Sunday, November 14, 2010

50 UK Days: Week 5

During my last week in Leeds, I had the opportunity to go to the Yorkshire countryside to visit 2 estates where I was given personal tours, an incredible privilege that I will not forget. I first was at Lotherton Hall. Curator Adam White guided me around and told me about the history of the house, which has changed much in appearance since it was first built in the 1700s and now has a more Edwardian feel to it. The last owners were the Gascoigne family, and one can tell from what remains of their personal art collection that they were traditionalists whose taste did not reflect contemporary trends in art. Col. Gascoigne was an imperialist and named each of his guest rooms after far-flung regions of the British Empire, like the Rhodesia and Cape of Good Hope bedrooms. Later that same afternoon, curator James Lomax guided me around Temple Newsam, a huge manor home with so many rooms that at one point I was unable to even figure out what floor we were on. A house has stood at this location for over a millennium, but the current building dates from the Tudor period, with changes made to the exterior and interior over time. In the medieval period, it was a meeting place for the Knights Templar. The picture you see here is of the Oak Staircase, with paintings dating back to the 1500s and Richard James Wyatt’s Nymph Removing a Thorn from a Greyhound’s Foot (1850) at the base of the stairs. Although the staircase is Jacobean in design, it actually is a historic recreation from the 1890s when the Hon. Mrs. Meynell Ingram decided the house needed to live up to its rich historic past. She even altered the bedroom where Lord Darnley was born to give visitors a better sense of what his childhood room might have looked like in 1545. Darnley was the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the reputed father of King James VI (who subsequently became James I of England and Scotland in 1603), so for a brief period Temple Newsam was a royal palace. Darnley himself was assassinated at the age of 21 because he sought to increase his power on the Scottish throne, after having already killed his wife’s private secretary because he was jealous of the time she spent with him.

I was a bit sad to leave Leeds, more than anything because the research fellowship at the Henry Moore Institute was so productive for me. I couldn’t have accomplished as much as I did if it weren’t for the superb staff there. I won’t name them all because I may forget someone (and some of them are now reading bklynbiblio!), but all of them truly made my time there a great one.

As the train rolled into Liverpool today, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been here once before with my cousin HA for a day visit, but not along the waterfront. Within an hour of my arrival, I was amazed to discover how much I like it. It probably helped that music by the Beatles was being piped through speakers as I stepped out of the taxi in front of my hotel at Albert Dock on the Mersey River. The dock area was established in the 1840s by Prince Albert as an important center for the shipping industry, and in the late 1980s underwent a complete overhaul and commercial gentrification that is quite stunning to behold as I walked around this afternoon. The hotel is actually one section of an enormous U-shaped Victorian warehouse that includes other hotels, restaurants, shops, and residences. It even has 3 museums in it, including a branch of the Tate, which I visited today, first to have a spot of afternoon tea and a scone with cream and preserves, then to go look at some art. I was thrilled by the sculpture exhibition I saw, and was dazzled by one particular bronze statue that reaffirmed for me, as I circled it over and over, the importance of seeing art in person. Sometimes a reproduction will just never do.

But I will save all that for my next post. I had a delicious dinner at ha ha bar & grill (sure, laugh at the name, but it was yummy: a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, chicken with Serrano ham and mozzarella cheese with a cherry tomato glaze baked in a brick oven until crisp, accompanied by new potatoes and green beans, followed by “eton mess” for dessert, berries with meringue and cream). While I ate, I read an interesting article by Anne Helmreich entitled “The Death of the Victorian Art Periodical,” and I attempted every once and a while to flirt with the cute waiter. For now though, I think I’ll settle down for the night with a nice cuppa tea.

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