Buscot and Cirencester – 5 September

Thank you Judy and David for organising this trip to the National Trust property and it was really sad that Judy was unwell on the day and unable to come as we had a great day.

The first stop at Cirencester gave us the opportunity to look round the town centre, do some shopping, have a coffee and visit the wonderful parish church. This is a real gem with its fine fan vaulting, remains of wall paintings, the Anne Boleyn Cup, and it is all so beautifully kept. There was an added bonus of a painting exhibition of works by local artists.

The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the drive through the Cotswolds to Buscot Park. There is something special about a property where the family actually live; it has a different feel. Lord Farington maintains and develops the house and garden to a high standard. Everything looks so cared for and new features and artefacts continue to be added.
Items from the Farington Collection are displayed in the rooms, staircase and passages. Some rooms are imposing and others almost cosy and the view of the grounds from the house is stunning.

Good information boards allow visitors to take their time on a self guided tour. The luxurious wall coverings, the chandeliers, the furniture and the ceramics are magnificent. For me, the collection of art works was almost unbelievable. Pictures by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, Gainsborough, Botticelli to name a few, and Burne Jones’s series illustrating the Legend of Briar Rose were just some of the collection. That was the house, and the grounds are equally impressive and beautifully kept. There are views in all directions, fountains, statues, a delightful walled garden with espalier fruit trees, roses, borders with vegetables inter-planted among the flowers and plenty of seating. Harold Peto’s water
garden is another highlight. Interesting, if slightly incongruous are seventeen replica terra cotta warriors. (see picture)

Consulting the website, I realise how much that I didn’t manage to see and am determined to revisit so that I can do the park and garden justice.

Claire Osgood

Bob Williams: The Methodist Modern Art Collection – 5 May

Bob began his talk by reminding us that, throughout its history, the Christian Church has used images to express faith and to explore theology. The Methodist Church takes its place in this long tradition with a collection now comprising 54 paintings, prints, drawings, relief and mosaic works. Until recently, these works of art have been stored at Oxford Brookes University, and they are a touring collection, travelling widely to galleries, cathedrals, churches and schools.

The Collection includes leading names from the British art world of the last 100 years, such as Edward Burra, Elisabeth Frink, Patrick Heron and Graham Sutherland, and is still expanding, acquisitions chiefly funded by gifts and charitable donations.

Bob showed us a selection of remarkable artwork, some pieces full of complex symbolism, some strikingly simple. A favourite with many viewers when the Collection is exhibited is Dalit Madonna by Jyoti Sahi (pictured) .The image in the painting echoes the Indian folk symbol of the grinding stone, found in every traditional home.  This has two parts. The larger “Mother Stone” is fixed and stable, whilst the smaller “Baby Stone” moves to grind food stuffs on the Mother Stone. Here the two stones represent Mary and the Christ child.

A painting which I found particularly striking was Maggi Hambling’s Good Friday: Walking on Water. It showed a turbulent, surging seascape, with a tiny haloed figure just discernible above the surf.

Bob gave us a fascinating presentation, with much food for thought.

Megan Jones

Oxford – 27 March

Botanic Gardens (photo Lewis Clarke)

Another highly successful trip to Oxford.

On a beautiful Spring morning our new 57 seater coach arrived, the largest we have ever used because the trip was quickly fully booked and had a long waiting list. So we were able to accommodate 7 extra people.

Another first: on discovering that it was Judy Lanteigne’s birthday she was treated to a full throated rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the coachload of people! Judy is a new and valued member of the visits committee. Others interested in being on the committee and/or leading trips would be most welcome. Please contact one of the full committee members.

One reason for the popularity of Oxford is the diverse range of places of interest. At the end of the day I discovered that everyone had enjoyed the day in numerous different ways. Many had found that using the internet beforehand meant that they had been able to plan ahead to decide the use of their time.

Two popular locations visited were the Botanic Garden (the oldest in the UK, founded in 1612) and the Pitt Rivers museum.

The Garden was beautiful and shown at its springtime best by the sunshine and blue skies. The show of spring flowers and early blossom was magnificent. The variety of plants, shrubs and trees was amazing. Many found the stunning, huge magnolia tree in full bloom to be the highlight. It was also interesting to see the burgeoning growth of the plants and shrubs that will soon be in full colour and evidence of the careful planting and redesigning being undertaken by the gardeners. The unobtrusively placed labels gave useful information to those interested in discovering the names of new plans and shrubs. Every part of the Garden is meticulously maintained. A wonderful place in which to spend time.

The Pitt Rivers museum is a staggering collection of over 55,000 artefacts from around the world telling the story of life on earth. It also houses over 600, 000 objects, photographs and manuscripts from almost every country in the world. The information boards around the museum are expertly organised and provide lucid information. Impossible to take in everything in one day and is best approached by choosing segments to study in one visit. One of our members went there first thing in the morning for a couple of hours. After a lunch there and a guided tour in the afternoon he spent the whole day in the museum. His plan to visit the special exhibition in the Ashmolean museum had to be aborted! A similar tale came from a member who so enjoyed the Botanic Garden that she spent almost all of her time there.

Others spent their day in different ways, for instance taking guided walking tours, an open top bus tour, the Museum of the History of Science, the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments etc. Others spent a happy day at leisure meeting friends in Oxford.

Little wonder that many of those on this trip requested that we include another trip to Oxford in our future plans. Those who enjoyed the Botanic Garden specifically asked that a future visit might be organised for a summer month to catch a different aspect of the Garden.

David Beniston

John Salvat: The History of Walled Gardens – March 3

50+ people turned up on a wet stormy night to listen to John’s talk on walled gardens, starting with basic rectangular ones from thousands of years ago in Africa depicted on carved clay tiles. By 3000BC images of grapes being trained on trellis exist together with fishponds, small beds bisected by paths and rills of water enclosed by walls to keep animals at bay.

When the Romans came to Britain, bringing with them onions, asparagus, turnips, radishes, figs, cherries and more, they too enclosed their gardens as did the monasteries with their box-enclosed beds full of vegetables and herbs grown for medical purposes. Their illustrated manuscripts show tools and pruning techniques still recognisable today.

By the reign of Elizabeth 1, an admirer of gardens, people like Robert Dudley at Kenilworth and the nobility had become competitive, out to impress, vying with each other in complexity of design. A century later Joseph Banks brought home thousands of new specimens from his travels with Darwin, and Parkinson brought botanical prints to the fore.

The Victorians went further, building walls heated by flues and later hot water pipes. The garden became the fruit and vegetable stall of today’s supermarkets.

Then came the First World War. The men from these estates went to France. An era ended until the 1980s when the TV programme The Walled Victorian Garden was shown. Tim Smith restored the Lost Garden at Heligan and our romance with the walled garden was rekindled.

Sue Andrew

Heale House and Salisbury – 16 February

Heale House

We left Bradford on Avon with a full coach on a slightly dull morning. How many members on the coach had heard of Heale House I wondered?  It lies 4 miles north of Salisbury near Upper Woodford on a tributary of the Hampshire/Salisbury Avon.  It is private house and is not open to the public.  However, the history is interesting.  It was built in the latter half of the 16th century by Sir William Greene and had many owners until it was purchased by Hon. Louis Greville in l894, a great Uncle of the present owners, the Rasch family.

In 1651 Charles II secretly took refuge there for six nights after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester while waiting for a ship to carry him to France.

We had two hours to walk around the garden and have a coffee in the small restaurant.

There are eight acres and it was designed in 1910 by Harold Peto and  planted to provide colour throughout the year.  Our visit, of course, was arranged to see the carpets of snowdrops which covered the grounds and the banks of the river, and they were absolutely spectacular.  A vision of white spread before us wherever we went.

Louis Greville was in the diplomatic service and acquired a bridge and authentic tea house on his travels to Japan to form the basis of his new Arts and Crafts style garden.

Then it was onwards to Salisbury for the afternoon.   So much to see there, it was difficult to choose what to do in a few hours, from the mine of information provided by our organiser. I knew I wanted to visit one of the music shops, having lost our two in Bath, and I had been to the Cathedral a few times and seen the magnificent Magna Carta in the Chapter House (The Chapter House is, or was, used for the administration of the monastery or cathedral).

The Museum had an “Celebration of Art” exhibition and these were pieces of art purchased by a Heritage Lottery Fund project to celebrate the work of Wiltshire’s creative people. They consisted of paintings, sculptures, pottery and printing. All very varied and with lots of great talent displayed.

Walking through the Cathedral Close is seeing history unfold, and there is a small book in the museum shop which explains the history of all the houses, and what caught my eye was a memorial to three Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake in 1556.

On the way home an appeal was made for “Guest organisers” for a one off event.    This could also be couple of friends, partners, etc.  If we are to continue to have these wonderful outings, and they are certainly popular, there has to be an organiser, so do think about volunteering so that we can continue to enjoy these events to wonderful places.

Joyce Shaw

London – 20 November 2018

God image, probably Ku the God of War, late 18th century

ANGLO-SAXON KINGDOMS – ‘Barbaric splendour and fierce vision’…..

This was a blockbuster exhibition at the British Library on Euston Rd., a show where the real and the supernatural seemed to readily intertwine.

The Germanic peoples who invaded Britain after the departure of the Romans, in AD 410, pushed the native Celts westwards deep into what was to become Wales. The culture of these invaders included the introduction of serpentine images (…..here a Sutton Hoo belt buckle….. there a writhing image leaping off the page of the Northumbrian Gospels). One manuscript on show was the earliest surviving text of the poem Beowulf – a Scandinavian hero. When the Angles and Saxons first came to Britain they brought with them a pantheon of gods they shared with the Vikings and fellow Germans. There was an image on view of Woden, King of the gods – part German Wotan and part Viking Odin. The adoption of Christianity added yet another layer of pan-European culture. Perhaps the most striking exhibit was (the loan of) the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest surviving complete Latin bible, created in N.E. England and gifted to the Pope in 716 and returning to these shores for the first time in 1,300 years.

OCEANIA at the Royal Academy

God image, probably Ku the God of War, late 18th centuryIt was 250 years ago that James Cook embarked on the first of his three voyages of discovery to the S. Hemisphere, essentially to explore the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. The Oceania exhibition highlights the diverse and remarkably sophisticated societies that Cook encountered, and brought together some of the treasures from a civilization very different from our own.

There was a rich vein of craftsmanship and design on show in this first ever survey of Oceanic art held in Britain; an exhibition that proved immensely popular with the viewing public. Covering a third of the World’s surface, the area is best recognised by a subdivision into three distinct island groups – Polynesia (literally many islands), Melanesia (black islands) and Micronesia (small islands). Papua New Guinea, by far the largest of the islands represented, not surprisingly, seemed to contribute the greatest number of artefacts on show. Canoes, often highly ornate with elaborate carved prows and, to the indigenous population, imbued with a spiritual energy and power, were an important status symbol. Different designs served differing purposes – for fishing, engaging in warlike activities and for inter-island communication. The culture of these islanders was strongly reflected in this show through ancestor sculptures, elaborate masks, dance shields, ceremonial clubs and personal adornments.

Such contact with Europeans, as Cook first initiated, brought with it harsh colonial rule and exposure to diseases to which there was no natural resistance. Today’s great threat, also largely a legacy of the west, is climate change, resulting in rising sea levels and the almost certain need to abandon some of the low-lying archipelagos.

Bob Williams

Tyntesfield – 11 December 2018

Photo: interior of Tyntesfield chapel

The traffic flowed and we arrived around 10.30 am, driving down through a double avenue of lime and golden yew decorated with bright red Christmassy bows, and there was plenty of time to sample the goodies in the Cow Barn.

From 1844 – 2001 this was the country home for four generations of the Gibbs family, their bolthole from London. Originally purchased by William Gibb it was transformed in 1864 by his engaging John Norton to redesign and rebuild, the result being a home in High Victorian Gothic.

William’s grandson George became the first Lord Wraxall in 1928 and his son Richard, who never married, had an army career. On his death in 2001 his will named NINETEEN beneficiaries so the property was sold, and that is why we could use our National Trust cards.

There are Gentlemen’s Rooms and Ladies’ Rooms and a Boudoir for the Lady of the House with exquisite boxwood carvings of nature. The Hall, where guests were greeted, was re-designed in 1889 by Henry Woodyear, the imposing staircase being intended to impress the local gentry. The top grade Library holds around 2000 books but was also used as a family Sitting Room.

The Gibbs were supporters of the High Church Oxford Movement so that religion was the focal point of their lives, and before the Chapel was built prayers were said in the Organ Room. The Drawing Room is the grandest, forty feet long, but regrettably the blinds were all down during our visit and in the dim light we could not fully appreciate the colours of the decor.

The Chapel was commenced at the end of William’s life, a superb copy of the mediaeval Sainte Chapelle in Paris, and some of us took part in the Nativity service. Founded during the hey-day of Victorian plant collecting, the Arboretum was called by the family “Paradise Garden”, a quiet, peaceful place with meandering pathways. The parkland is a delight to walk through and we were lucky enough to keep dry.

There was a degree of differing opinions on the Christmas decorations, but no -one disagreed about the superb restoration work carried out by the National Trust to preserve this remarkable home. The Gibbs were true Christians: and their money also ensured the well-being of those who worked for them.

Our thanks to Claire for another “Grand Day Out”.

Pam Bemment

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein at 200 — 4 November

Boris Karloff as 'the creature' (1931)

A large audience testified both to Allan Phillipson’s popularity as a speaker and perhaps also to our perennial fascination with Mary Shelley’s iconic “creature.” Allan began by illustrating the phenomenon of the Gothic novel, a genre both horrific and salacious and one which would later be satirised, for example by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.

We were reminded that Frankenstein, first published in 1818, begins and ends in a harsh landscape of ice and snow, illustrating the Romantic concept of ‘the sublime’ where the grandeur of the landscape takes us beyond ordinary experience. Of the 120 films of Frankenstein, perhaps only Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version reflects this awe-inspiring atmosphere, and we were shown an extract, with Branagh as Victor Frankenstein scaling a cliff of ice to meet with his creation. In this film, Robert de Niro, as the creature, is shown as capable of thoughtful and philosophical conversation. Again, this is true to the novel, where, even in isolation, the ‘monster’ learns to read Milton, Plutarch and Goethe.

We learned about Shelley’s support for his wife’s work, and shown examples of his amendments to her manuscript – usually to its detriment, it has to be said!

In fact, Allan gave us a wealth of visual material to enjoy, with clips from several films, including the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, where Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley in the prologue and then the eponymous Bride, rejecting the advances of Boris Karloff as the creature.

If Allan were a cook, we would say that he had produced for us a rich dish with many ingredients, something to savour, relish and remember.

Megan Jones

Wiltshire Music Centre: A Programme for All — 2 September

Zone Club Performers

It would have been hard to find a more uplifting talk with which to begin our new season: a verbal behind the scenes tour of the Music Centre, from the initial idea mooted thirty years ago to the present day. Their aim remains the same – to inspire, enrich and transform people’s lives through music.

The emphasis is on excellence, staying ahead, leading the way. And this can mean being opportunistic, like seizing the chance this November to stage “Fast Forward”, a three-day national disability festival, in conjunction with Bristol Music Trust. It is normally held in the Colston Hall, now temporarily closed, so the Music Centre jumped in to stage it themselves. We, the Arts Association, are supporting this financially

Just in the last year, they took both Youth Orchestras on a short working trip to France – and, yes, the skies opened so that, at short notice, an indoor venue had to be found for an outdoor event with an audience of hundreds. The newly launched Behn Quartet of young players has been awarded a residency to broaden their experience, and partnerships have been formed with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Bath Festival.

Alongside concerts, there are now talks, live relays, choirs for old and young alike and perhaps in the future weekend tutoring for A-level music students as numbers fall and funding is cut. Who else would do it?

Hearing James’ enthusiasm, it all sounds such fun, until you consider all the work done by staff, supporters, volunteers and young students themselves. The job of Artistic Director is not so romantic at the end of a long day with just a twenty-minute break, when you have spent hours in front of a screen, discussed contract clauses ad nauseam and fielded numerous ‘phone calls.

How lucky we are to have the Music Centre on our doorstep and have James to give up his Sunday evening for us.

One abiding memory for me – a beaming young disabled musician from Zone Club declaring that the Music Centre has changed her life.

Sue Andrew

Cardiff – 31 July

Cardiff Bay - Millennium Centre, the Pierhead building and 'The Senedd' Photo -- Kate Bee)

42 people joined the visit to Cardiff, to enjoy this wonderful city, in glorious weather. Most people chose to start at Cardiff Bay, the site of an incredible regeneration from a run down, dilapidated area that was once one of the busiest ports in Europe to a modern area of culture, politics and entertainment.

On one level the beauty of the buildings was somewhat spoilt by the temporary transformation taking place in readiness for the forthcoming Eisteddfod. On the other hand, it gave a lively buzz to the area reinforcing the feel of regeneration and sense of purpose. One of our members chose to focus on the Arts Gallery, where there were two special exhibitions.

David Beniston

Inro & netsuke, Edo period, 18th-19th century, National Museum of Japanese History

The National Museum Cardiff is an amazing place, with something to please everyone.

On this visit I started with the special exhibition “Kizuna Japan-Wales-Design”. Kizuna means the bonds of friendship and this exhibition explores the distinctive relationship between Wales and Japan and how each culture influenced and contributed to each other’s history. The exhibition includes objects dating back from 400 years right up to contemporary design and technology.  We all know how Japanese art influenced European art, but Japanese artists and craftsmen were fascinated by Western inventions and adapted them in their own unique style (as seen in their unique interpretation of a clockwork mechanism). There is a distinctive 17th century lacquered coffer (a box or chest for valuables) that is the first known Japanese piece to have come to Wales.  Other highlights include a 400 year old hand scroll painted with monsters that was a forerunner of modern animation. There are exquisite ceramics, beautifully embroidered robes and other stunning objects to look at.

The exhibition also explores the relationship of Wales and Japan through technology and how Wales played a decisive part in Japan’s rapid industrialization. Did you know that Welsh steel was used to build Japan’s first railways? Wales is still home to many Japanese manufacturing firms, maintaining the close relationship to this day.

After the special exhibition I visited the permanent collection with excellent pieces of fine art, sculpture and decorative art.  The gallery has one of the finest collections of Impressionist art with works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, van Gogh, Cezanne and my favourite, a painting by Berthe Morisot.  The modern painting collection includes works by Hockney and Bacon. This is one of the best art collections in the UK and I can guarantee that you will be surprised to see famous works of art that you had no idea were here.  If you can tear yourself away from the art there is also the rest of the museum to see. Best thing of all, it is entirely free of charge, including the special exhibitions.

Dalyce Binley


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