We’ve taken many taxis while in London, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the political discussions we’ve had with the cab drivers, all of whom showed a class consciousness not seen in the U.S. One issue on the drivers’ minds was the argument between a Conservative Minister, Andrew Mitchell, and the police guarding the gates to 10 Downing Street. The police asked the Minister to dismount his bike and walk it through the pedestrian gate next to the main gate, which was closed. The Minister started to curse at the police and wound up calling them “plebs”. This happened a day after two police women had been murdered in Manchester, and the police throughout the country were very security conscious, as well as being upset.No one we talked to was happy with the Minister.
Another area of discussion was our upcoming election. Romney wasn’t held in too high regard because of his diplomatic faux pas during his visit this summer. We also heard remarks about the UK’s ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and George Bush which weren’t too complimentary to say the least.
But, enough about politics and back to our wanderings. On one of our few walks, we passed the Natural History Museum on the way to a restaurant named after my Great-grandmother’s sister--Garfunkel’s (only fair beef pie). The Museum has bands of colored terra cotta around its facade, as well as many terra cotta animal sculptures.
We did pass some interesting, skinny houses in the area. This one was on Thurloe Square near South Kensington Station.
We also saw a sign on the side of a building, which we hoped would lead us to an old-style, tiled butcher shop, but no such luck. Only the sign remained, and no one in the restaurant in the building knew anything about the butcher shop.
Since it was supposed to rain the next day, we postponed our trip to Oxford and went, instead, to the British Museum on Great Russell Street where we saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, stripped from the Parthenon. (Of course there is the argument that the sculptures would have been in much worse shape if Lord Elgin had not removed them and shipped them to London. For some reason, though, many of the statues’ heads remained in Athens.) Again, we only saw a very small part of the collections in the British Museum, and perhaps we will be able to return.
On Monday we went to the Tate Modern, which is housed in a repurposed electrical plant, a few feet from the Millennium Bridge.
|Millennium Bridge with Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral in the background|
We didn’t see anything in the building that related to its history, though, but the Tate made an interesting use of its space. Many smaller rooms were dedicated to one or two artists with one to six works of each on display.
After we left the Tate, we walked over to the new Globe Theatre complex, but we were too late for a tour. We were befriended by the head of Globe’s security and his wife and wound up buying tickets for The Taming of the Shrew later in the week. The performance was excellent. The £5 “seats” were the standing area around the stage, just as it was in 1619, and it was raining on and off. We were in the covered bleachers just above the stage.
On one of our two trips to Bankside we met a mudlark. According to my Archaeology magazine, a mudlark is a person who walks along the banks of the Thames picking up artifacts. Our mudlark was a collector of animal bones and teeth. Bankside was once an entertainment area, and it had a number of bear-baiting pits and cock-fighting establishments. The detritus of these, as well as pottery and glass artifacts, can still be found preserved under the Thames mud.
The UK has been having “unusual weather” this past week--some areas have gotten a month’s rain in a day, there are gale force winds, and much flooding--causing us to delay our trips to places in the Midlands. On Tuesday we were supposed to visit the Potteries Museum in Hanley--one of the six towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, about a 90 minute train ride from Euston Station in London. Instead we took an “on-off” bus tour of London that included a cruise down the Thames. Although I couldn’t hear much of the tour commentary, I took photos of numerous unidentified buildings, as well as a few I could identify. Two had interesting mosaic friezes:
|An unidentified building with mosaic friezes|
“The distinctive mosaics along the second-floor level of the building were installed to advertise an early tenant, Dr. Antonio Salviati, who designed and manufactured mosaics. He was one of the principals responsible for the rebirth of Venetian glass after its nadir under the Austrian rule of Venice, and had British partners and a London shop. Amongst his better known works was the restoration of the mosaics in the Basilica San Marco in Venice, and the mosaics on the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London. Salviati also worked on some of the mosaics for St. Paul's Cathedral, London. In the world of vitreous mosaics he is one of the key players, and so the mosaics on Regent House are both nationally and internationally significant.
The designs on the façade were restored in 1999, and show (from l. to r.): the arms of the City of London (white shield with a red cross and a red sword in the top-left corner), a British Royal Lion holding the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, the arms of the City of Westminster (blue shield with a gold portcullis). By the way, Westminster is the second of the three cities that make up the heart of London, along with the Cities of London and Southwark.
The right-hand side shows a coat-of-arms I can't identify from the photo, the Lion of St. Mark over the Doge's cap, symbols of Venice, and finally the arms of the Island of Murano. Murano was and is where the Venetian glass industry is based (the glassmakers were forced to move their facilities to the island several hundred years ago to reduce the risk of fire in the city). The cities listed at the top were where the Compagni Salviati had shops.” (http://www.ifoapplestore.com/stores/regent_street.html)
On Wednesday we did finally use our BritRail passes and travel to Stoke-on-Trent, a complex of six towns that had a large pottery industry. We passed many flooded fields and almost overflowing canals. After alighting in Stoke, we saw two tile murals inside the station. They are made of tube-lined majolica tiles, installed in 1994. They were made in H. & R. Johnson’s tile factory in Tunstall, and they were designed by the artist Elizabeth Kayley with the help of local children. (Lynn Pearson's Tile Gazetteer)
We took a taxi to the Potteries Museum in Hanley, which has a fairly large collection of the works of many of the 17th through 20th centuries potters from the area. The brick and terra cotta frieze over the entrance was designed by the potter/sculptor Frank Maurier and installed in 1980 and illustrates the history of the pottery industry.
Lynn Pearson’s book also mentioned a church in Hanley, St. Marks, which had remarkable ceramic altar mosaics and reredos by the Minton and Doulton Potteries. I hiked over to the church, and the caretaker unlocked it so I could take photos.
This church was built in 1834 and designed by John Oates. In the 1860s it underwent extensive alterations. The tiled floor in the Sanctuary is by Minton & Co., and has a number of memorial plaques.
|A tile memorial plaque in the Sanctuary|
There are three, mainly gold mosaics on the front of the altar that were given to the church to honor its vicar in 1895, Edward Duncan Boothman.
|The three mosaics and part of the Minton & Co. tiled floor|
Most noteworthy, however, are the ceramic reredos--a massive Doulton terra cotta triptych by George Tinworth. The 1896 central panel, 5’ x 10’, depicts the Crucifixion. The two side panels were added in 1902. One depicts the “Visit of the Wise Men”, and the other depicts the “Visit of the Shepherds”. (Tile Gazetteer)
|(These have been overpainted in gray!!!)|
We have since used our BritRail passes to visit Oxford and go to the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society (TACS) tile festival in Nottingham.