starts to look as though it's a tropical island! 

The garden also has a pond whose mirrored surface was reflecting the summer skies.... least it was till the interfering foot of the photographer produced these lovely ripples.

Turning back to our island I investigated the gravel path leading through this tropical wonderland. Could this really be in Cambridge, England?

I'm not sure how I could have lived all my life in this area without ever visiting, or even hearing about, this wonderful place. If you ever visit Cambridge and want to see for yourself you'll find it's not far from the touristy areas and is right next to Newnham College which we also visited recently. Incidentally don't be misled by a nearby residential street called Selwyn Gardens.

Take care.

Friday 28 August 2015

Introducing Selwyn

A month or so ago we visited Sidney, or in other words we had a look around Sidney Sussex College. You may remember that we found the old fellow hiding behind a rather nondescript door opposite Sainsbury's supermarket. Today I'll introduce you to Selwyn, or rather Selwyn College, who resides in a much leafier part of town.

Immediately you enter through Selwyn's gatehouse you are confronted by the college chapel. In general shape it echoes the structure of the much bigger and more famous King's College Chapel, but there the similarities end. Cambridge colleges fall into two groups, the old and the new. This is because no colleges at all were founded between 1596 and 1800 in Cambridge. So, while "Sidney" is one of the old codgers, "Selwyn" is a new upstart, dating from 1878.

So lets first visit the Chapel, avoiding walking on the grass by following the path past the Hall, which was added by the architects Grayson & Ould in 1908-09. The style is Victorian Gothic Revival, harking back to the style of earlier college buildings, as is the Chapel itself. 

The Chapel, although smaller than the massive King's College Chapel, is nevertheless large for the size of the college. Perhaps this is a reflection of the way in which the college was founded. The "Selwyn", after whom it's named, is George Augustus Selwyn, the first Bishop of New Zealand (and later of Lichfield). It was founded, not by Selwyn himself, but in his honour by the Selwyn Memorial Committee which was set up following his death. There are also Selwyn Colleges in Auckland and Otago.  

The college was originally only for Christian men and especially those who were the sons of clergy or who were planning to take up missionary work. The Chapel, as you've seen already, is very grand with lots of fine carved wood.

Again it recalls earlier architectural styles and there are even imitations of medieval carved bench-ends on the choir stalls. Some of them, like the one on the right above, look as though they might be caricatures.

Despite all this grandeur, Sir Nikolas Pevsner, in his great work on English architecture, dimisses the Chapel with faint praise - "tall and not bad". 

There is a very striking and highly-polished brass lectern of conventional eagle design... 

.....which gives nice fisheye-lens style reflections of the interior, including the modern but traditional Karin Jonzen sculptures beneath the east window.

Rather oddly the view looking back from the altar is even more grand than that when you enter, with the huge expanses of carved woodwork surrounding the mighty organ.

But now it's time we wandered outside into the sunlight and went in search of the gardens.


It's the Horse, of course....

My recent post about the works of sculpture on display in Jesus College asked for your opinions of the various pieces. It was a bit of a non-contest really as many of you (but by no means all) went with Barry Flanagan's sculpture of the horse.

However there was also considerable support for "This And This And This", or the Triangles as many of you re-named it, by Eva Rothschild, which was also my personal favourite. Interestingly none of us could really say what it was that we liked about it. 

Thanks to all you who offered your views which are always interesting.

Take care.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Time For Surprises

While pedalling through the Hertfordshire Countryside recently I came across three unusual churches in the villages of Ayot St Peter and Ayot St Lawrence. I'll show you them in the order I came across them. The clock at the top of this post is to be found on the tower of the church at Ayot St Peter.

It's not particularly old but I think it's one of the prettiest little churches I've ever seen. It was built in just six months in 1875 and designed by the architect J P Seddon in the style of the day.  A stone set into the wall tells that it replaces a previous church, built only a few years previously, which had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The architect of the earlier church, J L Pearson, still very much alive and at the height of his powers, was understandably rather irked not to be asked to design the replacement.

The church was locked which was a pity since, as well as having an attractive arts and crafts interior, it contains a lump of metal from the old church bells which was melted by the lightning strike - I would have liked to have seen that. 

But onwards to Ayot St Lawrence.....

Now what on earth is that rising up over the pastoral meadows of Hertfordshire?

That, my friends, is St Lawrence's Church. Unexpected as it is in this location, it's actually a very important building in the history of architecture. It was designed by Nicholas Revett, who had recently returned from a trip, which he organised for himself and three friends, to Athens where they studied the architecture of Ancient Greece. Although Revett himself is largely forgotten these days, his observations went on to have a major influence on many famous buildings, from the Brandenburg Gate to The British Museum to The US Capitol Building.

The interior of the church is very stylish if not exactly warm and intimate. It just never really caught on as a style for parish churches in the countryside of Olde England. In New England it's a different matter, I believe. 

The building was completed in 1778 at the request of Sir Lionel Lyde of Ayot House. Sir Lionel's final resting place is beneath the portico on the right hand side of the church as you see it in the photo below. He apparently did not get on particularly well with his wife and declared "What the church has joined together in life, may it keep apart in death"! His wife is accordingly buried on the other side of the church.

Just a little way across the fields you can find this....

This is the earlier church which is now semi-ruinous. It's reported that Sir Lionel Lyde did not like this rustic old building spoiling the view from his house and started to have it demolished. However the Bishop intervened and insisted that the remains were preserved, hence the romantic ruin we see today.

It may also be, of course, that Sir Lionel actually wanted a romantic ruin in his view as such things were quite fashionable at the time.

What we see today is a wonderful mix of building materials: brick, stone and that uniquely East Anglian ingredient, field stones and knapped flint, which can be seen in this blocked doorway above.

So just remember: when you see that little church symbol on your map, you can never be exactly sure what you're going to find.

Take care.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Whaddaya Think?

What to do on a wet afternoon in Cambridge? You could do worse than wander around one of the many colleges. Umbrella at the ready, I ventured into the grounds of Jesus College where the usual collection of sculpture was augmented by an exhibition called "Sculpture In The Close". But what to make of this weird and wonderful collection? What do you make of them? I'd love to hear your favourites and, perhaps, your least favourites.

Bronze Horse - Barry Flanagan

Call It Hadrian's Wall - Geoffrey Clarke

Ripper(left) and Tread Toe - James Capper

Empress - Barry Lane

American Images - Lucy Skaer

Daedalus On Wheels - Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

Lucifer - Bryan Kneale

Bird-Cherry Tree Sculpture - Richard Bray
(may still be a work in progress) 

This And This And This - Eva Rothschild

The Cricketer - Barry Flanagan

OK, lets put it to the vote.

Take care.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Through The Hertfordshire Countryside

The old fool's been out on his bicycle again. Peering at his well-worn map, turning the pedals with his worn-out legs and snapping lots of photographs of the August landscape. I started off from Knebworth having taken the bike for a little ride on the train, then did a sort of untidy loop which returned me to Knebworth once more. Oh yes, there were some churches which interrupted my progress, but lets leave them for another day.

It's that time of year that I used to look forward to so much when I worked on the farm: when harvest work is almost done. There's still a bit to do but with the huge machines they use these days it shouldn't take too long. 

So I passed some working farms with equipment left around haphazardly to be tidied up at a later date.

This beautiful countryside is also well-supplied with houses like this, with perfect lawns and flower-beds, cars in the drive and signs warning you that there are security cameras in operation. Maybe they were taking pictures of me as I was taking pictures of them!

But most of the day was spent pedalling roads like this one. There was very little traffic which was just as well as there's hardly any room to pass anyway. The only problem with this part of the county is that there are an awful lot of high hedges restricting the views.

Suddenly I was biking through a coniferous plantation: most unusual for Hertfordshire. 

Every now and again there were little glimpses of the kind of untidiness that I love to see and photograph.

Then I joined the "Ayot Greenway", which is a posh name for what used to be the old Welwyn to Luton railway. It opened in 1858, Luton previous to this being the largest town in England which was not connected to the rail system. Soon though more lines were built to Luton, though this branch limped along till 1966. Now it's a cycle route and part of the National Cycle Network.

There were occasional views from the old railway line which suggest that it may have been quite a scenic route for at least part of its distance.

Then it was back to minor roads again to turn towards home. I spotted this nice old post-box dating from the reign of George V, attached to a farm building.

A different farm building: a beautifully preserved old barn. Whoever has kept this in such good condition without being tempted to turn it to some other use should be highly commended.

You'll notice that the cloud has been building during the afternoon, with the sun playing hide and seek. At times when the sunshine disappeared just as the road plunged into one of those leafy tunnels I was left in semi-darkness. OK, maybe it's time to take my sunglasses off! But I wasn't expecting to encounter this.....

Luckily the driver had climbed out unharmed, though how he managed to turn over I can't imagine. Lucky too that there was just room for me to squeeze through.

A little further along I came across a rather happier scene as there was a gymkhana in progress in Knebworth Park. So I was nearly back, I just had to cross the bridge over the A1(M) road.

Now where are they all going in such a hurry? I hope that they all....
......take care.

And you too,
Take care.