Whitechapel Bell Foundry (6)

Someone on my twitter account very kindly pointed me in the direction of a small book produced by Cafe Royal Books of photographs taken – I assume – in the 1960s by John Claridge, a very good East End photographer, of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as it used to be (only available by post from Cafe Royal books). It is a melancholy record of the operation of the foundry when it was working at full blast, turning out ornate and beautifully crafted bells for the world.

Several people have asked if anything can be done to prevent its conversion into an upmarket boutique hotel.

Two things seem at least possible:-

1. It turns out that much of the historic equipment was part of the listing, so that it may have been illegal for the interior to have been stripped out of its contents.

2. It is open to Tower Hamlets to turn down an application for change of use. This will require members of the planning committee to recognise that it is better to have a working foundry in Whitechapel than a post-industrial restaurant and bar.

If anyone knows the relevant local councillors and members of the planning committee, power lies in their hands.

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Chalke Valley History Festival

I spent the day at the Chalke Valley History Festival, speaking in the afternoon about the early history of the Royal Academy, which I used to know more about, when I wrote The Company of Artists (I was informed on arrival that it is now out-of-print, although still prominently on sale in the Royal Academy bookshop).   The Festival was originally held in Ebbesbourne Wake, but for the last few years has been held in Broad Chalke – a massive encampment of tents devoted to history re-enactment from Stone Age flint knappers to people selling WWII medical uniform.   I walked up Church Bottom to remind myself of the glories of the Wiltshire Downs:-

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And later explored the village:-

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Reddish House

I had forgotten that Cecil Beaton lived in Broad Chalke in Reddish House, where I was kindly fed chocolate ice cream and allowed to photograph both house and garden.   The house is a perfectly formed Field & Bunney piece of early eighteenth-century domestic architecture, originally built in the 1660s, sold in 1696 to Jeremiah Cray, a local and obviously prosperous clothier, and leased in 1702 to John Coombes, a mercer, who added the pilasters and pediment:-

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The garden behind is also very beautiful, in the lee of the downs:-

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Sir George Beaumont

I was asked this morning, and have been before, how it is that the Royal Academy owns a great Michelangelo sculpture.

The answers lies with Sir George Beaumont, an old Etonian baronet, who learned to paint at school as a pupil of Alexander Cozens and spent six weeks in 1771, when he was eighteen, staying at the home of the Reverend Charles Davy at Henstead in Suffolk, painting and drawing the Suffolk countryside. He went on the Grand Tour in 1782, when he acquired Claude Lorrain’s Landscape with Hagar and the Angel, now in the National Gallery.

The story of how Beaumont acquired the Tondo is told by Alison Cole in her monograph on it. Beaumont went to Rome in 1821. He made friends with Canova, who presumably alerted him to the existence of the Tondo in the collection of Jean-Baptiste Wicar, who had been a member of Napoleon’s Commission des Sciences et des Arts, which had been in charge of appropriating works of art from Italy and the Netherlands to enrich the Louvre and other French museum collections.

On 19 May 1822, Beaumont was able to write to Sir Thomas Lawrence, the then President of the Royal Academy, how ‘I am going this morning…to see a fine collection of drawings in the possession of Mr Vicari [Wicar], who was in great power during the French Revolution & made ample use of it, I am told all the treasures of Italy were at one time at his command, & it is from him that I have procured M. Angelo…’

Not long after, he wrote to his friend William Wordsworth, ‘How I long to show it to you’. He bequeathed it to the Royal Academy, died in 1827, and it came to the Academy following his wife’s death in 1829.

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Millbank Tower

I forgot to post the amazing view from the top floor of Millbank Tower, looking downriver, past the Palace of Westminster, or, as in my photograph, across the river and over the gardens of Lambeth Palace towards the new towerscape of the City:-

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Westminster Abbey

We were invited to see the new Diamond Jubilee Galleries in the triforium of Westminster Abbey, an amazing piece of high-quality new build in the spaces wrapped around the chancel, designed by Ptolemy Dean, the current Surveyor of the Fabric.   The exhibits themselves have been designed by MUMA, currently working on the masterplan for the Fitzwilliam.

I was particularly fascinated to see fragments of the Catholic chapel, designed by Wren for Whitehall Palace, saved from the 1698 fire, and then reinstalled by Wren as Surveyor in Westminster Abbey, until removed for the Coronation of George IV in 1821.

There’s a drawing by Hawksmoor, dated 1731, of ‘The North Front of ye Collegiate Church of Westminster With ye 2 West Towers and the middle Lantern as intended’ (he described the church as ‘now in a Sad Ruinous and unfinished Condition’).

Then, on the other side, there’s the Funeral effigy of Anne of Bohemia, wife of Richard II, made out of oak; Henry VII, based on a death mask;  his wife, Elizabeth of York; and Elizabeth I’s corset.

Beyond, you meet wax effigies of Charles II and William and Mary, which used to be displayed in the nave as a tourist attraction.

The spaces are wonderful, looking out on to gargoyles and flying buttresses and down into Poet’s Corner and the nave.

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Elisabeth Frink RA

Following the unveiling of Frink’s Horse and Rider in Bond Street, I looked up her association with the Royal Academy, knowing that it has had a bad track record in electing female artists, as Mary Beard pointed out in her speech at the annual dinner. But, interestingly, Frink was elected as an Associate in October 1971, when she was only just 40, a full RA in 1977, and was given a retrospective of her work in spring 1985 (admission price £1.50). It is said that, had she not died aged 62, she would have been a candidate to be President. So, the institution was not quite as dyed-in-the-wool prejudiced as it’s sometimes depicted.

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