We were taken to admire Brockwell Park this afternoon which is not something I would normally have thought of doing.   But it is surprisingly atmospheric, windswept and on the first hill outside London, halfway between Brixton and Norwood, with views north east towards the city and south to Crystal Palace.   The hall at the top was originally the seat of John Blades, a glass merchant, and its park bought by the LCC in March 1891 as an urban amenity, which indeed it is.

The view up the hill from near the Lido:-

The organic garden and community greenhouses:-

And the old walled kitchen garden, which was made in the 1890s into a formal garden by J.J. Sexby, the author of a book about The Municipal Parks and Gardens of London (1898):-

Brockwell Park

Aside

I’ve been intrigued several times recently by a grand, but deserted neo-Georgian building on Bow Common Lane, just south of the cemetery.   What is it ?  What was it ?  Somewhere else it might have been a post office sorting centre, but not here.   It’s not in Pevsner:-

Bow Common Lane

Aside

E5

My Sunday morning run (not really a run any more) took us this morning to E5, the Hackney bakery which has opened up on the edge of the Limehouse Cut for fresh eggs on toast and lemon marmalade:-

For some reason it is dominated by images of Lord Lucan:-

And fresh bread:-

Standard

On the edge of Tisbury is a great tithe barn built for the Abbess of Shaftesbury and recently leased to Messums who are using it as a grand exhibition space, with more conventional gallery attached, and currently showing work by an American installation artist, Judy Pfaff, whose work I probably should have known, but didn’t:-

Tisbury

Aside

Fonthill (2)

When he was eighteen and in Switzerland, where he was sent with his tutor, the Rev. John Lettice, Beckford wrote to his friend and former drawing master, Alexander Cozens, about his dream of a gothic tower: ‘the time will arrive when we may abstract ourselves at least one hundred days from the world, and in retirement give way to our romantic inclinations… There we will execute those plans you have imagined, and realise in some measure the dreams of our fancy…we shall ascend a lofty hill, which till lately was a mountain in my eyes. There I hope to erect a Tower dedicated to meditation’.

The dream survived his return to Wiltshire during the 1790s after a long period when he lived in exile in Portugal. In January 1790, he wrote to Lady Craven how ‘I am growing rich, and mean to build Towers, and sing hymns to the powers of Heaven on their summits, accompanied by almost as many sacbuts and psalteries as twanged round Nebuchadnezzar’s image’. In 1791, he first wrote to James Wyatt to recruit him to design his plans. While in Portugal, he ordered the construction of a large wall round part of his estate, which he described as the Enchanted Gardens and Monastic Demesne, so that work could begin without prying eyes.

By February 1797, he was hard at work in realising his dream, writing to Sir William Hamilton how ‘I am staying my stomach with a little pleasure-building in the shape of an abbey, which is already half-finished. It contains apartments in the most gorgeous Gothic style with windows of painted glass, a chapel for blessed St. Anthony (66 ft diameter and 72 ft high), a gallery 185 ft in length, and a tower 145 ft high’. His ambitions grew and each year his architect, James Wyatt, exhibited a more ambitious design in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. But the first version of the tower was built in wood and a material called compo-cement and blew down in May 1800. Beckford was furious, but Wyatt started again. His father’s old house down in the valley was half demolished and the Abbey rose in compensation. ‘Some people drink to forget their unhappiness; I do not drink, I build’.

While it lasted, it was extraordinarily impressive, a ‘fairy palace’, described by Benjamin West as ‘raised more by magick…than by the labour of the human hand’. Constable wrote, ‘The entrance and when within is truly beautifull. Imagine the inside of the Cathedral at Salisbury, or indeed any beautifull Gothick building, magnificently fitted up with crimson and gold’. But in 1822, Beckford sold it (at quite a handsome profit and with a considerable sense of relief) and in 1825, the Tower collapsed.

Standard

I was incredibly pleased to have been invited to visit what remains of Fonthill Abbey. But less survives than I remembered: only the original north end of the Abbey which once contained the so-called Sanctuary and Oratory, with a State Bedroom and billiard room above, and originally reached from the main part of the Abbey by way of a 312 foot long Vaulted Corridor. It’s hard now to get a sense of its original ephemeral theatricality and the way that the Oratory was originally reached down a long crimson carpet with ‘the organ sending its deep prolonged music along the perspective of the immense galleries’. But one can at least still look out on the surrounding parkland, with avenues of trees planted by Beckford and Bitham Lake where Beckford liked to swim every day:-

Fonthill (1)

Aside

Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art

Reference to the Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art yesterday reminded me that, when I was clearing my study over the summer, I had come across some packets of photographs which I had taken on my trip to Japan in the last days of analogue and never mounted in my photograph albums, including some photographs of the long and low, wooden structure of the Bato Hiroshige Museum of Art which is so beautifully crafted and which I now reproduce:-

Standard